Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Enamored of the Lives of Others

Two things I've read recently have been kind of gelling together in my brain, and I thought I'd write about them in attempt to relieve that cranial pressure. Note to the reader: This might seem like a disjointed post, but it really does tie together in the end. Rather like a Seinfeld episode, except not funny or clever.

As the entire Internet now knows and has commented on, that New York Times article on mommy blogs has been published.

Quick summary: mommy blogs reflect deep narcissism and selfishness and overparenting.

My first reaction: No, really? Wow! And here I thought ALL blogs were to some extent a reflection of self-absorption. Why single out the moms?

As others have pointed out (see the posts by Andi and Laura, along with the comments), the article also neglects the positive, community-fostering aspects of writing and reading parenting blogs. I feel so much less alone when I read about other parents' experiences with toddler tantrums, sleeplessness, and the various banalities that characterize much of the days spent with young children.

Which brings me to another question: Why read blogs? In addition to the sense of inclusiveness and support I find from reading parenting blogs, I also find that I enjoy reading about other people's lives in general. I'm a nosy person---I wanted to be Harriet the Spy when I was younger but never found any suitable subjects on which to spy (plus I'm kind of a coward). Reading blogs is the next best thing to spying, and it isn't beset by pesky ethical problems.

And this might partly explain why I find memoirs so compelling. I just finished reading Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face, an account of the author's experience with cancer and facial disfigurement. A beautiful, honest, unsentimental book, yet had it been a novel it would have had a completely different effect on me. What is it about memoirs that attracts me? Is it the primacy of the experience, the knowledge that a real person lived this life and (albeit through a selective filter) chose to share it? I love to read memoirs about lives completely different from my own---for example, Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, Are You Somebody? by Nuala O'Faolain, The Liar's Club by Mary Karr---and I feel that catching glimpses of these experiences helps steer my own perspective away from its tendency to be completely self-centered.

So we have two similar types of reading experiences with two different motivations: 1) reading parenting blogs to help myself feel less isolated and 2) reading memoirs to expand my horizons. Yet both are propelled by my being a Miss Nosy Parker.

See, I told you this would all tie together in the end. Just not neatly or logically. But heck, it's my blog, and since I'm so self-absorbed it's okay.