Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blog vs. Life

I am working away on the huge quilt that I am making for an invitational show. I am not even guaranteed of it getting into the show and I am more than uncertain about how it is working out, but I am keeping on. It is giving me time to think.

I read this article in the NY Times magazine this morning. It isn't new, but I just came across it, probably linked from someone else's blog—I forget how I got there. Anyway, it is by a young woman who tells the story of how she wrote a blog about her personal life, which led to a job at Gawker, a gossipy commercial blog. She talks about her tendency for "over-sharing," about how it cost her relationships and changed her life, not so much for the better. It was pretty depressing actually and while I don't really relate or see that my blogging is much like hers, it got me thinking. Especially about relationships.

She talked about the people who read her blog:
"Some of my blog’s readers were my friends in real life, and even the ones who weren’t acted like friends when they posted comments or sent me e-mail. They criticized me sometimes, but kindly, the way you chide someone you know well. Some of them had blogs, too, and I read those and left my own comments. As nerdy and one-dimensional as my relationships with these people were, they were important to me. They made me feel like a part of some kind of community, and that made the giant city I lived in seem smaller and more manageable." It's like that. The people who read and comment do become important. And that is what I have been thinking about.

It is easy to begin to feel like people who comment on your blog and you on theirs are real friends. But that's too simple, really. They know you as you want them to know you. They don't know your annoying habits, or foul moods or occasionally careless ways. Nor do you know theirs. They are much easier friends than the ones you actually interact with in real life. Not that they couldn't be real friends. But it is seductive to think they already are. And useful.

I have to remind myself of this. Blog commenters will most often tell you what you want to hear. That's always good for the ego, but it also lets you live in denial. You post a new piece of artwork and ask, "do you like it? Should I change anything?" Maybe one or two will give you something constructive, the rest will stroke your ego and make you feel invincible. Worse, you can blog about a gripe, someone who slighted you, someone who disagreed with you and get all the support and agreement you would ever want. Problem is, yours is the only side of the story they hear and they are "friends"—eager to make you feel better, or superior or smarter. It's something I observe on blogs a lot and I'm not proud to admit I've taken advantage of that myself on occasion.

In the article I read, the author talked about damaging her real-life relationships by telling stories about people in her life, revealing things they believed were shared in confidence, exposing their privacy. Reading this really did give me pause. I talk about my friends, my family. I hope I don't embarrass them or make them uncomfortable, but it could happen. I have removed posts written thoughtlessly and felt bad about what I revealed about someone else. I don't post pictures of my granddaughter anymore. Her mother wasn't comfortable with that, and while I told myself I was posting for out-of-town family to be able to keep up with her I also enjoyed having strangers tell me how cute she was. Reality check. There are some things I don't need to share with the world at large.

I have written here about the positive things that have come to me because of my blog and I sincerely believe in those things. I probably won't change much about what I am doing, but I think I may change some things about how I am thinking. I need to keep a clear distinction between my blog and my life and my online friends and my real life friends. I have to keep a perspective on the relative unimportance of what my blog means. I have seen bloggers refer to their readers and commenters as their "fans." Heaven help us all if we bloggers begin to see ourselves as having fans. Ayyyyyy. That just really makes me cringe.

And that's what I've been thinking about as I fuse scraps of fabric this fine sunshine-y day.


  1. Another great post! I agree, I do think it's easy to start to think of the blog community as friends and family. And some are. But some are people with totally different priorities, objectives and beliefs. I try to remember that the vast majority of my blog readers don't much care about my persona life. They come to my blog to see quilty stuff so I do my best to leave it at that. Sometimes I am more successful than other times!

  2. Telling you what you want to hear, oh yeah; I've experienced that in other online venues as well. Someone posts that they've been fired or passed over for a promotion, and you can guarantee a chorus of "Oh you poor thing," "how unfair!," "what a shit your boss is," etc. etc. etc. The great unspeakable is "Maybe you deserved it."

    My conclusion after 20+ years online is that the most meaningful relationships here are with people you also know in real life, or developed in a context, often limited to a small group of people who've all bought into it, where the purpose is to be honest and go deep.

    Fans, yeah. I have a dear friend, a musician, who's reached his limit of allowable friends on Facebook, so he started a Fan page and sent all his "friends" an invitation. I wrote back and said "Nah, I'm just gonna stay a friend. You already know I'm a fan." I think he was actually a little embarrassed.

  3. That's quite a mouthful to chew on. You're right though -- we as a whole need to be conscious about what we write because once it's out tehre, it's out there forever. Striking a balance between safe, relevant, and enriching can be hard.

  4. It is a delicate balance, isn't it?

    But, having recently spent three lovely lunches and several additional hours with a formerly virtual, now real life friend, I must say that there is something wonderfully different about relationships nurtured through blogging. Your post and the NY Times article are probably good warnings, but I'm willing to take the risk.

    I can't imagine how different my life would be without blogging. Not necessarily better or worse, but certainly different.

  5. I agree with Deborah. I have forged some amazing relationships from early on in my blogging life. I seem to have a high readership, but not a lot of comments so I don't feel that I am thinking of some big following out there hanging on my every word. But when I think of the amazing friends that I have made through blogging, it brings tears to my eyes.

