Death and blogging

Yesterday I had a Google video chat with a group of Portland high schoolers who had been assigned to read and react to “Exposed” by the teacher of their Media Criticism and Analysis class.   As a graduate of Montgomery Blair High School’s Communication Arts Program, which included many classes in Media Literacy that are directly responsible for I would say probably 50% of my (and fellow CAP grad Bennett’s) warped-brainedness — on the first day of high school, I remember, our Media Literacy teacher gave a lecture on the distinction between “skepticism” and “cynicism” that did not stop anyone present from becoming some of the most prematurely jaded consumers of media ever — well, anyway, as a CAP grad, I was naturally sympathetic to these students’ concerns.  Even though they had mostly trashed me on their class-mandated blogs. UPDATE: They had only sort of trashed me in comments, not in blogs or blog posts.   See teacher Jordan Gutlerner’s response, and my response to his response, below.

Many of them had thoughtful responses to the content of the article and saw past the strange fact of its being about the phenomenon that it was enacting.  But a lot of them talked about my “compulsive need for attention.”   Some other students’ assigned blog-post critiques of my article that I have read have been bracketed by introspective posts about the details of their own lives, a juxtaposition that never fails to make me giggle.  Over years of narci-googling, I can’t even tell you how many times I have stumbled across a blog post about what a narcissistic attention whore I am, followed by another post about the details of someone’s breakfast, or marriage, or tastes in music.

Our video chat demonstrated a similar range of thinking-depths about personal blogging and its consequences.   The students had clearly all been assigned to ask me questions, so some of the questions were obviously motivated less by genuine curiosity and more by the need to scribble something assignment-fulfilling during a stolen minute at lunch (eg, “What four people, living or dead, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?”)  But some of the questions were great.  There was a question about trolls that was particularly great, and another great question about the future of privacy.  And one girl said she had resisted the idea of starting the assigned blog that was part of her classwork, because she hates having other people read what she’s written.  Obvs this sentiment is so alien to me that I was pretty much dumbfounded, but of course what I ought to have said was, you know, not everyone needs to have a blog.  Please, everyone, feel free to not have blogs! I think she ought to have been able to opt out of the assignment, like when the vegans in biology class get to go to the library while everyone else dissects frogs.

Her question pointed up the odd fact that I still can’t seem to properly explain why I write so often in this venue, rather than privately scribbling my thoughts in a notebook or a Word document and waiting until they gel into something “more substantial than a blog post.”  Of course, I do those things — those things eventually added up to a book, though increasingly I have no idea how I managed to pull that off –but more often I do this.  Why?  The answer ultimately might be as simple, and as complicated, as: Knowing that someone — at least one person — is guaranteed to read what I have written is the only thing that gives me the ability to structure my thoughts in a certain specific way.  I guess that means I am “addicted to attention.”   That might be one of the things that it means.

Next a girl in a very cute printed dress asked a question about, has there been a time recently when you experienced something and wanted to write a blog post about it but hadn’t been sure whether you should, or not, and  I found myself going off on a tangent about something terrible that happened when I was in Mexico.

Please stop reading here if you would not like to read about a terrible thing.

I was walking down to the front office of the place we were staying, still wet from the ocean, returning the boogie boards I had borrowed. RC and I were done playing in the ocean and lying on the beach for the day; we were going to take showers and then ride our rented bikes up Tulum’s beach road to go to a yoga class, so I was walking up the gentle rise of white sand that constituted the parking lot of Posada Lamar and just as I crested this hill a small child suddenly darted out into the street that runs parallel to the beach and was hit by an oncoming Jeep.

The child flew through the air and out of the scope of my vision and the Jeep crashed into the sign that marked the entrance to Posada Lamar.

All of this happened in approximately one millionth of the amount of time that it takes to read the preceding paragraph. Then time froze for a second and I froze with it.

