Yesterday I went to a really interesting panel discussion at BlogHer about where to draw the line in personal blogging. The basic question was: Where do you draw the line about what you will blog about and what you won’t? And can you claim to be writing true stories when you might edit, exaggerate, or even plain make stuff up? This question is something I’ve grappled with a lot over the last four and a half years, and even more so recently. I was so inspired by the panel -- that included the hilarious and lovely Bloggess, Jenny Lawson -- that I sat right down in the middle of the Hilton hotel and started to write. Here’s what came out.
A few months ago, someone told me that they thought my blog was, basically, a lie.
Let me explain.
I have always been a perfectionist. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel the need to succeed, impress, and, above all, make the people around me comfortable and happy (Jeff might dispute this last point, but baby -- I can’t control my hormones, okay? They’re like Dementors, manifesting every time Harry Potter and friends stray too far from the grounds of Hogwarts OR whenever I am within seven days of my next period.)
Anyway, the point is that this perfectionism, over time, evolved into something less healthy than simple ambition and drive. It got to the point where if my life wasn’t perfect, I would lie. Sometimes I would lie outright, and sometimes I would lie by omission. I would scramble to cover up any cracks in the surface. Fear, anxiety, sadness, self-hatred, self-destruction -- none of this was allowed to show. When I was a teenager I had bad breakouts that lasted through my early twenties (and which have recently made a resurgence -- I’d like to take this moment to say a big fuck you to adult acne). I would spend hours painstakingly covering my blemishes and, later, scars, with heavy concealer. Sometimes I would wash my face halfway through the day and reapply, quite literally obsessed with putting on a good face. This strikes me now as a perfect metaphor for how I hid my emotional pain, too. I had some serious problems in my twenties that I successfully hid from my family and friends for many years.
Over the past decade I’ve made incredible progress with accepting my flaws and expressing my feelings. In many ways, this blog is both a reflection of and a tool for that progress But the truth is that I don’t often write about pain on this blog. And that’s why this person suggested (albeit gently, and without malice) that my blog walked the line between the truth and a lie.
His point was that since I choose to write only about funny, quirky, happy parts of my life, I’m lying by omission. I’m giving you, my readers (the ones who don’t know me personally, anyway) the impression that I don’t have any problems, that my life is one big, charming Scene From a Marriage, interspersed with hilarious follies and, of course, lots of drinking.
I don’t, for the record, believe that you think this. I trust that you are smart enough to realize that this blog is not a straightforward diary of my life, but an edited selection of pieces of information I choose to share.
When I started the blog, it was fairly free-form. Some posts were funny, some weren’t. But I found that I most enjoyed writing the funny posts, that I had a knack for it and got a great response from you guys, and so for the past two years I’ve steered the blog away from anything too messy or sad or emotionally complicated. This has become, with few exceptions, a humor blog. Which, on the one hand, I love, but on the other hand, can feel limiting. You know how people (well, not anybody I’d want to be around, but some people) say “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” Well, if I don’t have something funny to say, I feel like I can’t say anything. I’ve painted myself into a corner. Or blogged myself into it, I guess. Anyway, I’m sick of being in the corner. Nobody puts Baby in the corner! (No one has ever called me Baby but whatever, you get it. And also, yes, in this scenario I am both Jennifer Grey and Jerry Orbach. And now I have to be Patrick Swayze, too, and drag myself out.)
In January of this year, I went through a really upsetting and difficult experience. I’m sorry to be vague right now, but I’m still figuring out how to share it with you -- I guess this post is an exploration of that conflict. Anyway, this thing happened, and my first instinct was to write about it. Which I did. But not here. There are a number of reasons why I didn’t write about it at the time, but a big one was this: It wasn’t funny. At all.
If you go back to my January posts, you’ll see an uninterrupted schedule of my regular, irreverent blogging. Reading it you’d never know that I was struggling. It’s a lie -- there’s no other way to say it. I was lying. I wanted you to think everything was fine.
So I guess all of this is to say, I guess I’ve been drawing my line between things that are light and funny and things that are heavy and potentially upsetting or sad. My blog is like the opposite of The Real World: When things stop getting real and start being polite! (Okay, not polite like not using the word douche every other post polite, but not sucking you into my personal demons polite.)
I know the two (funny and sad, light and heavy, polite and really fucking real) aren’t mutually exclusive, and I think they might even be able to overlap from time to time without horribly offending anyone. But I have my work cut out for me.
If you’re a blogger, where do you draw the line? Do you even have one? And how do you find the courage to cross it?