You can’t have it all

And, evidently, you can’t please them all either.

This whole experience has been really eye opening for me. I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before. My blogging experience has consisted of the same twenty or so people commenting with varying degrees of regularity. Mi.Vida reminded me that you haven’t really “arrived” until people start cutting you down. So, I guess I’ve finally arrived, though I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I mean, now I have someone saying he is using my blog to illustrate a point in his psych classes (it remains to be seen if he is actually a psych professor or just posing as one in my comment section). The point he is making with my posts is that a woman can “have it all” and still be miserable. Wow, now if that is not some sobering shit, I don’t know what is.

And evidently this guy has been reading me for a year and a half. Or maybe he just combed through my archives looking for posts that furthered his cause? If that is the case I hope my categories and tags helped him find what he was looking for.

So I’m not sure if he’s been reading all that time and using my writing as it came out, nor do I know if the whole purpose of his reading me was to find fodder for his class, but it has really raised the questions, why do these people read me? And what prompts them suddenly, and seemingly out of no where, to comment?

That is what is most confusing to me: the people who profess to being long time “lurkers,” who suddenly felt the need to surface and tell me what’s what. Why is it that people only show up to express their disappointment, and not to offer genuine, non-judgmental support? (I’m not saying this is bad, necessarily, I just don’t understand it as I’ve never done it myself). I have, over the years, had a very small number of people offer a positive comment out of the blue, but for every one of those I’ve gotten two or three times as many negative comments from someone who confessed they’d been around forever but just then felt the urge to express their disappointment.

The truth is, the “hey, I’ve been reading forever and appreciate your honesty, except for at times like this, when I find it rather disheartening,” comment is an odd one. On the one hand I’m honored to hear that someone has been reading me for a while, that she had found my writing compelling enough to return month after month as I tackle whatever is going on in my life, but it’s also a bit unnerving to know that she couldn’t be bothered to clue me in on her existence until I let her down in some way.

Now here is where I add a paragraph or two about dissenting views in my comment section. One very articulate and thoughtful commenter yesterday counseled that Mi.Vida’s response, along with other posts of mine, suggested I might not be appreciative or welcoming of dissenting comments of any kind on my blog; evidently my attitude is more “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” (I’m not saying this in a hurt feelings sort of way but in a straight-forward kind of way.)

And honestly, I DON’T want that to be the vibe on my blog AT ALL. I want people to have differing opinions and I want them to express them here. I just want them to do it in a respectful way. But maybe sometimes I feel hurt and then my defense mechanisms kick in and I shut people down instead of engaging them in conversation. I would like to think that I can tell the difference between a thoughtful comment that opens dialogue and one that presents irrelevance for the sake of shaming or inflicting pain. I would like to think I can tell when concern is genuine and when it is judgy. But I don’t know, maybe when the topic is my mental health and my ability to have another child I don’t see things like I should.

And that makes me wonder, when the topic is my mental health and whether or not I’m fit (or worthy) of trying for another child, or whether or not I should even want one, is any kind of dissent productive? Does anyone have a right to say anything unsupportive to me about those things? When I am discussing relevant issues, topics of debate that grace the pages of blogs and new outlets the world over, of course I want to engage in productive discussion and of course I want people to challenge my thinking in a respectful way. But when I’m baring my heart and soul to the world and the topic is my life, nothing more and nothing less, I would hope comments would be first and foremost supportive, and that if someone felt the way I was handling something needed to be addressed, that they would do so for my own good and not theirs. And that they would do so gently and with respect.

I guess all of this is just teaching me the hard lessons about blogging, especially about blogging in an honest and raw way about such socially unacceptable or taboo subjects as TTC, loss, anxiety and depression, and the green monsters of jealous and envy. You can’t possibly please everyone all the time, especially the hundreds of people who never announce themselves except via anonymous hits or untraceable reader subscriptions. Heck, you can’t even consistently please the people that you DO know read your blog. I’m sure some of my bloggy friends didn’t love Mi.Vida’s post and that is fine. I put it up for my own reasons, mostly because I appreciated that Mi.Vida felt protective of me and respected his own personal feelings of being attacked by some of what was written on my blog. Also, I find his crass wit incredibly funny and I his post made me laugh my ass off, while simultaneously prompting me to love him even more than I already did.

