Mid-August a reader writes:
I’m pretty happy with my little blogging enterprise. I earn just a tiny bit of income, I enjoy having something that makes me write (my alleged trade) regularly, and I value the relationships I’ve forged with other women all over the world through the blogging community. Good stuff, right?
BUT (and isn’t there always a but?) some of my IRL friends find my internet sharing tacky or take things I say personally (even when they were not intended as such). I’ve noticed IRL friends unfollowing my blog. Now, in nearly all cases the reality is that these were not good friends for me. They were folks that I might not have liked so much IRL, but depended on to break up the monotony of stay-at-home parenting. And yet, illogically, it still stings.
I have experience being on the other side of this. Several months ago I had a mom acquaintance that blogged and though I liked her all right in person, I couldn’t stand her blog. It was preachy and condescending. In hindsight, I see that she was insecure and stressed. She was a literal and extreme devote of attachment parenting and she put a lot of pressure on herself to be perfect and put out a perfect image. To me, it was all insufferable. I quietly unfollowed her so I’d stop getting ticked off at her writing. She noticed and confronted me via email, a nasty exchange ensued, and we no longer speak, in person or online. I realized that if I could grow to hate her through her blog, other people could feel the same way about me and my blog.
I blog under my real name because I am (again, allegedly) a writer by trade and though there are great reasons to be an anonymous blogger, there are very few professional outlets for writers unwilling to put their own name to their words. And rightly so. Part of the challenge of writing is finding a way to deal with other people in your work that treats them fairly, is honest, and that you can live with being out there. But it’s tough to walk to balance between keeping my IRL friends 100% out of my writing and not writing about anything, especially given that over the last several months so much of my time is spent in the company of mothers.
I always do my best to make it clear to the people in my life that I do not expect them to read my blog. In fact, I’d rather they not read it if they’re going to feel put out by the task or otherwise not enjoy it. But I did eventually gather from one mom acquaintance that she felt like she had to skim my blog to check for references to her. Ack! What paranoia! Especially given that I’ve never referenced her or anything related to her. But boy do I regret having ever written about any of my mom friends, in however oblique terms, even though those few posts were the most cathartic to write at the time I wrote them I thought through very carefully how I’d feel about everyone in my life reading them and decided it was okay with me. A few (good) friends reached out to get clarification. The rest, it seems, just assumed I was pissed at them and withdrew from our relationship.
I’m conflicted about how I feel about putting myself out there. On one hand, my blog is doing me a service by screening out friends who might not be a good match for me. The woman that skims my blog out of paranoia and I have been hanging out for over a year, and yet, we barely know each other. Still, I enjoyed her ability to help me pass a monotonous afternoon of baby minding and now that chance is gone. And likewise, I was poorly suited for friendship with the wooden toys/cloth diapers purist, but it sucks to be eliminating social contacts before I can alienate them with my big fat mouth in person. I mean, jeez, I tend to think of my blog as a very distilled and edited version of myself so if folks can’t jive with that, what good can I do in person?
How do you deal with IRL friends/family being insulted by your writing? I’d prefer that folks address concerns and disagreements directly with me, but lo, that is not the way of the modern woman. (Thanks for the, now long ago, recommendation for Curse of the Good Girl. I know a lot of “nice” women, which is great, except that I am not a “nice” woman.) So instead people have qualms with my writing and choose to withdraw from my company. I don’t know how to deal with that.
I feel a lot of pressure as a woman, as a mother, as a human, as an American, to always be polite and likable. Thus, I feel pressure to make my blog always positive, never critical, and never controversial. But jeezusfuckingkrist, how lame is it to always be agreeable? I have stances, damn it! Unpopular ones. And I want to write about them and not just be bland “yeah for everybody” ladyblogger all the time (not that I succeed at that even when I try). But I don’t know how to walk this line between honesty and offensiveness in either my essay writing or my blog. Your thoughts?
Oi! This was a much longer query than I intended it to be. Can you see why I didn’t just formspring it? Again, no obligation to respond. This is just something I was curious about what your response might me.
All the best and well wishes,
First of all, thank you for your email. There is a lot to address here!
The first thing that pops up on my radar are your stated experiences you find SAHMing and housework “monotony” and one coping strategy is to find friends, even potentially ill-fitting ones, out of desperation (or perhaps some word akin to “desparation” that isn’t that drastic-sounding). More about this in a minute.
