Meredith O’Brien, a longtime ModernMom contributor, explores the idea of blogging – and where to draw the line between sharing personal anecdotes and overharing in her new novel.
Below is an adapted excerpt from Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing by Meredith O’Brien (used with permission from Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, Inc. 2013):
Maggie Kelly — a married, Boston area mom of two — started an anonymous blog at the urging of her friend and former college roommate Diane Kimball after Maggie became increasingly dissatisfied with her life choices.
Her blog Maggie Has Had It had been launched … on a whim after Diane had forwarded her a news article about the uptick in the number of personal blogs on the Internet. The news story featured one blog written by a guy who had “in-laws from hell,” something with which Diane thought Maggie could relate. “This would be perfect for you,” Diane wrote. “You’d make a great blogger, Mags! Dorothy gives you plenty of material.”
… During one particularly dark day, while in the throes of marital frustration and sleep deprivation, Maggie re-read Diane’s e-mail about blogs and decided to try it. She used to keep a diary when she was a teenager, the traditional kind where she put pen to actual paper in an actual book with a little lock on it so her younger brother Luke wouldn’t be able to read it. Maggie started keeping it when she was 14, soon after her mother died in a car accident and no one seemed like they wanted to talk about it, not her dad, certainly not her younger brother, and none of her school friends. In between the pages of that diary was the only place where Maggie felt she could safely let out all the angry and unkind things she felt about the world, about the fact that her father Rob had been reduced to a specter, that she was now expected to raise her younger brother and be the family’s domestic servant. She certainly couldn’t unload on her dad, who seemed too fragile to withstand hearing her complaints, and not to anyone who went to school with her. She stopped journaling once she entered college, finding that she was too busy to write each day and she just didn’t feel the need to do it anymore.
Yet here she was, a decade-plus later, wondering if chronicling her thoughts and feelings in such an open forum, like writing a public diary on the Internet, might be just what she needed, some free therapy so she wouldn’t feel as though she was the only woman who was disillusioned with what had become of her life and how she felt swallowed up by everyone else’s needs while hers languished. After a bit of Internet surfing, Maggie quickly learned that she could start a blog for free. This had the potential to provide her with a jolt of excitement, she thought, because actual people, strangers, could read what was going on and chime in on what she wrote. No one could do that with her diary entries that sit there, lifeless, in a book hidden under a pile of bras and panties in her underwear drawer. This could be a dynamic, living breathing virtual diary … one that talked back. Dubbing her blog, Maggie Has Had It, Maggie blanched at the notion of listing her last name, hometown or providing other personal info. Even though she fully intended on revealing very intimate details of her life in her daily entries, she felt it would be too revealing to identify Michael, Jackie and Tommy by name. She decided her online handle would be “Maggie from Mass.” who lived in the Boston area and had two kids – who she referred to as Thing I and Thing II in order to protect their anonymity – and a husband, who went by a variety of nicknames. Her mother-in-law Dorothy, well, she too was called a variety of names in the blog, many of them profane.
“At the very least,” Maggie told Diane on the phone after she’d written and published her first entry, “it will be like a release. I’ll get all my pissed-off-ness out on the blog, not at Michael or the kids. They don’t deserve to deal with all my sh***y feelings all the time.” Her very first blog post consisted of a lengthy description of the previous night when Dorothy, who’d been babysitting, cleaned out Maggie’s refrigerator, re-arranged her cabinets and threw out tons of “bad food” which she believed was unhealthy for her grandchildren, such as Doritos, Pringles and Maggie’s stash of months-old Easter candy. Maggie e-mailed the link to her premiere entry to Diane, the only other person who knew that she was blogging. In short order, Maggie was shocked to learn that Maggie Has Had It gained a modest readership comprised of at least 3,000 people from all over the United States, two in Australia and one in London, people who seemed enamored by her no-holes-barred commentary on everything from suburban life, TV and politics, to the Red Sox and sex.
The occasionally graphic blog entries, where she complained about her less-than-thrilling sex life, were the most widely read posts. Readers would post their comments at the bottom of her blog entries saying that it was a relief to read that not everybody was having mind-blowing interludes with their spouses, that the sex recommendations from the women’s magazines and daytime talk shows were patronizingly stupid and that Maggie’s candor was refreshing. The plaudits her readers showered upon her made Maggie feel as though she was clearly onto something, as if she’d struck a vein of suburban mom commentary that had been left largely untapped.
… Maggie had her critics though, fierce and vocal ones, ones who could regularly be counted on to post nasty remarks, telling her that she didn’t deserve her husband and that someone “as nasty as this ho” should’ve been sterilized and “never been allowed to breed.” One particularly irate reader told Maggie that she planned to search all over Massachusetts to locate Maggie’s “poor husband” and show him what a “good woman” really was after Maggie published a post lamenting the fact that her husband hadn’t given her an orgasm in four months.
… However for every vitriolic comment, there were two supportive ones from women who told their own tales of sexual frustration and who offered stories on how they overcame them with their husbands. They urged Maggie to hang in there, that once the hands-on work of parenting passed, things would change. Regardless of the Internet “trolls” – a moniker bloggers assigned to people who leveled personal attacks and generally just harassed bloggers – Maggie felt buoyed by the support she received from the online strangers who seemed to understand her and made her feel as if she was part of a community where people didn’t BS one another and where people were real, unlike in her real, flesh-and-blood neighborhood where she felt many people were frequently phony. By dumping her visceral angst into the blog entries, Maggie felt detoxified, cleansed of the base, ugly emotions welling up inside her. More often than not, as Maggie’s disappointments and feelings of powerlessness mounted, so did the level of animus in her posts. “Better to channel it to the Internet,” Maggie said to Diane, justifying her increasingly dark and profanity-laden blog entries, “than toward Michael, who’s just as frustrated as me.”
“Do ya ever worry though,” Diane added, a hint of nervousness lurking in the back of her voice, “that he’d be wicked pissed if he read any of this stuff?”
“Naw,” Maggie said, “he doesn’t have time to screw around on the Internet. He’d never find it anyway.”