Friday, May 11, 2007

Good Audience/Bad Audience

This time last year, I was in a blog-reading frenzy, clicking my way through the momosphere and gasping constantly in amazement and recognition. Every so often, my mouse would hover over the "Create Blog" button on the Blogger navbar – and then move away as I hesitated, dithered. After about ten days, I took the plunge and quickly discovered the seductive thrill of reaching an audience.

Audience is the very essence of blogging; it’s what makes a blog distinct from a private journal. And a fickle, fairweather friend one’s audience can be. Not the real audience, of course – not the smart, generous women who keep showing up day after day with their concern, their support, their considerable wit and intellect. No, I’m talking about the inner audience, the imaginary readers for whom my posts are written.

I’ve always had an inner audience – one of my favourite hobbies used to be performing my life for an imaginary set of spectators composed of the boy I liked in grade six, a girl who was always almost – but never quite – a friend in high school, and a few other random spectators from my past. I would populate my life with these people, imagine them sitting behind me on the bus or in front of me in class. We might have a reunion-style "What have you been up to?" conversation, or we might simply observe one another without acknowledging our past. The important thing was for these people to be surprised, impressed, taken aback by the distance between who I was before and who I am today. (My imagination is nothing if not ego-boosting.)

Sometimes, though, my inner audience would turn on me. When I fell flat on my face they would stand back, pointing and laughing at my humiliation.

A blog audience is kind of like that. As I write my posts they gather round my laptop, peering over my shoulder and letting out appreciative guffaws at all my weakest jokes, nodding sympathetically at my most embarrassing admissions. As fans and cheerleaders, this imaginary audience is a big part of what makes the act of writing possible. Right up until the moment I hit "publish," they embrace me with their unconditional love – but then they pass the baton to the real audience, and I find it’s usually a good idea to busy myself for awhile, distracting myself from the anxiety that occurs in those moments before the imaginary audience manifests itself in concrete, numerical form.

That is the daily cycle of blogging for me. Put the kids down for their naps and write a post. Hit publish and then go to the park. Come home and check comments, laughing out loud and nodding vigorously, dashing off a reply or two, until it’s time to start writing again.

Depression changes all that. There is a kind of sadness that wraps itself around a person, subtly altering the features of those around. "Do you ever feel as if I’m a stranger, that you have no idea what I’m thinking?" I asked hubby a few days ago. "No," he replied. "You’re pretty much an open book." I knew he wasn’t really a stranger – but that didn’t change the underwater feeling, as if I were submerged and his voice were reaching me from a long distance.

At times like this, my inner blog-audience becomes distorted, clownish. Their hoots of laughter turn mocking; their sighs of sympathy become pitying. Through their eyes I read my own writing and am revolted by my flippancy, my self-absorption (the things that I usually love about myself the most). Subtle dips in the number of hits, comments, or links suddenly seem symbolic of a larger exodus, the wholesale departure of an audience that has clearly become bored and disgusted by my inability to write sentences of less than seventeen words.

I know how lucky I am that such moods eventually depart, usually after only a day or two. But the path of motherhood is strewn with these times – miscarriages, weaning, ordinarily bouts of sleep-deprivation or PMS. The hormonal goggles through which we see ourselves and those around us are not always flattering.

I don’t think that blogging is really as damaging as it sometimes seems at such times – but it is a barometer, a desperately sensitive instrument that registers every ripple of self-hatred and self-doubt.

A Perfect Post – May 2007


Beck said...

"Subtle dips in the number of hits, comments, or links suddenly seem symbolic of a larger exodus, the wholesale departure of an audience that has clearly become bored and disgusted by my inability to write sentences of less than seventeen words."
Ack! Don't think that. A lot of readers just come and go - their taste for blogging as a whole fading, perhaps. And you're an amazing writer - I'm always jealous and astounded when I read your blog. But I know those moods, definitely.
I have an inner audience, too - for years, I judged myself harshly against two long-lost high school friends who were, I imagined, doing VERY well. It was a pleasant surprise, in a mean sort of way, to discover that they weren't doing very well and that all this time, I was fine.

mcewen said...

I don't think it's a barometer - more a reflection of the learning curve that other bloggers are 'on' e.g.
blog crash
computer crash
bookmarks lost when cat walks on laptop
brain freeze and inability to comment
coffee deprivation
x each blogger x time x additional events.
Best wishes

slouching mom said...

