Sunday, December 31, 2006

More Like Guidelines than Rules....

Over Christmas my brother-in-law teased me about how nice and humble I seem in my blog compared to how nasty and arrogant I am in real life. He has a point: I'm not all that nice or humble. But I do have a few guidelines for how I conduct myself on the Internet, and was just acutely reminded why those guidelines are a good idea.

Although I don't spend a lot of time online, I do participate in a couple of forums and newsgroups that talk comics. In one recent discussion I poked some sarcastic fun at a particular syndicated feature and very quickly received an e-mail from the cartoonist who does that feature thanking me for the recognition, complimenting me on my own work that he'd been following since I went online, and congratulating me on my success.

What a gracious response! My original comment could've been taken as an insult, although it wasn't really meant as one and the cartoonist didn't see it as one--or perhaps chose not to. Instead, he won a fan for life. But the little tingle of "Oh crap!" that ran up my spine when I found his name in my In Box reminded me why I try to live by some pretty high standards:

Don't write anything about someone that I wouldn't say to their face. The anonymity of the Web is intoxicating. But you never know who's reading, and Web archives last forever. I try not to write anything I'd ever have to apologize for or be embarrassed by.

A corollary: Don't write anything uncomplimentary about the creative efforts of others. The fact is, I have an innate respect for almost anyone who creates anything, and a lot more respect for anyone able to make a living at it. The worst I'll say about something publicly is that it doesn't work for me; I'm not its audience. That makes it my problem, not yours. I'm quick to admit I might be wrong. Now, that doesn't mean I don't have my own opinions about terrible work and talentless hacks. I do, and if you and I are friends or colleagues splitting a pizza I might share those thoughts with you. But not here.

I learned two things from making Mom's Cancer: 1) It is much, much harder to create something--anything--than to sit back smugly tearing down the work of others, and 2) One cruel criticism stays with you longer than 100 kind compliments. I fairly commonly come across aspiring cartoonists online looking for critiques of their work. If I see something I like or have something genuinely constructive to contribute, I speak up. If not... well, maybe I just didn't happen to see it. Good luck to 'em.

No politics or religion. In particular, no evolution or conspiracy theories. I sometimes regret this guideline and am tempted to break it. Such topics encompass a big, interesting part of life and I wouldn't mind sharing my thoughts on them. In fact years ago I used to, but adopted the guideline when I realized I had never once changed anyone's mind about anything. All that my online arguing accomplished was to keep me awake nights drafting clever retorts in my head that were invariably undone by my opponents' blind inability to accept the inescapably self-evident beauty of my impeccably reasoned conclusions. This guideline has nothing to do with timidity or manners; it's pure self-preservation. Otherwise you'd all drive me nuts.

Go easy on family. With the obvious glaring exception of Mom's Cancer itself, I try to keep my personal life private. That's partly an editorial decision based on the type of blogger I want to be. I do mention my family once in a while, but this ain't Erma Bombeck or Anna Quindlen. Let's just assume we all glimpse the majesty of the universe in a baby's smile and move on. I also want my wife, children, sisters and friends to feel free to live their lives without worrying about Brian broadcasting it to the world. Frankly, after doing that once already, I think I owe them. Forever.

These guidelines create a little wall between us--me the writer and you the reader--that I sometimes regret but is just about a thickness and height I can live with. Some bloggers say whatever they want and let the chips fall where they may, and I see the value in that, sometimes admire it, and recognize it as one reason blogs exist. Just not this one.

Since I don't plan to post again before the start of 2007, maybe you could find a New Year's resolution in here somewhere worth adopting. Couldn't hurt.

No comments: