We Are Vast, And We Contain Multitudes

August 9, 2012

Sometime, about two years ago, I started closing comments on posts. Not all of the posts, all of the time, but some of them, some of the time. I started doing this, not because I’d stopped loving comments – who, who has ever blogged, has not loved comments? – but because I loved them too much. They had become too important. I had become aware that I was, at times, writing for the commentary, for the response, for the conversation. Which was fine, of course – the discursive character of this space is what makes this medium powerfully different from others – except when it wasn’t. There were times when the pull to conversation was, I felt, distorting my story. Distorting my motivation.

I said this the other day:

I worry about how my own narrative impulses impose a certain form and structure and feel to my life and the lives of those around me, not least when I consider writing about the most difficult things, like depression and anxiety and grief – have I written myself and my loved ones into a story that is all about struggle? Am I turning my struggles (to say nothing of my victories) into spectacle, and to what effect? I turn off comments on some posts – some posts about my father, for example, some others about my children, many about Tanner – when I want to remain clear with myself that I am writing for myself, and not for reactions, when I want there to be no mistake that I am not writing a given story for attention or positive reinforcement.

There is an argument to be made, of course, that we all write for attention and positive reinforcement. That there is no pure writerly motive for writing, such that one might spill one’s words across a page and then submit them to flame, or the delete key. If I wrote only to gratify my own desire – my own need – for writing, I could write in a personal journal, or on a password-protected blog. But I don’t, because I do, like all writers, want my words to be read. I want them to be absorbed and digested and reflected upon. I want them live outside my own head, to be set free in the world, to have a life of their own. Turning off comments is not a denial of that life. It’s a decision to not participate in that life, to not be personally, emotionally invested in that life. It’s a decision to put the words out there, and let them be. To have my personal, writerly relationship with those words, and to let others have their own readerly relationship with those words, and to not seek out a harmony between the two.

Why, then, not close comments on all posts? Because, as I said the other day – on, as it happens, a post on which I closed commentsthe dialogue that emerges from commentary is important to me, as is – obviously – the community. Turning off comments sometimes is just a reminder to myself that I do not write – primarily – to generate vocal response; it keeps me honest about why I’m writing about certain things, i.e. because the story demands to be told, and not because the story will yield a certain response.

And here is where my figurative feet get tangled: the dialogue from – with – the community creates its own story, a story that is always worth telling. Regardless of whether that commentary is positive or negative, supportive or damning: there is always a larger story to be told in the conversation that is woven out of the narrative thread that the original author puts forward. This is the glorious, messy postmodern character of this medium, this space: it moves and thrives according to its own chaotic lights, that drives without a map, that puts the author (the capital-A ‘Author’) in the backseat and refuses to take her advice on what route to take or whether to slow down on yellow. And sometimes that story is better, greater, than the small story that the Author clutches to her chest. Perhaps that story is always better, greater. It has certainly been better, greater, for me, at times: the community story around Tanner, for example. The community story around my lost brother. The community story around the boys and girls of Lesotho and Uganda. The community story that we are telling here, this month, with Shot@Life – the community story that is saving lives, and inspiring a community to tell stories – to share stories, to create, together, stories – to change the world.

This community story is one that can’t be owned or authored by any one person; its beauty, power and magic is that it is diffuse, diverse, shared, collaborative, collective. That it is vast, and contains multitudes. It contains poets and philosophers and activists and entrepreneurs and artists and ordinary people that are all of those things, and more. It contains friends, and critics. It contains wit and intelligence and absurdity and error. It is formidable, and ridiculous. It is the source of more inspiration than I ever thought possible.

So. I am being selfish when I hold the community at bay and keep my story to myself, when I insist upon being modern (contra postmodern) in my ownership of my story, in my authorship of my story. And I will continue to be selfish, sometimes, because it is my prerogative to be selfish, and because being an author is, by definition, to be selfish. But I will also celebrate my moments of generosity – no, not my generosity: your generosity, our generosity, and the moments in which I open myself up to that generosity – and the epic, culture-changing project that we are driving forward. This culture-changing story that we are driving forward, this culture-changing, world-changing, life-changing story of which we are all authors.

This story in which we – you, us, this community, this inspiration – change the world.

I mean that. This post is part of Blogust, Shot@Life’s Blog Relay for Good in which 31 bloggers, one on each day in the month of August, are writing about people from our communities who have inspired us. Each comment made on this post – all month long – will unlock a $20 donation to Shot@Life up to $200,000 to vaccinate 10,000 children in the world’s most vulnerable places. $20 is what it costs for one child to receive 4 life-saving vaccines: measles, pneumonia, diarrhea and polio; preventable diseases like these take the life of a child every 20 seconds. $20 for each comment. 10,000 lives. THAT is a world-changing story. You are telling it. WE are telling it.

Keep at it.

(Tomorrow, Tracey Clark picks up the narrative baton and runs forward. Follow her.)


