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Melanie McBride

I think the key thing that comes up in all of these questions is BOUNDARIES. Women bloggers and boundaries. This is a key issue in all aspects of our lives. Here are my answers to the questions ...

Q: Has your boyfriend left you yet? (Translation: How do the people close to you feel about you writing about them?)

A: I make it a practice not to write about my private relationships offline. Except only in reference to the most general kinds of things (a recommendation, etc).

Q: Did you really "quit" your job? (Translation: Did your boss read your blog, where you hinted for months that you were going to quit, and pave your path to self-employment?)

A: Just before quiting my fake job (I refer to anything that isn't freelance as a fake job). Thanks to my blog, I've made valuable connections that have led to work and interesting opportunities I might not have had had I been some anonymous slog. If you're not promoting yourself, who is? Trouble with most of us is that we're expending enormous energy promoting the profiles of those we work FOR - not us. Blogs remedy this.


Q: How's your relationship to your mother? (Translation: Do you mind that she posts comments to your blog that embarrass the hell out of you?)

What a GREAT question!!! My relationship with my mother is um *functional*. She reads my blog and sends links to my posts to her friends. But we've got our boundaries sorted - she has never commented (actually my dad hasn't either). Boundaries girls! boundaries! If you have those sorted out you shouldn't have problems in ANY areas of your life (blogging, working, relationships, family, etc).
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You might also want to address the difficult issue identity politics among women bloggers. I've found mostly support for myself and my blog among other women bloggers. But some of my more overtly feminist blogger sisters (those whose blog theme is solely devoted to gender and identity and feminist issues) have these HUGE caveats/disclaimers about not feeling obligated to represent all women. This is a problem some women seem to have (offline as well as online) to ask others to speak in their voice. Interestingly, this often comes from women who haven't created blogs or explored any other means of having a voice. And so they want us to speak FOR them. It is my hope that the more women come online to blog and share their voices the more we will come to all understand feminism and our identity as women as a more fluid and organic and diverse experience - it cannot be ONE thing for all.

Melanie McBride

Transparency vs. safety: it's different for boys

Another issue you might want to explore with this topic is "transparency" and women blogging. A lot of male bloggers go on and on about how transparency = credibility. And to this end you see all kinds of male bloggers with their photos, IM, cel phone number, address, etc.

Any woman who has spent three seconds online knows that it's not exactly a safe place for women to be transparent in the same way as men. I have seen some women professionals put quite a lot up on their blogs (including myself). And that's great if they feel comfortable doing that. But this is not possible for some women - particularly sexual abuse survivors, etc (which brings us to the issue of anonymity and representation and the value of that for women and anyone for whom the act of blogging presents a genuine risk to their safety).

And so the transparency argument is loaded with a concealed bias - the bias of safety that most men enjoy online and off. Many women have to limit and (possibly) compromise the information they present on their blogs or websites which can, inadvertantly, compromise one's arguments for a credibility that is based solely on the volume of personal information that is available about you online. Look at Joi Ito's blog... he's practically left a key to his apartment under the front mat. Not too many women feel comfortable taking flickr photos of the contents of their bags, posting their phone numbers, pictures of their apartments, etc.

heathervescent

I've come up against a lot of these - blogging about work and almost getting fired, personal no longer private, etc. I'd love to be involved in a discussion about it and the strategies I have formed or not formed. :)

Jeneane

I agree this is a fascinating topic. Early on, I was not hesitant to post pictures of my daughter, my phone number, address, etc. Of course, you get the inevitable hater or two eventually, and you have to rethink it.

I am forever pushing back on myself NOT to close up. Not to start writing only about what would be the easiest for me: my professional discipline as a marketing/PR person, observations, links to others, etc.

I think what you say about a personal blogging policy is good. And they are ever evolving. My policy now does not resemble my policy two years ago, and I bet it won't resemble my boundaries two years from now. I just hope we don't have to continually move towards closing our personal doors in order to participate safely in this space.

If that happens, it definitely won't be worth it for me.

Cool topic.

