walking the line

Dear Reader,

One of my favorite sayings is “Never trust a writer.” The same goes for photographers or actors or composers, whatever. Because here’s the deal: writers, rather, bloggers (let’s pick on them for now because obviously) take great care to choose only exactly what they want their audience to know. They work their butts off to make their words tidy, condensed, attractive, witty, meaningful, and inspirational.

But that’s not the whole picture. Life isn’t tidy or condensed. Life isn’t even all that pretty.

There is a line between wanting to make oneself look good and telling the truth. But the line is blurry, sometimes almost invisible. Some truths aren’t appropriate to share (TMI, you know), and details can be sloggy-boggy. Telling the truth artistically is hard especially since art is all about making impressions—good, interesting, beautiful, creative impressions. Art is about Selling Our Perspective.

I have a fairly large, built-in BS detector. I read blog posts about some blogger’s cozy Saturday mornings and look at the photographs of syrupy, stacked pancakes and I can’t help but think, “Oh, come on. You aren’t irritated that your kid woke you up with his dead-animal morning breath? The pancakes didn’t get cold and mushy while you fiddled to get the perfect shot? Show the dirty dishes in the sink! Talk about how you miffed your husband by fiddling with his pannycakes! Talk about how you used up the last of the syrup for the photos and the kids had to use honey and they acted like they were dying because they hate honey on their pancakes. TELL THE WHOLE STORY, PEOPLE!”

Maybe this reading-between-the-lines habit is a defense mechanism to protect me from getting too depressed with my own chaotic, helter-skelter, raw existence. Maybe it’s sour grapes. Maybe it’s because I know how much I don’t say.

Because I’m guilty of making my life look good, too. Not that my life isn’t good, because it is—parts of it are downright gorgeous—but I often make it look better than it really is. I beautify it. I edit my photos—to lighten, brighten, heighten them. The same with words. I leave out whole chunks of the story. I polish the parts I put in. Do you have any idea how long it’s taken me to write this post? A long time. Like, hours and days.

You’d think that with my BS detector I’d be drawn to only the rawest of blogs. But that’s not the case. I enjoy blogs that are put together, beautiful, erring on the side of too nice. They are pretty to look at, inspiring in their simplicity, clean. But I also enjoy blogs that are painful in their rawness, the ones that talk about depression, illness, and the ugliness that each of us has inside. These blogs, though, are almost always witty. I don’t know if I could handle them without the humor.

So anyway. Last week I wrote a post about the end of summer. It was a little rosy. But the truth is, I have been loving this late-summer season and feeling sorta glowy about it. So that part was true.

But it was also true that:

*the weather was a little too warm for those cozy pjs
*the bed sheets were slipping off the mattress because they don’t fit our bed right
*my husband was dumping out the tomatoes, not laying them out (though I didn’t know that until later)
*the downstairs reeked of rotten tomatoes because the little buggers insisted on hiding their rotting spots and then oozing out their stinky insides all over the shelving.
*the target-throwing game soon turned into bathtime and there was a lot of yelling, pounding on doors, and too much water running down the drain
*the end of summer equals allergy season, so we all walk around with itchy, burny eyes.

The line between art and truth is hard. Writing (photography, etc) is supposed to crystallize our experiences, focus them. And yet, the end result is supposed to be enjoyable to read (look at). So how are artists supposed to make real life, which is so rarely pretty, consumable? How to find a balance?

On second thought, maybe this is more about communication than art. Maybe it’s more a question of self-presentation than it is about Artsy-Fartsy. Maybe…?

In any case, have you figured out how to walk the line?


PS. The “never trust a writer” saying? I think I made it up. But I’m not positive.


  • Laurie Longenecker

    Jen…this is why I like your blog. I think you are finding the right balance of walking the line. You find a way to inspire me in the kitchen and also reassure me that family life doesn't have to be perfect all the time. And that it is OK to be inconsistent sometimes (like a frozen pizza from the grocery store instead of a homecooked meal…) Thanks!!! My number one go-to blog for recipes!

  • Phoebe

    Well put, Jennifer! And thank you for revealing (some of the stuff) behind the curtain. It's Truly a beautiful thing to sneak a peek into other people's lives with all this blogginess. But sometimes it does seem greener in that grass over there and lead to discontent by comparison.
    Thanks for sharing this and all your blogs – you have a gift of creativity that you've obviously passed on to your kiddos.

  • mavis

    I like Jane's comment. But then again, I like Jane, I know her voice, and I can hear her words/ reasoning in my head.

    I am not a fan of blogs where people are always complaining about being sick, kids arguing, husband is a pain in the rear, life is hard blah blah blah.

    I think by not dwelling on the bad, boring, mundane stuff helps with life in general.

    Life is not perfect, and we all know that. So for me, I tend to blog about what makes me happy, makes me laugh, and what's going on around me.

