Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Prendre le flambeau: A Writing Challenge

It's kind of astonishing that people trust strangers because of words they write on computer screens.

Howard Rheingold

When I started writing the Flophouse I was like the person who puts notes in a bottle and casts them into the sea with the idea that someone, somewhere, might find them dropped upon a beach by the tide, open them, and be amused by the messages or impressed by how far they had to travel.

Today that analogy no longer holds.  The Flophouse exists in its own little virtual space with its 800 or so posts on all manner of topics and the thousands of comments and emails.  It has readers who visit regularly and others who pass by when something pops up that interests them.  I know it's a destination in its own right not only because I have a dashboard that tracks the number of hits by region but because other virtual places have seen fit to put up signposts that say, "This Way to the Flophouse."  

Needless to say, I do the same thing with links to other blogs and articles that I like and believe are of interest.  And when we do that - all that reading and linking and putting up signs that say "Have a look at this..." - my little blog (or your big blog) becomes part of a community (or communities) of bloggers and readers all over the world.  What Howard called a wonderful "intersection between humanity and technology."  

Free of geographical limitations, these are communities where  "we chat and argue, engage in intellectual intercourse, perform acts of commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games and metagames, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk. We do everything people do when people get together, but we do it with words on computer screens, leaving our bodies behind."

One very human on-line community that I (and the Flophouse) am affiliated with is made of those living with breast cancer.  Not a group I ever aspired to join but one that I'm very happy to have at my fingertips.  When I was going through chemo and could hardly get from my bed to the couch, going to Paris on the train was just as impossible as flying to Seattle.  When your world shrinks that much, on-line may be one of the only ways to expand it.

Sweet serendipity, one of the first blogs I looked at for information (comfort, too) was Marie's Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.  What makes her blog special?  That signpost thing I was talking about.  Marie reads and then once a week she puts it all together and posts a roundup.  It's pure service and it makes all the difference to me (and to others).  Almost all the BC blogs that I follow today I found through her, and some of her readers found the Flophouse when something I posted here got included.  And that's how community on-line is made - through connecting with and to others.  

How do you say "thank you" to someone whose service made a real difference in your life? Well, one way is to say, "How can I contribute to this community?"  Last week Marie participated in a Writing Challenge where she answered 4 questions from another blogger and then passed the torch to others to do the same.  I volunteered.

So here goes - my taking the torch and running with it:  

1) What am I working on?

Sobriety:  Top of the agenda is and will always be sobriety.  Breast cancer was the second life-threatening condition I've faced so far in this life.  The story of how I got sober is here.  But the story of staying sober is still being written.  Everything I do and hope to do is conditional on my not drinking today.   Nothing I do is more important than this because if I can't stay sober, then everything else will vanish.  

Faith:  Alcohol abuse was one way I faced my fears (not a long-term strategy that I would recommend).  I was able to stop drinking but once the anesthetic wore off here I was with all the emotional baggage accumulated over 48 years of awkward graceless living.  I chose, as the Big Book says, to accept spiritual help and I think this passage from John Waters describes beautifully where I was and where I want to be:
"Previously, I was terrified of a world that I did not trust to support me.  I feared everything, mistrusted everything.  Now I accept, as a matter of fact, that I am a part of reality,  that I can throw myself into the stuff of everyday and be sure it will embrace my surrender.  I cannot think this process into being, I can only do it.  It depends on action based on trust, and feeling based on a state of harmony with the world, which can also be called grace."
Service:  Part of recovery is service and the question, of course, is how and where.  Some of it is through the blog and other writing for another community, Americans abroad.  But every day is a question mark for me because positive advocacy can all too easily turn toward negativity and resentment.  It is a slippery slope of justified anger toward a situation that one feels is unfair, and around which emotions are running high.  However, it is very dangerous for me to go there and when I write those kinds of posts I feel myself inching toward the edge of a cliff that drops off into a dark dark place.  Here is the advice of the Big Book which is, I think, very fitting for me:  "We have found that justified anger ought to be left to those better qualified to handle it."  I can't handle it.  Period.  And when that sort of writing conflicts with sobriety, then it's time to write about something else.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre and 3) Why do I write what I do?

The Flophouse is just one of millions of blogs out there and I'm not sure that it fits into any particular genre or category.   One criticism of the Flophouse that I hear over and over again is its lack of focus on one particular topic.  If the goal is to get hits then the critics are right and I'm not doing myself any favors here.  But if the goal is to connect then I think diversity has a lot to recommend it.  Think of it as a way of instantiating Amin Maalouf's examen d'identité (an examination of identity).  It's the diverse topics (with my take on them) and how those topics and interests connect to other people and communities that makes the Flophouse a distinct place - unique in exactly the same way as every other blog out there. 
Je fouille ma mémoire pour débusquer le plus grand nombre d'éléments de mon identité, je les rassemble, je les aligne, je n'en renie aucun.I search my memory to flush out the maximum number of elements of my identity, I put them together, I align them, and I deny none of them.Chacune de mes appartenances me relie à un grand nombre de personnes; cependant, plus les appartenances que je prends en compte sont nombreuses, plus mon identité s'avère spécifique.Each one of my adherences connects me to a large number of people;  however, the more groups I belong to, the more my identity proves to be specific.Grâce a chacune de mes appartenances, prise séparément, j'ai une certaine parenté avec un grand nombre de mes semblables;  grâce aux memes critères, pris tous ensemble, j'ai mon identité propre, qui ne se confond avec aucune autre.Thanks to all my adherences, taken separately, I have a certain relationship with a large number of people like me;  thanks to the same elements, taken all together, I have my own identity, which can never be confused with any other.
4) How does my writing process work?

