The Big Blog Conversation.

*disclaimer:  this is a rather long post, with a lot of ideas. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.  Stick with me, I think these are things worth taking a moment to really consider and think about.  I just realized that last sentence made things sound like they are about to get dire and real serious, they are not, don't worry. 

One of the best lessons I've learned about reading and writing poetry is that a poem is not autobiography, nor is it beholden to real life events or even real people.  When reading a poem, it is easy to assume that the narrator is the writer and that everything that happens in the poem is true to life.  Most times that isn't the case.  My thesis advisor and favorite professor always said that as soon as you start putting words onto the paper, your responsibility is to the poem, and not to accurately represent history, events or even people.   Some people may disagree, but I think that you'd be hard-pressed to find a good poem that doesn't enhance, change, manipulate, or edit real life events in order to get the right image, thought or language across to the reader.  I don't think there is anything wrong with that because when a reader comes to a poem, they are aware of the medium and they know that a poem's job is not to portray reality exactly, but to provoke thought.

However, there is another medium that is far more prominent in our lives, but is not nearly so transparent as the poem, though these two share many similar qualities.  The blog.  The blog, like all other forms of writing, photography and art, is a medium that can and is manipulated according to its creator.

I've had a similar conversation about blogs with many different people a dozen times in the past months.  I think we've all engaged in the dialogue at least once.  It goes something like 'why aren't blogs more honest?' 'Blogs give us a false sense of who and what we should be because everything looks so perfect' 'some blogs make us feel like we are not good enough because we don't look, do, act, a certain way' etc... The conversations aren't meant to be petty, or gossipy.  These quandaries are simply a product of what is around us and what influences us.  I've had my, albeit small, bit of frustration with blogs that portray lives as perfect and shining, always.  I think that there can be sadness or depression that is produced when there is a 'keep up with the Jone's' type attitude because of what we see on popular blogs. This attitude is not even based on what is tangible, but based on a brief internet view via photographs and paragraphs. As I've done more thinking, I want to talk about another angle of this blog conversation that seems easy to bypass because it involves taking a closer and harder look at ourselves.

Blog writers seem to get a lot of guff for being too perfect, too cute, too fashionable, all of the time.  They get criticism and sometimes even angry people (I don't feel angry btw) who want them to be more open, more real.  What seems easy not to take into account, however, is that 'the blog', just like everything else is its own medium.  Just like a novel, or a painting, or a music piece.  The blog doesn't so readily announce its medium though, letting us know that just like anything else, the content is edited, arranged, and displayed according to the creator. It is easy to forget that the person in charge of the blog can arrange things according to what they want the reader to see. Many blogs are honest, and are based on real life, and some people's lives just really are that good, but I think we are doing ourselves a disservice if we convince ourselves that the people writing those blogs have perfect lives, better than our own.  Am I the only one thinking these things?  I hope not, otherwise I am looking rather foolish right now.

I am in my own process of turning responsibility inward on myself rather than blaming pretty bloggers or perfect instagrammers. I love the first paragraph 'Being Enough', a book by Chieko Okazaki. She says, "All too often we compare our light with our very brightest moments or with someone else's brightest moments, and it makes the darkness deeper around us...I want to explore 'being enough'." If I feel annoyed that my house, hair, child, party, life, outfit, wit, etc... is less than picture perfect, letting myself feel annoyed is my own problem, not anyone else's.   We tend to assume that anything on a blog or any photo on instagram is straight non-fiction, which in a lot of ways it is, but there is also an element of fiction to what shows up on a blog or in a photo.  This happens simply because there is no way that a blogger can always, or should always divulge the sticky details of their lives.

Coming to this realization has actually done me so much good.  I started to see myself pushing responsibility further and further from my own hands, and then brushing them off and saying 'those perfect bloggers and their perfect lives are making me think that I have less.'  In actuality, that isn't true, and it's an irresponsible way for me to act.  I am learning that as I dive into (which I don't even do all that often) the world of blogs, I am accountable for how I come away from those blogs feeling.  No one else.  I can be accountable for thinking critically about the medium of a blog.  I can consciously recognize that although [insert your favorite blogger] may look absolutely adorable in every photo (which she does), her life also has its challenges, even if she doesn't write about them, I think it is safe to assume they are there.  It is not her responsibility to write about them if she chooses not to because she is in charge of what she does and does not reveal, and that is totally fine.

