Sometimes I write the title before I write the post, and sometimes it is the opposite--the title is not apparent until after I write out my thoughts. This time, it was the former, and I am struggling now with the words "selfishness" and "selflessness" in terms of blogging because they are imperfect terms to further muse on what I observed not only at BlogHer, but in three years of blogging in general. Actually, it's not just in blogging, but in all interactions in life. But here, because this is a blog, I am discussing it in terms of blogging.
Blogging is obviously by default selfish--it's all about the "I." It's my point of view, it's my world, it's what is important to me. Take apart the word: the "ish" is a suffix meaning "resembling" and the main chunk of the word "self" is obvious. Ish turns a noun into an adjective, a description.
Except how can you have words without the writer? And just because there is an important "I" in the equation, doesn't mean that it is inherently selfish. Perhaps it is more self-ish; resembling the self. Because, at the same time, how can you have a blog without the self? It can never be self-less; without the self. Self, again, is not a dirty word, something we should be striving to remove. It is what makes each blog unique, interesting, necessary--just like the people who write them.
Maybe we should start with a fable? Skip it if you already know this story.
Once there were two sisters, Gentle and Wicked. Their mother loved them both equally, but it was easier to be around Gentle. One day, she asked the girls to get water from the well and Gentle volunteered. Getting the water was hard work and it took her about two hours to get to the well and draw the water. She was set to return home when an old woman approached the well and asked her for help in drawing the water. Gentle gave her the water in her bucket and set about refilling her own.The point: give help even when you don't know what is in it for you.
By the time she got home, her mother was worried because she had been gone a long time. She opened her mouth to speak and a diamond fell out with each word. She kept telling the story over and over again and soon the family had enough diamonds to live comfortably for the rest of their life. They would never worry about food again.
Wicked was thrilled that they had money but was frustrated that her sister was once again her mother's favourite. The next time water was needed, she volunteered to go, determined to find the same old woman and come home with a mouthful of diamonds so she could be on equal footing with her sister. She filled her bucket and spent the whole day waiting, but the old woman never came. In fact, strangely enough, no one else came to use the well except a girl about Wicked's age who asked for help in raising the bucket and Wicked told her to do it herself since she was on the lookout for the old woman.
She returned home where her mother was very worried because she had been away for the whole day. She started to tell her mother about why she took so long, but with each word, a frog fell from her lips. Soon, the whole house was filled with frogs and it took Gentle and her mother days to shoo them out. They begged Wicked to never speak again.
Don't fuck with people at wells.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend.
It's not really a fair situation on one hand--I think we'd all help the old lady because we can quite clearly see that she needs help and we're not assholes to the elderly. Wicked may have even helped the old woman if she had been there on that day. But it's harder to set aside what we believe to be true about another person--about what we believe are their limitations or needs or even what we can get from them--and interact with them without conditions.
For this fable to work, we need to make the assumption that Gentle would help anyone who came to the well and Wicked would only help if she thought she could get something out of the interaction or if not helping made her a huge bitch who looks like she hates on old people.
There was sometimes neck craning at BlogHer--or people who treated me one way before I flipped my name tag around and treated me quite another way after they could see my blog title. And that does feel crappy. I didn't tell this story last year, but during the speed dating session on the first morning of the 2008 conference, there was a blogger (who has a large readership) who was supposed to move to my table, looked at us, and made a dismissive motion with her hand and picked a different table. That same blogger was there this year. And now she wanted to chat and chat once she saw that I was in the keynote. And frankly, it stung. I was polite because she's a human being, but I was distracted through the whole conversation because all I could think about was how she treated me the year before.
In light of that fable, selfless blogging can more accurately be called after the first girl in the story Gentle Blogging (and blogging is an interactive, community-based medium. A private journal is not a blog, it is an online private journal. Keeping a private journal that you don't intend others to read but leave public because you assume no one will find it is not blogging. When I use the term "blog" or "blogging," I am speaking about people who write an online journal that they intend others to read and utilize the interactive nature of the medium by accepting comments as well as reading other blogs and leaving comments), which is reading blogs and leaving comments without expecting anything in return beyond knowledge. It's the impulse behind the act. It's helping out a fellow blogger without knowing their stats and whether there's something in it for you in the future. It's reading what interests you; not because it's popular, but because the words move you.
I give my attention, I give my help, I give my Twitter status, I give my advice or comfort, and I give my clicking finger (oooh, that sounded dirty!) regardless of what I get back from the person. I'm not perfect and requests and people fall through the cracks from time to time. And I apologize for that, but blogging is a hobby, not a career, so there is only so much I can do in my free time.
But I read what I like because I like it. And I follow people on Twitter because I'm interested in what they have to say. And I attended sessions at BlogHer because they sounded interesting. I email back everyone who writes me a personal note that requires an response without regard to whether they have a higher readership or a low readership. I am interested in people and I am interested in stories; regardless of what I may also get out of the relationship.
That is what I mean by Gentle Blogging. Not gentle as in treating something delicately; but Gentle as in the main character of the story whose actions stem from a pure space untainted by the question, "what's in it for me?"
In regards to help (ranging from retweeting a post for someone to giving an answer to a question on a blog), the people who do the same--who help all regardless of what they can get back--have my utmost respect. It is easier to be kind to people who are kind in return, but I do feel that to be true to myself, I need to suck it up and help even those who ignore me when I ask for help. In other words, I will post your news on LFCA even if you ignore me every time I've asked you to help me out.
