Saturday, October 18, 2003

I've noticed two things about blogging: it's disappointing to go onto a favorite site and find no new post for one, two, three, four days, but it's equally frustrating to go in and find a backlog of three or four new entries in pt.10 type, pale grey on a bright background... computer glasses lost...

I suppose it just points me right back at that old Buddhist standby: the Middle Way. Moderation in all things. A little against my grain, naturally: I'm one of those whose motto might be "Nothing exceeds like excess".

As I started this, I immediately had a burst of revelations about blogging, way beyond "two things".

There are bloggers for who it is an adventurous journey: they lose their posts, they miss their links, their "powered by blogger" button doesn't show up, no matter how carefully inserted into the template.

Then there are the perfect bloggers, whose sites are just crammed with links, pictures, animations, type by special outfits, feedback, comments, email, etc. Some are so lavish the mind boggles. For the heck of it, on some of these sites I have clicked to see what's what, and I'm glad I did, because some of these superlinks haven't been updated since June of this year, or September of last year, and so I am feeling increasingly confident that in blogging there is no rule: you do what you do, when you do, and let the chips fall close to the tree. Even my own links are uneven, but I keep them up because of--yes, expectations! They were good once and they will be good again.

For the fun of it, I thought I would set down how I came to blogging at all.

About a year ago, my friend Irene's teenaged son Andrew told me he was starting a blog with a bunch of his friends from school. Every so often, Andrew's mother asks me whether he has given me his URL, and no, he has not. She doesn't have it, either. This lone example conveyed to me that the notion of privacy is connected to the very idea of blogging, certainly it is a personal thing.

You can imagine what a leap forward discovering Salam Pax was for me-the most famous blogger in the world! How does such a thing happen? I don't remember where I clicked from, that first time, it was probably from the Guardian UK. I am very grateful to Salam Pax for giving me license to be myself. It was only a short time before I ripened to the stage of wanting to blog my own blog too.

Before the war in Iraq was officially announced and declared, I could see it was going to happen "no matter what" as the saying goes. If that was the case for me, the one person on earth with the political acumen of a moose, it puzzled me that so many worthy minds, intellectual powers, experienced political pundits, etc. could still be hashing over the pros and cons of this war as if they believed there was going to be a "rational decision made", based on "hard facts", reached by "consensus". I decided I would write a book about it, from the point of view of a two-week old baby bunny, high school dropout, the Cassandra to out-cassandra all previous such phenomenal manifestations. One day, in the elevator of my building, one of my neighbors said:

"You're looking very jolly today. What are you up to these days?"

"I'm writing a book," I grinned, "About the war in Iraq..."

"Goodness," she exclaimed, "Are you qualified?"

"Of course I'm qualified!"I snorted, and broke out into maniacal laughter.

I've seen her since, she doesn't ask about my progress, I wonder why.

If you ask me, I can tell you progress is terrible: the project has grown, like Topsy. Or like Eric, little by little. My floor space is filled with piles of paper, stotting across the floor on their way to the shredder. Sometimes, these piles fall over into large heaps, I pat them back into shape, or corral them into odd plastic bags or boxes, and move them around from one side to another. It often happens that I use the back of things I've printed as drafting paper, the result is that I have to look at every damn piece of paper back and front before discarding anything. Old envelopes, I have noticed, are particularly attractive to my hand, they inspire tiny snippets of world wisdom, which I myself wonder where the hell they came from, when I find them, with a neat date to tell me when I thought that thought.

One sure thing, I have much to do if I wanna make it pithy. I am not sure whether I shall ever finish it at all, it's kind of depressing when you see things clearly. Not to mention: will I live long enough.

Anyway, Salam Pax connected me to bloggers and I was on my way.

I love diversity, I love different voices, I don't belong to any group which consists of people who agree with each other: there is magic for me in being admitted to someone else's very different world, in hearing their point of view, their opinion, in being admitted to knowing how they feel about things. In many ways, these total strangers ground me in my humanity, which is something I need to be done for me, because I am so isolated in this very large cosmopolitan city. I've always joked that Manhattan is the ideal desert island. Year by year, I refine my "Ten best of" lists, indefatigably. From choice, yes, I suppose: I choose not to belong to a book club, or a political party, or a consciousness-raising group, or a card- playing or chess-playing club, or a social club of any kind. And I don't hang out in bars.

I socialize on the run, in doctors' offices, in grocery stores, elevators, with people who walk their "silly little dogs" (grin, grin), on city benches or retaining walls, wherever it happens. After all, I am not "sauvage", as the French say. I am not skittish, I am not shy.

If I belong to any kind of group, it is the group of mainly silent people who can rant on and on about anything, given the opportunity

Communication? Yeeeeesssss---that might be the general idea. But, like they say, it takes two to tango. I don't know that anyone ever reads my blog, or my emails, or my comments. When I actually talk to people, it often becomes apparent later on that they didn't get what I was saying. Did they get it, and ignore it? Or did I obfuscate? Was I not clear? I always think I am transparently clear, even somewhat blunt, at times, honest mostly (if I can't dare be that, I will remain silent, usually), but the results have sometimes lead to such miscommunication or misunderstanding that I wonder what was actually involved there.

