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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    { 743 comments }

    Tonio August 10, 2012 at 4:46 am

    I’m glad that this simple comment could help.

    palec August 10, 2012 at 5:07 am

    Glad I could help this way. Thanks

    Kona August 10, 2012 at 5:42 am

    I’m glad an opportunity like this is given to people not able to donate but willing to do so.

    guzii August 10, 2012 at 5:45 am

    +1 :)

    Aug August 10, 2012 at 6:27 am

    I know what you mean about wanting to keep your writing seperate the reaction that people have to it. It’s how I like to operate usually.

    Alexa August 10, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Thank you all for making it possible to help just by leaving a simple comment!

    Harriet Shugarman August 10, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Thanks for letting us all feel we CAN make a difference!

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

    It’s more than *feeling* that you’re making a difference — you ARE making a difference.

    Ruben Salazar August 10, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Still beleive in the power of one. Every day, every minute… One solitary real life hero is changing lives…beyond good and evil… There’s compasion..

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

    The true power of one is the power of many ones, together. It’s the power of US, together.

    Beth August 10, 2012 at 8:03 am

    There is nothing like a shot@life to get one motivated. Thanks for helping us all have a voice.

    J Pelzel August 10, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Thank you for giving us a chance to make a difference!

    Danielle August 10, 2012 at 8:35 am

    This is truly amazing!

    Caroline August 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

    This is AWESOME!!!

    Maggie S. August 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Reading your blog always makes me think outside my small world.

    Thanks for explaining Blogust. I didn’t realize it was per comment. I gotta get out there.

    Erika Lehmann August 10, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Some blogs call for comments so much that they function more like a springboard for discussion than a thing onto itself. Others are so self-contained that about the only comment you can add is approval or disapproval. When I know the person personally I usually comment to encourage the continuing of the effort.

    Trudi August 10, 2012 at 9:06 am

    I love the idea that feedback gives back. And the ability to be generous with words? C’mon, that’s a community I want to be a part of.

    Wanda Rountree August 10, 2012 at 9:09 am

    What a wonderful thing you are giving.

    Linda Williams August 10, 2012 at 9:10 am

    The internet has become our greatest voice, to be herd across nations, and to be shared by all diversities, to give power to the week, and confiscate power from the strongest that would seek to oppress others!

    Yet we can so rarely, really, have the opportunity to benefit others, especially those who need our help the most! Well done for giving me this opportunity, and Thank You!

    Hanne August 10, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Wauw, thank you for this opportunity!

    C August 10, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Great ideas. Thanks for opening this one.

    Jami Lee August 10, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I concur with your thinking that the “audience” may color your dialogue. I find myself thinking about that every time I post anything. Keep thinking that…it will keep you true to your voice.

    Gina August 10, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Catherine,
    I am blown away by your post and your community! Whoo too! Beyond awesome!

    LIsa Blackwell August 10, 2012 at 10:36 am

    What a wonderful opportunity! Thank you!

    Luanne Smith August 10, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Vaccinate your kids. Irradicate disease. Do Not Spread.

    Fabiano Avancini August 10, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Ma ciao!!! :)

    f.

    Sharon August 10, 2012 at 10:55 am

    This is great. So glad that a simple thing could go such a long way :)

    Ann Kinney August 10, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Can I really make that kind of a difference……what a world this has become!

    Her Bad Mother August 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Yes. Yes you can :)

    marina sorr. August 10, 2012 at 11:13 am

    thank you so much for what you’re doing!

    Peter Hassan TJ August 10, 2012 at 11:23 am

    When i saw my comment will add value to someone’s life i jump at it, i want to honestly appreciate the work of ONE and these donor Organizations helping to make life better.

    Garth August 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Great thoughts, thanks!

    Ramsay Seikaly August 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Unfortunately the sad truth about humanity is its unwillingness to care for itself. If we all cared and that includes me we wouldn’t lust after our own ambitions and greed but instead seek the comfort and good will of others especially strangers. If we followed the truism Jesus taught, “No greater love is there than for one to lay his life down for another.” Poverty, hunger, want would simply evaporate. As naive as this maybe to many it is true. It will never happen as long as we put ourselves first and above others rather than put others first and above ourselves. Something I am trying to do as hard as it is. For in the end the measure we give is the measure by which we receive and the more good we do the greater good is done to us.

    Wanda Rios August 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Gracias por su apoyo y que Dios bendiga a los donadores.

    Catazameil August 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Thank you for participating in this event and for giving me the opportunity to help also!

    Sue August 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Interesting post. Many bloggers write to get to know themselves better, and the responses and interactions with can help further that self knowledge, if one uses them for that. Otherwise they can become simple affirmations or arguments about your thoughts, and the purpose changes.

    10x10act August 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    We are happy to help in any way we can :) – 10x10act.org

    José Saaltink August 10, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    It’s absolutely fantastic to be able to step out of my comfortzone and think about all the good we can do in our own small way!!
    Thanks!

    Grant August 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    It’s fun to have a motivation to leave comments. I often find myself writing a comment, reading it over, then never submitting it for one of a million reasons. This is great!

    I’ve a ten month old at home and have been running a fledgling “daddy” blog, where even one comment is rare and treasured. Ha! http://mykidisspecial.blogspot.com/

    Linda Kinsman August 10, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    What a thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing your heart. Happy to comment to help.

    Miriam Esteban August 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Fantàstic!!!

    GrumbleBot August 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    De-Lurking for good

    Allison August 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Happy to comment! Hope it helps!

    Fabiano Avancini August 11, 2012 at 3:28 am

    Hi there! Tutto bene? :)

    f,

    pierinux August 11, 2012 at 3:36 am

    Glad it can help, hope it’s really true. Good luck for the initiative

    glenn tan August 11, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Same as many others, i am glad that this simple comment could help

    Lasse Petersen August 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Glad I can help!

    Kosongz Toh August 11, 2012 at 8:20 am

    Glad to be able to help…

    Fabiano Avancini August 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Eccolo! :)

    f.

    GrandeMocha August 11, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Using the Force for good.

    Rob Taylor August 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Liked your thoughts on turning off comments. Never occurred to me. Heres another $20 well spent.

    Margaret Wardle August 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I am glad someone is helping the people who need help the most.

    Laine August 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Thank you to all who help! Bless you.

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