I get up, I read, and then I mentally parse the topics that I could write about until I feel the universe give me a little tug.  That one, Madame.  And then I sit down and start tickling the keyboard.  When I'm done I try to remember to run the spellcheck and then I hit the "Publish" button and get up to walk the garden or do the dishes.

The funny thing is that hardest part of writing is not the activity, it's the letting go.  That, in and of itself, makes it an exercise worth doing.  Everything in me that wants  (in spite of all experience to the contrary) to have complete control over what I put out there for others to see, hear or read, is provoked when I write.  Nothing has the potential to bring out all my character faults like this does -  every fear of saying the wrong thing, every misguided desire for perfection, every nightmare of "everyone is going to hate me" is lurking in my subconscious and just needs a twitch to manifest itself in unhealthy obsessive behaviour:  re-reading a post 10 times or checking the hits after I publish to assure myself that I haven't done a poor job of expressing myself.

So the trick here for me is to remember the two works in progress:  sobriety and faith.  I am not perfect and I will make mistakes.  I write a modest little blog that gives me and others pleasure (service).  The universe will steer me toward what to say that day to make a difference to someone, somewhere.  With these things as my foundation I can write what feels right and then I just put it out there and let it go.  

"Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us…"

Pema Chodron

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Here is the other blogger who took up Marie's challenge:  Audrey Birt of Edinburgh, Scotland in a post called Words Tempted by a Page.  I loved this paragraph which I think beautifully echoes Howard Rheingold's words in describing what happens in on-line communities:

"BUT I have also felt the power of its connection, felt the realness of the contact that can reach across continents, generations, cultures and help build relationship in such a expected ways. I have learned from people I will never meet in person, I have laughed with them, I have grieved for them. We travel a road together which creates a bond, which especially recognisable when its broken by advanced illness or death. "

And now I would like to pass the torch to someone else.  Is anyone out there game?

9 comments:

Marie said...

Oh Victoria - what can I say? I don't know how to put words on how humbled and honored I am that you took up this challenge and shared your story so beautifully. This post means a lot to me to read today. I've read it through twice, before commenting - but I think I need to read it more mindfully as some of the things you touch on here have really resonated deeply with me. Thank you for sharing so honestly and fearlessly. Gratefully yours, Marie x

Marie said...

Oh Victoria - what can I say? I don't know how to put words on how humbled and honored I am that you took up this challenge and shared your story so beautifully. This post means a lot to me to read today. I've read it through twice, before commenting - but I think I need to read it more mindfully as some of the things you touch on here have really resonated deeply with me. Thank you for sharing so honestly and fearlessly. Gratefully yours, Marie x

Allou said...

"The universe will steer me toward what to say that day to make a difference to someone, somewhere. With these things as my foundation I can write what feels right and then I just put it out there and let it go"
This is why I so enjoy your blog. I am not a blog-follower otherwise, but yours is captivating and gives nourishing food for thought. Thank you so much Victoria - and your dashboard shows where I am, so I offer that you are welcome should you feel the urge to travel north!

Audrey Birt said...

Victoria your blog is so moving and lyrical too.I loved the line "The funny thing is that hardest part of writing is not the activity, it's the letting go." So very true. Go well and great to connect this way.Audrey

P. Moore said...

Most days I stop by to see what Victoria wrote. Somehow I find it just adds something to my day when there is a blog post. Some topics are of particular interest and others are simply a pleasure to read. Sometimes this blog provokes a small vision of what is being described and sometimes, you will find a long string of comments.

It is always worthwhile.

Catherine said...

Outstanding post - I am absorbed as I read your experiences and reflections on sobriety, faith, and diversity too. It's such a pleasure to read the Flophouse. I'm so glad you pick up that writing baton!

DL NELSON said...

Outstanding...but why does a blog have to have a focus, why can't it encompass the many things that make up a life...or maybe the focus of your blog (and mine) is life. Leaves room for just about anything. full stop.

bubblebustin said...

Wonderful, but you left me wanting for more - number 3, s'il vous plait! ;-)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Marie, It was my pleasure! And I see that others have taken up the torch. Yvonne has a great one here: http://timetoconsiderthelilies.com/2014/04/25/me-the-live-tour/

@Allou, Thank YOU for reading. I would love to travel north one fo these days.... :-)

@Audrey: I just loved your post. Bon courage!

@P.Moore - A little lax the last few days (hey the garden was calling. The topics are definitely a mixed bag and I love getting comments. What I like best is hearing that I put something out there that made someone happy or was useful in some way.

@Catherine: It was a real honor to be asked (thank you, Marie) and I always love your comments.

@DL Nelson: I'm with you. I like not being restricted to a few limited topics. Some things I see I do better than others (not sure that my book reviews are all that great).

@bubblebustin - I think I comed 2 and 3 into one paragraph. Cheating? Well, maybe.... :-)