My words made three people cry this week. On the post about loving my best guy friends, a reader I have never met sent me this message:
“Your blog post from yesterday made me laugh and cry. Such sweet sincerity is meaningful even (and especially) with a stranger. … You have a lovely dialectal writing style. Kind of breaks my heart then makes me laugh in a single sentence.”
This stranger’s lovely, unsolicited message arrived the day after a friend called a meeting with me to tell me she was angry that I had written the following in my post about the pain of boob expansion, which I had taken out of the context of a longer conversation between us a few days before:
I was explaining all of this to a friend recently who exclaimed, “It’s just like wearing braces!” I smiled back with clenched teeth and a polite nod.
I was stunned when this friend told me that she saw the inclusion of these two sentences in my blog post as a passive-aggressive attack aimed directly at her in retaliation for her comparing braces to boob expansion. I explained that (a) I had no intention of attacking her when I wrote those words and simply wanted to write about how painful it was to get my chest muscles expanded in preparation for breast reconstruction after a double mastectomy, and (b) when I was writing that post I wasn’t even thinking about her at all, nor was I angry at her. I was simply trying to find a funny jumping off point to write about the pain of the expansion process on the same day that one of those painful expansions had taken place. She did not accept this explanation and we wrangled for over an hour without understanding each other until she finally had to leave for a meeting and I began to cry, and then she began to cry.
I cried because I was stunned that something I wrote could unintentionally hurt and anger someone I considered a friend. I cried because I was frustrated that I could not make her understand how I was simply writing a blog post about my own physical pain and that it really had nothing to do with her and she should have understood that within the context of the longer, positive conversation we’d had during which the innocuously offensive statement had been made in the first place. More than anything, I cried because the conversation terrified me as I wondered how I would be able to continue writing for fear of offending someone again given that everything I write is taken from what happens around me and pulled piece meal from snippets of conversations and actions that take place in my every day life.
I wrote extensively and bitterly and savagely about the disagreement with this friend in my journal and stewed about it angrily all week long. (I won’t bore you with all the gory details here!) This mini-controversy in my tiny corner of the blogosphere seemed a fitting end to the last day of my participation in National Blog Posting Month during which my writing companion Karen and I had decided to select a topic each day and write about it from our perspectives on our separate blogs.
Here’s what I learned from this month of daily writing and from the experience with the angry friend:
- Writing every single day is hard.
- Committing to blogging publicly every single day is even harder. Some days you just don’t even know what you’re going to write about. Some days you’re just really tired and you don’t have time to include everything that needs to be said. Some days you haven’t processed everything you want to say thoroughly and the words and thoughts don’t flow easily. Some days are more successful than others. If I had to write that braces blog post again, I would have included what happened in the hospital that night after the surgery when I woke up screaming in pain because my chest muscles had tightened up into the worst charley horse you can imagine times 10,000 and the nurse had to run morphine into my IV to abate that pain. I would have written about the second night back home in my own bed when Karen came in to wake me up for the first time as she nursed me back to health to give me my Valium/Vicodin cocktail and I started crying because I was so scared. I would have included the fact that the expanders in my chest are wider than what the final implants will be so I can’t comfortably hold my arms straight down my sides because if I do, I pinch the blood flow to my extremities and lose feeling in my hands. How even though I take a muscle relaxer and painkiller before I go to bed each night, I still wake up in enough pain each morning that my eyes well up with tears until I can get to the next dose of muscle relaxer and painkiller. How when I went to the Transformer Auction less than three weeks after the surgery because I wanted to see all my friends, I spent the whole night holding back well-meaning people from hugging me because I was so scared that they would squeeze a little too hard and hurt my sore chest muscles. That blog post comparing braces to boob expansion was not actually about comparing braces to boob expansion. It was one of many blog posts I have written about how physically and emotionally painful and weird it has been to have breast cancer. It was about how I am still in the middle of this emotionally and physically painful and weird experience and the toll this experience has had on me. That blog post was about how writing about this emotionally and physically painful and weird experience each day, and sometimes making fun of it, keeps me from sinking into utter despair and despondency.
- Writing about one’s fight with breast cancer is really fucking hard. Especially when you’re still in the middle of it and you’ve got to wait a few more months before you get your Fabulous New Boobs when the nightmare finally ends. And then you realize the nightmare never actually ends even after you get your Fabulous New Boobs because you’re always going to have those fake boobs you never wanted in the first place to remind you how vulnerable you are and you have to visit your cancer surgeon every six months for five years and then every year after that for the rest of your life to remind you that you once had a life-threatening disease and you’re never really and truly in the clear.
- I am not a journalist. I write a blog that contains stories from my life and my perspective. I include and exclude details to make the points I want to make. I am not writing a blog to report on what anyone else thinks or what the facts are according to anyone else’s perspective. I use artistic license to make leaps in logic when I don’t have time or inclination to fill in all the gaps on my blog. (See item #2 above.) I will continue to write in exactly this same manner, although I hope to fill in all those gaps when I write my books.
- I will never intentionally hurt a friend.
- I don’t fit the myth of the lonely writer sitting in a cold attic with a bottle of gin, writing in solitude. I talk about all my ideas out loud with my friends. I write about everything at length in my private journals. I stare into space at length pondering these ideas. I then find some meaning for myself in all of these conversations and internal musings and I write about them for public consumption. For now, the blog posts are incomplete snippets into my inner life. I hope to turn these seeds of thought into a larger, more in-depth, more meaningful work someday. If you are in my orbit, you are helping me figure this shit out. Thank you.