Call it "essay" writing and a completely different image comes to mind.
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.
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.
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.