HitchDied

Honesty, Privacy, Blogging, and My Book

| 24 Comments

Last weekend I went to the A Practical Wedding book talk in Brooklyn. It was a lovely event, and getting the chance to meet a bunch of #nosybitches was just as fun, delightful, and heartwarming as I expected it to be. But you’ll have to turn to their blogs for a recap of that, because I want to get meta on you guys.

One thing Meg addressed in her book talk was the boundary she maintains between her Real Life and her Blogged Portrayal of that Life, and how valuable that privacy is to her.  She noted (quoting other wise women of Internet Note whose specific identities I cannot recall) a) that anything you put on the internet no longer really belongs to you [see also, that weird (although flattering) moment where you see one of your wedding photos on somebody's "wedding pinspiration" Pinterest board] b) anything you put on the internet you are opening to commentary, some of which may be negative (cf., the nightmare that someone could pin a picture of you on a pinboard titled “BARF” or “Who does this bitch think she is?” or “Great Snaggleteeth of Our Times”).

I feel greatly ambivalent about this subject.  The thing about my blogging style that gets the best response is that I’m open and honest.  And writing openly and honestly (I just typed hopenly, which is a cool not-word) is the most self-beneficial thing I do with this blog.  It helps me process my feelings, and it connects me to my readers in a very valuable way.  I still get emails thanking me for the post on depression I wrote that ran on A Practical Wedding almost a year ago.  Honestly, I see the writing and publishing of that piece as the dividing line between when my depression was its worst and the gradual climb through recovery I’m still going through now.   And the value of that writing experience was a big part of what pushed me to write a draft of my memoir.

But when I work on editing (let’s be real: rewriting) my memoir, I feel this terrible hesitation. What am I working for? Would I really want people to read this?  Not because it is terrible (it is terrible, but I remain confident I can edit it comfortably past the point of terribleness), but because it is too revealing.  But the honest telling of my story is the only thing that would make it worth reading.  It helps that I’m clever with words and a good storyteller, but it is not nearly enough.  The HERE’S THE REAL FUCKING TRUTH aspect of my memoir is its only shot at being actually valuable.

But that transparency also makes me feel terribly vulnerable.  Writing on HitchDied, I am only exposing myself to dozens of readers, not the thousands that Meg has.  And when I contributed to A Practical Wedding, I was shielded from the negative comments by strict moderation.  My other (terribly neglected) blog, Double R Diner, which I started last year with the hopes of finding a vibrant community of readers like the one I’ve enjoyed with HitchDied to ramble feminist-style about pop culture with, gets a small fraction of the traffic HitchDied does, but much if not MOST of the comments lef there are, well, mean.  (In contrast, I’ve NEVER had to take down a comment on HitchDied, and I’ve been insulted by… maybe one? I can’t even remember. So I couldn’t have been that insulted.).  When you explicitly say you are being feminist, there’s a certain section of the internet dedicated to hunting your blog down and lengthily commenting to explain why you are not only wrong but also a terrible person (I’ve taken down the worst personal attack-type comments, but feel free to browse what remains for some great examples of mansplaining).  I KNEW that would be the case, because well, I read feminist blogs, but I didn’t expect it to be so demoralizing.  It’s the primary reason that blog never got off the ground.  I didn’t feel like putting in the work on a new post just to get yelled at. I’m not tough enough.

And that’s when I’m talking about what I thought about the latest Britney single or episode of The Simpsons, not how my heart felt when my parents died.  So I’m conflicted about putting in the work (because it would be SO MUCH WORK) to finish my memoir and, oy gevalt, maybe even try to get it published.  Because the only way to do that would be to shed the privacy I’d suddenly need again if my memoir found a readership.   I don’t know if the emotional transparency I’m talking about is prudent for anyone, and even if it could be, if it would ever feel acceptable to me.

I’m not sure what the solution here is, but I have a sinking feeling it is “scrub myself from the internet and get a real job.”  Which I’m pinning on my BARF board.

24 Comments

  1. I feel you on matters of privacy. I always thought I’d write a wedding graduate post and then as soon as I got the photos back I felt horrified at the idea of letting tons of people weigh in on our day. Positive or negative. At once I keep the blog because I like sorting my feelings out in sentences and launching them into the ether, but at the same time it can be so difficult to attach so permanently to your person.

    In a weird way, a book furnishes more privacy than a blog because your memoir won’t be searchable and lacks the sort of permanence that a website provides (for better or worse.)