The second thing that comes to mind is how bad, bad, bad of an idea it would have been for me if I’d have ever tracked too much who was following me and who wasn’t, or conversely if I followed solely out of social obligation! I’m glad I don’t know specifically who is following my blog or not. I would worry a particular thing I said hurt someone. Or that they were judging my ass. Or something. And there are too many readers and back-and-forth followers for this to be a cost I should bear. Now, maybe there are people who could track this without distress but for me this would disrupt my writing and take some of the agency away from others. If they find my blog offensive or upsetting, they certainly have the right to tell me. And those who read or decide not to read are probably really NOT doing it about me anyway, because…
The truth is, our friends and readers should be allowed to stop reading our blog for ANY reason and they don’t owe it to us to say why (just as we never know exactly why those who choose to read, do – unless they tell us). In the case of those who jump ship, maybe they need 100% uplifting stuff right now and our snark is too much. Maybe our life or parts of it represent an ideal, and they feel envious and don’t like those feelings. Maybe they find us boring. In any case when they read or don’t read it’s about them. Why should I automatically make it about me? It doesn’t help me write better or feel better or behave better.
Which brings me to my next point. You asked,
How do you deal with IRL friends/family being insulted by your writing?
In many years of regular blogging with a fair readership I have only had two incidents of someone telling me they were insulted or hurt (and one incident of anon hate mail). I can’t speak to those who may have been insulted but haven’t told me (it takes a lot of courage to do so, I understand).
My strategies are simple and threefold. I
A. Try to be honest and committed to personal healing (more complex than it sounds), B. Make sure the blog is about ME – not other people – and is vulnerable as opposed to telling “my side” and C. (from my entry over four years ago* which is still rather apt): “[Employ] a pristine, crystal-clear policy on when to use names and how to tell stories with the degree of anonymity that [works for me].”
Addressing A.: If someone is insulted or offended and they tell me, I owe it to myself and them to care. I may reject their accusations of bad faith (if they make them), but I will probably behave differently in the future because I care enough to care why they hurt. I may apologize if I did something wrong. Now I don’t know how much this matters, once the hurt has already occurred. But I do think most people experience me as an empathetic individual who is open to knowing how I am experienced.
B.: It takes ovaries to make the blog about me. I don’t use the blog as an excuse to communicate to people indirectly. I use it as a place to write about my feelings and experiences. I am as vulnerable as I can be. This last part is very hard. Sometimes people read things I write and think I’m tough as nails and have It All Figured Out when actually I’m crying out in pain and anger. In fact many of my friends and readers seem to think I have fewer vulnerabilities than most people. I’m truly not sure where they get this idea. I’ve tried lately to say, “This hurts” or “I’m in pain” etc. This means I have to brave the tumbleweeds and crickets if none of my many readers comes to my rescue (which happens sometimes). But I’ve learned also I am kind of on my own, and pretending I’m not hurt or vulnerable isn’t really a solution I want to employ.
C.: I absolutely respect both my right to write about anything I want, but also my desire to not hurt people indiscriminately. Fortunately, this hasn’t been hard considering I’m at what, well over half a million words and I’ve not fucked up too many times. We can know deep-down which friends would rather be talked about as an initial or not mentioned at all. We can also ask them, or at least open a dialogue. Sometimes I mention people’s names, sometimes I do not. Sometimes I choose not to write anything at all for a long time – or write in such a way as to entirely obfuscate details that may have social repercussions I don’t want to set in motion. Hopefully my readers know if I am writing anything at all that has drama, it’s not because I am tattling or need reassurance (unless I specifically ask for reassurance, which is rare), it’s because I’m chronicling my life and who I am.
Tangentially, at first in Port Townsend I had a handful of what I affectionately called “star-fuckers”, ladies and gentlemen who read primarily to see if I’d written about them. Hee. They skimmed my blog for their name for the “fame” (such as it is, which is near-naught) or the worry I’d diss them. But I don’t blame them. Human beings are smart enough to know the words we say to one another in-person aren’t the summation of human response. In particular women and girls are socially trained to gossip and back-bite and be indirect with their feelings. Why shouldn’t my friends be worried and/or tuned in, assuming (with good cause, but not so likely in my case) I’d be less-than-direct about my true feelings only to air them online later?
Over time I think most readers who know me IRL have developed a sense of trust. I feel proud to write about what happens during the day with relative freedom, knowing I’m (likely!) not stepping on toes and knowing I am open to hearing if my language has hurt (1st footnote, here). It is an art, I must admit! In the entry four years ago I wrote, “Write what you really think and be prepared for anyone to read it (your pastor, your parents, your spouse, that blog-stalker you were trying to avoid). Be prepared to re-evaluate your policy, but donâ€™t be in a hurry to. My policy: no one has to read this. If you read my blog, you are looking through my windows â€“ donâ€™t be offended if you donâ€™t like how I look in my panties. That said, it is never my intention to hurt feelings or humiliate, and Iâ€™m open to reconsideration regarding my entries.” I take every word of that very seriously.
