Sunday, September 03, 2006

Eros Blogging and Psyche: a cautionary tale

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?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

PC, I have been reading this blog since you recommended it. Like you, I was gripped by Granny's diagnosis (and her descent into the ghastliness of American public healthcare). I was also pretty appalled by the global circulation of "Painter's" emails (which of course I addictively read, plus the 50-something replies that followed). I'm not a "workshopper" of issues myself, and so could sympathise somewhat with Painter. Workshoppers can be like people who insist on making you dance at parties - relentlessly convinced of the sunny rightness of this activity and somewhat coercive. I also noticed a tendency in Granny's correspondence to shut down those politely disagreed or weren't cheerleaders. Still, I found this site oddly addictive, admired Granny's pluck, and found the goodwill and particularly American wit of many of her correspondents very cheering. Seeing this daily read suddenly disappear into the void was oddly disturbing - I appreciate your reflections. Coy Lurker

JahTeh said...

As a recent comer to blogging I'm always conscious that my granddaughters will some day read whatever I write. In fact, I blog to let them know what I am like because I know next to nothing about my grandmothers. What you read on the blog is my voice in real life but not until I know you would you hear it in real life. I will tell you though it's a bad idea to get Brownie, Lord Sedgwick and me in a confined space, we can get very loud.

Geoff Coupe said...

Kerryn, your thoughts on Granny echo mine. Liz's son has a blog and you can post a message of support, should you wish to, here: http://finwake.blogspot.com/2006/09/sadness.html

Molly said...

thanks for writing about Liz. I missed the huge blowup (some blog-reader I am!)so I was surprised when her blog simply disappeared. I will miss her and I hope when things settle down she takes up blogging again.

Ampersand Duck said...

I guess the sort of passion and determination that allows her to post the things she does on her blog also gives her the dramatic impulse to pull the plug. Shame, though. I was enjoying her energy. I suspect (or maybe hope) she may be licking her wounds like a cat pretending to be indifferent about doing something clumsy, and will probably reemerge as a different blog.

elsewhere said...

Hmm, thanks for that really thoughtful post. I never got into 'Granny' for unprocessed reasons that I suspect have something to do with combined effects of the title and the narcissism you mention. (And trying to clamp down on my own blogging habits -- i.e. not reading yet another blog.)

Just walking around and catching public transport in America, I was fascinated by how readily people broadcasted details of their personal lives at volumes all and sundry could hear. (In Australia, it's usually just 'I'm on the bus...' into the mobile.)

I suspect many blogs just taper off and atrophy, a bit like stars dying in distant universes rather than imploding so dramatically.

(It's also possible to be a grandmother in your late 30s -- some of the locals are here.)

Pavlov's Cat said...

El, I was just doing a bit of an edit (not my usual practice here, either) and came back to find your comment -- but the edit had been precisely in order to remove the par about the narcissistic streak, because it seemed so mean -- the poor woman has lymphoma, she doesn't need me complaining about her personality as well, and I've now seen enough of the blogosphere to know better than to think she'll never see it.

I think I'd got sucked into doing exactly what I think she was doing too much of -- just saying EVERYTHING and then being startled and wounded by the repercussions. In a funny way my own post reflected exactly what I was trying to tease out about Liz's blog -- the way that blogging as a practice lures one on to indulge in unedited stream of consciousness, and then be startled later by the repercussions.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Also meant to loop back to Coy there -- yes, I couldn't bear to even start about the Gothic nightmare of the American public health system, particularly as ours seems to be about to go the same way. (Can anyone recommend a good medical insurer now that the existence of Medibank Private is about to be dedicated to the good of the shareholders instead of the members?)

As for people who try to make you dance at parties -- oh yes; though I actually quite like dancing and am surprisingly good at it for a traditionally built lady, I have been known to hit someone who was trying to pull me onto the dance floor, whereupon I was branded for life by the whole equally extrovert table as a psycho and probably drunk as well. That remark really struck a chord.

Zoe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zoe said...

Granny's blog was OK, but here you get "relentlessly convinced of the sunny rightness of this activity" and "...and am surprisingly good at it for a traditionally built lady" on one thread.

Which is to say, some bloggers blog much more as a writing practice than a confessional one ;)

(And also that editing is A Good Thing.)

Kath Wilson said...

Oh, PC, some clues about the introvert/extrovert things. You MUST read the article from The Atlantic Monthly, 'Caring for your Introvert' by Jonathan Rauch. It so beautifully explains all, and I suspect, really sums up a lot of the self-contradictory status of writers:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200303/rauch

Susoz said...

Re medical insurers - is it not possible to get by with Medicare? Wemanage to.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Susoz -- horses for courses, I guess. I loyally hung onto reliance on Medicare for a few years after the Libs began to white-ant it in earnest, but in my early 50s with no financial security, no regular income, and several incipient genetic tendencies to arthritis and the like -- and having seen and been through some public health nightmares -- I gave in a few years ago. Decent insurance in all areas is now one of my main priorities, and Granny's 'charity hospital' nightmare has reinforced my determination to stay covered if I can. If I thought I could count on being looked after by the state, then I would, but I don't.

