Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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Resisting the urge to “over-share” online. By Eric Scheske.
BY ERIC SCHESKE
For a writer, all experience is divided between the time
before he decides to write and the time after.
That’s what Canadian icon novelist and screenwriter Mordecai
Richler once observed, and I think he’s right. After a person decides to write,
all life becomes copy. It’s not a good thing. Although the writing life has its
advantages, the writer’s constant search for script shifts his or her mental landscape
in a subtle but significant way: He goes from living to watching.
C.S. Lewis observed that a person cannot enjoy a thing and
think about his enjoyment at the same time.
“The surest way of spoiling a pleasure [is] to start
examining your satisfaction,” he wrote. “[N]early everything that was going on
a moment before is stopped by the very act of our turning to look at it.”
Thanks to free blogging software, millions of people are now
watching. They used to enjoy the outdoor barbecue. Now they think about what
kind of post it’ll make. They used to watch their toddlers. Now they snap
pictures to upload into their blog. They used to enjoy a novel. Now they take
notes for a blog post.
Then again, maybe things haven’t changed that much.
Generations of writers and future writers kept journals — Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Theodore Dreiser, Andre Gide, Albert Camus, Evelyn Waugh, H.L. Mencken, John
Ruskin. The great Fyodor Dostoyevsky even concocted an entire newspaper series,
A Writer’s Diary, out of a fictional writer’s fictional journaling.
The big difference between journaling in the past and
journaling in the present is that, in the olden days, most journal entries
remained private. At least until after death. The great essayist Joseph Epstein
once observed that it is better to log self-pity, melancholia and depression
into one’s journal than to impose those moods on others. Unfortunately, with
today’s blogging medium, many people are doing both.
The earliest blogging commentators complained that people,
especially youth, were broadcasting information that is best kept private. So
much of what was being “shared,” they noted, was intensely personal or utterly
They were right about the utterly banal part. I’ve read blog
entries about pizza crusts, diaper-changing, dining habits and vacations that
would have best been preserved for the writer’s best friends or worst enemies.
But I’m not so sure about the intensely personal part. Even
a self-obsessed teenager knows the difference between writing “I want to kill”
in a locked diary and posting it on the Internet.
Having said that, as a general rule I suspect psychopaths
are willing to write violent messages anywhere — in red lipstick on the
bathroom mirror or in red type on the Internet. It’s not surprising that, in
the wake of the Virginia Tech scandal, reporters were asking whether Cho
Seung-Hui had a blog.
But I digress.
I chuckled a while back when a blog-rating site
(mingle2.com/blog-rating) said my blog (ericscheske.com/blog) warrants a “PG”
rating. Although I try to keep my content urbane, my halting real-life efforts
at sainthood don’t merit the child-friendly PG-rating. My blog, you might say,
lacks a measure of candor. Still, I suspect I’m not the only blogger who keeps
at least a little of his ugly side out of cyberspace.
I have, however, found a few Catholic bloggers who aren’t
afraid to display a side of themselves that might grate against traditional
Catholic sensibilities. If you’re interested in this side of the Catholic
blogosphere, try Ales Rarus (alesrarus.funkydung.com), June Cleaver After a
Six-Pack (junecleaverafterasix-pack.blogspot.com), and Ma Beck
(wardweb.blogspot.com). All three are orthodox in their faith even if they like
to push their writing toward the “edgy” side of the style palette.
Some others self-identifying as “Catholic” are so over the
top in the irreverence of their tone, topics and language that they can only be
CINO — Catholic In Name Only. Let the Catholic blog-surfer beware.
The Online Medical Dictionary defines “graphomania” as the
“morbid and excessive impulse to write.” The term normally applies to a desire
to write books, but a quick tour of the blogosphere indicates that the world is
littered with lesser graphomaniacs.
I’m not saying bloggers have a morbid and excessive impulse
to write. Not at all. Most of them are merely doing what comes naturally:
The blogosphere gives an outlet to our natural impulse to
share our thoughts, feelings and experiences with others, whether it’s
something we’ve created (like a poem or essay), our ideas or the events of our
lives. We are social creatures. Sharing is part of being social. The
blogosphere taps into that good part of our nature. Hence its popularity.
But blogging sometimes goes a bit too far.
“A journal,” Epstein observed, “is a simple device for
blowing off steam, privately settling scores, clarifying thoughts, giving way
to vanities, rectifying hypocrisies, and generally leaving an impression and
record of your days.”
A journal is a way of thinking, of contemplating and sorting
things out. It’s a good thing.
I enjoy blogging, but something of the private journaling
experience is lost — the candor, the experimental thinking, maybe even the free
use of vulgarity — when the journal is written for anyone to read.
In the old days, there were two main roads to sharing one’s
writing with lots of people. One road went through an editor (books, newspapers
and magazines) and one road broke the law (graffiti).
Blogging has provided a popular third route, but it’s an
oddity. It publicizes what traditionally has been private. Its graffiti-like
impetuousness frequently produces legitimate literature. It’s a one-person,
un-vetted medium open to millions.
I guess it’s not surprising that many people simultaneously
find this platypus-like creature both annoying and charming. I know I do,
though I think its charms far outweigh the annoyances.
Eric Scheske blogs at
The Daily Eudemon
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