Bearing Witness

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?

28 responses

  1. I came to the ALI community a few years ago, not because I had fertility issues, the opposite in fact, I have 4 beautiful children. I came because a few of my friends were struggling with infertility and I wanted to know what I could do to help, or what to say or not to say. I have learned so much and I think it’s made me a better friend. I stay because I have become attached to these women and their families. I do not comment because that would seem disrespectful, as I have no experience, but I do bear witness. Sometimes I comment once the person becomes a parent because at least I am experiencing some of the same things but I am not a part of this community and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. I do not have a blog, although I have thought about it. I stay because I am connected to these people in a way they will never know. And I think everyone is doing such a good job. Thanks for letting me listen.

    • Wow. Thank you for coming to this community, and bearing witness to our stories, even though they are so different from your own. You are truly an incredible friend and an empathetic person and I am honored that you read my blog.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’m partway through writing a post about why I write. I’ve only been writing for a year and my reasons have shifted during that time. I started reading blogs and writing because I needed and outlet for my feelings and support. I’ve continued because I enjoy other peoples stories and I care about the connections I’ve made. Ultimately, I know that I blog for myself but it’s nice to know that other people are there with me.

    • My reasons have changed a lot over the years too. I think they’ve taken a final big shift now that I’m officially done with family building. That, coupled with the fact that I don’t have as much time, makes me want to be really sure I know why I’m doing this and what I’m hoping to get out of it. If it doesn’t make sense for me to make this kind of commitment, I want to know now so I can figure out what kind of commitment makes sense. This is one part of the equation. The other is just loving to write and the value of putting my words down, even if there isn’t any response. That is something I’ve written about before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again.

  3. I really like that sentiment: bearing witness.

    I think that relationships with readers are similar to all face-to-face relationships in that they vary in intensity. There are people I read and comment on that I’ve never connected in any other way. And there are some that I read and comment and see face-to-face. Or call. Or just email. I have a different relationship with everyone I read and everyone who reads me. I can’t say there is one over-riding type of connection.

    • That is interesting, especially since you have so many readers and you read so many blogs.

      I only have a handful of bloggers that I interact with outside of blogging, via various digital media. The rest are all about the same, I might write a comment on an old post if they hadn’t posted in a long time, otherwise I wouldn’t do much if they just stopped blogging and I would never hear from them again. It was that realization that prompted this post.

  4. I think blogging relationships are like face-to-face relationships in that they take some amount of work, depending on how close you want to become with that person. And since comments and sometimes emails, texts, etc are generally the only way you interact, it hurts when that relationship fades away or isn’t reciprocal. And as legitimate as our excuses may be for not keeping up the relationship (mine are busyness, commenting from the phone frustrations, not knowing what to say) they still affect that relationship.

    Like you, I have people in my life that I consider fairly close friends who do not read my blog. I think it’s weird. I’m not hurt by it, because they don’t really participate in any social media, but they know I blog and pour my heart out on it, and yet still choose not to read.

    There was a time where I was really concerned with the number of comments I got on a post, and sometimes I still am, but not so much anymore. Comments are actually way down on my blog- not sure why- but I’m strangely really ok with that. I think because I am starting to blog more for myself and not just using my blog as a means of telling everyone what’s going on in my life.

    • I didn’t mention in my post, but I have NEVER shared my blog with anyone who knows in me in real life again. That actually ended up being a total disaster, and my friends used it against me on a number of occasions. They have promised me (after I requested of them) that they won’t read it anymore and I believe that are keeping their word on that. The only people who know me in real life who read my blog are the few good friends who met me through my blog. But no one else even knows about it, and I hope to keep it that way. I would have a much harder time writing if everyone I knew read it. I think that is fodder for another post.

      I also think that blog relationships are like face-to-face relationships and that it CAN hurt when people just stop reading or commenting (or even posting in their own space) and not really tell you why. I’ve been burned like that a few times–I’ve even had people I considered real friends push me out of their digital lives intentionally–and that is something I’m still working through. I do think that feeling of being betrayed is a part of why I wrote that post, though I didn’t write about it specifically here. Maybe that is fodder for yet ANOTHER post.

  5. I love the idea of bearing witness to people’s stories. I rarely comment nowadays because I’ve moved to a smartphone and am less focused when I’m reading blogs. Also, I don’t often have anything to add – no advice, no witty comment or story to relate. But every now and again I just like to say, I’m here! Reading! Enjoying your story! I always hope that’s enough for the bloggers that I read.

    Enjoying your story, and grateful for all you write.

