The Blog Tourist!

I hate jetlag.  It makes my head fuzzy, my stomach confused, my sleep patterns unpredictable and I feel as if I am walking on cotton wool surfaces for the first days of jetlaggery. I also find it unsettling when I am back in the UK as my cultural references become more and more disconnected the longer I live on the other side of the world.  I think it is even harder for those around me when I am back as what should be familiar is confusing and I forget or do not know things which are routine and mundane to most but a mystery to me.

While I have been challenged by physical and geographical displacement in recent weeks, travelling across the planet and back again and enduring double jetlag, the blog has recently been on its own wanderings and dislocations.  Last week, it had one foot in China, one in the US, one firmly planted here and one spare! It is fortunate that geckoes have four feet!

In late July, just before my own feet trundled through Yangon airport and a variety of departure and arrivals gates, I received a message from my blogging friend Beth on Calling the Shots.  Beth asked me if I would like to join the Blog Tour on writing process.  This was an invitation I was unable to accept unfortunately.  The reason for this was because back in March I had been invited on this Blog Tour by a Yangon blogging friend, Cliff.  This was the same writing process tour and it resulted in a long process of luxuriating and reflecting in my own writing process and a very long post flitting from butterflies and backstories and a great deal in between!

The way the Blog Tour works, if you accept the “baton” is to use the following four questions which prompt reflection and discussion of our writing process:

1) What am I working on?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

3) Why do I write what I do?

4) How does my writing process work?

As well as being a very interesting process, it is also very helpful to step back a little and work through these questions.  And then the deal is to pass the baton on to another blogger or two, or even three.  Now, I am sure there would be no repercussions if you were to take the baton a second time and I am sure that  I could have happily hopped on board again.  However,  having thoroughly enjoyed working through the question prompts at great length the first time round, a second run would undoubtedly have resulted in a very boring post! I declined Beth’s offer but looked forward to reading Beth’s post.

Although I would not be rising to the challenge again, in true butterfly style, my mind wandered off as it tends to do………… I wondered, where the Blog Tour had been and what its journey had been before it reached Beth.  Following my own post, I had followed its path for a few weeks until the various strands became complicated to follow and I found myself unable to keep track of the different directions it had headed in.

I had passed the baton on to Catherine and Marie who both wrote their posts the week after my post, in Australia and Canada. This was fascinating and I was delighted to watch as the baton moved forward.  From their posts, the Blog continued its tour to Audrey in Scotland and Francoise in France. Around the world it continued as a mix of blogging friends and new acquaintances took up the Tour Challenge.  It continued in different directions, and was already becoming hard to track.  I wanted to comment on all posts but I couldn’t quite keep up as it moved on to Jan and Ellen, who in turn sent it off again to Ronnie in Liverpool, and Renn on the other side of the world! In addition to zipping around so many different places, it morphed into different topics, some breast cancery blogs and others not.  But it disappeared from my view and I was left wondering where it had gone, and intrigued to learn.So I was delighted to see the Blog Tour had reached Beth and eagerly followed its path through Beth’s post on Calling the Shots, which directed me to  Booby and the beast, Joanna of Hello mo jo and Ann Marie of Chemobrainfog.

I was fascinated by the Blog Tourist wanderings and I started to try and trace its steps back, naively believing that I might find that it led back to one of the strands I had seen.  So  I started to look backwards, to the post which had introduced Beth and found  My decade of running, and   http://www.corbininthedell.com/  here.  These had travelled  from  Jill Cooks, via Just Biscuits who had accepted the baton from Mademoiselle Gourmande talking about Rhubarb tartlets and a Blog Tour.  I then landed on My simple delights – a blog by a Singaporean who has moved to Spain and i nearly headed off on a tandem (tangents are far less fun 😉 ) on a travelling blog, and when I traced further back was directed me to my part of the world with Life to the Fullest…………………

Indeed, I had been taken back on paths around breast cancer, and then into a world around running, gardening, growing fresh foods for and creative cookery in a whole world of food blogging which I had not know existed eventually even landing on a few blogs from very near my own front door.

