Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why Do I Blog?

A couple of months back, in blogs and in real life, explicitly and via multi-jump paths of association tracked by my heat oppress'd brain, I kept running into this question. Courtesy and completeness would dictate naming each occasion, linking to each post, identifying each conversation, but I can't remember most of them -- I think at least four or five of the blogs under the "Interesting Blogs" heading in my sidebar nudged me in this direction, through asking it or answering it or just making me think of it, plus a number of incidents in the world of the flesh. In any case, the question has been percolating since then, with several false starts using pen and paper, and I have finally pushed on through to finishing a rough attempt at an answer.

I started blogging in May 2004, just after moving from Hamilton, Ontario, where I had lived for a decade, to Los Angeles, California. I was at the same time taking on the role of full-time stay-at-home parent of a nine month-old. I knew nothing about blogs, blogging, bloggers, bloggery (isn't that still illegal in 13 states?), or any other more fantastic construction beginning with those four letters. In fact, when asked last December what blogs I read that inspired me to head down this path, I was at a loss, though on further reflection I think I had read some of the Z Blogs a very little bit before I started writing one of my own.

My intent was two-fold: Most importantly, it was about me writing. I knew that having something to write for, no matter how few the readers, would encourage me to engage in non-project writing that was a little more polished and thought-through than what I still write in the pages of journals meant for no eyes but mine. But given the informal, ad hoc nature of blogs it wouldn't have to be as polished as if for actual publication, and I could set my own schedule and determine the form and content with little external constraint. In the face of the shocking shift in circumstances I was just starting to deal with at the time, and of being in the swampy middle of a huge multi-year project, it would allow me a way to access the exquisite pleasure of having written -- of finishing something, of accomplishment -- after only minutes or hours of work, rather than having to wait months or years. It would help me think through ideas that interested me, and give me practice talking about them. And all of this was particularly important at the time, because my project was at a stage that involved little writing and lots of mind-numbing interview processing.

A distant secondary consideration had to do with vague notions of maintaining contact with people left behind -- not as a replacement for all the other mechanisms technology has given us, but as a sort of low-pressure virtual presence that might not say much about what I'd been doing or how I'd been feeling, but would talk a little about what I'd been thinking.

Though I knew the most likely focus for the content was politics, whether shaken and stirred with pop culture or theory or book reviews or parenting or some other mixer, or just served neat, you will notice the distinct absence of any explicitly political intent -- or, perhaps to put it more accurately, any political intent to do directly with the broader world, rather than the more self-focused political benefits like developing ideas, developing voice, and craft-related self-care of a certain sort.

I gradually learned about blogging, both about political blogs as a collective phenomenon and about how I could best use the medium to meet my own particular needs. I have been able to discern several other kinds of obviously political intent in the blogs which even remotely interest me, which may overlap in any individual blog:

  1. Engaging with mainstream politics in a way that holds some hope of actual influence, at least at the aggregate level. This occasionally involves investigation, most often commentary springing from and/or amplifying aspects of the dominant media's treatment of issues. Obviously the subject matter and the hope of aggregate influence mean that this model does not really work very well for politics that go much outside of the liberal or social democratic end of the mainstream, though there are certainly liberal feminists who fall into this category.

  2. Engaging with radical politics (which I am using broadly to include things like lefter leftiness than social democracy, anti-oppression, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, liberation politics of various sorts, radical feminism, etc., etc.) in the context of an existing community or public in order to stimulate and/or direct debate within those who identify with that community, as with the Z blogs. The conditions for this are rare, and there are obviously issues of gatekeeping.

  3. Building and seeking community with those whose experiences of oppression and/or politics overlap with your own -- mutual consciousness raising, political and personal support, and the creation of safe corners in a hostile blogosphere and a hostile world.

  4. Seeking to engage with those who disagree and using blogs as a forum for debate and consciousness raising not through affinity but through critical challenge, perhaps through a blog devoted to such activity, like Ally Work, or through something the now blog-departed Tenacious once described along the lines of allies doing the hard, thankless work of following the trolls to their lairs and doing battle in the comment sections there.

