Why Blogging Matters

Nearly 6 months ago, I wrote about my beloved dog Jessie, about how she chose to be part of my family and how eventually we had to choose to let her leave this life. Last night, a man named Greg found that now long-ago post. “I’m scanning and commenting on posts made by fellow dog lovers because it must be therapeutic in some way,” he wrote.  He recently lost his 6-year old Irish Terrier and was “reaching out to others who understand.”

Greg’s comment got me thinking. Isn’t that what blogging is really all about — reaching out to others who understand? I went back and looked in my leather-bound journal. I never wrote about Jessie there. I guess when she passed, I needed to share my loss with something less solitary than a diary.

Why do we blog? Because sometimes we need to share something personal with something less solitary than a journal.

A year ago, a young man I knew died by suicide. As a way to both cope with her grief and to provide a support network for others touched by suicide, his mother launched a blog called “Forever Invictus.” One day, she posted a proposal to hold a suicide prevention/wellness  fair in New York City’s Washington Square Park. Readers from around the country rallied together to help her realize this vision. On September 17, 2010, the first “Get Your Wellness On!” event welcomed over 1,000 participants and saved a life. The event was organized and executed by a group of people who met for the first time the morning of the fair, but had already known each other only through Esmeralda’s blog.

Tim is an Olympic Silver Medalist in fencing. He has a blog too. So does Maria, a literature teacher in Italy. They don’t talk about death. Tim talks about fencing, about traveling around the world as he prepares for London 2012, about chilling with Apolo Anton Ohno. Tim’s blog has become an online venue where the American fencing community, a diverse and dispersed group of people who share a sport, can congregate and get caught up on the latest news or pick up some training tips. Maria’s blog “Fly High” is an online book & movie club for Jane Austen and Richard Armitage fans around the world. We hang out on Fly High and gush about our love for 19th century British literature and its 21st century screen adaptations.

When I started blogging, I was really only in it for myself. I wanted to write about me. I wanted people to read my writing. I wanted someone to love my writing enough to offer me a book deal. My alter-ego blog, “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband,” has been more successful in this endeavor. It’s where I write about the way we love and are expected to love now. Thousands of WordPress readers responded to my post “You Borrowed My Dylan CD and Stole My Heart, I’d Like them Back Now Please” — a little piece about reclaiming the intangibles when a relationship ends. It seems every past relationship leaves a trail of damaged songs in its wake.

Reading Greg’s comment put Esmeralda’s and Tim’s blogs and the outpouring of response to “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband” in perspective. Turns out, when I write about myself, I’m writing about you, and him, and her too. While blogs may be the vanguard of political analysis or the source for the latest entertainment news, at the end of the day, blogging is about community — at the end of the day, we want to read about things we can relate to. Bloggers and their posts remind us all that, no matter how unique each of our lives are, living is a common experience. In this digital community of words and comments, there’s always someone we can reach out to who understands.

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No, I Wasn’t Drunk When I Bought That… I Was Just on Vacation.

My parents bought a set like this home from South Africa

I was reaching for my grandmother’s ancient but effective hedge trimmers when all of a sudden a crash, a clatter, and a bang left a gaping gash in my big toe. I scolded myself for not changing out of my flip-flops and into my hiking boots, as was the norm for my gardening days. Any one of a number of standard home-care tools could have caused the puddle of blood to form on my garage floor, but to my surprise it wasn’t one of the 4 axes or 8 saws formerly hanging on the wall (is there an army of lumberjacks living in my basement that I don’t know about?). No, the culprit was far less expected — it was a spear.

I hobbled out of the garage waving the spear over head like some crazed primal warrior. Where the hell did this come from, I shouted to my mother who was nursing a wound of her own — she had just lost a vicious fight with a rose bush.

“Oh! I didn’t know it survived!” She cried joyfully, grabbing it from me. “It’s a Zulu spear! I bought it back from South Africa when I visited your father’s family for the first time. There was a shield and knob-carry too, but the shield shed… er, it was made from cow.”

Camilo, Che, & Fidel -- Cuba's revolutionaries... now in technicolor on my dining room wall.

Apparently, 40 years ago a Zulu spear and shield could be carry-on and didn’t raise an eyebrow at customs. Man, have times changed.

Oh! the things you’ll purchase to remember your travels by!

Those flip-flop cocktail coasters I bought in South Beach were such a good idea at the time.