Last winter, I asked for a general favour and posed it via a blog post to the general community. More than one blogger took my request and honoured it without being directly asked. Believe me, I notice as you notice when people reach out to you and let you know that they care. I also asked another blogger directly for the same help and she ignored me. I asked a second time and she ignored me again. She recently asked for my help, suddenly realizing that perhaps she can get something from me. It is hard to help, it takes a lot of swallowing down bile (or toads? Or french-cut diamonds?) to post links for her. I do it not for her, but because I need to remain true to myself and this idea I am attempting to articulate on Gentle blogging.
And like the sister in the aforementioned fable, that is the essence of selfish or Wicked Blogging. It's following people on Twitter not because you're interested in what they have to say, but because you want to get something out of them. It's talking shit about a person's writing in one space, and then fawning over them in another. It's craning your neck to see if there is someone more interesting in the room at BlogHer rather than getting to know the person in front of you.
What it is not is an expectation that dictates your time or attention--it is not wicked to not read someone back who reads you. In other words, if I start following you on Twitter, it is because I want to hear what you say, not because I want you to follow me too. People have limited time and they can have limited interests and no one should be doing things online out of obligation. The difference is that Gentle Blogging is about doing things because it is meaningful to you or because you wish to help them, simply because they are a human being asking for advice or comfort or aid, and not because you believe that they are worthy due to what they can get you in the long-run (which would be Wicked Blogging).
When I write of "Wicked" blogging, I am merely speaking about the intention behind the action. I just want to make this clear--that Gentle blogging is not reading every single person who reads you and following everyone back on Twitter and Wicked blogging is not about never commenting. It is merely an attitude. It is why you blog, why you read, why you comment, why you Twitter, and why you follow or friend people.
And I think the people who were cranky at BlogHer (with the exceptions of the ones who were cranky with the commercialism) were cranky because they were probably bumping into a lot of Wicked bloggers. But, my question then, is that if you were in a room with 2000 people and you were only finding Wicked bloggers, what were you doing wrong too? Do you see what I mean? No one was tied to one chair for 72 hours--people were free to move around and mingle and mingle and mingle. And vote with their feet. So if you weren't meeting cool people and learning about new blogs, was it because you were literally blocked in by a wall of Wicked bloggers who ignored you or was it because you didn't put yourself out there enough?
I am trying not to sound like I'm blaming the victim, but frankly, I don't think there are truly victims in this situation. There is shyness, but people who are shy tend to understand why they are not meeting people and tend not to complain about it. For the people who complained about that aspect of the conference or who complain about the state of blogging or who bitch about the behaviour of others: what are you doing to be the change you want to see in the world?
I've been thinking about Gentle blogging for a long time. It goes back, honestly, to the start of the Lost and Found, even if I couldn't articulate this idea back then. This fable has played out in my mind numerous times during things I've observed on the Internet.
The LFCA is two years old this week. How does the site relate to Gentle blogging? It levels the playing field. It makes sure that a new blogger with twenty readers has the chance to gather the same support as an older blogger with several hundred readers. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Just because I post it doesn't mean that people click over and just because they click over doesn't mean that they leave words of support. But in my opinion, it's worth my time five days a week to give it a shot.
I put it together because I want to take part in Gentle blogging. And this is my method. If you also want to take a stand and consciously commit to Gentle blogging, you will need to find your own or you could even get involved in LFCA. Click through on those links and leave words of support not because you get something out of it, but because you see another person with a need and you can fill it. Set aside one day a week to choose five links off the list and leave good thoughts. Think about what a difference it could make in another person's life if everyone did this.
For those who complained about the conference, I challenge you to return next year. I challenge you to plan a meet-up for lunch time with other bloggers with similar interests. I challenge you to talk to one new blogger every hour, to sit down at a random table.
And to put my money where my mouth is (or something like that), in the spirit of Gentle blogging and a desire to bring people together, Lindsay, Lori, and I are planning a New York Meet-Up next summer the day after BlogHer 2010 solely for ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) bloggers. I'm stating this now before you make your tickets or hotel reservation or plan that vacation to other locales though you live in NY. Leave your ego at the door, and join your fellow ALI bloggers for a picnic lunch or other low-key, no-money, just good company meet-up in New York.
You can sign up for the email list and RSVP for the event now or any time up until June. At that point, we'll need to have a sense of the number of people attending so we can pick a spot. This is separate from BlogHer and merely piggybacking on the event since people will be in town. But being held after BlogHer so those in the NY (or reasonable driving distance) area can participate without having to go to BlogHer. Combining efforts with the IVP (are you guys game)? Is there a face-to-face NY group?
The length of time and the amount of structure to it will depend on the number of people there, but the point is threefold: (1) to meet, (2) exchange ideas, and (3) strength our community. And that's it. We may need even more people to help with the planning in the future if it grows into something larger than a picnic.
So, are you in? Let me know on the RSVP list as well as below in the comment section so others can see that you're planning to attend. And your thoughts on Gentle vs. Wicked blogging.
And I'm well aware that my kumbayaness is cringe-inducing and this post pretty much cements the fact that I have rainbows and unicorns shitting out my ass. But despite my crudeness, feelings are important to me. Another person's feelings (unless there is a sound reason for my bitchiness) are important to me. It's pretty much the most important thing that I hold carefully in my hands. We trust each other when we crash into one another. The least we can do is cushion the other person with a gentle--a Gentle--landing.