Why blog? Friendship and anonymity on- and off-line

I have to admit that my first reaction after reading Mel’s post was just to shut down both my blogs – or at least password protect the family one, but to delete this one. There are things I’ve written here about my husband and in-laws that I wouldn’t really want them to see. And rather than comb through the archives and edit things out, it would just be easier to delete the whole thing.

So I asked myself why blog, instead of just sending out e-mail newsletters to my friends and family?

Before I started this blog, I belonged to a knitting group that met at my next-door neighbor’s house. We were all women, all married, at different stages of family building. What I loved about the group – other than the camaraderie and emotional support there – was the fact that all I had to do was show up. I didn’t have to call ahead to make special plans (I hate making phone calls because I always feel like I’m being rude and interrupting/bothering/annoying whomever I’m calling, no matter how nice they are), and I didn’t have to worry about impinging on another person’s time and space (I always wonder whether someone really wants to hang out with me, or is just being polite), because I knew the woman hosting wanted us there, I knew that whoever came wanted to be there, and I knew I was welcome. It was never exactly the same group every week – people came and went – but there was a core group that was really solid and built close relationships together.

This blog feels like that knitting group. If people are reading, it’s because they want to. I’m not cluttering up anyone’s inbox or annoying them with my unsolicited updates and the contents of my tangled mind; it’s here if anyone wants to stop by and visit, but if you don’t, that’s cool too. Just having one person comment is enough to keep me going.

Then I asked myself why blog, instead of looking for that emotional support and camaraderie offline?

I do think that being part of this online community has lessened my motivation to build in-the-flesh friendships here in Albania. I came here knowing we’d be here a relatively short time, but long enough that it would be worth my time making friends. But it’s been slow, and I think in part it’s been that way because I didn’t feel the need to make friends. I haven’t felt lonely very often, really. Isolated, sometimes, but not really lonely. Part of that, of course, is our awesome nanny, but part of it is being able to access this online community when I need it. Which brings me to my next point.

Blogging can be like a crisis hotline.

I think that’s what a lot of us use it for, and parts of the LFCA reinforce that function as well. Which is all kinds of awesome. Not only do you get extra support during crises, but you can also access the specialized collective knowledge of this vast and heterogeneous online network that is specifically pertinent to our particular issues around infertility, loss, and adoption. I certainly use it that way.

The crisis hotline I used to volunteer at was anonymous; there was no caller ID, and although there was a way to trace calls, it was done through the police department and we only initiated the process if someone’s life was in immediate danger. Anonymity and confidentiality were safeguarded above all, because that was the only way to make sure people would actually call in and get help.

I see a parallel in this world of anonymous ALI blogging. We feel safe sharing intensely personal and raw stories about ourselves when we have that cloak of anonymity. We learn to trust one another with these stories. And yes there are trolls, and yes there are weirdos who steal other people’s stories and images, and there are even (as in any human relationship that is not digitally mediated) misunderstandings, conflicting points of view, judgments, etc. But by and large we trust each other, sometimes to the point of shedding the anonymity and putting our real face and name out there.

Widening the Friendship Net

Another aspect of building a community of support through blogging is that you can cast the friendship net much, much more widely. One thing about making friends here is that options are limited. Either they’re limited by language – you can only go so deep in a friendship when you don’t share a mutual language; or by opportunity – how do I find like-minded women in a big city?; or by circumstance – being connected to a particular church and neighborhood also limits my options. My ability to make friends at church here has been hampered by the fact that I’m not willing to disclose my actual political and spiritual beliefs/opinions/orientations because I’m not willing to risk rejection (basically I’m waaaaay more liberal than they are), and so I end up feeling like I’m living a lie. So it’s partly the fact that I already have friends online, and my options here are limited, so it’s just easier to get the social-emotional support I need online than it is to try to overcome these barriers off-line.

So what should I do? Do I want Project Progeny to become a more intellectual forum, rather than a place to process emotional and family issues? Not really… but I feel like that’s the right thing to do. If I need feedback for processing those kinds of things – I have friends offline who can help me do that, and then it’s not online for my kids to see 20 years from now and feel betrayed and angry about. In fact, I think it will make my offline life better because I’ll be investing more in those friendships, which I think is healthy. I think it’s actually a good thing to be forced to confront the barriers that make it hard for me to make and deepen friendships locally. When I lived off the grid in Bolivia (truly – no electricity or phone at all) I was forced to rely for emotional support on the village women whose lives were so extremely different from mine – but it was really good to do that, in the end. Really good.