The wonderful part of the Blog Tour is that the route is not linear.  If we pass the baton on to more than one bloggerista, then it heads off in so many different directions, multiplying and laughing as it lands in unexpected places. I was no nearer to finding if there was a joining point between my post and Beth’s and I realised that it was probably impossible (or at least very time consuming in a land of limited internet) to find out.

It was a journey which suits my butterfly mind so well.  My attention is taken, I float off in an unexpected direction and am intrigued and excited by what I learn before I tootle off in another direction.  Eventually though, I have to settle back and focus again on the here and now.  But for now, I have a mind which has been infused with a fresh zest and a bundle of treasures which I have newly learned.

lux 8

Thank you, Beth for providing the ticket which took me off on this unexpected journey, especially one which has involved no jet lag!

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The Meaning of Life and the Why of Blogging

 

There is something going on in the blogosphere. There is a shifting in the breeze and a sense of unsettledness. The groundswell of a movement is still there but amidst it s a sense of questioning. Questioning, why we blog, for what purpose and with what aim? We seem to be drowning in questions, and struggling to find many answers.  A bit like the meaning of life, perhaps.

In many senses the blogsphere is awash with breast cancer related blogs. (My own blogroll miserably fails to capture too many brilliant blogs). Of course the scale of breast cancer blogging reflects the enormity and diversity of the disease on top of our own individuality. The fact that there is such variety in the approaches we each take to blogging, reflects the uniqueness of our own diagnosis and experience and what breast cancer means to us individually.

I can see that I am not alone in feeling the need to spring clean the blog, peeking into the dusty corners of the archives and emerge with a shiny new, squeaky clean refreshed Feisty Blue Gecko space. I worked on the visual side a few weeks ago, and am quite pleased with the revamped look, although it might experience some tweakings and refinement.

That is the easy part though. The visual side is far less complex and much clearer than the “what’s in it” aspect. So following some heavy weeks at work, residual tiredness and gradual recovery from the recent ill health, it has taken some time in this post taking shape. Added to that is the continued feed of posts from fellow blogesses who are also thinking about the Why of Blogging.

It is interesting to see how our blogs develop and evolve as time marches forward. I remember the thinking processes I went through as this blog entered the blogosphere in October 2009, not long after diagnosis. Being so far away from family, many friends and support networks, I wanted to keep folks informed and updated as I was propelled along the diagnosis-treatment path. I also wanted to record the tiny details that I knew I would forget as time wore on. This would be a record of my experience that I could revisit. And connected with that was the interest to revisit when I would be in a different place emotionally and physically. I find it very powerful re-reading some of the posts from my earlier days following diagnosis. It is difficult to recall just how you felt long after the event. The level of detail I have written preserves that.


However, by far the biggest catalyst for my blogging about breast cancer was to try and get a grip on what was going on in my mind. I would lie awake at night, thinking, worrying and fearing. Starting to record everything and process it was incredibly cathartic, and still is. Having the blog to focus those thoughts and shape them into a post which would have to be coherent enough for others to read provided an outlet for the the scary thoughts, a kind of download button. Yes, blogging really helped to bring some meaning to life in the new cancer world that we are thrown into.

If my original Why of Blogging was multipurpose, then no wonder I am having difficulty making sense of the current Why of Blogging nearly three years on. And this is where I find myself far from alone.

Take Lauren’s blog,  After Five Years, for example. I would look forward to Sunday evenings and luxuriate in Lauren’s insightful and eloquent writing as I prepared for the new week ahead. On a Sunday even in Asia, I could time fairly accurately when the Tweet would arrive, which would tell me that Lauren had clicked publish on her latest post.  The end of last year brought a break in her weekly blogging, which I found quite unsettling and disconcerting. As the weeks turned into months, I would continue to click regularly on the link in the hope that there would be a new post. And then one day, there was. And her post was a discussion linked to the Why of Blogging and how this was shifting for Lauren.

