Monday, March 31, 2014

Censorship in blogging

Censorship - Self and otherwise - both the positive and negatives

Why do you write what you write in a blog? What do you talk about? How often? Can you always write? Can you always publish it? What do you leave out? What do you edit out? What do you purposefully omit?

Writing in a public blog requires a balance between what you really want to say and what you know you cannot say for one reason or another. Not everywhere is as free as America. Despite the fact that we are Americans, we cannot say what ever we think in some countries. Not only would it be impolitic, it could get us deported. 

So how do you choose? I think first you must have a sense of your audience. Who is really reading our blog?

At first we knew it was mostly our family members, some friends and a few people who read sailing blogs stumbled on to ours. I remember feeling unsure about what I should write about. What would be really interesting to anyone but me. We hadn't left the dock yet. When did the adventure begin? Of-course this blog has always been written by two people and usually where I had little experience, Owen could fill in.  He knew where to begin and he had a pretty clear understanding of our initial audience.

In Mexico we wrote pretty freely about what we were experiencing. Our beginnings were interesting simply because many people have trouble knowing how to begin an adventure, so our readership developed naturally without much effort on our part to be extra humorous or super knowledgeable. The only thing I remember thinking about as I wrote back in those days was how to phrase something so that you didn't loose the audience before I had one. I mean how do you find the balance between saying how you really feel about a challenging situation while still maintaining a sense of humor about it. Or how do you write about the mundane activities that now make up your day (like washing laundry by hand) with out boring your audience to death - since most people are not as fascinated by laundry as I had to be. [My motivation to deeply understand the process of cleaning clothing came of course from the desire to make it as painless as possible.]

Once we left the dock (in Mexico) and were living mostly off solar power, our access to electricity changed the amount we could write or how well it was edited. I write both in a journal and on the computer, but I only edit while I'm plugged in. This change was subtle though because we were still too concerned with boat repairs to spend much time writing. 

Then we went on passage. Our first real passage, across the Pacific ocean, drove home just how limited one is by solar power (when using the refrigerator too) and for publishing the blog - how limited Sailmail is. While crossing the Pacific, I wrote most of my blog entries in a journal. We didn't use the computers for much more than navigation. We needed the 1.5 connection hours per week alloted by Sailmail for pulling down weather. Sometimes it took 30 minutes to request and receive a single weather forecast through the SSB radio. So posting tiny "where we are and we are safe" blog entries (for our family) was quite often all we could do. 

Of course when you reach an exotic destination such as French Polynesia you are so blown away by the new feeling of being an ex-patriot tourist in a beautiful foreign mountainous jungle that you cannot write about it. Or you are living it so fully you cannot begin to process what you are feeling. So there is a lapse in the blog, a few significant omissions.

We wrote as we could for the next group of countries/experiences as we sailed west. But it wasn't until we reached New Zealand that we really thought about censorship or what not to say in a public blog. Owen was asked by New Zealand immigration officials to submit a photograph of Madrona. He said, "Ok, I'll dig one up." But by the time he had one he liked, their response was, "we no longer need it." He asked why not and they said, "we just looked up the boat name and pulled one off your blog." After that Owen suggested rather firmly that we not write about the stowaway ants that had boarded Madrona in Tonga. We knew we could get rid of the ants but we really didn't want to pay the $300 USD the NZ officials would have charged us to bomb the boat. [We did manage to eradicate their 3 nests at a cost of $10 USD - but no one heard about how interesting it was.]

I wrote a lot in the 6 month layover in NZ - about everything but pests and swattings. It is illegal to spank, or even swat, your child in New Zealand. I don't think they would have deported us for swatting Griffyn, but we didn't want to find out.

When we left NZ, the passage was quite difficult. I wrote about that, but it was suggested to me, that I get some perspective before I just blather on about how challenging it was (in a blog entry). So I tried to write it in a way that could include a sense of humor and still transfer the feeling of intensity and fear I felt on that journey. 

In Fiji I wrote about Friends and School. When you write about school - you want to be honest - for the other parents traveling with children who might be reading your blog. But you don't want to completely trash the idea of educating your children abroad in local schools. (I'm not sure how I did on that one.) 

I'm still writing about Vanuatu, Indonesia and Malaysia so we'll see. We have been told not to talk against the Sultan, or Singapore for that matter. But there are things you definitely cannot say from here. We don't have anything bad to say about Singapore or the Sultan, but that fact that we can't reminds us that we are not at home.

A friend emailed me recently and asked us how we were? She mentioned that we hadn't posted much lately (in 2014). She was particularly curious about how we ended up in Malaysia. She meant why hadn't we crossed the southern Indian ocean instead of heading north? And I told her many things I couldn't say freely at the time on the blog. I reminded her that we had families that were concerned about our health and to suggest that it was less than perfect might alarm them. 

I told her that we just couldn't make another huge crossing (really two huge crossings considering the short weather windows) to get back to North America in a year with the broken bones Owen sustained when I tried to repeatedly close the cupboard door on his hand during a storm. I told her I didn't feel confident about dealing with more sails almost blowing out when Owen at the time only had only 30% of his strength in his left arm (caused by some unremembered injury during a recent passage). I told her that we were dog tired from almost missing the island of Bali as we fought ferocious currents sucking us out into the Indian ocean. 

I told her that I just couldn't tell our families about all of that just then. That sometimes you don't put things in the blog to protect the ones who love and support you from the truth of an 'adventure' because they have not made the choices in life that lead them to this path. That sometimes this path feels crazy to even the ones who have chosen it. That sometimes you just need a break or maybe it's time to find a new path.

So there are almost as many reasons not to say something as there are to say it - depending on your audience.

P.S. Broken bones, injured muscles, exhaustion and even mild depression heals with time. The kids need different things than what we all needed when we left North America over three years ago. So as we navigate the future (for a while from Malaysia) we will be snorkeling less and spending more time in classrooms.



Michael Robertson said...

Wow, interesting. I enjoyed reading your perspective. Surprising to me about NZ officials finding your blog and pulling the picture off it. Michael

Mike said...

Great post, Carrie.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carrie! I love your blogs and it's wonderful to see how grown up and beautiful both the children are. I went back to work 3 days a month and we're back in Mexico (the Atlantic side). In a few days, we'll be crossing over to Florida. Hugs and love to you all from SV SABEN

Anonymous said...

Hi, Caddys! Fugue (and Bob) are in Fiji. Sometime when you have a lot of time we'll tell you everything that happened and why, after nearly a year, the boat i still there. Hopefully all the repairs are made, the upgrades completed, the dengue and shingles and such all over with. I'm in Washington, helping to homeschool Morgan. Tamsyn and Griffyn are growing up so quickly! We have no idea at all where we will go next-perhaps French Polynesia? Around the North Pacific? Hopefully we'll meet up with you all somewhere--we miss you!

Peter J. Levy, D.C. said...

I grew up sailing with my Dad and the rest of the family and it has been an education that has served me well in a number of ways over the years and your writing, Carrie, is a treat for this temporarily desk and work-bound doctor. You've opened the window to my imagination and your writing is delightful...and I thank you.

Peter J. Levy, D.C.
Santa Barbara, CA