  6. I love this. My initial reason for blogging and seeking out a community online was bearing witness – though I never thought about it like that. It was “This is what happened to me and this is how I’m feeling about it. Can I get an Amen?!” I’m not sure if my reason for blogging is still bearing witness or not. I probably would have to write my own long post to untangle my thoughts on it too, but lunchtime at work is not the right vibe 🙂 Thanks for all the food for thought.

    • “This is what happened to me and this is how I’m feeling about it. Can I get an Amen?!” I love this. That is EXACTLY why I started blogging. And I think it’s still why I’m blogging, but my reasons for asking, “Can I get an AMEN?!” are different. Still, the underlying desire to be acknowledged and validated is still there. I think that is part of the human condition.

  7. Hmmmm. Bearing witness is certainly why I sought out the community. The reasons I stayed at varied absolutely have shifted over time. I left briefly for a specific reason, and have felt more negative than positive about the whole parcel for a while. I write and publish emotional posts in just one go and find relief. Relationships have been life changing in good and bad ways. I don’t know how to let the good outweigh the bad in my heart, though it IS good overall . I’m still around though, so… I don’t know.

    • This post was about my blog as a medium for connection, so I didn’t write much about how the act of writing helps me figure things out. So many times I’ve sat down at the computer, not sure how I felt about something but knowing that it was driving me crazy inside, and by the time I wrote it all out, I UNDERSTOOD. That process is POWERFUL and it is definitely one of the reasons that I keep coming back. But equally as powerful is having someone validate that realization, tell me that they also understand, that they have experienced something similar, that they know what I mean.

      I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that the connections I feel with the people I read, and who read me, might feel like more than they actually are. I’m still not really sure how to define the connection I feel with regular readers/commenters. Do we each define our “relationship” in the same ways? Is “relationship” even the right word? I have no idea, and I think that is what makes it hard to manage those expectations–without some other form of communication, it’s hard to know where other people stand.

      I’ve also had my fair share of negative experiences on my blog. Some I take responsibility for. Others I’m still trying to process. I suppose that is normal–a big part of myself is poured out into this space, and I’ve made mistakes here, just like I do in real life. I can’t expect all the reactions to that to be positive (and I SHOULD expect some to be not positive). And I have built what I felt where important relationships, and not all relationships unfold in the way both parties would like. That is just people, and life. And I’m learning about that here, just like I do in real life.

      All that is a long winded way to say yes, I also have a difficult time measuring the bad against the good and seeing each for what they really are. It’s hard.

  8. As a non-blogging regular reader, I find that even bearing witness helps to validate my own life issues, gives me my “Amen”. I’ve been reading for almost 4 years- through my miscarriages and then through parenting my 2 year old son. I think about starting my own blog, but even just reading helps me process my own thoughts/feelings/opinions. I rarely comment- I usually construct a response in my head and then never get around to actually commenting. But I am always reading. There is connection even without reciprocity. So thanks.

  9. I am a new reader and I am so glad you are here and sharing your story with us. I love the way you write and what you have to say.

    I’ve been blogging for a few years now and I know that for me, as much as I would like to say that my blog is all about the writing process and it doesn’t matter who reads and/or comments, the truth is that when my words strike a chord with someone, when what I’ve said resonates with them and they comment saying so, I feel a sense of pride and happiness that I took the time to write out my feelings and experiences. It’s not ONLY about the interactions though, because I do get a lot out of the writing process itself, but I think for me, the interaction is my favourite part. I suppose that’s why I’m writing a public blog instead of a private journal…

    I hope you keep writing for a long time, because I plan to read for as long as you are here 🙂

  10. I started on Myspace, and was comedic in my writings. I used to be funny 9 years ago, though my blog doesn’t show that now. I keep reading blogs because I’ve always read, constantly, since I learned how, and this ‘genre’ makes me happiest. I love interacting with the authors, something I never could do with the books I read.

    I write, intermittently. Sometimes multiple times a week, sometimes not for months. It doesn’t make for a plethora of commenters, people get frustrated maybe? I don’t know. But when I think of gaining any sort of large following I feel fairly heart attacky, I enjoy my quiet corner of the blogosphere, I’d rather not too much attention be shown, what little attention is being shown be genuine.

    That being said, I do enjoy comments. It’s good to figure out how what I’m writing is perceived by others. I appreciate the support, and the words they’ve (you’ve) offered in comfort so many times more than I can say.

    I’m glad you’ve had an epiphany about your space here, I do love reading your words.

