chronic oversharers and the human narrative

Bravo Penelope Trunk, your chronic oversharing is helping social media players to consider the way they play the game. At the very least.

A few weeks ago Trunk tweeted about her miscarriage at work.  There followed the expected outrage which saw Trunk respond rather eloquently in The Guardian.

In Australia über -blogger Mia Freedman posted her take on the events . She wrote, ‘Yes, abortion and miscarriage are in many ways taboo. They are also, inherently, private. I guess it is every individual’s right to express whatever they want about their private lives and their bodies… Everyone has different lines about what they’re prepared to share. I don’t know many any people who would see Twitter as an appropriate forum to discuss miscarriage or abortion but…maybe this is really is Life 2.0?’

Mia’s own outrage comes from the personal loss she has documented in her recent book. I get it. I used to write a weekly ‘blog’ on Australian parenting website Web Child. I wrote often about the stillbirth of my daughter and the four miscarriages which saw the end of my fertility. When that gig ended I semi-apologised to my editor for my chronic oversharing. He told me it was a good quality for a writer to possess. Penelope Trunk is a writer and oversharing also seems to be part of her modus operandi.

Through my own writing and the intricate social manoeuvers of the internet I have often found myself visiting a community who call themselves ‘babylost mamas’ – women (and their partners) who have lost babies. You might be amazed by what goes on there. People post photos of dead newborns, they detail the horror of their loss, they howl, they rage, they wonder why no-one wants to hear their voice. They are sometimes attacked in the vilest way possible. But as a community they support one another. Many of them have never met in real life but they share the most unimaginable intimacies of loss and grief in a very public forum. The common denominator is the necessity of sharing their loss – no matter how ‘unpalatable’.

But this voice is not only heard in that particular online community. In Japan, Mizuko Jizo is a deity which is considered to be the guardian of stillborn, miscarried and, yes, aborted babies. It sounds macabre but many who participate in the Mizuko Kuyo ceremony gain a therapeutic comfort from the process. There is reverence in the practice but not a silence.

While Trunk may not have been especially reverent in her original tweet she did give a voice to what is sometimes a silent issue. A voice to open the dialogue. A voice to help us work out the ‘rules’ – if there are any – of both our treatment of reproductive losses, in whatever form they come, as well as the ‘rules’ of online sharing.

Her tweet raises the issue of what we share and how and where we share it. It makes me wonder if we need guardians for the tendency to overshare. But as a self-confessed oversharer I would say my only rule is not to hurt others. I guess this is where most of us draw the line. Although the line is – and probably always has been – a tricky one to negotiate.

The need to draw that line is usually brought into play when a certain sense of outrage accompanies an oversharing (or other outrageous) incident. Julian Morrow’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture recently suggested a framework for dealing with outrage (albeit he concedes he could have done with this framework last year when The Chaser was suspended). Morrow says that when it comes to outrage over a particular skit/film/commercial/book/tweet there are three categories, ‘The first is people who are hurt by it; the second is people who are offended or outraged by it; and then the last category is those who don’t like it.’ Using The Chaser’s Make A Wish skit as an example he spoke about his sorrow for those in the first group. He also cautioned against using the second or third groups as censors.

When it comes to Penelope Trunk’s tweet Mia Freedman falls into the first category – her outrage and hurt is justified. But what emerged from the responses to her blog post was that within her readership – an engaged and generally supportive bunch – there were some from each group of outrage, as well as many who weren’t outraged at all. In fact there was support for Trunk. Women expressed feeling similar relief when they themselves miscarried unwanted pregnancies; some respected Trunk’s right to express herself; many expressed the idea that silence and taboos are hurtful and therefore this tweet was a chance to address the silence. The appropriateness of the Twitter forum was also discussed – and, surprisingly, a few didn’t see a problem with it. Again, Freedman’s blog (via Trunk’s tweet) opened up the debate to those truly engaged in the issue. Silencing authentic voices in the new media was the loser.

The recent Media140 conference in Sydney – which I didn’t attend but, thanks to a bunch of the nicest narcissistic oversharers, I feel like I did – also looked at what we share and how and where we share it. Laurel Papworth’s discussion on the Human Narrative grabbed my attention  While Papworth’s speech concentrated on old versus new media I liked the fact that she highlighted the collaborative storytelling nature of blogging and other social media including Twitter.

And this brings me full circle. Twitter is emerging as a valuable communication tool – if only we can get over the prejudices about its ‘legitimate’ uses. Just as bloggers were once snickered at behind elitist hands now it’s the Twits who are scrambling to legitimise themselves. I say don’t worry too much kids, oversharers make the human narrative go round. And if you agree that narrative is one of the ways we make sense of the world then all voices need to be at least considered. Imagine an old-school world without the likes of Augusten Burroughs, the oversharer who gave us Running With Scissors. Just for starters.



Filed under loss, parenting, twitter, writing

7 responses to “chronic oversharers and the human narrative

  1. Jayne I too am a chronic oversharer, as you know, but is something I have learnt to do over time. While I was always a willing sharer with friends, as a journalist I took my objectivity very seriously. I have been blogging for four years and my sharing has been developing over that time. I found I my readers engaged more when I shared more of myself, so now I’m honest and forward in what I share. Besides the engagement side of it, my other reason for sharing is helping others with my experiences.

  2. Have you ever seen those photographic portraits of dead children that the Victorians commissioned? Once upon a time, death and disease was commonplace. People were more practical and accepting of horror. The experiences that you describe are horrible and you have survived. Others reading your writing while experiencing the same thing will draw a huge comfort from you. One of the purposes of writing is to entertain – the other is to reach out & strike a chord of recognition. So, keep spilling the beans Jayne – I love everything that you write.

  3. seraphim75

    Fellow chronic oversharer here too. I do alot of work with babylost mamas. Carly, who runs “The Secret Garden” is one of my dearest friends and I am proud to know her and so many other mothers. I spend alot of time with my brother, writing the names of babies who have passed away on flowers, at the request of bereaved families and friends. Without this medium it wouldn’t be happening. Like you so wisely say:” if you agree that narrative is one of the ways we make sense of the world then all voices need to be considered.” Exactly so.

  4. francesjones

    Hello, very well written.
    As a psychotherapist, I’ve studied grief and loss, particularly around abortion. One of the best books I read is by Australian Professor Beverley Raphael ‘The Anatomy of Grief.’
    I’ve also read about the shrines in Japan. I think it’s important that women and men grieve if they’ve suffered significant losses in their lives.
    I think it’s best to grieve with the help of a good therapist. If people keep their pain inside, there are often consequences.

  5. A most interesting and insightful read. I enjoyed it very much. I myself don’t believe there can be such a thing as “too much information”. I feel disappointed that there would be those out there who would attack those who are (in my eyes) clearly just trying to find someone who will listen and understand them. All that grief has to go somewhere, and I don’t feel that it’s our place to judge others on the way they express themselves, especially in a medium where you have the freedom to simply not listen. If you don’t like what you see, then just avert your eyes in the interest of harmony.

  6. Mrs M

    No such thing as oversharing. If we don’t share, we simply do not learn. As for using appropriate media to share information, well… that’s missing the point. I wonder if the telephone was deemed an inappropriate device to use to pass on information when it was first introduced. Surely writing letters was far more personal right?

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