I visited with a priest today to make up a class I missed during RCIA on morals and conscience formation. I told him the difficulties I've had as a blog writer and the occasional negative feedback I have received. Despite my best intentions, sometimes people are offended, whether or not the post in question has anything to do with them. I have written two other posts directly related to the process of writing and maintaining a blog: Blog Purpose and the Personal Essay (Nov. 9, 2011) and Blog Management & Comment Policy (Apr. 23, 2012). While I don't want to rehash old ground, I think a refresher on this topic would be helpful to readers. So please read the other posts first if you want the full picture.
The priest could relate to my blog writing conundrums, as he has had similar trouble with how people perceive him in a public forum. For example, he once told a joke about lawyers during a homily, and the mother of a lawyer was deeply offended. He never told a lawyer joke again! He did suggest that I keep writing. And now a story about him has appeared in my blog, though I haven't mentioned his name. This is the way it is. If you know me, or if I have read something you have written, or if you are a stranger in the grocery store that I encounter, you may find yourself as a character in this blog. This is where I write about my life, experiences, ideas, and views. It's a place where I reflect on issues, share information, and endeavor to provoke thought and to inspire. The literary genre I employ is the personal essay, which centers around a particular theme and extends from the personal to the universal.
Think about opinion pieces in newspapers, letters to the editor, life stories in magazines, and the content of advice columns. Sometimes real names are given, sometimes not. In any case, a person may read these things and recognize himself in the stories. The persons being written about are not typically consulted. Web pages and online magazines are no different. Even works of fiction contain the disclaimer that any similarity to real people is completely a coincidence; for the very reason that a writer, even of fiction, can only effectively write about something he knows. Fictional characters are drawn from real people, sometimes of a composite nature, but based in some way, shape, or form on nonfiction. In any art form, whether it be poem, painting, letter, novel, dance, or song, you can be sure that true life experiences are being expressed. You may not like how you look in the picture, but you may find your image on a gallery wall nevertheless. And it may or may not actually be you!
Country-pop singer Taylor Swift has a song called, "Dear John". In a magazine interview, the writer told Taylor that John Mayer had publicly protested this song, which he claimed was about their relationship. Taylor's response? "How presumptuous!" This surprised me. I mean, his name is John, and she is singing about John. It must be about him, right? Then again, John is a common name, and she may have dated more than one. There is also the convention of a "Dear John letter", which stands for any romantic break up. I imagine that the song is likely both a reflection of a specific relationship and a ballad about heartbreak in general. It's about many boyfriends all at once, inspired most perhaps by the one named John (whether or not that is really his name). But most of all, it's about Taylor. That is the point often missed.
This is also how it goes in a work of creative nonfiction, such as the personal essay. The specific becomes the general (or vice versa), one event triggers memories of others, and something new is born. Hopefully something poetic, sublime, gritty, honest, and real. I don't live in a vacuum. It isn't possible to write about my life without including the people that are in it, or have been a part of it. Considering that Organic Mothering has been viewed over 8,000 times, it is safe to say that most of my readers don't know me at all. But as long as someone is reading, I'll keep on writing.