It seems that we often do a great disservice, and honestly, a little bit of cheapening of our own agency when we allow ourselves to believe that because a party looked so perfect, or the photo of someone's living room is clearly superior to your own, or the things they eat are more lavish, or their clothes seem cooler, that we are somehow less.  I think we are also letting go of a bit of our own courage when we allow ourselves to blame our laments  and frustrations on someone else.  It is easy to say, 'a blog made me feel that way', it is hard to say, 'I may not ever throw a party like that, or be able to wear that outfit, or have a child who wears that outfit, and that is fine and there is no reason to lament.'  It is sometimes hard, but also the most rewarding and wonderful thing to turn our gaze away from our internet, instagram, Facebook world and look around you only to realize that you do indeed have the very best things, and they are not things that you cannot touch, they are not photographs, but most likely, real things and people.

Most likely little things with scrubby faces, who like to eat things off the floor (this could be a dog or a child), or fingerprinted windows that we look out to see a favorite scrappy plant, or a dirty bowl next to the sink that remind us how good last nights ice-cream was.  Most likely we will see real things, pertaining to a real life that is awash with the difficult and the divine.  We will see messes, but also a place to call home.  We will see real imperfect people trying to do their best and not just photographs of people.  A blog, however lovely, cannot accurately portray all of these wonderful things, or all of these sad or difficult things, which somehow also make life good.  Nor should a blog have to.  A blog is a fine medium for what it is, it does a lot of good to connect us to other people, even rally support and succor friendship, but I think we should be careful to never be tricked into thinking that the blog of someone else is better than the life you get to live.

"It may not be for many years,  it may not even be in this life, that you will understand how great and glorious your works truly are. (Okazaki 22)"


Lizzy Lambson said...

This is the best post I've read, or at least my favorite on your blog thus far. Very well put!

Margaret said...

Beautifully written! I stumbled across your blog, and am so glad I did. I was just recently pondering the same thing, but you wrote it so poetically.

IngridLola said...

Ashley Mae, this is awesome! What a wonderful post. It kind of made me realize that everyone self-edits all the time when we choose what to reveal and what not to reveal even when we are having a conversation with someone else, often bending the truth a little bit to fit a story or something. Blogging is just a more exaggerated form of this.

GrittyPretty said...

that was beautiful!

a blog is not the place to divulge personal struggles or anything very private. who knows who is reading?! i've heard of two instances where someone wasn't hired for a job because they were "googled" and their blogs were detailing a particularly bad day or were just far too personal.
as far as blog envy i love the trick of saying "good for them!" as soon as i think those words good feelings are invited into my heart and it becomes a celebration of all good things. it is so sad when bloggers feel pressured into inserting self-deprecating things just to make their audience feel more comfortable.

i initially expected more from the medium of "blog". but more and more it seems like a place for recipes and tutorials and lots and lots of ads (urgh!). but you pull it off fabulously and i value what you have to write soooo much that i'm actually commenting which never otherwise happens. =)

Deja said...

Hey. This is truth. Thank you.

Heather said...

Your posts are so insightful! I have felt the post-blog reading let-down and didn't totally understand. But you've articulated it in such a beautiful way--I can see how I am in charge of those feelings! Thanks for being so positive and an inspiration!

kathy w. said...

"I think we should be careful to never be tricked into thinking that the blog of someone else is better than the life you get to live."


ktb said...

Wow... I want to read the book you quoted--how lovely. Thank you for this beautiful post, and for sharing your light. Because though , as you have mentioned, I cannot get a full picture of who you are and what your life is like from your blog, I do get a sense of the beautiful, inspirational person that you are. I don't know whose blogs you are reading, but from where I sit no perfect parties or fashion or wit or life is more full of light than the honest, artful sincerity that you share and that you live! And I love being able to see a bit of that through your blog!

