So this is a bit long, and rambling, and I don’t get to the point until the very end. That is because I didn’t know the point until the very end. This post is the record of an revelation. Writing this post helped me figure out what it is I’m doing here, and that is something I’ve wanted to know for a long, long time. Perhaps it will seem obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me. I’m sorry it took me so many words to figure it out. I hope you’ll think, as I do, that it was worth it.
I’ve been taking a little break from blogging, trying to figure a few things out. I’ve been thinking a lot, since I wrote that post about how “my community” has shifted over the years and how most of the people who used to read me have stopped blogging and/or commenting. I’ve been exploring my relationships with the people I perceive as “friends” in the blogosphere, attempting to determine what that means to me, how I define “friendship,” (or how I WANT to define “friendship”) both in the URL and IRL realms of my life (and realizing I don’t know diddly squat about the topic). I’ve thought about all the posts I’ve read, and written, about blogging in the ALI community and how the prevailing belief is that each person’s blog is her sacred space, to do with as she wants, and that no one owes anything to anyone else. I’ve pondered how people just stop blogging, disappearing into the ether, with or without announcement and explanation. I considered how frequently people post and comment, how it feels to watch my words inspire an interesting conversation, and how it feels when no one responds at all.
I’ve been considering what kind of relationships are possible via the internet, especially when the participants never hope to meet in real life. I’ve reflected on all the support I’ve received over the years, and the way this space, and the people who participate in it, have made me feel. I’ve tried to define what this space gives me that I can’t seem to find elsewhere. How much of that is in the act of writing it out? And how much is in the response of someone who reads it? It’s so hard to grasp; I can’t get a handle on it.
In a certain light, it all seems so fickle, the tenuous connections of dozens of people going about their day, stopping to read your words and leave some of their own. People finding you through blogrolls and comment sections and links in other people’s posts. Each connection–from blog to blog, writer to writer, reader to reader–creating an intricate web. But like the delicate threads of a spider, the connections of the blogosphere are both breathtakingly complex, and incredibly delicate. Sometimes it seems that a gust of wind, or the careless swipe of a hand, could leave it a crumpled mess, blowing in the breeze.
Perhaps that seems a bit dramatic, and maybe it is. I’m just trying to comprehend how the connections between people who ultimately owe each other nothing, who are doing what they personally need to do without any real expectation of receiving anything in return, can create a true, cohesive community. If we don’t owe our readers anything, and our readers don’t owe us anything, what is the basis of our affiliation? Interest? Mutual need and understanding? Those aspects, for each of us, are constantly shifting, evolving, changing shape and name. How do we define an ambiguous entity that is interpreted differently by each person that takes part?
When I explore that side of the blogosphere, the tenuous nature of what can be described as a set of interconnecting– but ultimately independent–points, all operating within their own experience and understanding, and relying on few expressly agreed upon conventions, I’m not sure what part I play, what purpose my participation actually serves. The whole thing feels like a house of cards–if enough women decide to stop showing up, the whole structure will tumble.
And yet, the power of this community is undeniable. Time and time again I read the testimonials of women who believe they wouldn’t have survived their individual tragedies if they hadn’t been able to come together to form a whole. The support they received through their blog was integral in their survival; they were only able to move forward with the help of the women who read them, and the women whom they read. The power these connections yield is palpable. I myself found more acceptance and understanding through my blog than I ever could have dreamed of experiencing in real life. This space absolutely made a difference to me when I was fumbling through the gloom of loss and infertility. It was the light that saw me through the darkness.
Clearly there is real potential for meaningful interaction here. But maybe that is all it is, interaction. Maybe the true connections made between people are much harder to forge, maybe they require more. Most women I know who really consider themselves “friends” with other bloggers communicate via other mediums, like email or a messager of some kind. Some even call and text each other. Facebook groups are forming and women are finding their cohorts there. Twitter allows for more consistent–and constant–exchange. Perhaps what happens on a blog is different from all that, from the collaborative back and forth that happens in other forms of digital media. Perhaps it can never be a platform for true friendship, in and of itself.
And yet, there is something to be said for the person who shows up, and reads what you write, despite having no say in the topic of conversation. Reading someone’s words is the ultimate validation, a way to show respect and appreciation. When I made the great mistake of sharing my blog with my college friends, I was hurt that they didn’t follow my blog. How could they be my friends if they didn’t even take the opportunity to understand me better? Could someone really like me, but choose not to read my words? I couldn’t imagine being invited to stand at the windows of my friends’ hearts and minds, and not take every opportunity to look in. With time and geographic distance always conspiring to keep us apart, how could they not use all the tools at their disposal to bring us together?
It has crossed my mind that maybe none of this even matters–the nature of the blogosphere, the aligned or misaligned connections between writers and readers, whether or not the people I consider friends are actually that. I’ve obviously been content to operate inside the ambiguity for all these years, I’m sure I could continue writing and commenting without a clear understanding of what I’m participating in.
But the truth is, things have changed. I have changed. My circumstances have changed. I have less time to write–and read–and the reasons I write (and read and comment) are different. I feel this drive inside of me to be more deliberate, to know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, to be able to articulate what hope to accomplish in every area of my life. It just happens that my participation here, in this space, in this community, is the hardest for me define and quantify. Whenever I ask myself why I blog–or if I should keep blogging–“connection” is always the number one reason. If I don’t have faith in that aspect of this equation, I may not be able to keep showing up in this space.
Do I need to believe that by participating in the this community I am somehow a part of something bigger than myself? The truth is, I am not an active participant in the lives of the women I read. They do not write for me anymore than I write for them. They write for themselves, and I chose to bear witness. Just as the people who read my blog choose to bear witness to my life. And choosing to bear witness is a powerful thing. It is validating in ways that few other interactions can be. Perhaps bearing witness is what it’s all about. Maybe that is where there power of blogging lies, in choosing to put yourself out there and in others showing up to see what you have to say. Perhaps bearing witness is just as powerful as providing friendship, because it happens DESPITE a lack of reciprocity. If you come back to my space every day, even though you have no bearing on the conversation, maybe that shows the utmost respect, because here it’s not about you, but about me. And you come anyway.
No wonder women of the ALI community thrive on their blogs; it’s a place where people choose to bear witness to their struggle, even when their friends and family are wont to look away. It is here, and only here that they are acknowledged and validated, because people read their words, and recognize their hurt, without asking for anything in return.
I’ve tried for so long to understand why I do this, why I put myself out there day after day, month after month, year after year. What am I trying to accomplish? But now I understand. In writing this blog, I am offering up a part of myself, an honest account of my life, and asking someone–anyone–to bear witness. And if you are here, doing that, I thank you.
Why do you blog? Do you consider your avid reader/commenters friends?