, ,

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Given my ignorance of country music, I had to Google which singer I needed to credit here (Kelly Clarkson), but the words have been dancing in my head since yesterday, when I spent more than an hour on the internet reading other people’s posts. I wasn’t on Facebook, scrolling through photos and–against my better instincts–envying the Lifestyles of the Organized and Disciplined. Thanks to Blogging 101’s Assignment #3, I was reading about the use of laptops in classrooms, the overuse of words in conversation, the heartbreaking poverty within urban India, and a sweet afternoon spent in a hammock. And I wasn’t just reading: I was–gulp–interacting with other bloggers.

For those not enrolled in Blogging 101, the assignment–“Say ‘Hi!’ to the Neighbors”–was to find five new blogs and five new topics to follow. While it took me a while to get started, I am slowly finding my way about the Blogging 101 Commons and warming up to the Reader. In fact, I’ve found so many interesting blogs to read that I’ve had to force myself to stop reading. I’ve managed to leave a comment or two on a couple of blogs, after steering clear of comments for the past three months. I might even be in danger of becoming a sharer of links. Maybe I’m coming out of my shell?

Here, my son silently observes the gorillas, while I quietly capture him with my camera.

Here, my son silently observes the gorillas, while I quietly capture him with my camera.

Leaving the safety of the sidelines has a bright side and a dark side. On the positive side, it is good for me to quit being what my kids call a “creeper.” Although the term “creeper” as applied to social media is fairly new, I have been a silent watcher for decades. In elementary school, I pored over the mimeographed school directory, checking out whose mother was in charge of the Valentine’s Day party or who had a sibling in my little brother’s class; I devoured old dance recital programs, which featured large ads with photographs: “To Darling Susie from Mamaw and Papaw.” Who were these smiling, costumed children with indulgent grandparents, I wondered, as I imagined myself in their shoes.

Currently, my youngest son and I are listening to Harriet the Spy, a children’s book chronicling the adventures of an eleven-year-old who fills a notebook with intimate facts about her schoolmates and neighbors. I am the grown-up version of Harriet, with the caveat that I don’t keep notes of my observations about people because, in Chaucer’s words, “Murder will out”: unkind words written about others inevitably come to light, sooner or later. (Spoiler alert: in the book, Harriet’s private composition book has just become public property!)

I took this picture at the San Francisco Zoo.

This wordless admonition to visitors of the San Francisco Zoo made me laugh at the time.

Unlike the fictional Harriet, who is unafraid to speak her mind, I carried my tendency to observe without comment into the classroom. My inability to speak up in class, particularly in seminars, sabotaged my doctoral degree almost as much as my failure to start a dissertation. The only classes I remember talking in had about three students–and I was the one who had done the reading. My silence was rooted in self-censorship: as I saw it, my thoughts or reactions weren’t worthy of being spoken out loud. Not everything that my fellow students were saying was brilliant, of course, but they didn’t hit the “pause” button before opening their mouths. When another student did say something foollish, the professor, rather than castigating the student, often welcomed the remark, which gave the professor an opportunity to make his point. The rest of the class soon lost respect for the blundering student, yet the dedicated, articulate student was perceived as a threat. No wonder I censored my thoughts before raising my hand. In the classroom, I became–to use another cliché–my own worst enemy.

It has been many years since I sat in a classroom, trying to work up the courage to contribute something. Although the written word has the potential to damage reputation just as much as the spoken word, I feel safer in the blogging world than I ever did in a classroom. Now we come to the dark side of finding a public voice (if, indeed, I have): what if I become that babbling student in the classroom, indiscreet or ignorant? As a newbie blogger, I fear over-sharing (even as I ponder the extent to which this post has gone too far in that direction). Within the safe confines of my home, I am guilty of not censoring myself enough: ask my children or my husband. Here, in my blog, I will inevitably expose my weaknesses.

Silence is not golden in the blogging world. No, I shouldn’t pay forced compliments or click “like” on a post that fails to stir me. But blogging isn’t merely about self-revelation or self-promotion: it is about the exchange of ideas and experiences. Assignment #3 has taught me that a blogger is part of a community–a community in which, ideally, the participants will not mock or betray one another but will share and advise and support.

My son David photographed this group of flamingos--very social birds, according to my limited research.

At the San Francisco Zoo, my son David photographed this flock of flamingos–very social birds that prefer to live in large colonies: sounds like a community of bloggers to me!