How well do you know me?
And is it Kelly you know or is it the Don Mills Diva?
Are they the same person or is one an alter-ego, a character, constructed to appeal to, or provoke a reaction from, my readers?
Would it surprise you to hear me confess that the latter question is one I have asked myself on more than one occasion?
There are so many, many things about blogging that fascinate me and foremost among them is the notion that a blog might provide a space in which a person can construct an alternate identity.
That’s probably why I have spent the last several days obsessively reading Catherine Sanderson’s book Petite Anglaise to the detriment of pretty much everything else in my life.
Petite Anglaise is also the name of a blog that Sanderson has written since 2005 to document her life as an English ex-pat working and raising her toddler daughter in Paris. In Petite Anglaise the book, she provides an unflinching account of the events that lead her to leave her child’s father for one of her blog’s commenters and how the increasing popularity of her blog started to inform the way she viewed herself and ultimately conducted her life.
Even if you are not a blogger or particularly interested in the world of blogging, Petite Anglaise is a juicy read. Thanks to the breezy writing, the details about Sanderson’s day-to-day life as a working mom in Paris and the scandalous nature of her romantic entanglement, the book is likely to ratchet up the best-sellers list as this summer’s guilty pleasure.
But for me and for thousands of other bloggers, Petite Anglaise is also a cautionary tale about what can happen when the identity we construct in the blogosphere starts to seem more interesting and relevant than one we inhabit in real life.
There are people who claim they present themselves on their blog exactly as they appear in real life. I say that’s impossible. Even bloggers who strive to write with an authentic voice are still choosing the words and photos they feel best reflect who they are, and their perception of who they are might be different from that of others.
I’d be lying if I told you that Kelly was as articulate as the Don Mills Diva: she’s not. The words I write here have been carefully chosen and arranged for maximum effect and I make no apologies for that. What is skillful writing, after all, if not the ability to choose and arrange words in a pleasing and effective fashion?
I do try and resist the urge to buff and polish my alter-ego to a degree that would make her unrecognizable to my friends and family, but obviously the temptation is there. I’m constantly asking myself whether I would be so empathic or sarcastic or cheeky if I were discussing something, rather than writing about it.
While Sanderson frequently admits to making her alter ego – Petite Anglaise – appear more engaging and together than the woman behind the blog, she resists that tendency in the book, something I found ironic, and incredibly brave. She doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that the intoxicating quality of her love affair was heightened by thousands of blog readers cheering her on. She doesn’t gloss over how quickly she was seduced by the attention or how the escapism of blogging led her to make choices that wreaked havoc on people in her life, particularly the father of her child.
But the fact that Sanderson allows herself to come across so poorly in the book suggests that she has learned a lesson about the dangers of presenting yourself as a character, no matter how lonely and unappreciated you feel.
And the fact that Sanderson was so very lonely and unappreciated when she started her blog saves her from being entirely unlikable. Most parents will find themselves nodding in recognition when she details how she and her partner, exhausted by the demands of parenting, descend into a mire of bickering and petty desperation.
What I also find particularly fascinating about the whole sequence of events outlined in Petite Anglaise is that visitors to Sanderson’s blog can poke around in her archives and read the original exchanges that lead to the climatic events in the book: they are the literary equivalent of DVD extras and after I finished the book I found myself attacking her archives with the same fervor I applied to her book.
Petite Anglaise is available in bookstores across Europe and North America. At its Toronto launch a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to snag an extra copy for a lucky reader. Leave a comment to enter to win your own copy. I’ll close comments June 26th at midnight and announce a winner shortly after.