“I was on your website this morning; I don’t get it.” This was my dad. I saw him yesterday for my extended family Christmas celebration. This post isn’t about family relationships, but of course it could be. We all have so much fertile ground to till on that topic. But then I wouldn’t be writing about me, and if this blog is consistent in any way, it’s always about me.
This blog-post is about the sinking feeling I get when somebody says to me: “I read your blog.” Or “I read your book.” This happens with some regularity, and over the past couple of months, maybe too often. My online footprint is wide and somewhat deep. Anyone who Googles me using Jeff Cann Gettysburg or Jeff Cann Running—which are the two web searches I would try—will easily find me and immediately discover that I’m a writer.
Recently, at the funeral for my friend Mike, a best friend from college, and later a coworker for fifteen years at a fortune five hundred company, person after person, people I’ve been out of touch with for decades, came up to me and started conversations with “I read your book.” Former college friends, former co-workers: I’ve read your book. I’ve had years to practice this exchange, and still, I never know how to respond. I don’t know if they are saying it in a praising way or a snarky way. I’d much rather they said “Dude, your book sucked.” At least I’d know where I stand.
When I hear “I read your book” I want to say “Okaaay” or “Aaand.” I want the person to say something more, or at least something else. Maybe “I enjoyed your book.” Or “I learned a lot about you from your blog.” Or “Hey, tell me what it’s like to live with Tourette Syndrome.” What I really want to hear is “Wow, I love your writing.” But now I’m pushing too far.
When it first came out, common feedback I received about my book Fragments was that it helped people sort out some of their own problems. “Hey Jeff, I deal with some of that same stuff; it’s nice to read someone else’s perspective.”
But then once, a friend said, “Wow, your blog really makes me think about the things that bother me about myself.”
I replied, “Oh good, so it’s helpful, I’m glad you like it.”
“I didn’t say that. I don’t like it at all.”
On my contact page it reads: Nothing is more flattering than receiving a comment. Even a mean one. Am I really looking for people to bash me? No, but I like ambiguity even less than bashing. If someone reads something I wrote, I want feedback. Good or bad, I want to know.
Every now and then someone will binge read my blog. Looking at the search terms section on my Stats page, I’ll see they got here by searching on my name. And then I wonder who it is. When I was job hunting, I assumed it was prospective employers (why I actually ever got a job, I’ll never know). Normally, I assume it’s one of my coworkers. Or maybe one of Eli’s mountain bike coaches. One of Sophie’s teachers? Whatever, someone is getting the upper hand on me. It’s like they’ve seen me naked. They know all about me, and I know nothing about them. I don’t even know who it is.
Sometimes people will say things that seem like leading statements on a topic I blogged about. I want to ask if they’ve been reading my blog, but saying the words my blog out loud sounds narcissistic. I know almost everyone reading this is a blogger. Don’t you think we’re all a little self-absorbed?
I didn’t start blogging to be read. I began blogging to explore my secrets, air them out, make them no longer secret—even if it was for a bunch of strangers. I didn’t write for people I knew. In fact, my first blog was anonymous. Like many bloggers, my first audience was only me. Even then, I worried that people from real life would start reading what I blogged.
It makes me a little uncomfortable that after all these years, my father is interested in reading my blog. Flattered, but also uncomfortable. Some of my topics set my own teeth on edge. I don’t want to upset him… or worry him.
This morning on the phone, my father and I talked about my blog. It helps that he calls it my website, it seems less immature. He didn’t understand why each story only showed the first four lines. I explained that he needs to click on the story to read the rest of it. So now I’m watching my stats… all day. I’m trying to divine when and what my father is reading.
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Q: Am I writing too much this week? Don’t worry, on Thursday, my normal life starts back up, and I’ll resume my normal pace. Thanks for reading.
The title of this post is a nod to my favorite creative nonfiction essayist David Sedaris, who has an essay and a book with the same name.
Fragments, a memoir is available at Amazon: $4 for an eBook, $8 for a paperback. I recommend it.