Monday, July 28, 2014

Be who you are: a note about Catholic blogging this thing on?

I’ve been enjoying my lengthy summer blog break this year.  Well, technically I’ve been having one of the busiest summers I can ever remember; why did no one ever warn me that when your kids go to actual school summers become insane?  This is just more proof that I homeschooled mainly out of laziness and fear of bureaucracy.  Oh, and because homeschool graduation parties are awesome.  Yesterday my sweet sister-in-law hosted Bookgirl’s graduation party with a completely incredible cake-design which was perfect for a homeschool graduation:

But I want to resume blogging before the new school year starts, even though this year I will only be homeschooling one child.  Yes, that’s right: for the next two years, school will just be Hatchick and me, while the older two are off at college.  At least for this year the older two are commuting, and for her first semester Bookgirl is only going two days a week, so we won’t be completely lonesome!

And about ten days ago Catholic blogger extraordinare Sherry Antonetti received an email asking the question, “What does it mean to be a Catholic blogger?”  Her excellent answer is here, and she invited other bloggers to answer as well.  

When I look over Sherry’s list, I have to admit the second point, the one about using charity, is the one I struggle with the most.  It’s much easier to be snarky, to assume that people who disagree with the Church’s clear and ancient teachings are thundering dunderheads in need of a good scolding, than to try to meet people where they are and go from there.  It is especially hard to strike a charitable balance when you are commenting on an important issue knowing that some of your readers will agree with you completely, some may disagree slightly and point you to a fuller understanding of the Church’s teachings, some will disagree completely and claim there’s room for Catholic dissent on the issue (even when there really isn’t), and some will decide that attacking you personally is their best bet for combox revenge.  If you pull your punches too much, you may feel (as I sometimes do) that you are not speaking the truth with the fearlessness of a disciple, but if you come out swinging you may face the uncomfortable realization (as I also do) that you are looking for a bit of recreational outrage, and are more interested in scoring points than in winning hearts.

But the one point I would add to Sherry’s list is this one: Be who you are.

I’ve read blogs by people who are genuinely trying to find their Catholic blogging “voice” because they don’t really know what that voice will be yet.  I was there, once, too.  I kind of thought, way back when I started blogging, that the whole “Catholic homeschooling mommy blog” thing seemed fun.  And then my second post was about abortion, and so was my third, and along about the fifth one or so I waded into a comment-box battle going on over at another Catholic blogger’s place about the public chastising of a politician that took place during Mass, and the idea of a nice sweet little website to talk about workbooks and the dreaded Third Quarter Blues shimmered like a mirage and...well, it took a little while to vanish completely, but vanish it (eventually) did.

I retain a great deal of respect for the Catholic homeschooling mommy bloggers (and even the Catholic mommy bloggers who are not homeschooling in the least, except for the stuff the school makes them do with their kids at night and on weekends).  I respect the “sweetness and light” Catholic bloggers, and the “scholarly philosophical” Catholic bloggers, and the “wildly popular and occasionally dangerous” Catholic bloggers, and every other sort there is, too.  So long as they are each being who they really are, their blog will contain that ring of authenticity that is, I think, essential for a Catholic blog to have.

What I have trouble with are those Catholic bloggers who seem to keep trying to be something they are not, the ones who seem to look around and think, “Hmm, right now the Keeping It Real Catholic blogs are getting the most traffic, so I need to Photoshop (tm) some piles of dirty laundry into my living room and stick the baby in front of the garbage can the dog just knocked over--and I wonder, if I sprinkled pencil shavings on my baseboards, would they look authentically dusty?” etc.  Granted, most of us wouldn’t have to go to near that amount of trouble, but the point is that Keeping It Real blogs only work when the blogger is actually keeping it real.  If she has a cleaning lady who comes twice a week or is a total neat freak who frets when the vacuum lines disappear from the carpet, or if unfolded laundry in the living room would cause her to need therapy, then she is not Keeping It (or anything) Real by pretending to be a bit messy and disorganized, while thriving amidst the chaos.

And the same thing is true when Crafty Catholic Blogs get the most traffic, and people who are not the least bit crafty or artistic suddenly try to write posts about making fully functional mini-guillotine vegetable choppers out of wooden craft sticks and a repurposed razor, or something of the sort.  Or when Scholarly Philosophical Bloggers are all the rage, and people who mix up Plato and Play-doh(tm) on a regular basis try to wax eloquent about something, even if it’s just their thoughts while pondering a bowl full of tadpoles one of the kids is presently trying not to kill  raising on the kitchen counter for a homeschooling science experiment.  Or...well, you get the point, and the point is: be who you are.  Be yourself, even if you don’t share your whole self all the time on your blog (and who does?).

It’s quite natural for brand-new Catholic bloggers to experiment a bit with everything from blog platforms and templates to writing styles to the content they like to create.  But sooner or later you will come to learn what sort of things it seems more natural to write about, and what just doesn’t work for you.  And that’s terrific, because one of the great things about being Catholic is that we don’t all have to do it the same way.  Sure, we have things in common, huge, important things, like trying our best to follow Jesus, failing and sinning on a regular basis, and working to cultivate a love of Mass, the sacraments, prayer, devotions, and so on, all while figuring out our vocations and our specific challenges to bring Christ to the people around us (while remembering that snark rarely helps). But the Catholic blogosphere is one of the rare places where you might have one Catholic blogger who regularly posts about her love for vintage motorcycles, while another Catholic blogger shares his personal library of original chant-style compositions, while still another is wildly amazing in the fine art of birthday parties, and yet another sees a blog as something between a soapbox and a podium--and all of that is absolutely fine and dandy, because we’re Catholic, which means there’s room for all of us to be ourselves.

So my advice to new or novice or budding Catholic bloggers is just that--be who you are.  The temptation to follow the crowd is as present in the blogging world as it is anywhere else, as is the desire for popularity, but none of that will be worth much of anything if you spend all your time trying to be someone you aren’t.  Let your blog be a reflection of the unique person God made you to be, and you will be a Catholic blogger, and probably, before long, a friend to people you might otherwise never have known.


Bob the Ape said...

It may happen that you find that your blogging forte is on topics not specifically Catholic (it happened to me). I don't think there's a problem with that - God gives each of us different gifts. But whether or not you have a Catholic blog, you are a blogging Catholic, and must be responsible in this as in everything else.

scotch meg said...

Congratulations on your daughter's graduation. Lucky you to have commuting college students. (I mean that!) Fortunately for me, my two college students are both at the same school, less than an hour away. Next year I will have another college graduate, who hopes to go to grad school in the middle of the country (I live on the East Coast). In the meantime, I have a high school graduate who is home writing college applications in between two years in Micronesia.

The comings and goings and doings of older students (and non-students) during the summer do keep a mom busy!

I think that longed-for peaceful time is called Heaven, and we don't get anything but glimpses in advance.

Erin Manning said...

I think you’re right, Scotch Meg, about Heaven! I’d like to spend the first ten thousand years doing absolutely nothing, and then the next ten thousand doing the same thing...

I am blessed, really, to have two commuters (and, as my oldest likes to joke, we can see their college from our back yard! True!). But when they finish the first two years there are choices for the next two are similar to yours--colleges in the area, less than an hour away, but probably makes more sense for them to live in nearby housing. One step at a time...

My oldest girl is interested in living/working as an English teacher in Korea when she graduates from college (possibly). I shared the link to your son’s blog with her and she enjoyed reading through some of his old posts about teaching in a foreign country. I’m not ready to think about her being away from home at college, let alone Korea! :) But I know God’s plans for our kids aren’t always our plans.