But soon time unfroze again,  and again a lot of things happened at once: the women who worked at the hotel came rushing down the hill, dialing the hospital on their cell phones and praying and wailing.   The child’s mother scooped her up off the pavement and carried her to the side of the road where I could see her, and there she held the limp child and rhythmically pummeled her stomach, exhorting her in Spanish to (I think) breathe.  Time had unfrozen but I had not; being frozen, I couldn’t run down the hill and tell her NO DO NOT MOVE SOMEONE WHO MIGHT HAVE A SPINAL INJURY, PUT HER DOWN AND DO NOT MOVE HER, because, as I said, I was frozen and also because I don’t speak Spanish and I was a lifeguard a long, long time ago and no longer trust my ability to perform CPR or know when it is appropriate.  After another few moments that seemed like a few hours the child and mother got into the front seat of one of the many taxis that spend the day zooming up and down the beach road honking at potential fares and zoomed off in the direction of the hospital. I rememered having seen the hospital as we turned off the highway onto the beach road on the day we’d arrived; just a small stucco building, painted white, not much bigger than the average-sized American house where I grew up.  Passing it on the road I had idly wondered what it was like inside, what people were treated for most often in this second-world village/hippie beach resort town; dehydration and food poisoning and bad acid trips, most likely, like in the medical tent of an outdoor rock festival.  And now this child was going there to die, or was maybe — it had looked like it, but I was far away and had no way of knowing — already dead.  “That car was going so fast,” I kept saying, even though to the other people standing around were not reacting to my presence in any way, I was in the background of this scene in exactly the same way as the bougainvillea and the palm trees and the waning afternoon sun and the crashing of the waves behind us.

I waited until the cops came to take away the girl who’d been driving the car, because before they’d arrived (it took them forever) it had seemed like she might leave.  Her boyfriend had arrived on a scooter.  She was crying; at one point she turned her face and puked into the tropical foliage and broken glass at the front of her smashed Jeep.  Good, I thought.  Puke, cryBitch. Murderer.

After the cops came I went and got RC and we stood there for a few minutes as RC quizzed the hotel staff in her high-school Spanish about what was happening, and no one knew, and eventually we went up to our room, a bungalow about twenty feet away from the spot where the accident had taken place — from our porch you could see the wrecked Jeep — and we still had just enough time to make it to the yoga class so because there was nothing else we could do except sit there and watch, we went.

It was the worst yoga class I have ever taken.  The teacher, perhaps used to teaching vacationers he would never see again, did not bother to try to develop any sort of rapport with the students — he didn’t even ask at the outset of class about any chronic conditions or injuries.  And then he taught this motley group of vacationers, whose experience with yoga probably varied from I-have-a-regular-practice to this-is-the-first-time-I-have-done-yoga, an intense and bizarre breathing-centered practice that included warmupless intense hamstring stretches, moves that seemed cribbed from the Bad Romance video — literally no one could follow the class or do even half of the exercises.  The teacher also kept giving instructions that women should begin their twisted poses on a different side than the men.  “Ladies, take your left arm …  Us guys, start with the right arm …” he kept saying.  At one point he slipped up and said “Girls.”

I thought maybe I would walk out of the class but the idea of the awkwardness of explaining my reasons for having walked out to the possible non-English-speaker at the front desk stopped me, and also as terrible of a teacher as this guy was I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.  If someone walked out of a class I was teaching (which hasn’t happened yet, but very probably might!) I would cry for days.  So I didn’t walk out. Finally the asana part of the class, such as it was, concluded with a long guided meditation.  By now the class’s lack of enthusiasm was so apparent that it had even become apparent to the oblivious, terrible teacher, who led the meditation as if he was halfheartedly reading it off an index card (we had our eyes closed so he very well may have been).  We were instructed to imagine a pure white light radiating from us to a person we loved, then a person we didn’t know, then a person we hated, then the entire universe.  I skipped this annoying bullshit and instead thought, “Please let that child be alive.  Please let that child be alive.  Please let that child be alive,” over and over and over and over again.   At some point it occured to me to wonder who, exactly, I was requesting this favor of, and how and why I expected that entity to fulfill this favor when that same entity had allowed the child to be hit by a speeding Jeep in the first place, and then luckily before things got too ontological the class was finally over.

