Her Bad Mother

Monday, March 19, 2007

Narcissus and Me

Edited/updated below. Because I am in love with my words and can't get enough of them.

I've been thinking a lot about Narcissus lately.

Narcissus, Ovid tells us, was condemned by the gods to fall in love with the reflection of his own image, and to waste away in that state, forever enchanted by that image, unable to break away from the posture of self-regard.

So it was with Narcissus, so it is with bloggers, we are told: narcissists, all of them, but especially the mommy bloggers, who are so enchanted by the minutiae of their personal lives that they are compelled to lay them bare upon the screen. Photographs, stories, reflections, all manner of fecal anecdote: we cast these upon the reflective waters of our virtual pond and gaze and gaze and gaze, unable to break away. Narcissists, the lot of us, or so we are told.

And not only narcissists, but privileged narcissists, as all narcissists must be. Who else falls in love with their own image, with their own story, if not those whose images and stories are struck through with sparkle and glimmer and gold? Who else has access to the pond? We are, all of us, privileged children of pride, are we not?: vain, bourgeois, convinced of our worth, enchanted by the reflection of our image, our words, our stories, in love with all that is our own, determined to expose and share that love and able to expose and share that love. Look, look, look at me! My stories are fascinating; my ideas are fascinating; I am fascinating.

I'm reluctant to cop to being narcissistic - however self-regarding I might be, I don't believe myself to be hopelessly infatuated with myself. I have not, I do not think, damned myself with my self-regard. But I am self-regarding. I am extremely interested in my own thoughts, my own ideas, my own stories. I spend a lot of time in contemplation of these. I write them down, the better to contemplate them. I sometimes get lost in such contemplation. My ideas, my words - these are my reflection. Even when their subject is someone, something, other than myself, they remain reflections of me.

I cannot say, of course, that I do not love these reflections. No writer, no artist, can say that they do not love their own reflection: their words, their stories, their art is that reflection. ('The inventor of painting... was Narcissus... What is painting but the act of embracing by means of art the surface of the pool?' Battista Alberti.) Why else do we put our thoughts to words, and cast those words upon the page, the screen, the reflective pond, if we do not love them?

Perhaps love is not the right word. Attachment? Whatever it is, it is a kind of love. It is not always constant; it is, sometimes, harsh; sometimes, it is bound, untidily, with frustration and self-recrimination. But it is, I think, a kind of love. And so, I must admit to being, in some (I hope) limited degree, narcissistic, if we understand narcissism simply as a sort of love of self that is made manifest in self-regard.

I must also admit to being privileged. Most of us, who have the skill and the equipment and the time and the inclination to write, to blog, to indulge ourselves in 'embracing the surface of the pool,' are in some measure privileged. We might not be rich, we might not be powerful, we might desire neither of these things - but we have the means, the ability, the support, to pursue this indulgence, and that is no small thing. We have, in some form or another, rooms of our own. This is not to say that we do not struggle; this is not to say that our lives are not, at times, difficult. It is simply to say that we are at enough of a remove from struggle and difficulty, enough of the time, to devote energy and resources to what is, in some respects, a form of self-indulgence. That is, at least, true for me. I am privileged.

I've been thinking a lot about narcissism and privilege, since last week's posts and the wonderful, thought-provoking comments that attended those posts. I've been thinking about how resistant I am to both 'narcissism' and 'privilege' as terms of description, about how both terms cause me to tense up, to become defensive. I've been wondering why I am so resistant. Narcissism is the more obviously problematic of the two words, and so my resistance to it is easier to explain: no matter how finely I slice it, no matter how neatly I reposition its connotations, 'narcissism' remains a synonym of vanity, of the worst kind of vanity. I can only embrace narcissism if I purge the term, the story, of its connotations of damnation. It only works if I see only the pool, and the reflection, and the figure bent in contemplation. So it goes with narcissism: I must make it serve my purposes.

Privilege, on the other hand... what (as some of you asked in response to my mother's description of mom-bloggers as privileged) is so terrible about laying claim to privilege? In fact, isn't there something troubling about declaiming our privilege, about refusing to acknowledge that we are privileged? About refusing to acknowledge that we are fortunate to have the means, the resources, the opportunity to practice our art/craft/business/indulgence - to have rooms of our own? It is a privilege to be able to write, to be able to read, to be able to tell and share our stories, to be able to build community and mobilize community and be in community. Whether we came by our privilege through hard work or good fortune, however understood, it is something to be thankful for. It is something to bear responsibly. It's a kind of power. Soft power, maybe, but power nonetheless.

And it's power that we lose if we declaim it. We privileged ones, we write and we talk and we share; we indulge ourselves in the luxury of examining and contemplating our ideas, our stories, our selves. If we deny that this activity is a privilege, if we deny that this activity emanates from and demonstrates what must be, if not an outright love of self, a powerful sort of self-esteem and self-regard, then we deny everything that is empowering about this activity. What is radical about being a 'mommy-blogger:' it is a way of stepping up and saying I have something worth saying. I have the capacity, the ability and the will to say it. I hold my words in the highest esteem; I know that my words matter. And I know that yours do, too.

