Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Telling My Story Through the Internet

Kancamagus 02 What am I doing here anyway?

This was not the plan. When I started my blog after leaving the workforce earlier this year, I did not intend to write what is essentially a piecemeal memoir. What I had envisioned was a much less eloquent version of my friend Marc’s blog- Wheelchair Kamikaze. Marc writes amazing essays mostly dealing with MS but sometimes completely off-topic. He’s a deep thinker, but writes in a reader friendly manner- a rare combination. My initial posts were written along these lines, and then I published my first memoir piece. I was immediately struck with the idea of writing a series of memoir posts about my MS journey.

I suppose my stories would be more riveting if I had some additional calamity in my life. If I had been an alcoholic, or drug addict, or an abused child; if I had been born with a disability, or if I was an emotional wreck, or if my wife left me; if I had become severely depressed and suicidal after my MS diagnosis; if any of this had happened then I’d have more material to work with. But other than my mother's accident when I was 5 years old and being diagnosed with MS when I was 38 years old my life has been pretty damn good, and “good” doesn’t make for interesting reading. I’m not complaining though. I’ll take a fortunate life over a lack of writing material every time.

I've posted 14 installments of my MS memoirs now, while sprinkling in some other essays, photos, and videos. The 14 “My MS Story” pieces cover the first four years of my journey with MS. Just last week I celebrated (celebrated?) the eight year anniversary of my diagnosis. It'll probably take me 10 or 15 more installments to finish up the memoir portion of my blog. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I’ve exhausted that material.
I find memoir relatively straightforward to write because I’m only required to do half the work. I don't have to conjure up innovative views about a particular subject, as I would if I was writing essays. I don’t have to dream up intricate plot lines and fascinating characters, as I would if I was writing fiction. I already have the material at my disposal. It’s in my memory. All I have to do is extract it and put it in writing. Nothing comes as easy to me as writing memoir. I wish more people would give it a try.

I sometimes ask myself what purpose I am serving with this blog. I don't have a clear answer, but here are some thoughts. For healthy readers my writing may answer questions about what life is like with a chronic, disabling disease, or provide some perspective that is otherwise difficult to obtain. For people with MS my writing may be helpful by reminding folks that they are not alone in this journey, and that it is possible to live a contented life as a disabled person. For other folks with MS, who are not in need of a psychological boost, it might simply be entertaining to read about someone else’s experiences with this damn disease. I’m sure there is also a group of readers who know me personally, have watched me deteriorate over the years, and simply appreciate some detail on how this all came to be.

My internal system of values and morals keeps whispering to me that writing about myself is immodest, and therefore inappropriate. Like so many of our basic instincts though, like fear of public speaking and claustrophobia, this one needs to be considered in the light of day. Is this the kind of instinct that saves me from making a grave error, or is this the kind of instinct that unnecessarily hinders my efforts to do the right thing? Now I wonder, if writing about myself is immodest, then how vain is writing about writing about myself? These inner voices- are they voices of reason or irrational fears?

Sometimes when I publish a new post I worry about my family and close friends. I spent a lot of time in the last eight years downplaying the effects of this disease. It's so much easier to tell your loved ones that things are going well than it is to delve into the gory details. So at times this blog has been a dose of reality for those closest to me. I’m revealing many issues here that I’ve never mentioned to anyone before, even to Kim. For these impersonal disclosures, I apologize.

I’m pausing, after 3 months and 23 posts, to ask myself if I’m on the right track. I'm a pretty logical guy. Typically when I have to decide if something has more of an upside than a downside I'll make a spreadsheet, list advantages and disadvantages, and sometimes even use quantitative analysis to reveal the answer. I just can't do that with this question though. For once in my life I’m going to decide something using my gut, not my brain. I'm going to keep writing just because it feels right.

I hope you'll keep reading.


  1. Hi nMitch,
    I am enjoying visiting your blog and reading your posts.
    Hope you will keep writing as I intend to keep reading.
    Have a good start to the new week.

  2. I'm glad you're going to continue writing, and I've appreciated your story (in installments).

  3. Mitch - You're on the right track. Keep writing. I'll keep reading.

    When I stumble across an interesting new blog, I usually look for the posts that describe how they got to be where they are -- wherever that is.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. Keep it up for sure. Good, good stuff.

  5. Herrad, Katja, zoomdoggies and Joanna,

    Thanks for the vote of confidence. Plenty of strange and unusual stuff in my life to write about yet...

  6. Just found you via Chloe magazine and am enjoying your story and writing style. Very interesting.
    When I read this last post I thought it was going to be a farewell.
    Thanks for writing.

  7. Ramona,

    I'm glad you found me. I never seriously considered terminating this project, but I did feel the need to stop and evaluate where I've been so far, and where I'm headed.

  8. So, as one of the fascinating characters who you don't have to "make things up about" I really appreciate your writing for all the reasons you have assumed. I also appreciate it because I am learning a lot about myself as a result of your writing and seeing the other side of our experiences shared. I love your honesty and openness - thanks! Cheers!

  9. Nan,

    Glad you like the blog. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. See you soon.