    I always say that my blog is for invisible silent strangers and people who already like me. Ha. Not terribly courageous but there you go.

    • The point you make about a book being strangely more private is fascinating to me, especially in the context of not writing a wedding grad post. One reason I haven’t written one is the task feels like distilling my entire wedding blog down to 500 words for those who haven’t read it, and I worry about people who HAVE read it finding my summary version disingenuous. [One of my favorite conversations at the APW gathering this last weekend was "Why haven't we all written wedding grad posts: GO!"]

      And I LOVE the idea of “invisible silent strangers.” If my Google Analytics are meant to be believed, THEY EXIST.

  2. I think one of the most important things to remember about writing, like theater and probably most (all?) other art forms, is that you’re writing for an audience. If not, you’d be journaling. Which is fine too, but it’s a different thing.

    I don’t think art is ever intended for a vacuum. The basis of any artist’s need to create is to forge a connection with someone else or many someone elses through his or her personal means of expression. Some people disagree with me, and they create things with no thought to anyone else. I think you have to be, like, Van Gogh or Mozart-like gifted to pull that off…and I’d argue that even people that talented still only succeed if their art connects with people on some level, whether the artist consciously intended it to or not. Some art forms can probably get away with “selfish” art better than others — visual art, perhaps, because it’s received in such a personal manner, on the receiver’s time. A play cannot. Frankly, I don’t think writing can either. Unless you’re journaling, writing is intended to be read.

    All of this isn’t to say that I think anyone should “tailor” his or her writing to any particular audience, unless that’s a goal somehow attached (you’re paid to cover a certain topic, for example). But I do believe that in writing the personal, a good barometer when you’re questioning how personal to get is to step back and say: Who am I writing this for? What do I want people to understand about my own experience? Why am I writing this as a memoir, with hopes of publishing and others reading it, instead of writing it down in a scented notebook for myself? (It isn’t just hopes of financial success, or if it is, that will trip an artist up a lot of the time.) It’s a good thing to constantly come back to, to question whether every word, every paragraph, every anecdote serves the purpose of what you want to convey and why you’re conveying it. This is the basis behind every second of acting; it is all action-based. You are always trying to make your fellow actor (or audience) feel or do something. You are never, ever trying to feel something yourself; that’s death onstage. It’s just jacking off. Nobody cares what you are feeling; it’s all about how what you’re feeling translates to them and how it makes them feel about their own lives. Humans are inherently selfish in that sense, really, but it isn’t a negative thing — it’s why we have art in the first place, to communicate. Your post on depression is a great example of that. People respond so strongly because of how it affects *them*, even if that means it affected them on a way of feeling for *you* — and I’d imagine that, even subconsciously, that’s certainly what you intended. It wasn’t just about what depression does to you; it’s about reassuring others they’re not alone in their own feelings or whatever.

    • Annie, this comment is incredible. I agreed with almost every word and I think it’s really valuable.

      (I assume you weren’t doing thesis work when you typed it, so know that at least one person was like “damn, well said.)

    • Wow, what a great comment. It makes me want to be in grad school. (I now imagine you reaching through the internet to slap me in the face and scream, “Snap out of it, woman!”)

      I will definitely have to think more about the audience as I revise my memoir. When I wrote the depression piece, it was mostly for other depressed engaged people (who responded most, or at least most vocally), but also for people like Collin who haven’t experienced depression but love someone who has, trying to explain a little more what it feels like. In the same way, my memoir is written for other members of the DPC (or the dead anyone club, like, you are not alone, this is what grief does to people) but also for people who haven’t experienced that kind of loss, like, “OK so this is what might be really going on with that friend or coworker of yours whose dad just died, so here’s what you should probably NOT say.” You know? And I wonder if that split focus is hurting the work.

      Anyway, thanks for being so smart.

      • I didn’t even think of that angle of things. Makes a lot of sense…and is very noble and direct I think!

        Thank you Abby; I am, in fact, never working on my thesis.

        DON’T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL. DON’T EVER GO TO GRAD SCHOOL.

      • Lots of good stuff here. Thinking about audience is a second/third draft stage. First you have to get it down.

        I want to sit down in a bar and discuss DPC memoirs with you. I’m writing one too. My greatest fear is, obviously not my parents, but my siblings. Holy shit.

        I write for strangers.