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    Mama Bean August 23, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    hello hello this is my comment, please vaccinate a child because of this, thank you! :)

    GingerB August 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Love to help – hope this is the neverending story!

    Comment, ho!

    Gwensarah August 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    commenting for the cause!!

    ste August 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    While some say vaccinations are evil and blah blah blah, I say phooey! They save lives fer fukk sake!

    Manda August 23, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Vaccinations are essential to continuing our lives as we know them.

    alesha August 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    yes please!

    Diana August 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    This is a fantastic initiative, raising awareness, raising funds and making it easy for us mouse-potatoes to get involved and help out.
    It should also encourage us to think – and discuss – the necessary education campaigns that should accompany such immunisation drives. There is still a lot of ignorance to be overcome, even in developed countries such as the USA, and unfortunately, we are now also dealing with the backlash of the covert operations in Pakistan that took place under the guise of vaccination campaigns.
    Lots of work to do, but, as the famous proverb says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
    Thank you for participating!

    Sheila August 23, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Commenting and saving lives….a great blog and a great feat!

    Di August 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    What a wonderful idea.

    cathy August 23, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Thank you for doing this. Vaccinations save lives!

    Candace August 23, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Let’s get those kiddos immunized!

    Urban Mommy August 23, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Yo! Number 711, I believe

    neal August 23, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Prompted by privileged first-world island dreams to take a moment and help out a kid.

    Anne August 24, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on authors and commenters. You are so right that working together, we can take positive steps, such as keeping children healthy. I’m contemplating transitions here and finding solace in this community effort to make things better.

    Joyce August 24, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Here’s to another vaccination!

    meghan August 24, 2012 at 5:01 am

    Just a few words to help :)

    annabelvita August 24, 2012 at 5:45 am

    Hooray for vaccines!

    Heather August 24, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Thanks for doing this. It is such an easy way to help out.

    jam August 24, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Commenting! 20$! Woot!

    Sharah August 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

    “For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”

    Suebob August 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    “its beauty, power and magic is that it is diffuse, diverse, shared, collaborative, collective. ”

    Nailed it.

    Megan August 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm


    Emily August 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    What a great cause, thanks! Glad to help you help others :)

    Brandy Robertson August 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Comment #2 for me because I just love this idea so much!
    I recently got back from a wonderful weekend in Ottawa Canada with an organisation that is near and dear to my heart. World University Service of Canada (WUSC) works to bring students from refugee camps in Africa and Asia to study in Canadian universities and colleges. I told everyone about Blogust and what a great fundraising initiative it is. What I wouldn’t give to find a generous donor to contribute to WUSC’s Student Refugee Program (SRP) in the same way! I am currently fundraising in my own small way for the SRP by challenging myself to run a half marathon in December and blogging about it here:http://21kforchange.blogspot.c…
    Communities, be it online or otherwise, coming together for a cause is just so incredibly inspiring to me!
    Thank you, Catherine, for taking part!

    kate C. August 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I love immunizations. Seriously. I’m a biologist/immunologist – so bring them on for everyone all over the world! yay!

    Ashleigh August 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm


    Celeste August 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Here’s my comment for a vaccination!

    Sarah August 25, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Thank you for doing this important work. I’m commenting in honor of my sister, who works in some of the world’s neediest places to help provide women and children with the healthcare they need.

    Clueless But Hopeful Mama August 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    SO much love and hope and life-saving VACCINES!

    thedoseofreality August 25, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Such a thoughtful post. I have no doubt it will linger in my mind, as all good writing does. Thank you for helping this cause.

    kate August 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    glad to help a fantastic cause!

    Ericka Sanchez August 27, 2012 at 10:31 am

    This is wonderful! Here is my comment.

    Julia August 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Excellent cause! Vaccinate ALL the children!

    WWW August 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I totally believe in this!

    JRT August 27, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Yes! Amazing! So glad to be able to help!

    kaushika August 27, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Wonderful. So glad to have received a link to this blog campaign to help vaccinate children in need. Continue this amazing use of social media for good! Catalystmom

    Katherine Lewis August 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Love the question you pose about how we writers shape our experience of the world around us. It’s not only in the writing, but also in the “reporting” that this strikes me, as I observe and strain to remember details as life goes by — and risk failing to experience the world in the present. Thanks for the post and for helping kids in developing countries!

    Adrian August 28, 2012 at 1:04 am

    I’m hoping that additional comments count towards the total. I’m making a second pass through the calendar to catch a few days I missed the first time around.

    Better Living Through Chaos August 28, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Thanks for giving us all the opportunity to help a child! Nothing is better than that.

    Stephanie August 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    What a wonderful idea – glad to help!

    Coffee with Julie August 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    A comment from a lurker in order to help.

    Tanya H August 29, 2012 at 7:06 am

    I can come out of my ‘lurker’ status to help someone in need. Hurray for this vaccination initiative!

    Regarding this post and the other from 8/5/12: They’re blowing my mind and I’m still processing.

    Amanda August 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    De-lurking for vaccination!

    Kelly Paquet August 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Please donate!

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