True confessions of a blogger

For various reasons, I don't write much on this blog about myself – my feelings, major (and minor) life-events, etc. I think I did so a bit when I started blogging (I did what a lot of new bloggers do, and wrote about my feelings of liberation as a result of discovering the medium) but do it even less now. I have written a bit more in the past about my daughters, when they were both blogging also and gave permission, but since they stopped doing that a couple of years or more ago, I have said less about them – the odd bit of "news involving them as passing characters", perhaps, but not any direct information about matters such as what colour they dye their hair or how often they trash the house (not and never, incidentally). I also lack the imagination to construct a fantasy life and write about that as if it were real, as I know some bloggers do (I've been taken in more than once.) This may be dull and lead to my blog being characterised so in some of these automatic tests that others have run on it for me, but c'est la vie.

I also steer away from reading "human interest" blogs, being bored by the unrelieved minutiae of the blogger's life, feelings and thoughts (usually not original enough to be distinctive), being much more drawn to blogs that are about ideas – expressed from a personal perspective, of course, that is what gives blogs their charm, but none the less, about ideas and thoughts compared with domestic details. I'm not suggesting that I only read blogs that are like factual automata, often the blogs I like do feature posts about other things, which is fine by me, and nice, as one feels one "knows" the author, via a previous discussion of ideas.

So, I scan the new blog posts in my RSS reader most days, scrolling through a few hundred blog posts and stopping to read a few here and there. (Apart from those in the category "a daily read", which I read in full.) Even this activity, over time, results in some bloggers and blogs having quite a strong "personality" in my mind even if I only read the odd post they write, if it seems likely to be of direct interest from the RSS fragment.

This week, in the past few days, actually, I've experienced unexpected pain by this activity. One person wrote about bloggers that she feels a connection with and plans to meet, but what if they die? She went on to name several blogs she follows or knows about when the blogger has died. Another person wrote about failure to get jobs she had been applying for (having previously written about the career choice she had made), from the perspective of having returned to doing what she had been doing in an earlier stage of her life, because of her lack of success. A third person, writing on a publisher's blog, wrote about how the publisher had rejected her new novel, after publishing previous ones. A fourth, a very well-known author and journalist, has just written a one-sentence blog post (the entire post is the title, so it is very big font) – "What do you read when your husband has just left you for another woman?"

Reading about pain, and experiencing its sharp pangs, when you are not expecting it is unsettling and quite dramatically affecting. It comes at you out of left field. This has happened to me before when reading blogs – I've suddenly come across a post that raises old, buried wounds and have been unable to read on. But this cluster in the past few days has been unprecedented. Would I write on my blog if I'd been rejected in some way, or was suffering from some particular cause? Probably not. I suppose that makes me a repressed coward in some respects.

25 thoughts on “True confessions of a blogger

  1. Very interesting and thought-provoking as ever. My views are similar to yours, Maxine. It’s one thing to express one’s personality through an account of public activities, books read, films enjoyed, and so on – quite another to parade one’s emotional ups and downs in public on a regular basis. I’m fascinated, of course, by those who do it, and it’s meat and drink to any writer, but like many obsessive readers, I suppose I’m too introverted to want to do it myself.

  2. When I began blogging (2 months ago), I was quite clear in my mind that my blog was to be about crime fiction. I have a wonderful family, great friends and nice colleagues so my blog is not there to save me or make me happy.
    Nevertheless, I can see already that being accepted and included in the fellowship of bloggers who share my interests mean quite a lot to me.
    I am not quite sure what my point is – if any – but perhaps blogging is like real life. Some of us just do get involved in it all the time, but I´d rather live, love and lose people than the alternative. I still don´t post anything about my family and really private things, but when I comment I am less reserved, and I can imagine that with time I could grow very fond of some of you people out there.

  3. I don’t think this makes you a repressed coward, Maxine. I think you’re a private person. I don’t share all that much of my personal life on my blog unless it’s somehow book-related, and I know for a fact that if I were experiencing painful things, they would be the absolute last things I’d blog about.

  4. Yes, very thought-provoking.
    I don’t think it makes you a repressed coward – I think it shows admirable restraint!
    While I, like Martin, am fascinated by the blogs that regularly reveal all, I think in some ways the less revealing can be the most fascinating still – it is like the allure of the Edwardian ankle.

  5. I agree I don’t mind sharing some of the good things [daughter getting a first; I thought I would mention that again ;o)] but to share rejection, pain and loss over the internet does not appeal to me.

