Tag Archives: voice

Ethics of Blogging: Writing, Interpretations, & Responsibilities

So, I cracked the depression nut in a rant on the weekend that had a lot of positive response from people who’ve been there, with more than a few quietly thanking me for saying what needed to be said: People usually don’t choose to be depressed.

Now, apparently my tone was full of “hate,” according to the writer of the post that originally angered me, who commented on on my piece (psst… she sounded angry too).

Come on, I don’t hate anyone. I just get angry. I channel my rage into my writing and other areas in life. It’s a productive fuel. In fact, studies are coming out in which they’re realizing that anger is actually among the best catalysts one can have. Don’t like things in your life? Get angry and change them.

But I don’t wanna go into the philosophy behind Darth Vader’s School of Wellness here or anything. Another day, another soggy blog post, friends.

You know what kills me about posts like the one that irked me on the weekend? The arrogance of bloggers.

Okay. Whoa, Nellie. Wait for it. This is a complicated stance I have, but it also needs to be said, even if a bunch of bloggers might get grumpy at me.

First: If I didn’t think my voice mattered in cosmic mix, I wouldn’t have more than 2,000 posts, 4,000 drafts, and seven years of blogging underneath me. Clearly I think bloggers belong in the cosmic mix.

That said: We’re just bloggers.

We need to write responsibly. We need to use disclaimers that remind people that we’re not certified in all things awesome. We’re a voice with an opinion, and all we’re often bringing to the table is our experience.

As someone to whom edge and attitude come naturally, I understand wanting to turn a cool phrase or have things sound awesome. I know why we get stylistic, chuck some hyperbole in, and embrace flippant whimsy. I get it. I do it. I love it.

But there are times you have to stand back and really see how your words will be taken, and you have to watch it.

This writer accuses me of misconstruing her words, like it’s my fault they mean BOTH things.

I didn’t pull my interpretation out of my ass. It was RIGHT THERE, honey, in the words you wrote. If you’re going to take something huge and life-altering like depression and throw 90 words at it, you can bet your ass you’re leaving a wide door to walk through on the interpretations front. This is why we have DISCLAIMERS, and I’ll get to that after.

As a writer, while I absolutely love pushing buttons, I think you’d be hard pressed to find many examples of when I’ve done so irresponsibly in a way that could hurt people. Depression is one of those topics I wade into very trepidatiously, because I know people are unhinged to begin with, and I know how easily the wrong comment can trigger something in someone.

When I write about depression, I now do so from a largely “PAST” perspective. I’m not “depressed” anymore. I’m normal now. I have ups, I have downs.

Someone out there’s probably going “Oh, see? You’re ashamed. You won’t cop to being depressed.”

No, you know why? Because I’m not depressed! I love the snarky side of me, and that’s staying around. I’m not ashamed of my experiences with depression — but I’m proud I’ve battled out of it for a pretty average, stable existence. It’s proof one can get out of chemical depressions and get away from that horrible crushing place. I pulled a Gloria Gaynor, man. I survived.

It takes a long time, but it can be done, and there’s no one answer, which is why it seems so insurmountable.

And BECAUSE I know there’s no one answer, I know there are people out there who are as smart as me and as big on research as I am, and I know they’re at home late at night Googling for things to read about depression (or insert whatever other hot-button topic people don’t publicly discuss — like domestic abuse, etc) so they can get other perspectives.

And when they DO find something on Google about depression, I hope to fuck they’re reading someone realistic like me, and not someone bubbling on about choosing to be happy and making it sound like it’s some short-term project that’s easily accomplished because that suits the smaller, quicker, more upbeat post they’ve been tasked with writing.

If you’re clinically depressed, it is mental illness. It’s not when you’re thinking clearly, and that’s exactly why I try to be as straight-talking and clear as possible, for that 5-10% of my audience who might currently be experiencing that hell and who need a relatable perspective that might make them feel like someone else has lived in that world too. It’s okay for it to be hard. It’s okay to write about that.

You’re goddamned right that it’s arrogant of me to think I might play a role in shaping how they think about X-subject this week or five years from now, and to care about writing in a way that’s relevant on these things, but I’ve been given good reason to feel I’m relevant.

So, yes, many bloggers are arrogant. They’re sometimes more concerned with having a good read or getting their $50 payment from some blog magazine site. There’s this “nutshell” syndrome where everyone thinks just touching on a topic is good enough.