“Any news of the child?” Ruth asked in (to me) impressive Spanish as we walked back through the entranceway of Posada Lamar.  A witchy, heavily eyelinered woman who, it never became clear to us whether she actually worked at Posada Lamar or was just an itinerant masseuse, told us that she had called the hospital and that the child had needed stitches but was otherwise okay.  We walked back up to our room.  “Do you believe her?” I asked RC.

We decided that we were going to choose to believe her.  We went on about our vacation.  I thought about what had happened, I am still thinking about what had happened.  I thought then that I would probably write about what had happened, when I got back to the US and my computer, and I tried to figure out why I was going to do that but I had no answer, and I still have no answer.

18 comments to Death and blogging

  • j

    i think this was whatever the opposite of meta-enabling is. or whatever, not really, i don’t know, i just want a clever way to say how good it was and how much i liked it.

  • emily

    I am still not entirely sure what is meant by “meta-enabling”! Anyway thank you. I am going to try to do a post sometime soon that does not employ the “blogging about blogging” tag but it gets harder and harder.

  • tammy

    Loved reading the students’ comments about your article. Is it just me, or do their comments seem more rational, yet insightful, than many of the adults that read and comment on what you write?

    Here’s one comment that touches on what’s occurred to me: “They seemed appalled by her behavior, but their obsession with her life seems just as strange to me as her obsession with sharing it.”

    And the child, the accident, and your telling of the story – sometimes, for me, talking or writing about some things, diminishes them. Particularly other people’s sorrows. . .I am NOT implying that you writing it above did that, just saying that maybe you didn’t write about it initially because . . . well, okay, I have no idea why. :)

