Saturday, February 12, 2005

Another Twist or Several

Perhaps it is because I am doing lots of computer housecleaning that I am looking back over the full history of Vermont Diary and finding fascinating shifts and turns in audience and intent of my writing here. Last July, it was from several motivations that I started writing to an e-mail list of friends and family. Because I am new here in Vermont, I am conscious of my impressions of the place as being particularly fresh and strong, and I wanted to store up the experience to revisit in the future. And I thought others might enjoy it.

Because I am new here, life can be lonely far from friends, and I found it personally helpful to reach out with messages, whether or not responses were forthcoming. It also gave me a mechanism to reach out to family members, who for whatever reason, don’t communicate with me. It took some time to work through various issues associated with the e-mail list—sorting out assumptions about what communications were personal and what could be shared, making sure that I respected others’ assumptions as far as possible, assuring people that I really did care about their views even if I chose a “Christmas letter” sort of mechanism in order to communicate more often and sometimes more deeply than they might have expected. The process was not without mis-steps.

Finally, I have long had a sense—as I have probably expressed here before—that writing would overtake me in middle age (that would be now). And so it has. I refer you to Fiction? ( )

In October, I started the blog. I felt a need to shift the perspective a bit, to make my writing more for a public audience, even though content is undeniably personal. I don’t want my friends and family to get the wrong idea, but I have experienced more real personal interchange in years of e-mail than I did in decades of cards, letters, phone calls, and personal visits. Maybe my experience is shaped by the twin facts that I live—by my own choice—a long distance from many of the people I love, and that I am oriented to written exchange.

In a different lifetime, I would have been one of those literary spinsters cranking out letters every morning or afternoon, crafting a spider-web legacy of words weaving together the thoughts of my acquaintance, whose smallest acts would take on outsized historical significance simply because they were recorded while countless others were not. By recording the tiniest facts of my life, I create a world entire, peopled by my friends and colleagues, my family and the slightest acquaintances. A world that is both real and fiction.

Here’s where it all gets really interesting. While we all create such fictional worlds, we owe truth to ourselves and to others. Absolute, rock bottom truth. Getting to truth is not a trivial exercise. We think we know the truth about ourselves, but then someone points something out to us…and we wilt. How could we have missed the obvious? We think we know the truth about another person, but however much we may care for another person, it is impossible to enter into another’s reality. We owe each other the rights to have our own stories, gloriously separate but interlocked by compassion and love.

Now I refer you again to Fiction? ( ) and to Dan’s comment at the end of that piece. I responded off-blog via e-mail to Dan saying that I really didn’t view the call to write in the same upbeat way he had described it—more like being pursued by black flies.

This is, I realize, a Vermont reference, which I may need to explain for readers who have not visited the Northeast during mud season. Black flies are tiny insects that go for any particle of exposed skin and bite, bite, bite. The pain they inflict far exceeds their size. Clouds of black flies in the spring have been known to drive seasoned hikers to beat their heads against tree trunks in a maddened effort to make the pain stop. If the Furies came to Vermont, they would come as black flies.

I didn’t think any more of the exchange until I read Dan’s posting several days later at . If you haven’t read Dan’s stuff yet, you may want to. He has been nominated for Best Business Leadership Blog. On the other hand, Dan is another intuitive introvert like me, but more intellectual, so you may find his stuff heavy going. This particular entry—about being trapped by a “reformed” work-a-holic on a plane—seemed a bit uncharacteristic of Dan, and I was concerned enough to write back off-blog as follows (edited):

Dan...I sympathize with how distressing it is to have people talk to you on planes, also with the annoyance of learning from someone you don't particularly warm to at the same time you are grateful for the lesson. Funny, though, I would have pegged you for someone who didn't need to have the heart attack.

Dan replied (edited) to reassure me that he did not need the heart attack to jolt him into an authentic life, then added this followup:

I'm still thinking about the black flies line. It bothers me because it wasn't just ironic -- at least that isn't the way it came across -- but also as a defeat of the gift that you are bringing with your wonderful observations and sensitive dialogue with the world. I'm not much for derision of such a precious thing. What was it you were saying about losing something precious? (Can you hear this?)

And I wrote back (edited):

Thanks for that cheerful message! I certainly feel better about you, and you are right, we keep learning the same damn lesson over and over again. But I do believe that we get it better each time, and eventually we really get it.

Don't worry about the black flies. I hear your comment, but please know that I accept my fate cheerfully--I am leaning into it and exploring bit by bit how to get on up the trail despite the little monsters.

You know, it's funny...despite how much I have learned from blogland, this is one of very few real exchanges I have experienced. I write in response to a lot of people who appear to be aware questioners, sometimes in response to pain between the lines, but generally to people I perceive as grown-ups. Most often I never hear back, and sometimes I hear back that I didn't get it right at all, how dare I empathize with that person! Okay. Maybe I am writing from a projection of my own situation, but I prefer to think of it as empathy, fellow feeling with another human. If what I have to say is not heard, well, okay. I'm not going to force my viewpoint on anyone. Contrariwise, I have come to recognize that the more adamant the response that I didn't get it right at all...the more likely I did, and hit a sore spot. Compassion is a narrow path between the sore spots; compassion is knowing when to say "that's ok, you are just like the rest of us," and when to leave it alone to fester or to heal, whatever rightly comes next. One of my other big lessons is learning how to avoid the arrogance of being Little Miss Fix-It. Implication for my writing is that it must avoid any tendency to the didactic.

Now isn’t this interesting? Full circle from e-mail to blog and back to e-mail, which I have now shared with you via blog. Amazing how authentic an interchange is possible via blog, amazing how seldom we hear each other no matter what medium we choose.

Meanwhile, I am working through an issue that is so deeply personal that I can deal with it only off-line and through fiction I have shared with only two friends—Dan, a blog-friend, and Jon, a personal friend for the last twenty-two years. In the end, there are only the people we love, however we come to know them, and we can deal with the deepest issues only in the most personal contexts, never in blogland, never for display.


Lorianne said...

I'm just glad your back to posting again: last I heard you were sick, then *silence.* I hope you're better now!

ZM/aka Lorianne

Karen said...

Thanks, ZM. I'm much better now, coming up for air after cold, hard drive crash, and a couple of different difficult interpersonal issues. Just life happening all over the place!

Dan said...


Sorry I've been out of touch for a couple of weeks. Yes, this is a wonderful "full circle." You have my support for the changes you are about these days.