So now on to you some more. You wrote,
I feel a lot of pressure as a woman, as a mother, as a human, as an American, to always be polite and likable. Thus, I feel pressure to make my blog always positive, never critical, and never controversial.
Yes. Of course. There’s a lot of this pressure.
But jeezusfuckingkrist, how lame is it to always be agreeable? I have stances, damn it! Unpopular ones. And I want to write about them […] I don’t know how to walk this line between honesty and offensiveness in either my essay writing or my blog.
You do realize the idea of living “politely” and somewhat inauthentically, then going to the blog and ranting about attachment parenting/working mothers/babystrollers/babyslings/breastfeeding Nazis/formula-feeding louts – is as much of a harmful behavior required in sacrifice of “Nice White Lady Syndrome” as is being overly-polite?
Given that, I think one of the best things we parents/carers/mommy-bloggers (and parents/carers/mommy-IRL-people) could do is not buy into the mommy-wars. It’s false rhetoric anyway as the C-section or vaccinating mama loves her kids as much as the homebirthing crunchy one; social pressures set them against one another and sadly, too many succumb. Let’s be above this! Let’s save our PISSED for the social pressures, sexism, misogyny, devaluation of certain groups (children, people of color, disabled, etc), and the kyriarchal mindsets of the many men (and women) who ignore our suffering or laugh it off as being “less than” – let’s not hate on one another!
So for instance your final (for now) read on your Wooden Toys Purist was a good one. At the time it hurt you to read so you stopped reading; later you had compassion for what she was probably going through (and you probably intuited correctly). Too bad it was too late in her case. (or is it? You can always apologize if you hurt her… your unfollowing was justified for your own mental health – and she may relate to this more than you know! – but perhaps you said things in the email exchange that you regret…)
It is a lie we are all “different”, and we should not read one another’s blogs if other women have different “priorities” (it is absolutely true we should keep our mental and emotional health as safe as possible, which may include not partaking of a certain blog or experience… but we can do this without vilifying others and their choices or laying all The Hurt at their feet). Those women (and men) who upset us, we have more in common with them than less. I recommend a heavy dose of NVC, yes with their New Agey sounding giraffes and jackals et al. It really helps.
Finally, what’s with you finding at-home parenting to be so boring? Or social life so unsatisfying? You know that’s not a requirement of mommyhood/SAHMhood/laydeefriends, right? These are things you can change (probably). Do you need to go back to work? Do you need status and support for staying home? Do you need to vent to supportive people (not to other new mamas who might feel raw and pecked-at as well)? Do you need more help? (this latter is what I really needed, back when I joked about at-home parenting being “monotonous”) There are solutions to these problems, and they are individualistic, and they are also important.
Because the suffering of mothers and at-home parents (especially female ones) is real. We should work to improve scenarios for these parents/carers/women, not encourage them to settle for less (less status, less social life, less respect, less freedom and autonomy). I was fortunate to have a large group of awesome ladyfriends when I started my family, and two incredible and loyal close friends who helped me raise my little kids. They have not only my love but my – well, there aren’t words for how deeply I feel for them. Not all new parents (women) have this gift. If you don’t have it, it’s not your fault. Just know the other ladies probably yearn for what you do, too.
Maybe that’s a good (re-)starting place.
In the meantime, write what you can and what you need to. Focus on being vulnerable, not antagonistic. It will help you more, and mean more to your readers than you can imagine. Need to vent? You can do that too, because sometimes you gotta – or you can email me. I’m pretty tough. I can take it.
* This old entry still basically stands as – in my view – rather good advice for the casual blogger. Yet I’d add the following changes/caveats: I still like to write (and read) what happened, as opposed to what a blogger thinks. But that’s just a personal preference when I write, and I no longer categorically find other types of writing ‘boring’. This was rude and insensitive of me to go on about. The truth is, I have discovered, many people don’t write because they think they’ll be called – you guessed it, boring! And here I was being a jerk and contributing to this.
So having a few years to reflect, I don’t agree blogs (tweeting/facbeook) are “boring” or (as I heard the other day from a friend) “narcissistic” – precisely because we, ourselves, are allowed to read or not read! Bottom line is I wish more people kept an online journal with integrity. I can’t begin to express how much it has helped me, and helped others who read me.