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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    Neil August 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Terrific and honest post about tension between the personal and the community. And what a great cause.

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Thanks, Neil. (Missed seeing you at BlogHer. But we are in the same city, so…)

    Jen from Mom It Forward August 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational words! This campaign is so fantastic!

    Danica Smith August 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Great work!

    Jessica August 9, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Great words..great cause. An inspiration for better things to come.

    mary lou mills August 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    good luck

    Pamela August 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    As a historian, I thoroughly understand. Life is a blooming, buzzing confusion, but as Joan Didion notes, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” There are times you need to plunge into the confusion, and times you need to pull back and make sense. Happily, the idea of giving kids vaccines is one of those moments when the confusion recedes and the path ahead is clear. Thanks for doing this.

    Her Bad Mother August 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I love those words by Joan Didion. Thank you for reminding me of them.

    Kirsten August 9, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Beautifully written; thank you!

    Boston August 9, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing your insight- and giving us an opportunity to support this wonderful cause!

    Sara V August 9, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    I am new to the blogging world and quite amazed at the positive atmosphere I’m breathing with fellow poets and comments. It does affect you, a comment or no comment. I start asking myself what would have generated more conversation? So, it is an excellent point. Sometimes we just have to write for ourselves. Thank you for this lovely essay and for being letting everyone be part of this cause, with you.

    Liz August 9, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    The only problem is: Who has the time to read all of this stuff that we – writers and commenters – put out there. It’s overwhelming.

    Nari Igawa August 9, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Nice post and the commitment is great, too. Best wishes.

    Beth August 9, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Great post! Greater cause!

    Juli August 9, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Last year I closed comments on a few posts that felt too “personal”.

    I’m thinking a lot about how our digital life can be a “hall of mirrors”, where we look for reflections of our best selves. I enjoy the conversations, but also wonder if our exchanges online infantilise us. Why do we need so much attention, feedback, affirmation?

    Anyway, uh, great post.

    Her Bad Mother August 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    We do look for affirmation and recognition – and it can be like a hall of mirrors in which we’re always trying to find ourselves, but forever touching glass. And yet… there’s something amazing about seeing so much of ourselves, and each other. It’s just a matter of not getting lost, I think.

    Joie August 9, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Some posts demand to be read more than once. this is one of those posts.

    Andrea Zimmerman August 9, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Beautifully written, as always, Catherine.

    Debbie Bookstaber August 9, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Shot@life is doing important work. Thank you for supporting them.

    Boston August 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm


    Darley Tom August 9, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    This is a great read! Glad I got to check out your blog.

    Breann August 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Thank you for this

    Stephanie August 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Your words are so inspiring. Sometimes I feel like I just want to write in my journal, no feedback. I don’t want to think about any body elses side or whats fair or not fair. I just want my say and end it there. Thank you for taking the time to help support a great cause.

    gold account August 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    The Writing Your Life community is broad and wide, always open to new members and fellow travelers. If not our community, then find one that suits your needs. I know a few people who have written their life stories on their own, and they are to be commended. They have done what most cannot. More frequently, I meet people who have started and stopped writing many times during the last ten, twenty, thirty or more years and feel defeated. Don’t give up. Find others who can encourage you toward your goals.

    Karen August 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you for the thoughts on comments and the opportunity to help the Shot@Life campaign.

    Joanne fritz August 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    What a feast of thoughtful blog posts and a grt cause! So nice when so many of us are putting up top ten lists. Thanks so much.

    MsRedPen August 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Great post, and a wonderful initiative.

    JT August 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Great idea. Thank you for doing this!

    jk doyle August 9, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you.

    Kristi August 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you.

    Rebecca Rider August 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Love this post!

    Leesa Kopp August 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Bless the work you do.

    K Bondurant August 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm


    Lyssa August 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    It is all about the dialogue! Thanks for sharing!

    Matt August 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm


    CrystalN August 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    This is pretty cool, my one comment is worth $20 :) great post! great cause!

    Jason August 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    “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. ”

    A very interesting and very true reflection. I think this also perhaps reflects on anyne else who writes blog posts or even shares or writes Facebook or Twitter comments – it could be an intention to share one’s own thoughts – and let others reflect on it to see if there is anything valuable to be found =)

    Mimi Schector August 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Way to go!

    Linda August 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Love this. Thanks for writing!!

    Nicole Gillessen August 9, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    If this is all it takes to make a difference in someones life, then here it is….my comment!
    Great work!
    Let’s get the job done.

    Alisa Howard August 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Great Cause!

    Naomi Cartner August 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks for prompting action… it’s not often my remarks are worth $20, and make a contribution to saving lives. N

    dave douma August 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Never let it be said that I didn’t do the least I could do.

    Daniela Yunda August 9, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    If this messege is true… then I hope this comment help a better life for a child.

    jocschauer August 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Great work! Thank you!

    Lu August 9, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing your words, my friend. You always inspire me.

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 9:01 am

    And you me. Mad love.

    lr August 9, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    give back

    Emily August 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Loving Blogust and reading everyone’s beautiful posts. Thanks for the inspiration and for supporting the cause.

    Sarah Sorvalis August 9, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    This is the kind of news I like to hear – makes me remember the tiny acts of goodness that can shape, shift and brighten our world!! Thank you.

    Binu August 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm


    Rachel Fox August 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    It was after being asked to join the ONE Moms Advisory Council that I learned about blogging–I had always had an aversion to social media and spent limited time on the computer. I had no interest in recording my story in a journal or online, so when I was asked to start my own blog I had no idea how I was going to take the leap and what I was even going to say. Knowing that I could have disabled comments might have given me some relief! It took some quiet time to figure out why and how I had ended up in this community. My realization was that my words could inspire someone else to speak up for the world’s poorest…..that this online community has the numbers to make a difference…..and that blogs like yours and others can change the world!! Thank you for adding your voice and bringing your community into this Blogust ’12 relay!!

    Amy Ninnes August 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    What a novel idea, thank you!!

    Janice August 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Thank you for taking part in “Blogust”, what a wonderful way to raise awareness and funds for a great cause!

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