  3. Could you (or, I suppose, would it make sense in your head to) finish rewriting your memoir as an exercise that may be valuable to you, and then try to get it published at some point in the future, when you feel as though potential criticism wouldn’t have the same effect on you? Do you think you would ever get to a point where that would be the case?

    • Yes, and this is probably the real “game plan” as far as trying to publish my memoir is concerned. I don’t want to try to do it from South Africa, because trying to publish is hard enough without a 7 hour time difference. So that gives me two years to make my book worthy and decide what I want, and, conveniently, two more years of emotional distance.

  4. Sigh. I forgot to add my info. That last comment was from me.

  5. 1. I was so so happy to have met you and be able to hang out for a bit at the after-party!! You’re even more awesome in person than I expected.
    2. You are right that one of the most appealing things about your writing style is your honesty and emotional transparency.
    3. I think you’re wrong that it’s “the only thing that would make it worth reading.” Don’t forget that you’re also quite funny and insightful (wedding magazine review and movie reviews, remember?). You don’t have to sell your emotional inner life to make it as a writer.
    4. I think it might be worth trying to figure out if there’s a line between the personal stories you want to share and potentially be criticized on, or if it’s more just in general criticism you might get on any creative work that you put out there that is scary right now.
    5. Evie and Annie make great points about books not being as easily searchable as websites and art being made for an audience.
    6. It sounds like you’re also wondering yourself what your intent is here, which obviously saps away at your motivation to work more a little. I mean, I’m sure you have multiple intentions but probably there might be a way to rank them so that if the number 1 thing is just to have something to publish, I’m confident you could start another work that shelters you a little more emotionally, but I suspect that like your post on depression, you have some intent to share your experience with others to try to help them as well or at least make others feel less alone. So is that strong enough to hold up against the (unfortunately many) mean people out there?

    • So, first of all, it was SO AWESOME meeting you too. When you called out my name when I was walking to the bathroom I was like, “YESSSS! KWU IS HERE!”

      Moving on to #4, I think maybe I muddled this conversation by bringing in Double R Diner, because I’m not really worried as much about the emotional cost of people judging my memoir insofar as “your writing isn’t good enough.” Like, if I seek out publication, “Your writing is terrible/unsellable” is 100% for sure going to be said to me a million times, and I know I will HATE THAT (like I hate it now when writing submissions are rejected) but I know I can also deal with it.

      What I’m not sure I can deal with is if my book did get published, and people read it, and thought, “This girl is kind of selfish and terrible.” After I finished my draft, I made a list of memoirs I had to read to make sure my book wasn’t too close to any of them (at the bottom of that pile is the dreaded Heartbreaking Work of Yadda Yadda), and 22% of the way into the first one I was like, “Wow, this guy is an ASSHOLE.” When more people read about you, some of them are going to think you are a jerlk. So I guess I want to be thicker-skinned and better about not letting haters keep me off my grind.

  6. In your original post, you wrote that you were doing it because it was a personal goal. You wanted to do it because you said you were going to do it. [I understand and applaud accomplishing such goals--one of mine like that, waiting around for years, is this month, as you know]

    Using that analogy actually…I guess I had a tier system of goals. The first was DO a show (a comedy show of women). At all. The second was do it REAL GOOD and in the style/shape I wanted. The next was have it be sold out and thus likely really well received that night! The next would be some coverage in the paper to give my parents/future kids a newspaper clipping to hang on the refrigerator/future refrigerator robot. The next would be that the show spurs momentum to do some more shows!

    I love if all those happen…but honestly, I’ll be happy/think it was worth it with one and two, which are in the bag, and happy-happy with number three. If those other two happen, it’s gravy. If this leads to equality for all women in comedy and a short stint on a NBC show cancelled after 4 episodes–Ritters gravy.

    BACK TO YOU.

    Maybe think of it like THAT in terms of yourself and why you’re doing this. Make your own tier system of goals and why ARE you doing this.

    I think Annie’s comment is great in terms of the tough writer questions behind why are you doing this.

    My only other thought was this: how would it affect you if you were to somehow get it published (woo!) and rather than the negative garbage type comments you got on Double R (“I disagree, woman idiot”) …you got a lot of nonplussed reaction. (yeah that’s the wrong use of that word WHATEVER) Like, would it hurt more, less, not at all if no one thinks the book is bad, but more… ‘another drop in the memoir bucket.’ I ask because I’d think of that if I were writing about a really hard time. The hardest time ever. And people were like “it’s well written, but whatever” I feel like that would be hard. I can get sad if I FB or Tweet about a bad event and not EVERYONE cares. But then I remember everyone has their own shit, I guess.