Have you ever heard of a zither? Until one weekend at Lake George, NY, I hadn’t either. Now there’s one sitting next to my fireplace gathering dust.  It’s a musical instrument, by the way. Kind of like a guitar in that it has strings and you strum it. It’s common in Austria and Hungry, so I don’t know why there was one at an antique shop in Bolton’s Landing. Why did I buy it? Because someone told me that when you’re in “upstate” vacation towns, you’re supposed to go antiquing.

When I went to Cuba 2 years ago, there was a lot of stuff I wanted to buy as souvenirs. Even though I was in the country legally, the US Treasury letter granting me permission to travel in Cuba forbade me from spending any money on the island. Silly embargo. Of course, I did acquire a trinket or two (errr… or dozen). There’s a photo of Fidel Castro playing baseball next to my computer, a giant framed silk-screen poster of revolutionary Camil0 Cienfuegos on my dining room wall, and about 8 more silkscreen posters in a closet upstairs awaiting frames.

I’m not a communist. I just have a thing for brightly-colored novelties, particularly of the artistic kind.

everyone needs a set of foam moose antlers... I have 2.

Unpacking after my Newfoundland adventure I realized that my suitcase had gained several pounds in mementos. The “This Rock Rocks” t-shirt was a must have, as where the other tourist-targeted tees and shot-glasses that sneaked into my Delsey. The Alexander Keith’s green foam moose antlers I picked up at the George Street Festival were trivial in comparison to the collection of rocks I had amassed while hiking. Did you know the Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park are really Earth’s mantle exposed? Yea, you bet I threw an 8lb piece of that in my backpack.

I think, though, of all the things I bought back with me from Newfoundland there’s only one thing that’s thoroughly useless — the bottle of Cross & Blackwell’s Fish and Chips Vinegar.

In Newfoundland, if you wanted fish you had to get fish and chips —  I could argue it was a sensible purchase at the time. Then again, as my father reminded me at checkout, restaurants usually carry their own supply of malt vinegar. As for home use? While I’ve broiled, baked, poached, grilled, and sauteed many a fish in my time, I’ve never battered and fried a fillet… nor do I plan to. In fact, come to think of it, before Newfoundland, it had been 5 years since I even ate fish and chips.

Considering I’m not going to carry a 24 ounce bottle of vinegar in my purse on the off-chance I find myself at a fish and chip joint in Manhattan, what am I going to do with it?

Homemade malt-vinaigrette, anyone?

I guess it’s a good thing they talked me down from the puffin chair…

I think this would have looked stellar on my front porch

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe

“DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so”

Senator Ted Kennedy lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday, August 25. On this rainy, gray day, a nation gathers to mourn the end of an era and to celebrate a life of strength and selflessness.

Michelle Singer lost her battle with cancer on Tuesday, August 25. There will be no wake, no funeral to celebrate this life of strength and selflessness. She asked that her four children not be put through that process, that the memories they maintained of her be ones of life before she was sick, not ones of caskets and black umbrellas.

How do you summarize a life? How do you capture in words the vast influence a single person has on the people and places she touched? It’s not my right to eulogize my cousin Michelle — there are far many in the family that knew her better and were more directly affected by her life. Yet I have much to thank Michelle for and I feel the need to express that gratitude in some form.

I grew up an only child with no immediate family in my country, let alone my town, and only a few vague memories of my grandparents. I knew of cousins and an aunt to the north in Canada, but other than a few weddings and a funeral, I had no real relationship to any of them. Michelle changed that. She brought me to my family. She introduced to my cousins, her siblings, and their children. She threw reunions and family gatherings that demanded my parents and my presences.

The family bbqs, the weekend cottage excursions, the cruises and the like were not only her way of bringing together the scattered descendants of the Gentle-Carmichael-Tobin clan. They were a way of building a network of love and support for her children, her nieces and nephews. None of those children have ever known a holiday or a long weekend without the shared joy of their aunts and uncles and cousins. A birthday or accomplishment will never go unnoticed. No family is perfect, this one included (the only reason you think your family is crazy is because you’ve never met mine). But thanks largely to Michelle’s efforts, this group of strong-minded individuals is one loyal family unit that will always be there to pick you up when you fall or find you a bed when you’re tired.

So thank you, Michelle, for introducing me to the family I never knew I had and would now feel empty without.

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