this is my response
So ‘Why do I blog?‘ was where I left it just before the turn of the year. Giving myself space to break out of what was threatening to become a dead habit. I was hoping that I’d find the answer by checking in with the experts: firstly, those of you that read my blog. Secondly, other writers, especially those that write about writing. I found some interesting things that I’ll share with you below.
But ultimately I also found, unsurprisingly, that there is no answer out there to whether I should or shouldn’t blog. That all I was trying was to get permission from others, their approval, their blessings for me to put my thoughts out there publicly – when ultimately I have to give myself that permission and decide: does blogging sit with my values, questions, truths? Does it resonate with what I want my life to be about? The answer to that is of course only within myself. I’ve decided last week that I’ll attempt to write my own manifesto to help me sharpen my focus on what those values, questions and truths are. I will share it here – but that’s Step 2 and will only happen after Step 1 because I do things in order.
I got a range of responses to my question ‘why blog?‘ and ‘range’ here is reflected more in the way these comments were passed on to me – through the blog comment box, by email, by handwritten letter, in person over a cuppa – than the actual content. All comments were by other women. I don’t want to conclude anything from that other than that I’ve got a large network of women and some of them read my blog. The feedback was incredibly encouraging and supportive and, again unsurprisingly, without any clear directive: my women readers felt that I should have the freedom to write or not to write, be guided by choice and doing it if I want to and inspired by what I want from it.
I’m the first person not to give advice and instead to try and support people to (re)connect with their own inner wisdom in response to a question they have, so in a way I’m grateful that this is how people approached my question as well. However, a nice clear directive is deliciously tempting – I’d have so welcomed it in this case! The joy of an easy shortcut through a vast field of complicated hurdles. But I know it’s likely not to get through to a path on the other side where a much larger hurdle might actually await in the form of gigantic trees, thorny hedges, an army of fire-spitting dragons or something much more defeating than all those hurdles in the vast field would have been…
The other feedback I got was much more surprising: those women readers like my blog because it keeps them in touch with what happens in my life, with my experiences, reflections, observations. And these reflections and observations they found at times surprising, inviting, stimulating, getting them to discover things they didn’t know about or engaging with perspectives they weren’t aware of. Monica enjoys what I ‘have to say‘ and Angela values that I’m adding ‘a voice that ensures a bigger diversity‘. That was amazing to hear because that’s what I’d like my blog to be: an opener.
the other writers
Still, I didn’t trust that feedback enough so went to find some more reasoning for blogging in the writings of writers who write about writing – surely they would know why I should blog! It started slightly coincidentally when the free time over the Xmas holidays gave me headspace to catch up with my pile of books, the very top one being ‘Three Guineas‘ by Virginia Woolf. It was published in 1938 and is essentially a very long letter to an unnamed male friend who asked her advice on ‘how … are we to prevent war?‘ I loved her complex, rich, sharp and at the same time light and witty feminist critique of war and of those male politics, systems and at that time fascist thinking that would lead to it. I’m not even going to attempt to summarise the book here. But some interesting themes for my own quest were that Virginia Woolf suggests that despite all the challenges of the system of paid work women need to ‘earn money in the professions’ but the dilemma for her was that ‘most of the professions seem to us highly undesirable’ and it’s not easy to ‘remain civilized human beings: human beings … who wish to prevent war’. The one professions she considered the least ‘bloodthirsty‘ was that of literature. Writing. Yet even there she was aware of the dangers of what she calls ‘contamination‘ or ‘adultery of the brain’ which in her opinion is an almost unavoidable consequence of having to write for money i.e. ‘if newspapers were written by people whose sole object in writing was to tell the truth about politics and the truth about art we should not believe in war, and we should believe in art’. For Virginia Woolf ‘the best critics [are] private people’. Given that she is still in favour of paid work she concludes her letter with setting clear references as to the only way women can help to prevent war be it by writing or contributing other paid for skills: ‘we can best help you … by not repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and creating new methods’.
