Thursday, January 22, 2009


...I write something for the blog where I work and it elicits negative responses, I try to respond to each person individually, because I think generally it's a failure of my writing and I do think I owe it to readers who take the time to read and comment. I hate to do posts that seem mean-spirited or not thoughtful, and I do think some of what I have done lately has been a little unkind. Not, perhaps, by blogging standards, but certainly by my own. The thing is, I have become very short-tempered with personal essays. That sounds hypocritical, but it's through writing them that I've come to feel that way: as I have said before, people in and of themselves are not terribly interesting. Or, they are, but not in the good-writing sense! In order for something to qualify as more than a solipsistic blog post (and no, this does NOT qualify!) it must have some larger application, as all good writing does. Because something is nakedly rooted in experience is no excuse: all writing is rooted in experience! Making that naked does not excuse anyone from normal standards! Certainly not anymore: personal essays are not a novelty and unless we're somewhat critical, it's really going to atrophy as a genre. A commenter asked, how would an editor feel if someone dismissed HER emotions? Well, not good: but also, not shocked! It is a risk someone takes in making her personal life public fodder. If you're going to make it material, you've already stripped it of a lot of its - well, not preciousness, but certainly right to privacy!

The other thing I'm not sure folks always understand is that, in writing about the personal, there's generally an element of distance to it. You've looked at something objectively, twisted and conflated and fictionalized and structured, and it does not have the raw emotional weight of the unstudied experience. This is what it means to use something as material, and while I'm supremely thin-skinned, on principle I think we can take it.

I've been thinking about this a lot, as yesterday the site's editor did a bit of a crack-down on personal off-topic commenting, primarily for reasons of safety. I have often thought that the way the site manages things is a bit like democracy: the worst form of government except for all the others ever tried. I am frequently struck, when I read other sites, by the incivility! Jezebel is a special community, definitely. But as we know, we're all watching evolution in progress, a practical application of philosophy such as we have not seen since the 18th century! It's natural that emotions should run high because these are real issues of intellectual freedom and community and governance.

None of which is any excuse for my being ungenerous!

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