National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Some Things Are Better Left Un-Blogged

Resisting the Temptation to ‘Over-Share’ Online

BY ERIC SCHESKE

September 16-22, 2007 Issue | Posted 9/11/07 at 3:46 PM

 

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.


Going Public

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 banal.

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.


Excessive Writing?

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: communicating.

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

(ericscheske.com/blog).