Dispatches | July 31, 2008

The June issue of Scientific American featured an article by Jessica Wapner, “The Healthy Type,” (reprinted online as “Blogging–It’s Good for You,” describing recent research on the potential physiological benefits of blogging. Neuroscientists, psychologists and other medical researchers theorize that since expressive writing has been demonstrated to improve people’s health (it makes you sleep better, boosts the immune system, helps cancer patients feel better and even accelerates healing after surgery), blogging may be similarly good for you.

To my mind this falls into that category of “stuff we all knew without knowing we knew it.” It makes perfect sense: something bad happens to you–disaster or illness, whatever–you want to write about it. And having written about it, you feel better. And if you feel better, you probably will be better. Can most of us explain the medical science? No, but we can all cite examples of people coping or healing through writing. Everyone knows some eccentric case on the periphery of their life–uncle or aunt, neighbor, coworker–who is a pathetic mess of physical and emotional problems. And who writes. And who, presumably, is able to survive being a misfit in an unforgiving world by doing so. “Normal” people who have bad things happen to them also recover or heal by writing. The crisis memoir is a legitimate subgenre, as is the memoir of illness. Now we have the blog, which in its most intimate and personal manifestation allows the writer to engage in repeated and public catharsis of whatever is bugging or ailing them almost up to the minute. Why shouldn’t such public displays be as healthy as the journal you kept in a composition notebook when you were going through that  particularly stressed-out period?

Not to downplay the health benefits of blogging for people who are gravely ill, but having recently returned to a novel after a long hiatus, during which I was raising (still am) three intense, gifted, incredibly difficult children, I am aware that a lot of what I’m doing under the guise of “art” is really just exhibitionist venting. Here’s a strange thing, though: I’m not embarrassed about it. “Writing is basically just complaining on paper,” I told my twelve-year-old last week. She looked surprised. I’ve been getting up early in the mornings to write, defending my right to the computer on weekends. She thought I was doing something serious. Now here I am telling her that I’m just airing grievances that I hope to eventually put out there for people’s consumption. It probably didn’t sound too much different to her than blogging–which of course doesn’t impress her because the whole world blogs.

I’m not embarrassed about my textual whining because it actually is helping me to blow off the onslaught of negativity that one must deal with day to day. If this were a personal blog, you’d be hearing the sordid details. But it’s not, and, good-for-me though that type of blogging might be, it’s more of a challenge, I think, to take all the specific instances of small-mindedness, oversight, dimness, cruelty, injustice, etc. that bother one and transpose them into invented elements: the engine of a story.

Is it healthy? Who cares? It’s a lot more interesting.