Has blogging become too sanitized?

II first started blogging in 2006. I discovered blogs through my job as a writer for a cancer hospital in Detroit, so some of the first blogs I read were written by desperately ill cancer patients. They were raw and honest and ugly and oddly addictive, and quite well-written. From there I quickly discovered health care blogs and somehow,someway, I ended up landing on Litlove’s blog, which I immediately fell in love with, and from there I fell into a community of writers and readers who also blogged, and quite quickly I started my own.

I honestly couldn’t tell you if this was before or after Blogher and Babble – I mean, I could to the research but I am way too lazyit is much too hot out to exert that kind of effort. What I do know is blogging seemed much more organic, way less polished, and contained higher-quality writing than it does now – this goes for my own blog as well. People were blogging about cancer, books, infertility, the writing life, the acting life, the life of waiters and waitresses, psychology, medicine, gardening – and hardly anyone uploaded photos from their phone to help tell their story.

So, what happened? What corrupted our raw, honest places and replaced them with sanitized versions of real life? I know in my case, too many friends and family members discovered my blog and started challenging me and arguing with me over my version of whatever story I told and I eventually became somewhat self-conscious about my writing. That’s why I made the somewhat anonymous move here, and while raising a young child and working full-time have prevented a return, perhaps, to blogging as well as I once did, I at least feel more free in this space and more likely to tackle issues that would otherwise horrify my mother.

Don’t get me wrong – blogs are more popular than ever. But many of them seem so squeaky clean that it’s almost hard to believe the author’s voice is real. Blog posts are sponsored by Hallmark and Disney and various toilet bowl cleaners, and they feature slideshows of a dozen different ways to make buffalo macaroni and cheese, or detail Kate Middleton’s maternity “look” – they don’t seem to have the raw intimacy they once did.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read a post on a popular blogger’s personal blog (she also blogs for babble) – I’m not linking to her because she and I don’t have a relationship, if that makes sense? (That is yet another hallmark of blogging from the “old days” – the relationships created between bloggers) -I have left her two or three comments in the last year but we never established a rapport. Anyway. She wrote this really heartbreaking post about, for that particular day, she really hated herself -she felt like she was overeating and her overeating was because of some self-loathing – she felt she was wasting her life every time she read a celebrity gossip magazine when all they do is make her feel badly – and she used some hyperbole to bring across the point that our nation’s obsession with celebrity, beauty and weight is not doing women any good at all, and yet we remain complicit. What followed was two days of conversation, about forty percent of which was direct attacks on the author, with heated encouragement to “get into therapy NOW” or “start taking prozac immediately.” The author, who blogs way more often than I do, tries to share what her every day life is like and pointed out that she has many more happy posts than not, but to *only* post when she’s feeling positive would be inauthentic – she also riffed a bit on some of those insanely glossy happy happy happy blogs I mentioned above, arguing that they, too, may be part of our ongoing national problem (or so I read her comments).

I found myself fully on her side. I prefer reading the gritty, real blogs of struggling writers, mothers, and cooks than I do checking in for day after day of photo essays about crafts, food and family fun. That’s what pinterest is for. At the same time, I know I am, in a way, guilty of perpetuating some of this, not through gorgeous photography (let’s get real) but I’m certainly not 100 percent raw, all of the time, here. I know, I know, no one expects me to be – but I was certainly more comfortable writing more honestly before I got the little bit of exposure I did over at my old blog. For similar reasons I stopped writing memoir – the best pieces I wrote were about my experiences growing up with a Vietnam veteran for a father and even when pushed by colleagues to submit my essays, it felt like a betrayal to the man who raised me to expose him that way. Now, I’ll totally revisit this issue when he passes away some day, a long, long time from now knock wood praise God, but for now I know it isn’t the right thing to do. I am not able, in nonfiction, to write fearlessly. And so I don’t.

In appreciation of the gritty and the real, however, I thought I’d leave with you a few thoughts and pictures exposing my life in all of it’s messy, chaotic glory, and hopefully, maybe, you’ll feel slightly less alone, too. And, if you prefer the photo-shopped perfection current blogs aspire to, well, you can always check out my blog roll – there are a couple of them floating around there.

