Saturday, June 28, 2003

Dying To Tell You Our Stories

I was talking with Dave Winer about what happened at the Jupiter Conference when Tony Perkins, former editor of Red Herring Magazine and now CEO of spoke. Everyone was very tough on him. The A list bloggers in the audience wanted to give him a message -- you are NOT one of us. There was a very antagonistic crowd listening to his keynote and the Q&A was very contentious. I don't have a thing against the man, and in fact, he may be a lovely person, but he became a lightning rod for an issue which is fundamental to blogging. I don't know what to call it, but I'm going to talk about it. Let me start by saying, Tony Perkins is NOT Anne Frank.

Anne Frank was a young girl writing a diary, falling in love, hiding behind a bookcase in a tiny apartment in Amsterdam, during the Nazi occupation. Later she was dead and only a diary. Ironically, Anne Frank ended up living on a bookcase shelf. Many bookcase shelves, all over the world. The life she documented was simple and lively. The difficult circumstances under which she lived exalted her writing. She was simply telling her story. And, as you've probably guessed, I think of Anne Frank as a blogger.

Dave and I were talking about an often overlooked aspect of blogging. Blogs are not simply online diaries. They are not simply a new form of instant publishing and group-think. Many are written by people who have been to hell and back.

On June 25, Andrew Sullivan, opinionated blogmeister supreme and brilliant writer, wrote about his ten-year anniversary of finding out he is HIV positive and how he's managed to survive. On June 14, 2002, Winer's blog went black for a week when he had unexpected heart by-pass surgery. As he recounted the other day, we were wondering how his friend Brian Buck, who is battling cancer is managing. We all sit on the edge of our seats routing for him and wince when he does not post on a regular basis. Much of my early blogging was about my father's downward spiral into illness and finally his death last year on April 9th.

Am I saying you have to turn your blog into General Hospital to get readers? Not at all. I'm saying that many of us have been through personal crises that have given us new wisdom, new clarity about what matters and what doesn't. These difficult circumstances have the positive aspect of elevating our writing. The bloggers who lived through and recounted September 11, 2001 also share this legacy. It's the blood and guts of blogging. It's a life and death thing. It's not casual. We have some skin in the game.

The life and death bloggers aren't writing casually. They are writing for their lives. They are writing to stay alive. They are writing about what it feels like to be alive -- knowing that all that will be left behind is their words. They are writing because it really, really matters. Tony Perkins is not Anne Frank -- nor does he want to be, nor should he aspire to be. But like Tony, anyone who wants to join the party needs to be aware of the tradition of this medium --- enter this inner sanctum with head bowed, hat in hand. Tread lightly in this place. Show us your real self. We're naked here, are you? We're alive here, but we're also dying. Dying to tell you our stories.