Hello, my name is Her Bad Mother and I am a privileged narcissist and proud of it, sort of.

And, I'll show you my reflection if you show me yours.

You are all correct, sweet commenters, that narcissism carries the connotation of overweaning self-regard, of self-regard to the exclusion of regarding others, of self-regard to the point of pathology, of self-regard that - at least from the perspective of the classics - warrants punishment. As I said above, I'm aware that the term 'narcissism' cannot be purged of those connotations, and I'm also of the belief that the term, in its full, classical sense, cannot be and should not be applied to mommy-bloggers. But I wanted to advance the argument that there is something of the 'you're a narcissist' charge that we should accept and embrace - inasmuch as we can claim that charge and rework it to emphasize our attachment to/love of our own ideas, stories, words. Because as writers - and we are writers - we must love those words, in whatever complicated manner. Otherwise, why do we write? To share, of course, to find community - but we use our words and ideas and stories in that outreach because we do, at some level, consider those to be, if not the best part of ourselves, a most important part of ourselves.

Obviously, I can't purge and twist the term 'narcissist' to make it mean what I'd prefer it mean, but I can try to pull meaning from it, which is what I did (emphasis on TRY). 'Privilege,' on the other hand... I set it against 'narcissism' because I wanted to suggest that 'privilege' need NOT carry the negative connotations of the latter term. I can claim my privilege positively - all the while remaining aware that it is relative privilege, that privilege refers many things etc, etc, - and DO, without worrying about damnation from the gods. (Well, maybe just a little bit...)

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Blogger metro mama said...

Love how you own it, HBM!

I do think narcissist is a bit of a strong term. It connotes an inordinate amount of self-esteem. Isn't what we write just the product of a healthy self-esteem--the courage and confidence to put our thoughts and ideas into words in a public forum? Plus, most of us write little about ourselves compared to what we write about our children, issues, pop culture, etc.

As for privilege, I do think it is important to recognize having it (and we do have it) and be thankful for it. Apologetic? No.

7:16 PM  
Blogger S said...

Before we even come to the table to write, we must be, as you say so well, able to write: we must have lifestyles that support writing. That presupposes that we are privileged. OK. All writers are privileged in that sense, else they wouldn't be able to write. But -- and this is not a critique of you, because you are simply responding to criticism that has been leveled at you -- isn't this kind of trite? All writers are narcissistic in the sense that they believe they have something to say, something to share with others. All writers are privileged; otherwise, they would not be writing.

So what?

Now you will say: but mommybloggers, as a group, are accused of navel-gazing. To which I say: what about Proust? Wasn't he the biggest navel-gazer of all?

We don't need to feel guilty.

8:26 PM  
Blogger BOSSY said...

Shame on you: Bossy isn't a narcissist -- she simply loves to write... because she can see her reflection in her computer monitor.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Lena said...

Reason #547 to love you. Eloquence.

Not two seconds ago I named my sidebar "Narcissism Is Awesome". Then I come here and you put it all so eloquently.

We shall be sisters. (mwah)

8:48 PM  
Blogger OhTheJoys said...

So. You want to see me naked.

Okie dokie.

Heh. Kidding.

Excellent post - I am enjoying the whole range of thought on these issues... but tonight, I lack anything intelligent to say. Grandma Seattle has left me. LEFT ME! (How dare she.)

9:20 PM  
Blogger Blog Antagonist said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, having read several posts in a similar vein. I've come to the conclusion that we are self-actualized rather than narcissistic.

"Self Actualization is the intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately, of what the organism is."
Abraham Maslow

We are experiencing growth through existential examination and self-expression. As bloggers, as writers as artists, we are, in fact, defined by it.

Privileged? Well, privilege is a matter of perspective. I don't think we can make a blanket statement about privilege in a medium as vast and diverse as cyberspace.

Wonderfully thought provoking post, as always!

9:22 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Amazing, thought provoking, as always. Narcissistic or privileged, I don't care. I love mommy bloggers. I love what they do for my sanity.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Slouching Mom - of course it's trite, in that it is (or should be) obvious. Writers are privileged to practice their art, which, like all art, involves a certain amount of self-regard. *Must* involve such self-regard. But bloggers are too rarely regarded as writers - so-called mommy-bloggers especially - and too often accused of self-infatuation. Who cares about what happened on any given day to any given mommy-blogger? Why does she think that the world cares?

The world (some of it) cares about Proust and his silly madeleines because Proust was a brilliant writer, because Proust's words were/are understood to have worth. Proust didn't/wouldn't have to apologize for his self-obsession. I'm not saying that I am or we are Proust, or Proustian - only that part of the process (sorely needed) of accepting ourselves as and proclaiming ourselves as writers requires some embrace of writerly narcissism.

And, on privilege? I was a little bit surprised at how many commenters on the post that featured the note from my mom claimed to have felt a little bit defensive at being referred to as 'privileged.' *I* was defensive at being called privileged. And that could only be sorted out (for myself) by unpacking it alongside the other thing that gets my defenses up, narcissism. Again, I think that as mom-bloggers, when we talk about privilege, we don't think about it in the context of being writers, of being *privileged* to be writers. And we apologize for it. Wrongly, I think.