It is more helpful than I can say to know that you, you, Bub & Pie, feel this way sometimes.

Because you're one of the most well-known, well-respected bloggers out there. And you're certainly one of the best writers as well.

We're none of us confident, are we, at least not all of the time. We all can be wounded.

Karen said...

I'm just adding my amen, here, to what previous commenters have written you, and also, simply to say, I hope this dip is short-lived, though even if it is more prolonged than you'd like, I'll still keep coming back for more B&P. At times, I feel, just as you've described, like I'm very far away, which is usually a sign that I'd like to be far from what's making me sad, but that it has caught up with me, again. You are probably at the park now, I hope the sun is shining.

Robbin said...

Writing is something I do almost compulsively, and yet there are days when I really want to shut my blog down. I just feel like I have run out of things that anyone in their right mind would want to read.

And because I feel like I can never, ever, be as good at is as people like HBM, Antique Mommy, and you!

Bon said...

oh B&P, sing it. i know, when i see it laid out in reference to YOU, that subtle dips don't mean wholesale departure or boredom, not in the least, that people are probably out shopping or just busy or too struck by the complexity of what you're saying to know what to say back. i KNOW this. about your blog. but not about my own...especially in those vulnerable moments.

like Slouching Mom, i just want to say that it helps to know that you - who have my utmost respect as a writer and thinker in the blogosphere - feel this way too, sometimes.

hope it helps back to know that the rest of us do too.

bren j. said...

I'm curious about these conversations with your inner audience? Do you ever have them out loud?

Terri B. said...

I'm impressed by your ability to write on a daily basis and that what you write is interesting. You pretty much always have at least one sentence or paragraph that grabs me and makes me nod my head in agreement.

I particularly enjoy your admissions of such an active imaginary life. I'm the same -- practically running little homemade movies in my head!

bubandpie said...

Bren - Now that I think about it, what I usually do is inhabit the perspective of the audience, watching myself living my life, only from their perspective. But no, I don't talk out loud while I'm doing it. :)

Momish said...

You hit the nail right on the head again. I have wasted so much time pondering what my past aquaitenaces would think of me now compared to then. It is amazing how consumed we can become by the musing of others, pretend and real. Blogging is exactly like you say. I still get a sense of extreme anxiety every time I hit that publish button! The insecurities are never at rest, always nagging at me.

Your posts are so wonderfully real and revealing, like a mirror held up to my inner self. You have a unique talent for diving deep inside yourself, yet pulling out the universal human-ness (if that is a word or not I don't care) in us all.


Aliki2006 said...

I know that inner audience, too.

Audiences are all about flux, aren't they?!

nomotherearth said...

I've found that since the weather is getting better, people have started posting less, and visiting less too. Maybe it's just me. But I do think that people are getting outside, and that's a good thing. I'm always reading, even if I don't comment. You're posts are so stupendous that sometimes I just can't think of any worthy to add.

nowheymama said...

Wow, this post seems to come from inside my head. Thanks for capturing that feeling so perfectly.

Mouse said...

A slight dip could also mean that Bloglines wasn't working. Or that said reader tried to comment and was then told Blogger was "down for maintenance." Glad I clicked over of my own volition and was then insistent about trying to comment again.

metro mama said...

I wouldn't put too much stock in stats. For instance, today bloglines is acting up (I just happened to click over). Plus, I for one comment less when people get big--what can I possibly add to a post that already has 20+ comments.

I know what you mean though. I still look at my site meter every day.

You know we love you, right!

flutter said...

Have you been living in my head? Thank you for articulating all of this in such a wonderful way.

NotSoSage said...

Yup. Uh huh.

Not much to say, but I thought I'd bolster the comments by a factor of 1 just so's you know that this post did not appear in Bloglines but I, too, wondered where you'd been so clicked over and was once again astounded by your writing ability.

Lawyer Mama said...

Yes, and being an introspective person makes it even harder for you to *not* focus on some internal flaw when those hard times hit, I bet.

I've decided to stop watching Sitemeter because my visitors have dropped in half over the last week. I'm hoping it's the warm weather, but still *my* internal audience won't shut up.

No pressure and I know you weren't fishing for comments but your blog is my gold standard, the blog by which the value of all others is measured.

Mary G said...

