This is going to be a cheesy, navel-gazing post. You can stop reading now. You’ve been warned. But losing Katie/Vada has made me think about a lot of things, including all the tributes to her that she didn’t get to see while she was alive. And I found myself wanting to write a bit about what the ZD community has meant to me over the years.
I don’t know how other group blogs function, because this is the only one I’ve ever been on. We’ve sometimes described our structure as loose anarchy—individual bloggers are free to blog or not blog about whatever they might be in the mood to discuss, and to decide on the rules for their threads. But if there’s a single person in charge of the blog, it’s me (with help from my brother Ziff); at the very least, I make sure the server fees are paid and do my best to deal with technical issues. When a decision has to be made, it usually gets discussed among whatever members of the blog are around, and we don’t generally have much trouble coming to a consensus. But in the rare situation where a final decision has to be made and things aren’t clear, in the end, I do feel some responsibility for choosing a direction. (One might even use that much-discussed term “preside” to describe my role.) My co-bloggers have been very supportive. I’ve made some missteps and bad decisions over the years, and they’ve cut me a lot of slack. And when I’ve been unavailable, I haven’t worried, because I’ve known that Ziff would be on top of things.
These days most of the blogging comes from just three of us. The blog has definitely changed over time. It’s slowed down a lot, not just in terms of posts, but also in terms of comments. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time we had an epic fight in the comments, and that’s just fine with me. Comment moderation is, in my opinion, the most stressful part of blogging, and I don’t really miss the days of frequently trying to decide whether such-and-such person had finally crossed the line. Ziff and I have somewhat different philosophies about moderation, and I think that’s been a good thing—hopefully we keep each other somewhat balanced.
But even as the blog has gotten quieter, our off-blog conversations have remained an important part of my life. I’ve been happy that people who haven’t written a post in years and years have still stuck around the community and stayed in touch, checking in sometimes about their lives, and offering support to others. I don’t know how other blogs have done things logistically, but right now we have both an email list and a Facebook group, and I find that I’m not terribly systematic about using one or the other. But wherever they are, I’ve found those backroom conversations to be vital. When the blog conversations have been more heated, it’s been a place for us to blow off steam and get validation, which I hope has helped with keeping the public comments generally civil. We also have discussions about things happening elsewhere on the bloggernacle, and sometimes just about random things from people’s lives. I’ve loved being part of that community. As I’ve gotten more and more open about my issues with mental illness in particular, I’ve deeply valued the support of my co-bloggers, who’ve been both kind and caring in private, and supportive and encouraging when I’ve decided to post publicly about fraught personal challenges.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of ZD is how many of us come from the same family. Blogging with several of my siblings has been a fascinating and at times complicated journey. Those family ties have meant that I feel deeply connected to this blog. My siblings and I tend to stick up for each other in public, which I do not think is a bad thing, but I do think sometimes obscures the extent to which there are disagreements among us. In terms of religion, at least, there is currently a rather wide variety of positions, from active LDS and generally believing, to all the way out the church, to different places in between. Negotiating that intra-family religious pluralism is something I feel like I’m still figuring out, especially as I’m personally in some kind of faith transition at the moment. Often I’ve read posts by my siblings with real appreciation for their abilities. Sometimes I’ve even learned things about them from their posts that I didn’t know before. But there have also been times when I’ve felt competitive and threatened and wondered if I really measure up. I feel a sort of fierce loyalty and sense of privacy that means there are things about my family I’m not going to share in a public context, but over the years, my siblings and I have sometimes met people who had a rather idealistic image of us. And we’ve just kind of looked at each other and said, not really. We’re actually a pretty normal family, with dysfunctions and tensions and old patterns and family roles that we try to get out of but regularly fall back into, and all of that sort of thing.
That said, I do think blogging with siblings can also be incredibly fun. ZD has generally run relatively smoothly, and I think so many of us knowing each other so well has definitely helped with that. It’s also been fabulous to have another online place to keep in touch. Though my siblings have always felt like an important part of my life, there were many years when none of them lived at all close to me. For years we had a Yahoo group where we discussed all kinds of issues; at times our small group was far more active than other email groups I was in that had many times the number of members. But transferring those conversations to a wider world—in essence, bringing in more people to the discussions that for so many years we’d just had with one another—has been a tremendously rich experience.
And on that note I want to say a few words about my co-bloggers who aren’t my siblings, and who’ve nonetheless been willing to come on board and be a part of this sometimes zany community. Seraphine was an old roommate with whom I’d developed a close friendship; both introverts, we at first got to know each other by sitting in our rooms and emailing one another, but over time we got more comfortable with actually talking as well, and bonded over many things, including some similar personality traits, feminist sympathies, and questions about the church. She was an obvious person to bring in when we got ZD going. I haven’t known anyone else as well initially, but over time I’ve enjoyed learning more about them, and come to appreciate their distinct voices and perspectives. I think Katya was the first person besides Seraphine to be added from outside my family; her connection to us was that she was a close friend of my sister Melyngoch. After many years of interacting with her in our off-blog groups, I got to stay with her for a few days two years ago while I was attending a conference, and she was a delightful host, even providing offbeat linguistics reading material. The next addition was Seraphine’s sister Vada, which made the group feel even more like a family affair.
