Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Personal and the Vulnerable

After Tiny Baby was born, I started a blog to keep our families and long-distance friends abreast of the life and times of our growing family.  From the moment I hit "publish" on that first post, I started thinking more and more about what information to broadcast and what details to keep private.  Ultimately, I decided to use our first names and to include pictures.  I figured that those were safe parameters - especially since the blog would have an average readership of 5-7 people (4 grandparents plus 1-3 friends bored at work).

This fall, as I prepared to launch Motherese (and was hopeful that its audience would be at least slightly larger), I happened upon "Guardians of Their Smiles," an article in the New York Times that addressed some of the very issues I was thinking about.  In it, parents aired their concerns about posting images of their children online "in the social networking age, when Facebook is rapidly taking the place of the baby book."  Husband, generally more cautious about these matters, and I discussed the article and agreed that we still felt comfortable with our approach to our family's blog.  BUT, I offered and he concurred, I would chart a different course with Motherese.

In this new space, I would remove the personal, while airing more of the vulnerable.

Personal.  Vulnerable.  Two words that feel the same, are often used to mean the same thing.  But to me, the difference between them is a meaningful one, especially for the type of community and interactions I want to create.  To me, personal details are actually not all that sacred or even private.  My acquaintances know my name, where I live, what my kids' names are, where I used to work.  Heck, the people at the bank know my most personal information (including my social security number, that Holy Grail of the personal) and I don't even know them.  But what they don't know - what I don't want them to know and what it would be hard if they did know - is the vulnerable stuff.  The hopes.  The anxieties.  The prejudices.  The irrationalities.  The hazy hazards that float before my mind's eye as I lay down for the night.  Only my very closest friends know the vulnerable stuff. 

So then why air all of that vulnerable stuff to people I don't know now and may never meet in person?  Why say these things that have gone unsaid to even good friends?  Why not just say them out loud to a live (if not studio) audience?

Because the Not Saying creates safety.  It buffers relationships from emotional storms that can rock the friendship boat.  The Not Saying puts up barriers that help armor our hearts and our egos against judgment.  The Not Saying builds a fence.  (And I've heard that good fences make good neighbors.)  And we all need those Not Saying relationships.  We need those easy friends and breezy acquaintances to chat with, to share coffee (or leftover apple juice and Goldfish crackers) with, to giggle with.  Just as we can't be present in every moment without risking emotional overload, it would be exhausting to relate to every other person on the Saying level.

But, while I absolutely need them, I have enough Not Saying friends.  And there are still things that need Saying.  So though I may not share the names of my sons or the town where I live, or post pictures of my boys' first steps, there are few things more vulnerable to me than the words I write here every day.  These are the parts of myself that I have just begun to understand and the Saying helps me get deeper into those places.

Life is generally lived in the Not Saying realm, but it's in the Saying space that truth is found.

And the lovely thing is that there seem to be ears out there Listening.  Perhaps even more than 5-7 pairs.

How do you balance the personal and the vulnerable in your online persona?  In your life offline?  (And for more on the idea of sharing in this bloggy world, check out Aidan's post from yesterday and Jen's post from last week.)


  1. "life is generally lived in the Not Saying realm, but it's in the Saying space that truth is found."
    oh Kristen. Sage, sage you. Yes. I too have enough Not Saying friends, and struggle to find true friends who can bear - and, even, possibly, understand - my Saying. Oddly, I've found a few really special ones here, in the blogworld. Or maybe not oddly. I'm not sure yet.

  2. My mom constantly asks how I can share so much on the blog. And she doesn't mean family photos or names. To her, it's the stuff that no one talks about that I talk about on the blog. Things you don't discuss at the dinner table. But for some reason, when I started the one I write now, I wanted to just go all out. Everyone can see it, they all know it's me, and it's a little liberating. But it was a tough decision to make. Ultimately, I don't post as many family photos because I'm keeping them more for us (much to my mother's chagrin), and it's more about me than the kids, though there are plenty of kid stories. If people dont' want to read it, they don't have to, but it's me - here - open - and at this point it's how I feel I'm heard. Even if people will never discuss w/ me what they read on the blog ;) It's early, but I hope that makes sense.
    And I totally get where you're coming from!

  3. Mama is horrified that I share so much. And I'm a little torn, too. But most of the time, I feel like you do--that too many times we keep it in, and if we keep it in, it festers.

    So I say: Spill it, Sista! :)

  4. My current blog is version, 3 or 4, I think I lost count. I know my first one was invite only and happened about the time of my divorce. I had 7 friends I trusted to read my crap and my happy and it was all well and good.

    My last blog my mom and sisters knew about and we can safely say the posts written about Dad when he died didn't really sit well with them, even if my tone towards him never really changed, just his living status.

    I love my new blog. I'm still slightly frightened that people read it, but I love it. I need that space to rant, rave and in general bang the cobwebs out of my head.

    (And every once in a while I dive deep into the stuff that bothers me and it happens to be the very first post a new reader stumbles into and I think "wow, that person must think I'm a psycho." I think I may have learned to use a disclaimer on such posts from here on out. But thank you for being so kind and for visiting my blog.)

  5. Lindsey - I'm with you. The people I've met here seem ready to handle my Saying. Why is that? Is it because we don't have to run into each at the playground or at the coffee shop? Because we can put it all out there, but never have to look each other in the eye? Still trying to figure that out.

    Corinne, Kitch, Draft Queen - Isn't it funny how you all mentioned your moms and their reactions to your blogs? My mom knows I have this blog, but hasn't asked to read it. I'm not sure how she would react if she did.

  6. What a topical and true post. I am constantly asking myself what I am gaining in this venue that I couldn't or shouldn't be seeking in my "real life." (Hate that expression because, hey, this? these words? - they are REAL) Anyway, I have given it a lot of thought and I have realized that these things we say on our blogs, these vast questions we float about? They don't have much currency in our day to day lives. It is not normal to go to coffee or the playground and banter about these harder, more vulnerable things. And so. This is the place. And what a good place it is.

    My ears? They are yours. And I hope and trust yours are mine.

  7. Well, first, you all know my mom is supportive. And I am happy for that. Grateful.
    Kristen, this is such a well-written post. As I said before, I love the way you define vulnerable and personal. And the saying versus not saying realms. I feel much the same as you; I am careful not to reveal too much personal information. But almost everything else is blog fodder. If I am interested enough to write about it, I will share it. Vulnerable or no. (But, often, vulnerable.) Thanks, Kristen.

  8. Kristen, great post. You remind me of the freedom to speak my mind that I lose by not having an anonymous blog. My blog is kind of my "calling card" as a writer but sometimes I'd just like to be more vulnerable on the screen, like you say, and I don't get to. I think about starting another one for that but I know myself, I'll start taking up all my time tracking it and posting pictures for it, etc., and have to know when enough's enough. Thanks for another great blog.

  9. I was torn, too, and I think I went through a million nicknames for my kids and still am not really happy with what has stuck. Husband is hugely supportive of the blog, and my in-laws loves it. I don't think my sisters or parents read it, but who knows?

    I just try to never say anything I wouldn't say in front of my mother and that seems to keep things edited fairly well in favor of maintaining the line between Too Much and Just Right.

  10. Natalie pointed me here. And this is a terrific way of clarifiying, of distinguishing the "personal from the vulnerable."

    There is a way of picking and choosing details so you feel a measure of protection in what you share, and still being vulnerable, as you say, so the discussions that follow can be credible and heart-felt.

    By building a safe community for those discussions, we can learn from each other much more freely. I think you capture this perfectly.


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