Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Intimacy Issues

One of my pals, who writes a very good blog, is having an issue. It seems like the potent combination of public posting + intimate subject matter + small-town-ish neighbourhood has equaled some folks coming up to her on the street and cackling, "I know who you're writing about!"

Ugh. This makes me crazy. I'm not a fancy writer by any stretch of the imagination: I don't cite my sources or quote verbatim, lending this here webpage all the credibility of a Hollywood starlet denying her booze consumption. I sometimes - often, all the time - engage in flights of the imagination, making up slightly wild stories and embroidering ones that might be considered true. This has a lot to do with style (what? I have style) and less to do with ensuring the utmost in journalistic integrity.

I don't post recipes, I don't talk about politics, I don't write fiction. I feel no need to post a disclaimer on my blog that warns readers that the contents are untested opinions that have been dilligently researched by way of me having a thought and then writing it down. Most non-professional blogger fall into the same category: have a thought, write it down. So it goes.

It frustrates me that my blogging pal is getting all this flak from her geographically intimate readers. Any storyteller has the right to change, to shape, to modify the contents of his or her own tale, and we do it all the time in real life. When asked, "How was your day?" most of us leave out the details of brushing our teeth, pooping and thinking about what it would be like, really, to kill a zombie. We say we're fine, and that we went to work and watched some television, and keep our mouths shut about our internal breakthrough regarding zombie-killing weaponry (which, I'm going to posit right now, should include an aluminum baseball bat, a shotgun and a machete. At least).

When I blog, I don't always keep it 100% real. Not that I'm a liar, but I change names and locales, I exaggerate events, I leave out identifying moles and tattoos. Like me, my pal writes a blog that is based on her life: her experiences and her thoughts on those experiences. And, like me, she disguises or leaves out some details to protect the innocent and annoy the guilty. I like it when friends can say, "I was there with you!" and I afford them that opportunity as often as I can. And when the stakes are low - we went to get ice cream and here are my thoughts on Hagen-Daas - it's nice to wave at my friends and say, "Hello!"

But when the topics get sensitive - sex, drugs, friendships, relationships - she and I are both more likely to generalize. Say I launch into a post about how I was friends with a girl since high school and we were really tight, but ever since she moved in with her boyfriend, it's been weird between us. Does it make me feel better to say this girl's name is Laura and she lives in a condo on the waterfront? That her fella works for Rogers? That we once made out, years ago, under the influence of a New Year's Eve party's keg? Nope. So I don't: those details are fake. But the underlying topic - losing a friend to a new partner - is real, has happened, and is one that I might write about, because the experience is more universal than just me, sad and alone, listening to Morrissey and feeling rejected.

Intimacy isn't something I'm likely to exploit just for the sake of a blog post, and neither is my friend. Even though we're writing about personal stuff, we protect our friends and lovers by not telling strangers in Helsinki all about it. For people to assume that we're moronic writers who have no idea of the consequences of the written, published, online word? That's insulting. That's stupid. It sounds harsh, but reading someone's blog doesn't make you friends. I love knowing that there are people out there whom I never met, and will never meet, who give some form of a damn about what I have to say. And I love knowing that there are people out there who read this who know and like me, in person.

It annoys the living hell out of me that someone who falls somewhere in the middle, an acquaintance, would read my friend's website and decide that, because she has access to something my friend has given the whole world access to - her thoughts and feelings on a particular subject - that she can run up to my friend on the street and bray, "I know!" Because she doesn't. And she won't. And if she keeps reading, maybe she'll come to understand that.


  1. Love you, Kaitlyn, and I do, despite our decidedly long-distance and short-timed relationship, but I completely disagree. Personally when I write - and admittedly I'm a bad writer, so that could be a factor - all I do is throw forth my "details". Actually if I am able to verbalise a preference, it's that all writers do this. IMO writing is about the distinction between what I consider details "worth" telling others, and what the Others consider unworthwhile. You're a good writer; I like reading the details of your life.

    I know plenty of idiots who can't write of course, and though I'd love to hear about their life I wouldn't want to hear it from them. But don't act like their lives are hollow. There's plenty there. They just don't know how to express it is all. Like me :)

    (Yes yes, know that's not your point, but the devil's advocate has a justification sometimes too.)

  2. And I do post the details of my life, a lot. But I have had wanted to to write about things that would damage other people, or hurt their feelings, or would be unprofessional to rant about it at length. So, I leave out some details, or change a couple others. I almost never change to details so dramatically as I did in this entry with "Laura" and her condo, but it's the same kind of policy as "Don't kiss and tell." Except that I kiss and tell ALL THE TIME.

    My point was more, don't assume that you know everything about a situation/event/person just because you read about it on the internet. And I absolutely adore that you call me out on my bluffing and bullshit. Thanks for keeping me honest.

  3. You're fantastic
    well said
    thanks love