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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    Justin Maddox August 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Pleasure to meet you, ma’am. You certainly did go to a lot of trouble to lay out the importance of feedback on the stories people have to tell. While to a certain degree I can agree that it is selfish for people to desire attention for the stories and blogs they write, it’s not really a negative thing. It helps to make friends, acquaintances, and perhaps online communities. You certainly have an in depth understanding of the nature of the matter, and I wish you good fortune on the future of this practice, whether you choose to allow comments or not. Shalom.

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Oh, desiring attention is natural, and understandable, and positive. But keeping it positive, I think, means reflecting on whose attention we desire, and why.

    Bon August 9, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    commenting for the cause but also to say, yes, messy and magic and postmodern in its dumping the author in the backseat, exploding beyond the single voice. and yet i think sometimes it’s okay to be the single voice, to play Author or speak parrhesia, either way, especially if the chorus sometimes get rowdy. ;)

    that said, it is good that this is not one of those times. :)

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I love you so much for using the word ‘parrhesia.’ Please come back to NYC so that we can just drink bourbon and talk about the death of the Author? :)

    Lance Somerfeld August 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    This is a great concept! Glad that my simple comment results in a donation for a vaccine- thanks for doing this.

    Wendy A Ailor August 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    A great cause. Thank you!

    Jaclyn T August 9, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Let’s help protect the children!

    James August 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I’m glad that this simple comment could help.

    gasy.ImpACT August 9, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Great Cause.
    Together, we can make the difference!

    Melissa August 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Commenting for the cause… I don’t really have anything profound to add, except that I think more people could benefit from choosing not to allow commentary, not just on blogs but in day to day life. It’s not a requirement of living in a society that you have to allow your grandmother, your friends, the cashier at the corner store and your husbands coworkers wife to weigh in on all of your choices and feeling.
    Comments that save childrens lives are pretty much always welcome though.

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Indeed. Sometimes we really need to consider exercising our freedom to ask people to TALK TO THE HAND. Or some such :)

    Jill August 9, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    I don’t blame you for keeping some comments closed…people can be cruel & spam the heck out of blogs sometimes. Unless you have someone monitoring constantly, it just makes sense

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Trolls are certainly a part of it, yes – sometimes you just don’t want to be exposed to the negative.

    Ed Gracely August 9, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Our local UN Association chapter (Greater Philadelphia) has been active with Shot@Life. Good group!

    Rachel M Riley August 9, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    I’m just doing my small part to change the world.

    Karen Sugarpants August 9, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    A wonderful cause, C. Glad to help in some small way.

    C August 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Something about this reminds me of a parenting dilemma I’d never predicted. See, I speak a foreign language with my son, not one that people learn in school. Nobody else around here speaks that language, or at least, nobody I know. When my son is around, I have to constantly determine “Is this message for him, or is it for other people nearby?”

    It’s so strange to really try to analyze who the intended audience is. Is this for me? Is this for everyone? Is this for me because, hell, this is a time when I really need reactions from other human beings? But I think, by keeping people from commenting sometimes, it serves as a reminder that, yes, there’s a certain amount of interaction between speaker and audience, but in the end, the audience are spectators.

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 8:58 am

    That’s a fascinating comparison, but really apt, I think. We really do consider ‘audience’ much more broadly than we think. We really do consider – ‘who is this story for???’ – in our personal lives as much as in our public lives. (And some of us more than others.) So interesting.

    Anne (@notasupermom) August 9, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    This comment will vaccinate a child! Thank you!

    Geoff August 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    I hope this helps. Thank you.

    Selena M.B. August 9, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    I never wondered why you closed comments on some of your posts. Your prerogative and usually quite obvious/understandable as to why. As for the cause, I don’t really have anything profound to add mostly because I am am slightly broken in the back region and hopped up on painkillers. I can that this is by far the most impressive form of on-line advocacy and fundraising for such a worthy cause, to date. Including the KONY campaign. (Different cause, but you know what I mean).

    Justine August 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    What an awesome idea!

    Elisa (@AverageAdvocate) August 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    How could you NOT like comments? You are brave to turn them off because you liked them so much. I am lucky if I get a comment! :) I liked your writing style a lot too! I’m all about community and changing the world, something your not alone in. Thanks for being part of Shot@life’s fund-maker! -elisa

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I DO like comments. That’s the problem, sometimes – I get wrapped up in what the conversation will be, who will respond, and how, that the story becomes secondary. (That said, I don’t like ALL comments – mean comments are part of the whole package, and sometimes I just don’t want to see them.)

