On Journals, Blogging, Letters and Constructing the (Writing) Self

The other day I was trying to catch up on reading the blogs I follow. One of the first things you learn as a blogger is the need to connect with other bloggers and read their posts. It’s not as easy as it sounds especially if, like me, you discover a blog, read one or two posts then follow it because it’s so interesting and well written and the blogger sounds like an astounding person you’d love to meet one day.

One of my former colleagues believes blogging is the offshoot of the personal diary or journal. I’m not so sure.  dsc_0319
I started keeping a journal thirty years before my colleague was born and I’d never write a post that even remotely resembles my journal entries. There are some things that just shouldn’t be made public. Granted, a lot of blogs are tell-all rants about the seedy and not so seedy side of life. Plenty of bloggers share moments of misery and loss, but I question whether this means blogging and writing a journal is the same thing. I will admit bloggers, like the folk who write a journal, are in the business of ‘constructing the self’, which is academic-speak for creating a persona, a fabricated self a blogger feels comfortable about appearing on a screen thousands of kilometres from home. I believe, however, that the self I have constructed for my blog is more carefully drawn than the self that inhabits the abandoned pages of my journals.

The other reason I don’t think writing a blog post is the same as writing a journal entry is because I feel blog posts are similar to letters. I have 80 or more followers (thank you, one and all) and I probably follow as many blogs. Not all my readers read all of my posts and I certainly don’t read every blog I follow – while I was catching up the other day I was interrupted – but, as all writers are admonished, I believe most of us learn to write, as much as possible, for our readers. This means, in the case of a blog post, writing so our readers feel it was written specifically for them.  Blogging, in much the same way as writing a novel, and unlike journal writing, is about supply and demand, specifically meeting the demands of readers. Yes, there are plenty of instances where journal writers share their private musings (or they are read, often clandestinely, by lovers, intrusive parents or inquisitive siblings) but bloggers want to be read, they want to form connections, they want to be shared.

Bloggers develop blogging friendships. I certainly have, and I’ve renewed old relationships (Hi, Kathy), so I often feel as if I’m writing a letter to my friends.   dsc_0323Not a newsy, chatty letter about the family’s latest escapades, but a letter that shares my ideas, the issues that concern me, my interest in therapeutic writing … which raises another point …

… is blogging therapeutic? I think it can be; shaping an event or feeling and sharing it with others can, if handled well,  help with healing. I doubt many bloggers feel they are alone in the world; for most of us there will be someone out there who’s interested in what we have to say, who reads what we write and who cares. Keeping a journal, while it helped in many ways, didn’t stop me from feeling alone, which is what writing for no one but oneself can do. My journal became a self-fulfilling rehash of personal (often self-induced) misery, which is why, despite intending to, I barely referred to my journals when I wrote my memoir.

The woman who wrote those journals is a mere echo of the woman I am now and I am an echo of the woman I will be. janetp03Blogging, as confessional and personal as it might be,  is a larger act of rebellion than writing a private journal ever was and believe me, I thought journal writing was truly rebellious. I was even advised by one counsellor to stop because she believed it would harm my relationship.

It’s hard to grasp exactly how massive the ‘blogosphere’ is, let alone imagine how many mega-millions of words are written and shared via blog posts. I am nevertheless content in my minuscule corner of it. I have readers, bloggers and otherwise, that I feel obligated to, not in an onerous, ‘dear me is it time to write another post?’ way, but  in a ‘I wonder what so and so is up to, and if they’d be interested in …’ way. More importantly, and this is a revelation born of knowing I do have readers, I look forward to sharing the (constructed) self who writes my blog; a self now past middle-age, an occasionally confused writer, by turns cynical and sentimental who is grateful to be a part of a sphere where readers and writers are not afraid to be whatever self they choose.

What about you? Are you writing a personal journal that you make public, a letter to far flung or nearby friends or something else entirely?

DRY TIMES, LESSONS FROM A THREE YEAR OLD AND KINDNESS

DRY TIMES

It’s been a slow week as far as writing is concerned. Maybe the ten-day photography challenge wore me out or perhaps it’s simply one of those weeks when words stagger across the computer screen, trip over each other and refuse to form a coherent sentence.