As you say - no guilt.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Antagonist - ooh, self-actualization is good. Narcissism is a bad term for what I'm getting at, and I'm not sure that it can be redefined in the way that I'm trying to define it. But what it offers is the whole element of attachment to, regard for, one's own reflection. I like the element of selfishness that it suggests, because there is something selfish about actualizing one's self through one's words and ideas, being absorbed in one's art, if you want to put it that way. But maybe Maslowian (Maslovian?) self-actualization captures that?

Maslow through the lens of Proust, or vice-versa, maybe?

9:38 PM  
Blogger Bea said...

The funny thing is that when I saw the painting at the beginning of this post, and the title and opening sentence, I thought you would be going in another direction entirely - the element of narcissism that is our love for our children, specifically that physical love that you've written of before. A friend of mine commented recently on some photos of Bub, saying that he looks just like me - his beauty is something I think I've made up sometimes, and my worship of it is a kind of narcissism.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I like Blog Antagonist's suggested term -- self-actualized.

Yes, I think there is something innately self-centered, self-absorbed, self-indulgent in most bloggers (not just mommy bloggers). Myself included. And as moms who have the time and the technology to blog, we are privileged. But as long as we are aware of that privilege and willing to acknowledge our narcissism, it's all good. I think.

I am a privileged narcissist also. I'm not sure I could say that I'm proud of that. I'm proud of my writing, my ideas. Maybe proud of myself.

9:53 PM  
Blogger S said...

HBM, I am afraid that I am hijacking your blog, but your response to my comment made me realize that I don't even bother to define the term mommybloggers, and that's because the mommybloggers I read are all writers. I read them because they are good writers who happen to discuss (sometimes) parenting, not the other way around. And that is why I do not cringe at comparing the mommybloggers I read to Proust -- because the mommybloggers I read are all writers. I guess I think that if you can write, you get a free pass to navel-gaze, at least some of the time.

I'm not sure what I've just written makes any sense at all, but so be it.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

NEVER apologize for hijacking. There's no such thing here.


10:17 PM  
Blogger Haley-O (Cheaty) said...

Well, you should be narcissistic (in your own terms, of course) because your writing and thoughts are beautiful and fascinating. Thanks, as always, for making me think (and think about my own writing/blogging) in new ways....

10:21 PM  
Blogger flutter said...

Well, you've just been making me think all over the place, lately. Sheesh. Keep it up and I might have to like, form a coherent thought or something.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole discussion is a bit over my head (am not brilliant like HBM) but I will chime in to say that I think the need for connection and the need to know one is not alone in their feelings and experiences is at the heart of blogging, at least in the "mommyblogger" circles. (Of course, this won't apply to everyone but a large majority, for sure)

The harsh realities of parenthood are a shock to most people and many of us agonize over our experiences not because we are narcissistic but because we have no clue if we're doing it right. Additionally,when we think it sucks, we need to know that we're not the only ones who ever felt that way, lest we be swallowed alive by the guilt of not loving every second of being a parent.

Even when we get past all that or if we never felt that at all, it's the community and the feedback that I think compel us to keep at it.

I mean sure, there are narcissists in the blog world and a few that are not even mommybloggers do spring to mind as textbook examples, but I think most parents blog for more than the satisfaction of seeing the minutiae of their lives in print.

But enough about that. Let's talk about me ;)

10:29 PM  
Blogger SciFi Dad said...

The irony (at least from where I stand) of all this is the naissance of this whole discussion is an accusation made from a blog comment; the ability and inclination to do so making the individual as privileged and narcissistic as the blogger themselves.

(Note that I am aware this is your mother, and I mean no disrespect; I only mean to point out the irony of the accusation. And I am also aware it was made in a private email, not a traditional public blog comment. Nonetheless, the nature and means by which the idea was conveyed is the same as a blog post - someone commenting on something in their life using technology many are unable to acquire or access.)

10:32 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

I have always understood Narcissus's folly in part to consist of the fact that he looked in the pond and **misrecognized** what he saw: that is, he falls in love with a chimera, mistaking for an *other* what is actually the reflection of *himself*.

The flaw was, I think, in not enough self-reflection: how can you know yourself so poorly as to not notice when you are looking, literally, at your own damn self? This is not a flaw to be found among the momospherians. We examine ourselves closely, and are not likely to mistake our own images for objects of desire. Our gaze is too careful, our vision, too keen.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Girl con Queso said...

Narcissism is a personality disorder. It's extreme, it's angry, it's selfish, and it's scary. I've lived in close proximity to this disorder...and blogging aint it. I love that I have no idea how to spell aint. Oh well, I just looked it up, and it has an apostrophe. Ain't. Case in point, I'm admitting that I was wrong and that I didn't know something. A narcissist would never do that. Realistically, a real narcie (as I call them) would never actually blog because he'd/she'd be too obsessed with how he/she was being perceived that it would be impossible to ever push publish. I'm just sayin.

