The power of the internet for good and bad

imgres-1imagesOver the past few months I’ve learned more about the power of the internet.  I’ve discovered firsthand that what we put “out there” lasts a long, long time.

I knew about the maxims discussed in this blog intellectually, but I didn’t have direct experience with them until the last few weeks.  It has really hit home for me how important it is not to slander anyone because you never know who will read your words.  Here’s a (slightly) drawn-out example: some of my blog posts have discussed specific authors and their books.  Not one, not two, but three of these writers contacted me within just one week after my blogging about them.  They found me through the magic of Google alerts.

What is a Google alert, you may ask?  Here’s my non-techie definition:

One can use this feature to create different category “alerts” so that Google searches the vast internet daily (or more frequently, you can set the parameters) for any mention of these categories.  Google emails you the alert links so you can track them down yourself.  For example, you can set up an alert to find a mention of your name, a book title, and pretty much any subject under the sun!  I have Google alerts set for my favorite bands, postpartum bipolar, and my name.

Google has a better description of their alerts that I thought I’d add here in case you’re not familiar with them:

“Google alerts are emails sent to you when Google finds new results — such as web pages, newspaper articles, or blogs — that match your search term. You can use Google Alerts to monitor anything on the Web. For example, people use Google Alerts to:

  • find out what is being said about their company or product.
  • monitor a developing news story.
  • keep up to date on a competitor or industry.
  • get the latest news on a celebrity or sports team.
  • find out what’s being said about themselves.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You enter a query that you’re interested in.
  2. Google Alerts checks regularly to see if there are new results for your query.
  3. If there are new results, Google Alerts sends them to you in an email.”

It was so much fun for me to get the following blog comment from the writer Cristina Negrón. She was alerted about my blog post which mentioned her wonderful book So Far.  She wrote, “Dyane: I was truly surprised and delighted to discover your blog post about my book. Thank you for your thoughtful, insightful, and beautifully written review. Being so close to the material (I couldn’t possibly be closer!), I didn’t know how it would be received by people who don’t know me. So your post, from an outside reader and a fellow writer no less, is especially gratifying. All the best to you, Cristina Negrón”

The other two author comments in response to my blog were written by  Martha Rhodes (author of the inspiring 3000 Pulses Later: A Memoir of Surviving Depression Without Medication) and Elizabeth Sims (the upbeat You’ve Got a Book in You! A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams).  Both of their comments were complementary.  Rhodes graciously offered to give me guidance with my own book and Sims’ message was funny and encouraging.

“I could get used to this awesome feedback!’ I thought.  I was also greatly relieved that I did not write anything harsh about them or their work!  Don’t get me wrong – I believe in constructive criticism, and I do like to be honest about the books that I read, but now that I know for a fact there’s a good chance the very authors I analyze could read my posts, I’ll be a little more cautious about what I offer to the internet.

After my warm and fuzzy week of author responses, I encountered the net’s darker side.  I was planning my daughter’s ninth birthday party, and I opened up my Evite account.  While reviewing my contacts list, I noticed that I had invited one of her classmates “Xavier” to a past party.  For the life of me I couldn’t remember who Xavier was.  There were no identifying details attached to his name except for an email address.  To satisfy my frustration at my inability to remember Xavier or his parent, I copied the email address and I plugged it into Google.  I honestly didn’t think I’d find anything, but I did.  Xavier was the son of “Cassia”.  Cassia had posted on a religious website many years ago, and my Google search located her comment almost immediately.

Cassia wrote that she was in desperate need of help due to a longtime disorder.  She added that none of her good friends were religious like she was, nor did any of them struggle with that specific disorder.  She noted that she was reaching out to strangers on the website because she didn’t feel like she could turn to any of her friends for support.

Finding this deeply personal information out about Cassia made me feel sad.  I felt that I knew too much about a stranger.  I was alarmed about running into her at a future party, because I realized our kids were in the same circles.

A few days later I spotted her email yet again on an Evite I had  received for a upcoming child’s birthday celebration.  I was concerned about running into her there, because I knew I’d be uncomfortable with the private knowledge I possessed, but obviously there was nothing I could do about it.

It’s one thing to write for the internet and reconcile yourself that you’re going public with whatever you contribute; it’s completely different when you are writing about highly personal, potentially damaging issues that are discovered by strangers within fifteen seconds.

I find the ease of finding such personal information sobering after what I read about Cassia – most of which I did not include here in the highly unlikely (but definitely possible) event she would read this blog post.  I’m a little freaked out about what I’ve sent out to cyberspace during times of mania, but it’s too late now to do anything about it.  I’m not going to spend much time lamenting about those emails because I wasn’t well.  I can let that one go for now, at least.  (It does occur to me that someday I may apply for a job in which my unsavory emails could be located, but I can’t worry about it…yet.)

After my positive and disturbing web experiences, I am simply going to be a little more careful about what I write.  I won’t select the “send” option glibly on my laptop, that’s for sure.  I don’t want to edit my writing to the point of it being monotonous, God forbid, but I don’t wish to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I can save the really angry, slanderous comments for my journal or therapist.  I’ve been naive all along about the internet, but my naivete is slowly but surely changing.  There’s also the added bonus that as I  get older (I turn 44 in one month) I just might be getting wiser.

