In my little dream fantasy writer life that I concocted when I was about 12, I am a writer of simple, spare, lovely (and harsh), well-crafted (but insightful) prose and poetry. I live on some hill top in some place (which I do), writing as I stare out a window (which I do). I write out my work, and my lovely editor takes it, quietly publishes it, and I make a lot of money (which, from writing these days, I don’t). I don’t get on the internet much (when I started my fantasy the internet was someone else’s fantasy). No one has tried to brand me or told me to build a platform (except for events outside in my backyard). I don’t do giveaways or Tweet or even know what Facebook is. I don’t leave the house much, save for extremely well attended events in opulent surroundings, where I read my simple, spare, lovely, harsh, insightful, well-crafted poetry and prose. I am mentioned often in the media, and my popularity grows.
I die a very old and still very talented writer, my (all the adjectives here) poetry and prose oft anthologized and referenced. People walk around my tombstone and grave (though I will never be buried in such a manner. Really). My children and grandchildren are happy to care take my work, and it’s the (adjectives) poetry and prose that just keeps giving.
Now, the real world.
On October 29th, I posted a blog that was posted on parentdish.com, a subsidiary of AOL. The last time I posted a blog there, I had readers telling me I had an ass for a brain, and after that experience, I resolved to never blog again on a nationwide-- nay worldwide--site.
But because I am not the writer in my fantasy world, I do need that public exposure. Plus, I like to write. Plus, I crafted a pretty good essay about my sons, one that was true and heartfelt, most of the adjectives (to my mind) involved.
So much for my resolve. Up went my new blog at 10 am EST on the 29th of October, and when I checked on it around 12 noon, there were 2 comments. A couple of hours later, 4. Okay, I thought. I will no longer have an ass for a head. No reader has yet to chastise my parenting, my life, my children, my political, social, world views. No one has told me to go on lithium or other psychotropic drugs.
And I didn’t look back at the site. I thought it had gone quietly into an internet heaven along with posts I wrote for Gadling.com about Oakland and on AOL news about Sarah Palin. However, without my knowing, on November 1, I went viral. Around 12 pm on the 1st, I started getting emails from readers—emails that came through my web site. The readers were telling me they’d seen my blog on AOL. They were sorry about my sons, but really, they wanted to tell me about their family lives, the abuses and dysfunction. They wanted me to write about their issues. But mostly, they wanted to talk. They wanted their stories to be heard. And their stories were sad.
As I read on the exercise bike (another irony), I realized that my blog must have caught fire somewhere. Ding, ding, ding, went the phone. The emails rolled in.
Later, what I realized was that the emails coming to my phone were the nice ones. The real mess lay at the AOL site. When I got home, I went in. By 6 pm, there were 224 comments. By the time of this writing, there are 338 comments.
My blog here is about the shift in my sons’ relationships with each other. They have grown up and away from each other. They’ve changed and moved on from things they used to cling to. I wrote a little bit about this when I notified you all about said blog, and I have had struggles with my own siblings. For me, this relationship has often been fraught, fraught along generational lines. Fraught in stories I hear from my friends. These siblings of ours. How we love them. How we want to tell them to shut the hell up.
So with this sibling topic at hand, most of these comments were along these lines: “I understand your pain. Now let me tell you about my oldest brother Ben and my other 12 brothers. Ben and I haven’t spoken in 25 years . . . “
In other letters “Ben” was a crack addicted abuser who ruined the lives of countless others in his quest for self fulfillment, and the writer, his sister, longed to at least say goodbye before he died of several known and fatal diseases.
Or Ben was a Republican. Just as bad, apparently.
Or Ben and his sister didn’t speak to the other side of the family.
Or Ben had stolen all the parents’ money, keeping it from his sister and her 12 kids.
Or Ben and his sister were really good examples that I should follow. I was the idiot mother who raised two nightmare children, and I needed to see the light, the Lord, an almighty salvation.
Or I was referred to the great L. Ron Hubbard.
Or no one cared about anything I had to say (though those of this category read the entire essay and stopped to make a comment). And what in the hell was I whinging about.
Or my former sister-in-law (who hasn’t spoken to me since my first husband and I separated) wrote to me to remind me that 1) she took the photo included and 2) I had issues with my own sisters.
Or it seemed that the readers of the blog assumed I was looking for their help, sympathy, intervention, anger, ire, and condemnation/praise. To them, I put my blog up there, expecting, needing, their critique.
So yes. What am I whinging about? I signed up for this, and I agreed to pretty much all that it entailed. I wrote something that was important to me—something personal and painful, a piece of writing I struggled over and thought about, and then I allowed (yesterday midday) half a million people to read.
What, as they say, was I thinking? Or was I?
But here’s the thing, folks. We writers who are doing what we can to sell our books need exposure. There are five writers on the planet living my fantasy life right now, and I won’t list their names because we will hike to their houses and protest. Most of us slightly public people want to go on having a public life. And public life is a little rude and scary.
Here’s the sad, true upshot. While there have been other publicity factors involved, my personal web site hits were up 210% (many of those folks were the ones writing to me!). My redroom counter registered 1200 hits the day of the viral episode. My books sales were up on Amazon, several other blogs captured and reprinted the essay, and I’d had one request for an interview.
Is it worth flaying myself and my family on the open fire of an avid AOL audience?
Would I do it again?
Therein lies the problem.
So I can be told I have an ass for a head, am an idiot mother with two idiot children and I’ll go trotting back for more.
But maybe that’s not it. At least, not all of it. Yesterday afternoon, I walked with my youngest son around Oakland Chinatown, shopping for tamarind concentrate and kaffir lime leaves. When we stopped for dumplings, we started talking about my writing life. He’s used to be being written about, and we’ve talked a lot about my essay writing about him and his brother. We talk about him and his brother all the time. When I told him the story of the blog gone viral, he said, “Mom, you have to keep writing.”
When I pointed out that I was using our tender, personal lives to create public exposure, he said again, “It’s okay. You’ve got to do it.”
Do I have to do it? Maybe he’s talking about something else. Maybe he’s talking about the very thing that started me writing the blog in the first place. That sibling relationship, the one that is hurting him and hurting so many other people in the world (see blog comments!) is what he wants me to keep writing about. That’s the mystery he wants solved. It’s the mystery that that so many seemingly do.
So even though I opened myself up for criticism and even though my intentions weren’t entirely pure, I realized that bringing my story to others was important, and not just for me. It was important to my son. And to about 338 other people who stopped to comment, one way or another, to let me know something else. To let me know about them.
Causes Jessica Inclan Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org