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can say I'm privileged and mean it in an appreciative way. I can also hear it said about me in a dismissive way. Usually, when we hear it from other people it's intended to make us feel as though our experiences, our thoughts our ways of expressing the way our lives are going are somehow....less valid. As if our lives contain no sadness, no loss, no difficulty or challenges. I'm proud to be educated and I'm proud that I don't live in poverty. I'm proud that I've worked before and since having had children. So...I'm still not sure why ability to express myself is seen as self-involved. If a woman of lesser economic means were to blog, would that be better? If she had no college degree, would that be better? If she lived off welfare and all her kids were Special Needs Kids, would that somehow give more weight to her words than mine?

These are the thoughts I struggle with when someone appears to throw stones. And if I'm so confident about what I do and how I live then why, when I find that this same person is making an innocent observation, do I feel so defensive? I feel privileged to read your words and have you read mine. I think that's more than okay.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

catherine i love your mind,i love how eloquently you put words to page.how you make me think and examine my own thoughts and ideas and ideals.and if you are a little narcisstic then so be it.why do we have such problems loving or admiring ourselves?and,no,i don't think you are a narcissist.if we don't think in high regards of us who will?so lets all be a little bit narcisstic once in a blue moon.LAVENDULA

11:51 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I love what Izzy said.

And I understand what wordgirl is saying. No, I don't think that privilege makes our experiences any less valid. And I don't think there should be a competetion of suffering -- a contest for who has endured the most hardship. But I think if we fail to acknowledge our privilege, if we are living in a vacuum and unaware that most other people are not so privileged as us, then yes, maybe we lose some of our validity, our credibility.

As for Proust's worth -- how many people on the street would know Proust, and how many would know more about Patrick Swayze? My money is on Swayze. Bringing Proust into the discussion furthers the notion of our privilege.

Sorry to play devil's advocate yet again. Thank you for making us all think.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Mommy on the Loose said...

I believe two things: the universe exists merely as things in relation and human beings possess the special trait of self-awareness which at times leads them to wander into self-absorption. I think it is all relative. You don't get to have a corner on suffering just because you're poor/abused/lowly/downtrodden/meek etc.. There is great suffering in the world. Does it make us better if we suffer *more*? I don't like to think of measuring my life in suffering but rather in happiness. Happiness is just as relative. We had a friend named Larry who was dying of cancer. He went to Africa. When he came back, right before he died, he said he met some of the happiest people he'd ever known and they'd had nothing. Nothing! What a gift to have that in your life before you die. To understand that happiness has no material counterpart- it's just us generating this completely renewable, unlimited, most-precious-and-sought-after commodity. And we pass it up, time and time again, for what? I think that having thoughts of offering your stroller to someone, not because you pity them, but because you wish that everyone could have what you have, comes from only the best of places. The stroller doesn't represent a quantity of value to you, it is a physical manifestation of the love you have for your child and everything that goes along with it. I've found myself in a similar situation, wanting to give something to someone so they can have what I have. It is a way of wishing that this world could be to everyone what it is to ourselves, that everyone could know safety and comfort and security. If that is narcissistic then count me in. I don;t claim to have the best life or know everything. My basic physical needs are met and I have a sense of hope and opportunity. I don't believe for a moment that a poor woman on a subway couldn't teach me a thing or two about being a better human being. But I also think I can wish for a better life for her, too, without closing myself off to enlightenment.

I know the stroller post was a couple back, but this post you wrote got me thinking about the whole thing again.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

Bad, I am mixed on this. the concept keeps whirling around in my head and bouncing off of things i see during the day and i can't quite reconcile it yet.

so all of this is to say i am listening, to you and others, talking about it.

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a fantastic post! i'm going to print it out so i can go over it properly. (am i the only person left who can still read paper better than a screen?)

5:00 AM  
Blogger Lady M said...

While there may indeed be other terms besides narcissism to describe the self-awareness and appreciation for oneself that any artist has and needs, there are other art forms where that reflection is even more sledgehammer-obvious. Most dance classes are filled with dancers examining themselves in the mirror for hours, looking for flaws, admiring a good line, striving for growth.

I find it disappointing that there is not more recognition for certain writers in the mommyblogging world as artists. Not everyone has a goal of being an artist, but there are certainly many who I admire!

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are totally right on the money, HBM. I was just saying something similar to my foodtaster today. He couldn't understand why I got so pissed at the chauffeur for not thinking that my writing was the nonpareil of blogging. Good help is so hard to find these days, n'est-ce pas?

