If you are a blogger, or just read blogs, or think about blogging, read this article. (Or not -- it's long. Your choice.)
I've read it. It's an interesting but rather scary account of an edgy twentysomething in New York City who blogged, got a job blogging, blogged some more, got accused of blogging, and ultimately decided it was okay to write all about it in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. It made me think about "over-sharing." I don't think I've pissed anyone off about what I have, or haven't, written here, although I have recently been reminded that blogging about something is NOT an acceptable substitute to actually telling someone something. "You read about it here first," is not a good motto for a blogger to have.
At the same time, I've been thinking about the unusual intimacy, or simulacrum thereof, that arises from reading the blog of someone that you don't know. I read someone's blog -- no one I've actually met -- and I have the illusion that I would really like her if I met her in person. But I'm not likely to meet her, and while I think it's more likely than not that I actually would like her, I have to concede I'll never find out. Even if we did meet, we wouldn't become friends. Those are the odds. I'm just happy I get to read her blog, and through that blog, get a sense of her life.
She (this woman; I'll call her Ava for no particular reason) seems remarkably level-headed. She has a job, she has hobbies, she has relationships that are both professional and personal. She doesn't write about anything too intimate on her blog, but blogging is intimate no matter what, so I know more about Ava than I otherwise would. One of the things I like about her is that she seems pretty happy in her life. There's precious little angst in her blog.
A few months ago, Ava made a reference to needing a new "tumor doctor." That was all she wrote, and while I concluded she has, or has had, cancer, I didn't get all worked up about it. Ava does too much to be actively fighting cancer. I don't know from personal experience, but I get the impression that it takes time to fight cancer, and if you don't actually write about those activities in your blog, then your discussions of the non-cancer-fighting activities would reveal the blank spots left from times spent fighting cancer. Chemo, radiation, recovering from chemo & radiation, tests, waiting for test results -- it's all pretty time- and energy-consuming. Or so I gather.
I started reading Ava's blog about six months ago. It's a challenge when you start reading a blog whether you want to read the backlog. I didn't bother with Ava's blog; she posts pretty frequently so I didn't go through withdrawal and need archival material to fill the silence. But the other day, Ava posted about how this summer she wasn't going to get a new MRI to look at her existing brain tumor. She's done it in past summers, but she wasn't going to this summer.
Now I needed more information. I went back to last summer's posts, and sure enough, there's a mention of going to the doctor with the huge tropical fish tank to learn that there's been no change. This isn't the traditional cancer survivor, whose tumor was excised but who is living out the five year cancer-free period so crucial in longevity statistics. Of course, there's still stuff I don't know. Is Ava's tumor benign? That would explain a lot; in that scenario, it can't be surgically removed, but she still needs to take meds to keep it from growing because if it grew, it could put pressure on the optic nerve, for example. (She's promised a friend that if she starts to go blind, she'll get to an emergency room.)
At this point, I'm torn. I have no idea what Ava's life is like -- I don't have a tumor growing or not growing inside of me (at least, I hope not...) -- and to the extent that I have a chronic illness requiring drugs, it's a pretty easy drug to take with no side-effects or ancillary concerns. By contrast, Ava's meds cause her to be unable to eat breakfast. Now that's just plain unfair. If I were her, I'd make the traditional time for brunch be 4 p.m. and stare down anyone who didn't want eggs Benedict at teatime!
But then I started to think about what I do know. In a much larger context, I know what it's like to have something monstrously unfair happen, something that sucks, something that changes everything. Who I am, and the life I lead, is all defined and shaped by what happened to me when I was a child. I wouldn't wish my childhood on anyone, but I wouldn't redo those years if given the option. If the abuse and molestation hadn't happened, I wouldn't be me. I can't endorse what happened, but I still celebrate what I've done in my life.
Does that qualify me to empathize with Ava's brain tumor? I rather think not. And I'm not even sure that sympathy is called for. Ava's a wicked cool person. Why focus on the sucky part of her life and not celebrate all the cool things she is and does?
So, here I am thinking about blogging, the curiously detached intimacy of sharing life details on the Internet (in my case, about a dozen friends and maybe one stranger) and reading the life details of other people who aren't much more famous than I am, when the NYTimes publishes a long thing on the topic. Well, not precisely on the same topic, but in the general realm. I don't want Ava to be sorry she posted about her tumor. I don't want Starman or Hub 1.0 sorry that I write occasionally about them. I like blogging, and I'd hate it if I abused the privileges it gives me. And I'd hate it if I made someone like Ava regret the fact that a virtual stranger feels an odd connection with her.
So I didn't comment on her blog about her tumor. I just thought about it. And now I've written about it.