One of the many ace things about writing this blog (besides not having to repeat myself about health stuff, the lovely folk I’ve met through it, and being able to tell people how I’m really feeling without having to stutter, blush and shuffle my feet nervously) is the immediate feedback I get.
‘How many are you up to?’ Dad will ask in a phonecall from his car on the way home from work.
‘Eh?’ I’ll grunt.
‘Comments. How many? Because I checked just before I left and you had four, so I was just wondering whether you’d had any more since I got in the car?’
‘No Dad, still four,’ I’ll say, with my head tilted to one side in that ‘aww, ain’t he cute’ way that I used to reserve for Grandad when he’d falsely boast to everyone at the nursing home about his granddaughter’s Business Studies degree.
‘You’ve got another one,’ Dad will say in a mid-morning call from his desk the following day.
‘Eh?’ I’ll reply again, wondering what it could possibly be that I’ve suddenly got another one of before my third brew of the day has had its chance to wake me up.
‘Comment. Another comment. I just saw it. Who’s that then?’
‘I don’t know, Dad,’ I’ll say. ‘I don’t know everyone who comments on the blog, y’know.’
‘Oh right, okay,’ he’ll say. ‘I wonder who all these people are, then?’
My parents are baffled by the freedom of reply that the internet offers. ‘Who’s this @lilianavonk?’ Mum will ask after reading my tweets. ‘Do you know her through @zuhamy?’
‘I don’t know them personally, Mum,’ I’ll explain. ‘Just through Twitter.’
‘Oh. But how do they know you?’
‘The blog, probably.’
‘Oh... Oh, right,’ she’ll say, in a confused manner that suggests we’ll be having the same conversation again next week.
It’s not that my folks are idiot technophobes who don’t know the difference between a weblog and a wiki. It’s just that in the same time it’s taken their daughter to get through – and, mostly, over – The Bullshit, they’ve also had to come to terms with the online world in which she now operates. A world in which your friends are no longer just the people you meet at the pub, but the people you meet through the internet-specific personality you’ve created. And that kind of seismic shift is bewildering enough for my generation – who laughed when given an email address upon enrolling at uni, as though it were as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike – let alone their own.
‘I’ve left a comment,’ said Dad last week, seconds after reading my The other side of defence post.
‘I know, I just got the email,’ I said.
‘I hope I’ve not offended you,’ he continued, sheepishly. ‘It’s just that I wanted to comment that it was fair enough for Anonymous to have their say. Who is Anonymous, anyway?’
‘I don’t know, Dad, they’re anonymous.’
‘And don’t be daft, shitface – of course you’ve not offended me,’ I said, easing his worry with a choice pet name.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘I just felt strongly about the comments people had made, is all, so I thought I’d add my tuppence worth.’
‘Fair enough,’ I answered.
And fair enough indeed. Because that’s what we love about blogging and social networking and the like, right? The ability to say what we want to say. The ability to open ourselves up to hearing other people’s opinions – whether we like them or not. The ability to respond immediately to something we’ve read, heard or seen, without having to endure endless hold-music on automated phone lines, or decide whether sincerely or faithfully is the right sign-off.
Last week, I blogged about asking Smiley Surgeon for an elective mastectomy, but having my mind put to rest when he suggested otherwise. Anonymous then sparked a debate with the comment that post-breast-cancer, she’d decided to have further surgery herself and had never regretted it, and that – were The Bullshit ever to return – I’d be the one having to go through chemo again, not Smiley Surgeon. And, as I say – fair enough.
Different bloggers deal with their comments in different ways. I particularly like the way that Bete de Jour responds to each of his readers and, much as I’d like to tell you that I don’t do the same because I think you’ve heard enough from me already, the truth is that he is an exceptionally dedicated blogger and I’m a lazy fatarse. But while the I’ve-said-my-piece approach is more my style, in this case I think that – wonderful as it was for my Dad to do so – the comments on the aforementioned post didn’t ought to be tied up by my old man.
The thing is, there’s some stuff I didn’t say in that post which, in the spirit of honesty, I probably ought to decant. I didn’t say, for instance, that as much as I thought it might be the right thing to do to have an elective mastectomy, I was hugely uneasy about the idea of losing another nipple. Something I suspect I’ve never made clear is that, in losing my left tit, I’ve also lost the sensation – that glorious, glorious sensation – that came with it. So by choosing to do away with my right’un too, I worry that I’d effectively be doing the same with my enjoyment of sex. You might think that’s like refusing chemo because I want to keep my hair. I prefer to think of it in terms of wanting as pleasurable a life as possible.
Something else I didn’t say – but which regular readers of this blog will doubtless know already – is that I trust Smiley Surgeon implicitly, and have complete confidence in his opinions. If Smiley Surgeon said that buying Toploader albums or supporting Nottingham Forest or wearing shell-suits would improve my chances of avoiding Round 2 with The Bullshit, I’d do it. And if Smiley Surgeon said that an elective mastectomy were a good idea, I’d be in a hospital gown faster than you can say fun-bags, quickly brushing aside my orgasm worries (while immediately sending off for an Ann Summers catalogue).
So while we’re sharing here, I might as well also admit to initially being a bit defensive when Anonymous posted her comment.
‘Ere, have a read of this,’ I said to P, thrusting my iPhone into his palm. ‘Does that mean that if I ever get cancer again, it’ll be my fault because I didn’t have an elective mastectomy?’
‘Course it doesn’t,’ he said.
‘But is that what she’s suggesting?’ I persisted.
‘I don’t think it is, babe. I think she’s just saying that’s how she felt.’
‘Okay, that’s fair enough then.’
‘It was right for her, Lis – that doesn’t mean it’s right for you too. You’ve got to find your own way.’
‘Hm,’ I hummed. ‘You’re always the voice of reason.’
‘Weeeell,’ said P, purposely not disagreeing. ‘It’s each to their own, innit? That’s what you always say.’
‘Yeah, I s’pose I do. But for the record, if I do get The Bullshit again, I simply WILL NOT ACCEPT that it was my fault, okay?’
‘Well it won’t be your fault, babe, so why should you?’
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘Exactly.’
The problem, of course, was all mine – and not what Anonymous posted. I’m a touchy little sod at the best of times (one school teacher once wrote on my report that I was ‘at times sensitive to criticism’ – and how right she was, the nit-picking bitch), so being forced to consider a future in which I could have done something to prevent a recurrence of The Bullshit instantly got my back up, and wrongly so. Because P and my Dad were right: though I don’t know her personally (I think), I do know that Anonymous’ intentions with her comment weren’t to piss me off, but simply to communicate how she had dealt with breast cancer. The exact same thing I’m doing right now.
To use a wanky phrase I promise you’ll never read on this blog again, the problem with putting yourself out there (yeesh) online is that people will have an emotional response to you. They might pity you; they might warm to you; they might think you’re a whingeing old git and never click on your site again. They might feel protective of you; they might want to offer you advice; they might become as defensive of you as you are of the comments that make you reconsider your decisions. But whatever they might think of you and what you have to say, your job as a blogger is to make like David Dimbleby (minus the increasingly dodgy ties) and point your pen in the direction of whoever wants to add, in the words of my old man, ‘their tuppence worth’.
Which leads me onto something else I haven’t said. I might try to act cool when Dad rings me to talk about new comments on my blog, but his excitement when a new one appears is nothing on mine. So, whatever it is you’ve said, however often you’ve said it, or whatever it is you’re yet to say – I thank you.