Yesterday, I got a wonderful email. It was from the author of a book I reviewed a while ago, one that I had really enjoyed but about which I had a couple of small criticisms; the author wanted to let me know they had read and enjoyed the review. They thanked me also for my ‘wise’ reading of the book and my response to it, and complimented me on my own writing style.
I was so extraordinarily pleased, and surprised, that I may have clapped my hands in glee. (All right, so I did clap my hands in glee. There’s no shame in it. Right?)
It was extremely kind of this author – who is, I have no doubt, a very busy person indeed – to take the time to write to me, and also to tell me that they had enjoyed reading other posts on my blog. After the joy had faded a bit, however, I did a quick sweep of the posts they’d mentioned, to check for typos and infelicitous phrasing and the like; I also re-read the book review and winced a bit at some of my harsher sentences. I hope, on balance, that the author knew I loved their work. (I did, you know. Just in case you ever come back again and see this, dear author-person). Receiving the email was also a reminder to me that, even though writing a blog can feel a lot like screaming into the void at times, actually it isn’t; you’re making your words and thoughts as public as can be, and they are visible to readers all over the world.
So, yes. Simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. Much like publishing a book would feel, I should imagine.
It also reminded me of the importance of moderating what I say. It’s vital to remember that when you mention an actual, real-life human being on a public forum that they have every chance of finding your words, and of reading them, and if you’ve been cruel or hurtful, they will have every reason to be upset. Of course I try to never be cruel or hurtful to anyone, and unless absolutely necessary I don’t name names on this blog, but still. The principle remains. There are plenty of public events about which I’d love to comment, but about which I maintain silence because I either don’t trust myself to remain reasonable or they’re not relevant to the overall scope of this blog; that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion, or that I don’t care, but I’m aware there’s a time and place for everything.
Having the freedom to keep a blog, and to live in a country where my thought processes and ability to express myself (within reason) are uncensored, is a luxury I do not take for granted. I have had access to education, and I have always been encouraged to think for myself; I value that more than I can express. I’m also aware that, while putting my words on a blog makes them public, nobody is required to read them; the fact that I have readers at all is a privilege. Because of the fact that, to me, my blog is just me in my office with my computer, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there reading what I say. It’s frighteningly easy to forget that what I say here can affect others.
But what is most terrifying of all is the thought that the concerns which govern my online behaviour – moderated content, careful phrasing, avoidance of personal attack – are not shared by a lot of people who spend their time commenting on the endless stream of information that is the internet.
I’ve recently read a book – of which more later in the week – which made mention of cyberbullying; characters in this story are shown leaving vicious messages for someone on a social media site, breaking her down with every word, forcing her to believe that she is worthless. In the news over the past few days there have been stories of mindless vandalism which almost had fatal consequences, and it makes me so angry that people can do these irresponsible things without thinking of how they might affect others – or, more frighteningly, knowing exactly how they might affect others, and not caring. The choices I make about how I maintain my blog will have zero effect on things like this, of course; whether I live my life with empathy, or not, has nothing to do with someone who feels they have the right to throw rocks onto a train track, just for kicks. It makes me feel a little better, though, about the state of the world, to know that this little corner of the web is a place which strives to do no harm.
That, I suppose, is the best that I can do.