... in my brain actually. My very own brain tumour

Friday, February 8, 2008

About blogging - some thoughts on communicating

I listen to Cape Talk radio from time to time and find particular delight hearing the way John Maytham handles difficult calls with calm, human directness and honesty. I very often agree with his views, but not always.

Several weeks ago I remember him spending a little time expressing his views on Blogs. I also remember agreeing with everything he said. He had never read a blog in his life (neither had I). He understood the concept as one where the blogger poured out personal maunderings into hyperspace, never to be read seriously by anyone (absolutely right, I thought). He would never dream of putting his own personal maunderings into the public arena for any reason (neither would I). I then tried reading some blogs, and found that the vast majority confirmed what John Maytham (and I) believed. But, I found some that were very good.

Then the unthinkable happened to me, out of the blue. I discovered on 14 January this year that I had a fast growing, malignant tumour in my brain. It didn't take long for me to decide that I needed to keep track of what was happening to me in order to help me through the initial fears and anger of hearing this unwelcome news. Having never kept diary in my life, I didn't know where to start. Did people really keep diaries in today's frenetic world? Surely not. Then, I remembered John's opinions on blogs and thought perversely about the possibility of starting one. I would start a blog - it would be private - and see how it worked for me. I would just regard it as a diary. So I took myself off to my laptop, logged onto the internet and started learning from scratch. The result is that this new boy in the street now has a blog and you are reading it!

Let me tell you, from my own perspective, what I understand a blog to be. I want to do so because I am finding the concept amazing. I am also finding that I am getting far, far more personal value from the process than I would have dreamed possible. I am using superlatives to describe the process because the process is superlative. So, John Maytham, I have changed my mind! If you read this, you may not change your mind one degree, and that is fine with me. It works for me, an initial sceptic, because of where I am right now in my life. You, a sceptic, unintentionally alerted me, also a sceptic, to the possibility of using this tool to help me through a life crisis. Thank you.

We all communicate every day, by talking to people and writing to people. Most of this communication is directed at an audience of one, but sometimes it is necessary in meetings or lectures, to address more than one other person. A blog is quite unusual because the person initiating the blog has made a decision that he or she wants to address a potentially massive audience spread across the world. Why would anyone want to do such a crazy thing?

I suppose that there could be as many reasons as individual bloggers. Why are people driven to blog passionately about their cats or their cooking or their tattoos? But driven they are. Setting up a blog takes a lot of effort, so they must feel very strongly about what they are publishing. In my own case, which is the only one I am qualified to talk about, I wanted to accomplish something very difficult, namely the reconstruction and clarification of my beliefs. I knew it would be very difficult to achieve this if I kept all my ideas and reflections secret. When attempting this kind of thing in the past I have always done so quietly and privately, reserving the right to fail again and again. It has never worked before. I wanted to challenge myself to explore beliefs and experiences publicly without the luxury of hiding. This has been challenging and frightening, and I have sometimes had second thoughts about the wisdom of my decision. But as things unfold, I have noticed changes taking place in me at a personal level that can only be described as miraculous. It has worked, and continues to work spectacularly. I am very realistic about it. The project is an intensely personal one, and I had thought that one or two people might have read an occasional diary entry. I am finding, to my surprise, that many more people are actually reading my entries (and I will freely admit that they can easily be classified as maunderings.) I am getting lots of responses in the form of emails and phone calls which tell me that many people have been challenged or even helped by merely reading about my private, exploratory thoughts. One of the key elements for me in coping with my position is knowing that my beliefs and experiences are boldly and clearly stated, and that they are not secret; they are out there in the world for anybody to see. In other words, sharing is the key. It makes me feel that I am part of the world, in touch with reality and people, actively communicating and networking. It makes me feel alive and relevant and hopeful. Sharing this kind of information is strange and new for me. It is definitely working, and my blog is an important tool enabling me to achieve this sharing. As time goes on, it is becoming an easier and more natural thing for me to do.

A potential danger lurks behind the use of a potent tool like a blog. I have found that the reality that builds up around my blogging activites is exciting and addictive. I need to be careful not to lose sight of the fact that blogging takes time and effort. This, in itself is good. But it takes time and effort away from other competing realities, like actually doing things with friends, actually exercising, actually accomplishing tangible things in the rough and tumble of physical life. Blogging is a personal, private, sedentary occupation and physically involves sitting for hours staring at a computer screen. If I were being observed by a visitor from Mars, that observer would battle to understand what I was doing just sitting still for hours. If I told that Martian visitor that I was creating reality and experiencing reality, he or she would simply not believe me, and perhaps suggest that I was smoking an odd kind of smoke! So, the name of the game is balance. I must work on it immediately. That means establishing a proper routine that I can actually practice daily, starting today, to make sure I am not neglecting other aspects of myself in the untidy and dangerous real world. It must be a nice, easy routine that supports me and not one that controls me.

I think that the word "blog" is awful. It is short for "weblog" which is not much better. It is a new techno-word which really means nothing more than "diary" as far as I am concerned. But, is a blog just a diary?

I am going to venture the opinion that it is much more. I have already called myself a new boy in the street, and it is probably dangerous to express opinions, but my naivete may add a certain freshness to the subject. I am finding that it helps to concentrate and focus my mind, knowing that other people might possibly be reading what I have said. It also challenges the fear I have described elsewhere, that I may be making a fool of myself. But, overcoming this fear is a part of my process of discovering and feeling the new essence of my real unique self. I have overcome that fear of failure and ridicule, largely with the generous comments of many of you who have read my efforts. I thank you very sincerely. I don't think you have any idea how much you have helped me.

At a technical level, the blog is a tool that can be used to network and find other people with similar interests. For example, if I say in my personal profile that I am interested in brain tumours, it will then instantly tell me which other bloggers are also interested in brain tumours. When I performed this simple exercise, I found that 14 other bloggers had declared an interest in brain tumours. I could then go and have a look at their blogs to see how they were handling their particular problems. Here are just three examples, one belonging to Marie, one to Jon, the other to Louise.

Just for fun - I believe that I learn best when playing - I tried to see how many bloggers were interested in some named interest - categories. Here are the results, some of which surprised me:

Science 22,300.
Men 3,500.
Women 9,200.
Are women more interesting than men?
Sex 16,800.
I was quite surprised that this was not higher
Animals 29,200
. Greater interest shown in animals than people
Dogs 20,700.
Cats 19,700
. Dogs and cats on an equal footing
Botany 656. Not exactly top of the pops
Ericas (flowers) 1.
That's me out there on my own across the whole world!
Restios (reeds) 1.
Me again!
Photography 162,000
. What is this saying?
Astronomy 10,000.
Astrology 5,500. I thought this would be the other way round
Philosophy 16,200.

You will see that my blog is not just a diary. In addition to the diary entries, there are also some more or less permanent pages for things like My beliefs (which I keep fine tuning and testing all the time) My business and My pictures. You get to the various pages by clicking on them

There are also sections in the side bar down the right side of the screen for things like links to other sites of interest to me. For example, the Quackwatch site reliably debunks dangerous or vacuous medical notions that seem to float around freely and are accepted as true. On 8 February, it was reported in the Times of London that the long - held belief that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) has a causative link with autism, has now been finally laid to rest. There is no such evidence, and the original perpetrators of this terrible falsehood have apparently admitted that they were wrong. This information, carefully documented, with references has been available on the Quackwatch site for years. Do yourself a favour and have a look at the site.

I shall continue to blog away and tell you about my progress during treatment which I hope will start next week.

Thanks for reading.

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