I started blogging back in 2005. In my mind, this means I'm a relatively new blogger (because I knew people who were blogging back in the 1990s, before the word "blog" even existed). But in the real world, I'm actually an old-time blogger, one of the early adopters. And in the grand scheme of things, this means that there are still a lot of people out there who don't understand what I do or why I do it. For a lot of people, "blog" still translates into a strange conflation of negatives like scary/weird/tacky/stupid.
Call it "essay" writing and a completely different image comes to mind.
Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds
I don't see the difference, personally. Personal blog posts are essays and essays are personal blog posts. The only difference, at least in my mind, is the delivery medium. The internet didn't exist thirty years ago, let alone three hundred years ago. If it had, I imagine people like Samuel Johnson would have been bloggers. And they probably would have felt great about it, the internet allowing them to disseminate their thoughts more efficiently. And people would have eaten it up. (Of course, if women were the ones producing personal essays in this imagined age of the internet, people would be screaming "shut up shut up shut up!", but that's the case with women's writing even today, so let's not go into that.) My point is that personal essays and personal blog posts are really the same thing. Anyone who says they aren't probably has an agenda that's beside the point.
But regardless of medium, regardless of intent, regardless of what we call it, one of the main problems with writing is that we can't control the reader's experience. We can't control meaning. This sounds simple and obvious, but in practice, it's hard to get your head around.
When you write something, you feel (quite rightly, in many respects) that you OWN it. That it's yours and yours alone. No matter how you share or disseminate your work (via newspaper, book, blog or otherwise) I think this feeling of ownership is universal. It's not practical, but I don't know any writer who claims not to feel it.
But you can't control meaning. You can't control the reader's experience. You can't control interpretation. For such an old medium, writing is surprisingly alive in this sense. It lives and changes and grows as it's read and shared.
This is something that's both compelling and hard to accept.
I've been thinking about it a lot for obvious (or perhaps not-so-obvious) reasons. If you read the blog regularly and saw that post I did about my grandmother and the chain of comments that followed, you probably understand. If not, I'll explain by saying this: I wrote something that made a few people angry.
Usually, when this happens, the angry people are relatively random strangers. Cranks. In this instance, the angry parties were member of my family. Not close members, but members nonetheless. In retrospect, I should have expected their reactions. Or at least anticipated, in some vague sense, that they would be angry. But in retrospect, we all should have done and thought a lot of things that we didn't do or think, so I'm trying not to be too hard on myself.
But of course, I'm still thinking about it. To save face, I could pretend that I stopped thinking about it the moment after it happened, that the harsh and shockingly off-topic personal critique just rolled off my back. But I don't really care about saving face. If someone sets out to hurt you, and you consequently feel hurt, there's nothing embarrassing about admitting that, is there?
So I admit, I've been thinking about it for the last few weeks, rolling over and over it in my mind, trying to decide what I should have done differently, if anything at all.
Image by Gaetan Lee. From wikicommons.
I once had a friend named Andy who tried to explain it to me in more scientific terms, quoting brain and psychiatric studies and the like (which I didn't understand). We all think, he said, trying to put it into terms that I would comprehend, that we understand what other people are thinking. We are all, he said, confident in our assumptions when it comes to determining motive and intent in the brains of other people. We all think we're GREAT at this -- understanding others. But in reality, we're crap at it. We don't have a clue what other people are thinking or feeling or wanting. We only know what we might think or feel or want, imagining ourselves in a similar situation, which is something we can't really imagine correctly.
And most of the time, this doesn't matter.
We understand enough to get along. We're able to get by. Our myriad misunderstandings rarely make a significant difference in the world.
Until, of course, they do.
I've thought about this idea often over the past several years and it's come to resonate with me more and more. Certainly, I have fallen victim to the trap of thinking I understand another person. This happens, I think, most often in romantic relationships. Imagine you approach your first husband (just for example) ten years after the fact, and you say, "Hey, remember when that thing happened? I thought you did/said that thing because you were thinking this/that. Was I right?" And your first husband will most likely say, "No, not at all. I did/said that thing because of THIS OTHER THING THAT NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO YOU." Whatever he says, it will surprise you. But so what? You've been divorced for ten years. It won't matter anymore. And unfortunately, you likely won't have the presence of mind to talk in this way when it does matter. In the moment, so many other things take over. We assume we are understanding each other when we're not, and we think we're right when we're not. And the stakes are high and the moment is hot and no one wants to back down. It's only later that we can talk about these things clearly. I think this is just how we are -- how we ALL are. Like it or not.
So like I said ... it doesn't really matter. Except when it does. And for me, writing is one of the times when it does.
Public domain image. Photographer: William B. Folsom. From wikicommons.
I HATE the way my writing can sometimes be misinterpreted, twisted to fit a particular agenda, or simply misread and unfairly evaluated. I HATE that. But I can't control it. The only way to stop it would be to quit writing entirely. And that's not going to happen. You can't stop doing something that saves your life. Not if you want to keep being alive.
Writing a blog is complicated because despite the prevalence of the technology and the people who use it, the world is largely a tradition-driven sort of place. Anyone who bothers to blog appreciates the advantages it's brought. We understand that blogging has enabled the democratization of the artistic process and a whole host of other things as well. We understand that a blog isn't "just a stupid blog" -- a phrase used to damage credibility and cast shame. We understand that what we're doing is no more and no less than essay writing, but we don't need to call it that. There's nothing shameful about "blogging." We don't have to hide from it because we get it. But at present, there are still many more people who don't get it. And who don't like it. That's changing, but we're still in the teething and motor-skills stage of this whole thing. It's early days yet. It's going to take a bit more time.