  • Jordan Gutlerner

    Dear Emily,

    As the teacher of the class mentioned in this blog, I am moved to respond. First off, I’d like to thank you again for giving us your time, for being so accommodating, and for answering our questions thoughtfully and directly.
    It’s funny; as soon as we were done, one of my students said, “I wonder if she’s going to blog about this.” Since it was a captive audience of high school students, I really didn’t think you would, but that goes to show how naive I am about this stuff, though a wiser voice (my student’s, apparently) prompted me to go and check today.
    Ironically, one of the questions asked to you was if your daily actions are ever affected by the fact that you might later blog about it. You answered a resounding “no” followed by a brief rant about how lame that would be. However, the immediacy with which you blogged about this experience does make me wonder.
    In any case, I recognize the irony of continuing to feed your “addiction to attention” by sending you this response, a postmodern conundrum only escaped by not engaging with bloggers in the first place. However, since we’ve already come this far, I am responding, not because you blogged about it, but because some of what you say is untrue or based on your misperception, and I’d rather not have my students or my class mischaracterized by a classroom guest who was treated respectfully.
    Firstly, as for your motive for doing the Google video chat you say, “ I was naturally sympathetic to these students’ concerns.  Even though they had mostly trashed me on their class-mandated blogs.” This implies that you had read their comments before the interview. However, when one student mentioned in her question to you that she was assigned to blog about your article you said you were surpised you hadn’t found that despite “compulsively googling [your]self.” This makes it unclear whether you were feigning surprise yesterday or if you made up the above quotation, thus misrepresenting yourself.
    More importantly, I’d like to respond to what you say about my students’ comments about your article. You say, “a lot of them talked about my ‘compulsive need for attention.’   Some of their blog-post critiques of my article were bracketed by introspective posts about the details of their own lives, a juxtaposition that never fails to make me giggle.” This is completely false. While I don’t doubt that this has happened to you, if you read over my students’ comments again, you will not find one where they accused you of the irony and then shared the intimate details of their lives. In fact, out of the forty responses, I don’t believe they shared any specific details of their lives. Thanks for including the link above in case anyone needs proof.
    Secondly, a misperception of yours is when you say about one of my students who was uncomfortable responding on my blog, “I think she ought to have been able to opt out of the assignment, like when the vegans in biology class get to go to the library while everyone else dissects frogs.” The idea of having them post their answers as comments on a blog was to give them the experience of putting themselves out there on the internet, helping them relate to the reading. For the record, students had the option of doing this anonymously. Also, no one asked to opt out.
    Lastly, you say, “The students had clearly all been assigned to ask me questions, so some of the questions were obviously motivated less by genuine curiosity and more by the need to scribble something assignment-fulfilling during a stolen minute at lunch (eg, ‘What four people, living or dead, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?’)” While I cannot claim to know how long they spent coming up with one question each, the implication of what you say is misleading. In fact, we read and discussed your article, they commented on the blog, then we watched the interview with you and James Zirin to discuss which of his questions were good ones. Since you were a guest in our classroom, the only groundrule for my students’ questions was that they were not to express judgment of you or to impart their own opinions. I’d say the essence of skepticism vs. cynicism is embodied in the way a conversation or interview is conducted and how questions are asked. Personally, I think that teaching students to ask questions that probe rather than lead or judge is a way to teach genuine curiosity, if it’s not already there for a particular subject, or if most of their questions have already been answered by your article and the interview we watched. Perhaps it leads to a less exciting interview, but I’d rather that my students didn’t confront you in a Kimmelesque manner. The classroom is not the place for that; we’ll leave that to blogs and latenight talk shows. As for the dinner party question, this is what’s known in educational jargon as an “icebreaker,” admittedly a word and technique that I despise, but one that I thought might be a decent way to begin our very first google video chat. Lastly, I chose and organized the ten or so questions you answered out of about forty.
    To be fair, I am happy that you also mentioned and further answered what you thought were some of the better questions. This is how I think blogs can be a useful educational tool. We can think over our answers and say what we’ve carefully considered or later realized rather than what we’ve come up with on the spot.
    Overall, your article, the student answers, your interview, and now your blog have led me to a real understanding of what I’d already intellectually assumed. Since you presumably read my students’ comments yesterday, after the interview, and from some of what you say here, I am inferring that you were moved to write this blog entry partly by the incongruous tone of my students’ comments about your article and their questions in the interview. Well, it seems, paradoxically, blogs both lead us closer to truth and further from it. Closer to the truth because the politeness of face to face (or slightly delayed webcam image to slightly delayed webcam image) is no match for the raw force of screen-safe and often immediate reactions on blogs. Yet, further from the truth because this very immediacy and ease allows anyone to say anything without thinking it through first or being held accountable for being honest.
    One of the most insightful things you shared with us yesterday is how no blogging, commenting, or instant messaging can ever replace face to face interaction. Just after the video chat, we quickly debriefed, and one student commented (others seeming to agree) that after having read your article and then “meeting you” in something closer to face to face, he was genuinely surprised at how intelligent you actually are. I’m guessing his response has something to do with the empathy elicited by seeing someone’s face as they speak.
    Here’s one more question for you: Which do you think is closer to the real Emily Gould? The blogger or the google video chatter?

    Jordan Gutlerner

  • emily

    Dear Jordan,

    I use the word “blog” to refer to an organ that publishes “blog posts.” I think maybe this is a source of some confusion?

    Thanks for your clarifications. I think you misconstrue my tone — there are things I wrote above that are clearly, to me, jokes, but you seem to have interpreted them literally, and found them hostile. (Like the frog thing — that, to me, is quite clearly a joke). I don’t know what to say about this except to say that we have different senses of humor!

    I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t think that I was treated “respectfully” by your classroom. Some of your students seemed downright embarrassed at being forced to interact with me. It was hard to know how to respond to this. A boy in the front row kept waving and saying “Hiii Emily” whenever the interviewer’s chair wasn’t filled. I didn’t take this personally — I was like, whatever, these are high school students, what do you expect. But to say that they were respectful doesn’t jibe with my experience. I guess we perceived events differently! It happens.

