Yesterday, along with hundreds of thousands of others, I clicked “like” on Liza Long’s eloquent, compelling, and now notorious “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” blog post, with its searing depiction of life with a violent mentally ill teen. “I love my son. But he terrifies me,” was her memorable summation.
Today, if not predictably then unsurprisingly, I (along with hundreds of thousands of others) awoke to a vitriolic explosion over this same post. The opening salvos came from blogger Sarah Kendzior, who blasted Long’s piece as both dishonest and exploitative.
“Liza Long, the woman who wrote the viral post ‘I am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ is being held up as a heroic woman warranting sympathy for bring [sic] the plight of her mentally ill son to the public. Her blog tells a different story,” is how Kendzior began her own soon-to-be-viral post.
But does it? Does it really?
To make her case, Kendzior points to what she described as “a series of vindictive and cruel posts about her children” in which Long “fantasizes about beating them, locking them up and giving them away.” She also questioned Long’s grasp on reality: “In most posts, her allegedly insane and violent son is portrayed as a normal boy who incites her wrath by being messy, buy too many Apple products and supporting Obama.”
First of all, let me stipulate that I’m of the view that Long’s public airing of her parental frustrations went well over whatever line is relevant to such things. What starts on the Internet stays on the Internet and Michael (or whatever his real name is) is likely to live with the fallout here for a good long time.
But there’s a second line of attack here that strikes me as far more problematic: The notion that Long’s seeming inconsistencies are tantamount to deception. (Slate’s Hanna Rosin—one of many piling onto the Liza Long backlash—went so far as to call her “an imposter,” pointing to the blog as evidence that she is “not to be trusted.”)
Maybe. Maybe not. In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we tell our stories – in part because I just taught a college seminar where (as I talk about here) this was a central theme. And this is what I think. Or rather, this is what I know: Finding the storyline in trauma tends to take a lot of time.
I have no trouble – no trouble at all – imagining a mother in Long’s position crafting a story where her troubled son is a normal boy. A difficult boy. A challenging boy. But normal, all the same. And I have no trouble imagining how this story could evolve – how a violent tragedy of epic proportions could abruptly catapult her into a place where everything has changed.
Our stories—like our lives—are works in progress. For those of us who choose to share them publicly, there are gifts and there are dangers. It isn’t always clear which path is the right one. But making an unwise choice here doesn’t mean we’re lying.
At the top of Liza Long’s personal blog there’s now a joint statement from her and Kendzior asking the blogosphere to cease and desist from the cyber free-for-all. It carries this preface from Long: “Many of you have seen Sarah’s excellent blog in the past few days. I think she makes some important points about children’s privacy. We have been in contact, and I am truly impressed with her professionalism and her concern for children.” That strikes me as a response of uncommon grace – and a good reminder that we’re all far more than the stories that define us.
© 2012, amy gutman. All rights reserved.