Monday, January 9, 2012

Why a Blog is not a Diary

Or, more specifically, I am writing about why my blog is not a diary. Now, I well know that when blogs originated in the 1990's, back when they were still called web logs, they commonly were described as personal web pages that either served as a personal diary or as a repository to store (and comment about) links and information found on the Internet. Back then at the newborn baby stage of the social media revolution, people valued the utility of having a paperless personal writing and filing space, and few people envisioned the development of the interconnected social web in which we are now enmeshed, where we not only find and consume information but also write to/sing to/share images with an audience across the globe, and mash-ups are the new black. Back in those early days, it seemed perfectly safe to write anything online, as people just didn't imagine: a) having an audience actually read their stuff, and b) the permanence of postings in such an ephemeral-seeming medium.

So that takes us back to my original implied question, and the answer is quite simple. My blog is not a diary because what I'd write in a diary would be the kind of stuff that I would not want anyone whom I know to read. (I don't really care about strangers; they can read whatever.) Some people who read my blog or who might do so in the future are people I know or might come to know someday. Therefore, I take care not to write the the whining, self-pitying, despairing, or angry kinds of things that that I wouldn't normally say to my broad circle of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances, but that I would typically put in a private diary.

For me, a diary is a place to work through difficult things: emotions, relationships, important decisions, and self-critiques. There's quite a bit of misery in my diary (an old fashioned paper and pen type), and not many joys, pithy observations, or intellectual analyses. I save those latter kinds of writing or discussion to share with people, for venues that potentially have an audience, whether one individual, a set of colleagues, or potentially anyone in the world. I hope for and value feedback and discourse relating to those ideas. But I save the ugly stuff for myself alone, in my diary.

Probably I'm a bit old-fashioned in cordoning off a private writing space like that. After all, this is the age of reality TV, and of doing whatever is necessary to get as many blog hits as possible, even if it involves acting out or exhibitionism. Although it may have been said that every person has a book in them, in this age it seems more accurate to say every person's story is a soap opera open to the world.

I'd love to hear what you think about boundaries of public versus private material in online writing. Do you have personal boundaries around what you write online? Why, and what are they?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Never Feed Your Dogs Mexican Pie

This Christmas season, we had two of our kids home for the holidays. My middle daughter visited from a distant city, where she is in the final year of her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and my son, the youngest, has just completed his first semester away at university. It was both bitter-sweet and fuzzily nostalgic, as this was our last Christmas together in the log house.

I have accepted a job elsewhere, and my husband and I will sell the house and move away in the Spring. It is not just any old house, but a unique home constructed of huge cedar logs, with hardwood floors, stained glass windows, skylights, and 25 foot vaulted ceiling. I have a yard full of fruit trees, a greenhouse, and an organic vegetable garden that I have developed from scratch.

Also, this isn't just any old town. It is in a beautiful part of Canada, surrounded by mountains and wild rivers. We have wonderful friends here and deep roots. It is going to be hard to leave. Both kids spent their teen years growing up here. For them, Christmas 2011 might be the last time they ever spend in the log house that used to be their home. Both of them wondered aloud whether they would even come back to visit this town again after we move (it is in a fairly remote, out-of the way location).

Career-wise, I have to move on; it is time. I am thrilled by the opportunity that my new job presents. I know that we are moving to a place that will be wonderful in its own way, and that we will meet new people, and entice our old friends to come and visit us. Although change can be stressful, it is also exciting, rejuvenating, and necessary for growth.

Over Christmas, we temporarily put aside all of the fretting and preparations for the move, and decide to savour our time together. We enjoyed a family Christmas in the log house, complete with all our little traditions and the tallest, skinniest Christmas tree that we could find (high vaulted ceiling; tiny living room). We spent lots of time with friends, and cooked a lot and ate a lot.

I tried to cook things that my kids especially like, as well as the kinds of meals that they might not normally cook for themselves. So, as well as the full turkey dinner (two of them, actually), we had a roast beef dinner, local wild salmon, turkey pie, and so on. I asked my son (who was especially homesick for home cooking) if there were any special meals that he really missed and would like me to make. Homemade hamburgers and Mexican pie were two of the items on his list. (Ha! You were wondering when I was going to get around to mentioning the Mexican pie, weren't you?)

So let me tell you about Mexican pie. It is not a complicated gourmet recipe. It is something that I clipped out of a magazine years ago. Basically, you simmer together sauteed onions, kidney beans, canned corn, a large can of tomatoes, and chili powder, transfer it to a large baking pan, cover that with a cornmeal crust of cornmeal, eggs, and milk, then cover it all with plenty of grated cheese, and bake it. Easy peasy.

Anything with melted cheese is high on my son's list, but I think he has a special soft spot for Mexican pie because he associates it with Halloween, his favourite holiday second only to Christmas. One Halloween, a long time ago when I was a harried single parent of young children, I raced home from work and threw together a Mexican pie so it could be in the oven baking while I was helping the kids get their costumes ready. Friends came to collect my son for trick-or-treating, and ended up staying for supper. We had plenty, and they hadn't eaten yet. After that, my son used to ask for Mexican pie every Halloween, and more often than not, his friends would join us for dinner before going out to fill up on candy. So maybe that is why Mexican pie has a special place in his heart.

Mexican pie might be a fine meal for teenaged boys, but I do not recommend feeding to dogs. We have two dogs, both greedy little plate-lickers. After dinner the other day, we allowed the dogs to clean up the leftover scraps of Mexican pie. Unfortunately, we discovered that beans with their flatulence-inducing, bowel-loosening properties, do not agree with dogs. It was not pretty, and the dogs are not very popular with my husband at present.

So feed your children well, but never feed your dogs Mexican pie.