further thoughts on why i blog: a clarification

My recent post about no longer voting in US elections caused some dismay and upset among some of USian readers. At least one friend interpreted that post as encouraging others not to vote. I was surprised by this - but my friend was surprised that it meant otherwise! It seemed like a clarification was in order.

First of all, I would never try to convince anyone not to vote. For most of my life, the idea of not voting was anathema to me. I would have never considered it. And, in the first few presidential elections in which I was eligible to vote, I voted Democrat, and I didn't agree with people I knew who voted third-party. So I understand all the arguments about voting and about voting Democrat. I know where my USian friends are on these issues, because I've been there.

What's more, the inaction of not voting is not enough. Boycotting the duopoly without working on building a new system, or educating people about alternatives, would be fairly useless. And I am certainly not telling people what to do with their time or how to be politically engaged.

My statement about why I no longer vote in the US is a description, not a prescription. I'm explaining how I feel.

Anywhere from 200 to 700 people a day read this blog. Do most of those readers share my assumptions and my worldview? Or do most of them find my blog a restatement of what they already know? Do some people read wmtc to challenge their own views? I don't know the answer to any of these questions, and I never guess at the answers as I write.

I write about what's on my mind, because the writing process is how I discover clarity. If people like the blog, maybe they'll keep reading. If they don't, they'll (usually) go away. (In some cases, I can only wish they would.) I can't control those things and don't concern myself with them.

In 2008, I wrote this. (Scroll down, there's more.)
Why I Blog

  • I find it an extremely valuable writing discipline. Blogging helps me write every day. Writing every day primes the pump for my life as a writer.

  • It is very useful to write for an audience. Instead of writing in a notebook and ending up with a bunch of half-formed ideas, knowing that someone is reading helps me write more clearly, which means it helps me think more clearly.

  • On the other hand, it is very difficult and time-consuming to get columns or essays published. My work was published before I started blogging, and continues to be. But writing without the need to attract an editor frees me from having to construct a complete, publishable essay tailored to a specific audience.

    Thus, somewhere between the personal notebook of vague ideas and the slaved-over, multi-drafted essay for possible publication, lives my blog post.

  • For self-expression. I have a need to write. I have had this need all my life.

  • To share information I find interesting, noteworthy or valuable.

  • For community. We've met most of our friends in Canada through this blog. Other people have met each other (independent of me) through wmtc.

  • To help people interested in emigrating to Canada. People email me for information all the time. I can't always answer their questions, but I can try to point them in the right direction, and I can at least offer support. Many Canadians were incredibly helpful and supportive to me and Allan in our journey. I try to do the same for others.

  • To learn. I ask questions, I put forth ideas, people of similar viewpoints offer more information and direct me to other sources.

  • To have a record of my experience, first as an emigrant, then as an immigrant, and one day as a Canadian citizen.

    Not Why I Blog

  • To gather a spectrum of viewpoints on a particular topic. Because I don't tolerate all viewpoints and opinions on wmtc, I am frequently criticized for being close-minded. The truth is I see a lot of different viewpoints. I just don't want them on my own blog. It would ruin the experience for me. A new friend of wmtc recently described my blog as a "safe space"; for me that affirmed I was doing the right thing.

  • To debate. I dislike debate for its own sake. I find it tiresome and tiring, a misuse of my limited time and energy. My preferred method of learning is to read and consider. I will read and consider anyone's opinion, but I won't be baited into an argument. When I forget that, I am always sorry.

  • There are hundreds of thousands of blogs and message boards on which people can debate any topic under the sun. Readers seeking that type of experience would do well to avoid wmtc.

  • To bait others into an argument. See above.

  • So that other people can use my blog as a soapbox. And lest any friend of wmtc be paranoid, I welcome long comments from wmtc readers and discussions among readers. I'm referring to people who don't read my blog but think it might be a good place to direct other people to their own blogs, or to spout their opinions on any unrelated topic.

  • For money. I love being paid for my writing, and if blogging helps me land a paying assignment, that's beautiful. But the blog itself has to stay noncommercial in order for it to remain completely independent, and to retain its value to me.