(1.) I am pregnant with our second child (blog post upcoming!) and I can’t believe the roundness that has overtaken my body so quickly this time! I am three months but I probably look four, and my boobs? Good god in heaven they are ROUND. My cheeks are round. I am round, round, round and while mostly I am grateful to carry this new baby of ours my vanity has taken a hit and I actually had to purchase some summer maternity clothes.

(2.) My backyard, which is getting a new fence right now, looks like a prime example of urban decay:
Aha! Okay! You know what? I’m not even ABLE to currently upload a photo – I just tried and wordpress keeps putting it in the wrong place in the text. So I guess you just have to trust me on this – pure. urban. decay.

(3.) I got SO mad at Grace the other day, and felt terrible about it. I actually had to take a moment to breath because I felt my anger rise – I am not an angry person by nature so I really hated having this feeling directed toward my gorgeous, smart daughter. But I had an eight a.m. meeting and SHE WOULD NOT WEAR PANTS, NO MATTER WHAT. I had to chase her through the house with a pair and practically tackle her to get them on. It was awful.

(4.) And speaking of frustrating mom moments, Grace will not let me anywhere near her hair. She lets her grandmothers and her teachers at school brush her hair, put it in ponytails or braids, or pull it up in barrets, but if I come within two feet of her with a comb she starts yelling as loud as she can – loud enough that if a CYS professional were walking by our house they’d surely investigate. In her delineated world, handling her hair is NOT mama’s job. I’ve been on the receiving end of several pointed comments about how nice it would be to, you know, just see her faceto which I want to reply (but don’t, of course), Oh yeah? Me too. I’d like to see her face too, but guess what – it ain’t happening.

(5.) Well, Ian and I are just fine – great, in fact. Admittedly, I got lucky there. It drives my girlfriends a little crazy that I don’t complain about him but really, I’m so happy. The only worry I have is his health – he suffers from an autoimmune disease with somewhat crippling flares, and I end up often doing the brunt of the physical labor with Grace and the house. This, I don’t mind- it’s something I took into account before getting pregnant a second time – I have all the love and compassion in the world for Ian. What I don’t understand is why I’m not skinney from being so active. Not fair.

So, there you have it – some not so perfect thoughts from yours truly. I think my August goal will be to figure out how to incorporate more photos easily…just to jazz this joint up a bit.

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mid-summer check-in

Around the beginning of the summer, I noticed many bloggers posting their summer “bucket lists.” A rash of such posts, from book bloggers and food bloggers and mommy bloggers and all the sort and sundry in between, seemed to take over my blog reading for about a week, and I found myself really enjoying reading other people’s “to do” lists for summertime. I didn’t find it necessary to create my own list, partly because summer had barely arrived in Pittsburgh and I was still struggling to locate the earliest rhubarb available at the farmer’s market, and partly because I am not an inherent list maker, like many people I know. Ian makes lists all of the time – it’s his way of brain dumping – and then leaves them ignored since, for him, it’s the list-creation process that is important. The follow-through? Not so much. I, on the otherhand, make lists as they pertain to particular goals and tend to keep those lists close to my person until the goal is accomplished. Remodeling the master bedroom requires a list. Summertime does not.

Or so my thinking went in early June when it was still rainy and cool and felt like summer might never show up. Now, suddenly, I find myself smack-dab in the middle of July with approximately half the summer already behind me and I only just got the Adirondack chairs out on the front porch! I haven’t done nearly the number of fun summer activities I thought I would, so it seems like a mid-summer check in and rest of the summer bucket list are in order!

Summertime Activies Already Accomplished

* multiple trips to my neighborhood farmer’s market on Thursday evenings! This was something I really looked forward to taking Grace to last year but last summer her bedtime was too early! This year we attend our neighborhood farmer’s market right after work/school on Thursday evenings, and we both have a ball. Grace likes to point all the doggies and bicylcles (the bicycles in a rather pointed way, since she’s been begging for one for weeks) and I like obtaining as much of our produce from there as possible. It’s been a consistently enjoyable time for both of us, and pasta with green garlic is a revelation.

*Spending time with Grace at my gym’s outdoor pool. We’ve done this twice so far, the first time being vastly more successful than the second. The first visit found Grace enchanted with the waterfall and the pool itself, while during the second visit she thought we were primarily there to “talk to all the peoples.”

