Letters

"I'm not insensitive to the agonies of mental illness, but I was tremendously disturbed by this display of self-justifying narcissism." Salon readers sound off on Ayelet Waldman's debut column.


Salon Staff
March 18, 2005 9:49PM (UTC)

[Read "Living Out Loud -- Online" by Ayelet Waldman.]

As one of the avid readers of Ayelet Waldman's blog -- and a blogger myself -- I have to say that Ayelet grossly underestimates her skill as a writer when she says that her readers did not know what she was saying when she penned her online suicide note. It was very clear what that post was, at least to me. Maybe it was because I know so much about bipolar disorder. (My father is bipolar, and I recently wrote a book on the subject.) But I doubt that. I think it was because her post was honest and raw and heartbreaking, and her words so real and palpably pained that there was no other way to interpret them. I held my breath waiting for her next post, just to make sure she was OK. I knew precisely what was at stake for her and her family. And as much as I miss hearing her voice each day in that inimitably personal way, I'm glad to know that there are now other ways I can see how she is doing. Because she became part of my life in those two short months, and I would worry about her if I couldn't check in with her every now and again.

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-- Lori Oliwenstein

I'd like to believe I'm not insensitive to the agonies of mental illness, but I was tremendously disturbed by the display of self-justifying narcissism which was "Living Out Loud -- Online." I don't know what it would take for the author to acquire a healthy sense of boundaries, but I do know that airing your dysfunctions in public to such a degree that your 7-year-old child is traumatized and fearful for the life of his mother is an inexcusable act of child abuse. God help these poor children as they get older and find their adolescent growing pains and struggles broadcast over the Internet by their mother, who apparently believes that their lives are ultimately all about her.

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder should not be license to damage your loved ones by publishing your tortured navel-gazing for all the world to see.

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-- Mark L.

I often struggle with the same issues Ayelet Waldman mentions in her column. I don't worry so much about family members reading about my personal revelations, but more about clients, especially when many of my rantings are about my fears and insecurities about my work, my self, even my work ethic. In my client relationships, I hope to always have the opportunity to put my best foot forward. It seems somehow wrong for clients to see what it takes from me mentally to get to that point.

On the other hand, if I were more open about my processes and fears, wouldn't that lead to my clients' opening up and eventually to something that might actually help organizations in trouble: transparency?

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-- Lisa Sulgit

Today's "essay" by Ms. Waldman was shocking: Her insights are so stunted and rationalizations so lame. A mature, generous mother would shut up. Just shut up. Tell her "stuff" to her friends, her therapist, her husband. Have the self-control to put it in her fiction. I call this the "Watch! I'm taking my panties down" school of writing. The only thing of value I would like to learn from Waldman is how her parents raised her so that I can do the opposite with my own kids.

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-- Rebecca Burke

I just finished reading Ayelet Waldman's article and I am unable to stop myself from crying as I type this.

As an adult woman who grew up with a mentally ill mother, there's only one thing I can think of that would have made the nightmare of not knowing whether I would come home from school to find her dead worse than it was. That would have been having everyone, classmates, teachers, cousins, and the boy on the swim team I had a crush on, know what was going on in my dysfunctional family. I was trying so hard to keep it secret that I already had few friends and took part in no extracurricular activities.

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In the era of gossip and Google, this public airing is exactly what Waldman is condemning her kids to, as well as eventual scrutiny by dates, potential mates, summer employers and college admissions officers to the "things they said" or how, like her son in the article, they try to cope with her illness. My heart went out to that little boy as I read. He does not deserve to have that moment of terror served up for anyone's curiosity, amusement, titillation or even, God help us, "education."

Please do not give this woman a forum to write about her children's lives. They have done nothing to deserve what they are dealing with now. This airing of their lives in one of the most popular magazines online is a punishment they just don't deserve. Their mother is self-described as mentally ill. Perhaps you should think about what you are doing here.

-- Name withheld by request

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In reading about Ayelet Waldman and her blog, I was reminded of a local writer's discussion of the dilemma of writing honestly about her life while respecting her children's right to privacy. She was writing a parenting column locally, and is also a nationally known writer. Her son became uncomfortable with people knowing about incidents at home and mentioning them. She discussed the issue with other writers and came to a compromise.

She first asked all of her readers to respect her son's privacy and not mention the articles to him, and then she stated that she was going to begin using pseudonyms for her children. That seemed to work out for several years until he was more comfortable with the mentions and dropped his request for such privacy.

Sure, people who know the family will know the children involved -- but the use of other names will send a strong signal to respect the feelings and privacy needs of the children.

Sometimes her discussions of incidents with the children yielded a useful observation from the child about the interaction. The same event might look very different to them.

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It's an issue all blog writers should consider, not just famous ones.

-- Tapati McDaniels

So the author thinks her 10-year-old can't access her blog ("The children are not allowed to read my blog -- they are still young enough that I can monitor their computer use with relative ease.")? If she keeps her 10-year-old in a cage, maybe. And if, somehow, the kid hasn't read the blog yet, she'll sure hear about it now. The author should realize that not only will her kids read her stuff one day, that day may be sooner than she thinks, and she had better be ready for the consequences. It used to drive me insane for my mom to tell her closest friends anything about me. This will go over like a ton of bricks when they hit puberty, trust me.

-- Denise Havard

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After reading that Ms. Waldman has doubts about what her blogging is doing or may do to her children, and after reading that the wellspring of this column is her inability to maintain reasonable boundaries, you think I'm really going to read that thing? Especially when it sounds like the topics will range from "cute things her children said" to cute new ways she's found to expose them without their consent? And all under the banner of "I can't help it" -- which gives me the creepy feeling that as a reader, I'm somehow enabling the troubles of this family?

I am an avid Salon.com reader, but I'll skip the Waldman columns.

-- Ruth Adar


Salon Staff

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