  5. The presentation of some kind of radical politics through more creative or artistic writing.

How do I fit in? Well, my practice has evolved a bit over the last couple of years. It was October or November 2004 when I got around to installing a hit counter, and I joined the Progressive Blog Alliance at around the same time. We moved back to Canada in July of 2005 and soon after I joined Progressive Bloggers, a Canadian web ring.

My posting includes not only pieces of original writing (when I can manage them) but also links to other pieces that have caught my attention or are on a topic that interests me, and occasionally low energy investment recommendations for action like signing an e-petition or donating money to something. While in Los Angeles I would do posts that I have learned subsequently are called "link farms" -- a post comprised of links to multiple interesting articles and posts on other sites -- but my time usage has shifted slightly over the last year and I rarely do this kind of post any more.

In terms of the blogosphere as a site of community, I don't tend to seek it out but neither do I reject it. I have enjoyed getting to know a few fellow bloggers a little bit but I have not invested any energy in trying to initiate such connections. I generally respond to comments on my own blog. I only comment very occasionally on blogs I read regularly, and a little more often I'll post a challenging comment to something that catches my eye on the feed at the ProgBlogs main page.

My membership in PBA and PB, the fact that I post links to other writing and the odd action recommendation, and the fact that I do occasionally drop a challenging comment or two on other, more conservative sites might indicate the growth of a more deliberate, externally-focused political intent in my blogging. It might, but not to any great degree, I don't think.

I joined the blog rings because I thought they might be a good place to connect with interested readers, and perhaps to connect with things that I might be interested in reading. Mind you, even though the winner will likely end up as Prime Minister I have less than no interest in following the frequent, detailed musings about the Liberal leadership race that seem to occupy so many of my PB colleagues -- frankly, I'd nominate the porcupine that L and I saw at Science North last week if I could -- but I still find some interesting things, and I think injecting less mainstream stuff into such spaces can't hurt even if there is no evidence it directly helps much of anything. So, yes, there is some external political intent, but it is pretty low energy and low expectation. Even my visits to the comment sections of other PB members (or elsewhere) are very sporadic, and I generally don't attempt sustained conversation in most circumstances -- it would probably be useful but I still can't help feeling I have better ways to use my time.

Even the links and action recommendations I post are a case of investing minimal effort -- I'm just typing in a few words about something I would've read anyway -- for minimal expected return. Petitions and letters and donations aren't irrelevant, and in specific circumstances can be important tactics, but they should not for a moment be mistaken for the heart of the work that needs to be done.

In terms of the categories I listed above, my politics don't qualify for (1). I'm not part of any sort of organization or non-blogs-only online community for which I could do (2). My identity (experiences of privilege and oppression) are not those which most often used (3), and though I think it could be a useful enterprise I'm not sure that the virtual approach would really be one that would personally fit me very well in terms of the kinds of support that would feel useful. (4) intrigues me and does strike me as useful political work that I would be able to do, but I'm not sure, given my limited time and energy, it would be the most worthwhile outlet. And my writing is usually a bit too literal (at least in this space) to count as (5).

Frankly, for me, this site is still mostly about the writing, and only indirectly about changing the world. I have great respect for those who use blogs to create their own community and even more for those who persistently and politically insert their voices where said voices are unwelcome but desperately need to be heard. But for me, I don't see much scope for actually creating change using the openings that are available to me online. In all the myriad of ways that "real life" can be political, from parenting choices to direct action to healing your own trauma, I think it is vital for me not to exacerbate the human-connection-killing impacts of patriarchy on men and neoliberalism on all of us by harbouring illusions that a plastic box and a glowing screen is more than an occasionally useful tool for doing political work (broadly understood) in the context of other flesh-and-blood human beings.


jonz said...

Do you ever read Douglas Adams? Sometimes I feel like that immortal alien whose self-chosen mission is to attempt to insult every life form in the universe...

God save the Queen!

Scott said...

"...of this fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb

God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming

Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need
There's no future, no future,
No future for you" carried away...

Yep, I quite like Adams...he had a very keen sense of the cosmic's a pity that writing had become such a painfully difficult process for him by the time he died.