Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The BlogRhet Meme

NOTE: I have reposted this material above (BlogRhet Meme again, Reformatted), because [censored] Blogger does not seem to want to let me reformat the end paragraphs big enough to read. Sigh.

1. Go back to first or early post. How would you describe your voice back in those early days? Who were you writing to? What was your sense of audience (if any) back then?

My first post was only a few months ago, so please understand that I am quite new at this. I'm a grandmother and a senior citizen with a brand new 65+ designation. Because I am older, I have more time to read and write, leisure to think things over, time to research, fewer drains on my energy and time than the 'mommybloggers' with whom I decided to associate myself. And I need the time and leisure because my mind does not work as fast as it did thirty years ago, I tire sooner and I can't juggle a multitude of tasks and do them well, the way most of you do and the way I used to work.

When I started blogging, I had been reading and commenting for some months, and had been reading discussions about blogging and occasionally looking at blogs for several years. But the mommyblogs were introduced to me by a friend of one of my daughters, who had started one and gave the address to my daughter who passed it on to me. Justmakingitupasigo (N) is a journalist and writes amazing stuff. I had read her published pieces and started to read her blog daily. It was a revelation to me, a combination of letter writing, personal history recording and tour de force opinion pieces. From her blog I followed links into the mommy blogosphere and found other voices, all different and all compelling. I was hooked.

I was hooked and I soon wanted to be part of it. N encouraged me -- she said my writing was good enough and that I should go for it. I love to write, I always have, and I've always known I am good at it but writing has always come second to something else. I took a Community College course in advertising and revelled in the writing parts of the course, I wrote speeches, articles for newspapers and edited and corrected other people's work. In all of these, writing was a tool and not an end in itself. The writing I took most care with was done in the weekly huge letters to my mother and my aunt that I sent for many years, chronicling my children's progress, discussing current events, talking about my life. They lived a long way away and I needed to keep in touch.

So, when I started my blog, it was that voice I used. I wrote as if I were writing home. You need to understand that my mother and my aunt, my mother in particular, were highly educated and articulate women, from a generation where that was not usual. And I grew up as a somewhat precocious and precious only child, in a milieu where words and writing were highly regarded and erudition encouraged. My peer group always found me a bit much ('What's with you, did you swallow a dictionary?') and I learned to tone it down when I was with my peers, but I love well crafted conversation, either oral or written, almost more than anything else. And in the mommybloggers I found a whole community of women who were writing about things that interested me and writing with a craft and skill that I recognised and wanted to be part of. I realized that I could write at the very top of my ability level and that there was an potential audience that would appreciate it.

I was also going through a rough patch in my family life and I wanted to write about
that. So the blog was going to be absolutely secret from my nuclear family -- in the same way that my letters to my mother were private. When I wrote to her I might omit something that might distress her, but I said what I thought. I did write about the rough patch, and it helped. And I started to get comments, which helped me think things through and gave me some needed support. My first reader was N, bless her. I told her about the blog because she had pushed me off the dock, after all, and I really wanted her feedback.

2. Do you remember when you received your first comment? What was it like?

On my very first post, which was essentially a 'Hello here I am', I got three comments. I was struggling with Google Blogger and these wonderful women dropped by, read my post and were kind enough to leave a compliment and advice on how to do things, like links, that I was struggling with. I had been reading and commenting on their blogs as 'anonymous' but signing the comments with 'Mary G' and I guess when they saw my name come up with a link in it they were curious enough (and generous enough) to follow it back. It meant a lot to me.

3. Can you point to a stage where you began to feel that your blog might be part of a conversation? Where you might be part of a larger community of interacting writers?

My fourth post, On Blogging (1), was about that sense of belonging that I was beginning to think I might have. I have linked it, but I am going to quote a paragraph here because it is key to this discussion, I believe.