In all seriousness, I see no reason why mommy bloggers should be singled out when the internet is filled with all kinds of people writing about the daily minutiae of their lives. By far, some of the best writing I've read has been from the so-called mommy bloggers. In my book, good writing is good writing. And yes, all good writing entails a certain amount of narcissism.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this discussion of narcissism it might be useful consider a contemporary examination. Los Angeles psychotherapist Sandy Hotchkiss, author of the book Why Is It Always About You? -- an examination of the rampant narcissism of these post-millennial times-- lists a variety of manifestations of narcissism shamelessness, magical thinking, arrogance, envy, entitlement, exploitation and bad boundaries. In each case, the narcissist employs tactics to foist feelings of inadequacy on others. Narcissists see themselves as “special people.” Their needs are more important than anyone else's, and they expect to be accommodated in all things. They can't comprehend why they might not always come first. Their expectations have an almost childlike quality; they can be outraged or depressed when challenged. They know better than you. They avoid shame or criticism at all costs. They are unlikely to self-correct their intrusive or inconsiderate behaviour just because you call attention to it. According to Hotchkiss, narcissists construct their personalities chiefly to keep their negative feelings at bay and, in constant need of affirmation, adapt to elicit the approval of those around them. "The Narcissist may be intimidating, mesmerizing, even larger-than-life. Narcissists rule the roost for a reason -- our whole culture is narcissistically vulnerable and can't help but fall in love by a savvy veneer of intellect, charm and flattery.”

Although Hotchkiss gives solid advice to those dealing with narcissists she neglects to mention that the ones we need only deal with from a distance can actually be a lot of fun. Wind one up and watch him go. The brazen sense of entitlement! The mad theatrics! The byzantine needs! It’s better than television. (it’s a terrific book – I cannot recommend it more highly)

9:23 AM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

Good words.

And you used my favorite painting at the end.

What more could I ask for at nine in the morning?

9:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

(puts on classics major hat before remarking)
Narcissus' sin (in most versions of the myth) is that he spurns the love of others, placing his physical beauty above mere mortals and even nymphs. In the oldest version of this myth it is the love of his older male suitors that Narcissus rejects. Ovid writes that it is Echo the nymph who fades away to but a voice pining for him. In almost all versions gazing eternally into the pool at his reflection is his curse or punishment from the gods for spurning the love of others or leaving them in the painful state of unrequited love. Some versions even give us a taste of his remorse and loneliness, calling out "Alas, alas" to Echo who replies in kind.
If we are uncomfortable with the term, perhaps it's because blogging feels less like a curse and more like a cure. Or perhaps it's because none of are in the business of spurning the love of those who love us. Or even perhaps that it's that it's not our shallowest physical self that we gaze at when we blog, but our deepest selves not just our best most beautiful parts do we gaze at but the ugly dark side of motherhood.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

I thought this was fascinating. yeah, narcissistic does kind of describe me. I love writing about my life and my child's. I don't think it's soemthing shameful if we are aware of it.
But what I think is being a little overlooked is the fact that part of this whole blogging thing is access to technology. It's easy to do this. It's not like the past few (?)years people have suddenly become totally into themselves. We've had help. We're the generation (at least I am) that always had a computer in the house. This is a logical progression. Shallow perhaps, but logical.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

I think it's kind of ridiculous to deny narcissism. Everybody is narcissistic to some extent. We are all the star of our own reality show, and each and every person in our lives are either co-stars or supporting actors. And hell, I'm interested in the minutiae of your life, so why couldn't you be interested in mine? I think people are endlessly fascinating, and never tire of the different ways that different people deal with the same situation.

Hey, I may have to write about this now. Hope you don't mind if I steal my own comment.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A wonderfully thought-provoking post, that I will have to re-read again when I'm not so distracted by children and husbands who are home from work because we are in negotiations with sellers for a house that we want so badly we can taste.

I love how you bring it, HBM.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Kyla said...

The privilege and narcissism thing gets me. I don't feel I am either of those things, honestly. But maybe I am to a small degree...I know am definitely not underprivileged. Priveleged, yes, in a narrow definition of the word, if you are referring to the fact I can afford internet access and a few hours a day to get online. I honestly don't know anyone who does not have access to the same. I've grown up in the Internet age and it is the same as having a television in most households as far as I am concerned. It alone is not a definition of privilege. As far as narcissism, I started blogging because I needed a coping mechanism and putting my emotions into words helped me process, it still helps me process. I don't really think I have anything profound to say. I write because I must to make it through the days. Yes, I am writing about my life, my experiences, my children, but the motivation isn't that I think I'm important or my words have some value beyond what I get from the act of writing them.

Yes, I am a navel gazer with Internet access, but I think that can be a long way from privilege and narcissism. I think it has everything to do with the way you define the terms. I'm not offended by the terms, I just think for the sake of these conversations the definitions that have been given aren't entirely accurate.

11:47 AM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

Amazing, as always.

11:55 AM  
Blogger gingajoy said...

this has to be quick, but I have several responses.

Personlly, I would be the first to fess up to being an attention hog. my own style of writing and thinking on my blog--I don't think of it as narcissistic because it is less introspective perhaps? I tend to put myself out there as a character more than write posts relaying my inner thoughts. (I am just not comfortable in that mode). Mind you--I write for an audience, but wouldn't the more narcissistic act to be to write only for one's self?

I write for an audience, I write for connection, I write to make my world bigger. I write not just to put (one version) of myself out there, but to allow that self to change through contact with others.