Melanie

But what if you were a novelist?

This thought often occurs to me in the context of blogging "the personal." The reason being, that I often explored this question when I was younger and considering writing for a living (at that time I wanted to write fiction). And all during my English degree I saw evidence in every great work of literature that the more personal you were, the deeper the psychology and imagery, the more compelling the novel. Novelists and writers reveal extraordinary things about how they think, what they think about and the psychology of their characters is often a standin for thier own psychology - and experience.

And so when we come to the question of "personal" expression in blogging I wonder if it is not so different from the questions that any of us must ask ourselves when we set out to make something that will resonate with others - that will have a depth of meaning. In terms of the personal blog the very best of them come from the heart of our experience - as women, as people. But I also feel that this quality should be present in many different kinds of writing - political, social, cultural commentary must contain this in order to inspire any connection with your reader.

The emergence of any new form invariably inspires very ancient questions - how much should I tell? What should I tell? What is the risk? This is not particular to blogging. And so we should examine the question according to a variety of contexts that already speak to this question.

If I were examining this as a panel topic I would probably want to flash this against women writing about "the personal" in other contexts - from the diaries of Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin to Susan Sontag's personal essays and beyond into the digital realm of women writing openly about their experience, their sexuality, their lives.

Chris Boese

Emily Dickinson wrote some of the most deeply personal and wrenchingly close-to-the-bone poems in existence.

And she also said this:

"When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person."

When in doubt, look to Auntie Em, I say.

Chris

Mel

Yes, of course. And I agree. And I also know that Dickenson was a good Christian woman who might not have wanted to publically ackknowledge some of the darker aspects of her work and ascribe them to herself. Like so many other writers.

But I also disagree to some extent. A famous Canadian novelist friend of mine has always insisted to journalists and reviewers that his work isn't about him or his life but a surrogate for him and his life. But anyone who knows him (and knows him intimately) knows that almost all every detail has its source in his life. What we say abour our work as authors, what we say about how much of ourselves is in our work is what we'd like you to believe. Georgia O'Keeffe insisted that her flowers were not at all sexual. That's what she wanted us to believe and its how she wanted her work contextualised. I'm not about to just accept that and say "well, if she says it's not a vulva than it isn't". It's not a stretch of the imagination to see these things in her work. And regardless of what she intended there might be some truth in her expression that she might not really have wanted to directly address (like so many artists before and after her). Particularly given her historical context.

My inclination is to tell everyone that my erotica isn't about me but a character. And I have. I'm not about to tell my folks that the lusty story I published in the pretentious literary journal is about ME or reflects MY desires. Oh no... it's an "homage" to another writer, I say. And while that's partly true what I've actually done is dress myself up in a costume (this other writer's style) and act out a trip from my real experience. It's "fiction" ... it never happened. But I felt it. I dreamed it. I expressed it. What is fiction? What is non-fiction? what is fantasy? Who I am, what I do, what I say, what I write ends up as an expressive palimpsest that is true and false. All writers are trixters. Know this ;-)

My point here is that I've spent many years in the company of writers to know that part of the whole gag is to pretend we're not writing about ourselves, our lovers, our parents, our friends, and every other person who we write about - as a "character". What happens to our lives and our experience is turned into "fiction" but a large part of what is expressed as "fiction" is really US.

Melanie

"Some of us have no choice, I am always telling my students. Some of us have to write in order to make sense of the world. Write out your obsessions, your fears, your curiosities and needs. You can decide later what whether you will publish or not, I tell them, how much and why. Even as I say to them, I know I am setting a trap - the same one in which I have been caught. Writing is still revolutionary, writing is still about changing the world. Each of my students who tells the truth about their life becomes a part of that process."

- Dorothy Allison, Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature

The passage above is one I circulated in both my fantasy and erotica writing workshops. There... I've just outed myself as an erotica writer but I feel it's worth it if it helps me establish that I've take *real* risks with my writing (in the realm of "the personal"... the "private" and the sexual. The value in this for me is to make my point that, as Allison says "literature is not made by good girls. If you worry too much about being good, you're not going to write anything worth a damn."

