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Blogging and Privacy

We live in an age of oversharing, of what many consider TMI (Too Much Information), of social media websites that make it easy for millions to bestow upon the world the most mundane aspects of their lives as though the rest of us care what they had for dinner last night.

So widespread is the belief that the world is waiting with bated breath for any given person's (usually misspelled) thoughts on watching paint dry that the president is hardly the only one who can be labeled narcissist.

(You can be forgiven at this point if you're thinking now that I fall into the same category, and move on to some other webpage.)

Today's post was prompted a few days ago when a TGB reader and friend named Ann emailed to ask about how my chemotherapy is going, that I hadn't written lately about any cancer developments. She was quick to note too, however, that she believes

“...I speak for many who understand and respect your need to keep the private, private.”

As chance would have it, I had just finished writing Monday's post with an update on the chemo treatments that had taken me awhile to get around to because there was nothing useful to say: it's going well. Next?

But it did get me thinking about privacy and the choices I make about what and how much personal information to reveal on this blog.

It was easy to decide to write about my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Such a thing is so shocking to hear, so hard to believe at first, accompanied for awhile by a near certainty someone has made a mistake that there was no room in my brain for anything else.

In that regard. I hardly had a choice. If I hadn't made it public, Time Goes By would have disappeared because I could think of nothing except cancer.

On the other hand, writing about growing old is what I do, it orders my days, and when the initial impact wore off I remembered that cancer is more common in old age than any other time of life. It is one of the "diseases of age", as they say, one of the topics of this blog – or should be - so perhaps my diagnosis and I get to be the guinea pig.

There was more. As I explained to Ann, my silence about the cancer was

”...not about privacy. I don't believe in it. Privacy, that is, although I do believe it is up to each individual to choose how much to say. I long ago learned that if it has happened to me, if I have done it or it has been done to me - so it has been with millions of others.

“And that, for me, pretty well removes any sense of privacy and more, perhaps requires that we DO talk about things many people don't want to mention.

“That thought came to me eight or ten years ago when I wrote about urinary incontinence for the first time. I wrote the blog post and let it sit in the computer for several days because it seemed there was some propriety involved. We just don't discuss such things.

“But it's a common affliction of old age so finally one day, I took a deep breath and hit the publish button. It was hours before I had the nerve to check comments and nearly fell off my chair when I did - dozens and dozens of people talking about their difficulties and/or solutions, pleased that someone had given them permission to talk about it openly.

"So nowadays, I consider privacy only if the subject involves another person whose story or information I have no right to share without permission.”

That doesn't mean my life is an open book. In general, whatever personal information I reveal relates to some aspect of ageing although I've allowed myself to stretch that definition here and there.

The thing about blogs, at least for a former journalist like me, is that they are a hybrid. It is important when I report on Medicare, Social Security, health issues, age-related politics and so on, that it be straightforward, factual and trustworthy.

But TGB is also a personal blog that hardly has a raison d'etre without my opinion of whatever is being discussed which often requires some degree of personal disclosure.

Over the years, finding the balance has been a challenge. In the earliest years, there was hardly anything about me. Nowadays, as in regard to the cancer, my personal experience is sometimes the example from which to expand and explore.

It's not always easy to decide what is or is not going too far with that – I definitely am not writing an autobiography or memoir. The goal here, while still coloring mostly within the lines, is to try to figure out what it's really like to get old.


I agree that how much one reveals about their personal life beyond the birthdate, and into the more intimate is a choice for each to decide. And sometimes that will make others uncomfortable, but many realize it touches them in some way, perhaps freeing up their own need to include others, to trust or to speak up and openly disclose their fears and feelings.

For me that's always been a big draw toward TGB, which is a sort of refuge and a resourceful place for learning at the same time.

From what you're saying, TGB has evolved from just-the-facts to the more personal exchanges we now often use for expressing ourselves or questioning the motive behind any silence and shame we keep close in or realizing the commonality and feeling of air-space community we have when sharing.

You've made this happen, and we've benefitted. TGB is about how to age as well as possible, yet it embodies much, much more, as much as one wants.

Being the social animals we are, we all have a natural curiosity about all sorts of details of other people's lives. It's what drives the popularity of all those fluff reality shows. But those reflect people who, I suspect, hyperbolize the most mundane things in their lives to keep people tuning in. I neither watch them, nor read about them, and seem to have no feelings about them other than embarrassment and aggravation.

