Some thoughts on navel-gazing

     I was talking to a friend last night on the phone and she told me about her cousin’s new wife who is, in my friend’s words, “an over-sharer,” and followed it quickly with “she has blog.” While the mention of the blog was simply a way to understand the magnitude of the young woman’s vanity, I caught of whiff of something that’s been going around – that people who blog are a bunch of vain, self-centered so-and-sos who think their little lives are soooo important.

     I’m putting words in my friend’s head. What caught my attention was not her attitude toward bloggers at the moment – the description of the cousin’s wife was to show that the girl is young, naive, and apparently somewhat annoying. It got me thinking though, about whether all bloggers are somewhat narcissistic, vain, and so forth. I started a blog last summer and found myself so frozen with blog stage fright that I eventually deleted the entire blog – both posts – because I wondered who on earth would want to read it? But the truth is, people do read blogs. They read their friends’ blogs, strangers’ blogs, and a bunch of other amazing things.

    Also yesterday I was listening to a podcast on writing yesterday, one of the hosts said she didn’t read people’s blogs because she doesn’t care what they’re doing and she doesn’t write blogs because she’s not going to write things like, “I did a poo yesterday and it was very satisfying.” There are certainly people who write such things but not all blogs are like that. Yours might be, I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s fair to lump all blog writers together.  

     In Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather, Lee Gutkind, the “godfather of creative nonfiction,” defends the emerging artistry of a new genre and talks much about the criticism he gets for being a navel-gazer. Creative nonfiction is my current poison of choice so thinking about where to draw the line between creating art (yes, I do think creative nonfiction is an art – stop by any university creative writing class and you’ll see exactly how there is a way to write it and a way not to write it) and verbal exhibitionism.

     I set my own definitions. I write about things that interest me. While I write my own truth here on this blog, I carefully choose the subjects about which I’m going to write. There is a long list of Things I Won’t Share with You, My Three Blog Readers, and the Ether. I could write about the eczema that keeps me clawing desperately at my neck most of the time. I could write about my sex life or my phobias or how we’re going to clean and seal the kitchen floor this weekend. But I don’t because those things cross the line into Boring/Personal/Off-Limits Because Husband Would Divorce Me. I drew my line in the sand and it may change which is the beauty of sand.

     The beauty of the blog is the connection. Reading people’s blogs gives me insight into their lives, however polished up they’ve made it. I feel connected to other writers, I see people thinking interesting and thrilling thoughts, making me laugh, showing me something new. Lately I’ve been craving creative contact and in a small way, reading blogs is it.

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve been playing with starting a single-topic blog for about a year now, and worries about self-indulgence are the biggest reason I’ve felt reticent (along with fearing lack-of-follow-through). But I regularly read your blog, and I’m not finding you self-indulgent. In fact, this and your last post both touched on ideas I’d been thinking about a lot recently. I _do_ connect with much of what you write. Of course, I also know you, and hearing your voice in my head probably helps a lot. Elsewhere, I have read quite a bit of “what I had for breakfast” material, and I unsubscribed from that.

    (Also: a well-respected school of psychology centers on a concept of “healthy narcissism,” so narcissism ain’t bad like in pop culture; rather, we need some of it.)

  2. I think a real difficulty with conversations about blogging is that, in most cases, a technology has been confused with a genre. There are no conventions beyond a linear organization that define “blogging” from other sorts of web-based communications. Not all blogs are informal. Not all blogs are personal. Not all blogs are even created on blogging-specific software, for that matter.

    Is a person who manages a blog that exists to post the weekly practice schedule, team parent commitments, and upcoming games of a High School soccer team a narcissist? What about the chef–or simply the really great home cook–who posts seasonal recipes? And, finally, what about professional writers who create collateral content to their articles for the “blogs” of national publications?

  3. I blogged about this a while ago, tying in the whole Emily Gould fiasco, and the fact that I stopped blogging shortly after college because it felt like an exercise in narcissism in similar ways to what you discuss here. I also had a single-topic blog on writing under my real name for a short time in 2006-7, but I found it so restrictive. I wanted to blog about everything I was thinking, and I didn’t just think about writing all the time. I’m not sure my current blog is particularly interesting to people who are looking for something specific, but it’s a catch-all for me and my overstuffed brain, which was why I started it.

    Yet I’m still not sure how I feel about other people reading it. I’d like it to be read by a lot of people, but I can’t figure out if this is a bad, exhibitionist, self-involved way to feel, or if I actually want other people just to enjoy themselves with what I write – which is actually not so self-involved, because it’s for others’ enjoyment and only slightly personal glory.

    But I have so few readers that it might be entirely narcissistic.

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