This whole experience brings me back to that realization, that basic and fundamental truth, that you can’t have it all, at least not all the time. And I’m not just talking about how women can’t tend to both their familial and professional obligations with enough dedication to ensure everyone’s satisfaction, least of all her own. I’m talking about how no one, anywhere can ever have it all (I’m sure there are exceptions to this, there always are).

It’s just like I can’t pursue my dream job of writing and maintain the financial security that a tenured teaching position affords (not only do I make a decent salary but I can’t be fired unless I commit some heinous act). Similarly, I can’t afford to buy a house and live in the parts of the city that I really love and I can’t have another baby without giving less of my time to the daughter I already have. There is always give and take, there is always something lost for another thing gained. Most people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars get to enjoy lots of perks in life that I don’t enjoy but they also have to work 80+ hours a week and rarely see their families. There is almost always give and take, you can almost never have it all (the top 1% not withstanding).

And I suppose it is the same in blogging. You can’t lay it all out there, without dressing it up or pretending it’s something it’s not and then expect everyone who reads it to appreciate what you’ve said. You can’t have more and more people read your blog without some of them expressing their discontent or their judgement. It’s not like I’ve ever made decisions with the specific intent of driving up traffic, but having more people read my blog has always been a plus. And now I realize that at a certain point that positive starts becoming a negative and you have to live with the less savory aspects of writing for a less intimate audience.

The point of this blog has always been two-fold: 1) wade through the murkiness of my life and 2) give and receive support. I suppose both of those can continue to happen, despite what feels like a morphing of this space into something foreign, that I don’t readily recognize. I don’t think either will look exactly like they did before but I’m sure there will still be plenty of honesty (bordering on the inappropriate at times) and support (both given and received with gusto). I guess the only difference is that sometimes there will also be discontent and judgement and that is okay. I can handle it. And I will endeavor to handle it gracefully and to welcome it when it is appropriate and thoughtfully presented. I know what I’ve had to deal with here is incredibly mild and maybe this will be the end of it, but I must admit, now I will be wary, waiting for the other shoe to drop, checking the author of a comment before I get excited to read it, wondering if the next one will make me smile or cringe or furrow my brow.

14 responses

  1. Very good questions – “And that makes me wonder, when the topic is my mental health and whether or not I’m fit (or worthy) of trying for another child, or whether or not I should even want one, is any kind of dissent productive? Does anyone have a right to say anything unsupportive to me about those things?” I think it’s very smart to distinguish between de-personalized topics up for debate, and the raw open-heart surgery of those working-through-it posts because they really do call for different kinds of responses.

    I love what you say about the give and take of life, very true.

  2. It IS true that you can’t have everything. Agree, 100%. That said, this IS your space. You are inviting readers into your house, people that you DO know and people that you don’t know. Maybe it’s time to establish your house rules about commenting. I just did this recently, actually, because I had a new and vocal commenter who didn’t know my rules.

    Put it on your “About Me” page, and when you’ve written a post where you have special rules about comments, put it in italics at the top or bottom.

    Because Elizabeth really said it best – it’s smart to distinguish between topics up for discussion, and those raw moments where you are working through your pain and sadness.

    It won’t make everything perfect, but no one can confess not to understand the rules.

    In the meantime – hugs. I will stay here to support you no matter how big your blog gets.


  3. I just so happen to have found your blog just before this shit storm took flight (sorry you’re going through this!), and I just wanted to add my two cents. Yesterday I read an article on Huff.Po about a woman who participated in an educational film about breastfeeding. Turns out the producers of the film had pretty nasty intentions, because the waiver she signed said that the film could be used “across all media platforms” and was made into a breastfeeding porno (excuse my while I puke). How did she find out? She googled her own name and dozens of porn sites came up. I mention this because it’s similar to the teacher who is using your site as a teaching strategy. He has taken something precious to you—something you have shared with the intention of helping others—and used it for (I believe) sinister, self-serving reasons. I can’t believe that someone in the field of Psychology would A) Exploit someone’s creative works, thereby encouraging his students to do the same, and (more importantly) B) RUB IT IN. That is completely against the ethics of Psychology as a profession. We are to DO NO HARM. I wish there was some way to track this person down and report him to whatever institution he works for, because what he is doing is unprofessional and potentially seriously harmful, not just to you, but his students also. In any case, my final point here is that when we choose to share some (or most, or ALL) elements of our most vulnerable selves, we are at risk. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, because I do it, too. But I think we either need to take caution and be judicious in how much we share and how we share it, or we have to just not care what some teacher thinks of us. I know it’s hard, I have my moments of fear and doubt about sharing what I’m sharing. But we should be proud of having the balls to do what others cannot, and that is provide a voice for something so utterly challenging. You are awesome, and your blog is awesome, and I’m glad I found you!

