Blogging about blogging is about as interesting as getting stuck at a bed & breakfast meal table with a couple in matching vacation outfits who have over 300 stories saved up about their poodle back home (complete with blurry pictures captured on their iPhone). But here I am, still discussing why we blog/comment because people keep bringing up great points that scream out for further conversation.
When I asked on Friday whether desiring comments was Wicked, I left it as an open question. With Gentle vs. Wicked blogging, we're looking entirely at the intention behind the act--it's not the act itself (writing or commenting or acknowledging comments or reading) but why you do it. So is desiring that someone leave you comments Wicked?
My feelings is that it's not wrong to desire response, to crave response, to need response--I think it feeds into who we are as human beings. When we write in a journal that we keep in a drawer next to the bed, we don't expect people to give us feedback on our thoughts. When we send them out there into the blogosphere--publicly--knowing full well that they could be read by anyone, we do indirectly state that we are looking for feedback, advice, comfort, accolades. After all, if you didn't want that, you could disable the commenting feature on your blog (and some do). You could make your blog private and give no one access (simply an online version of your private journal). But when you don't, there is a basic understanding in the online world that this person wants thoughtful feedback.
And by thoughtful, I mean that most of us don't leave that comment box open because we're hoping that someone will say something cruel or thoughtless to us. We expect that if we took the time to earnestly state something important to us, that others will treat our words with enough respect to use the comment box thoughtfully.
N from Two Hot Mamas made a fantastic point about craving comments on Friday's post: "I don't think it's wicked to want that, or hope for it. It's when people expect it that you run into trouble - or worse, in a far different way, when people base their own value on it."
You know exactly what she's talking about with that last part, don't you? The comparisons, the jealousy, the frustration. You see two bloggers, both equally gifted with writing, both with a similar situation, and one blogger receives 50 comments and one blogger receives 5. When we see ourselves doing the exact same thing and receiving a very different response, we get jealous. We wonder if our writing isn't good enough, our pain isn't real enough, our celebratory moments aren't exciting enough. And this is what I decided in the car during our eleven-and-a-half hour drive from the Cape to D.C.:
Blogging brings out jealousy because the effects are quantifiable and qualitative.
I had a friend a long time ago that I thought had the friendships I wanted. It appeared that she had a large circle of close friends, the sort who would drop by for an hour before dinner or go on vacation with you. The sort that would be considered fictive kin--chosen family--and they all lived in close distance to one another so there was flow between their houses or apartments. She was in a knitting club that met once a month with these women and the one time I was invited to attend, I went home and cried because I knew that I was on the outside of the group; only invited for this single visit to see how great their lives were in comparison to mine. My understanding was that they had barbecues together, went shopping together, raised their children together.
One day, I bumped into a woman from the knitting club at the library. I asked about our mutual friend and she sort of shrugged and said that she hadn't seen her in months. What about the barbecues? She didn't know what I was talking about it and mentioned that a few of them had done that once years earlier. What about the dropping by each other's houses and hanging out? Not really--everyone was too busy. Even knitting club was sort of a tenuous thing, happening some months and not others and our mutual friend hadn't attended since the one time she brought me.
Her friendships were quantifiable--I could count how many people she seemed to be socializing with. But the quality or nature of those friendships weren't accessible on the surface. I was jealous of something that didn't even exist and after going through enough friend's divorces, enough playdates, reading enough blogs, you could to realize that in most things in life, you can keep your jealousy in check by reminding yourself that you don't know what goes on behind closed doors. The person may appear happily married, but all of the divorces I've witnessed have taken me by surprise. The person may seem to have children with perfect behaviour, but spend the day at the mall with them and you'll see that no one's life is as rosy as you assume it to be.
But the elements of blogging that bring out jealousy are all quantifiable and qualitative. We can see the numbers--count page views, comments, readers--but we can also see the quality of that support; the retweets and the lengthy comments and the blog posts written asking people to give good thoughts to the person. There is almost nothing that is hidden; nothing that can appear one way on the surface and with some deeper digging reveal and entirely different reality. 50 comments are 50 comments. 50 long, heartfelt comments are 50 long, heartfelt comments. A retweet is a retweet. And it's daily--it's not spread out over a long period of time where you can see that everyone has an ebb and flow of celebratory moments. You can literally measure the response to your words on a daily basis.
Unless we are speaking about a strange, deep-seated deception (a person making 50 blogs in order to seemingly leave 50 comments as 50 separate people on one of their blogs...well...that is a level of deception that I would have to stand in awe of and give them props just for creating that much work for themselves).
But in the end, all information (number and quality) is gather-able, removing the rationality the mind provides in other forms of jealousy.
So, back to N's comment, I think we've all done this at one point or another--and if it's not with blogging, it's with something else. It's taking your self-worth from something entirely out of your control (hmmm...sounding familiar? Infertility anyone?). It may sound silly to get jealous within blogging, but what are comments other than a currency that values your words and thoughts? Comments are literally support, care, and attention in word-form.
Have you ever been to the Middle East? Perhaps this isn't true in all areas of the Middle East, but in Israel, we have open-air markets called shuks. Vendors bring what they want to sell and set a loose price and then buyers come and can either pay the set price or they can engage in the art of haggling.
Readership and commenting is almost like haggling. Proper haggling isn't just about getting a good deal--it's about setting worth. It would be rude to approach a vendor and offer them a penny if you know full well that what they're selling is worth over ten dollars. Haggling is about setting the worth--the customer states that it means X to them and the seller states that it means Y to them and they need Y to part with said object.