Last month, within days of each other, Uneasy Pink and Bringing up Goliath published posts sharing very similar thoughts. Uneasy Pink expressed a tiredness. Tiredness of cancer, of the lack of real progress, and so tired of good people dying. And tiredness of trying to find some new to say when the nothing is really changing. Bringing Up Goliath shares a similar fatigue as she says she will be stepping back a bit to re-think.  She expresses a deep sense sadness, especially in seeing the progression of metastatic disease in women diagnosed at the same time as she was early in 2009.  Not long before I was diagnosed myself.

I feel as if I am in a kind of “cohort” amongst women who were diagnosed around the same time. A kind of “Class of 2009”. However, we are all in different places depending on our various diagnoses, stages, treatment paths and situations. I keenly feel injustice, guilt and uncomfortable relief simultaneously that so many are living with Stage 4 metastatic disease while I count my blessings daily that I am still in NED’s company. That very fact, that so many women are dying of metastatic breast cancer, despite advances and despite often early diagnosis and regular screening, is one of the drivers for many to advocate and shout for change through their blogs. There is a wealth of articulate, clearly argued and passionate debate in the breast cancer blogosphere which is a major Why of Blogging.

The Accidental Amazon is one such tireless advocate. She is the Queen of Snark and one very smart cookie. And she has told us that she is also feeling the fatigue and taking time to step back for a bit. She says:

“So, here’s the thing. I’m taking a break. No idea how long a break it will be. But I’m going to just live my life for a while — you know, that life I used to have before cancer. That life that has, in very large part, been on hold for four years”.

And that leads us to another kind of development in the blogosphere. Just a month ago, I was inspired to read news of another “blogging change of direction” from Second Base Dispatch.  She clearly articulates the complexity of finding her way, and the relationship between her new path and the breast cancer which probably put her back on the path and describes how she is now making her way forward:

“I’m going to have to devote time to poetry, likely at the expense of my breast cancer social media activity and blogging (unless I can figure out how to give up sleeping).

It might feel like you’re giving up if you don’t continue to fight for the friends you’ve lost, and we’ve all lost too many. But I also feel very strongly that if we don’t live the life that matters to us, we’re doing them an even bigger disservice. We owe it to them to make every minute count.

I don’t plan to walk away from breast cancer advocacy completely. The community I’ve found online means too much to me. I may not be blogging as often and instead of focusing on breast cancer, I may want to share what I’ve learned in case anyone wants to try their hand at writing as therapy.”

Being Sarah, for example, has been a launchpad for things broader than breast cancer, such as the wonderful sounding “Friday Walks which she and her partner have developed into a protected and precious Friday routine, and reports from Pot 44 which is a vital part of her life. This is amidst the grief she is reeling from, since losing Rachel earlier this year and most certainly does not mean she does not continue to shout when the need arises.  This is abundantly clear in her latest post. At the start of the year, she launched her new Shine like a Bee blog to share things creative, as well as gardening and updates from plot 44. Being Sarah, meanwhile, is focused on her breast cancer advocacy and experience, and matters related to her authorship. The Friday walks have now moved to A Sense of Place. She is also in a stage of thinking and organising how she keeps the content of the blogs discrete and focused. Questions, more questions.</

Time is a major factor too.  Blogging is a time-consuming lark.  It involves a great deal of thinking, writing and refining words carefully, selecting (and uploading which can take ages here) the right images, and then the tidying of links and tags and then often a great many deep breaths before the “publish” button can be hit.  This process can be sabotaged by breaks in connection and although I usually write most of my posts offline, there are times when I find myself on a roll, craft the best words and exactly the right tone only to have it all disappear in the ether when connection cuts.  I really should learn, and promise myself to every time it happens.  Until the next time……  Furthermore, I find myself pretty busy trying to fill my days with non cancery stuff and carpe the diem, so time can be pretty tight at weekends and evenings.  I have the latest Book Club book to read, writing exercises for the Writing Group, and Masterchef Australia to keep up with.  Not to mention the day job….  So the balance of trying to keep the blog alive and fresh, while living for the day is also tricky.