    That being said, I don't think people really want to see a picture of me sitting down at my computer still in my bathrobe and flannel pj's at 11 am typing away and editing pictures of the jam I just processed.

    They just want the recipe.

    P.S. Are you having a fall party again this year? Maybe at your Mothers new house? 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    These are excellent thoughts.. I have stopped reading blogs that are too perfect…too rosy. Mainly because, for me, I believe life is about more than a perfectly decorated home or the perfect outfit. I realize that bloggers who talk about those things have themes to their blogs…and that is fine for them. But for me, because my home is not perfectly decorated (and more than likely never will be as I have more important things to do) blogs that showcase perfect homes make me feel bad, not inspired. So I tend toward the blogs that I can relate to…yours is one, and there are a handful of others.

    As for my own blog? I share a lot at times…I get personal…about depression, anxiety, struggles with walking my faith, etc. But I believe that God wants me to share that stuff…for others to find hope. But I only share MY business. Nobody else's. I have shared a little about my husband, and he asked me to stop. So I did. No problem. It wasn't anything big…but it was his business to share. Not mine.

    On the other hand, I also share about the garden, and food, and family, and memories. You know…LIFE. And I try to be as honest as possible without making anyone uncomfortable.

    What I don't show? Photos of my nasty carpet, my messy garage, my linen closet (that looks NOTHING like ANYTHING you'd see on Pinterest!), my dirty kitchen floor…and more. 🙂

    I appreciate your candid approach to blogging…you keep it real, you keep it honest, you keep it humorous. I have a feeling that if we were to meet for coffee you would be exactly as you are here…authentic. You. And I find that refreshing.

  • Becky

    Just yesterday I wrote a post that let out some of the real not so pretty things happening in my life. That venting made me feel infinitely better.

    There are blogs that complain about everything, blogs where everything is pretty all the time- somewhere inbetween is real life, well, real life as I see it. It's not always pretty but not always awful. The bad stuff helps us appreciate the good, yes?

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    Yeah, I'm pretty much over my blog right now. I have never and will never reveal much about my personal life or feelings on my blog, just won't do it. I'm a guarded person in real life, so why wouldn't I be in blogland too? I say ditto to what Alisha said, that my blog's sole purpose is to drive traffic to my Etsy shop as well as post information about my business. That said, I DO enjoy reading others' blogs that are filled with very personal details and feelings! And I am more personal in my comments at times than I ever will be on my blog! (exhibit A) LOL

    I love reading your blog. It often makes me shake my head in disbelief, laugh out loud, yearn to be a fly on your wall, and glad that our sons got a chance to meet up at camp. Your son made an impression on my son, he still brings up some of their experiences together! In my humble opinion, your blog is about as real as it gets! And I appreciate that. And that's all I'm going to say about that. (If you knew me well, you'd know that's my code for "I'm not really done talking, but I'll shut up for a little while b/c I know that it's the thing to do!"

  • the domestic fringe

    You're right, life's not always rosy. I struggle with this too. I try to be real, but I don't tell about every time I yell at my kid or fight with my husband, so how real is it? I don't know. Since I began blogging, I've become more and more aware that I can only tell my story, not other people's. That often even includes the stories from people in my immediate family. That keeps things very me focused and I hate that, but that's a fine line too. I second-guess everything and that goes triple time for every post I write. In the end, I think people know. The human, imperfect condition is a widespread one. I think most read between the lines.

    I guess you're right. Never trust a writer. 😉

  • Aili

    Also, on art vs. ugly things vs. beauty, you should totally read _The Empty Space_ by Peter Brook, which is about theater, but is also about Art and what to do with the messy things.

  • Aili

    I think it has to do with your blog's purpose/audience. I just started mine recently, and it has two purposes: 1) driving traffic to my etsy shop, 2) appeasing all (six!) of Silas' grandparents.

    For that reason…you might not see a ton of messy stuff on there, but maybe.

    Pam and I were talking about blogs one time, and I said that I was kind of over blogs like SouleMama, which are all about the perfect family living in this gorgeously restored farm house and the children sing rounds while doing the dishes and wearing their handknit sweaters and stuff. Pam said, "That's why I like Jennifer's blog. She's all like…'I bribe my kids with candy!'" I whole-heartedly agreed. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Just to tack on to what other said, I KNOW life isn't all that polished. You have a way of making me the reader know that and yet not need to read it. My life sure has enough of the dirty, less then desirable moments. I don't always need to read about yours! I feel like your blog is very real, the good, bad, humorous, insightful, though provoking. No need to change or over analyze what you write. I love seeing the picture you paint of your family life! What you want to keep "behind the scenes" is up to you!
    L in Elkton

  • Margo

    I think about this subject a lot. I tend towards the TMI side in life, but not in the blog. It's part privacy, part looking on the bright side. I have a tight focus on my blog (thrift at home!!!), so that keeps me out of the emotional yammerings, mostly, which is what I share with my friends and fam.
    HOWEVER, a casual reader will not understand. I worry that I'm helping the culture of women-jealousy and beating ourselves up because we're comparing ourselves to somebody's edited life. I really got burned by post-partum depression after my first was born, and I vowed I would always tell the truth if someone wanted to know about my life. I believe "the truth will set you free." Maybe I only tell the unvarnished truth in the comments. . . .?
    I do know this: I love your blog. I hope you don't change anything. I want to connect our real lives, too sometime, ok?