  4. This point that this person made here – ” The point he is making with my posts is that a woman can “have it all” and still be miserable.” is ridiculous! How dare he think that he has the right to comment on your life and decide how you should or shouldn’t be feeling. I’m only new to your blog, but I find your raw posts and honesty refreshing. Maxi xx

  5. I like the idea of establishing house rules about commenting. Hugs. I would be devastated and furious if I found out someone was using my blog in a class without my knowledge or consent. It’s ridiculous, too, because no blog reflects 100% of someone; it can magnify pieces but it’s not you.

  6. I echo Serenity’s suggestion for house rules. Mel had a post about this a while back: something along the lines of “when invited into my home, don’t crap on the carpet…” it was hilarious and apt. Let me see if I can find it.

    Someone asked Katie Couric about having it all, and she said: “Why doesn’t anyone ever ask Brian Williams that question?” I loved that.

    ETA: here it is…

  7. Psychiatry is supposed to be a healing vocation, compassionate by definition. Even if that “professor” is what he claims to be, I fear for his students and his patients. Trolling is a cowardly, ~wounding~ vocation. So in more ways than one, this person is lying to the world and probably himself about who he is … probably on many levels. You and all the rest of us here are quite clear, however.

    If someone rushed up and randomly attacked you … beat your knee caps with a bat … you would be able to name that act for the violence that it is. You might ask yourself if it was your fault on some level, any level … if you somehow deserved what happened to you … as victims sometimes do. Predators have many advantages in their line of work and this reaction that causes you to carry on beating yourself where they left off is one of them.

    It’s dishonest for people to judge your processing, your blog (as though that processing in the moment — a single emotional moment — was the ALL) and confuse it with any concrete measure of you, as though you or any of us could be so simply contained and qualified. Aren’t we all a bit messy … at least some of the time … on the inside? Or is that just some of us? Only the honest ones? Either way, the messy doesn’t make us unfit for life. It IS life (and sometimes it becomes art … because people don’t respond to sterile expressions … they respond to truth). I hate to ever see anyone enjoying any kind of self-expression (within reason, of course 😉 beaten back into an unhelpful self-consciousness by dolts and bottom-feeders.

    It’s not always safe to be yourself. Which must be one of the features of the human condition. But what else should we be? In the end, that’s the only sane thing. Trolls and people who miss the point be damned.

  8. HI! Me again 🙂

    Esperanza, I was going to reply to your reply to me, but it seems more apt to put a response here. I think you misunderstood what I was saying in one aspect. I actually have NEVER gotten the vibe from you that dissenting comments or non-supportive comments were verboten. UNTIL Mi Vida’s post. I know you did not write it, but the whole point of his post as I read it was if you don’t have something 100% supportive to say, go away and leave us alone, you jerk. It’s not that I think you shouldn’t have put the post up (that is SO not up to me to decide), and I get your reasons for doing so that you’ve stated here. In some ways I loved the post anyway. But by putting it up – I got that vibe for the first time on this site ever, which was what I was trying to explain. I couldn’t tell whether you felt the same way or not. His language was very severe, for example discussing who has “earned the right to comment”. I thought long and hard before commenting back, because when you put it that way, I didn’t know if I had *ever* earned the right to comment here.