I've looked on the internet before and not found the kind of interaction I wanted. News, gossip and information, lots of it. Political discussion ad nauseam. Lots of sex talk of a type that I find really boring. A lot of kids whom I find really incomprehensible. (I've got two teenaged male step grandkids; guys, I do try!) Then I found 'the mommy blogs'.
GingaJoy says " it would be very easy (and interesting) to do a content analysis of our blogs to show that we are presuming a shared knowledge among our readers (related to kids, breastfeeding, sex, etc). This will reveal a great deal about our perceived sense of audience and also our community."
Even though I'm a senior grandmother, I still feel empathy with this group. I'm a North American, university degreed, privileged woman who is awed by the eloquence, depth of knowledge and feeling in the blogs I am reading. And I'm totally fascinated by the networking.The temptation to jump in and write comments was too much for me.

A few posts later, Iwrote this:
And some of us shape ourselves with words. Some people do it in conversation or in diaries or in ritualized words of promise or prayer. Blogging, putting up the words on the screen, reading what others have said, responding to that, reshaping the thought pattern, refining the images, setting the words out so that others can read them, rereading the words in the light of the comments they receive,; all acts of defining self. If I have found a common thread in the mommy bloggers' world of words I'm learning about, that is it.

4. Do you think that this sense of audience or community might have affected the way you began to write?

Well, yes! I found I had readers, readers whose own blogs were wonders of tautly crafted prose, humour and well researched opinions. It was as heady as a glass of champagne. My main worry had been whether I actually could 'belong' to a group of women the age of my daughters or even much younger, but I found myself accepted. I mostly got a comment or two on whatever I put up and that was (and still is) plenty to keep me encouraged. I think the best day I had was when one of the wonder women nailed me on a usage error in a post where I was babbling on about good grammar and syntax. I loved it. When I was at university, my mother and my aunt would correct my letters in red ink and send them back to me if I made an error. I was home!

I have learned about memes and Monday Missions which means that I have learned that you can also play in the blogging world. Doing some of these challenges has made me stretch myself in ways that I had not tried for years. I also found picture essays which inspired me to try a few of my own, and I found BlogRhet, which has pushed me into some research and precision in remembering and interpreting what I have read so that I could participate. I don't think my 'voice' has changed, but it's difficult to do self analysis on that. That could be because I am still very new at this and so I have not had time to develop my voice. It could also be that I am old and set in my writing ways. But I don't think so.

There's a common thread of childcare and related issues that runs through all of the blogs I read. Even though my time with young children is far behind me, I still speak that language and having a four year old granddaughter for whom I am backup caregiver has made me current once more with baby and preschool issues. Just as compelling for me and for the bloggers whose work I am drawn back to again and again are the issues surrounding parenthood, of the world in which these children live and which they will inherit, the role of women, the problems surrounding children with special needs. A second thread is that of self, of identity and self denial, of how the whole spectrum of career/home/family problems affect each woman (or man) who is juggling them all. So, yes, it's a kitchen catch-all drawer world in here.

I believe that in the writing I do here I am fully myself in a way that I can't be elsewhere. I can say what I want to say, and damn the torpedoes. With one exception, that I want to highlight. I started this blog assuming that it would remain completely secret from my family. Because of that I discussed something that would have rightly distressed them, had they known. I have now decided that I don't want to be that secret and so I have gone back through all my posts and removed all references to it. It surprised me a lot to find out that I had to edit only a few posts to do that. Clearly, the preoccupation I had when I started did not last. Probably because the problem has to some extent resolved itself, I think, but mainly because it has turned out that that was not what I wanted to write about at all. All along I have been careful to avoid identifiers of my family and I will continue to do that. But this is me, and anything short of broaching their privacy goes.

So yes, that is a profound change. I'm not out of the closet, but the door is open. For me, that's huge, and it has happened because of the world I have found here and the amazing people that inhabit that world.

I am tagging Justmakingitupasigo, Half ofthe Sky and Lawyer Mama.


  1. What a beautifully thoughtful post, Mary. The part about writing into our identities certainly resonates for me--that we are not just shaping our words, but our very selves through these acts of interchange. yes. yes. yes.

    my mother does not read my blog--none of my family at home know about it, and this is one thing I am seriously thinking about changing. I was concerned it would affect my "voice" (and use of swear words) but now I think, maybe not...

    thank you for putting so much time and energy into this, Mary. Even if the meme does not live as long as I would like, even this response is enough to make it worth it.

