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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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Blogging 101: Session II

I really loved all the intelligent and varied perspectives that were offered in the comments section of Part I of this series. Keep it coming—we're all of us making this thing up as we go along.

Today, let's talk about the place where our blog and offline life intersect.

Who's Life Is it Anyway?

No one who's ever written anything worth reading in any genre has done so without drawing on real-life experiences, relationships and observations. To never employ third person pronouns is to write from a very sterile, ego-centric space, and it will collapse on itself in a hurry.

You have an offline life (I hope). You have conversations, encounters, and conflicts that involve other people; interactions that are the grist for reflection, storytelling and opinion. Can you blog about them? Yes, with some caveats (these apply to adults; I'll address child-related issues in it's own session).

Back when I pretty much knew all five people who read my blog, I was less circumspect about bringing offline friends into it. I didn't give much more thought to mentioning a relevant offline anecdote in a blog post than I would dropping it into a conversation at the park. Nothing slanderous or gossipy, just segues like, "That reminds me of something funny my friend so-and-so always says..." or "When this happened to my friend so-and-so, it made me think about the time I..."

Show me a columnist or memoirist who doesn't use that device, and I'll show you someone who ran out of material a long time ago. But not all my so-and-so's were comfortable turning up in my blog. Some were and are perfectly cool with it. Some, I eventually learned, weren't. I was naive, but I also never dreamed the things I wrote here would travel as far as they have. (See "worst-case-scenario test, " Session I.)

I probably err too much on the side of caution these days. I used to love taking photographs of celebrations with friends, and now I leave my camera home, because I'm tired of giving the verbal disclaimer that the pictures are not for my blog. I need a hat that can display OFF DUTY, like a taxi sign. Beyond my immediate family members, I don't post photographs of people on my blog without permission. When my daily traffic grew beyond a few dozen people, I stopped posting them to my public flickr set. Even for a closed network like Facebook, I only post pictures of friends that are a) flattering, and b) portray only subjects I know are okay with being seen on Facebook.

I'm actually kind of a nerd about the picture thing. Your mileage may vary.

When it comes to referencing offline conversations and anecdotes, I try to make sure my motives are pure and the focus is not on the other person, but on what it brings up for me. Sometimes I miss. Sometimes my words are not, as I would like them to be, impeccable. Sometimes I disguise a person's identity in every possible way, changing the details, throwing out decoys, and still, someone whom it's not about, thinks it's about them. Unfortunately, this has happened more than once. Sometimes, more than one person thinks it's about them at the same time. At which point, I just throw up my hands. Someday I'm going to put all the people who think my writing is all about them in a room and make them fight it out. The victor can just have this blog.

I guess what I'm saying is that you can only be so careful. For all the hundreds of people who feel my writing speaks to them positively, there's always a few who are convinced it's speaking to them negatively. I can't do much about that. For some people, there's a pay-off in taking offense.

Which brings us to the wonderful world of trolls.

Up next: My House, My rules.

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Blogger Jennifer H said...

I've found it's very hard to type with one's hands tied. ;-)

(P.S. Looking forward to the chapter on trolls. But since I've never had any, I've wondered if I'm doing this wrong or if I should just count my blessings...)

1:53 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Because I'm sensitive to being misrepresented in "real life" - I don't want anyone speaking on my behalf - tip-toeing around people and their feelings came naturally. I knew instinctively to seek permission prior to blogging about someone. I've also offered to remove a post if someone isn't comfortable with it.

I like your photo rules. The "off duty" hat would help many bloggers. Design and market one!

2:05 PM  
Blogger tysdaddy said...

Thanks to Jennifer for pointing the way over here.

I often think carefully about what to share, especially when it relates to family. I've written a lot about my kids in the past, but have found myself doing it less and less lately. If the circumstances lend themselves to what I'm trying to say on my blog, and I get their permission, then they'll make an appearance. But I've learned to respect them and not use them just for fodder.

Just my two cents . . .

2:21 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Yeah facebook can be a nightmare. Even for people who aren't "on" facebook, you gotta think they probably are (in some godawful pic of course.)

7:54 PM  
Blogger siobhan said...

As I commented on your first installment, this is one advantage of pseudo-anonymity. My blog is mostly about people (students) who have not agreed to be written about and who would definitely take umbrage at some of my (accurate!) characterizations. The only reason I blog under a pseudonym is to protect my students' privacy, but an added advantage is that it protects me from their reactions, and thus allows me to be searingly and unrelentingly honest.

I do find myself occasionally self-censoring when I'm exploring my own personal history and its relationship to my life as a teacher. I don't write a lot about my early family life, although sometimes it's relevant. I don't write much about my colleagues, even though I would like to sometimes. That's because there are people who know that I'm the blog author and would be hurt by some of the things I would say. Fortunately, I have plenty of other material...

8:58 AM  
Blogger Cid said...

So far my blog has been my own, none of my family, save one SIL has ever read it and that is fine with me. But I know that there is always the chance that they will and I self-censor accordingly. The above mentioned SIL actually emailed me after one fairly personal post about a family member. She reminded me that there is always a chance, however remote that the one person I have posted about will stumble upon my blog on that particular day. She was right and so your Rules are a great reminder for us all.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

It's good to have someone to act as a school of sober second thought sometimes. The only time my husband has ever expressed an editorial opinion in three years, was over a post that had to do with someone else's marriage. I sent it to the person involved and asked for permission, which they granted.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Cid said...

I will be sure to tell my SIL (who incidently, also reads Notes to Self) that she is my very own version of the Senate, ie. Chamber of Sober Second Thought. She'll laugh about the sober part.

2:22 PM  
Blogger JCK said...

It is always challenging to find the balance. Good points.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Schmutzie said...

I do try to be careful, but I occasionally step over the line with my partner and friends. I've learned to accept that there will be missteps, and those around me seem to understands that my missteps aren't directed attacks. This is the danger with autobiography, but it is a danger worth facing, I think. No where is life safe and tidy, so I never expected that blogging would be.

The rule I follow when I write is this: If the person in the piece were to be here in person right now, would I be able to face them in light of that piece, and would they feel that they have been treated fairly?

It's a tall order which sometimes leaves me posting photographs and stories about my cats.

10:15 AM  
Blogger K said...

I think you need to be careful what info you put out there.

I am amazed at how much some bloggers share -especially the negative stuff about friends and family.

5:07 PM  

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