Only a few weeks ago, I finally checked out a blog I'd seen on a few blogrolls here and there with what was to me the unpromising name of 'Granny Gets a Vibrator'. The blogger in question turned out to be a tiny but super-fit lifter of big heavy weights, a woman of exactly my own vintage whose mode of making a living remained unclear, but who had transplanted herself at some point from San Francisco to a little town in Louisiana.
I can't give you the link to her blog, because there no longer is one.
Liz@Grannyvibe was very amusing, and very intimate in some of her disclosures. I was deeply startled when she described herself as an extreme introvert, but then I remembered other bloggers who have talked about how satisfying it is to communicate via blogging without the sometimes-exhausting effort of actually being in a room with people. This resonates with me, as conviviality takes away from me, too, marginally more energy than I get from it, which is apparently how you decide whether you're more extro- than intro-, and I know what they mean.
The interesting thing to me about Liz was that she let the most extraordinary things hang out on a public-realm blog for all to see. Lots of people do it, but they don't all call themselves introverts. My guess is that it might have the same effect as talking to a therapist: a confessional mode directed at an unseen readership, at people who don't know you and therefore have no stake either way in what you have to say.
Still, I liked her toughness, I admired her physical self-discipline, I laughed at her jokes and I adored her aesthetic sense, visible in her garden, her house, the things she made and photographed, the things she said.
Then, only about three weeks after I began reading her blog, Liz mentioned she was having some kind of respiratory trouble. This escalated very rapidly into a desperate downhill-spiral wait for the test results to see whether she had inoperable lung cancer, which seemed very likely.
Last week the tests came back and Liz "only" has lymphoma. Still cancer, but treatable cancer. Psychologically I imagine this is an impossible situation to be in, roller-coastering from euphoria (It's not lung cancer, hooray) to despair (Oh my God, I've got cancer).
Into this already-volatile mix throw one 59-year-old alpha male, a painter whose words and actions demonstrate the kind of ego artists often have, Liz's lover, of unclear duration, to whom she refers as the Painter. In the wake of the medical news, they have a huge fight by email.
Liz then posts the entire fight, including the intimate emails from the Painter, verbatim, on her blog. Without asking him.
I am deeply, deeply shocked by this. I think of something I read recently in Michael McGirr's lovely book about his travels with his mum, The Things You Get for Free, something that strikes me as a profound and original thought: I can't find my copy but his idea was that the compulsion apparently peculiar to (not all, but many) Americans to announce even the most intimate details of their lives to a large audience, as on the Jerry Springer Show, often has as its corollary a deep personal shyness and reserve when talking to actual real familiar people face to face. This notion helped me to make a bit of sense of what Liz seemed to be doing.
In the many comments people wrote as a response to the 'Great Big Fight with the Painter' post, not everyone was fully on side. Several commenters took issue with one or other of the things that she had said. Obviously there'd been more fallout off-screen. Liz came into the comments box to say that it had all made her feel like taking the whole blog down altogether. And the next day, she did. When I went to check in on her and see how she was, I got Blogger's 'Not Found' window. The next time, I got redirected to an online supplier of sex toys.
I'd been reading Liz's blog for only a short while and had never left a comment on it. I'm not at all sure we'd get on in person. But I miss her and I worry about her. A number of my non-blogging friends would think this was a bit mad, but there it is. More importantly, it was very clear that the blog was hugely important to her and had become, as well, a major source of therapy for her: a place to vent, a place to create lovely posts, a place to tease out her thoughts and feelings about the awful thing that had happened to her, and to get feedback and engagement and validation.
What is it that actually happens when bloggers implode? Do people get charmed and seduced by this new form into exposing themselves in such a way as to make it inevitable that sooner or later it will backfire on them in spectacular fashion?
It would take months, maybe years, to tease out the various implications for the five-way relationship between subjectivity, blogging, the internet, writing and human relationships that are suggested by the story of Liz. What is a self? How do we know?