  • Because I have nothing better to do.

  • Now, four years later, I would slightly amend that statement.

  • I'm no longer writing professionally, so I need this blog more than ever. It's my only writing outlet and I can't imagine being without it.

  • I no longer blog about emigrating to Canada. That is over and done with, and my experience isn't very relevant to someone considering or trying to emigrate now. I do still get emails from grateful readers, thanking me for helping them sort through the confusion of immigration information, and showing them it can be done. I treasure those emails. But emigration is no longer a principal motivating factor in my blogging.

    But everything else holds true. You'll note that "to persuade" is not on the "why" list. Here's what I told my skeptical friend.
    I write about what matters to me most, what I'm passionate about, and social justice is a huge part of that. But my writing about social justice doesn't serve a different purpose than my writing about books or travel or my experiences at school. It's just me, what I need to express.

    I do hope my writing is informative and educational (in a broad sense), and if it influences how a reader thinks, that's fine, but my goal is not to influence. I'm never trying to change minds or votes, and my intention is not to challenge people to question their assumptions - not at all.

    . . . . My only writing challenge is my own, to express my thoughts in ways that are both clear and lively - the writer's constant losing battle.

    Amy said...

    I do find this all interesting since almost all my professional writing is either to persuade or to educate, often a combination of both. As a lawyer, I expect people to challenge my positions, and I enjoy being challenged and being able to respond to those challenges. Thus, it is hard to imagine writing for the purpose of self-expression. Period.

    Can I ask what you expect/want from comments? Do you not want people to challenge your positions? Do you not want to hear other points of view? Since you say you hate debate, I assume you do not. I do not mean this as a challenge; just want to understand better. My inclination would be to comment both when I agree and when I disagree, but not if that is not what you want. It's your blog---your rules! :)

    (Obviously I have been reading wmtc for a long time and should have asked this a long time ago! Please excuse my obtuseness.)

    laura k said...

    Thanks, Amy, and no, not obtuse. I find this interesting, too.

    I do write to educate/inform. That's very important to me. If the education ends up being persuasive, that's like a happy side effect. But the purpose of education and information-sharing isn't to persuade, necessarily.

    What I want from comments? Pretty much what you've been seeing in comments all these years. Discussion, respect for each other's opinions, an exchange of ideas, more information-sharing. Nothing incendiary or baiting, no personal attacks. No going around in circles trying to win the argument, which is what most debates look like to me.

    When you ask about people challenging my position, it's hard to respond, because I don't think of disagreement that way. Wmtc readers don't march in lockstep, and I don't expect comments to, either. We can have different positions on something without challenging each other and without trying to convince each other of the correctness of our viewpoints. So for me the question itself doesn't really apply.

    Amy said...

    We can have different positions on something without challenging each other and without trying to convince each other of the correctness of our viewpoints.

    That seems like a hard line to draw, other than in tone. For example, when I disagreed with your take on whether or not it matters who is on the SCOTUS and thus who is elected POTUS, was that taking a different position without challenging you? I admit that I wanted to convince you that my view was correct. :)

    Again, I am not trying to debate this (!) with you---just trying to clarify what you mean.

    laura k said...


    It's not a hard line for me to draw. Perhaps you saw that as challenging me but I don't accept the challenge. In that instance, you seemed not to have fully read what I wrote, which usually means someone is responding with the heat of emotion. (I do that frequently - or I used to - so I recognize it!) I can't think of that as a challenge. It's a person I respect who has a different POV.

    Usually by the time I form an opinion on any topic, I'm familiar with the arguments from all different competing perspectives, and I know what I believe. So - and I apologize for how this might sound - it's not like you're telling me anything new. If I felt it was important to vote for Obama because of SCOTUS - and that that was more important than not voting for him because of Guantanamo, special ops in 75 countries, drones over Pakistan, 75 billion dollars in taxes to corporate bailouts, etc. - even though I believe SCOTUS is a lost cause and that American women's reproductive rights have been gutted while Roe is still on the books - I would be doing so.

    So I listen to your POV, and I respect it because I respect you, but I don't enter into the debate.

    laura k said...