What I am interested in learning vicariously about is how people handle the difficult things in life. And the older I get, the more difficult things seem to become. I am here because I came across this a time when I was spending my days taking around-the-clock care of someone I loved, who, at age 90, thought she had lost (due to her own extraordinary mind having failed her) everything and everyone in her life. Searching for THE ANSWER, I was all over the Internet several hours of the day or night, when ever things quieted down enough to sit in front of my laptop and hunt for answers, wisdom, suggestions, recipes, cat videos, brain games . . .

I started by reading your account of the time you spent taking care of your mother at the end of her life. I must have come across it in searching for some keywords that led me here. I was quickly hooked and have come back almost everyday since. What you choose to reveal about yourself is up to you, and I have no expectations, although I will admit to a bit of curiosity about Autumn who seems to have come out of nowhere, to aid you during your surgery. Maybe we'll hear more about one day, but no pressure, no expectations. I just enjoy reading what ever comes up here (and the comments are a big part of that) or listening to the music on Sundays. Your blog, your content control.

In closing, I hope you've been reading or hearing Roz Chast on her recent book, "Going into Town." I so enjoy her writing and speaking, and I don't even have a connection to NYC. I loved, "Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT?" her book about her parents and their experiences in advanced age in the city. It helped me keep things in perspective during my own years of care giving, and gave me a lot of good laughs and a few tears.

Keep on keeping on, Ronni, what ever that looks like.

I totally agree Ronni. Suggested reading for anyone ready for it, November 2017 issue of Lion's Roar. The cover is Death the Great Teacher. Inside is a gem of an article Take The Feelings of Letting Go as your Refuge. It's been my lived experience for several years now and I found this article to be comforting, simple, and full of deep wisdom. As I do this blog!

What a good distinction. The difference between privacy and choosing to share freely vs. being an open book.

In my blog, too, I wrote very little about myself in the early years. Being an extreme introvert, I just didn't want to share much about myself, and I've always been very concerned about privacy, or lack thereof, on the internet. And I wasn't sure how much people would want to read personal details about someone they didn't know. "Personal" on my blog usually means my personal opinion about what I'm writing about. But when I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt a need to write, if only to keep track of all the details for my own reference. For that I opted to start a second blog. I thought those who were really interested in the medical nitty gritty could visit it and read all they wanted. Those not interested wouldn't have to confront the details if they didn't want to.

I'm with you 100% and have the same reason for sharing what I do. Thanks.

IMO, there have been way too many taboo subjects in our lives.

When we find a discussion like Ronni's, that wends its way around such taboos,
it is a relief and of considerable importance.

This blog has always felt to me like a welcoming neighborhood
where we are free to share our experiences and learn from each other.

There are very few topics I won't write about in my blog but to me, it still seems "private" because only one or two people I know in my off line life even know I blog. Faulty logic, I know, but it works for me.

Whatever you do in the way of sharing or not sharing, Ronni, is the right thing for you to do. You've carved out your niche in the blog world and your followers love it.

Nobody teaches you how to grow old and all of the issues are very personal. I have benefited from your posts and from the comment and stories of your followers. Thank you

I can tell you as a reader and infrequent poster your blog as sometimes been like a mini appointment with a wise and generous therapist. You have the ability to articulate with thoughtfulness and grace an idea or concept that I might have been thinking about exactly at the same time.
Keep doing what your doing. You have the balance between personal privacy and over sharing just perfect.

Unless we share a few personal details of our lives we are just a name when we write in the comment section of a blog or, for some, when we write a blog.

Friendship comes when we are able to open up to others and feel free t0 share our fears, problems, and also our good news when it happens. I have some wonderful friends on the Internet and am not afraid to share personal details with them and commiserate with them when they share their own bad news or celebrate with them when they have good news to share.

By doing do I have enjoyed a warm relationship with women I will never see in person, but feel as close to as the friends I can see and hug.

So, Ronni, by sharing you are more than a mentor and dispenser of aging issues. You have shown all of us that having a very serious diagnosis it is human to fear and rage against it, but then accept your fate with courage and grace.