*Stay up too late reading great books well into the night – I think summer is my favorite season for reading! Something about the warm evening air coming in through the windows and the length of the days, especially on vacation and weekends. I never really change the content of what I’m reading necessarily – no big move to beach books – it’s more the climate that I find appealing. Of course, I can also read on my porch. My other favorite time to read is basically the entire month of January.

*Use our smoker and our grill frequently – We have prepared some wonderful summer meals so far this year, many with the aid of our favorite cooking appliance – our smoker! Ian is an expert when it comes to smoking meat and we’ve had some outstanding pulled pork and ribs so far. I keep badgering him to tackle smoking chicken wings but right now he is gravitating toward brisket for his next attempt…we’ve also spent time in the kitchen tackling different slaws and potato salads, and we even made fried chicken once. It’s been a fun summer of eating so far!

*Made progress on home renovations – Our progress has really only started to rock and roll this week, but I’ll take it. Our absolutely awful, no-good back yard fence has been torn down and soon will be replaced with a new, six-foot fence, allowing for a cleaner and more private back yard. In no time at all our master bedroom will be repainted and possibly refloored as well, and we have a few more projects up our sleeves yet. This house feels more and more like a reflection of us every day, and I’m very grateful for its sturdiness and grace. Old houses can be hard to update and keep up, but they sure are built to last!

Summer Activities Not Yet Attempted

* Take Grace on a long walk or bike ride and follow it with ice cream – we haven’t been out for ice cream once all summer! This is mostly due to timing…it’s sort of difficult to find the right time to sugar a toddler up! Still, I think she and I would both love this so I really need to find an afternoon to take her for a nature walk and then a leisurely and (of course) messy ice cream cone.

* Go to the beach (hopefully this will be rectified when we head up to Northern Michigan for a week to visit my parents – but the weather in Michigan is often tempermental so I don’t want to get my hopes too high in case we have to scrap the beach.)

* Make a pie from scratch. Last month I was determined to make a strawberry rhubarb pie from scratch but a wide variety of factors have kept me out of the kitchen. There isn’t much better than from-scratch pie with fresh berries, cherries or peaches but I haven’t even made one, yet, let alone multiple! I am determined to rectify this before autumn.

You know, as I’m writing this, I realize I’ve actually had a pretty spectacular summer so far. I was going to include a bullet point about not spending enough time with my friends but then I realized it was patently untrue – Grace and I have had playdates and I’ve had plenty of lunches and brunches and walks with friends – my main lack of summer activity truly seems to be hung up on ice cream and pie and well, that’s just silly. We’ve even been to the zoo and the museum numerous times! I struggle sometimes because I don’t feel Pittsburgh “does” summer as well as Northern Michigan, where I grew up – but that would be a pretty tall order out of anywhere. Ian often argues that my summers were so idyllic growing up that nothing will ever match my memory, and in many ways he is right. But this is the first summer I’ve really embraced being in Pittsburgh and I can easily admit I’ve very much enjoyed it. I think what I’m missing is taking the time to breath, reflect and relish the season, so what I need to put on my list more than anything is a reminder to take the time to breath this summer in, and remember it for all its spectacular, 2013 uniqueness. Maybe I was correct originally – summer doesn’t require list making nearly as much as it requires breath-taking…

Feeding Grace

Last week, befuddled by the fact my toddler’s normal voracious enjoyment of dinner had transformed, overnight it seemed, to disinterest at best and often outright refusal to eat, I turned, like all modern mamas, to facebook for help. This is what I wrote:

Mamas – Advice needed. Food strikes are normal for a toddler, right? G is rejecting most of what we offer her for dinner these days, claiming to “not like it” (thanks daycare for helping her learn that phrase). I think it’s a combination of perhaps too many snacks given at daycare and toddler willfulness. We ignore this and wait for it to pass, right? And is it okay to let her have a banana or yogurt instead, or should dinner be dinner and that’s it? Blarg! (she will eat breakfast and lunch that we give her w/out problems).