    Re: the juxtapositions of personal details and critiques of my “need for attention” in your students’ responses to my article — I think I must have been getting your students mixed up with some other students who were assigned to blog about this article, whose responses I *had* long ago narci-googled. I’m sorry. I’ll append a correction.

    I guess I’m supposed to find your student’s shock at how intelligent I “actually” am flattering, but somehow I don’t.

    I certainly didn’t sit down for that interview with the intent of blogging about it. Far from it. I thought about it afterward, and for various reasons was moved to. I still don’t understand what’s weird or hard to understand or hard to trust about that.

    The “real” Emily Gould is both the blogger and the Google video chatter. There’s only the one Emily Gould.



  • This is probably the 10th time i try to comment on your posts. I have a hard time expressing my points in English (I’m Mexican). But this one resonates for many reasons, so I’m gonna give it a try.

    First of all, I am a Communications Major in college(I graduate this summer), and the whole experience with the high school students seemed very interesting. But yes, talking to students doing homework about you must have been weird. It’s just different if a teacher told you to do something, no matter how interesting the subject matter is, it’s still homework. (or it just happens in Mexico? i don’t think so)

    Anyways, the first time I ever heard about you was when I read “Exposed”. It really didn’t occurr to me that I could hate you. I loved you and all the contradictions, it felt human and real .Then i read this blog and even Heartbreak Soup (I was going through a break up, how original)

    I find it weird that you became the Authority on Blogging. It is an interesting phenomenon, for sure.But it is obvious that some of us really enjoy and relate to your writing (are we all attention whores, then?)…It amazes me how you sometimes say things that resonate very close to me, when we live such different lives.

    Lastly, I was going to ask you about Tulum (I am from Mérida, 4hours away) but then I read the sad sad story and well,almost cried.

    ok, that was long enough.

    ps: when I read the first line in the teacher’s comment, for a moment I thought it was the yoga teacher..wouln’t that be fun??

  • emily

    @ Maria Jose — Ha! That would be hilarious, and totally mortifying. But I stand by my opinion of the yoga teacher.

  • davida

    Blondes–”surprisingly intelligent” since 166,000 BC.

  • Jordan Gutlerner

    Ha! I’m glad I’m not the yoga teacher.

    As for my student, sitting directly in your view in a classroom in Portland, OR, waving and repeatedly saying hi to the live face of a woman in Brooklyn, NY, during the awkward moments in between questions: That’s my idea of humor. He’s a very nice person. I doubt he meant any disrespect.

    You’re right. We do have different senses of humor.

    There’s too much confusion to respond to the rest.

    Thanks for the learning experience.


  • emily

    Different senses of humor and different senses of what constitutes respect — especially towards women. Yup. No, thank you, Jordan, for teaching me a valuable lesson — I think this is the last time I’ll be volunteering my time in this way. I’m sorry you’re so confused. I hope your students aren’t. I suspect that they are not.

  • It sounds to me like the students really didn’t understand what the fuss or issue of this all is. I’m a tad confused as well. Mainly because I understand that the media world is changing in odd ways—shirtless Danny DeVito on Twitter? Stars don’t do that!—so it makes sense to acknowledge that change. But it still doesn’t make sense to me; the comment on “need for attention” barely registers beyond a high school students rudimentary understanding of psychology and behavior. Heck, I had a friend in high school who was obsessed with calling people either “anal retentive” or “narcissist.” ZOMG! They nailed it! Not…

    Which is all to say some folks on blogs are like Rupert Pupkin and others are Chauncey Gardener. And the other characters who didn’t understand Chauncey Gardener in “Being There” just don’t understand things.

    Blah. It’s freezing in NYC. Might go on Twitter to see what Larry King Tweets about it. But is he being honest? Hmmm….