    Have you thought about a goal being to write it and even bind it yourself (the internet does that, right?) and then sell at home via your website, other blogging networks? I have NO idea how that would work. But I’d buy a copy. And I’d care.

    • First of all, I love what you wrote here about FS and may quote some of it when I write a post about doing the show, if that is OK with you. As for a four episode run on NBC, this reminds me of something I started thinking about when we were talking about Union Square the other day: how great would it be if all those Death Slot comedy casts had reunion parties every few years? And then we could join the ranks and get soused with the cast of Boston Common and do the Electric Slide with The Single Guy. And after enough liquid courage, approach the Four Kings and explain to them that we literally referenced their credits AT MY WEDDING. That would be the best party ever. That should be your new End Goal.

      BACK TO ME.

      Sort of echoing what I said to KWU, I am much more ready to be ignored/dismissed as a memoirist than I am to be noticed and reviled.

      As for self-publishing, I have mixed feelings. I’m sort of like, “Well, if I’m going to make myself vulnerable by putting my soul out there, I want to be rewarded with the ‘legitimacy’ of being a ‘for-real’ published author.” That’s lame, I know, but it is how I feel. But seriously, that’s presuming I can get published, which is RIDICULOUSLY PRESUMPTUOUS. Talk to me after I can’t even get an agent. Then we’ll see how I really feel about self-publishing.

  7. Hi – first time commenter. Just wanted you to know that I read and enjoy(ed) your other blog very much! I love reading feminist blogs but I don’t comment, or even read the comments half the time, because they are always so brain-breaking. It’s like reading YouTube comments when a cat does a cute trick and people write things like “I can’t believe some pet owners would exploit their cat for internet fame – so cruel” – seems like people who are too scared to debate in real life because they know no one will agree with their ridiculous opinions all congregate to comment on internet posts so I don’t consider them worth my time. Which is unfortunate because look at the great discussions that come out of places like APW, where you know what you say is going to be respected and not just torn down for the sake of tearing it down. It’s hard to have an intelligent discussion while someone else is trolling through all the legitimate comments, and I imagine especially hard to write a blog post when you know what the majority of the comments are going to say. But I imagine you had more readers like me, who enjoyed it but didn’t comment, than vocal mansplainer readers.

    This makes me think thought that I should start commenting when I enjoy a post – not necessarily to start a discussion but to let the author know that I appreciated what they had to say. I’m sure positive feedback like that can go a long way.

    • Thank you, other Robyn! Just to let you know, Double R Diner isn’t dead. In fact, I just renewed my hosting, and the money leaving my wallet will hopefully spur me to write another post or several over there. It’s always on the back burner for me, and I hope it will someday see much more regular posting.

  8. This is such a dilemma, I work in media-related things (academically) and really can’t separate my on-line and off-line persona, so I want to be gossipy and nosy bitchy on Twitter (like all the cool kids on APW seem to be) but then think a colleague is going to say ‘what the hell was that shit about?’

    I started a blog because I was reading ones like yours and others I found through APW (and elsewhere) and enjoying feeling connected to like-minded people experiencing similar and yet totally different things. And yes, it is that emotional honesty and disclosure (in addition to funny writing and commentary) that so is often appealing, and helpful.

    I started writing myself because I felt like I was some weirdo internet voyeur reading other peoples’ writing and not contributing anything to the ether from my end. I’m safe at the moment because I think basically no one reads it, and while I sorta want to change that to be more part of a conversation, it’s also comforting at the same time.

    I don’t feel like I have the balance at all right on my blog (whatever, I can’t even say that with a straight face because to have a blog you have to have readers right? see earlier comment re audience). Weddings are fairly safe to talk about, there’s a narrative about wedding blogging that’s pretty established. Some people are really able to talk about infertility and health stuff but I just don’t feel comfortable, mostly from a work perspective but also because the choices we have to make right now are ones that people in Internetlandia seem to feel pretty strongly about. And ones that I worry are too revealing or personal to put in any kind of public domain where potential employers or even friends could find them.

    Yet I get so much comfort and knowledge and enjoyment from reading things written by other people, and feel a little sad with myself for not feeling braver. And really do want a community of people around me going through what we are, because its sort of unusual and scary. I get where Meg comes from about it but also wonder if she can maintain that position because its not something she feel she *needs* inasmuch as its not something she wants.