Kath, thanks v much for the link, will have a look.

Laura said...

I hate, hate, hate the idea of private health insurance, especially after some of the things you see happening to people in the USA as a consequence of their system, which we seem to be heading towards, but after seeing a close relative with a serious illness trying to negotiate necessary treatment in the public system, we got the insurance.

Ampersand Duck said...

Yeah, we've just gone into the Private Zone, but I was dragged kicking and screaming.

I will fight to save Medicare to my dying day.

Black Knight said...

So. . . which plan?

I'm partly covered by the reciprocal agreement with the UK - my wife and girls are Kiwis so entitled to full Medicare, but I'm afraid we'd all get treated like charity patients. In the UK *everybody* is treated like a charity patient but as you don't pay at point of care it's quite good value . . .

Any thoughts? Apart from "don't get sick"? I'm especially interested in dental plans as that's hellishly expensive.

wendy said...

The US writer Ayelet Waldman - whose blog covered some extremely personal territory - was evidently saved from a suicide attempt (during a hyper-manic episode) when her husband read her blog. The blog's here:

http://bad-mother.blogspot.com/

We had private-- but can't afford it currently. In fact we have a health care card at the moment... We've had to do odd things like paying (heaps) for elective surgery(for a sleep-apnoeac child's tonsillectomy, for heaven's sake!),while going public for the bed & the anaesthetist. This is how the system just doesn't work.

One useful thing I've discovered recently: all kids' (up to 18) dental treatment is covered if you can bear to wait for the public dentist. So horrible, but vital procedures like wisdom teeth extractions, are covered.

wendy said...

Sorry, punctuation went haywire in that last sentence.

Susoz said...

Perhaps because we live in an affluent area, near to some excellent teaching hospitals, we have managed to get excellent care in the public system so far. We go to bulk-billing doctors, bulk-billing x-ray service. We even have a bulk-billing home doctor visitor service. We did pay for a private dental operation for our child, but I figure the expense was less than we'd have paid in insurance in one year. You can get a tax rebate on everything you spend over $1000 per year, which includes dental and other forms of health treatment. If you find a politically-savvy bulk-billing doctor, they will often refer you to the more sympatico (less expensive) specialists. I am, as you can tell, a prosyletiser for staying out of the private system. So far, for us, so good, though I recognise that others are in different situations. Anyway, good luck with whatever path you take.

Helen said...

Yes, I saw the email exchange too, and commented as well. The painter was behaving like a total ass, as everything was ALL ABOUT HIM (He made some small construction which she failed to praise, being out of her mind with worry about cancer, dammit, so he chucked a hissy fit; and so on.) Which I said. I was probably sharper than I shouldabeen, and I hope I didn't contribute to her decision to shut the blog down.

Kate said...

Heh. Elsewhere's comments about blogs withering and dying hits close to home at the moment.

I am also quite fascinated by the American 'over-sharing' thing and the fact that I am prone to it in a most un-Australian way, which is a habit I have tried to curb of late because frankly no-one wants to hear about my 'iss-ewes' so much.

Anyway, I liked Granny's voice and her positive take on her body, and aging, and race -- and I didn't realise she'd gone anywhere, because I am trying to read fewer blogs myself.

I don't have much to add except we have healthcare too and it depresses me -- if we just put the money aside we put into the healthcare account I'm sure we could save enough to cover any medical emergency, but then again, we'd probably just fritter it away anyway.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Kate, I did the arithmetic on this when I had major surgery a few years ago (definitely worth the insurance), and again when I had to update my glasses this year. Skimped on the frames and all, but because I cannot tolerate graduated lenses (I would spend all day throwing up), also don't tolerate glare very well, and now need glasses for reading AS WELL AS driving, I had to get three pairs of prescription glasses. Add that to dental costs and I think it breaks about even. Overall I probably pay a bit more to the insurers, but it's worth it for the peace of mind. One of the things that was worrying Granny more than anything else was that the illness was going to cost her big-time and she didn't have any health insurance.

Blue said...

I've been curbing my blog reading too - so I didn't realise that Granny was gone.

I have private extras - mainly because I have at least one child who will require significant orthodontics (which is covered) & i use it for my chiro - without whom I would be a crippled mess. having done the sums - I'm significantly better off, but refusing to do hospital cover - on the basis that anytime anyone in my family has been really ill, they have had the medical assistance required. As I'm about to move states, I may have to rethink that once I have an idea of the medical paradigms in the ACT.... anyone?

BK said...

Just turns out that there are public dentists.

So how does that work, then?

BK said...

s/turns/found/

Muppet.