I am grateful for a single comment and there you are on the top of the mountain, worrying. Your blog is one of my 'never miss' ones, a short list on a busy day.
I've been trying to analyse some of the fluxes and, like nomo, I think it is to some extent a weather related thing.
If the weather is lousy, turn on a video for the munchkins and hit the computer. If the weather is good its off to the park to look for white flowers.
My personal style is that I read every day but only comment if I have some time to think about what I am writing.
I love this post and your description of spectatoring. So true. It's my mother that breathes down my neck.

Omaha Mama said...

Hormones suck.

I find my blog, which I sometimes write like a personal journal and sometimes write to an audience, ebbs and flows with my uterus. What is up with that?

What will it all be like when we're all bitching about hot flashes and vaginal dryness? I can only imagine. I guess I'm glad I'm gathering a group though, to go through it with. Because my inner audience can be quite harsh at times too.

This post hit me - I really can relate to what you are saying. Luckily the hormonal fog will lift and you'll be on to sweeter posts. Happens to me every month.

c4cara said...

Hon, you are one of the highlights of my week. I don't come every day because I have to limit myself so that I do the other things I must, but when I do, I read all the posts, and comment on the ones I can. (Sometimes I'm feeling a bit low myself, so I can only spectate.)
I know what you mean about depression. "Depression changes all that. There is a kind of sadness that wraps itself around a person, subtly altering the features of those around."

Have a hug from me. You are a gem.

Suz said...

I know this..and I think the same analytical thoughts even though I know that it just doesn't make sense. But your writing, I love, and the fact that it's so close to the way you think, that's pretty cool, too.

Kyla said...

Are you serious? The 17+ word sentences are what keeps me coming back! :)

kellypea said...

I love your writing. And I know what you are talking about to some extent. The "in my head" audience is constantly with me. I think so much about it all now, that it has begun to interfere with my time to unwind with a book at night when I'm ready to go to bed. When I garden, when I cook, when...well, you've said it. And I'm sitting here thinking about it now, when there are people coming over in 4 hours and I'm not remotely ready. Hang in there. We're with you. Sometimes, we just don't get to languish with your words even though we'd like to.

Mad Hatter said...

Thank you for speaking it out loud. As for hits and comments, I like to tell myself that it is spring--the summer slow down in the 'sphere is beginning.

Oh, you know I have so much more to say but I feel I have said so much to you about it already. I wrestle with all this stuff and when it spills over I email my dear, dear peeps (e.g. YOU) and then I feel bad--like I have passive agressively made you dig me out of a hole simply b/c I couldn't blog about the hole. And then I end up hating the way we all have to blog in this maverick, isolationist way alone at our keyboards where we can talk about just about anything but we don't really talk about blogging and how we feel about it and how it effects us and what the ripples of our ambivalence are.

Damn, if only we could get together for coffee every couple of weeks. Blogging does so much that face to face can't but face to face ups blogging in so many significant ways.

Please know that you will not lose me as a reader no matter what insecurities I may have dished to you privately, 'kay?

cinnamon gurl said...

Um, yeah... earlier this week I was going to post wondering where all the people had gone. And it was really embarrassing to consider coming out with how important the comments are to me. But then they came back, which of course is nowhere near the level of your blog... it's good to know you experience those crises of confidence too.

I love the 17-word sentences!

Blog Antagonist said...

You know, in many ways, the blogogsphere is an amazingly positive and supportive environment. But as far as the bloggers themselves go...well...they are fair weather friends. They go where the action is, where the hip people hang out, where there's controversy or all out war...bloggers are lemmings by and large.

I used to have many of the same feelings you do, but I got over it. I'd rather have a few really well thought out and substantive comments from kindred spirits than 78 "you go girl!"s from people I don't know...yannow?

I read you every day, but I don't always comment because you articulate your thoughts and opinions so well there's rarely anything for me to add.

I'm sorry for that. Cause I know how much it matters to have people acknowledge all the energy that you've poured into a post.

mamatulip said...

Adding myself to the others who have said that they're glad you said this out summed it up so well, and I've felt similarly from time to time.

I think we all have, you know?

jen said... know, i've never thought of it in the way you described and yet i too, have an internal audience. my critics section, occasionally daring to cheer.

i know the stranger feelings...and it's always amazed me how i can feel wholly foreign and yet people keep treating me the same. the fraud of it screams at me sometimes, and yet at the same time, i am the only one who sees my plight, and my internal critic section the only ones brave (dumb?) enough to point it out.