Well, what are we saying when we read something and don't comment? Or when someone writes something and no one comes to read it even though they have reached out to other bloggers by leaving comments and forging friendships (by which I mean leaving a real comment meant to engage and not a "hey, this was a good post. Come check out my new blog" type comment).
It's like two sellers, standing in a shuk with their wares and they can see that you offered a reasonable price to the first seller and offered nothing to the second one, but took objects from both tables. The first seller got respect and the second one didn't, and they are doing nothing different from one another--they are both simply selling objects. The first seller probably would tell you that haggling is a great hobby--they get a lot of self-esteem from the fact that people value what they bring to sell. And the second seller would probably tell you that working in the shuk is frustrating and they're considering packing up their table and doing something else with their time.
Reality is that all these thoughts are also negated by time constraints. People simply cannot comment on everything they read, cannot respond to every comment, and cannot read every blog post. We have lives. I went away to BlogHer and then away on holiday and I'm behind. I am very very behind and I feel terrible that people are waiting for a response from me and people gave me these great thoughts but I haven't told them yet and my Google Reader is groaning under the weight of unread posts. But what can I do? Blogging is a place where I derive a lot of support and happiness and ideas and energy (my G-d, I used to spend all my time with one book, getting one or two ideas. Now my brain is constantly working and challenged, reading such a diverse set of view points--sometimes on the same topic, sometimes on different ones). But it is still a small element of a very large life. It cannot be the sole thing I do and certainly, if we let it, blogging could become the sole thing we do timewise.
An interesting idea that came up in a panel at BlogHer (and now I can't remember if it was said or if I simply thought this and wrote it down, not speaking it aloud--so you're not crazy if you were at panels with me and don't remember this): at a dinner party, you would not eat a meal silently, wipe your mouth and walk away from the table. You would tell the person what you liked or didn't like. How you experienced their meal. If it was a birthday party, you'd sing happy birthday to them. If it were a wake, you would give them a shoulder to cry on. But regardless, we all know that we comment on the food because without those comments, the cook would probably stop inviting us; stop cooking.
In fact, blog posts are a lot like a dinner party. Everyone is invited in, and how you behave dictates whether you (1) still have a relationship with the person or (2) whether the host wants to throw more parties in the future. There is etiquette involved--giving feedback and also not shitting on the carpet.
Commenting is feedback; it gives the writer both confirmation of their point-of-view (you're not alone in noticing that or I've felt that too), challenge them (that is a good point but have you considered...), or general support (that's great news or I am so sorry).
But next time you read a blog post (hey, like this one?), pretend the person is sitting across from you, reading it aloud to you. And then gauge what your reaction would be if you were given these thoughts. Would you walk away without confirming that you heard the words and processed them? Would you give them a nod that says, "I heard you and I'm thinking about these ideas." Would you engage them in deeper discussion?
Again, I am all too aware of life's time constraints, this is a discussion, not a finger pointing session of good blogger vs. bad blogger. Because honestly, I am so freakin' behind on things and read so much without commenting, that I would fall firmly in the bad blogging camp. Good intentions are the only thing keeping me on the Gentle side. All behaviour points towards some definite short-comings.
But I do like to keep these thoughts in mind; the image of the two shuk vendors, the two bloggers, and make sure that I spread love and attention. That the Roundup features different writers each week, the Kirtsy'd posts feature a different blog. Keeping the image in mind helps keep my failings in check--that I do my best, even if my best doesn't look very good when you write out the details on a page (hmmm...read 200 posts, left 8 comments... Fail). But still, my best is better than my worst?
A while back, I wrote about jealousy, admitting that I am a jealous person by nature. It's interesting to read the post now, because it is about publishing and obviously, the book has been sold and is now out. I was responding to something I read in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and I still think it's a must-read for every writer (and I know Battynurse is going to kick my ass for calling her a writer again--I tease--but if you put words together into coherent thoughts, you are a writer. Greeting card makers are writers and bloggers are writers and authors are writers--it's all just different forms of the same act. Just as a home cook may not fancy themselves a chef, but they're doing the exact same thing just on a different scale and place).
I was responding specifically to her musings on jealousy and the excellent advice her friend gave her about embracing her jealousy rather than sweeping it under the rug. I wrote then: "It feels like something constructive should come out of jealousy--that there should be a greater purpose."
And perhaps that constructive thing should be how we treat another person by helping them through their jealousy.
Since it is--for better or worse--a fact of life that most of us (though not all as the comments on that post state) feel jealous from time to time. And why not feel jealous with blogging too? If it's important to you, it is understandable that you'll feel something akin to jealousy sometimes. What is that saying? The opposite of love isn't hate--it's indifference. I think when you care about something deeply (and how can you not care about your thoughts, point-of-view and emotions?), you will experience the full range of expression tied to passion--happiness, excitement, contentment, but also the darker side, jealousy, anger, rage.
A blog is simply a receptacle for those elements of your life that you feel deeply about (thoughts, p.o.v., emotions). It is an empty screen and you fill it with your self. Hence why each blog is so important, why no two are alike unless we're talking about content theft. Why it actually does make a difference when someone starts a blog and why it actually does make a difference when someone stops writing their blog.
Chickenpig, I'm talking to you. Start writing again.
I'm not going to bother saying these are my last thoughts that came out of BlogHer '09 since I'm sure there is another post or two up my sleeve based on the additional thoughts that come from you. It's like a word crochet with each idea linking to the next one--thank you for adding the additional stitches.