Holy opening of the floodgates. I was expecting four or five of my experienced mama friends to chime in with thoughtful responses – I certainly did not expect feeding toddlers to be such a hot-button issue. An extremely conservative aunt of Ian’s who keeps harassing me for my liberal views chimed in with all the techniques her daughters utilize to get their daughters to eat. My more mid-westy friends commented with rather puritanical ideas and cheesy casserole recipes that horrifed my more east-coasty friends. My father-in-law piped up with a very “she should eat what’s on her plate and like it!” tone of voice which tends to keep him on my shit list time and time again while people who just plain love me felt the need to tell me I am doing a great mama job. All of which leads me to the following conclusions:

(1.) There are a lot of people winning at food right now.
(2.) Becoming a “foodie” is something to aspire to, and
(3.) If my daughter becomes a picky eater, it is (a.) entirely my fault and also (b.) a shun-worthy personality trait.

Much of this missed the mark for me, because I don’t think of myself as a foodie and don’t really consider it a thing to aspire to. Ian and I both love to cook, and we eat balanced, well-rounded diets. We also believe in the importance of home-cooking and family meals, but we don’t instagram photos of food at trendy restaurants, nor do we spend time groaning over imported cheeses at Whole Foods. Sometimes, we even like to eat Popeye’s chicken. Our daughter, on the other hand, has recently claimed that she doesn’t like food. ALL THE FOOD. And she thinks this is funny.

Two conversations ended up helping us tremendously. The first was my friend Katy’s response, wherein she asked me where eating dinner falls in terms of a family priority. For instance, her older son sleeps better if he has a full belly before he goes to bed and so getting food in him is a priority, but since she knows he routinely gets a healthy lunch at school, she’s not sweating bullets if dinner is yogurt and berries or so forth. Her comment was just what I needed to hear because yes, Evangeline sleeps much better if she eats dinner in the evenings. We’ve had one too many unwelcome wakeup calls at 5:00 a.m. with Evangeline ready for breakfast. Thus, I decided dinner is important to us because it leads to better sleep for the entire family.

The other conversation that I found particularly helpful in thinking through these issues I had with my friend Hattie. She didn’t jump in on the facebook chain but she followed it closely, herself a recent survivor of a nothing-but-noodles-and-cheese toddler.

“Well, you also have to consider how important dinner is to your husband and to you, as well,” she said. According to Hattie, for her husband, dinner is the high point of his day. He works long, hard hours (as does Ian) and coming home to a proper dinner with a proper cocktail hour is incredibly emotionally important to him.

“I mean sure, sometimes we eat what the kids eat, or, more accurately, the kids eat what we eat, but am I going to make them eat an asparagus and bacon salad with fried potatoes and homemade viniagrette? No, no I am not,” said Hattie. “So some nights it’s de facto noodles and cheese.”

I really spent some time considering Hattie’s point. Ian works an incredibly demanding job with a higher stress level and much more required of him than I do. One of the few times he gets to relax on any given day is dinner time. Moreover, we have fifteen years of dinners behind us as a couple – to suddenly transform this important family time into a battleground makes no sense. In answer to Hattie’s point, I could honestly say dinnertime is emotionally important to our fammily, and a highllight certainly of Ian’s day, and often mine as well – so the dinner hour deserves protection.

I also had to come to terms with other various issues, including the reality that it is unlikely we will ever get dinner on the table much before 7 p.m., and this is the approach Ian and I agreed upon:

1. Food from the “adult” dinner will always be a part of Grace’s plate, along with two items we know she enjoys, like blueberries or a cheese stick or applesauce, etc.

2. She can eat whatever she wants from her plate, but we will not honor continued requests for other food.

3. If she’s hungry, a snack before dinner is acceptable. We realize this will impact how much she eats at dinner but again, we dont’ get home in time for a 5:30 supper like so many of my friends I grew up with did.

I can’t claim this process has made dinnertime that much easier, but I will say Grace, Ian and I are all on the same page about it, which feels like something. A big something. Last night, hearteningly, Grace even took bites of some previously spurned chicken and declared it tasty. Ian and I are no longer arguing about dinner, and if feels like our first official family compromise has occurred.

I’m sharing this because I know there are other mamas out there dealing with similar issues, and I thought my friends Katy and Hattie gave really interesting perspectives that I hadn’t thought about before, and their points of view might help other parents really think about the role and importance of dinner in their lives, and help guide them as they make their own family compromises.