Who Owns the Memories?

This article was originally published at Foldedspace on 11 January 2002.

Recently I’ve given a lot of thought to the responsibilities and obligations of a journalist. When I say journalist, I don’t mean a reporter; I mean a person who keeps a journal, or a weblog, or who writes a personal history.

Through my weblogs, I share many of the important events in my life (and, some would say, many of the unimportant events in my life). To what degree am I obligated to edit what I write in a public forum? To what degree am I obligated not to edit what I write here? To what degree is this obligation to the truth in blogging different than the obligation to the truth when I create a scrapbook/album that contains my personal history?

These are tough questions.

I am generally an open and honest person. I see no sense in hiding the truth. However, I recognize that in some cases the truth:

  • may not be productive,
  • may hurt somebody else, and/or
  • may not be mine to share

(There are other cases, too. Sometimes people are morally or legally bound to avoid the truth. If you cannot imagine such a case, you’re not thinking very hard.)

I have a friend who is undergoing a gender change. While this is not a huge component of my life, it is a huge component of his her life. When we spend time together, it becomes a rather large issue between us, for good or ill. This is something that I’d normally be inclined to share at my personal weblog, and certainly in my scrapbook/personal history. Is it something I’m allowed to share, though? Is it something I should share? Tough questions.

In this case, I’ve opted not to discuss the subject in my weblogs. However, I’ve asked (and been granted) permission from this person to incorporate this particular aspect of our relationship into my personal history. I have a greater degree of control over who accesses my personal history, as it’s a physical object — a scrapbook — that I alone grant permission to view. My weblogs are open for the entire world to see.

But even my personal history raises questions about honesty and truth. Where should the line be drawn regarding what I put in my scrapbook? I have another friend that is gay and semi-out. However, he’s not completely out. How much of this should I put in my personal history? It’s always there when I’m with him — it’s a huge component of who he is. It seems senseless to skirt the issue when I’m documenting my life. Yet, is it really my decision?

Another example: I have strong feelings regarding my parents, both positive and negative. Whether I place my positive feelings in my scrapbook is not an issue. Nobody minds reading positive things about themselves. But what about my negative feelings? My father is dead, so it’s less of an issue. I don’t mind putting down the things that bugged me, the things that made our relationship difficult.

Is it fair for me to write only the positive things about my mother and not mention the less flattering things (which are nevertheless a portion of her character, and a portion of my relationship with her)?

Similarly, I have a letter from a friend in which she confesses things that she might consider secret. The letter is very much meant to be communication between me and this friend. However, it is a huge component of my personal history. How can I edit it from my scrapbook? Yet, how do I handle its presence? Do I black out the most provocative lines, so that when others read the history they are left in the dark? Blacking out these lines makes the letter mundane, unworthy of inclusion in my scrapbook. Allowing the lines to remain raises issues regarding secrecy and trust and friendship.

Who owns the memories? How much honesty is too much?

On the Proper Use of ‘Me’ and ‘I’

This article was originally published at Foldedspace on 14 September 2006. I’ve been noticing this error again lately, and so wanted to revisit the subject.

Listen people, this is easy: you do not always use the word “I” when speaking of yourself and another person.

I’m going to be called a grammar Nazi for devoting an entire weblog entry to this, but it’s driving me crazy. Over the past week I’ve seen this error a dozen times — and from smart people who should know better.

What am I talking about? We’re taught from a young age that it’s polite to say:

Jane and I are going to the store.

That’s well and good for the nominative case, when you and Jane are the subjects of the sentence. But it does not work if you and Jane are the objects of the sentence. This sentence is an abomination:

The man gave ice cream to Jane and I.

This is WRONG, and it hurts my brain. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m serious. It drives me insane. Would you say this?

The man gave ice cream to I.

Of course not! Politeness does not take precedence over grammar. The proper sentence in this case is:

The man gave ice cream to me.

And if you’re talking about yourself and another person, then the proper form is:

The man gave ice cream to Jane and me.

I know that sounds wrong, but it’s better than “Jane and I”. Far better. And if you really want it to sound better, then ditch your notions of the polite and say:

The man gave ice cream to me and Jane.

