First, from Darwin, a few weeks ago.
[T]here are a good many people who know me in real life who read the blog. More than that, after writing a blog for four-and-a-half years, you get to think of a number of your long-time readers and commenters are friends. The blog becomes like a corner coffee house or bar where the same characters assemble regularly -- with the occasional stranger dropping in as well -- and discuss a range of topics, with everyone knowing the basic terrain of who everyone else is and where everyone is coming from.
The way in which a blog can serve as a combination magazine and coffee shop is, to me, one of the most appealing elements of the medium. It's more personable than simply sending one's words out into the void, knowing that someone out there is reading them but seldom sure of what others think about them.
At the same time, however, this community element to blog writing makes one particularly aware of the difficulties of writing within a community. As the number of people I know (whether locally or online) who are blog readers increases, I increasingly find myself thinking, "If I write about that, so-and-so might be offended."
Next, from Betty Duffy, and indirectly Pentimento, more recently.
On one of the shelves in the bookstore, I picked up a book for grown-ups that looked interesting. I read the back cover, absorbed the synopsis, then looked for an author bio. “Well what do you know,” I thought, “It’s that angry man on the internet,” and re-shelved the book. I’d recently happened upon the author’s blog, on which he peeled apart the writings of some bad Catholic with whom he took issue.
The author bugged me, not because of his lack of charity. Mean people are a curiosity. He bugged me because his self-appointed Catholic gate-keeping functioned as a sort of literary terrorism, scaring anyone who writes with a “Catholic” next to his or her name out of writing anything interesting.
“If your Catholicism is an openly-stated aspect of your writing and your consciousness, you may find that some of your equally open and self-conscious co-religionists are standing by waiting to judge the way you express your faith and tally how well you live up to it…. I was surprised a year or so ago to receive deeply hurtful criticisms in my comboxes from some who thought my writing was inappropriate, and from others who called my faith into question and even slandered me in the comboxes of a friend. My best friend in real life… took me to task after that because she thought my writing had become bland and cautious.”
Who wouldn’t write cautiously when our writing about our personal experiences as a member of this Catholic Community faces such vicious scrutiny?
...Here then, is one Catholic blogger who will say without shame, I write this blog only because I enjoy doing it. It is not my apostolate. I might lead you astray. I might cuss.
I've been a little stilted lately. Like Darwin, I don't conceal my identity terribly hard on my blog. I'm not trying to shield it from friends and family. But I recognize the signs of hesitation sometimes when I write about politics, morality, sometimes even the petty arenas of judgmentalism that arise from parenting style, schooling style, liturgical preferences. No wonder I take refuge in posting so many recipes.
I appreciate posts like this by Darwin and Betty, whose writing I have admired for its candidness. It's nice to be reminded that others are dealing with the same kind of internal censor. And I am beginning to appreciate the value of the blog as a learning environment for... what -- sensitivity maybe? There is a balance to be learned: a balance between honesty and truth, and charity to the real people who might see themselves (rightly or wrongly) between the lines.
What is the good and true purpose of this blog? It is not my apostolate, either (though see Betty's followup to her post quoted above). I don't write in an attempt to entertain others -- not much anyway -- nor to have a soapbox -- okay, I do my share of venting, I admit it. Even though I pad it with a lot of fluff and kid-pictures and recipes and "funny things that happened to me" bits, things that would be better suited to Facebook if I was the sort of person to have 293 "friends," there is a "main purpose" belied by the actual word-count I spend on various side purposes.
Once during Christmas vacation midway through graduate school, I sat down with a pencil and a new legal pad and I wrote the date at the top and a title, "On the isotropic and unidirectional compactions of compressible packed spheres" or something like that, and I began at the very beginning and I wrote for hours and went straight through, as if I was explaining to someone with absolutely no background, everything I knew, guessed, and was trying to demonstrate about my thesis topic. I made few corrections and I drew a lot of pictures along the way. I filled the legal pad over the course of a few days. With surprisingly few changes, that legal pad became a large chunk of the explication my doctoral thesis, and I still consider it one of the most viscerally satisfying pieces of writing I ever did.
The reason I want to blog is the same reason I have always used that kind of derivation, and also the reason I have always journaled, and also the reason I have always savored (when I can get them) long conversations over a bottle of something or other: figuring something out, breaking sloppy reality down to its elements and reconstructing it into a model that I can wrap my mind around and say "This much I understand."
Lately I think I have been overwhelmed by the thought of who might be reading, and have lost some of the courage I need to lay out what's on my mind.
Well then. PASS THE BOTTLE.