Instead of worrying, we can see these dry periods as an opportunity to doodle about on the page instead of trying to write something ‘serious’. Maybe I should heed the words of the Dalai Lama:

Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.

LESSONS FROM A THREE YEAR OLD

The day before I completed the #developingyoureye photography challenge I handed my grand-daughter my compact, point-and-shoot, carry in your purse, camera. It’s fairly indestructible, so once I showed her how to turn the camera on and what happens when she puts her finger over the lens, I handed her the camera and took her out into our small garden and let her play. Here are some of the results:

A three year old doesn’t compare herself to others, she knows nothing about ‘should’ or ‘ought’ but she does know a lot about play, the sheer delight that comes from doing something because it’s fun.

As I watched my grand-daughter run from one object to the other I was confronted by my desire to ‘make art’ instead of letting myself play and discover. A small garden and a precious child taught me a lot about perspective and how to frame my world.

KINDNESS IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

The Buddha tells us that,

A generous heart, kind speech and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity.

I received a package this morning from my daughter-in-law-who-lives-interstate. Inside were four jars of gluten-free muesli, a loving gift of unexpected kindness. I’ve not been able to spend as much time as I would like with this new addition to our family but this morning I learned she has a kind and generous heart. I am lucky to have her in my life.

The dry (writing) time will end but I expect I’ll continue to learn more valuable lessons from my grand-daughter and my daughter in law. To rephrase the Dalai Lama, not getting what I want made me appreciate what I have.

When was the last time not getting what you wanted turned out to be a stroke of luck?

 

Developing your Eye: Day Ten

Going Monochrome

Today is the last day of this challenge. I’ve enjoyed taking part and I’m extremely grateful for my readers’ interest and positive comments. In addition to learning more about photography and cameras, I’ve discovered some wonderful blogs. Stepping from the world of words, sentences and paragraphs into the world of images, the rule of thirds, f-stops and shutter speeds has opened up a new way of seeing and thinking about my world. Thank you everyone.

I also want to thank my partner who patiently followed me around as I framed and shot some of my pictures and then, as he always does, edited each post. This post, and this photo, is dedicated to him. I took the photograph several years ago and it is my partner’s favourite bridge. Known as ‘City Bridge’, it is part of Adelaide’s central business district’s main thoroughfare. It was proposed in 1929 after floods destroyed three earlier structures and was designed to deal with the increasing volume of traffic entering and leaving the city. Completed in 1931 it is, as can be seen, a concrete structure that also features beautiful lamp fittings and pylons designed by South Australian artist John C. Goodchild.

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#developingyoureye: ‘City Bridge’

In a way, this photograph represents one of my goals: to create a bridge between my writing and the  images I hope to capture with my camera. I still have a lot to learn about creating those images but I hope more of them will appear on this blog.

Developing your Eye: Day Nine

Today’s challenge involved bringing colour into play. We were encouraged to experiment with only one colour, but I can’t resist the starry brightness against the green. I took this shot the same day as I snapped the picture featured on Day Five. I hope it brightens your day in the way it brightened mine.

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#developingyoureye:
 ‘Two Colours with Green’.

Developing Your Eye: Day Eight

Treasure

The day after my grand daughter was born my son, who is a gifted photographer but lacks the time to develop his talents, took this photograph of his new born daughter.

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#developingyoureye: ‘Newborn’

Later that year, while playing around with my camera, I photographed my partner as he prepared our Christmas Dinner, our first one  with our grand daughter.

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#developingyoureye: ‘Paring Knife.’

Both photos are, for me, emblems of the bounty of life but I also like the contrasts between them – the old hands, the new hands (what wonders will they perform?), the sharpness of the paring knife, the tenderness of those tiny, vulnerable fingers.

Photography is, indeed, poetry.

Developing Your Eye Day Five

Today’s Task: Connect

To connect we must fasten, physically unite, join. We must tie and bind, relate and associate, we must as E. M. Forster has said, ‘Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.’

#developingyoureye: 'Connect'
#developingyoureye: ‘Connect’

Yet the connection made possible by these lines and wires is fragmentary, temporal, tenuous.