However, the real answer to your dilemma is to use the handy clear and concise first-person plural.

The man gave ice cream to us.

Isn’t that nice?

Are you confused? Here’s an easy way to tell whether you should use “Jane and I” or “Jane and me”. Ask yourself: if this sentence were only about me, which would I use, “I” or “me”? Use the same pronoun when talking about yourself and another person. Seriously. That’s the rule.

You make Kris and I weep when you do this.

Writing for Different Crowds: Why I Chose to Combine All of My Blogs Into One

Via e-mail, Cory asks:

You consolidated a good number of sites into your personal site, Foldedspace. Why did you choose that route? Was it just easier to maintain one site than many, or did you find a lot of overlap in what you wrote? I’m just starting to blog again, but I have a good four different subjects I’d like to write about, and I’m trying to decide whether to separate them into distinct sites or keep them together, as you have.

This is a great question.

When I originally set up my blog empire, I thought it would be fun to have  several niche blogs. In a way, it was. Around various parts of the Internet, I had:

  • Animal Intelligence, a blog about animal intelligence
  • Bibliophilic, my blog about books
  • Comic Strip Library, a comic-strip blog that I never actually started
  • Four Color Comics, a blog about comics
  • Get Fit Slowly, the health and fitness blog I co-authored with my friend, Mac
  • Get Green Slowly, my blog about environmentalism (which never got beyond domain registration)
  • Get Rich Slowly, my main money blog
  • Money Hacks, my other money blog
  • Oak Grove Crossing, the group blog I was going to start with friends to write about our neighborhood.
  • Spiral Bound, my stillborn blog about paper and notebooks (yes, really)
  • Success Daily, a stillborn blog about success topics
  • Tech Lust, a gadget blog that never got going
  • Vintage Pop, my blog about U.S. popular culture from before 1950.

I’m not the only one who has this blog addiction. My friend Jim Wang (from Bargaineering) is perhaps the worst of the lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he has dozens of blogs. I keep finding new ones.

But with every blog, there’s a certain “overhead” of attention required, and I found that as my personal finance blog grew and grew, I had less time to devote to each of my many niche sites. They fell dormant. They stagnated.

Perhaps worse, this site (in its foldedspace.org form), which had once boasted a small but close community, also fell into disuse. At one time, I wrote at Foldedspace nearly every day, and we had many lively conversations here on a variety of topics. As I fragmented my writing into many little niches, that went away.

Eventually I realized that I was doing myself a disservice. I wanted to write about this other stuff, about animal intelligence and comic books and fitness, but having separate blogs for each topic was just too much of a barrier, both for me and for potential readers. A couple of months ago, I came to the conclusion that it was time to reclaim the diaspora, to bring the children back to their ancestral homeland. I wanted to resurrect Foldedspace and to use it to feature all of my non-financial writing.

My big worry about re-merging everything was: Would anyone read this Frankenstein monster of a site? It occurred to me that it didn’t matter. I don’t write these other blogs for an audience, really. I write them for me. If there is no audience for a Foldedspace that explores a hodge-podge of subjects, that’s fine. I’m at least writing for myself and for a few close friends.

So I made the move. I cut back to two blogs: Get Rich Slowly and Foldedspace.

From the standpoint of maximizing audience and maximizing revenue, this probably makes little sense. But Foldedspace doesn’t need to yield either of these things for me to be happy. (In fact, I’ve removed all ads from the jdroth.com version of Foldedspace.) It just needs to be a spot where I can write about cats and comic books, and about blogs and bicycles.

This is a very long answer, and I don’t think it really addresses Cory’s question. For me, it made sense to combine everything into one blog. For Cory, it may not. All I know is that since I made this move a few weeks ago, I feel invigorated. I’m excited about writing again. It feels great to have Foldedspace operational once more.

On the Merits of Weblogs

This article was originally published at Foldedspace on 29 May 2003. It may be difficult to remember, but blogging was young back then, and many people disapproved. I’m not sure that all of the links in this story are still relevant (or active).

