Salt and Seed
A Blogger Against Blogging
At last month's Women and the LDS Church conference, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's stimulating plenary address was a guided romp through the archives, sharing some of the best bits of the sources for her latest project on 19th-century Mormon women. Though her tone was upbeat and very funny, her theme was tragic: the appalling scarcity of surviving Mormon women's diaries. So scarce are women's diaries, which she carefully distinguishes from long-after-the-fact personal histories, that she has been forced to look further afield, to autograph books and handicrafts, for a window into that historical moment. Nevertheless, she emphasized the richness of the records that do exist, the power of their implicit witness and invitation.
Ulrich is, on this point as on every other, indisputably correct. The 19th-century women's diaries that survive today are invaluable windows to our collective past, precious not only as witnesses of the lives they represent, but also as invitations to remembrance; that is, as invitations to interpret our lives in their images. And if these records are so precious, the corollary follows easily: the 21st-century diaries that survive into the 23rd will be a similarly invaluable window, witness, and invitation. Ergo: keeping a record of one's life is a gift to the future.
This is a lesson that millions of women have deeply internalized, though usually without the rich history that Ulrich brings to the question. For most intents and purposes, personal blogging is the contemporary form of diary-keeping. The ubiquity of women's personal and family blogs, the time their creation and curation consume, the diligence required of the blogger week in and week out: these all testify to some deeply-seated motivation at work. Yes, some of it is status-seeking, some of it is community-building; contrary to conventional wisdom, these two functions are deeply entwined, because leaders and communities need each other. But there are certainly easier ways to seek status and build community than through the laborious process of writing, editing, and uploading text and photos to a blog.
In my experience, consisting entirely of hundreds of procrastinatory hours idled away reading strangers' blogs online, the strongest motivation for family blogging is the drive to preserve for the future. Blogging is like canning, except instead of putting up peaches or cherries for the winter, we preserve joy, intimacy, youth, and life in the form of photographs and narratives. Like the industrious ant preparing for winter, we electronically chronicle the events of our family life—and print them in books, and accumulate them on bookshelves—so that we can relive them someday, or so that our children can. A row of glimmering Mason jars in the pantry, the archives of our family blogs reassure us that today's sweetness and nourishment will be there to sustain us in the future.
Not surprisingly, I have many objections to this line of thinking, most of which are ridiculous and should be dismissed out of hand. I pride myself on a poor memory, for one thing, and am eager to allow my younger selves to retreat swiftly; I recently re-read a journal from my freshman year of college, and my dominant reaction was appalled half-recognition. Nineteen-year-old Rosalynde is not somebody I want to invite into my mental space very often. Furthermore, looking at old photographs and video of my children brings me more despair than joy. Those precious, perfect little bodies, voices, and minds are gone forever, along with the young mother who gave birth to them. The past is really no prologue; it is a frozen burial ground of youth, innocence, and good skin.
Rosalynde Welch is an independent scholar who makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children.