And that brings me neatly back round to my own personal Why of Blogging and how that fits with this recent overhaul of things gecko. I started blogging in April 2007, with the original Feisty Blue Gecko intended to note and document aspects of life and work in Asia. There were so many details, which would make me smile or surprise me and partly I did not want to forget them, but also I wanted to share these gems. When I was diagnosed in 2009, I created the current blog as I felt the clear need to create a different space dedicated to the breast cancer experience. However, I did not want to maintain the previous space. Nor do I want to return to it now.

I had no idea when I started blogging that I would become part of a community of bloggers and others online and become so emotionally involved and feel so supported and connected.  That is a very important Why of my Blogging.

All that brings me to the present day. As life moves forward, I know I will not return to the life I had back in Feisty Blue Gecko Days because my life is different now that it is lived through the breast cancer lens. It just is. So in terms of blogging, I might have posts which reflect or rant about on breast cancery stuff. I will also be updating and recording how things are going with health stuff generally, as well as the cancery stuff specifically. I am in fairly good health now, but I realise how fragile this is as I recover from the recent embolic escapade, and when I look at the cocktail of daily drugs I have to take. And there will undoubtedly be times when I feel I have nothing new or original to say.

However, I am in a fortunate position. I live in a fascinating environment at a very interesting time. I live in a culture in which I learn and observe new things constantly. There is a great deal to share as I experience and see new things.

Thus, the plan is to continue to blog in a similar vein, but perhaps to share more of the “life and work of a Scottish Woman in Asia” part of the new strapline. Who knows what will happen in my breast cancer future. It is impossible to predict. No matter what does happen to me, you can be assured that I will be blogging about it. When I see something that lights my touchpaper, you will be seeing a rant on here. When I go through checks and scans, or experience other steps in the path forwards, yes, that will be here too. I will aim to share the snippets and images of life and work here and the moments which make me stop and pinch myself in wonder that I am following the path that I am.

So in fact there may probably not be a great deal of change here. But then again, there just might be …..

 

In trust we blog

When I first entered this strange new place known as “life after hearing the you have cancer words”, I realise that I had expectations of how life would be playing out from then on.  I vaguely expected that I would go through the treatment, share the emotional turmoil with family, friends and colleagues and then resume some kind of life as it had been “before”.  Needless to say, it hasn’t quite turned out like that.  The basics were there, but life changed beyond recognition.  And life has never been the same since, for better and for not so better.

There has been one dimension of the cancer experience which has been totally unexpected.  And that dimension is the rich, supportive environment I stumbled upon online, particularly through blogging.  I could never have imagined the number of people I have connected with, and particularly the depth of many of those friendships. Now, this is not something new to my posts.  I have previously (and often) discussed how emotionally involved I have become with friends I have connected with online. I have described how taken aback at the level of distress when one of our number is taken. The raw grief of loss, and the unexpected tears on learning that someone you have never “met” has been taken simply crashes through the boundaries we are accustomed to. I have previously, and more than once talked about how much that has surprised me.  I have been moved beyond any imaginable expectations when one of my online friends was dealing with the toughest of times.  So this is not a new topic in my mind, but I continue to be astounded at the warmth and genuine friendship which has developed with friends online and value this more than I can express in words.  Utterly heart-warming.

In the past few weeks, however, I have been nudged to revisit some of these thoughts. I was shocked when reading a post from Nancy where she shared her shock when she learned that another blogger had taken her posts and copied them almost word for word.  This made me reflect on how much we expose ourselves online and lay ourselves open emotionally.  Just because what we write is completely genuine, we take it that all other similar blogs are similarly true.  We generally accept what we read by fellow bloggers and bloggesses at face value in such areas as cancer blogging.  Yet the internet is an unpoliced medium and as far as I am aware, there are no checks to ensure that what is written is true if that is what is implied or stated.

And then, this week I was I was catching up on Chez’s blog when I was stopped in my tracks wen I read her post about “Annie”.  Chez and Anne had connected online, guest posted on each other’s blogs and after some time “Annie” abruptly broke contact.   Given her secondary diagnosis, Chez feared the worst and thanks to social media and perseverance was able to get in touch with one of her friends.  She was shocked beyond belief to discover that “Annie” had in fact fabricated her diagnosis and whole blog.