  11. I nodded my head to so much of this, yet I am one of those people who has made excellent friendships with a good handful of my readers. I started blogging just to get things out, and my kids lives documented, and if people read along, great. I love bearing witness to others stories, so letting others bear witness to mine felt right. As friendships grew, and as some then fizzled, my blogging changed a bit and I’m not sure why. Feeling more connected to people made me feel more able to be ME on my blog, which is good, but also made me feel more exposed due to some friendships that had fizzled naturally but were dramatized on twitter without my knowledge (gotta love social media – sigh). It was a very strange thing and I still don’t feel like I’m back in a comfort zone with blogging. I lost some friends due to the drama that I wasn’t able to even defend myself from (which honestly, it was so stupid that I wouldn’t have publicly defended myself but I wish I’d had the option), and that hit me hard at first and I do think it changed me and my blog.

    All this to say I’m not sure why I blog anymore. I certainly have moved more to FB to cultivate the friendships I’ve made in the blogging world because I feel safer there. I don’t feel watched, judged, scrutinized – which is a damned shame because FB is the epicenter of public scrutiny. Isn’t that weird?

    Yours is a blog I’ve read for YEARS! I still love it, and I’m glad we’re friends, even if we never meet in real life. Thank god for FB. I never thought I’d say that!

  12. I often ask myself when I am writing a blog post – why am I doing this? Isn’t this a classic case of ego writing about myself but I find such a huge relief after I write. Even if nobody responds. I just feel like all the weight I had on my shoulders was released and getting it out into the stratosphere did something just for me. I took a break for a while because I went in a funny place and I was feeling left out of groups, even though I wasn’t but internally I felt like I was and I really really missed my blogging connections and people checking if hey are you ok? I don’t know how long I will continue doing this but I know that in your summer when everyone else seems to take a break from blogging I really miss the relationships I miss seeing how everyone is and I miss the connections that I have with people even if they are only small. The only reason I don’t have more blogging friends on facebook is that I never want to ask and get knocked back. ha ha

  13. I read a lot of blogs but I don’t usually comment. I read because it’s a way to unwind and I can relate to so many from infertility to failed adoptions, foster care, and now parenting. Motherhood is often so lonely and so guilt ridden as you try to raise but not ruin these tiny lives that you are given. My husband doesn’t get it but so often some woman somewhere in the blogosphere does and it’s helpful to read. I have blogged daily for years now, although I have very few readers that aren’t family. It’s a good journal and without it I’d have very little record of what we do on a daily basis because I am a horrible scrapbooker. It’s also an easy way for out of state family to keep up with our lives. I print my blog book on a regular basis and it’s really fun to go back and read it.

  14. When I started blogging, I did it for me. I was part of a support group, but it only touched on some of what I was going through. I wanted/needed a place where I could “talk” about everything and anything I wanted. I didn’t write for anyone but me. I love your idea of bearing witness, but I don’t think that’s 100% true for me. While I love to have people comment on my blog, I’m really putting myself out there for me. For me to have a place for me, but hope that at some point something I’ve written about will connect with someone else and make them feel not so alone.

  15. I love the idea of “bearing witness”, and Mrs T’s succinct description of sharing our lives and receiving validation. I’m struggling a bit with the whole “should I stay or should I go” right now…there is just SO MUCH in my life, and I don’t know if I have the space for blogging. And I wonder, who will care if I stop? The internet will just close around the little hole and it was like I never existed there. The idea that the connections we make online are tenuous feels very true to me, too. I’ve followed some stories so closely, regular back & forth communication so it feels like a friendship. And then they disappear without a trace and I realize it wast anything really. I do miss it, though. I miss being able to lay it all out there, it helps me process hard things.

  16. I have followed your blog for about two years (? time). I found it via Google after an ectopic pregnancy. I attempted blogging at one point, but just like anything that requires some level of discipline I stopped. I check your blog every few days as you blog frequently and its interesting. I feel less alone if that makes sense. Your second pregnancy and challenges with secondary infertility mirrored to some extent (my blocked tubes lead us to IVF) my challenges getting pregnant with our baby girl born in early November. Trying to conceive, infertility, and now being on mat leave alone (I live in Canada so I am off work for a year) with the baby most of the day is isolating. Reading blogs is a way to connect to the outside world, even if I don’t comment. There is a connection whether there are comments or not. I am not a writer, I am a reader. I live with a writer and if there wasn’t readers and audience, what happens with the writing?

  17. I’ve left this blog post open on my computer for days, trying to figure out what I want to say. I still don’t know. This is common lately. *sigh* At any rate, I am here reading, bearing witness. I love that concept – it resonates with me. Thank you for writing…

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