Thursday, March 12, 2015

Blogging Grief

I've been thinking about the death of Lisa Bonchek Adams and about her blog.  I know that she got criticism for blogging her way towards death--my friend who followed her on Twitter talked about how much criticism she got for giving too much information, but in a recent e-mail exchange, my friend talked about how much she admired those people who reveal so much in such a public way.

These recent conversations and e-mail exchanges have made me think about our culture and what an exposed time we live in.  We're constantly on film; in fact, whenever I leave the house, I assume that I might be on camera.  When I write anything at work, I assume that company servers and their human monitors could tune in.  Ten years ago, I could Google myself and go through the 3-5 pages that came back.  Today I can't make it to the end of the list.

My spouse has told me that he admires the way I balance my online writing--by which he meant that I never expose things I shouldn't.  Part of it is that I have a boring life with not much to expose.  Part of it is because I have empathy.  I'm not going to bash other people in my blog, especially not if I have to see them in person.  I might bash the occasional idea, which could be read as bashing the originator of the idea.  But I try to do it carefully, in a way that shows I've considered it.  I'm not going to talk too much about work in ways that will mean I get fired or that I can never find another job.  I'm careful about what I reveal about the lives of others, since they may not want exposure.

As I'm thinking about online writing, part of me is off in the distance, watching me think and write.  Part of me is on the meta- level.  What do I choose to write about?  For example, when is dinner worth discussing and when is it not?  Am I capturing the daily texture of my life in this blog?  What am I leaving out?  I'm writing as much--perhaps more--as I did when I kept a private, paper journal.  But I know that I'm leaving stuff out.  No journal, after all, captures life in its entirety.

And I would return to that paper journal, if I had stuff I needed to process.  I have in the past.  Happily, lately, I haven't had as much reason to return to the paper journal.

Lately, I've observed myself not blogging and not journaling, and I want to say a bit about that.  Perhaps there will be some grad student 100 years from now who finds it useful, some grad student writing a dissertation about how we all learned to navigate the divide between private life and public life in the early years of cheap but speedy connectivity.

Two weeks ago, my best friend from high school died.  I haven't written about it openly yet.  I can't find a way to mention it in casual conversation.

Maybe it's because I'll cry.  Maybe it's because I'm tired and don't want to talk about it.  Maybe it's because I find language failing me.

I say best friend from high school--but best friend doesn't really convey the bond we had.  I came to the school in the 10th grade, and we weren't friends until my Senior year.  It's because of that Senior year that I remember high school fondly.  We had been lonely, and then a group of us found each other.  If you have spent time hiding out in the library because you can't face eating your lunch alone and then you found yourself having several best friends in your last year of school--then perhaps you can understand how "best friend from high school" doesn't really do justice to the relationship.

She was also a housemate for 4 years--but that phrase, too, doesn't really do justice to what we created.  We were an odd family, but a family nonetheless, my spouse, my high school best friend, our undergrad friend, and me.  We ate dinner together most nights. We remodeled houses together.  We took vacations together.  We did the tough work of figuring out how to live in community, and we reaped many benefits.

I always thought we'd live in community again.  I envisioned us as little old ladies, rocking on a porch.

This past year has been full of cruel reminders that I may live to be the little old lady, rocking alone.  Or I may not make it to that porch.

So why has it taken me two weeks to write?  Part of it came from wanting a bit of privacy to process it all.  I wasn't ready to talk about it.  That seems strange, since I've been talking about it in person and in this blog throughout the past year as I've watched her struggle with cancer of the esophagus.  But I still had hope that she would be one of the lucky ones, the 10% who survive this cancer.  There is still this large part of me that hopes for a miracle whenever I hear a grim diagnosis.  And then I am so crushed and sad when it doesn't happen.

I have been too crushed to write about her death.

It's also taken time to write because I worried it might be disrespectful somehow.  I didn't want my friend's loved ones to feel like I was somehow dismissing their own grief.  Even as I type that, I realize the ridiculousness of the statement.  How would my words on a not-so-widely read blog somehow diminish them and their sorrow?  Still, that concern has been part of my inability to write here.

It's also taken time to write because it's still so unreal to me.  Writing about it makes it more real, and makes the reality settle in.  I have been resisting that.

I know how strange it sounds to say that I've made it to age 49 without fully wrestling with the concept that we are born to die.  Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that I wrestle with the concept for 15 minutes and then it's on to other tasks.

I expected that her death would make me treasure my life more, and in a way, it does.  But I thought I'd approach the daily aggravations with more grace, with a Zen Kristin kind of approach.  I thought that Zen Kristin would take over, in fact.

That has not happened.

Instead, I find myself thinking, "I cannot believe I am wasting my precious time left here on this side of the grave on THIS!"  I am trying not to let Gotta Go, Gotta Ramble Kristin take over.  Some days it's more of a struggle than others. 

But that's the story of my life:  Zen Kristin wrestles with Grateful Kristin who is wrestling with Let's Run Away Kristin.  And lately, I notice Get to Work Kristin is asserting herself.  For years, she was willing to release control, willing to say, "There's plenty of time."

There is not plenty of time.  There may not even be enough time.  What to do?  Carpe diem, of course.  Seize that day and squeeze it hard.

I have the end of Tennyson's "Ulysses" running through my brain these days.  It seems a good way to close this post:

"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."


Kathleen said...

So, so sorry for the loss of your dear friend. Thank you for sharing your grief and your struggle in such a caring and thoughtful way.

Wendy said...

I'm so sorry, Kristin. So sorry.
(reading the end of "Ulysses" makes me miss teaching high school when I got to teach Tennyson and Keats and all the best poets. I used to have that memorized.)

Kristin said...

Thank you, Kathleen and Wendy. Wendy, I, too, miss teaching those classic poets.

Jeannine Hall Gailey said...

So sorry about your friend, Kristin. How difficult, and how difficult to write about.

Kristin said...

Thanks Jeannine.