This could easily be seen as an overly simplified analysis of women-language versus men-language and having by now understood a little bit of Virginia Woolf’s incredible capacity for complex thinking I’m very certain that this isn’t what she’s trying to say. At this point I’d like to bring in another much shorter essay: in ‘The Public Voice of Women‘ Mary Beard outlines how historically, beginning in ancient Greece, women’s voices have been silenced and how today we still have a strong tradition of rhetorics building on classic ideals around ‘the voice of authority’. Mary Bear is interested in the nature of authority: what creates authority and how have we been conditioned ‘to hear it?‘. She tangents into the decision by public women in leadership positions (like Margaret Thatcher) to take voice training in order to lower their voices in line with the ancient and current perception of low voice equals high authority – a solution that might work for the individual woman but obviously only perpetuates the status quo. Mary Beard’s conclusion is that of a need for raising consciousness and being ‘critically self-aware‘ with how we speak and how we hear.
In line with both Mary Beard’s and Virgina Woolf’s reflections, though with a focus on personal transformation and healing rather than political transformation, I was struck by Monica Suswin‘s observation of ‘women owning their words, experiencing being listened to and taking part in a discussion stimulated from their own writing’. That experience of being listened to is certainly what I got from putting my ‘why blog?‘ question out there – and it is powerful and I’m grateful to you for it!
Yet, I realise that I’m kind of hiding a bit behind the gender line here i.e. exploring why women write and should write – when actually I’m increasingly uneasy with being merely or overly much seen as ‘woman’ as opposed to the whole me with all the many puzzling aspects of my identity. These also include my masculine sides e.g. the urge to have a public voice which according to Mary Beard would have been considered very un-feminine and maybe not only in ancient times.
Ultimately I believe that we all have a voice that needs to be heard and each of them in their own way – I love the originality of Virginia Woolf’s voice in her essays where she takes liberty with academic writing by meandering around a subject, weaving in anecdotes, biographies, her own experience and newspaper articles. I found Caitlin Moran’s voice in How to Be a Woman excitingly refreshing: her commitment to authenticity, vulnerability and accepting as the only true point of reference her own experience. I literally loved Rebecca Johnson’s voice in her opening ‘speech’ at the recent Wrap Up Trident event in central London where she expressed her horror about the statement by nuclear scientist that the risk of a nuclear or climate catastrophe has moved to three minutes to twelve by singing a song with exactly that length of time. There she stood on a little stage in front of thousands of people next to Westminster Parliament and sang. From responses around me that’s not something she usually does as a public speaker. And from my own experience of it she did this with a passion and strength that didn’t have anything to do with a desire to show off and did have all to do with her deeply held convictions about peace and her willingness to use her gift of singing to inspire change.
All of these writers and speakers chose to share their voice in a way that felt most true for them – contributing to a more diverse discourse and the breaking up of classical conditioning.
What’s my gift?
My housemate Val came back from a festival once where she was struck by a question someone had scribbled inside the walls of a toilet cubicle: ‘What is your gift to the world?‘ It prompted a lot of deep conversations at home then, and the question has since come up again and again for me like a buoy dipping in and out of the water.
I’m not sure whether writing is my gift. And I’m not in agreement with Virgina Woolf about it being less bloodthirsty than other professions – having just read yet another thought-provoking and powerful essay by Jan Oberg, though this time not directly about writing but about the recent tragic terror attack on the satirical French journal ‘Charlie Hebdo’ in Paris. I appreciated Jan Oberg’s reflections that violence comes in all sort of disguises: not just easy-to-spot (and condemn) physical violence but also psychological violence – e.g. in writing – or structural violence – e.g. in ‘about 100 years of colonialism, interventionism, chopping up empires‘.
I am however in agreement with Virgina Woolf that media stories are very partial – Jan Oberg agrees, too, and shares the sad finding that ‘Just a couple of days before the Paris massacre PEN in the U.S. published a report – Global Chilling – finding that about 75% of writers report that they are influenced by the NSA … and abstain from taking up certain subjects or perspectives...’
So why do I blog? Because I enjoy it, for a start. Because I feel I’ve got something to say. Because I feel I’m standing in my power when I create written word. Because for me writing is a creative place to reflect and this can sometimes be transformational. And ultimately because I can: I’ve got the freedom to do it and to do it purely for the sake of writing.
The actual question is then actually that of how I use this blog so it’s in alignment with my own values, my questions and my truths (and not that of Virginia, Mary, Jan, Monica, Angela much as I highly value your insights). But we agreed that that’s Step 2 and I’ll explore this another time…