Hindsight is a funny thing. The clarity that comes with it is elusive when you need it, but it never fails to show up and smirk when you don’t.
Last year, a Facebook acquaintance ambushed me at a retirement party and suggested that I pursue real writing rather than concentrating my creative energies on Facebook statuses. Appealing to my vanity, he told me I had a “distinctive voice”. Yeah…you know I just ate that up. But after years of uninspired resume, application letter, and obituary writing for friends and family, it occurred to me that I needed an outlet. I had tried blogging before, but it lacked a focus and I soon abandoned it.
In the spirit of “writing what you know”, I went and looked up autism parenting blogs. I found Babble’s top autism blogs, checked out a few, and found that I suddenly had a lot to say. And realized with chagrin that I had been saying it, but to people who weren’t particularly invested (friends and family not directly affected by autism). I had been blabbering away about my experience without a willing audience and needed to give my poor friends a break. After reading a few blogging tips, brainstorming a name, and creating Twitter and Facebook accounts to find some readers, I created an account on WordPress, wrote my first post, and timidly entered the autism blogosphere. My goal was simple. I wanted to build up a readership of about 75-100 people (similar to a friend of mine’s beer blog) and meet real people who have been in my shoes and were willing to talk autism.
Imagine my surprise – and I confess my delight – when, after four days of blogging, my “Apology” post took off. Not like those hilarious treadmill blooper videos, mind you – they’re totally awesome. But 56,000 hits in a single day. Which, for a four-day old niche blog, is pretty viral. A couple of weeks after that, “Dear Shopper” took off as well. And, in almost surreal timing, the following day “11 Things” was “Freshly Pressed” on the WordPress.com homepage.
Suffice it to say, it was a most extraordinary experience for a newbie blogger. Suddenly I had hundreds of comments and emails—encouraging me, sharing their own stories, wanting me to guest post, asking my opinion, or offering me an “opportunity” to sell their product. Yep, my Warhol-allocated 15 minutes was something else. Now that they’re over, I am relieved. Statistically, it is unlikely I’ll get any more. And mine were a good 15 minutes – unlike those unfortunate souls whose minutes came while dangling on a ski lift with their pants down. One really must practice gratitude when one can.
Had that hindsight been present, I would have spent more time thinking about the implications of blogging than social networking or a name for my blog. And I would have changed my name – not merely going by my maiden name, but changing it altogether.
You see, I’m in a very fine pickle indeed – of my own making – and there’s really nothing that can be done about it. Well, I could dramatically post a notice from a relative that I had been hit on the head by an asteroid, but that would make me unhappy. I happen to like blogging. I love interacting with this community of parents – who understand the value of support so much as to offer it to strangers they will likely never lay eyes upon. Every parent would walk through fire for their children. But you guys-along with every parent of every child who has been vulnerable in an unforgiving world – have actually all gotten the call to suit up. We come from all walks of life, but we share this one thing in common. Nope, I’m not giving it up.
But going by my own identity was probably a less than stellar idea. Some might think I’m saying that due to the sinister nature of the internet. They’d be wrong. Because it isn’t that I don’t want any of you to have my name, it’s that I wish everyone I knew in real life didn’t! In a large enough city, it wouldn’t be a problem.
But I live in a small one. We have one high school. I personally know all of our local candidates for superintendent. Almost all of our school level administrators were born and raised in this county. And, having been employed here for 15 years, I have taught with, trained with, worked for, or attended high school with most of them. You don’t have to play six degrees in this town. Usually two will suffice.
My point is this: the day will come when we have a concern or complaint. It just will. (And I am one of the least rock the boat natured women you’ll ever meet.)
And I will have to think about whether or not this teacher or that therapist or which administrator is related to somebody else and whether it might be a problem. We have awesome people in my school system, and I do have faith that most of my colleagues want the best for every child. But if you work for the same people you might one day have to petition, you’d be a fool to be unaware.
All this would be bad enough for any special needs parent, but then I had to go and start blogging – using my real name. It wasn’t that it was a secret really. My friends and family knew. I just wasn’t making an effort to promote it to whole city. But someone saw “Apology” on the Autism Speaks site and it got out. Now some folks are interested and asking me about it. Which is certainly no big deal. But at some point, someone who works with him will see it as well. And, considering how careful and sensitive teachers of special needs kids already have to be, imagine how thrilled they would be to hear the mom in the IEP is an autism blogger. Add to that the abundance of lawyers in my family, and I’ll be surprised if meetings with me aren’t recorded and legally represented!
In short, there are many opportunities here to royally infuriate someone with the power to make my life miserable. And, yes, I know the First Amendment (barring stupidity or slander) will protect me. But that isn’t really the point, is it? I have to live and work in this town. I happen to like most of these people. I need my job. But, most importantly, I don’t want anyone resenting or avoiding my child because they fear I might go and raise a stink on my blog. I’m not going to do that to anyone who works with my child period. But I wouldn’t blame them for being a little leery about it.
If I had blogged about, say, stamp collecting, it would have been alright. If that one post hadn’t taken off, it would have been okay. But the internet is an unpredictable thing. And I have recently learned it is a very small world after all.
So here I am, blogging away while attempting to analyze every possible consequence of each post. Who might read this? How might they interpret it? Does it suggest anyone’s identity? Will a family member or friend be inadvertently offended or affected? Might the school system see this as criticism? And – if I attempt to minimize negative ramifications – am I remaining true to me? Censoring myself is hardly therapeutic.
So, yes, I’m going to continue what I’m doing. (Mainly because I’m lazy and all other autism advocacy seems to involve running several miles in unflattering clothing.) I’m still going to talk about what I need to talk about or say what I think needs to be said. I’m simply going to continue to look very carefully at how I say it.
No, I didn’t think about any of this beforehand, and I should have. So those of you who are thinking about writing your own blog, be forewarned. You really have only three options when blogging: use a nom de plume, write pure fluff that will offend no one, or grow thicker skin. The first two options won’t work for me. So I’m working on that third one. While repeatedly looking over my shoulder. And maintaining possibly the largest unpublished drafts folder in the history of blogging.
Sometimes I am not so smart.
“I always feel like somebody’s watchin me and I got no privacy. Oh oh oh…”