The point which I come back to again and again in this is the extent to which we trust.  Nancy trusted her readers yet one chose to lift her words, and use them as her own.  Chez trusted that “Annie” was being honest.  Yet we find that this virtual layer of our friendships has the potential to be deceptive.

Essentially, we are trusting strangers, unknown entities, and opening our hearts and minds.  We share our fears, our hopes and intricate details of what we go through in the cancer experience.  Some of this is highly personal, but the supportive environment and strength of friendship reassures us and we feel able to trust.  And then our world is rocked when something we trusted and believed turns out to be smoke and mirrors.  That reflection in the mirror is of the complicated and inter-connected online lives and relationships we develop.  And how much trust we place on the basis of the information in front of us, often because we share so much of our own personal self online.  Something like this knocks that trust.

However, this has to be put in balance with the depth and number of genuine friendships and individuals in our online community.  A good number of bloggers have posted accounts of real-life 3D meet-ups.  The variety of social media we use also means that we have a kind of triangulation which must make it more difficult, but in no way impossible, to be duplicitous.  Perhaps we have a sense of additional false security because we are after all living with our breast cancer diagnoses. But many of the signals that protect us in the “real” world are not there in the virtual world.  We are far more vulnerable and exposed than we realise, and perhaps the very depth of genuine friendship we find online further lulls us into that sense of security.

The whole issue of trust was one which was very much on my mind a few weeks ago when I was making plans to met Terri in “real life”, my first chance to meet another breast cancer bloggess.  I remember thinking that on the rational side, travelling to another city half a day away in another country, was somewhat risky.  Was I being naïve in trusting that Terri was who she said she was?  We had only known each other online.  We read on and commented on each other’s blogs, had connected on Facebook, had emailed a number of times and I felt a true connection and shared values.  But we had not actually spoken.  I remember thinking quite clearly that in terms of a methodically calculated risk analysis, this would have to be considered rash and high risk.

However, although these “rational” questions went through my mind as I booked time off work and tickets, I did not seriously for a moment believe that Terri would be anyone other than who I had met online.  I was sure she would be exactly who she said she was online.  And of course she was!

After reading Chez’s revelation, it did make me stop and reflect on how trusting I am about what I read and how I connect online.  I without doubt take what my blogging friends write at face value and would not think to doubt that some blogs could be invention.  And how should I apply that to my own blog?  Let’s be honest here – my own tales must seem rather far fetched and I do not readily share personal information to corroborate my experience.  I think I have only ever posted one photo of myself and my name appears only in comments.  How credible is my blog?  A Scottish woman, living and working in one of the most enigmatic countries in the world, diagnosed with breast cancer, treated in Thailand, experiencing so much in all corners of Asia……..  Is this for real? If I were reading this myself, would I believe it?  I am not sure that I would!  But here I am, on a sticky pre-monsoonal Saturday morning in Yangon tapping away my thoughts while the fan is whirring overhead, a cheeky mynah bird calling out in a tree in the garden and a street hawker calling out “brooms for sale” as he passes by our hedge, along our lane. Yep, I am real– (pinches self) though in my PJs but don’t tell 😉

I find that when it comes to online trust, it is similar to online loss.  These new dimensions to relationships and interactions do not have rules or protocols.  We do not have the signs and signals we are used to which enable us to process and evaluate online dynamics. And in many cases we find we are not equipped to deal with the depth of emotion we experience in something which may have been experienced entirely in the virtual world.  Witness the incredible #bcsm discussions as one demonstration of online support and emotional connection in its discussions and debates. It is a new and strange territory, and one in which we find a wealth of unexpected characteristics.

The online world may be a fertile environment for duplicity without consequence.  More than ever we need to be aware of that while developing friendships and connections in the blogosphere. In this complex issue of trust in this new and evolving space, on one hand I know I should be wise in developing friendships.  However, I would rather risk and trust than not.  Otherwise I could well miss out on the wonderful connections and friendships that have been brought to me purely thanks to the online world. And I can’t imagine  a world without you!