My friend – let’s call him O- writes to tell me that he has been ‘exploring’ my blog and is not impressed. This follows a conversation the previous week in which, like several of my friends, he expresses a slightly aggressive surprise at my taking up the practice/habit, whatever we call it? ‘What’s the motive for doing it? What are you trying to say?’ he prods me sharply. Flummoxed, it takes me a few seconds to realise that the motive for blogging is the same as for all creative pursuits: self expression.
As someone who has spent a good twenty five years writing within the constraints of mainstream journalism the freedom is exhilarating even if the ends are less clear. No fitting in with someone else’s angle. No artsy agony over the first line or paragraph or trying to dream up a clever ending. Blogging means I simply sit down and try to say what I want to say on the issue that is currently preoccupying me. Style definitely takes second place to content, a decision, paradoxically, that can be of benefit to language.
The charges against blogging, of course, are many and various. My friend T says I am undercutting those like herself who earn money from journalism. In her eyes, I am now part of a pressing modern crisis: one of the three million or so reasons that newspapers are going under. If I was getting four thousand ‘hits’ a day and were not still a writer for hire myself, I might feel more culpable. For the moment, I see myself as a minnow in a sea of change that is rolling over us all, regardless of what I do.
O. meanwhile finds my actual blog uninteresting. He is not drawn to either the general formality of the site – the ordering into categories of books, articles, news and events etc – nor – here I quote him directly – ‘ the general formality of the writing, the absence of free-ranging expression, the lack of contentiousness and risk. I find your two novels immeasurably more revealing of your actual feelings and thoughts, more passionate, more interesting.’
To which I would answer; but these are my actual feelings and thoughts too! Granted, a blog is a work in progress, like a human being or any piece of art. But as a form of expression, it’s actually more free ranging than most. In many ways it mimics and extends the pleasure of conversation. it provides a space to ‘reply’ ( as I am now doing) to other’s thoughts or observations. It can be reflective, passionate, angry, humorous, discursive, or incredibly short. It’s a way of sharing enthusiasms ( one simply says, ‘check this out’ followed by the URL) Its tone and form is always shift shaping. I love that about it. I like to think that it’s a place where anyone interested in what I am interested in or – dare I say it – interested in what I might think, can return at their leisure. To catch up. Fill themselves in. Look at something my way for a moment or two.
Yes, I am not writing about my inner most feelings on marriage, motherhood, myself as a writer, fears for my health or finances ( all matters I might cover in a diary.) But none of the really interesting bloggers do that either, although I should let O. know that there are plenty who do talk about their thoughts and feelings far more directly and at length. ( So that when he ends his e-mail, ‘ Ah well, if your blog isn’t for me, then nobody’s is.’ he couldn’t be more wrong. He simply needs to ‘ get out more’ on the web, should he wish to, that is.)
A final thought on this nagging matter of self revelation:
A S Byatt says that she spends a lot of time trying to get her creative writing students to stop writing about feelings. Or to stop writing ONLY about feelings. Nuala O’Faolain observes in her terrific memoir ‘ Are you Somebody?’ that she has spent too much of her life looking for or thinking about love while others mastered actual skills and crafts.
One of the blissful things about middle age, I find, is a decided shift in the way I think about emotions, particularly my own. It’s a girl thing, I reckon. A lot of men meanwhile are just beginning to discover the rewards and pleasure of thinking about self more directly. But that, as they say, is another story……..