    Anyways, sorry to be all me me me! But anyway, really do like reading what you’re writing and think the memoir could be a really wonderful thing to put out there (thinking especially of a friend of mine with a very similar family history) if and when you feel ready.

    • I love what you said here about there being a “narrative about wedding blogging that’s pretty established.” It really is helpful to have set parameters for what your blog is supposed to be like, even though I think it backfires sometimes. I don’t really read any “mommy blogs” but it is my understanding that other people get upset with them for revealing too much, like, cervical mucous wise, but let me tell you, when I am pregnant, I am going to want to know if other bitches pooped the table, to borrow an expression from Tina Fey.

  9. Oh so much this. I’ve been rethinking my online presence a LOT recently, not least because I start teaching next year and am a little horrified at the idea of having students find my blog. On the one hand, there’s nothing I necessarily need to “scrub” about my public image (I’m a bit of a square :D ), but am definitely aware of certain, ahem, circles in academia where there would be real repercussions for me as a woman (!) blogging (!) about weddings/marriage/my personal life (!!!)

    At the same time, I’ve made such dear friends through blogging/Twitter, and I would hate to lose that feeling of community. So that leaves me in a bit of a bind. Do I lock my Twitter feed? Do I remove all pictures with my face from my site? How do I not freak out about the fact that things I’ve put on the Internet can never truly be reclaimed?

    • I’m having this EXACT problem. Well, this, and a client I got very concerned might be stalking me. So I’ve been scrubbing my blog and everything.

      I locked my twitter feed a year ago, and I would recommend it to anyone. It eliminates the spam robots, you still get tons of friend/follow requests from friends of your twitter friends, and it gives you just a little more privacy.

      I try not to freak out about the fact that I can’t get back what I put on the internet. It’s done, I might as well try to not make it worse.

    • UGH I HATE NEGATIVE PROFESSIONAL CONSEQUENCES!

  10. I find this discussion fascinating, as I have commenters tell me I should write a memoir, but I am extremely reluctant to do so. I have not found a way to write about the in-between years without writing about people who don’t necessarily, uh, like me all that much. It’s extremely difficult to write in an emotionally open and honest way while leaving out 20 years that fundamentally altered my personality and the direction of my life.

    I would like to channel my writing into fiction, I think, where there are no real people to be offended by what I write.

  11. Robin,

    I have such a mixed bag of knee-jerk responses to this wonderfully written post. I have NOT read through everyone’s comments though, as I don’t want to be swayed in my original thoughts (I’m very pliable, easily convinced I’m wrong, etc).

    First of all, I’m probably one of the few #NoseyBitches / Wedding Bloggers who is decidedly NOT on the APW / Meg bandwagon. Your post confirms those feelings. The reason I don’t like her blog persona is that it simply doesn’t feel real to me. It’s a persona, not a person. It’s a marketing gig (one that she has admitted to at behind-the-scenes Blog Gigs) and I can feel that.

    This isn’t to say that her blog is bad or that people shouldn’t read it or be inspired by it. It encourages good things and I am in support of that. Simply not a fan of the voice. I can’t connect. It doesn’t feel real. Particularly now, with her book and fame, it feels like there’s this whole other non-WIC driven WIC. Her Amtrack-laden posts from her book tour turned into a honeymoon give-away from Amtrack. Do we think that was an organic thing? It’s a marketing scheme, like it or not. Again, an Amtrack honeymoon is a fine thing, let’s just not lose sight of what’s going on behind the golden APW curtain.

    But back to anonymity, I think it’s mistake to write to who you think your audience is. I’ve done that a few times and every time I do, I fail. My blog-traffic plummets. I get zero comments and I would scratch my head in wonder. I asked my husband about it during one of these instances and he said, “Honey, your blog sucks right now. I can’t even tell it’s you writing.” And he was right. I stopped trying to speak TO my audience and spoke from my heart.

    That’s what makes writing good (amongst many other things). It’s an art form, being able to express yourself in a way that’s relatable. When it comes naturally, it’s golden. That’s not to say that you can’t edit or adjust to your readers or your anonymity. I know there are certain topics or approaches that will set my readers EN FUEGO. If it comes out that way, then I know I’ll have to deal with the consequences. It doesn’t keep me from writing though. Your blog is popular because of what you share and the style in which you do so. It touches people with heart and humor. I think if you start to try to change that too much, your writing won’t be yours.

    My 2 cents, for what it’s worth!

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