OK. Is it just me, or do other people sometimes come away from a trip through The Land o' Blogs feeling just the tiniest, teeninsiest bit bummed? As in thinking, "My god, my life is pathetic. Mother was right; I should have married the doctor and moved to Topeka."
I don't spend a lot of time surfing around, reading random blogs and looking at people's photographs. I should, but I don't have time. The truth, of course, is that I could make the time (sleep is overrated, and who really needs to eat?), but I haven't, and I won't because, frankly, it depresses me. Maybe it does you, too. Or maybe it's just me, and maybe I need to get out more.
People's blogs, the blogs of people whose names we've all heard and whose books we've read and photographs we've admired--those blogs are full of Exciting News! New Projects! Fabulous Parties! They're filled with adventures in Argentina and speaking engagements in front of groups to which we've always secretly hoped to belong. There's news of new workshops and ebooks and online classes, all with fabulous photos and dozens of glowing comments from admiring and excited friends and fans.
We're taking all this in, sitting in front of the computer in a ratty concert t-shirt from 1987, drinking a can of ginger ale because, suddenly, for some odd reason, we can no longer eat pizza with impunity, and what's that all about, anyway? We look at everyone else's fabulous online lives and wonder if, maybe, the rest of the world has left us behind.
Short side trip: Just the other day I read some posts about some online snit between some people--a long-time editor and a new writer--and down at the end, a friend of the new writer, supporting her against the evil actions of the editor, said, derisively, "Old people. Gah." It yanked me to a dead stop. Until then, I had been thinking only about experience: long-time editor, brand-new writer. I hadn't considered age, as in "actual years on the planet." And then I realized that that right there is a sign of age: when you're young, age is everything. The younger you are, the more it matters. Remember when it was a big deal that, no, you weren't four; you were four and a HALF? Or when it was a big deal if you were 15 and dating someone 18 (something that never would have been allowed to happen in my house, even though that's the age difference between The EGE and me, not that either one of us ever brings that up in a little bit of a nyah-nyah-nyah-you're-an-OG kind of way. Of course not). And to twenty-somethings, it means rather a lot if you're over 40. I'm reminded of this all the time in conversation, and all I can do is think that everyone, eventually and if they live long enough, changes the way they think about age.
Anyway, this isn't about age, never mind that The Land o' Blogs is colored by the blush of youth. This is about those fabulous lives, the ones that make you despair of ever accomplishing anything so fabulous. If you read enough, you'll begin to think that everyone else everywhere is doing and having and being and going, all while you're sitting there reading about it.
Sure. Some people's lives truly are fabulous, in whatever way you define that. And all of us should craft a life that *we* our own selves find fabulous. But those lives you read about? Don't you wonder how so many of them can be so exciting, so flawless? Oh, sure, there's the occasional post about how they were worried about their baby's trouble with teething and lost a night's sleep but look: aren't those tiny little teeth adorable? And so worth it! And then the blogger goes on to wax eloquent about the trials and tribulations of new motherhood in such a way that you're ready to sign up for in vitro, never mind that you just got the last of your own kids into community college after paying off her parole officer. Or she writes about her divorce, sharing her innermost feelings and explaining how it was truly a blessing, deep down, because she's never felt so free and been so filled with creative energy. No hint of impending financial doom or of catching the jerk in the hot tub with her cousin.
And do they even still make hot tubs?
You read about people being invited to participate in things that, until that minute, you'd 1) never heard of and 2) normally would have no interest in, but suddenly, suddenly, you want nothing more than to be invited. But you're not. You're left out, the girl who didn't get invited to the end-of-the-semester slumber party on the beach.
You know those photographs of bowls of Cheerios that make the cereal look so mouthwateringly yummy that you're in there digging through the pantry to see if you accidentally have a box? You know that, sure, those are actual Cheerios, but all that cool, creamy "milk" is actually white glue, artfully puddled to resemble milk. You know that, but it doesn't keep you from salivating.
Many blogs are like that: they have a base of realness, of real crunchy goodness, but it's entirely supported by a whole bunch of Elmer's glue. Popular blogs, just like websites and Facebook profiles and that tedious application you sent in to Match.com, are carefully crafted and polished and tweaked to a fare-thee-well. There are tutorials and magazines, workshops and groups and columns and gurus, all explaining exactly how to Grow Your Blog! Gain Followers! Raise Your Stats! There are surveys that track what kinds of things will get more pageviews and what kinds of topics are the death knell for blogs (I don't know what those are, but I'm guessing things like tapeworm infestation and cysts are pretty high on the list). There's so much advice out there: how to stage photo shoots, because Every Post Must Have a Photo. How to drive readership. Don't be too wordy! Link to everyone. How to create an online presence. On and on and on and on.
