Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Like all of you, there are various things that happen in my life that I prefer not to write about for the entire googling public, out of concern for ethics, privacy, or both. The discerning reader will notice that I have almost never written about a staff member, for instance, and I rarely mention members of my family other than A. or Z. And so on.

However, there is now so much that I've put out of bounds on this blog that I'm wondering what's left. I'm coming up on my first anniversary of blogging in a few weeks, and I'm wondering not so much whether I will have run out of things I want to say, but whether I will have run out of things I feel I can say, at least in public.

It's made me wonder about this whole venture of musing out loud for an audience that can choose to stay invisible. I'm not a shy person, I'm quite able to take care of myself in a crowd of strangers, but I am fairly private about my inner life. I tend not to pass along relevant events in my life to my therapist, for instance: Z. fell down the garden stairs two weeks ago and I spent an evening in shock and PTSD flashbacks as a result. I got to my session and other things were uppermost, and I just never got around to telling her. For that matter, I never got around to telling the blog either--well, okay, now I did, and I'm fine, everyone--but it does seem like I'm not doing a very good job figuring out this whole opening-up-to-an-audience thing.

There was a point last summer when I realized that if I kept on blogging as I had been blogging--commenting frequently, clicking through links, committing to daily posts, putting a lot of focus on my stats--I might attract a reasonably large number of people to this blog, and if the audience became large enough that I felt like I didn't have a sense of who was reading, I would start writing quite differently. I decided I didn't want that to happen, so I became more of a lurker and Rhymes with Javelin has remained a sort of sleepy backwater of a blog. (I like to think of it as a blogger's blog, for the discerning, but hey, we all need our delusions.) I'm fine with that--usually at least one person is willing to say something about what I put up here, so I don't feel like I'm writing into a void, but the group of you I'm imagining out there reading this, you feel fairly cozy and friendly to me.

Yet there's more and more I don't say. Because I know people will find me by googling for "correct pronunciation shotput," or "ezpass mylar," or for various unlikely occasional rhymes. And because people who sorta kinda know me in real life may well find me and suddenly, a post or two of reading later, they are more intimate with me than I'd choose for them to be, and more intimate with me than I know that they are.

So I'm wondering, especially those of you who've been at this awhile, how do you handle the whole balance of exposure and intimacy?


Jenny Davidson said...

Two thoughts. First, re: Rhymes With Javelin--you know what I love? When you just write something impersonal but strongly felt about the natural world. Those posts where you observe something in the garden or the park are very lovely, and need not involve personal revelation in any problematic way...

Second, yes, exposure and intimacy, interesting questions. I fell into the habit gradually, but I like blogging so much that I find it well worth the risk. I am quite guarded--more, I think, than some readers will realize--about actual incidents and developments in my real life. I am very careful not to say inappropriate things about work life--I have a keen sense of the confidentiality that students and colleagues are owed--because I've always had my blog under my real name, and I have a serious sense of accountability on that.

But the self-exposure and intimacy questions are in some sense separate. Someone asked me that recently, clearly taken aback at how much I put my "self" out there, as it were. In one sense, I'd have to say it's a persona as much as it is a felt self, so that there is something still self-protective about that particular kind of performance of the self. But in another, I am deliberately opening myself up and making myself vulnerable, and the intimacy I then have with readers--or, to be more accurate, that some readers will feel with me--is both a desideratum and a penalty.

Sorry, long comment, you got me going here!

niobe said...

So I'm wondering, especially those of you who've been at this awhile, how do you handle the whole balance of exposure and intimacy?

I lie. Works for me.

Nicholas said...

This is one of those things that plagues me as well with my LiveJournal. I've had the journal for years, and it's gotten attention as frequent as multiple posts in a single day, and multiple months without a post.

LiveJournal offers me the option of private posts, posts limited only to those I've labelled "friends", and public posts for all the world to see. I do make an effort to keep as much public as possible - what would be the point otherwise.

However, when people like family members, roommates, and work-sphere folks find my journal and request and/or expect access, I find myself panicking slightly - do I troll through the journal and find anything I might've said with the theory that I would never have that person find out?

I've seen this same issue raised again and again on all manner of blogs -- people feeling the need to censor themselves based on what their audience might think. Invariably, somebody asserts that if it's your journal, it's your forum, and you should be able to assert YOUR self as YOU please. That said, it's never that simple.

I keep my blog sort of indirect. I'll talk about myself, my likes, my dislikes, and my opinions - but I do my best to avoid talking about individuals. Even "a roommate" [no longer a situation - the joys of living alone] lends itself some degree of plausible deniability, even if the post itself is about blatant irritation stemming from a unique situation.

So, I guess I do censor myself somewhat. There are "Friend groups" that I can limit the audience to, but at that point, I sort of think the point of posting is still lost.

Politics, porn, and pop culture - that seems to be the running theme of my journal. Oh, and lately, photos. Quite a lot of "P" for a journal that has no such letter in its title.

I often wonder what my father - who just, within the last month, acquired his first personal email address, at the age of 5...6, maybe(?) - would think if he ever found my journal. What a hoot that could be!

Julia said...

Not very many people in my RL know about my blog. I have been thinking lately as to whether to let more people know. But I haven't yet. So you know...

S. said...

Jenny, I think I've been fairly nonchalant about the whole question of persona--the person I present here is not particularly consciously crafted, though the deliberate omissions I make have certain consequences in how I come across, of course. Maybe one of the underlying questions for me is about whether I want to build in some cushioning between myself and my voice. Would I have more to say if I did? Would I be a better writer?

But the nature pieces are the ones where I feel that I am letting myself come across most immediately, so that's another direction. (And I'm glad you like them!)