Privelege--yes, I claim it. As a means to say I do *not* represent everyone. TO acknowledge difference and to acknowledge that I speak from a materially situated position. The narcissist would not do this.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Hey Kyla - one of the things that I was trying to do with the idea of privilege here was re-orient the connotations - regardless of whether we consider ourselves to be materially privileged, the ability and means to write is *a* privilege, something to be valued highly. And with narcissism (which I admit in the post is a problematic term), my thinking was that at the very least, we are all *attached* to our words/ideas/stories in some meaningful way - even if those stories are not about us, or are about things that trouble us... But you're right to remind us that these things are alway relative.

Karen? "Or even perhaps that it's that it's not our shallowest physical self that we gaze at when we blog, but our deepest selves not just our best most beautiful parts do we gaze at but the ugly dark side of motherhood." Perfectly said.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Bri. said...

I have willfully avoided this whole conversation on the purported narcissistic nature of mommybloggers. First, because I find it faintly ridiculous. Our stories, our lives, are the only thing we truly own all to ourselves - these are the things we know, clouded by self-deceit or self-conceit as they may be, they are still rightfully ours.

Second - if the proposition is accurate, the fact that somebody is wasting their time writing about it seems even more absurd. If we can't find anything better to write about - can't THEY? I mean, obviously SOMEONE is reading. And writing. Even if just to criticize. Don't like what I have to say? Don't read it. The internet is the perfect tool for personal censorship.

The conversation reminds me of an exchange I had in graduate school. I was having a conversation with a friend where we were sharing anecdotes about mentally ill relatives. A woman behind me (who was, incidentally, uninvolved in the entire conversation), leaned forward, broke in, and chided us both for how self-centered we were. She said that each cry of "Me, me, me!" was only answered with "Me, me, me!", and she found the conversation disgustingly egocentric.

Both myself and my companion were flabbergasted. The interruptor had missed the point entirely.

Sharing our own stories is an exercise in reaching out, not inward. It is a way of saying "Yes, I understand, I have been there.." or "Please, am I okay? Am I normal? Are there people like me?". Sometimes we write more because we are afraid of our own thoughts, not because we are entranced by them.

As to privilege? The displacement of Katrina drove home to me that there will always, always, be someone whose personal tragedy far exceeds your own. But like our stories, our pain is the one thing we truly own. Only by reading the stories of others can we put our own into perspective. How much poorer we would be if all those voices fell silent because they didn't feel tragic enough for the entitlement.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...


When I finished your post I was left wondering whether I agreed or disagreed.

After reading your comments, I think we are more or less on the same page.

Short points first:

1. I am wondering if I am even a mommyblogger, after all. I saw a list of criteria once, and I think I maybe scored a 50%. If I fudged a bit.

2. I blog because it is (a) cheaper, (b) more convenient, and (c) more fun than therapy and more importantly, I blog out of consideration for my husband and friends who actually do have something to do other than listen to me ramble on and on.

I'm anachronistic and would do much better in Plato's day. As a privileged white man, of course.

Segue to longer/more complex points:

1. This post is no more about narcissism than my vanity posts are about vanity. Do you mean it as a device?

2. I'm not privileged. I enjoy---and appreciate---a varying degree of some privilege. I have a place to live (a good one). I have food to eat. My basic needs are seen to. I think it is a rare person who can identify themselves as privileged (when comparing apples to apples---not apples to oranges. It is a little hmm words fail me. It's a little---errr...

Okay, if I need to peep in on people less fortunate than I in order to justify to myself (a) appreciaton of privileges and (b) assess my place in the universe, status-wise...then it's not true appreciation.

It's cross-comparison, bolstering myself up on the backs of others (which, by necessity, pushes them down as Underprivileged).

I think true appreciation comes when I say, what do I *need?* And look about me, see what I have and think, "I am blessed in what I have, it is what I need."

I enjoy privileges. I appreciate the privileges I have. They are awfully good ones in so many ways.

As far as appreciating what we *do* have...yes.

As far as writing being a privilege...yes.

But I have to ask...do you mean it as an exclusive privilege for the privileged?

Okay will probably be back more later (if you don't mind but have to take phone call now).

3:20 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Julie, yes - thank you - narcissism is being used as a device here. I do not - and perhaps I didn't make it clear enough - regard mommy-bloggers (bloggers) as narcissistic in the full sense of the term. I was trying to deconstruct narcissism to get at the idea that we are all, all of us, attached to our ideas, stories, and that this is at the very core of what it is to be a writer (which we are, all of us.)

And wirting as privilege only for the privileged. Hell no. I meant that, regardless of whatever level of material privilege we enjoy or do not enjoy, writing must always be regarded as *a* privilege - one accorded by our ability, level of literacy, access to technology, way of life in a democracy, whatever - it's a privilege and should be identified as such. Writers are more likely than not to enjoy a certain amount privilege on a relative scale, but that doesn't mean that they are all monied (quite the contrary) or powerful or able-bodied or whatever. It means only that for some reason or another (reasons not incidental to the question of privilege) they have access to the privilege of writing.