    Seeing all the comments here encouraging you to have posted commenting house rules is a second indication of that same vibe, one of closure and defense. Heck, maybe you need that for yourself and I wouldn’t judge, but I actually thought your answer to the comments from last Friday was very well done, did make them look silly, and really kept that open feeling. Forgot to mention that in my last mini novella to you. You are totally right that you can’t please everyone, you should strive to please yourself the best you can. I was just trying to explain what was offputting to me, as a long time reader. I will say that I started following several blogs about 3-4 years ago in the IF blogosphere. I follow almost none of those now anymore, but yours remains on my bookmark list and I check in often. Why you and not others? I love your voice, I love what you cover and how you cover it, as I mentioned I love how courageous you are to really look hard at unflattering emotions and issues you are having, that i DO think are common to many of us but often go unsaid. And I loved that I felt that I was welcome to comment without the same wariness I’ve felt on others’ blogs, that turned me off. Many of the others I used to follow weren’t like that at all. In one instance, I wrote what was meant to be an impersonal, debate-oriented comment that was honestly trying to discuss broader issues, because I was so stimulated by the post I was reacting to. I was very excited to engage in a real conversation about the ideas, and couldn’t wait to see a response, I hoped it would grow into at least a small back-and-forth. The blogger took it completely personally, wrote a scathing blog post basically ranting about how everything I’d said was not only wrong but incredibly hurtful, instead of actually responding to me or the concepts. Her response was so emotional that it was entirely irrational and she also denied several things she had said in the original post, and summed it all up with the conclusion being what jerks some people are and she’d probably remove my comment later. I think she even threatened to take her blog to password protection. Several of her followers had commented by the time I read this and the wall was full of comments like “I can’t believe them! What a total jerk” and “Forget them honey, I know exactly what you meant and agree with you COMPLETELY” etc. This was all based on what was intended to be a thoughtful, intellectual response to ideas I saw her bringing up. I was just like, whoa, never going back THERE again…and the experience has influenced who I want to keep reading.

    As for commenters who only pop up when they have something negative to say – I guess I fit that bill way more than most here. That’s not what I mean to do, but honestly I often don’t have interest in the volume-comments that are very simple and just give support. I probably should put more effort into those – I am feeling the happiness or empathy in my head and do not take the time to write it down, particularly because I am blogless, and thus rarely get responses to anything I write to people anyway. I am pretty much only spurred to comment back when I feel I have something unique to say. In many cases, I only feel that there’s something really unique to say when there is a seed of disagreement somehwere.

    Sorry for these loooong comments back I’m very glad your concluding paragraph here has a resolve to stay open. I also think some of what you are running into is specific to blogging. But some of this touches on more general tensions that exist with ANY memoir intended for public consumption and its audience. That’s a difficult thing – writing memoir – because eventually you always realize that you have no control over the audience’s reactions to, interpretations of, and uses for your work, and you’re bound to not like some of them. Same as any published work really, but in this case the work is you and your life. Again, kudos to those who can do it well.

    • Kelly, this comment really made me think: thanks for sharing your experience here. There is a phenomenon called white knighting, where regular readers jump to the defense of the blogger when they express hurt over a comment (or even before that). I guess I’ve always thought that the ALI community is a bit more sensitive than others (someone compared us to a group with sunburns once) because of what members are going through: because of the hormones, because of the losses, because of the rate of depression, which is the same as for those going through cancer. I think a lot of us blogged primarily for the support.

      But I can’t speak for Esperanza here. You’ve raised some complicated questions about memoir writing, public blogging and what our relationships are with our readers. I’ll be thinking about this for a while…

  9. One thing I admire most about you is your thoughtful responses when you get comments that raise questions or disagree with what you are writing about. You are always respectful and obviously put a lot of thought and time into your responses. I have never thought that you find dissenting comments unwelcome.

    When it comes to blog commenting, I do not think “If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything at all” is a fair rule, but rather more of the Golden Rule. Disagree, sure, but do it respectfully and in a way that can open the door to discussion instead of just being obnoxious and insulting, like some of the comments on your previous post. Nothing productive or helpful comes from just beating someone down in a comment- it’s not like you are going to change what you are doing or your thinking because of a nasty comment from a stranger.

    I loved MiVida’s post not for what it said per se, but for the passionate way he came to your defense. He sure loves you.

