Ode to a Little Girl: About parent blogging and vloggingThomas Beller
In his Paris Review interview, Faulkner said, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”
Would he say the same about little girls?
Babble recently e-mailed me asking if I’d be interested in doing videos for their YouTube channel. This cornered me, somehow, and lead me to think about parent blogging, which I have been doing for half a year now.
The culture of digital life moves with such haphazard speed that there is often a kind of pleasure in falling behind. You grasp the tech moment enough so that your life functions, but the churn of The New goes on way up ahead. I held off on Facebook, for example, until six months ago, when I started this blog. (And upon joining things immediately devolved into deep weirdness.)
On the other hand, sometimes you want to be right on the edge of The New, just to feel the wind in your face, the shock of it. And then there is possibility that being early adapter might be interesting, edifying, even lucrative.
Saturday: A long car ride to visit friends and their swimming pool. There was traffic. When we reached our destination Evangeline, my five-year-old, staggered out of the car and said: “Finally! I get to get out of the humiliating car.”
It’s a the sort of bon mot which I’m happy to record. How true that being stuck in traffic on a sunny day is humiliating! (And how sad for her that she doesn’t yet know how to console herself by looking at the even worse traffic in the opposite direction!) Since it was uttered on the same weekend that 5000 blogging mothers were in town, congregating at the Hilton, at a conference call Blogher, it brought me back to the video anxiety.
From what do we hope to gain by doing a parent blog? The question is quite similar to the more general one famously poised about the very act of writing. The famous answer, from Freud: “Money, fame, and the love of women.”
Freud, being a man of his time, failed to take women into the account in his formula. Nevertheless, if only by accident, I think his remark applies to the parent blog. It’s not that men don’t read or write these parent blogs. But the main audience is women. Parent blogging is a proclivity, a hobby, a literary form, a therapy. Also – because parents must be practical minded – it’s a business.
The closing remarks at Blogher began, “We paid over 4,250 bloggers 17 million dollars in revenue!”
Last week I went to a party filled with parent bloggers at which someone described the form as, “a cross between writing and purging.”
A purge can suggest a confession. But it also suggests getting rid of something. A cleanse.
What are all the parent bloggers getting rid of? On the positive side I would put: their sense of isolation, their anxiety about anonymity, their desire for the many complicated tasks of motherhood (or the tasks associated with motherhood, which are often done by fathers, let it be said) to be recognized.
On the negative side, I would venture that they, and I, are eroding a sacred space of childhood, one in which play, development, crisis, and the formation of self exist in a bubble of family space in which awareness of the outside world, of someone is watching, in minimal.
(Poopy! poopy! poopy!)
Every fiction writer, memoirist, journalist, has to wrestle with the notion that what they write might upset those close to them. “A writer is always selling someone out,” is Joan Didion’s famous remark. Janet Malcolm has also written about journalists approaching a subject by gaining their trust, “and betraying them without remorse.”
But a parent blogger does not relate to their children like a journalist does to their subject. And though I initially felt hesitant about publicizing my children’s experience on the blog, I found some solace in the idea that what I was expressing was, ultimately, even with the occasional snapshot thrown in, my experience, my version of their life. I am the one giving it shape in words.
Video is different, though. Holding a camera is not the same act of authorship as creating a scene with language.
The other day we had a picnic. The four of us were joined by five others–Marcelle, her son Luc, age 17, Josh and Cheryl, and their son Henri (age 3 months). It was lovely except for the fact that for some reason Evangeline decided to go through the whole event limiting her vocabulary to one word: “Poopy.”
She strung the word together in what sounded like sentences. She uttered it on its own. She ran up to people and shouted it in their face. She was a bit manic. It was unpleasant. I tried ignoring it. I tried having a little talk. I tried stern admonishment. I tried beseeching my wife to help. And now and then, because she is a lively and pretty funny kid, I saw the whole thing as a kind of Dada act of performance art, a kind of Andy Kaufman or Sasha Baron Cohen gesture of radical immersion in a character, and it was hilarious. Then she would say “poopy,” again, and the spell would be broken and I would go back to thinking, “Oh my God please make it stop.”
As it unfolded I kept thinking about what it would look like on video. Having shared this with you may or may not constitute a slight betrayal of Evangeline. But it is my version. On video would it seem hilarious, or dark, or disturbing, or boring? Some mix, certainly. But it would be her performance, her video. Of course kids today mug for cameras all the time. And Evangeline is obsessed with movies and has spoken of wanting to be either “A filmer,” or “Someone who is filmed.” I suppose an infant on video isn’t that different than a cat. And by the age of eight or ten, kids can be totally aware that they are on camera and on record. But the three to six year old stage seems problematic, though maybe I just think that because that is where we are now.
The illusion of verisimilitude that comes with video seems a bit sinister to me. It is a way of snatching a piece of our children’s childhood in the name of preservation, as though we are museum curators (we are!), and appropriating it for the purpose of profit. No consent form needed.
Sometimes I think parenthood contains within it a tug of war between parent and child–with childhood itself as the rope.
Maybe because the children themselves are snatching so much of the childhood we once had. That we held onto, smuggled into our middle age. And we would like a little bit of it back.
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