The earth is a beast tethered by humankind’s inability to endure solitude; there is nothing wrong with connection, what needs to be questioned is the motivation for, and the quality and cost of, the connection. We no longer reach out a hand to another, we press a button. We text but never talk; fearful of our impurities we share only what we can photoshop.

The monolith rising above my house gives me the world on a screen even as it ties me to my throttled patch of the planet … and yet, and yet … how else to re-calibrate the fibres of our subjectivity than by assenting to this thready connection with an Other?

I cannot answer that question.

I don’t have to answer that question.

I can, through laptop, cable and satellite, connect to the world, ask that question and hope for a reply.

Developing your Eye Day Four

Bliss

Our idea of bliss changes. What we once thought of as heavenly can become an embarrassment. The pop group from your teens, the dish you used to prepare (in my case cheese fondue) that you’d turn up your nose at now. Other things remain in your personal library of bliss; a beautiful sunset, holding your first-born in your arms, even though he’s too tall to cradle anymore and you must be content with a hug.

Then there’s the bliss you could never imagine but cannot now do without; the delight that comes from hearing the doorbell ring and knowing your granddaughter has arrived. There’s also the bittersweet bliss of greeting your children from interstate and luxuriating in their smiles despite knowing they’ll leave again in a few days. Photographs fail to capture such moments, which makes today’s #developingyoureye task difficult for me.

What, apart from being with my loved ones, represents bliss? What do I experience that brings me bliss?

Every afternoon at three my partner and I have afternoon tea. One of us will make  Chai, and we often have a piece of cake or a biscuit. Occasionally, though, I’ll indulge a blissfully rich hot chocolate with marshmallows. When I feel the need to raise the bliss a notch or two I’ll serve it in a robustly colourful Mason’s ‘Regency’ cup and saucer.

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Blissfully Wicked Double Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows.

It belonged to my mother and I believe it was her mother’s. There are, as you can see from the photograph below, two such cups and their saucers, but the pink one has a fine crack in it so I only drink from the blue one.

I don’t remember my grandparents using them, but when I take my first sip of chocolate I wonder if they took tea in the afternoon, sitting together in their kitchen, drinking from cups brought from the ‘Old Country.’

My grandfather was from Wales and my grandmother was a Glaswegian. A visit to their home when I was a child was an experience in accents, a concert of emphases, stresses and inflections that delighted the ear even as it sometimes confused the child.

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Mason’s ‘Regency’, England.

When I hear a soft female Scottish voice I remember my grandmother Bell’s beautiful smile that, more often than not, quickly evolved into rich laughter.

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Valentine, Gloria and Isabel.

Perhaps bliss is remembering a loved one’s smile.

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Developing your Eye Day Three

Water

Water: there is much about it that appeals. The fluid, almost magical way it finds its own level, how it soothes and abrades, sustains and dissolves, rests still and deep for years then, during a dry season, simply evaporates. DSC_0001
Water often represents our emotions; we are ‘flooded by our feelings’ or ‘deeply in love’ only to be ‘left high and dry’ when that love seeps away.
Today’s #developingingyoureye task was to try another wide, establishing shot and think about which orientation (vertical or horizontal) works better. I chose a horizontal perspective because I love the wide sweep of a seascape, the sense of something bigger than me, although one of my photos focuses on a small piece of sea grass. Had I decided to take a photo of the creek near our home I might have chosen a vertical format in order to represent its linear and enclosed nature.
DSC_0019  Yesterday was the warmest we’ve had for several months. Adelaideans did what they usually do on winter days when the sun finally makes an appearance: they stroll along the esplanade; sit drinking coffee and reading the newspaper; play beach cricket on the shore. The majority of Australians live, at most, three hours from the beach. It’s where we go for a holiday and many of us celebrate Christmas and certainly New Year at the beach. DSC_9993

Although it’s a big island, Australia is still an island. We are an enclosed, insulated community forced to fly off our island in order to access the rest of the world. Our obsession with the beach, with the sea, is double edged. Our isolation, in part, protects but also confines us.

DSC_9998Perhaps our regular visits to the beach are a form of homage to that enclosure, a homage tempered by the idea of escaping our confines so we can see what the rest of the world is up to.