  10. Again, Kelly has excellently put into words what I feel/think.
    When posting my comment my intention was not to hurt or to confuse but to express how I feel about a certain post that was directed at me, the reader.
    As I said Esperanza, I love your unique voice and have beeen following your blog for what feels like ever.
    One of the reasons I never commented was that I realized you already had a group of regulars who seemed (or so I gathered from their comments) to know you pretty well and in all the instances I would or could have possibly left a comment, there were already a lot of others offering what I felt too- their support.
    The reason I did not comment was manily because I felt that I would be saying nothing elae than what other commenters , all of whom seemed so much more involved, had already said.
    Maybe that was wrong…I don not know.

    Being in the process of setting up my own blog (finally!) , I agree with JJirraffe that what seems to be coming out of this is an interesting discussion regarding our relationship with our readers.

    Don’t get me wrong but I was quite stunned by the fact that a few people have mentioned how odd they found it that there were people who read thier blog but never “come out of the woodwork” to comment. I never thought that this was a strange phenomenon, and I am wondering what this actually means for public blogging.
    What level of involvement do we expect from our readers (what do we expect from them at all?) and what do we feel it implies if someone “only” reads and does not regularly (?) comment.
    Do we and can we actually expect our relationship with our readers to more or less mirror our real life relationships? Where we would naturally find comments from close friends or family more acceptable than from complete strangers.
    But can we expect the same when writing a public blog?

    These are questions that I now consider for myself and my future blog. I never considered that before but now I certainly will.
    I want to make clear that of course I do not support people leaving abusive or dismissive posts, I am actually refering to the question of how clear we are about what we want to read in our comments section or not.

    And to consider if indeed it would make sense to communicate that to our readers clearly from the start.
    Of course every blogger should be able to establish his or her own house rules, but then my readers would have to know them to even be able to act accordingly.

    • Polly, first of all I find this conversation fascinating and I appreciate your participation in it. Not surprisingly have a few thoughts on your last comment. For one, I think it’s interesting that you felt Mi.Vida’s post was directed toward you “the reader” when it seems obvious (to me) that it was directed only toward the authors of the hurtful comments and not toward anyone else who commented on that post and most definitely not toward someone who had never commented. Knowing that readers always feel posts are directed specifically toward them, even in instances where a specific audience was alluded to in a post is something I will take to heart. I realized after I read that part of your comment that THAT was what most confused me about your comment, that you seemed to think it was directed toward you when it felt clear to me that it wasn’t.

      I’m not saying that I don’t agree with the way you read it. You are obviously entitled to your understanding of a post, that was just not the intent at all so I was expecting that understanding and was confused to read it. I also want to say that I didn’t find your comment at all hurtful, just curious. Again, I just didn’t understand.

      But participating in this conversation more maybe I’m starting to understand. I obviously don’t expect all my readers to comment regularly or even irregularly. I was just wondering why those who choose not to comment might only do so to express disappointment. But now I wonder if that makes complete sense, for someone to speak up only when a post goes against the status quo and a reader feels her opinion is NOT expressed in the comment section. That would be the most opportune time to comment, when you had something to say that had not been said and you didn’t think the author would hear otherwise. So thank you for talking this out because you’ve really helped me understand this and I no longer wonder at the sudden, and sometimes negative, comments that show up on my blog. (Again, yours wasn’t negative, just contrary and I believe contrary is good). I just hope that in the future people will be civil in addressing their concerns (as you were) and don’t comment just to be hurtful or dismissive (as others did).

  11. I think part of what bothers me about your experience in recent days is not just that commenters had negative *content* in their comments (because Lord knows dissention is sometimes useful),but that they wrote their comments in a hurtful WAY. It’s very different to say “you shouldn’t be thinking about having a child” than it is to say “I am worried about you and I hope you’re OK.” Perhaps that’s what goes in house rules: not an objection to comments, but a request to have them respectfully delivered.

    It’s interesting … just last month I wrote something asking whether readers had a responsibility to comment, and whether bloggers themselves had a responsibility to contribute … and most of what I got back was “nah.” … you commented on that one. 😉

    I’m not into fairy queefs, myself. I think you write what you write, and you choose who you want your online persona to be. But you do it with intention, with full awareness of the narrative you’ve chosen, even if it’s not possible to know what readers will see.

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