I don't think that I shall shock any of our readers if I reveal that my real name is not Darwin. My real-world name is not terribly hard to figure out. It takes perhaps two clicks from this blog to reach a page where it's possible to find my real name. But for various reasons, I've maintained that anonymity over the years. However, there are a good many people who know me in real life who read the blog. More than that, after writing a blog for four-and-a-half years, you get to think of a number of your long-time readers and commenters are friends. The blog becomes like a corner coffee house or bar where the same characters assemble regularly -- with the occasional stranger dropping in as well -- and discuss a range of topics, with everyone knowing the basic terrain of who everyone else is and where everyone is coming from.
The way in which a blog can serve as a combination magazine and coffee shop is, to me, one of the most appealing elements of the medium. It's more personable than simply sending one's words out into the void, knowing that someone out there is reading them but seldom sure of what others think about them.
At the same time, however, this community element to blog writing makes one particularly aware of the difficulties of writing within a community. As the number of people I know (whether locally or online) who are blog readers increases, I increasingly find myself thinking, "If I write about that, so-and-so might be offended."
There are, I think, implicitly two different sets of rules which are observed in relation to expression in a community versus published expression. When we are in social situations, it's considered impolite to discuss topics which implicitly criticize others or their beliefs. Thus, topics such as politics and religion are generally avoided, to avoid emphasizing the differences among those present. Topics which might seem to be an accusation towards someone in attendance are also out of bounds. So for instance, if Uncle Arthur has just divorced his wife so he can spend more time with his secretary, any discussion of how people don't take marriage seriously any more around the Thanksgiving table will be taken as an attack upon Uncle Arthur, and approved of or rejected accordingly.
When someone writes for publication, there seems to be a general truce that, "Well, Alison is a writer of course, so she's always looking for subject matter, but she's not necessarily writing about the family. She needs something to write about, or they won't pay her." That, or concerned family members can simply ostracize the writer or stick their heads in the sand and not read any of what he or she writes.
Blogging occupies a certain middle ground. It is generally accepted to be a conversation of sorts, and so it seems to be considered reasonable to assume that if a blogger writes about something which appears to apply to someone the blogger knows personally, then it's probably commentary on that person. And yet, for the blogger himself, the search for material is much the same as for the "real writer". And indeed, for the blogger who thinks in a "writerly" way about his writing, discussion a situation (even one drawn from a specific real life example at hand) is often not a way of saying "I like Cheryl" or "I hate Bill" but rather of trying to come to some better understanding of the world and our place in it.
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