I have a friend who likes to tap her watch and announce, “Tick tock,” when time is a wasting commodity. Tonight I spent a couple of hours reading several blogs from start to finish. Was that wasted time? I had papers to grade. I had other work to do. There were chores that I could do. However, I wanted to check in with some of the people I have “met” on line. I follow a number of health-related blogs. Many of the writers have received a diagnosis of cancer. Some are providing care to family members with cancer. Some are caring for family members. Some are on the “other side” of life crises and reflect on their experiences while looking forward to futures they hope will one day cease to unfold in the shadows of trial and terror.
After reading several of these blogs this evening I asked myself why I was spending so much time reading blogs about human suffering when I have a couple of boxes of books within arm’s reach that might help me escape the shadows of my own health scare. I could thrill to a romance. I could unravel a mystery. I could race against time with someone committed to averting a disaster. For most of my life I have read a novel a week, sometimes a couple novels a week, sometimes a couple of novels a day. I have not read a novel in months. I like to follow a series. I have dozens of sets of books on my new IKEA bookshelves. I have every Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. I have four series written by Charlaine Harris. I have J.A. Konrath’s series about the detective Jack Daniels. I have Kim Harrison’s series. I read Catherine Coulter. I think I have every book by Jayne Krentz, Jayne Castle, and Amanda Quick (all written by the same woman). I read Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. This started when I was a kid. I still have nearly every Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames, and other children’s series I ever began reading.
My point is that when I care about a character I want to follow the story no matter where it leads and no matter how long it goes on. Yet I now have books from some or all of these skilled storytellers that I keep picking up and setting down because . . . . I have been trying to finish that sentence tonight.
Tonight I decided to stop questioning why truth is so much more intriguing than fiction. It is fascinating because it is authentic in a way that fiction rarely can be. The stakes are always real in real people’s lives. And, even when the writing is rushed or inartful, its lack of art makes up for misspellings and uncalculated revelations. Ever since issues of life and death became real rather than imagined in my life I want to know how others are handling their challenges.
In reading fiction I let someone take me into a world that is an escape but can be a lesson. I forget my troubles. I let them take me places I cannot imagine until they lay out a scenario. The real life stories of people do that, too, but I cannot escape to their worlds. Instead, they come into mine in a way that a fictitious character’s life cannot. When I say I care about them I mean that I do care. We may not be friends. I will never meet them. We may never even exchange names. But they are real people and I do care about what happens to them.
The bloggers are relating their real life events, but I am not a big fan of “reality TV.” I do watch America’s Funniest Home Videos because many of the videos are funny. But I get up and walk to the next room when I am watching a string of groin injuries or some adult’s recording of children engaged in risky activities for yucks. I like best the animals that defy explanation, the children that stun us with their natural reactions to events, and the seemingly infinite capacity of some to bounce back from adversity with laughter. I cannot bring myself to watch the scripted, edited, and creepy accounts of people who are no longer satisfied with fifteen minutes of fame but need to capitalize on their own idiosyncracies by making the decision to go out to dinner into high drama and reducing the decision to marry or have a child to a farce.
Every time I hit the “Like” key on a blog written by someone in the throes of a real life crisis I feel guilty for sending a message that I am finding this experience in any way pleasurable. I do not want to be a gaper on the highway of others’ health and life hardship. But, it really is not pleasure that makes me hit that key. I wish wordpress.com would add a new key to our blogs that reads: “Care.” I want the bloggers whose lives I am now following to know that this is an experience unlike what sometimes motivates me to read fiction or watch reality TV. I am not a voyeur that watches and thinks, “How screwed up is that person’s life?” I am not watching and thinking, that was “fun.” I think the biggest difference between this medium and reality TV is that the people whose lives I now get to observe are not “characters.” They are people to me and I like them. To borrow from Sally Fields, I really like them.
So, as the hands of time wind forward, I will not regret time spent reading others’ blogs. It has never been wasted time.
Here’s only a partial list of the blogs I follow and whose authors inspire me:
A Broken Vagina
An Only Child’s Journey Into Parent Care
Cancer: My Journey Back to Health-Kicking, Screaming & Whining the Whole Damn Way
Considering the Lilies
Derailing My Diagnosis
Fierce Is the New Pink
It Happened to Me . . . Seriously
My Daddy Is Dying
One Bad Boob
Sarah And Andy Live
Tangling With Cancer
The Big Scary ‘C’ Word
The Misfortune Of Knowing
The Other C-Word
Tropic Of Cancer
Walking Faster In Philly
That just scratches the surface. When it comes to writing about real life, there are amazing people out there. Tick Tock, I am heading back to reading.