My feeling is let's grow old together. Let's share. Because the depiction of aging in the media is quite different from the actual experience. It's more profound than botox.

I deeply appreciate your blog, Ronni. Thank you for writing and being true to yourself.

As a young girl from an outrageously dysfunctional family, I sought answers in books. When around the age of fifty-seven, I was feeling different, but thought what I was feeling would pass, I finally got the "Hello" that I was aging. I found your blog when you were still NYC. I've been a follower ever since. I have benefited tremendously. Thank-you.

I think you do an excellent job of balancing private vs public information.

If it is relevant - then you post just enough private info to make a point or tell the story. To me you always seem to "make it real" with enough personal information to complete the picture. But seldom if ever TMI.

I totally agree with most of the TGB readers who have commented. Bob, you said exactly what I would have.

Good Evening, Ronnie. You are special in my life and all of us need you to keep us going forward on this aging adventure, in unison. There is sharing and sharing too much, being overly public. I agree completely that sharing all things about our bodies as they age is so critically important. We all have one; we all are or can have similar problems and to know that someone else is with you in it, it eases the pain, discomfort, and concerns. As to sharing personal traumas, that needs the right setting and sometimes it is too much for such things to be worn on one's sleeve. Then, privacy is needed, maybe not forever but not given out indiscriminately. Inner soul self stuff, our deepest most sacred parts, those are judiciously held back as I am sure they are with you. Thank you again for a fascinating blog. Keep it up and here's to health and life in seniorhood!

Ditto, what everyone else has said. But I just want to add my appreciation for your blog, for all you've offered to our aging community. A big Thank You!

I'll never forget what a Borscht Belt comic once said about knowing your audience.
For years this comedian had been telling the same jokes to the same predominantly Jewish crowd. He used many Yiddish words and phrases in his act. Year after year he had them rolling on the floor, until one night.
He was welcomed on the stage with the usual applause but every thing went down hill from there.
Instead of the big laughs, he got only some polite snickers. He left the stage with only a smattering of applause. What went wrong?
It was not until the next morning that he found out that instead of his usual mostly NYC Jewish audience, he was playing before a group of upstate police commissioners who were at the hotel on convention.

Ronni I commend you for allowing your readers to learn and participate in your cancer experience. Isolation becomes greater as we age. When your best friends have passed, they rarely are replaced. Your openess is a comfort. It is a safe place for many. Please don't ever change that.

I found your blog when it was linked to an article (NY Times?) on living alone. I thought "yes, yes that too, yes" and immediately signed on. The part that sticks in my mind about that day was your comment that you don't have to close the bathroom door.

Many of your insights are acquired by experience coupled with wise observation. Your journalist approach has given me laughter and tears along with facts and data.

Your reporting on the journey through cancer has also been fascinating. So often I've wondered what I'd do, faced with that

No one can take that journey except alone. Friends can offer support, and may they be blessed for their role. But ultimately we are alone, as with so many of life experiences.

I have learned so much from you over these years. Some insights into my own aging process are welcomed. Some are things that I would not have known.

Your sharing of the personal enhances our understanding of your main point. You always seem to have the right balance.

You seem to me like a good friend who I call on the phone at least four days a week. I truly appreciate you.

Good morning
I found you while looking for articles on aging. I am so glad we have become friends. No one told me what to expect as I aged. I do remember when my Mom turned 50 and she told me then don't get old. Of course
I laughed. Now I am 76 and can not accept the number. My biggest complaint is the energy level dropped. What happened, with all my goals and expectations after I retired. I was not prepared. I am fortunate I have a lot of friends and have my two favorite jobs. I work one morning with MOP's rocking, cuddling and feeding infants. And three afternoons a week I walk to an elementary school and walk home with a 6 year year old little boy. I am with him for two hours.

Keeping my mind and thoughts filled with the good things I have surrounding me is the the reminder to myself at all times.

I am happy to have found you, Ronni. I send warm thoughts and prayers to you.

I, too, am a faithful reader. From you, I have learned some of the things people don't tell you about growing old - that there are compensations and even joys from being in this stage of life. Nearly every book or article that you have referred to has ended up on my "hold" page of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Thank you for the insights, both personal and informational, that you have shared with your audience. May each of your days prove to be memorable ones.

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