Was it only about speaking clearly to someone whose full attention I had not grabbed?

Example: Three years ago, I was in hospital several times, and at some point encountered unpleasant difficulties communicating with the staff, both doctors and nurses, who sometimes let slip some sort of reference to my chart. It's not always easy to think clearly when one is in pain, but I managed to draw the conclusion that if I were to see my chart, and what was written therein, or thereon, I might be able to understand better how the whole mishmash had started.

So, I asked to see my chart.

"Well," said the nurse, "You can't see your chart."

"Excuse me," I said quietly, "It's my chart, and according to the Patients' Bill of Rights, I am entitled to see it if I choose."

"Well," said the nurse, "You have to have the Nursing Supervisor's approval for that."

"That's fine by me," I retorted, "I want to follow the rules, I am willing to go through the formalities, I am hereby requesting officially to see the Nursing Supervisor."

Two days later, she still had not shown up, despite twice-a-day reminders. Finally, I hit the "Customer Representative" number on the phone, and kicked up a fuss, and the Nursing Supervisor was at my bedside within the hour.

"You cannot see your chart unless you officially request it..." She started to explain.

"I am hereby officially requesting..." I countered.

"I'll see to it you get it...." She flounced out.

Did I get it? No. One more day went by.

Finally, I complained to my surgeon.

"Oh! For heavens' sakes..." he said, irritably, and stormed out the room. A minute later, he stormed back, dumped a two-kilo folder onto my feet and said:

"Here! Be my guest, only don't tell them I gave it to you! Take your time! I'll be back!" And he walked out again.

What was there on my chart that was so highly sensitive?

Well, for one thing, there was an entry, very early in the game, that indicated I had "refused" a preparatory procedure, necessary before going down for diagnostic tests somewhere else, when in fact what had happened was that the nurse on duty that morning had forgotten to do it (she told me she hadn't looked at my chart until they came to pick me up to go down, "Too late now!, she laughed); she had naturally covered her ass, set me up as "uncooperative", and I could see why there was all that foot-dragging over my seeing my chart. The longer time went by, the harder it would become to set the record straight.

There were many other entries to which I could take exception, but one of my most recent interactions with one of the nurses was striking:

"Saw patient to ascertain whether she understood the reality of her situation. Patient verbalized understanding."

What had actually happened (I remembered this one most clearly because it was such a recent event) is this:

The nurse had walked into the room and called to me from the doorway:

"Good morning. How are you today?"

"Good morning to you, too. I'm just fine, thank you."

"Good..." She had smiled and gone back out. Next one!

It reminded me a little of a woman I knew, who was secretary to the managing partner of a large Wall St. law firm. Whenever anybody called to speak to him, no matter who it was, or when it was, she would most pleasantly say: "Let me ascertain for a moment whether he is here right now."

Never mind that her desk was right outside his open door, from which vantage point she could always ascertain everything and anything at any time, including even whether he was currently blowing his nose, staring into the middle distance, or looking at his reflection in the window.

A few years ago, I sat down with my gastroenterologist to ask him to set out for me the exact medical terminology for those things I don't ever want done to my body before I die. This was to insert into my living will, which contains directives in case I should become unable "to verbalize" my wishes.

Well, last year this same gastroenterologist manipulated me into accepting a test I didn't really want to take, which he announced would be done under general anesthesia. I certainly did not want to be put to sleep in his office, particularly since three years ago, one of his students had perforated me and I had ended up being rushed to the OR for emergency surgery. So I said, No to anesthesia, I saw no need for it, this test had been done many times on me before without it, and that is how I wanted it done again now. He looked me straight in the eye and said: "Speak to the anesthetist, he will do exactly what you want."

I told the anesthetist I did not want to be put under. He said he understood, that's exactly what he said, he agreed he would not put me to sleep, he would only give me "more", as he put it, if I should first specifically ask for it, he would follow my directives.

What happened was he started asking me a bunch of questions as he busied himself around my laid-out body, which I answered. I also asked him questions of my own, which he did not answer except with more questions. Meanwhile, I was watching him inject the contents of one syringe after another into my veins, and I suddenly realized he was not questioning me out of friendliness or to help me relax, he was merely trying to determine whether I was "out" yet or not, and suddenly, I tried to stop everything, but it was too late, I couldn't move, the final needle came, I was out.

Well... When I came to later, I was absolutely furious, of course. All I could say, when I saw the nurse, was that I was glad I had not found myself in the recovery room at the hospital again.

If my attending physician, looking me straight in the eye across his desk, cannot honor my living voice directives when made in person, what chance do you think I would have with any such directives set down in a living will when nobody will be around, answerable to the consequences of what gets done to me against my will?

So, communication is not such an easy thing. Most spectacularly, when the parties are not "even", when one has some hold over the other.

The phone just rang: I am now left speechless.

I'll just end for now with this word of wisdom: if you really want to communicate, you really have to stick to your guns and keep on trying, even if it doesn't appear to be working. Just don't take it personally.

We are all of us, when you think about it, talking to ourselves.

As Benny, an old doorman of my building, used to say of people talking to themselves in the street (this is before cell phones, it would just as well apply nowadays, to those who do have cell phones): "She must have money in the bank."
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