Phew. Brain hurting, just a bit.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Women of privilege have always been overlooked, unless they have the power and the voice to make people take notice. Through blogs we have the opportunity to have our voices heard but still only a limited few have the real power. Is this wrong? Not really. We can all carve out a niche for ourselves and if we make only one real connection, well that's enough for me.

I don't know how I feel about the narcissistic thing. I've got to think about that one for a while.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I'm a narcissist, then, fine. But I'm just as in love with all of your beautiful reflections as I am with my own.

Thanks for a beautiful, reflective post.

4:08 PM  
Blogger NotSoSage said...

Late to the party (Bloglines isn't picking up anything you write for me) and thinking lots but for now...I think the positive thing about admitting our privilege is turning that into a kick in the ass that makes us get up and change things for other people. With privilege comes responsibility in my opinion.

I've said this before, but I think having parents in this sphere admitting their failings and acknowledging that they're still good parents because they *don't* microwave the baby on those microwave-the-baby days can only serve those less privileged if it gets translated outside this sphere and encourages people to speak more freely about the challenges they face. If you (not You but you) are a University professor with 3 degrees and a 75K a year salary and a supportive partner and a home and I still feel that RAGE that bubbles up inside me when my child wakes and cries AGAIN for the third time in six hours, then maybe I (not I but I) as a single parent with two part-time jobs and a crappy rental place who feels like no one ever listens and they're always looking down their nose at my shoes can feel then maybe I'm not crazy and it's not yet another thing that I should feel badly about and not be able to admit for fear that CAS is going to come and take my children away...

Is that expecting too much? Maybe. I'm using extreme examples hear and I'm just sort of talking (or typing) out of my ass...which feels like a crime here, where you've put so many thoughtful things down on paper, but that's where my brain is headed this afternoon.

4:13 PM  
Blogger NotSoSage said...

Yikes...I just skimmed that comment and saw about 40 errors. But I'm not such a narcissist that I'll let it get to me. :)

4:16 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

Wow. What an eloquent, thought-provoking post! I love the discussion in your comments, too. I don't have anything pithy or insightful to add that hasn't been said better above; but thank you for making me think today.

4:17 PM  
Blogger nonlineargirl said...

Weird how people are always looking around to see how they are doing vis-a-vis others (blog-wise or in real life) but no one wants to cop to privledge. I'll admit to it, and oh is it a nice thing. Doesn't mean I will stop picking at problems real and imagined, but I do at least occassionally revel in the beauty of what I have.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I earned this privledge. I wear it with pride.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

I read the post this morning, but have only had time to skim the comments now, so forgive me if I've missed something.

Wouldn't narcissism by definition be an act of self-glorification rather than the open and honest look at ourselves that some (many) bloggers strive for? To me, narcissism would be the shiny happy mommy blogger with the perfect children, perfect husband, and perfect home where nothing ever goes wrong whose every post is full of perfect photos of her perfect life. It wouldn't be women of a certain age (ahem) using the tools available to them to reach out of their individual shells, to create connections with others, to create a community irrespective of geographical limitations.

Navel gazing? Yes. Narcissistic? Not in the sense that I understand the word. Privileged? Yes, of course, in the same way that anyone with access to a safe and stable home complete with a computer is privileged. Just having the tools, and the time to use them, puts us in a class far above vast segments of the world's population. Of course that is a privilege, and should be valued as such.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Ah HBM...Well, I am very understanding about what and how you meant narcissim b/c I did just do the same thing to "vanity." :)

Sorry if I invoked brain ache. :)

But thanks for the additional explanation about writing as *a* privilege. I agree.

The gift is the talent and drive, the privilege is the ability.

I would say I am invested in my ideas more so than attached to them---some of them (I'm very attached to some.). I can be argued to another POV. I consider ideas very elastic, actually.

However, I am very attached to *sharing* my ideas.

But now I think I might be opening up a semantic can of worms. So moving on...

I do think the concept of exclusivity for the privileged is an interesting one, though.

Notsosage has a valid point, which is something you are gingajoy are looking at.

Mrs. Chicky does too.

I think larger censors than underprivilege might be: shame, fear, disenfranchisement, etc.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Meghan said...

I love what Izzy said too. Blogging fro me has been more of a way to reach out and let other mothers know that they are not crazy, and there is no such thing as the perfect mother. It's for all the times I go "AHA!" when I read something, written by a total stranger, that makes me think they have gotten into my own head. That kind of thing makes me feel less alone. And motherhood can be very very isolating.
I see blogging more as seeking out a community than as a narcissistic outlet.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a topic that has been pinging on my subconscious for a while, and one that I haven't quite digested yet.

There were no mommy blogs when I had my kids roughly 10 years ago. However, by the time they started school, there were endless rows of video cameras at every single school event because still photos were not enough anymore.

There were people devoting large amounts of time and money to enshrining family photos in elaborate scrapbooks because plain photo albums were not enough anymore.

There were photographers charging hundreds of dollars JUST for a sitting and then selling 8x10 photos for almost a $100 each.

And there are entire companies devoted to selling albums, furniture, and storage solutions for all the photos, DVDs, scrapbooks, and equipment.

