Though I am, as always, the obligatory six months behind the rest of the reading public, I finally managed to read Catherine Anderson’s account of her marital breakup and consequent romantic soiree with one of her blog readers, in Petite Anglaise, the book about the blog… the blog about her life. Due to the media furore that followed the publishing of Petite Anglaise I probably don’t have to tell you that Catherine has endured, as a result of choosing to document the demise of her relationship and the affair that brought about that demise, some astonishingly scathing commentary on her writing, her subject matter and, most pertinently, her morals.
And perhaps her morals are awry. Or perhaps, more probably, it is none of our business. Perhaps she is, like many of us, somebody who discovered blogging was about more than diarising episodes in our lives. That when it shapes our days as it does mine and as it has done Catherines, it takes on a persona all of it’s own and begins to define who we are: if only because we choose to step outside ourselves and make sense of what has happened to us on virtual paper in a voice that those who know and love us, and indeed those who come to know and love us, do not necessarily recognise and aren’t particularly comfortable with. A voice once trapped inside our heads, now given wings and thus a voice that necessarily gets a little me me me from time to time, because it exists to analyse everything that happens to us from a uniquely personal point of view. A voice that occasionally grows legs and runs away with us.
Some people choose to write blogs that say nothing about the lives led behind the knitting hobby or the cupcake obsession, revealing only scraps of the writer behind the patterns and the recipes and instead choosing to create documents of gorgeous creativity we come to treasure. Others document the daily. The comings and goings of busy family life, the funny things the kids said, plans for loft extensions and photographs of collections to die for. And in the midst of all of it reality is left unsaid. These I think are the glossy magazine versions of lives well lived and their gloss is appealing because all too often we have too much of our own reality to deal with without the literary weight of other peoples.
And then there are those of us who cannot hold the truth in. Who blog what is because we have to. There are those of us who make our Mothers cringe with our relentless urge to tell it like it is, to describe unhappiness, guilt, joy and loneliness (an emotion that makes others more uncomfortable than anything else) with nail biting, occasionally screeching honesty, because, and make no mistake about it, honesty is at the crux of all of this.
Petite Anglaise is absorbing even in its occasionally un- palatable truths. As a writer and a blogger, Catherine makes no effort to disguise the side of herself those who have condemned her rant the loudest about, but nor does she seek to excuse it. Sometimes she is unkind. Often she is selfish. Once or twice, I think even she would agree, she is downright bloody ludicrous, and yet always she is oh so much more human than many people can deal with: blatant outrageous humanity we would rather die than acknowledge in ourselves
Where all this comes undone as far as Catherine Sanderson is concerned, for me, is not in the way she abandons Mr Frog for James, a man who comments on her blog, and a man she meets just twice before deciding to tear her world apart on his behalf, nor for her willingness to believe totally and absolutely in something more: ultimately her story is nothing more than that of many a woman who has dared to dream and watched her world come crashing down to her feet and there but for the grace of God go all of us. But instead I struggle with the wilful disregard she shows her readers: for acknowledging at least three times in the book that she used her blog to manipulate her readers to become more engaged in her story, that occasionally she embellishes the truth, plays with time or aches for the kind of drama that en-trances her audience …
"Once I’d finished I fired off an email to James, letting him in on what had really happened, and exposing the liberties I’d seen fit to take in pursuit of the perfect blog post. He was no longer a faceless reader like all of the others, and I wanted him to understand the difference between what petite anglaise wrote and the reality of my life, to grasp that a diary written for an audience cannot be entirely trustworthy. Petite Anglaise might have brought James into my life, but reading my blog could be no substitute for actually knowing Catherine, the master puppeteer pulling the strings in the background, occasionally blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction."
I am not judging her. Goodness knows I understand why. I understand how useful writing a blog can be as a form of emotional blackmail. How a writer can say one thing to a cast of thousands while writing in her mind to only one. I understand how tempting it is to make sense of ones world on virtual paper when the truth is cowering behind the noise in your head. And I also know how easy it is to become dependant on your readers for reassurance. How quickly those readers become part of your conscience and that is I think why I feel so uncomfortable with a fellow blogger admitting that occasionally the story she was selling her audience, hell the story she was selling herself, wasn’t necessarily the truth.
Admittedly it is extremely difficult to walk the line between creating an engaging piece of writing and selling your soul. In the four years I’ve been blogging on BrocanteHome I have often committed raw emotion to the page in haste. I have taken little broken bits of me and offered them up for consumption in the hope someone I needed to listen would hear. I have occasionally been silly. Daft. Often self-delusional. Self absorbed. I have regretted posts and been unable to take them back. I have listened to my readers and let the general zeitgeist of their responses seep into my conscience and occasionally I have stuck my fingers in my ears and pretended to myself that the verdict of the majority was not the way forward.
You see as writers, bloggers and women, we have the choice to tell the truth, sprinkle it in icing sugar or lie by omission. I have been Catherine. I have stood back astonished as something I believed in turned to dust. I have sprinkled my posts with reference to a New England that existed only in my imagination. References designed not to intrigue my readers bit to satisfy my urge to speak out loud something I could not say. A place without explanation. I have said I love him but I cannot have him. I have wailed and mourned and failed to mention a divorce that never was, a marriage that ultimately wasn’t as over as he had led me to believe, because I was deceived and it hurt my heart to spell it out. Foolish as I may have been there has never been any need to embellish that which I wisely or otherwise, did not, (because it is my perogative as a human being), choose to share. No cause to blend the boundaries between reality and fiction. At least not when there is an entire chapter missing.
Between the blogger and her readers, there is no contractual obligation. There is only the premise that as bloggers we will tell the truth when we are ready and able, that we will not censor or embellish what we ultimately choos
e to share and that we will let all that we cannot say be played out behind the scenes- and that as readers we will offer our opinions on all that is said out loud, and bite back our judgement on everything we read between the lines.
It is I think, about respect. Neither party should abuse it.