    Christine Rebbert August 9, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    I am doing this for the good cause, even though I am not a big fan of how self-centered bloggers are, LOL…

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Human beings are self-centered. We can still do good.

    Jill V / TerraSavvy August 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Thank you Catherine!

    Andrea August 9, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    As a community we can move mountains

    Gillian August 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    This shows how important comments can be!

    Kevan August 9, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Thank you for initiating this and finding a way to help and allowing us to help as well!

    Marci August 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    comment for the cause

    Jules August 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    sometimes i lock my blogs to avoid drama. sometimes i do it to save things i want to remember but not share. but the ones i don’t lock, i check incessantly to make sure the usual followers have commented and shown their love again…it’s a funny medium :)

    Adrian August 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    I don’t really get it. I’ve never even considered closing my comments on a post, but then I get so few of them that every one is precious to me. But my philosophy is your blog, your kingdom, so if that’s what makes you tick, you go girl!

    Gabriela August 10, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Thank you…together we can make a difference!

    Susan August 9, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    What a great opportunity to support a worthy cause!

    jimmy August 9, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    This is a great concept! Glad that my simple comment results in a donation for a vaccine- thanks for doing this.

    Patricia August 10, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Thanks for helping a great cause!

    Stephanie August 10, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Sometimes comments are not necessary, or needed that is true. But this is not one of those times, thank you for opening yourself up for a wonderful cause.

    BloggerFather August 10, 2012 at 12:23 am

    When I write my more personal posts, I try to tell my own story while making sure it will have universal context that will allow readers to see themselves in the story. In this case, my voice can’t be the only one there. In these cases, I try to tell the story of us, which means as many of us will hopefully be heard.

    Gregory Stromberg August 10, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Be true to yourself by serving others who really need help.

    I can’t begin to describe what happens next but it will be extremely rewarding.


    Sarah August 10, 2012 at 12:33 am

    comment for the cause.

    Jillian Hess August 10, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Shot@Life is a great campaign. Thanks for taking part in the Blogust rally!

    Jacqueline Newman August 10, 2012 at 12:39 am

    I’m so happy to help save lives by leaving a simple comment.

    Samantha August 10, 2012 at 12:41 am

    I am just starting out in this great big blogger world and I can totally see how you sometimes need to cut off the comments for some posts. I enjoyed this. Thanks for participating in this relay! Way to help out Shot@Life!

    Jewel LaBelle August 10, 2012 at 12:47 am

    One more comment for the cause … children deserve so much of our protection and care. Thank you ONE Campaign.

    María Alejandra Ortiz August 10, 2012 at 12:48 am

    This is my first time here and I’m truly amazed! I’ll try to visit as much as possible to read some more and post some more!

    Teressa Morris August 10, 2012 at 1:05 am

    I always love it when the comments take on a life of their own that goes beyond what I ever envisioned when I made my original post.

    Michelle August 10, 2012 at 1:07 am

    Thanks for being part of such a great cause!

    Anastasia August 10, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Thanks for doing such a great thing!,

    Carlos August 10, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Excelente… Muy bien por permitirnos apoyar a esta causa tan noble. Un saludo y espero poder apoyar nuevamente. Saludos.

    Alison August 10, 2012 at 2:16 am

    I love this Blogust initiative and thank you for being part of it – and by offering such a wonderful perspective on commentary in this complex world of the Internet.

    Daniel lemieux August 10, 2012 at 2:48 am

    I hope this support can go along way for the people who really need it. Thank you and God bless.

    Henrik August 10, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Keep it real!

    Marius August 10, 2012 at 3:34 am

    Can I comment a lot of times?I want maybe ~1000000 times?Do I?

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Yes! You can comment as many times as you like! Each unique comment counts :)

    Martha August 10, 2012 at 3:35 am

    My consciousness just got elevated!

    Dorothy Haughton August 10, 2012 at 3:41 am

    Best wishes to you all.

    Andie August 10, 2012 at 4:00 am

    Vaccinations are so important to the lives of kids everywhere. Thank you. As for the comment thing, sometimes shutting off the sounding board is a good thing. :)

    Fabiano Avancini August 10, 2012 at 4:18 am

    Just to say hallo! :)

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