Lauren Swainston said...

Ashley, This is a beautiful post. You bring up some important details that I would like to dialogue with you. I am constantly concerned with what media and pop culture has done to the bonds of womanhood. We are flooded with tv shows that pit women against each other and make it sport to portray women as competetors and enemies. I feel that this attitude permeates all mediums: including blogs. I think our culture encourages us to view other women as competition, thus it is easy to feel inferior when that perfect party and those beautiful shoes put them at +1 and us -1. Why can't we be happy for our sisters and their joy? Why can't for once throughout history women be celebrated and be embraced for the little joys in life like looking pretty one day or a great family portrait. I think what you said about agency is key. We must choose to be sisters and find joy for others. We can't assume these beautiful blogs exist to put us down. I have a friend who challenged another friend's desire for a child because she felt it was being glamorized on blogs. I challenge this friend by asking why it is innapropriate to celebrate and glamorize femeninity or womanhood? Women have often (not always) been sexualized and demonized in various mediums, and I am happy to see women celebrating those things which make them feel beautiful and feel special. We are constantly bombarded and reminded why we are failures and not good enough just by waking up. I see no problem with celebrating the times our sisters can overcome those often private, challenging moments we all face as women. I'll admit, sometimes I am jealous of that new coat that I can't afford right now, but I hope I can use your words of wisdom and be happy for those (fewer than some would think) glamorous moments our fellow sisters get. Thanks for your post.

Rachel. said...

These are wonderful thoughts. It was a pleasure to read to the end. I am trying to be more honest in all of my expressions, including my blog expressions, if only because I think it can help other people feel less alone. Not that my blog has ever been a blog that shows me wearing the prettiest things or having the prettiest living room, because I have never had those things in real life. I know that the blogs that are my favorite blogs are the ones where people do admit that life is hard sometimes and sad, but that show the hard and the beauty. Those ones are the ones that help me most.

Amy said...

Beautifully and brilliantly said, Ashley! I'm trying not feel jealous at your eloquence and insightfulness, which appear to be superior to mine:) I feel lucky to know you, and to get to know you better.

Michaela said...

Hi Ash!

I've had thoughts recently about how we represent ourselves through words. A friend of mine recently read Picture of Dorian Gray, and I was recently reminded of Henderson the Rain King, where the protagonist talks of himself as a brute, a hideous man, when in reality he must be not only rather good-looking, but very loyal and friendly to explain all of the scrapes he gets into. And recently I saw a picture of a man whose blog I read and was shocked to find him handsome. He frequently talks of what a slob he is, and is documenting his struggle with weight. The emphasis he puts on those words had me imagining the worst stereotypes of obesity and slovenly behavior. But I still respect his use of the words though - just because a person needs to lose 15 lbs not 100 doesn't mean it isn't a struggle. But it adds to my thoughts.

I'm honestly not sure what to do with all these thoughts yet, but I'm grateful for them.

Oh - and I just saw this: http://seenandsaid.blogspot.com/2012/02/on-mirrors-and-imperfect-reflections.html

And as someone who doesn't have a blog sometimes I wonder about what that absence says as well. Thanks for helping me to think some more about how we project ourselves to the world!

Natasha and Jesse said...

Wonderful post. I especially love this part "...I think we should be careful to never be tricked into thinking that the blog of someone else is better than the life you get to live." So true!

Alycia (Crowley Party) said...

LOVED this. You nailed my thoughts perfectly! Thank you for this :) I wish it could be sent to every blogger out there.

Wendy McDonagh-Valentine said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post. It reminds me of something that I've heard in twelve step meetings with regard to "comparing your insides to other peoples' outsides." I've always loved that saying. It's given me a self-awareness that I didn't have before I ever heard it. We're all human beings and we all have bad days. Some people just choose to share all the "good stuff." I try to keep things real on my blog but I definitely post more about good than bad. There's enough bad in this world. For me, "blog land" is a place to escape to temporarily when I'm tired of hearing about the bad stuff in the news. I have to admit, there are some blogs that make me think the blogger needs a dose of reality but who am I to judge. : )