Friday, January 25, 2013

A Hundred Different People: Why I blog

This blog has been running since 2005, with a small but loyal readership and occasionally a whole bunch of hits when I talk about something specific (although a lot of the people who read my post about ‘Choice Feminism’ seemed, ironically, to have found me while googling ‘Women’s Shoes’).

Over these seven-and-a-bit years, the concept and the motivation for the blog have evolved pretty much non-stop. In the beginning I mostly talked about my day, my problems with my partners, my frustration at work- short posts, rather like a diary written by someone who nonetheless wants their diary to adhere to basic rules of writing style. 

This was gradually replaced by what I have come to see as my blog signature- articles about world phenomena, social events, movements, news stories, which made me so frustrated or furious I felt I had to write. Sometimes just lists, sometimes whole, developed articles which nonetheless would have been singularly inappropriate for any other news outlet because of their blatant bias, lack of verifiable sources and tendency towards personal anecdote. At certain points I would have liked to write publishable pieces, but the world of journalism is so inherently awful that this has always been a fairly low priority. 

Then I lived in France, and now in Egypt, and so a certain amount of modest travel journalism has become appropriate. On my Erasmus year in Tours, I witnessed strikes, riots and a million other things that I felt were of interest to my largely UK-based readership, and that they could not access elsewhere. A couple of pieces I wrote were picked up by Tours-based readers, and circulated on social networking sights as authentic representations of our struggle within the universities. The difference between Cairo and Tours is one of difference- I feel as at home in France as in London, and that I have enough investment into Life in France to comment reasonably objectively, but in Cairo I’m not yet ready to take on a culture and a society which is so new in several keys ways (although totally the same in others)... not yet, anyway. 

When I’m ready, I want to write about feminism in Egypt (wrote a university essay about it once, but that was about the nineteenth century so didn’t tread on any toes), about the divide between rich and poor, about the legacy of the revolution and about religion and being an English atheist here. It’s obvious that to contribute anything at all to debate on these subjects I need to be well informed and comfortable with my facts, so for the moment I’ll probably stick to general ‘My News from Egypt’ diary entries. 

Lastly, I occasionally use this blog to debate things that are not yet clear in my head: a good example is the Slutwalk discussion two years ago. Guest bloggers, such as Elvis Presley, and long, interesting comments helped me to develop some vague notions I had into a clear policy on Slutwalk, and generally positioned me and my commenters within a massive internet debate on the subject. 

Anyway, while I don’t really intend to make this blog any more conceptually unified than it already is, (and I freely admit it’s all over the place) I did start thinking today about why we want to write our diaries online, publicly available to anyone who chooses to search for them. Partly it’s self-promotion and exhibitionism, yet there’s something more. My good friend Peter, in a particularly open, confessional post, said that there were two Peters, the good, hard-working one with the good grades, and the wild, unpredictable one with the tattoos and the partying. A blog - even a scatty, random, multi-faceted blog like this one - is a way to confront and sometimes to cohere these multiple aspects of a personality. 

How does this work? Well, often the different sides of one’s personality are strongly based on the people we know. We change for different people yet every side we show is perfectly real and genuine. An extreme example would be the model child I still try to be for my grandmother, or the fact that I habitually get a lot more drunk with some friends than with others. My accent also varies, as does my outspoken-ness, my use of swearing, my tact, the amount of personal information I divulge. At the same time I keep an inner core which remains the same- my politics don’t change but the manner in which I express them might; my moral code tends to remain the same; I usually try to treat people in the same way. This is not just a reflection on how people view me, or different images I try to project: when I’m with my grandmother I genuinely am a good girl, with the thoughts and feelings of a good girl. 

All these people inside me, sometimes conflicting, sometimes straining at their prison bars, reflect the people around me. Yet they are me, in a manner which is almost more authentic than this outlet of words, smoke, mirrors. But a blog functions like a message in a bottle, floating in an ocean where it’s almost guaranteed to wash up somewhere. The inability to predict who will read it and when and why gives a danger to posting, but simultaneously removes the need to be any of the people I am. The text is a barrier to my inner self, whether I’m writing to my friends or to strangers in another country. 

Sometimes I wonder if I should have left the blog behind long ago, launched myself into a media career or retrained as a journalist (or possibly just got on with my life). But the British published press is so revolting, and the lot of the young, idealistic public commentator or features writer so horrible (I won’t give examples but I’m sure you can think of more than one bright young blogger who now fills up the central pages of a broadsheet with mindless nonsense) that I’m happy to be where I am, throwing my bottle into the ocean, occasionally getting a smile in return, and as free as any desert island scribe could ever be. A wise man once said ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’.

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