God help you if your post is over 500 words and you actually SAY something, you know.

While the writer of the piece that angered me, she actually had a few really great points on OTHER topics, and if she’d simply put a ONE LINE DISCLAIMER in the paragraph about depression, the whole fucking piece would’ve been FINE with me. All she had to say was, “Depression can be a serious and fatal condition, and while it can be self-treated, one needs to talk to their doctor. Not all depressions can be handled the same.” Then, boom. Perfect. Responsible. Big picture.

That’s it. That’s what that article was missing.

When it comes to blogging, I feel responsible to speak truth, be honest about who I am, get my facts right, and respect that my words might be construed differently by others, and it’s up to me to take a solid look at what I write before I publish it so I know all the ways someone might read into it, and if anything’s going to come back and bite me, I fix it up.

(It’s an old editing trick. Pretend you have no clue what you just wrote, read it “out loud” in your head, and try to understand it for the “first time.” Works.)

And here’s a thing: Most of the time, no matter how someone “interprets” what you’ve written, they’re not wrong. Not really. Words are flexible. They’re like cattle. They’ll pretty much go anywhere they want, and it takes a skilled hand to rein ’em in. But that’s what writers do. Or, it’s what they should do.

Okay, gather ’round kids, and Auntie Steff will tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I took three weeks to write a post about my dead mother. Seven years later, I’m still proud of the writing and I remember how hard it was for me to get it done. I write in minutes and hours, not over the course of weeks. Very nervously, I published it.

Months later, it was Christmas, and I checked my email. There was a $500 “gift” on PayPal from a reader. She said she had never been able to express the world of hurt her mother’s death caused her, and reading this post of mine, she said she sent it to every friend she had and said “When I’m sad about Mom, this is why.”

Oddly, I’ve had very few donations in the years since, and nothing even close to that, but the Christmas Donation taught me something very important about blogging and writing.

In our very anonymous words, sometimes strangers around the world find some meaning, something they can relate to. On a microscopic scale, we can change lives.

I believe in blogging. I consider myself blessed to be alive at a time when I can have a voice in the mix. I’m astounded at readers’ abilities to connect and tell me what resonates.

And, like Uncle Ben told Spidey, with great power comes great responsibility.

So, when blogging about depression and other very serious things people are likely to take to heart in very dark manners, it’s worth a little time to ensure you’re not blowing things off, making light of dangerous conditions, and that your words have been chosen with all the right reasons.

Be careful, Grasshopper, because you know not who you write for.

Kurt Cobain, Still Dead

16 years ago today, Kurt Cobain put a bullet in his brain and robbed us all of everything that spoke to MY generation at a time when we were so fucking confused about what mattered.

We were tired of the fluff and pop of the ’80s, sickened by the everlasting everywhereness of the Oliver Stone Wall Street mentality and the increasing loss of meaning in the modern world.

Then there they were — Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder… specifically Kurt.

Cutting through the bullshit, discarding the pretty-boy rock images that commandeered ’80s MTV, throwing down their rage and speaking to the discontent that’d been hidden by pop-hooks and plastic performances for too long now, the posterboys of the grunge-rock movement gave the establishment the finger and we roared in approval as we lined up in droves for Lollapalooza and other epic events of festival rock that brought us all together for bodysurfing, moshing, and community.

What made Nirvana’s brand of electric-pop grunge-rock so eponymous for my generation was that it could BE EVERYTHING all at once — it could be funny, hard, soft, loud, bouncy, moody, angry, and exuberant simultaneously. It was OUR existential noise put to a bouncy beat, and it GOT us. It took our insides and folded it out, and made it fun to act out and scream along to.

Few bands can push the cathartic-heart-restart button for me like Nirvana. Maybe the Replacements or the Butthole Surfers… but nobody put a finger on it like Nirvana did, and I still feel robbed today. ROBBED. Robbed, motherfucker.

Fucking hell. I’d like to beat depression and addiction to death with a tire iron for all the people and things it has robbed me of in life, and Kurt Cobain makes that list.

I’d like to say we’ve made lots of advances in the areas of addiction and death since news of Cobain’s death sent everyone in my age group (I was 20) into a depressive funk for days — even non-fans who felt he somehow had a message worth hearing that encapsulated why our generation felt so lost, even if they weren’t into him…

I’d like to say we’ve made advances, but we haven’t. We’re going backwards — losing more soul, losing style, losing voice, losing control.