  6. Thanks for the nice comments, everyone. I really appreciate you taking the time to write. And welcome, Cathy, thank you for coming over. Martin, that word “introvert” probably sums it up the best, for me. (Plus being conscious of my employer!)

  7. I’ve been thinking about this some more – specifically thinking about the posts you’ve mentioned, and just want to say that I think some of these people are brave and doing a useful thing. There are a lot of miserable lonely people around and by these bloggers sharing what has happened to them maybe it helps those who find themselves in a similar position to know that they are not alone. I think that is a very good thing, but of course it isn’t for everyone…and the more restrained blogs are just as useful too.

  8. I don’t see you as a ‘repressed coward’ Maxine I just see you as a private person. Maybe it’s because I’m the same but it wasn’t so many years ago that it was normal for everyone (not just famous people) to have a private life and a public life. You (and I) are just continuing that age-old tradition. The fact that lots of people no longer have that boundary shouldn’t make you feel bad or make you think of yourself as a coward.
    I don’t think sharing intimate details of your life is an issue of bravery – for some people talking about things with others helps them process their feelings (that’s the psychological meaning of the word extrovert) while for others the way they process things is internal (i.e. introverted). Neither is right or wrong – it just is.
    And I know one person who deeply regrets the things she put on her blog about three years ago when she was going through a traumatic experience. Now her circumstances have changed but those words are ‘out there’ even though she deleted the blog – the things is in the wayback archives and some elements and entries were copied elsewhere and discussed and everyone who knew her then is very aware of the things she said back then. While I think what Clare said is true – that people can be helped by the words of others – I think the difference between a blog and, for example, a book about dealing with grief or some other trauma, is that you can be a bit quick off the mark with a blog – you don’t have to think first or edit or allow any time at all to elapse between you experiencing a feeling and writing about that experience. Sometimes that just isn’t the best thing for you.
    I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  9. Hi, Maxine:
    I, too, wonder about bloggers who reveal private feelings and personal events, but perhaps that is because I am a Connecticut Yankee (whoops, I just revealed something personal) and we don’t do that easily. Some of the very personal blogs are probably a great source of comfort to readers if they have similar physical or mental problems, and can take comfort in a kind of online group share or therapy session. And yes, some of those blogs contain heartbreaking information, but also insight that can be a real help to family and friends, too.
    I have also found some funny personal blogs. Here’s one. It’s called Alive and Kicking: http://robertkstearns.blogspot.com/2009/02/been-long-time.html
    The blogger is an American living in Wulfen, Germany. See what you think! You’ll see I left a comment and it was quite a jolt to the blogger! His bio/profile made me laugh out loud. I don’t think it occurred to him that a stranger might knock on his blog door in the dark of night or peek in the windows!

  10. But sometimes I think spontaneity is good Bernadette – and sometimes people regret the things they write in books too! Also they regret things they’ve said and done and these are remembered just as much by people around them as if they’d written them on a blog. A memory is sometimes just as hard to erase.

  11. I prefer to subscribe to the American blues adage: “Don’t put your business in the street.” A lot of weirdos out there…

  12. The concept of boundaries is interesting isn’t it. Somebody (and I can’t for the life of me remember who it was) did make a comment a few years ago about blogging turning off the self-control switch in too many people, who, in any other medium, would be pressured into some semblance of order and propriety). Obviously that’s an extreme statement, but it does have a central point which we’ve been pondering for a long time – sometimes I think the perception of web-anonymity is too strong,and people forget to consider ramifications as they would perhaps, in private letters or correspondence. Same controlling behaviour is frequently exhibited online by trolls and trouble-makers.
    Alternatively there are people who NEED the validation – the control of the content and the knowledge that other people know that the individual controls their own world. (And sometimes by engendering a response in others, they can control the others – or gain a semblance of control over their own situation). Of course there are always those people that have no other outlet and want the attention that sometimes the overtly personal can engender.

  13. If I were in doubt before, I certainly am not any more after all these wise comments🙂
    A certain degree of privacy is important to me, and I think most of the people whose blogs I really like see it the same way – including you, Maxine.