Niobe, you made me hoot with laughter! And I suppose I do, too: all those omissions are lies of a kind, however varied my motivations.

Nicholas, I think he's turning 57 in May, and really? he's never had one?

Julia, yeah, I hear you. The veneer of anonymity I'm blogging under is mighty thin and I've always assumed the blog will be discovered by sooner or later. I think on the whole it's good, a reason to err on the side of caution and kindness. But I would be leaving a lot less out if I were more circumspect from the beginning.

(un)relaxeddad said...

That's a tricky one. I suppose I'm careful about keeping work as a fairly anonymous presence, I use pseudonyms (but frequently reply to emails under my real name)...It's all very fuzzy and whilst there is a boundary, it's more of a felt one that a 'laid-down-stone' one. I suppose I could summarise it as an interview test - have I written anything that could come back and serious embarrass me in a job interview?

For example, you won't find detailed accounts of my sex life or my drunken exploits as a teenager. You may well find a lot of material that might be considered personal but nothing (or very little) that could be used against me in malice. Unless I suddenly want to work for Pat Robertson. He wouldn't like my blog.

I think RWJ keeps a nice balance - there's an impression of sharing a certain level of another, different life (surely a common motivation to read blogs in the same way as we seek varied friends and social relationships). I'd agree with the first commenter's thought about personas. I suspect (un)relaxeddad is a bit of a construction but then so is any face we turn towards the world.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Niobe made me laugh so hard I think I strained something. Boy, don't I wish I could pull that one off!

You now right now I am completely stuck on this question. If I could resolve it to my satisfaction, maybe I'd start blogging again.

jo(e) said...

That's a question I struggle with. When I first started blogging, I felt pretty anonymous and didn't even tell my spouse or kids about the blog. But gradually, everyone has found out, and I'm really not anonymous at all. Few people I know in real life read my blog ... but they could if they wanted to. They know it exists and how to find it.

The public nature of my blog very much limits what I write. My husband, for example, is a very private person and doesn't want to be a character on my blog, so I rarely write about him, even though he is naturally a big part of my life. I will sometimes write about my students on my blog -- I have such great students -- but I don't wrote about stressful or annoying administrative stuff that happens where I work.

I started my blog as a writing discipline, to help me develop a creative non-fiction voice, and I think it's worked great for that. But after three years, the usefulness of that has probably run its course and I will likely be abandoning the blog to spend more time working on my manuscript.

Magpie said...

Like Jenny, I'm quite guarded - I don't write about the dark, I rarely write about specific people. Mostly I use it as an outlet for the weird shite that gathers in the corners of my head, much of which is ephemeral nonsense.

Lo said...

We started our blog wanting to be quite anonymous, yet intimate (I'm guessing that in blogland this contradiction makes sense). We've been lucky enough to meet in real life many of our blogfriends (who are now real friends) and have no qualms about being known to them.

We've told a few real life friends but have kept that small and manageable. and we've been continuously happy with those choices. (They're people with whom we would choose to be confessional.)

However, except for those few real life friends, and the blogfriends who have become real friends, our Internet persona is cloaked. We use pseudonyms, and and we do not directly say where we live. (Someone reading thoughtfully could probably piece it together, but that's okay with me, I'm trying to avoid Google.) We do not post pictures of ourselves on the blog, and at a certain (as yet undetermined) age we we will stop posting pix of Jo. (Z is a more identifiable human being; that kind of age is what I mean.) Our flickr badge connects people to pictures; however, all pictures of us (and other adults in our lives) are protected.

So if someone we know in real life stumbled across the blog, i am honestly not sure how quickly s/he would be able to discern that it was ours. maybe I'm kidding myself?

I know at least two people who started out blogging with real names, real locales, lots of pix, the whole shebang, and then thought better of it and pulled back to pseudonyms and code. This is obviously much harder to do (in one case the person started up a new blog; the other didn't). I think this might be a little like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, but it made them feel better.

We both have confessional periods on the blog (we are honest about emotions, if not our stats). However, (without actually looking back at archives) I think that if people we know in real life found the blog (which KNOCK WOOD) has not happened, there's nothing I've said that would really explode. I've complained about my sister and my mom, but nothing I haven't said to them. I've complained about the woman who denied us her husband's sperm, but I don't like her.

I like to be fully honest, emotionally, on the blog; but I find it is pretty easy to do that without giving identifying features. Emotions are not location specific, you know? I mean, they can be, but they can be translated, too, to the more general. I hope I am maybe speaking a little bit to your specific situation, here.

I have a separate journal with protection options where I do my hardcore bitching.

This is a long-ass comment but I hope it has given some shred of insight.

Grumpy Granny said...

Interesting topic. Found your blog through links, as often happens. I have 2 blogs, one I use for more 'public' comments, one is more private, and while you can get to both of them from each, not sure anyone would look that far. Still, I use initials, and usually only refer to the state I live in, not the town.

It's a fine line, but I haven't said anything on my blog that I would not say in RL or face to face to a person, and I'm sure not going to put any personal info there, so I don't worry too much.

Bottom line, as in everything, just use common sense and what feels most comfortable for you.


Jody said...

Well, the main thing I do is code my blog "noindex, nocache" so that Google and Yahoo don't find me. Every once and a while, Yahoo seems to slip up, but Google seems to have a pretty good handle on it.

But beyond that? I've decided that most blogs are about what's not being written. And I'm also burning out on blogs. So yeah, that's of no use to you at all.....

[I have been tempted to set up a brand-new blog and go the "lie outrageously" option to create enough differences to make the "real" stuff untraceable, but honestly, I have no idea how that would work. Mostly I've decided that I'll write when I want to and let the blog fall where it will. Which, yeah, is more and more into oblivion, but that's okay.]