  6. Blogging is like using a camera with a really good editing software - you can crop your life and just show what you want the rest of the world to see, and edit out the piles of laundry and stacks of unread mail in the background. I like that - I don't post photos of my kids (other than one really old one in the margin) and I usually just blog about making art. I really DO enjoy learning about the creative process, and that is what I look for in the blogs I read. Visuals are important too, and I never read blogs that are all commercial or all text. The "friendships" made, though, are connections with other people who have a similar passion for either fiber, art or nature. We are a village, virtual of course, but still a village, and can add value to eachother's creative life by support, critique, and friendship.

  7. There is a fine line, and a delicate balance, but I've got to say that I wouldn't trade my blogging experience for the world! I've met some great folks, and look forward to meeting more. And I've learned a tremendous amount, not just about fiber, but about people! You are right: 99% will tell you what you want to hear, but you also quickly learn who will be honest and constructive with their comments. I've also pretty much stopped posting pics of family....after all, they would have their own blogs if they wanted to post pics of themselves! Thanks for all of the food for comment!


  8. I don't write much personal stuff either, I am more about the visual, in my showing and my reading/viewing. I can't get all caught up in the Facebook thing either. I view blogs to get inspiration, give me ideas, change my ideas, make me laugh. I also like to find things to share with my Mom. She is 88 and I like to make her laugh, or show her new art ideas. She likes helping me with my quilty stuff, I can see the sparks fly in her eyes. {she is an artist from the old school...pre-digital days}

  9. Blogging is important to me but I've already lost a job because of things I've written, so I am more careful of content. It is so easy to share a personal conversation on the blog and not realize you are "saying too much".

    I don't use names, but my friends get a kick out of being K or N or G. And no pictures of people. It limits what I can say and do but that's the nature of the world.

    I know a few of the people who comment and the content seems honest enough. I would think the others are just as nice. And, I like that they don't agree with me all the time. I can be difficult.

    When art quilters ask, what do you think?, I give careful consideration to any comment I would make. If I see something wonderful or something that would make a positive change I say something. Otherwise, I stay out of it. Sometimes saying nothing, is quite a statement.

    I use the delete button quite a lot. I proof read and edit before publishing and will go back in and delete more if I don't feel comfortable. But I still speak my mind and say things I shouldn't. My blog isn't popular. I have no fans or peeps. All good things.

  10. Good things to think about. I have recently been thinking about how much personal vs. art stuff to put on my blog. I want to be more "professional" but I also like to get to know the person behind the art as well.

    I think for now, most of my readers are family and friends and they probably like the personal stuff more than the art (not totally sure about that statement). I really don't want to have to separate those aspects into two blogs either. So for now, I'll just keep doing what I have been.

    Also, when I ask for opinions about my art, I really do appreciate the honest answer and suggestions (even if sometimes it's hard to hear). And I always cipher out what I truly take to heart.

  11. This is so well said. You may have found that link on my Blog because I wrote about some of the same things yesterday.

    I have made many of the same observations you did and come to many of the same conclusions. Hopefully we older Bloggers bring a maturity to this whole process that will keep us from the seduction of having a "fan club".

    I'm struck with what a profound effect the Internet has had on our sharing with others. It is sad to think that we need to be cautious about posting pictures, but probably true. I never hesitate to put up Jake's pictures, but my family for the most part stay in the shadows.

  12. I could write a response as long as the (psychologically very revealing) NY Times article!
    Myself, I often hesitate to say "Great work!" to someone I don't know personally, in case it looks like gushing - it's my Scottish upbringing - but on the other hand, is there anything wrong with a bit of well-meant flattery?! Seems to me very brave to offer your work to whoever wants to comment (and there are a fair few vitriolic people waiting out there under the invisibility shield of the internet), but also very generous to give pleasure to others by sharing.
    PS I would never read a blogger who carps on about their loved ones' failings and foibles - which you don't do. I'll probably never visit Oregon, but I so much enjoy the glimpses you give us of life in your corner of the world. (Hope that doesn't sound like gushing!)

  13. One thing about blogging as you do it Terry, is it allows introverts to have a conversation with more people than in-person. Blogging allows others to show an interest in the aspects of your life that you share. In person, most of us wouldn't be comfortable starting a conversation about our art unless asked. And asking may come across as intrusive or it is just not the right time/setting. Blogging removes the need for being in the same time/place and state-of-mind.

  14. I think bloggers have personae, which may or may not be close to their real personality. Personally, I find Terry a much more interesting character in real life than she'll ever be able to be in a blog, no matter how many entries she makes (yep, I'm writing about you, Ms Grant).

    On blogs, people show pieces of themselves and hope to elicit certain reactions from others. But they don't show those parts they'd rather not have reactions to -- blogging is mostly facade and telling about one side of ourselves while keeping lots of stuff silent. Cheery cheery and a bit of serious art working and some kvetching about the weather -- that's a good facade while real life goes on behind.

    I like reading the blogs but don't find that they tell me much about the person writing them unless I already know her or him. Then the blogs are fascinating.

    Of course there are "professional" blogs -- how to do whatever, etc., and how to think about post-modernism or whatever -- but that's more like serious essay writing and reading how-to books -- I like them both, but don't really expect to know much about the authors from reading them.

    I guess what I'm really saying is that you (Terry) seem already to have a clear distinction in what you write about and how you write it. Your tale of Ray and the iPhone is just that -- a "tale" -- funny and for public consumption and Ray would tell it himself if he blogged. Anyone who thinks they know Terry Grant from her blog is sorely mistaken. But she's fun to read, anyway.