Think

Whenever someone in offline life tells me they read my blog, I find myself scrabbling around in my mind frantically trying to remember if I’d said something that could hurt them. If I think I might have, I review the blog and sigh in relief if whatever I’d said that seemed so vile turned out in retrospect to be rather mild. Only once did I hurriedly edit the piece to tone down a comment, though whatever I’d said had been the truth, just not necessarily kind.

I suppose I should think about such things before I write, or at least before I hit “publish,” and I generally do, but my posts reflect whatever happened to me or whatever I’d been thinking, and I get caught up in telling my story. Often my posts are emotionally driven. Even more often, the posts are moral-driven — not moral as in virtuous, but moral as in finding lessons in the little things, such as removing a potential hazard when I notice it rather than after it does its damage as I wrote in The Trip of a Lifetime.

An acronym for “think” is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind. Supposedly, before we say something, we need to T.H.I.N.K. To ask: is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary, is it kind? If we stopped to remember all that, we probably would forget what we were saying in the first place, and for sure it would add an uncomfortable lull to the conversation (assuming that people would wait patiently for us to speak).

And the same goes for blogging. If I paused to reflect on every sentence I write, I would forget the next thing I planned to say since for me, blogging is strictly stream of consciousness: what I think ends up in the article. If I dam the stream, obviously nothing would come out.

But that whole THINK thing is only part of the issue of being connected online to people I know offline. Since most people who read my blog are people I don’t know, people I have never met in real life, or people I seldom see, I feel comfortable (or at least more comfortable) turning myself inside out than I do for people I see almost every day. No one wants to wear their heart on their sleeve (I had to stop here and look up that saying. It’s from Shakespeare. Othello.)

No one wants to feel exposed.

And yet . . .

Why not?

Those who would be most likely to peck at my poor exposed heart are those who wouldn’t be reading what I wrote anyway. Besides, if everyone wrote a blog from the heart every day, life would be so much easier since we would know what the people around us are really thinking.

The great benefit of my writing without always second guessing myself or doing too much thinking is that every once in a great while I end up writing something inspiring. And being able to inspire someone is worth any discomfort that might come from being so exposed.

I hope it’s also worth any hurt feelings I might inadvertently engender.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

I Am an Escribitionist

Escribitionists are those who blog about themselves, their experiences, and their reflections. It sounds like such a bad thing, connoting, as it does, exhibitionism, but it’s simply a way of distinguishing the diary-like bloggers from those who write from a more journalistic point of view.

The danger of being an escribitionist is that it leaves a blogger vulnerable, not just emotionally, but also physically. People have been known to retaliate offline for online disagreements and, more commonly, people with a felonious bent will take advantage of those bragging about being the Bahamas for a week. So not a good idea to advertise when your house will be vacant!

In the beginning, I was very careful not to say anything of a personal nature. I didn’t make my birthday known, where I went to school, where I lived. For a long time, I didn’t post photos of myself, and I protected my gender (some people were shocked when they found out I wasn’t who they thought). I even refrained from offering opinions about anything but writing and books (but even then, I sometimes got an argument from those who misunderstood what I was saying. See: “Ah, the Difference a Comma Makes!”)

I was especially careful during the years of Jeff’s illness, particularly the last few months when he was so bad off, not to write anything about my life. I was trying to establish myself as an author at the time, perhaps with a male pseudonym, and we both agreed a professional demeanor would be best. Besides, I felt it would be a betrayal of him to talk about what we were going through, and he was afraid I would seem pathetic.

After he died, though, all that care we had taken in laying the groundwork for my career as an author no longer mattered. I was in such terrible pain and so bewildered by what I was feeling (I’d never before encountered even a mention of the utter mental, physical, emotional, spiritual agony of profound grief), that my pain burst out of me. First I screamed my pain offline (I was pacing the house one day, feeling as if I needed to scream; when I realized no one could hear me, I just let the pain rip out of me). Then I spewed my pain onto this blog.

That’s when I discovered the adage “we all grieve differently” is wrong. Many people told me that they experienced the same thing that I did. We might show our emotions differently, but the pattern of grief for a spouse, life mate, or soul mate often follows the same timeline.

By the time my pain became manageable, I was in the habit of talking about my life, so I wrote about my experiences taking care of my nonagenarian father and my frustrations with my abusive homeless brother. I wrote about my travels (making sure always to post after the fact so that no one would know where I was at any given moment).

If I made a mistake and gave too much information, it didn’t matter because I was never in one place long enough for my indiscretion to catch up to me. But now that I am in my final home and not going anywhere, I can’t run away from the mistake of giving out too much information, though I fear it’s too late.

I do try to be careful, but any hope of anonymity (at least pertaining to geography) is long gone. Too many online friends have become offline friends. Too many offline friends have become online friends. Anyone who is paying attention can string together the crumbs of my life that I scatter online, and find me if they really wanted to, though why anyone would want to go through all that trouble, I don’t know.

Still, it is a concern. Unfortunately (fortunately?), it’s way to late to change my ways. If we writers are supposed to write about what we know, well, I know writing, grief, and me. Few people like to read posts about writing (they are either writers themselves who know it all already or non-writers who don’t want to know). I’ve said all I can possibly say about grief in my five hundred grief posts (https://bertramsblog.com/archives-grief-posts/) and my two books about grief: Grief: The Great Yearning and Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One.