I believe the same goes for what many of us are doing in our blogs. The bravest most revolutionary and interesting women's blogs are writing worth a damn. I'm not a good girl in my blog. I don't cut corners about my politics or my passions. I don't write about my sex life but I do write about the life of my mind - and I do so with some nakedness and risk taking.

Chris Boese

Actually, Emily Dickinson was not a good Christian, not even a Christian, by some accounts (in New England during the what, 2nd Great Revival?)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church
I keep it staying at home...

and that line "they address an Eclipse every morning and call it 'Father'."

The pressure to convert, to publicly confess that one is a Christian... she resisted it for most if not all of her life (I'm iffy on the Judge Otis period).

Love the Dorothy Allison references! I have that book too, and love it. (I even used to live near the setting of "Bastard out of Carolina")

And speaking of writers of erotica... I am not one myself, but I wrote my dissertation on the subject, should you want to check it out. An entire section of it is about the fan fiction writers linked to the show "Xena: Warrior Princess." I had great fun doing the research for that section, and getting to know many of the prolific writers. I love grassroots media!

It can be found at http://www.nutball.com.

Chris

Melanie

OK, I'm mistaken about the Christian thing. We're in agreement that Dorothy Allison is an object of worship (at least to me).

Your work sounds really interesting!

Stephanie

I use my blog as a "flat space for my thoughts" and a way to practice my writing, which seems to run to memoir and commentary. It's like "every day thoughts" on whatever the words tell me need to be said.

I'm relatively new to the blogging game (maybe 3 years now) and my boundaries have shifted as I progress and read others' experiences.

Since I'm temping to put myself through college, I work a lot of different places so I no longer name the company assigned to. I do write about my experiences but I take great care not to write about things that, should someone stumble upon it, could get me "reassigned."

I don't use names of people, not even family anymore. I use nicknames or just initials. That doesn't mean that over time, people haven't figured out who I'm writing about.

A former friend bared her rather ugly soul on her first blog and I thought how awful the people she wrote about would feel if they only knew. Well, someone sent an anonymous snail mail to one of the people she was writing about, including print outs of the offending entries, and trouble bubbled to the top. The sad thing is she didn't even bother to take responsibility or think it was due to anything she had done. She also thought she was "invisible" because to find her blog you had to know her or very specific search terms. A little naive, shall we say?

I'm very aware of the "publicness" of blogging and don't say anything that I wouldn't be willing to say in person and I definitely do not write anything that would hurt someone or cause me harm.

While this may seem like I am overly cautious, I'm finding that it can be creatively interesting. It drives me to find more creative, better written ways to express what I want to say. It also drives me to get to the "essence."

GraceD

You couldn't get a more perfect speaker for this topic than Heather Armstrong. Bravo.

Maria

Due to my past life's activities --and a couple of not-so-great experiences related to revealing too much too soon-- I've been overcautious with what I share and do not share. I am honestly awed, fascinated and a little puzzled by people who really bare their souls online and are so straightforward because while I enjoy reading about their lives, I also fear for them. Then again, maybe we live too much in fear of what will happen.

Just a couple of months ago, a girl I know had a nasty row with her husband because she was blog-venting about their relationship behind his back. I guess it had never occurred to me to blog behind anyone's back myself. Or maybe I'm extremely naïve, thinking I'm hiding behind my IP number as my sole tracking identity --when I'm truly being sloppy and leaving thousands of clues behind. I would definitely love to hear more about others' experiences.

Melanie McBride

While I won't be able to attend Blogher I wish everybody the best and hope these fruitful discussions turn into productive strategies for all you cool women bloggers ;-)

carter

I am totally biased, but I just think that this is going to be a very cool event...
Best,
carter

jean

I agree this is a very important event. What is the best way to get the word out?

Elisa Camahort

Jean: we already had version 1.0 of BlogHer last month. But please sign up for our email list if you want to be informed when we announce BlogHer '06.

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