After a while, after you get over thinking there's this huge party and everyone else has been invited and you're stuck at home baby-sitting your nephews, after you get past that, you begin to wonder: is there any there there? Is any of this real, or has it all been crafted like the personalities of the contestants in the Miss America Pageant? (Because I don't know about you, but I don't believe every one of those girls has wanted to Serve the Homeless since she got out of diapers. But that's just me.)
And then there's the art, the projects, the stuff these people are making. You look at it, and you know it's been featured in books and magazines and online galleries and shows, and you look and you look and, frankly, you just don't get it. It looks just like X's stuff, which looks just like Y's stuff. Same colors, same facial expressions, same text, same theme.
Put it all together, and you start to believe there is this World, where everyone else seems to be dancing in time to the music, all on the beat and moving smoothly like one of those very, very ritualized dances from The Court of Louis the XIV, while you're over there in the coatroom doing the frug. Meaning nobody is ever, ever going to ask you to dance. Because you're the only one who remembers the frug.
Which, by the way, I was surprised to discover is not pronounced the way I'd always pronounced it, rhyming with "rug." Nope. It's "froog." Huh.
Anyway. What you have to keep in mind as you're surfing around The Land of Blogs is that everybody puts their best foot forward. Duh. They're not going to tell you about the boring bits, the ugly bits, the hugely disappointing bits. Sure, they'll talk of disappointment, but it's almost always in that "sure, I was devastated for a week, but then we went to Cozumel, and I'm so much better off without that contract after all." Or maybe they do, and their soul-baring is so intense, so leavened with humor, so tinged with pathos, that you're sucked in and ready to send in a donation to help with the therapy when you read that the blogger has just signed a multi-year contract for a daytime talk show and her first book has been translated into 43 languages.
Many people are like me, dragged into blogging because Establishing an Online Presence it mandatory in the world of publishing. They're invested in having people read and return to their blogs. For me, it turned into Something Fun for Me To Do. Most people who get dragged into it, though, are more focused on their purpose. They work hard to post things that will work to their benefit, designing banners and filling sidebars and posting, posting, posting. In some cases, life becomes about the blog: having adventures planned in advance so they'll be bloggable, staging family photo shoots to be posted in installments; having conversations with friends just so they can be posted as Actual Dialog.
(This is one reason I don't carry my camera with me everywhere: I don't want my life to be about Photos for the Blog, because that's just scary.)
Once upon a time, people thought their lives were pretty much like the lives of most other people. They didn't travel much, and they lived in neighborhoods where people were pretty much like they were, with similar jobs and houses and cars. Then there came movies and tv and magazines, showing other lives, people with great teeth and fabulous cars and Three-Story Houses (because you can't, apparently, have a fabulous life in a split-level or a standard ranch). Suddenly we all began to doubt our own lives, the things we were interested in, the way we lived. Other people had more, were doing more, liked the same sort of style and art and entertainment. If you were savvy enough to realize that this was not about Other People's Lives but was, instead, about advertising, you might have been able to shake your head and keep on wearing the Bermuda shorts with the black socks, perfectly happy in your own special dorkiness.
And then came blogs, where even more people were posting about their lives and their stuff, and then you began to think maybe you were wrong. Maybe it's NOT about advertisers wanting you to want stuff you don't have and maybe it IS about everyone else just having a way better life than you do. It certainly seems so, what with this hundreds and thousands of bloggers, all leading amazing, entrancing, adventurous lives. Maybe you were wrong.
Nah. You were right the first time: it's all advertising. You know that. The most popular blogs aren't just raw, unedited glimpses into someone's life. Of course not. They're carefully crafted--often by someone who's paid to do so, at least in the designing-and-setting-up stage--to portray the blogger in a certain light and to make readers *think* they're getting an inside peek.
What to do? Well, I'm certainly not going to tell you to quit reading blogs. Duh. Then I'd be here all by myself, and lord knows I couldn't find anyone new to read what I write because I've violated who-knows-how-many-rules right here, being way, way too wordy and actually typing the words "tapeworm" and "cysts." So, no, I'm not going to tell you to push away from the monitor. But what I do suggest, ever-so-gently, is that you pay attention to how you feel after you visit the blogs you visit. Are you happy? Filled with energy? Bursting with ideas? Or are you grouchy, cynical, maybe just the tiniest bit depressed? Keep track of those things. See what makes you feel good--I'm thinking funny stories, cool tutorials, detailed process photos of projects, but that's just me--and bookmark those to visit. Resist the temptation to wander aimlessly through Blogland, with its wonderful rippling streams but also its dark and deceptively-enticing caves. It's a big world, and you'll want to have a map.