I’m in the process of backing up my archives in Word, anyway, so I might just do some heavy editing… or I might just delete everything. I’m not sure yet. I might move to a new space, or I might try to re-name this blog something else. I will definitely remove as many identifying details as I can.

As for my family blog…. I’m not sure, yet. I talked with my husband briefly about going password-protected, and he said that made him feel “sad” but I’m not entirely sure why. I do write it keeping in mind that anybody in the world could be looking at it. There’s a lot I DON’T post about there. But I might open up the discussion there to see what my readers there think.  We’ll see what happens.

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7 Responses to “Why blog? Friendship and anonymity on- and off-line”

  1. Mel Says:

    I hope that before acting, you continue to think about this for a bit longer. You may come to the same decision, or as the thoughts become integrated into your general emotional landscape, you may come to a different decision.

    But like we were talking about this morning, making sure that your actions are coming internally vs. a reaction to the external.

    I understand that sense of sadness — he is looking at something you found joy in, that you relished, and you’re talking about putting it under a veil. Which protects it, but it also speaks volumes.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      This whole conversation has prompted me to do a poor-man’s backup of this blog, which has been really, really interesting – I’m doing it one post at a time so that I can preserve all the comments as well. It’s been fascinating to read through our early ttc journey. I’ve deleted I think 3 posts, and edited one or two. It’s been a very interesting exercise, I will say that!

  2. jjiraffe Says:

    I would be very, very sad to see this spot go. 😥 But I understand that you must do what works best for you.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      I’m thinking it’s probably going to stay open – now that I’m deep into reviewing, copying, saving, and editing/deleting old posts. I think I was just feeling tired and feeling like it would be less work to just close shop than to do all this revision.

      But thanks for your sweet words 🙂

  3. tara Says:

    a few thoughts:
    i think size of audience matters. i’m less concerned because few people actually follow my blog. not to say that bad things can’t happen but they might be less likely too.
    i’ve already had my pics used without attribution: hello working for a university, everything i make is theirs, apparently. i don’t think copyright infringement is unique to the web. i’m sure my work has been used in ways that i don’t want it to be and will be again.
    my blog is more integrated than yours– so there are things that my kids could read that are less than flattering about me and how I process things. I hope that they understand that while they sometimes frustrate me that I still love them… in fact I already explain that to my older son. And I think he appreciates that mommy too sometimes can’t get an awesome grip and act like a superhero.
    on the one hand, i’m human and make mistakes and i’m not sure i want to ‘hide them’ by deletion. but part of that comes of being an adult child/ grandchild/ niece/ etc. of alcoholics… i’m really hesitant when people start calling for editing, hiding, and well, what feels like censorship.
    on the other hand, i get that you don’t want to curate your kid’s life in a way that they won’t like. however, i think you can only minimize not avoid that entirely.
    it’s not a new problem, it’s just out there where more people can exploit it.
    i think i lean more towards sharrah’s perspective on this than mel’s.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Thanks so much for engaging on this – I’d forgotten that thing about the U using your photo without permission. What you say makes a lot of sense.

  4. Rachel Says:

    I didn’t get a chance to comment on this when I first read it. I’ve kept a journal of some sort since I was a kid. When I was going through more trying things, I wrote more, during happier times I’d go weeks without writing anything. My blog is now my journal and it is PW protected so anything I write about my kids isn’t out there for just anyone to see, but it still may bother them someday. I think their generation is going to be so used to having an online presence that they won’t give much thought to it. I do love having a record of some of the smaller things they do, I think they will appreciate those little anecdotes someday.

    As far as real friendships, I completely agree it is sometimes easier to create online friendships than going out and making an effort. If I’m having a really crappy day, I can choose whether or not to write about it, and I only present it from my point of view so my friends always are on my side. In the days after my miscarriage my real life friends didn’t get it at all, it was much easier to find sympathy online. I think now that I’m in a better place I need to work more on those in person relationships too. I have a couple good friends but sometimes it’s easier to keep things light.

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