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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    Jessia August 11, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Enjoyed this article.. !!

    Chris Jackson August 12, 2012 at 12:28 am

    I had no idea diarrhea was a disease.
    I just looked it up. The Rotavirus vaccine is commonly called the diarrhea vaccine.
    Glad this comment could help.

    Danielle August 12, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Loved this article. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

    HeatherJ August 12, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Thanks so much for your words about the power of conversation that blogging can produce. And for being honest about how different stories are the result of different motivations.

    Jane Morrison August 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Thank You so much for this article. It was wonderful!!

    Anna August 12, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    I had never heard of Shot@Life but am glad to have stumbled across it here. Wonderful idea.

    Jaime August 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    This comment is for a little boy or girl somewhere, whose life will be saved because you wrote this blog post. Thanks :)

    Fabiano Avancini August 13, 2012 at 2:29 am

    Hi there! How is it going?


    Fabiano Avancini August 13, 2012 at 2:29 am

    Is there anybody out there?


    Lisa August 13, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Thank you for being involved in this, I hope it helps a lot of kids!

    sarena crowe August 13, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Love this! Hope it helps!!! :)

    Su August 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    This article is a refreshingly honest examination of the selfishness inherent in our modern obsession with ‘sharing’ but reminds us that the age-old compulsion of writers to write has always created a conversation with readers – that conversation is simply more public and immediate on blogs.

    Shea August 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Enjoyed your article very inspirational and reminds us to reach out, stay in touch and connect with others around the world as much as we can.

    Darius Furmann August 14, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Thank You so much for this article.

    Rose Lanigan August 14, 2012 at 2:41 am

    Wow, fantastic commentary and insight into this world of blogging online. Long may it continue :-)

    Fabiano Avancini August 14, 2012 at 2:49 am

    So, who plays first base?


    Pam August 14, 2012 at 4:50 am

    The power of people united for one cause is a powerful thing.

    Lisa August 14, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Happy to help these children!
    xo Lisa

    T August 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Just wanted to thank you for writing this, happy to read and comment!

    Ashley August 14, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Great cause. Thanks for participating!

    Muriel August 14, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    What an amazing thing to do!! I am inspired every day when I read a blog, especially by those who use their awesome gifts to help others!!! Awesome!!

    Carol August 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    This is beautiful! Thanks for sharing! So wonderful to see and anything to help :)

    Alicia August 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Good luck getting as many comments as possible.

    Molly G August 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Catherine, please don’t ever stop doing what you do. A beautifully written post, true to form.

    Her Bad Mother August 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Oh, gosh, thank you, Molly ;)

    Jen @WorldMomsBlog August 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Catherine,

    So great to run into you a bunch of times at BlogHer! Here’s to one more child being vaccinated in the developing world!

    Jen :)

    Vanalee August 15, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Interesting thoughts on why we write and comments. Glad I can help children by commenting.

    Dawne August 15, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I heard about this campaign through ONE, on Facebook. Wonderful idea and how amazing an opportunity for you to be part of it.

    Chrysula August 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    When offered pinterest decorating delights and then redirected here, how could I refuse to add one more for the cause. Love the not-subtle redirect and all that you’re doing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Carol August 15, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Thank You! More than happy to help. God Bless. (Thanks for sharing the info on Facebook)

    Julie Deuel August 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    thank you for helping the kids in Adrica, I am very supportive of the ONE project. Let’s fight extreme poverty, let’s not let kids die in the 21st Century for lack of a $.20 immunization, let’s help as many as we can!

    Fabiano Avancini August 16, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Hei there!! How are you?


    habanerogal August 16, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Glad to be able to help in a significant project !

    Brittany August 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Well of course! To comment is easy and to have real discussions is amazing. It happens less now, at least for me, and I miss it. Here’s to saving lives and to sharing our stories.

    Her Bad Mother August 19, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Ah, yes. The very big difference, sometimes, between commenting and conversing. This is another point of tension, arguably – when we focus on comments (quantified), do we lose out on conversation (the quality of which can’t be quantified.)

    Jen Banks August 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    So may points in this post resonate with me. This is a fantastic idea that I will be continuing to follow.

    Dave August 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    “We are vast, and we contain multitudes” – So true, life continues to inspire and move me…Thanks for your post!

    Carley August 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    As usual, a wonderfully written post. Thank you.

    Days August 16, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Great initiative!

    Antonija Vranješ August 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    May God bless you for all that your doing for making a world better place!

    Brenno August 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm


    zaki laouira August 16, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    god bless you people
    hope we can make this world a better place

    Arman Piño August 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Let’s make things better!

    Myung Eberspacher August 17, 2012 at 3:14 am

    I just want to mention I am just beginner to blogging and honestly liked your blog. Likely I’m want to bookmark your blog post . You actually have remarkable articles. Many thanks for sharing your web-site.

    duchessbelle August 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Great cause

    Alli August 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Well done, HBM.

    Her Bad Mother August 19, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Happy that you approve ;)

    Elizabeth August 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Great cause!

    Ewokmama August 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    For the kids!

    Her Bad Mother August 20, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    There’s a brand-new, awesome shorthand right there: FTK!

    Justin Gronfur August 20, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Thank you for being an advocate of such a great cause as Shot@Life and thank you for your blog.

    dixdex11 August 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm


    Holly August 21, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    You truly inspire me and so does this campaign.

    Elise August 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to balance our own vision of ourselves with that reflected by others. Thank you!

    Zoe August 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Great article, and a great cause!

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