I’ve been exchanging e-mail with a close friend, whom I’ll call Pete. Pete is strongly anti-weblog. He hates them for many reasons:

  • they’re narcissistic
  • they interfere with google’s search results
  • webloggers present a biased view of their world, etc.

Pete doesn’t even like to be mentioned in weblogs, because he feels he’s always mentioned in a negative light. (For example: though I have no untoward intentions in mentioning Pete in this context, or in writing about our discussion, he would likely take offense at what I say. Thus the alias.)

As you might suspect, I believe weblogs are a fantastic new medium for self-expression and for information distribution.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

I read some weblogs to obtain news and information. (As I’ve mentioned before, weblogs have almost completely replaced my consumption of the mass media.) I read other weblogs to glimpse of the lives of the famous and the semi-famous.

I read some weblogs because they have interesting links, others because I love the writing. I read so-called A-list bloggers. I read the weblogs of my friends. (Guess which I prefer: A-listers or friends?)

There are weblogs that I don’t particularly like, yet I read out of habit. There are weblogs that I love but rarely read because I forget about them.

Mostly I read weblogs because I enjoy the small glimpses into other people’s lives. I understand that a person’s weblog persona is different from her in-person persona (though I maintain they’re both essential components of the individual, neither one more real than the other).

Blogging About Breakfast

Many would argue that there are limits to what one should share on the web. Some lives are too mundane, or some details of life too personal. I disagree. Within the confines of the law, and the boundaries of friendship, I think one should write about anything and everything.

Pete and I have been discussing weblogs for nearly a year now, and neither of us seems willing to budge from our position. He argues that very few people lead lives of interest, lives that are worthy of web sites. I disagree. I believe that, with few exceptions, every life is interesting, not just to the person living it, but to other people as well. Every life is instructive, is entertaining, is meaningful, though not to everyone else who might glimpse it.

If one has a complaint against weblogs, does that complaint also apply to personal web sites? Personal web sites are not new; they’ve existed since the dawn of the world wide web. Weblogging simply makes it easier to develop a rich, detailed personal site, with accessible archives and a unified structure.

Previously, most personal sites, including my own (I’ve had a personal site since 1994), were slipshod, and only those with a great deal of free time and/or technical skill had great-looking pages. It was tedious to perform frequent site updates, so daily public journals were unusual.

Ben Schumin has a personal website that I alternately love and hate, depending on my mood. He doesn’t keep a weblog [well, in 2009 it does!], but his site is guilty of most of the points about which Pete complains.

Ben records his life in meticulous detail. Want a thorough tour of his freshman dorm room? sophomore dorm room? junior dorm room? senior dorm room? They’re all there, along with an extensive tour of his college’s dining hall.

I first learned of Ben’s site from Spinnwebe, where Spinn spent a week mocking Schumin Web. I joined in the laughter at first, but with time, I came to like Ben’s site, despite (because of?) his naive goofiness, the sheer inanity of it all. Ben’s fire alarm collection is as interesting to me as a collection of snow domes, but it’s who Ben is. I like web sites that tell me: “This is who I am.” What’s the good of having a personal site if everything there is mundane, nondescript, indistinguishable from any other life on the web.

Dreams of a Bloggy Future

There are personal sites from people who might be considered strange (Dale Miller, Peter Pan), but even these are, in their way, instructive, offering a glimpse into a life that I will never live (and, in some cases, would never want to live).

Other personal web sites contain are less strange. Consider these three personal sites, each of which is one of my favorite sites on the web. I recommend each of them highly (and have linked to them in the past):

I want to see more people with personal web sites, with online journals, with weblogs. I want to see other mothers of webloggers create weblogs of their own.

Pete has some valid concerns about weblogs, and the implication of public journals. For myself, I’m glad they they exist. I only wish I wasn’t so tired so that I could write a more considered, articulate defense of their existence.

Footnote: Here’s a lovely irony. Pete, the man who used to hate weblogs, now has two of his own. Meanwhile, I’ve been pleased with the exponential growth of weblogs. Welcome to the egalitarian web…