How Do You Explain Heaven To A Child?

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Photo of an “Eskie” puppy who looks exactly like my Shera.  Everyone told me she looked like a stuffed animal, and she did.

Today is one of those days where I am not getting anything done.  Dirty dishes fill the sink. Clean clothes that are meant to be put away are strewn all over my unmade bed.  It’s a gloomy, rainy Thursday; this weather drains my energy, but our community is relieved for the outpour because we’ve had scary drought conditions.   According to my favorite trusted astrologer Risa D’Angeles we are experiencing Mercury Retrograde in Pisces.  I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I know it’s not good.

The day began at 5:00 a.m. with a screaming match between my two little girls who woke up ninety minutes earlier than usual.  Ever since then I have felt somewhat off kilter.  Today’s Risa D’Angeles horoscope for my astrological sign of Pisces states that I “need uninterrupted sleep”.  She’s right.  (You can check your horoscope at http://www.gtweekly.com – I highly recommend it.  I’ve been reading this paper for the past two decades and I always flip to Risa’s page first!)   After schlepping the girls to school in bumper-to-bumper traffic I played around on Facebook when I should have been working on my writing.  Facebook writing most assuredly does not count towards my writing project, as much as I wish it did.

I did have an exciting, positive interaction happen since the crack of dawn.  I was contacted by the author Martha Rhodes.  Her powerful book 3000 Pulses Later: A Memoir of Surviving Depression Without Medication details her journey with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) and she explains how it alleviated her severe depression.  I have tremendous admiration for Martha, who survived a suicide attempt and is now a mental health advocate.  I didn’t know that TMS can also help with bipolar disorder symptoms – you can check out Martha’s Facebook page 3000 Pulses later or her website http://www.3000pulseslater.com for more information.  Martha was notified of my blog through a Google alert. (Do you know about Google alerts?  If not, I suggest you research them – they are very cool!) I mentioned 3000 Pulses Later in my “Memoir” blog post, and Martha got in touch with me.  Hearing from a talented author certainly brightened my day.  This was the second time that I’ve had an author contact me this week.  I could get used to this happening with other authors as well!

On a more serious note, the topic I planned to cover today sounds a bit lofty: heaven. Unfortunately I don’t think I will do this subject matter justice in the time I have to write. It’s also difficult to analyze heaven since I connect it with death and that brings up some painful memories.  However, I’ve found that when I write about upsetting matters, the writing serves as a catharsis.  I always feel better afterwards, so to quote one of my favorite writers Greg Archer: “Onward!”

(Greg wrote the entertaining, insightful book Shut Up, Skinny Bitches! and he is the editor of “Good Times”.)

Onward, take two.

My six-year-old daughter Marilla has been struggling lately at bedtime.  She has been telling me repeatedly how scared she is.  When I explain that she has no reason to be frightened, she disagrees with me.   “I’m going to have bad dreams about vampires or zombies again!” she whimpers, and I feel terrible and powerless to help her.  I do everything I can to reassure my girl that the bad dreams can vanish.  I remind Rilla to think about the good things in her life to get her mind off the spooky stuff.  I suggest that she focuses on what cheers her up: her toys, her friends, her favorite foods, etc.  She eventually falls asleep and then we repeat the same scenario the following evening.

Two nights ago we were having this nightmare discussion and our talk took a different turn.  She was fixated on talking about my dog Shera, an American Eskimo cutie who died when Rilla was just three years old.  I had Shera for fifteen years, ever since she resembled the photo above at six weeks old.  Shera took part in my wedding and and she accompanied us on our honeymoon in Mammoth.  Like me, Marilla is a ginormous dog lover.  I didn’t think that Rilla had many memories of Shera, but she does.  She sobbed as she told me she misses Shera “so much”.  Rilla has pictures of Shera in a little photo album that she made.  As I wiped her tears away with my hand, Rilla asked me the Big Question:

“Mommy, where is Shera now?”

I took a deep breath.  I wanted to answer my precious girl with conviction, not cynicism.  I wanted to give her a smidgen of hope that Shera was not gone forever and that she existed in a better place.  You see, Rilla has suffered enough already.  Most six-year-olds have not had their mothers locked up in loony bins five times since they were born.  Rilla has witnessed agonizing scenes due to my bipolar outbursts that no child should be exposed to. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to her.

I found myself able to tell Rilla what I now believe.  “Sweetie, Shera is in heaven.  Someday we will go to heaven and we will see her again.”

I wouldn’t have been able to say this to her last summer when my bipolar depression was so severe that I was stuck in the mental hospital for almost three weeks.  I didn’t believe in heaven back then; I believed in hell because that’s where I was living.  One does not beg for bilateral ECT (electroshock treatments) like I did unless one is in a hell of some kind.

Now that I finally got the medication cocktail right, and now that my depression is gone I can be stronger for my daughter.  I can tell her my truth, and while I can’t force her to believe in heaven, I will certainly try my best.  I want to give her a solid belief in heaven so that when she faces the hard times, she will have some hope in her soul.