Thursday, April 25, 2013

When writers hit a nerve.

Angry reader, pre-comment.
Recently, I posted my piece about the effect of empty nest on fathers at Generation Fabulous, a site for women over forty.  One of the reader comments came from a woman who said, "I'm years away from an empty nest, but if women got a life, they wouldn't have to deal with empty nest and there wouldn't be these stories all over the internet," or words to that effect.  I responded, "When I was your age, I felt the same way."

I deleted the rest.

Sharon Hodor Greenthal is the co-founder of Generation Fabulous She is also a frequently published blogger and speaker about social media issues. She is an intelligent, kind, and insightful writer whose observations of everyday life often make me see things a different way. Her blog is here.

Last week, she wrote about her choice to stay home full time with children while her husband worked outside the home to support the family. The piece appeared on Huffington Post, and it is here. In it, she was responding to a study which claimed single-earner marriages fail more often than others.

Her point: her own single-earner marriage survived not because it was easy - it was hard for her to sacrifice a career and hard for him to be away from the family while he built a business - it worked because  it was a choice they arrived at together to best support their common, guiding priority: what was best for their kids.

Their kids. Not everyone else's.                           
Their choice. Not everyone else's.

Of the 171 comments she received (and they're still coming in) dozens leapfrogged Sharon's point about collaborating within a marriage to attack her as a woman.  Here are some:

"You can rationalize it however you like, but either your husband was working an insane amount of hours to keep you in your preferred lifestyle, or he found homelife so horrible that he preferred workaholism to coming home to wife and family."

"It's dangerous to express your feelings as if they were your husband's, not to mention completely disrespectful of him as a person. And when you spend a few months working eighty hour weeks you can let us all know how much you enjoyed it. What colossal nerve"

"How ironic! We do need to be supportive, not drive our spouses to work themselves to death while we bake brownies and take elocution lessons. Life is hard and we need to support our loved ones, not pile on. But I'm sure your nails are simply lovely!"

"You won't know you've done a good job for quite awhile yet... it doesn't sound like you did, not even close."

I thought about this, people who attack a writer who, by holding a position which argues with their own, has, in their perception, attacked them.

In my unscientific opinion,  people shoot the messenger on message boards for several reasons:

  • Because they can. They're anonymous, and possibly in a real life sense as much as in front of the computer.  
  • They have been bolstered in their lives and community by like-thinkers long enough to be appalled by ideas that argue with their own.
  • They kind of don't like their own choices. And wish they did.
  • They kind of support the choices they would never makes themselves. And wish they didn't.  
In my other, equally unscientific opinion, we don't get angry with the choices of another when our own are steeped in our truest beliefs and knowledge of who we are. People who are childless by choice don't get angry with people who have babies. People who have no desire to marry don't get angry with those who do. But people get frustrated, vitriolic, scornful, and  hateful when, to accept the quality of another's beliefs,  it feels like they must cheat on their own.

Sharon's post, for 171 people and counting,  held up a mirror that many were not  ready to look into.

"Maybe your poor husband will find some cuties at the local gym," said one woman. Does she know Sharon or her husband or even their proximity to the local gym? No. Did she offer an opinion? Yes, this one, by default: women who stay at home deserve it when their men grow bored and find someone else. Does she really believe it? I'd like to think not, but it was hard to hear over all that yelling.

We want to be mature, approachable, reasonable people (have you ever been told you're not?) and so we take a balanced position on the things that don't cost anything:  what kinds of food to eat, exercise that is best, appropriate clothing for the office, where to go on vacation and so on.

But push the ever-contentious buttons: SAHMs, breast/bottle feeding, home vs. public vs. private schooling, politics and then, well, look at Sharon's critics, it's kids off the street. Quickly, the discussion veers from agreeable and civil to hostile and polarizing.

How great it would be to identify, as the adage goes, and not compare. To read the opinion of a stranger that differs from our own, and based on their argument, be able to defend both.  But this is a stretch for people still trying to reconcile their own choices, or, themselves.

I learned a couple of things watching this unfold: That Sharon Hodor Greenthal has more class, restraint and professionalism than most would under attack. And, that if I plan to blog about things that inspire comment,  in places where anyone can make them, I gotta get me a thicker skin.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Waiting for word

Jacqueline and me before
 the start of the Cape Cod
Marathon, 2012

My attachment to Boston is lifelong.  I grew up near the city, worked and went to school there.  Two of our children attended college there, and Jacqueline works and lives there now. 

I received the first ominous text as I was leaving my dentist's office on Monday. It was from my husband, who assumed  I'd heard about the Marathon explosions because it said:

"Jacqueline is safe."

I had not heard. 

I learned that she was a 1/2 block from the finish line.  A marathon runner herself, Jacqueline had been watching the street below from an apartment rooftop with her friends.  After the explosions, they scrambled to the street and were immediately rushed from the area by police who, my daughter observed, were as frantic in those first moments as they were.

Jacqueline and I couldn’t speak by phone on Monday afternoon. I left her voice messages to retrieve when her service came back. I watched for her on Facebook.

And waited for word.

We separate from our children as we should. But still, we feel linked, connected, as if by a long, thin string that unravels as they travel. Ever retractable, we imagine this line to be, until  in one swift moment, they are there and traumatized, and we are here with our empty arms around ourselves.

The disconnect is terrifying. 

While I waited to communicate with her on Tuesday morning, I sorted through the coverage and  relived my reactions to that first text, that first "breaking news" screen on TV.  But my reactions were tangled, and they were common to us all: tears and grief for the injured and families of the injured.  And, of course, the paralyzing "what ifs" tied to the fear and gratitude I felt for my own child's safety.

There is nothing else to write about this week but the aftermath of such an incident and yet, no unique way to write about it that is within my reach at the moment. So I have borrowed someone else's.

This op-ed by Dennis Lehane for the New YorkTimes discusses the resilience of Bostonians, and why it is more than tough talk when people refer to Boston as "the wrong city to mess with".  It is the best I've read since Monday.

As for Jacqueline, who  light-heartedly reminded me recently that it's been forever since I blogged about her (she's right, it was after her first  marathon two years ago), I observed a little of that Boston resilience this week when, not twenty-four hours after her exposure to the trauma at the finish line, she rose, dressed, and boarded public transportation to go to work,  expecting – even after the day before – that she’d be safe.

Keep the faith of the young.
Borrow the strength of the survivors
Move like the runners. 
Stay alive.

That is all.