Don't you blog yet? Even my mom has a weblog, so please don't try to tell me blogging is still some edgy, on-the-fringe form of independent journalism. Blogging is more akin to a tidy little "Your Online Soap Box" kit, a one-stop marginalized Internet celebrity shop.
Once you find a blog that interests you, huge networks of similar blogs are only a click away. Hours will disappear as you descend into layers of links, each one revealing another writer, another perspective . . . each one getting you one click closer to some sort of ultimate truth, to the person whose ideas and values align completely with your own . . . one click closer to God, perhaps? Maybe it just feels that way.
The question most often asked when I reveal my blog (Electrolicious at arielmeadow.com) is, "Don't you feel exposed?" No, I don't—because I choose carefully what I put online. Bloggers can lose jobs or embarrass themselves in front of family (who will find your blog—I promise). There was once a popular site, Dooce.com, where a Los Angeles Web designer named Heather Hamilton wrote hilarious David Sedaris-esque tales about her job—until her employer found her Web site and she was fired.
Simply put, do not blog about work, friends, or sex, drugs, and rock and roll unless you're fully prepared for the consequences. Blogs are not the walls of a bathroom stall. A blog is a home for personal essays, a hub to link articles or memes that pique your interest, even a way to keep in touch with friends and family out of town. But the sticky stuff is best saved for the paper journal you keep in a drawer.
Even if you don't tell anyone about your Web site, the search engine "spiders" will find it. Google will ensure that your blog is uncovered by old sweethearts, high-school classmates, and other long-lost people you don't want to talk to. Recently, a one-night stand from San Francisco circa 1997 found my blog and e-mailed. He hadn't been looking for me, but I guess we listen to the same Internet radio station and have both gone to Burning Man, two things he was searching for when he stumbled across my site. Blogs: making an already small world feel even cozier.
Next lesson? Thicken your skin. Opening yourself up for critique is the price you pay for expressing yourself. Readers interpret the fact that you write about your life online as an invitation to offer their advice, hatred, or accusations. Accept this as the strangely veiled compliment it is: Strangers care about you.
Take, for example, my recent move to Los Angeles. I received dozens of e-mails from concerned readers spewing love like "L.A. is death. L.A. is Bad Negroes, Violent Mexicans, Vicious Caucasians. L.A. is a human melting pot cooked over a flame of burning toxic waste." (All things I already knew, thanks.) I finally felt the need to post a document called "The Memo," which read, "Feedback regarding my impending move to Los Angeles is now overdue and unappreciated. As of today, all disparaging comments about Los Angeles may be made by ME, and ME ONLY. Thank you for your attention to this matter." You've got to be good at drawing boundaries—sometimes it's hard enough to move forward in your life without a peanut gallery of strangers shouting and throwing tomatoes.
For this reason, many bloggers have disclaimers that say, basically, "Fuck off, I don't care what you think." This is all fine and dandy, but the truth is that it's hard not to care when a stranger sends you an e-mail hitting your emotional Achilles' heel. Blogging forces you to develop a thick skin, especially because the harshest criticism always seems to come anonymously. And a quick note for those who want to offer anonymous flames: I realize that the Internet is a place where you can be confrontational, but if you're going to be a dick, at least have some balls.
If you choose to set up a hit counter on your blog, you'll quickly be amazed and disgusted by your referral logs. Referral logs tell you what links were clicked to lead someone to your page, and they provide a frightening window into the dark underbelly of Google searches. Since many blogs are archived monthly into a single HTML document, if you happen to discuss your friend Britney's recipe for asparagus spears in the same month that you link to a page about dogs and wonder what sex your best friend's baby is going to be . . . well, you should be prepared to be the result of a "Britney Spears dog sex" search. Disturbing search requests are so common that there's actually a whole blog devoted to them (searchrequests.weblogs. com). Some of my tamer referrals have included "gay rats photos," "nastiest barbies ever," and "I need a fucking apartment in Morehead City, N.C."
The most common criticism bloggers receive is that we're the narcissists of the online world. The logic seems to be that because we have the gall, the audacity, to think our lives and opinions are interesting enough to put online, we're somehow implying that everyone else is boring . . . an unfortunate, but understandable, misconception. The thing is, some of the best blogs I've ever read belong to some pretty boring people—as I've learned by attending some of the frequent Seattle blogmeets. That extrovert whose blog cracks you up seven days a week frequently turns out to be a shut-in who is only able to mutter sarcastic jokes under his breath while twitching nervously at the thought of eye contact. (I, by contrast, am even louder and chattier in person than I am online.)
Whatever you do, please remember this last lesson: Do not write about not writing. It's akin to standing up at a cocktail party, clinking your fork on your glass, and then shouting, "I really don't have anything to say. I've been busy with boring stuff you don't want to hear about. Thanks for coming to my party." Ooh, the charisma! If you catch yourself having trouble remembering to write, it's probably a good sign that you're meant to be a reader of blogs, not a writer.
My father recently relayed to me that people ask him, "How does your daughter have the time to blog?" which he translated as, "Shouldn't she get a life?" If blogging feels like it takes away from time you have for other things, then it's not a pastime for you. For a compulsive writer like myself—who's either writing, thinking about writing, or wishing I was writing—I don't "take time" to blog. Every time I click the publish button to broadcast my words to whomever's interested, I get that feeling that I'm one click closer . . . to something. Maybe it's just my own banality. Whatever it is, I like it.