Perhaps i am rambling, but all this is to say that this resonated quite a bit.

Denguy said...

I have to admit that I always read, but rarely comment. I don't have fabulous advice to give and saying "nice post, keep it up" seems trite, so thanks for writing and know that I will be reading.

Luisa Perkins said...

I have felt this way myself many times. As usual, your observations are astute and accessible! And I like the snazzy template makeover.

Mel said...

I'm often more of a lurker than a commenter, simply because your posts are often so well-thought-out and intelligently written that I feel that I have nothing to add.
But I am here. I do read. And you are a tremendously talented writer.
My .02 for you...

Ms. McFearsome said...

BubandPie, Happy Mother's Day.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I'm not sure if this is what you meant, but I find that as my feeling of self-worth dips -- which it always does, the week immediately before my period -- I start to think of my blog as nothing but blathering.

I don't give a hoot about audience, though. In fact I'd really rather my audience hover politely around 10! Which is lucky, since that's what it does.

Pieces said...

I agree that your posts are so well-thought out and articulate I rarely feel the need to join the discussion.

I also comment less where there are already a lot of comments--sometimes because I have time to read your wonderful post but I don't have time to read all the comments and I don't want to sound like an idiot just repeating what other people have said.

Maybe it would help to ditch the stats altogether. Scary idea, hunh?

And for my final, eloquent thought: Hormones suck.

Jenifer said...

Very late to the party and I think just about everything I wanted to say has been said.

I am always reading and usually comment (even with nothing to say!) you writing always leaves me with something to think about.

These moments can be disheartening, but I think it is a fleeting feeling. I think with the nice weather everyone really is moving outside more, which means less time blogging.

I think you know how much we value your writing - your caring ways resonate with us.

Izzy said...

Wow. If I had summed up the practical side of how blogging can affect me at times in my "Blogging Declaration of Independence" post, this certainly sums up the more internal and emotional side, particularly when combined with the host of emotions that I experience in any given week and especially if I've been cavalier with the old antidepressants. I appreciate your candor :)

Carol said...


natalie said...

I certainly hear you on the clownish distortion of the inner audience. I'm writing my last doctoral essay and I save reading your blog for my most self-doubting moments. I think it evens me out because I substitute my usual audience for you. You're my ideal inner audience, by the way,--a sharp thinker in my field, an excellent writer, and a kind and encouraging person. So, thanks for the consistently superb writing. I might flunk out without you.

Oh God, what does it say about me that I'm checking your blog and thus already in a self-doubting and depressive state at 8:50 am?

Lucy said...

This was a very good post. I don't have a blog and what you're writing about is part of the reason I don't start one.

I think you are an amazing writer, regardless of how long your sentences are. You seem very honest, which to me is also very brave.

I don't comment often, because I don't usually have anything to say, but I enjoy reading your blog very much!

bubandpie said...

Natalie - I know I've said this to you before but ... how I wish you had a blog. I always love it when you comment. You're kind of my might-have-been friend.

Susanne said...

You know I recently got very upset because my hits had taken a nose-dive by about 60%. Only when I looked again to see what had happened did I realize that there was no nose-dive at all. I just had had a temporary peek by having been linked to and then I had ended up with more readers than before. Only not as much as the hundreds who had clicked on that link...

Every time I'm unsure about this I a) stop checking my stats, and b) remember the times when I was ecstatic about three readers a day. Last year.

(And see, I haven't been here in almost a week. I've been very busy and now I'm reading all that post in one setting (I hope)).

gingajoy said...

SO much to say in response to this one, Bub, except to say that these feelings are so so universal. I've been distancing myself from the melange just a little lately precisely because of these feelings. I don't need to feel depressed to have those negative feelings; just overly stressed. I think many of us who have been doing this a while are recalibrating our sense of this all.

BTW--I am writing this response during Lost. Is that committment or WHAT? (Sayeed had better not die....)

Rock the Cradle said...

Oh wow, I have one of those audiences as well. They usually tell me "You're writing WHAT?" So true to my ornery self, I usually end up throwing them out so I can get some work done.

I love coming here to read you. It feeds that part of me that might have at one point gone back to school. Reading you makes me feel as if it is still something I might undertake. At least, I feel the possibility is still there. You inspire me to keep writing.

I certainly can't count on my blog log stats for that kind of inspiration.

So thank you.