    Your assumptions about my writing, though, are very enlightening for me.

    Readers do frequently assume my posts are prescriptive and get angry. Small example: I write about not watching the Olympics and people leave angry comments, saying I should not be "calling for a boycott". Allan usually ends up saying, Where in this post do you see Laura suggesting a boycott? She said she is not watching the Olympics - she's not asking you not to watch.

    That's just one example, but exchanges like that happen frequently. I think many readers make the same assumption about the intentions of any blogger.

    Amy said...

    All interesting. Probably most people think as I do...or did, that is,"Why would she take a public position on something unless she wanted to persuade people to agree with her?"

    I get it now, though I wonder whether most blog authors feel the same way. I always assume they do want me to be persuaded and to agree and conform my behavior accordingly.

    Amy said...

    Also, it is always clear to me that you always read a lot and think a lot before expressing your views! (But I still think it will make a huge difference that Obama gets to replace Ginsberg and/or Kennedy or anyone else who might die or retire from the Court. :) )

    allan said...

    Probably most people think as I do...or did, that is,"Why would she take a public position on something unless she wanted to persuade people to agree with her?"

    I have to agree with Amy here - although again (like her), maybe it is my background and how I view essays/writing that leads me to think that way.

    L says it is not a hard line of difference to draw, but it also seems like a very thin line. And that is why some readers see things in posts that aren't really there.

    The Olympics boycott was clearly something that she was not suggesting, but in the case of other posts, I can see how someone would think that L was giving her opinion with the underlying tone (however faint it might be) that if you were informed and smart and logical, you would feel this way, too.

    She and I talked about this when the post first went up and her position really make no sense to me. How can you write such provocative posts without wanting people to come around to your point of view? Especially if you state that you write to "educate/inform". Maybe you would not necessarily expect that person to take in the information and come to a similar decision, but wouldn't that be the ideal outcome?

    I guess I still don't fully get it.

    laura k said...

    Also, it is always clear to me that you always read a lot and think a lot before expressing your views!

    Of course. And I assume everyone else does, too - or in any case, that their minds are made up, based on whatever information they use.

    People do change their views on topics. I have several friends who used to be anti-abortion-rights and are now pro-choice. I've seen people change their minds on war resisters. I used to support Israel. Those changes happened gradually, over time, by encountering a lot of new information. So if I can offer a piece of that new information, that's cool.

    However, I don't think a sea-change of thought usually, if ever, occurs from reading one essay. So I don't expect anyone to change their mind from reading anything I write. Maybe something I write will be one piece of the puzzle.

    laura k said...

    Your joking/not-joking comment about SCOTUS touches on something that is a fine line.

    You write

    But I still think it will make a huge difference that Obama gets to replace Ginsberg and/or Kennedy or anyone else who might die or retire from the Court. :) )

    And I think, it's possible, it might make a huge difference. It might not, but it might.

    However, if I choose to argue that point, I'm veering into territory that could deeply offend people I respect.

    My response would be, it might, but for me, voting for Obama is morally indefensible. A vote for Obama is a vote for endless war, for Guantanamo, for drone warfare. A vote for the US death machine. Also a vote for continued economic collapse. (A vote for Romney is all of those things, too, of course.)

    How do I say that without saying that my friends, who I respect, are behaving immorally? I don't want to say that, I don't believe it - because everyone has to live by their own moral code, not mine - but most people will read it that way.

    This is partly why I don't want to argue and debate. It will end badly, and for what? Neither of us will change each other's minds.

    laura k said...

    L says it is not a hard line of difference to draw, but it also seems like a very thin line. And that is why some readers see things in posts that aren't really there.

    I think so. This is very enlightening for me.

    Amy said...

    Allan, it's reassuring to know that even you were confused!

    Laura, things could never end badly between you and me, at least for me. I don't agree that voting for Obama is immoral, but I don't take offense at you suggesting otherwise. I would hope that similarly that you would not take offense that I disagree with you and that I believe that not voting when there is at least a better choice on other issues---women's rights, abortion, health care, and gay rights, for example--is a mistake.