  14. I just read the first part of Bryan Appleyard’s “100 best blogs” feature in today’s Sunday Times – he writes there that one of his regular commenters killed himself the other week. That must rank as very high on the “pain of blogging” experiences.
    Thank you for all the insightful comments here. I looked at that blog, Lynne. I don’t know whether his reaction to the comments is more irony or if he really is surprised! But that blog is typical of ones that grate on me after a while – I can take only so much of that type of humour.
    The combination of “spontenaity and permanence” is a bit of a killer as you say, Helen. I tend to check blogs later in the evening after a glass of wine. I sometimes catch myself writing comments that I really, in the cold light of day, would wish I hadn’t. I don’t always delete them in time either – only the other night I left one on Nature Network (Jenny Rohn’s blog, to a post about careers for womeen in science once they’d had children, a perennial sore topic!), which I immediately wished I hadn’t written as it revealed too much of my mood. But that was minor in comparison to some revelations that I’m sure the writers at least sometimes have cause to regret in future.
    For me, blogging has been and is (sometimes) good therapy – I love the community of it, the exchange of ideas- as you so well write, Dorte. But as we are all saying, it is not for “everything”, only “some things”.

  15. PS, Karen C – you see quite a bit of that kind of behaviour on some of the science blogs and blogging platforms. Not Nature Network which is one reason why it’s a very nice place to hang out if you like science. But I have come to believe, after 3 years of checking out science blogs, that this type of bullying and immature ranting is one big factor in putting off the majority of scientists from blogging at all, or from reading blogs. Which is a pity as there are some very good ones (as I hope Bryan’s “part 2” will reveal next week!).

  16. Maxine, I’m very late to this – but just wanted to say that I also agree with you. I don’t easily reveal personal stuff (…although there were some things that came up in Jenny’s post you mentioned).
    I don’t know whether I’m extroverted or introverted – I think it’s a bit of both. The thing is more that I just don’t think that there are all that many people that want to just read about ‘me’ as opposed to what I may have to say about something… and I found out that I tend to get annoyed (and bored) after a little while with blogs of people that just talk about themselves.

  17. Maxine, this is an excellent post. I’ve been too busy to read blogs lately; even my few favorites (like yours), I can only spare a passing glance. But I’m glad I glanced today and saw this very thoughtful entry. I don’t think I would reveal such personal stuff, but I understand why some people do. The saying used to be, “When you laugh, the world laughs with you; when you cry, you cry alone.” Nowadays, you don’t cry alone…unless you WANT to.
    I am wondering, of course, who among Bryan’s regulars committed suicide. Lord! There were certainly a couple of dudes on there I sparred with; I would no doubt have been nicer had I thought anyone was suicidal. Comments on the internet do remove boundaries; we surely all say things we would think twice about saying to someone’s face. Oh, well. As it has always been, the net is a double-edged sword….

  18. A very powerful and perceptive post Maxine – it reflects some of my own thinking (since entering the blogosphere) on rehearsing personal issues in public. I don’t think it’s the least bit cowardly to hold back. As others have mentioned above, sometimes it can be brave and kind of wonderful; other times it’s narcissism writ large (bor-ing!). I think you have steered your course rather expertly.

  19. Writing can seem a very personal thing sometimes. If you’ve ever written a diary, then you’re used to writing down very personal reactions and feelings. Writing letters (remember those?😉 can also be an intimate experience.
    I think for some it can be easy to forget that writing for blogs and similar is so much more public. Even when there is a community of regular responders on a blog, so that it feels like you are writing for a group of known people, in reality there is a much bigger potential audience.
    There is nothing wrong in being a private person and maintaining a distance.
    I am essentially a private person, but I have also found release in letting free some secrets that didn’t need to be secrets (says he, in a secretive manner!) and I can appreciate that writing about oneself can be very liberating if done with a clear head. I do agree that over-hasty posts can cause regrets. I often abandon comments half-way through after second thoughts.

  20. Hello Frank – interesting thoughts. And for my part, I wish you’d blog a bit more. Not a desire I apply to many bloggers! Funnily enough, I was always starting diaries and giving them up on about Jan 14th every year, but my blog I have kept going. I wonder if it is the interactivity, or that knowledge that you don’t really know who is reading it…or some other factor, that keeps us bloggers writing?

  21. Maxine, I found the same thing: I could never stick with a regular diary. I was usually boring myself to tears after a few days of just ‘this and that’ (which kind of misses the point of a diary anyway, I guess). I did go through phases of writing a few entries in a row – and looking at some of that now (I still have it) is usually quite embarrassing.
    Even with the recent exception, what I’d write on my blog still hugely differs from what would go in my diary, so at least for me the two don’t seem to be comparable.

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