Just today are reports that more people than ever before are overdosing on prescription drugs. We’re oblivioning ourselves to death. It’s so tragically ironic. Where’s our Kurt Cobain for today? Who’s trying to snap our apathy now?

For me, Nirvana woke me up about how having more than one emotion at one time could be all right, even be a good thing, that life could be felt in different ways at any moment. I could be happy and angry, glad but resentful. I could be overjoyed but despondent. I could just feel it all. I was human and it was how we rolled — Kurt Cobain said so.

And his death? I was 20. He was my Lennon, man. I remember where I was, I remember hoping it was another hoax.

Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.

~Kurt Cobain

My friends and I suddenly dreaded aging — 27 was the age of death now. Him, Morrison, Hendrix — all dead at 27. But Cobain was different from the others.

Cobain gave up. It wasn’t just stupidity, it was a shotgun blast. It was a willful choice that life was too much. This unassuming anti-hero we all put our hopes in, blam. Gone, dead, done. He was our voice and he just fucked off.

We had hopes for Cobain. He was like that fucked-up friend with incredible soul that you know is a beautiful person through to the core, and even in their sadness a soft sunlight pours from their insides.

Cobain was kinda like that, the tragically-beautiful big-hearted broken-souled rebel we all understood in a small way, who spoke of beauty while ripping at his existential scabs, who mostly fucked up but sometimes didn’t and THAT was awesome? Kurt was THAT guy.

Lennon was stolen by a madman.

Cobain was taken by madness.

In nearly 30 years, we’ve done nothing to change the isolation and hopelessness felt by those with mental illness. The lonely are alone by design, even now. Increasingly, now.

Medication is doled out by the fistfuls because it’s easier to mask the symptoms than it is to solve them. To solve them would be to admit that everything about our modern life — the pace, the technology, the goals, the ambition — is a sham. We can’t have that. Not now. We’re so awesomely tech-dependent that we can’t possibly admit it might not be helpful to us on some deeply emotional/spiritual level.

Technology didn’t solve your life, so, here, this pill can help you — and if that pill doesn’t work, take this pill, but don’t worry about turning in those other not-working pills, and never mind about all those processed foods you’re eating or the lack of life you live, or the fact that you think your Wii exercises you. Don’t worry about solving what really ails you — turn on Glee and take this pretty pink pill and enjoy that tasty beverage, because nothing really matters anyhow. Hey, is that a text message? Hold that thought.

We ARE the soulless society Kurt Cobain railed against… times ten. We’re so empty and vapid as we all walk distractedly through our days that Cobain’s existence seems almost a cutesy little ironic footnote in my generation’s life.

WE rebelled against it all and now we’re the expense-account smart-phone motherfuckers micromanaging our lives in a desperate attempt at the illusion of power over a very real powerlessness. We want to pretend we control our lives. It’s all a sham, but it’s one that’s just so PRETTY, and LOOK it’s so SHINY.

I’m 36. I’m not a rebel these days, per se, but I sure as shit didn’t drink the social Kool-aid yet, either. I’m not the anti-establishment type some still are, but I’m enough of one that I’m a little more broken-hearted on this anniversary.

Even today, I don’t fit squarely on the right or left, but I speak truth to power and I don’t hide behind or excuse-away my ideas.

I own how I feel, I put it out there and I don’t apologize for it. I say it like it is so SOMEONE hears what oughta be said, or at least I know I tried to speak the truth to power.

I’d like to think much of who I am ideologically comes from those early heroes I had — especially the rock’n’roll types, ones who made me realize being multi-faceted wasn’t a contradiction in terms — it was a lesson in humanity.

Cobain taught me, along with a few other antiheroes of mine, that my emotions and my anger were an important part of who I am, that they drove the art I wanted to create, that they made me a more complete person than I was when I lived under the veneer of good’n’happy little citizen. They taught me that my word choices were my weapons, and I could be more at one time than I thought I could be.

Yeah. I still feel robbed. And I’m angry Cobain’s death feels in vain. I’m angry I have so little of him to draw on after all the years that have passed — that I’ve grown in my world-view and never got to see Kurt do that in his.

Some small part of who I am today, though, was in large a part of what Nirvana tried to do. And I thank them for that contribution.

Fuck you, depression and addiction.  Fuck you hard.