    ANd, I love that photo.

  • Mama Pea

    In order to maintain my mental stability (that would be healthy mental stability rather than unhealthy mental stability) I use my blog to focus on the good stuff instead of the bad. Doing what you need to do to stay as positive as possible is much better for you than letting yourself sink into the depths of negativity. Not to say I don't do my occasional "I'm not happy for whatever reason" blog post because even saying (writing) that out loud helps me listen to myself, possibly make some changes and stay sane. But in those posts I'm talking about myself, not other people.

    I would never use my blog to complain about or hurt anyone else. Nor do I include anything about anyone unless I have their consent.

    I don't think anyone would enjoy me writing about unpleasantness (as we all have to handle as part of life) or posting pictures of cleaning the toilet. If I felt posting about something bad would help me or someone else, I might do that. I guess it just boils down to why publicize the stuff that should remain private?

    Geesh, JJ, the question(s) you posed in this post could lead to reams and reams of writing in order to share all the thoughts now rattling around in my head.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    Well, there's a difference between art and a reality TV show, right? None of us need a play-by-play in a blog. I think the key is to tell a good story, an entertaining one – and whether that story relies on the nitty-gritty or just the beautiful probably doesn't matter, so long as it resonates with the reader.

    Says the woman who writes about vomit and refrigerator leftovers…

  • Lynn

    Ecclesiastes friend. There is a time for everything. Some stuff has to be shared in all its horror. Some stuff can only be swallowed when it's slippery and polished. And then most of it's probably in the middle. I tend to be drawn to the grit. But I try to be good about holding back on the grit when I write or it comes off all moany and whiny. But that's because I don't communicate that well. Part of it is me needing to protect those I love– those words stay out there forever. But, all that said– I love knowing that next to a really pretty picture of some time-consuming confection is an impossibly messy kitchen and a house full of whiny hungry children. Keep it real, yo.

    I could also have said- most of what 'you can call me Jane' said 🙂

  • Becky

    I was thinking about this today as I scrubbed the dining room table (that was covered with dried syrup, yogurt, and who knows what). I was thinking that it would be a good time to use the table in a blog picture since it was actually clean! I've totally been guilty of leaving out the parts of life that aren't the most fun. I try not to beautify it too much but I think that might just be the nature of blogs. Besides, who would want to read a blog full of diaper changes, fighting kids, and piles of laundry. Kinda like why you hardly ever see anyone use the bathroom in movies… that's not what you come to the movies for. 🙂
    I do love how you inject some reality in your blog though. After reading all the syrupy-sweet, ultra-perfect, make-you-feel-bad-about-your-life blogs… I love reading blog that are real. Full of wonderful things with a few glimpses of reality so that you know you're not the only one without a perfect life. 🙂

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    I think there are different motivations for holding back the nitty gritty. For some it may be to beautify or to hold to their blog's theme. For some it might be to help them focus on the good around them, so they're not weighed down by the hard stuff. For others, it may be to protect the privacy of family members (both for now and in the future). Others, I think, are able to be brutally honest in some areas of life but need to keep other areas close. I think all these reasons are okay (I, for one, can relate to all of them).

    I think some of the responsibility lies with the reader. Without plastering it at the top of all our blogs, I hope that they know that we do our best to represent ourselves in the way we feel most comfortable. And it's not our intention to mislead (at least I sure hope it's not). This writing thing is meant to meet our needs, too, not just our readers'. And those needs vary greatly.

  • Anonymous

    There's a line? Oh heck I'm over it then. I just talk about whatever is on my mind at the time. I don't try to beautify too much because my mind is messy. When I'm feeling all happy I'll post something nice and when I'm feeling nasty or mean I'll post like that. But then I hardly have any followers. That could be why…..

  • Zoë

    I love this season, too.

    But currently, there is a poopy diaper-clad youngster sitting on a stool next to me, my husband is working crazy long days harvesting corn and I rarely see him, and the 4-y-o is sulking in the next room. Were I still blogging, though, I'd probably only talk about the canned pears on the counter or the 3 different fruits currently dehydrating. Or perhaps the many meals I am making for the men harvesting that corn or the ridiculously cute 5-month-old laying in a patch of afternoon sun.

    I have not figured out how to walk that line.

    Writing (blogging) is weird. Sometimes I love it, other times I get so sick of it all.

    Oh, now the kids are fighting over some cars and trucks. Maybe I should change that diaper.

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