  • I could not stop thinking about this last night and I have been sort of exacerbated ever since– I think it comes down to the same thing Julie K. was talking about with her book, and something you have talked about again and again– and something I always come back to: It is your story. Who else can tell it but you? Why let other people tell your story?

    I can’t believe how threatened this teacher feels by your ability to have a voice and have your story of your experience on your (goddam) blog. At the end of the day, and especially when you are someone who is oftentimes the subject of other peoples’ narrative– you are someone whom people create narratives around– being able to tell our own story is all we have.

    Julie was talking last week about how people feel so bad for the men she writes about, and this is something I have thought a lot about, too, although more hypothetically, I suppose, and she just said, like she later wrote on her blog, What about me? What about my story? And what about accountability, ya know?

    I dunno, I just can’t believe people would be so taken aback or offended or feel like they have any justification for trying to make another human being feel bad for talking about HER day or HER life or HER OWN feelings on her little space on the Internet, that she has carved out for herself, and that is only paid attention to because other people deemed it worthwhile.

    If this guy has a story to tell, I dunno, tell that fucker to open a Tumblr account. They are free.

  • Christa

    wow. i cant believe that teacher actually posted a page long soliloquy. that is incredibly unprofessional. he is telling his students to practice being nonjudgmental and then he comes on here and attacks emily when she took the time to answer questions for his class. maybe he is trying to be “the cool teacher”, but jesus this is embarrassingly inappropriate.

    ps – “jordan”, since you are obviously still reading, your students dont think you are cool. maybe you should stop using their assignments as vehicle for your own self-aggrandizing rants on blogging.

  • Rebecca A.

    I have this thought: I get pissed off at people all the time. Well, lots of the time. Sometimes I have great, pissed off free days.

    And yet, always, there is another side to the story. Of course, in my view at least, that other side is WRONG, but still.

    So. I don’t have a blog. Actually, I just started one but I don’t put any links to it anywhere. So that’s weird and counter intuitive, right? But I digress.

    BAck to things that piss me off. If I wrote about the people who irk me, they’d get mad and react. Full stop. They would. And they’d leave snotty comments on my blog. So we can’t be too surprised at this situation.

    Then again, as a teacher, I am well versed in being critiqued by people who I feel are greatly flawed. And I am old enough (I just had my 42nd birthday—UGH) to know that the best reaction is really none. Yeah, people bitch and moan. What can you do?

    So in some ways, I find the teacher’s incredible touchiness surprising, and in some ways not.

    One other note. Emily, I don’t know you, actually, but I do think you are very funny, witty, and seem kind, at least as far as I can tell in the blogosphere. I, like another poster her, am often amazed at how I completely emphathize with your thoughts and experiences, when in many ways we are so different.

    But if I ever had dealings with you, and it was important to me that you not blog about them…er….well, I’d get that in writing or something. And even then I’d know it was a touch and go thing. I mean, is this guy too stupid to shoot or something?

  • Jordan Gutlerner


    I have no problem with anyone using this space to tell their own story. It’s when the story is presented as fact but includes lies that causes the exacerbation, especially when some of them are about teenagers who were just doing a class assignment.

    And this is not just about different perceptions of what happened. Granted, while on a roll yesterday I talked about those, too. But the lies are evident if you just look at Emily’s blog, my original comment, and my students’ responses on my blog.

    Do you think it’s ok to tell blatant lies while purporting them as truth? Is this not somewhere within the vicinity of libel?

    “That fucker”

  • emily

    “Lies”? There was an inaccuracy in my original post. You pointed it out. I corrected it. A “lie” — or at least a crucial omission — would be waiting to email me the link to your students’ discussion of my article until after I’d videochatted with them. ” I was hoping you weren’t going to see these, but since you asked,” you told me, in an email after the fact.

    Jordan, this thread is now closed. I’m not sure what lesson you’d hoped to impart to your students via your comments here, but I’m completely sure that I don’t want to implicate myself in your teaching it to them.

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