Where will it all go when we die? How many generations will want to relive our lives in such detail?

And are we so obsessed with packaging our lives in pretty paper and neat smiling sequences that we're failing to live them?

I journal. I blog. I photograph. I scrapbook. And I wonder why I do it.

Is it to document my existence, to leave a footprint? Is it to justify my presence, to prove I did something of worth? Is it to convince myself that I'm happy and led a good life?

No answers. More reflection. The vicious circle.

When I blogged on this topic, someone e-mailed me and said that remembrance is a luxury enjoyed by those who have enough to eat.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Penn said...

This was a great post. I have recently extended my own audience to include my mum but had to send her an e-mail first to warn her of my self indulgence. It got me asking these type of questions..why write it? Why share it? Why want to share it?


Maybe it's art on the go. Art is for sharing. But who am I to say it's Art.

I think perhaps I wanted to share because it keeps me in touch with myself and keeps those I love as close to me as possible.

It is often I have wished that those I love would keep their own blogs.

It is because I want to know.

6:16 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

There was a blog I stumbled upon several months back that was published by someone who really is a true narcissist. She happened to be a "mommyblogger" and the blog was all about her describing herself in the third person in several pictures of herself and all the posts were about how "sassy" she is, etc. It was quite annoying. To me, she defined the term narcissist.

So you raise an interesting point about whether we as bloggers are really innately narcissists. We all are somewhat narcisstic, but so are actors, writers, directors, etc. Nothing wrong with us wanting to believe we are important - I see that as self-confidence, not narcissism. And we are contributing to this world a form of art. Our own art. This is our form of self-expressionism. It just happens to be channeled through our kids in some cases. But the woman behind the "all about me" blog is truly self-important, and perhaps it is those few that give the bunch a bad name. Wish I could remember the name of this blog. Goes to show how much we ignore those who stand up and shout out for attention.

(Sorry for such a grossly long comment!)

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned this earlier, but I always thought that narcissism was a concern with oneself at the expense and sometimes to the detriment of others.

Seeing that we are writing about a part of our lives that is essentially given in service to others (our families) I find the accusation ironic.

The more I think about this stuff (which I would not even have done before reading the experiences of others) the more I think that this backlash against and belittling of "mommybloggers" (a word I despise) is related to the real discomfort our society has developed with children and families. In spite of all the political lip service.

journalist, memoirist, diarist, blogger - all writers.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Ruthie said...

You're right about the world needing the self-contemplation of writers. How else would ideas end up in written form?

While I think that blogging (in conjunction with a host of other things) can sink to the level of self-absorption, I also think it also has the capacity to be constrictively reflective and expressive.

And certainly not all bloggers are what we'd typically consider to be "privileged," in the classic societal sense of the word. We are certainly lucky and privileged to be able to express ourselves, to be able to read and write and reason. But from a socioeconomic standpoint, all one needs to become a blogger is access to the internet and the ability to write.

Laural told me to read your blog, and I'm glad I did, it's very interesting. We've been writing about some of the same things.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The term "attachment" hit home for me. I've used that exact term to describe my feelings for some of the pieces I've written - namely my NaNoWriMo novel and my recent column on No Child Left Behind. Interestingly, it's the pieces that are not about ME ME ME that inspire my deepest attachment to them.

Therefore, perhaps my pool-gazing qualifies me as a narcissist, but it's when I see others' reflections - and my relationship to them - that I'm most pleased with what I have to say.

I identify strongly with Wordgirl's points regarding privilege - perhaps even more so considering the unfair conclusions that many might draw about me based on my politics (as I said in my comment on the other post). But I cannot control what others think of me; what I can do is ensure that how I live reflects how much I value the world around me and the people in it.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Meghan and Izzymom hit the nail on the head for me. I write to put myself out there and make my mark, but I also write for the connection. There are so many things that we go through as mothers that you really wonder "Am I horrible? Am I the only one who has ever gone through this?", and the answer is usually NO, you are not! It helps to hear of other moms experiences and know we are not alone.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Piece of Work said...

I very respectfully submit: it's a little much ado about nothing, don't you think? Some of us are narcissistic-in the common sense of the word--some times. Some blogs are narcissistic, some posts are narcissistic, some times. I think, because blogging is essentially writing a daily column about your own life, that most bloggers probably succomb to a truly narcissic post or two over the course of several months. That's okay, in my book: I can easily skip over those posts to get to the more interesting ones.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Straight to the point, Amy/POW - and too right.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

yes, damnation be damned.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Nancy Evans said...

Well if bloggers are narcissistic (sp?) your readers are all voyers

12:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Most of this went completely over my head, I am sad to admit.

Yes, I do enjoy my thoughts and getting them out there - but I also equally enjoy reading the thoughts of others - especially parents who are willing to share all of the good and bad of parenting. That's hard to find outside of the world of blog.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Glennis said...

ah, well, at some point aren't all writers narcissists, since we/they write down our thoughts to share with the world, on the premise that we are fascinating or at least interesting?

12:08 AM  

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