    I think we can agree to disagree without taking things personally, and I will always be interested in and respect your point of view even when I disagree. Of course, if we did not generally hold similar values and views, we probably wouldn't talk to each other at all! :)

    laura k said...

    Amy, I agree entirely - 100%. :)

    Allan was more than confused. He actually didn't believe me. We had a long conversation today, Allan trying to get me to admit that I am writing to persuade others to come around to my POV.

    laura k said...

    ...But in most cases, it will end badly. One of my oldest and dearest friends ended up calling me names on Facebook! Not fun.

    Amy said...

    Uh oh, sorry to have started trouble at home! It sounds like the kind of "discussion" Harvey and I might have about some issue where either he or I cannot believe that we don't think alike about something. Other than baseball, of course---though we have plenty of arguments about that as well. :)

    laura k said...

    Ha ha, no problem, it was very amicable. This time. :)

    johngoldfine said...

    I don't usually comment on Laura's political posts, not because I'm without opinion (ha!) but because almost always they put me in a world of ambivalence, as did the one on voting.

    Ambivalence: it's very hard for me to disagree with what Laura says about the immorality of voting for Obama. I think I said once on a blog comment here that I have become reduced to being a one-issue voter (and that issue is torture), and Obama certainly has not satisfied me there.

    But as I agree with you, as I nod my head, I also find myself in disagreement emotionally: I don't want to face the logical consequences of my disappointment in him. I don't want to believe there is no difference between the two of them, that my vote is literally meaningless. I don't want to live in such a bleak place.

    I can't go there with you, Laura! But I certainly have no good argument to adduce in opposition.

    I voted. (And, FWIW, Maine did, with my help, vote to allow same-sex marriage!)

    Amy said...

    That's how I felt, John. I need to believe that there is hope for a change and for good things. I also am not blind to his faults and his failures. FWIW, I AM glad you voted.

    And it's good to have Maine join the rest of New England (but for RI) as well as NY, MD, IA and now Washington in the world of marriage equality.

    laura k said...

    Thanks for your thoughts, John. Sounds like you know you are in that bleak place, but finding a reason to resist it anyway, which is a good thing in its way.

    I also am not blind to his faults and his failures. FWIW, I AM glad you voted.

    I feel the need to reiterate that I did not refrain from voting because of Obama's so-called faults and failures.

    I know you're speaking from your own experience. I just feel the need to qualify that whenever I hear someone say, "I know he's not perfect, but...". As if my problem is Obama's imperfection.

    laura k said...

    I also believe there is hope. The first step would be abandoning the Democrats. The next step would be building an alternative.

    laura k said...

    I don't usually comment on Laura's political posts, not because I'm without opinion (ha!) but because almost always they put me in a world of ambivalence,

    I had assumed it was because you disagree and were respecting my distate for debate.

    johngoldfine said...

    "I had assumed it was because you disagree...."

    Yes, partially respecting your distaste for debate. And partially remembering how often, when I've entered into incautious debate, you've wound up handing my head.


    And also, as I said, reading your political stuff sets up a huge undertow pulling me out into waters I see, feel, even understand, but that I don't have the fortitude to swim in.

    Always that ambivalence--first I say, 'Oh, what horseshit!' And then I say, 'But it's true; it's the truth of your youth when you were all bread and roses, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, the Wobblies, segregation, SANE, HUAC, AFSC! And it's still the truth of your attitude toward nearly everything now--why not just admit it?'

    So, Laura, I dither and lurk.

    laura k said...

    I'm very pleased (and a bit proud) that this blog has that effect on you.

    You (like Amy and some others who read this blog) with whom it is possible to disagree and discuss without veering into acrimonious debate. So please don't hesitate if you want to. But now I will better understand your absence.

    laura k said...

    Oops, missing words there.

    ^ are someone ^

    Amy said...

    LOL, John. I laugh because I recognize that feeling---often what Laura writes resonates with my basic values and makes me feel that I am selling out. But I am too much of a pragmatist, so I compromise my principles in an effort to find a more comfortable place to be and hope for the best. But I like to feel that twinge of guilt.