Over the years we expanded our small community. I met Apame while doing the Bushman seminar in Provo one summer; we had the dubious distinction of being the only two women in our group, and while I didn’t get to know her as well as I’d liked to have at the time, I appreciated her keen mind and open approach to difficult questions. Petra was another old friend of Melyngoch’s, though Melyngoch was kind enough to share her with me when she moved to my area of the country, where she was the sort of friend who would bring stacks of books to keep me entertained in the psych hospital, and would also be a complete distraction in sacrament meeting due to her tendency to spend the time reading terrible old Mormon books that she’d gotten from the Institute library. I have a particularly vivid memory of meeting with both Apame and Petra not long after Prop 8 had passed, and feeling so much relief at being able to talk openly somewhere about my complicated feelings about the situation.
We also poached some bloggers that none of us had met in person at the time: Galdralag and Beatrice, who had their own very intelligent, well-written feminist blog. I feel an occasional twinge of guilt that we kind of killed off their blog, but I don’t regret for a second having lured them here, as getting to know them (and eventually Galdralag’s husband as well) over the years has been so delightful. At some point we managed to get one of Apame’s sisters, Pandora, to join us as well, and both in her posts and being Facebook friends with her, I’ve been impressed by her level-headed and clear-eyed perspective. We added Mike C after he contributed several guest posts; I particularly enjoyed not just his thoughtful considerations of various issues, but especially his sense of humor. Both he and his wife, who also occasionally participates in our off-blog conversations, have added a lot to our group over the years. Many of my siblings have academic backgrounds and a real love of ideas. But we also have a very strong silly streak, and a lifelong tendency toward irreverence. At family gatherings, terrible jokes usually take up much more bandwidth than does anything resembling thoughtful, erudite conversation. And I’m happy to have collected people in our community over the years who bring not just intellectual firepower, but an ability to at least tolerate ridiculous humor, and not take themselves too seriously.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that starting this blog changed my life in ways I could not have foreseen. I stumbled across the bloggernacle sometime in 2005, but while I was intrigued by the discussions, my initial response was to not want anything to do with it. I’d spent most of my life feeling like an outsider in the church, and I think my default assumption was that I would never really be accepted by any Mormon community. In addition, I was quite heavily involved in an online mental illness support group at the time, and I didn’t have the energy for much else. When my sister Eve told me she’d started commenting at FMH, I was basically like, good luck with that; I had no interest in getting involved myself. I’m not sure exactly what changed, but in December I finally got lured into commenting myself . . . and it was all downhill from there. Or uphill, I guess, depending on your point of view. But while we had a somewhat rocky start, the thing that meant the most to me from early on was how many people enthusiastically welcomed us to the online Mormon world, and seemed to genuinely want to hear our perspectives and want us around. I had not often experienced that from other members of the church, and it really was a pretty amazing thing to feel.
Blogging definitely helped me stay in the church over the years. It both made me feel like I had a voice, even if only in a small corner of the internet, and it connected me to others who’d had similar experiences and concerns. People would periodically complain about all the complaining and talk about the “murmurnacle,” but I actually found it faith-promoting to hear people talking honestly about their experiences—yes, it reaffirmed my belief that there were some real problems, but it also reminded me why I was sticking around, that there was good to be found. And over the years I’ve met (sometimes even in person) so many fascinating, thoughtful, and caring people. It’s almost hard to remember now that for years, the community of questioning Mormon types with whom I regularly interacted largely consisted of my siblings and a few friends. That was all. I don’t know where my religious path is taking me now—for the moment, I feel content to just wander for a while. But wherever I end up, I think I will still deeply value that community of Mormons I’ve met through blogging, which right now feels like a rather diverse group in terms of where they’ve landed with the church and how they see religious questions, but which despite many different perspectives has been so supportive of me personally over the years. And I’ve come to greatly value having this space to process whatever might be going through my head. I know that blogging isn’t the same as it was a decade ago; much of the energy has moved on to other things. But while I enjoy social media and its more casual, interactive feel, I still like having a place where I can write a little (though not a lot) more formally, and at greater length.
So I guess this is basically one of those horrible thankamonies that everyone always complains about when they’re given over the pulpit in sacrament meeting. Apologies to people who hate the genre. But nonetheless, a heartfelt thank you—to all the people who still read ZD even as we’ve become a quieter blog that only puts up material occasionally, to the wider bloggernacle community that has given me so much over the years, and above all, to my co-bloggers here, who have just made my life better.