The Personal and the Vulnerable

This is the last week for the Won’t You Be My Neighbor series here at Coffees & Commutes, at least for a little while. I hope you’ve enjoyed the variety of posts from all my favourite bloggers as much as I’ve enjoyed hosting them. After you read this post, please head on over to The Never-True Tales, where I’m delighted to be featured today as Amy’s neighbour.

Please join me in welcoming Kristen from Motherese. Many of you I know, are already loyal readers. I’m certain you’ll agree that she is an inspiration and I’m thrilled she was willing to share here. I visit her blog every day. It’s actually one of my first stops. She consistently writes thought-provoking posts that affect me on many levels. But I’m most grateful for how she pushes the envelope and, by extension, inspires me to try and do the same. This post is the perfect example. It’s as if she stole my own thoughts, and then did such a better job of articulating them for you. This-what she writes here-is what blogging is all about for me.
The Personal and the Vulnerable
After my younger son was born, I started a blog to keep our families and long-distance friends abreast of the life and times of our growing family. From the moment I hit “publish” on that first post, I started thinking more and more about what information to broadcast and what details to keep private. Ultimately, I decided to use our first names and to include pictures. I figured that those were safe parameters – especially since the blog would have an average readership of 5-7 people (4 grandparents plus 1-3 friends bored at work). This fall, as I prepared to launch Motherese (and was hopeful that its audience would be at least slightly larger), I happened upon “Guardians of Their Smiles,” an article in the New York Times that addressed some of the very issues I was thinking about. In it, parents aired their concerns about posting images of their children online “in the social networking age, when Facebook is rapidly taking the place of the baby book.” My husband – generally more cautious about these matters – and I discussed the article and agreed that we still felt comfortable with our approach to our family’s blog. BUT, I offered and he concurred, I would chart a different course with Motherese.
In this new space, I would remove the personal, while airing more of the vulnerable.
Personal. Vulnerable.
Two words that feel the same, are often used to mean the same thing. But to me, the difference between them is a meaningful one, especially for the type of community and interactions I want to create. To me, personal details are actually not all that sacred or even private. My acquaintances know my name, where I live, what my kids’ names are, where I used to work. Heck, the people at the bank know my most personal information (including my social security number, that Holy Grail of the personal) and I don’t even know them. But what they don’t know – what I don’t want them to know and what it would be hard if they did know – is the vulnerable stuff. The hopes. The anxieties. The prejudices. The irrationalities. The hazy hazards that float before my mind’s eye as I lay down for the night. Only my very closest friends know the vulnerable stuff.
So then why air all of that vulnerable stuff to people I don’t know now and may never meet in person? Why say these things that have gone unsaid to even good friends? Why not just say them out loud to a live (if not studio) audience?
Because the Not Saying creates safety. It buffers relationships from emotional storms that can rock the friendship boat. The Not Saying puts up barriers that help armor our hearts and our egos against judgment. The Not Saying builds a fence. (And I’ve heard that good fences make good neighbors.) And we all need those Not Saying relationships. We need those easy friends and breezy acquaintances to chat with, to share coffee (or leftover apple juice and Goldfish crackers) with, to giggle with. Just as we can’t be present in every moment without risking emotional overload, it would be exhausting to relate to every other person on the Saying level.
But, while I absolutely need them, I have enough Not Saying friends. And there are still things that need Saying. So though I may not share the names of my sons or the town where I live, or post pictures of my boys’ first steps, there are few things more vulnerable to me than the words I write here every day. These are the parts of myself that I have just begun to understand and the Saying helps me get deeper into those places.
Life is generally lived in the Not Saying realm, but it’s in the Saying space that truth is found.
And the lovely thing is that there seem to be ears out there Listening. Perhaps even more than 5-7 pairs.
How do you balance the personal and the vulnerable in your online persona? In your life offline?
Please leave a comment for Kristen below and remember to visit her at Motherese. Her writing will challenge and change your perspective on many things.

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