So that leaves . . . me.

It’s always hard to admit the truth, but there’s no getting around it. For better or for worse, I am an escribitionist.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Are Online Friendships True Friendships?

A few weeks ago, an offline friend expressed reservations about making friends online because she thought we don’t really get to know people online. An online friend also wondered about the trueness of online friendships, though she admitted she considered me a friend. And another online friend (she’s probably more of a mentor since she offers me more support than I offer her) wrote a blog about the meaning of friendship and how that applies to online friends.

digital lifeSo can you have a true relationship online? Of course, though to be honest, I rarely interact with the vast majority of my online “friends”. At one time, I thought it was important promotionally to have a lot of connections, but that doesn’t seem to hold true. Still, it is possible to make real friends online.  In some respects, these real online friendships are based on something deeper and more meaningful than offline friendships because (sometimes) we can connect directly to the mind, heart, or soul of each other. We are basically electronic beings, masses of focused energy, which is sort of what a computer is. We do have a tendency to show our best side online, but that’s not a bad thing. Besides, through numerous blog comments or facebook discussions, the truth comes out.

I have never met some of my best friends. I hope I will meet them someday, of course. (Although some of my hopes for an epic adventure are fading in light of the realities, taking a trip to meet these friends is still possible.) One drawback to such friendships is that it’s hard to hug an efriend, so such friendships to endure might have to go offline. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s enough to celebrate the wonder of knowing someone who lives on the other side of the country or even the world.

The few times I have met an online friend, there wasn’t a bit of awkwardness. It was as if we’d known each other for a long time, which was no surprise because we had known each other for a long time online.

A few years ago I met one such online friend. She came here for a book showing (I call it a showing instead of a sale because we sold so few books) and we got along well. Not only were our attitudes similar, we even dressed alike. Next weekend I will be returning the favor by going there for a book showing.

Friendships of this online/offline variety are not the neighborly sort where you run next door to borrow a cup of sugar or a pinch of salt, but I’ve never had any friends like that. Nor are they the kind who could visit you in the hospital or take you to the airport (though I’m sure they would if they were in the vicinity.) But they are still real friendships. And they are probably longer lasting than other friendships because if they move or if I move, we are still as close as the internet.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire,andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Being Real Online: The Truth of Me

shadowIn a recent blog interview, someone asked me what I would do differently if I were invisible for a day, and I responded that for all practical purposes I am invisible. “Practical purposes” meaning “offline.” Some people responded that I was very visible, and they are right. I am visible online, but they (and you) don’t know if I’m visible offline, so basically, nothing would change if I were. I’d still be the same person — whoever that is.

I started out online with a certain persona — not fake exactly, but not entirely me. More of a slightly idealized version of me. The odd thing is that over the years, I have grown into that persona, so I don’t know which is the real me any more, but I think the fake one is the real one.

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about the truth of what we hear and see on the Internet, mostly because of Manti Te’o’s story. To be honest, I haven’t a clue he is or what is story is, but it did make me wonder if the people I meet are real.

I tend to take people at face value online, even though I suspect some of them are not who they say they are. For example, there are a few authors portraying themselves as hulking men with biceps and tattoos that I suspect are really women who are using not only pseudonymous names but also pseudonymous personas, but it doesn’t matter as long as they add a bit of color to otherwise staid discussions. And if they really are those men, that doesn’t that matter, either.

If the people who comment frequently on this blog — the ones I have come to think of as online friends — turn out to be not who they say they are, it wouldn’t change anything. Their insights add depth to the conversation and make me think. That is real even if they are not. But I would be willing to bet they are exactly as they seem.

I have met several people offline that I first became friends with online, and they were who and what I expected. In most cases, there wasn’t even a moment of uncomfortableness — we just continued our online relationship offline.

Of course, online we talked about books and writing, ideas and dreams, and that is hard to fake. I mean, if you don’t have ideas it’s hard to pretend that you do, or if you haven’t read books, it’s hard to make an intelligent remark about literary matters.

Maybe the point is that online we are who we say we are. Offline, we get so used to being what we’re not so that we don’t get in fights or so people don’t get angry with us or to get our way or so we can get a promotion or for any number of reasons, but online, what we are really doing is stream-of-consciousness writing, and that taps into the inner us.

If we are creatures made of stardust and electrons, if all our thoughts are particle waves or energy or whatever, maybe it’s easier to plug in to the essential spirit of people online since the Internet is an electronic medium. Online, you get a feel for people, for who they really are, not how they look or what they do for a living. Online, you’re not obese or crippled or ugly. Online, you don’t repel people with your awful smell or your terrible disease. Online, you’re just you.

Sometimes people take the freedom of the internet too far and, hiding behind fake personas, spew invective at the world. But that is true, too. It’s who they are. It’s the real people who are bogus, pretending to be affable when in fact, they are filled with anger and hate.

Are you wondering if I am real? You already know the answer. Whether I’m visible or invisible, fake or real, it’s my words that matter. My words tell you the truth of me.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+