Anyway. I write this because I've been thinking about it a lot. And because people have been asking me what I'm going to DO. What are you going to DO? they say, meaning, what am I going to do about the strange and hateful comments occasionally left by occasional readers.
And the answer is this: I'm not going to do anything. I cycled through that stage of trying to understand and assign motivation, and then I moved into thinking about how we can't really understand such things (see above). And then I stopped. So now there's nothing to do except to go on, doing what I do, writing what I write, blogging what I blog, and trying my best to say the things that feel important to say.
Periodically, I'm going to try to remind myself that I can't control meaning, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't write and it doesn't mean that I shouldn't say what I feel like saying, exactly when I feel like saying it. There's nothing embarrassing about that, no matter what anyone would have you believe.
I'm not going to forget about it. Not exactly. I'm going to put the experience into the vault of things I draw on when trying to get my brain around the seemingly crazy things that other people do and say. And despite that bit of experience, more often than not, when trying to interpret someone else, I'm going to be wrong. But so what? Most of the time, I won't think about it at all. I'll go on, thinking I'm in the right and so will the people who disagree. Because that is what we do. That is what we all do.
The year is ending. It's been a good one, I think.
Christmas eve and aaaaaaaaalllllllll's well!
Remember, no one can stop you from taking shots in the powder room, if you feel so inclined. Do what's right for you.
Have a good one, blah-og friends. I send you love, peace and Santa Claus.
When it seems as though people holding a grudge against you are lurking around, waiting to give you a hard time, it's surprisingly difficult to think of anything decent to blog about.
But blog I shall. Because that's what I do.
With less than a week until Christmas, I'm starting to feel the pressure a bit.
Christmas is not my favourite holiday. It can be enjoyable, and if you're a little kid, it's great, but for someone like me (hello, social anxiety) it's a hard one.
If I could spend it at home having quiet time, I'm sure I'd love it, but inevitably, we spend it driving around the city from event to event, stuffing ourselves with rich food, making endless small talk, and feeling vaguely uncomfortable in our holiday outfits. Inevitably I feel a bit sick and overwhelmed by the whole thing.
My general coping mechanism is to keep things as simple as possible. With that in mind, we're aiming to do even less this year (visit only one location on Christmas day, for example). I'm also sticking to my usual rule about gifts, which is that each item has to be either handmade or less than $20. (So basically, I buy books, I make things, and I shop at Ten Thousand Villages
.)We managed to get our tree up this past week, which was a hilarious gong show of me agreeing to let Nathan place the decorations, and then suppressing my obsessive compulsive desire to shout, "Not there! Not there!"
over and over again.We also got a chance to sort our ornaments and I ended up filling an entire bag for Goodwill with cast-offs. Basically, we unloaded all the B-listers: baubles that were gifts from people we don't particularly like, and the cheap-o plastic ones from my old life that are imbued with bad juju. As a result, the tree is a little more bare than usual, but it feels good to see it hung only with things that really make me happy. (For example, the funny little Abaca Leaf mouse that Nathan got me last year. So cute. Ten Thousand Villages
Speaking of which, I'm determined to try a bit of higher level crafting over the holidays, since I'm going to have a bit of time off work. The project I most want to tackle is this adorable chipmunk toy:
And anyway, now I have an excuse to MAKE MORE CRAFTS. I'm obsessed.
That chipmunk is made from that glove! Amazing, right? The project was designed by Miyako Kanamori for her book, Happy Gloves: Charming Softy Friends Made from Colorful Gloves
and the instructions for this particular little guy were featured a few years back on the Etsy blog
. I've never had the confidence to try it before, but my crafting has been improving lately, so I think I might be ready. If I end up trying it, I'll post about it on the Chic blog
(obvs.) Nothing else is new, really. Or nothing I feel comfortable writing about until the lurkers get bored and go away.
But fear not! I'll get thinking about more emo posts for the new year, I promise. (I know that's what you love, you voyeurs, you.)
Hey all. Regular readers have noticed that Monday's post has been taken down. If you were lucky enough to read the comments section, I'm sure you already know at least some of the story. Let's just say: Holy drama, Batman! and leave it at that.
Now let's all take a moment to remind ourselves of what's important.
And actually, while we're at it, let's talk a little bit about comment moderation. For future reference, here's how comments on jenselk.com work:
I generally publish everything, as long as the person leaving the comment doesn't try to be anonymous. If you don't want your comment to be searchable in relation to your name, I'm okay with that, so using initials, leaving out a last name, etc. is generally not a problem. BUT if you don't submit a real/active email address (which is never published, only sent privately to the moderator) so that your identity is at least clear to me (remember me? the owner of the site?) then I might not publish what you have to say.
Furthermore, regardless of all this, I don't actually have an obligation to publish comments of any kind. Even mass market newspapers moderate comments, and there are no official moderation standards in place. Everyone uses a different system. My system is the one I've just explained to you above.
So let's all agree that if you've got a hate on, you're welcome to it. Hate on, my hateful brothers and sistas! But remember this key point: I'm not actually obligated to provide you with a hate platform. And let's also agree that it would be a little strange for me to provide you with a platform to hate on me, personally.
That would be weird, right?
Anyway, by all means, start your own site to trash me if you feel you must (that would be pretty impressive, actually ... like being famous!). But on this site (the one with my name on it, that I own) I'm the boss. Sorry kids.