  2. Oh, Mary. I was so moved by this. I feel so privileged to be reading you, because you are writing "as if I were writing home."

    That's just a wonderful way to blog. And it shows in your posts.

  3. I'm going to try to answer the meme here without hijacking your comments. I've addressed these questions several times before on my blog, but maybe not always at the same time.

    My reasons for blogging were two-fold. Free-lance jobs in print media where I had been employed for the last 11 years were becoming luxuries in that papers wanted full-time writers or nothing. I still young kids in school and I was trying to balance work and volunteer stuff. As the assignments dwindled, I found myself itching to write again. My readers had always been faceless the sense that I only knew that my audience would be whomever picked up the paper and read the books section. I missed writing and when I stumbled across the blog of Ayelet Waldman (lawyer/writer) and wife of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, I was entranced. Soon after, I discovered the blog of Dooce/Heather Armstrong. I read blogs for about six months and I commented until my fingers were raw. Soon I realized that my epic-length comments were just a cry for help and that I needed to create my own blog. I did. My first post felt as though I was talking to myself, but I had a comment within ten minutes of the second post and I felt energized.

    E-mail comments between me and other bloggers helped make me feel as though there was more to all of this than just the reciprocal post/comment/post/comment pattern between bloggers. There were friends out there and I began meeting them and really liking them.

    Only my sisters and my husband know about my blog. My parents, though very nice people, are in their 70s and somehow have a difficult time rationalizing that a daughter is also a woman with thoughts and feelings and talents. Everything I say or do still carries the responsibility of "the daughter" along with it and if I were to write about mistakes that they made or other truths they find "disloyal", it wouldn't be good. The fact that I stayed home with my children is far more impressive to them than the college degree or any job I might have. The blog would only confuse them and, at times, reveal the side of me that they can't accept or understand.

    Because I am not famous as a blogger, I escape a lot of the darts people throw at the "A Listers". Little of what I say makes people mad...maybe it's because I'm not seen as all that influential and, therefore, not a threat.

    I had hoped that this would parlay itself into a paying gig, so that I could be free to say what I wanted. So far, that hasn't happened. This hasn't affected my love for writing, but it has somewhat jaded me on the blogging world in that it often appears that the only ones who will be truly successful in this venture will be those who got here first. There's not a lot of room at the top and despite the generosity of many bloggers I've met, not too many of the "beautiful people" seem eager to move over and make room for anyone else.

  4. Mary, i loved this...i haven't been here before, but will be regularly.

    a lot of it resonated for me, particularly in terms of voice. i too was the precious and precocious only child, accused of having swallowed a dictionary, and for years i wrote home to my mother and grandmother. though i think i edited more of my life at the time, for them...i rather envy you having maternal figures with whom you could be so frank. :)

  5. Okay, I wrote a comment and posted it but even though blogger *said* it published, I don't see it. Since I am not on blogger, it hates me, and the feeling is mutual.

    Okay, what I said was that I had no idea that I was your first (mommy blog, that is) and that all your lovely comments made me blush. Ta.

    Then I asked if your blog is still ultra-secret? I wish mine was ('were'? I never know which is correct), but I also realize that fear of being revealed would have prevented me from behaving any differently anyway. There are things I don't say know who might be reading and I regret that, but don't know how to get around it.

    Here we go again ...

  6. Mary, you are a tonic (with gin) to my soul. I have let a lot of cynicism creep into my blogging heart of late. Posts like this make it all vanish. Thank you.

  7. Beautiful responses. I am so glad you found me so I could find you. You have such an amazing voice to add to this community. Your relationship with your mother and grandmother sounds like a wonderful one.

    (Just a note, Mary: the last few paragraphs, including your tags, show up for me in tiny print. So tiny that you can't read them. I copied them and pasted them into word and increased the size of the font to read what you'd written.)