Monday, January 24, 2011

No One is Interested in What You Had For Lunch

That's the title of a book which lives in my nightstand.  A handy little tract, it was given to me as I started blogging.  It's full of good prompts and suggestions and the title has kept me humble, has forced me to dig just a little bit deeper, to, as Billy Collins says
...wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.*
But I am not so sure that this applies to me right now.  I have, by virtue of participating in the political process with an adorable 9 year old, been thrust from a comfortable anonymity into the glare of the public spotlight.  Nance, my Blog Friend Forever, heard the news of a shooting at a Congress on Your Corner event in Tucson and just knew that I was there.  She just knew.  She and her friend Susan U used their computers to triangulate the Safeway and the hospital and the address from the brownies I had sent her at Xmas and it became apparent to them that it was my neighborhood.  She left a message on my home phone, begging for information.  She was distraught.

Little Cuter recognized the need to know which existed in the blogosphere and in the real world and wrote Tough.  It's one of my favorite posts.  She informed and reassured and she did it with style.  I am so very very proud.  I haven't asked her if she thought about the issue of privacy and I don't really care one way or the other.  It was inevitable that my protective shield would be pierced.  It was just a matter of time.

My family and friends have always said that I should write a book.  In the 20th century that's what you told people who were facile with the written word.  The digital age gave those of us with the inclination to opine the blogosphere in which to stretch our wings, and I took advantage of the situation.  I love it.  Or, I did once I figured out how to get started.  My real self was unable to scratch out a paragraph worth sharing.  Little Cuter wondered if Ashleigh Burroughs (my tall, willowy, blonde alter-ego who's been in my pocket since high school) might be able to do it.  Ten minutes after she made the suggestion,  Ashleigh  was merrily typing away.

As Ashleigh Burroughs I could write about gun control and Tea Partiers and nasty high school girls.  There were no personal consequences to the real me.  Those who knew my real name kept the secret; we were a cabal of friends and family who could be trusted. If a post wasn't just quite perfect, I didn't have to worry that  Ms. Eiler, my 12th grade English teacher, was cringing  as she read it, her red pen scurrying over my ellipses and verbal contortions.  Ashleigh existed in her own personal space, and no one could touch her.  I kept her safe.

I was a little blogger, with no real chance of being anything more.  I had my loyal readers and my dedicated commenters (love you Nance and JES and Tepary and Ca88andra and Meg) most of whom were personal friends or other bloggers.  Within my sphere, I had a certain amount of notoriety, but mostly I was a little fish in a very very very big pond.  I was not Dooce.  I was not Ronni Bennett or Rain with her multiple blogs. I was Ashleigh  Burroughs, happily typing away in The Burrow.  Life was good.

Then I got shot.  Suddenly, my story was a national one.  TBG recognized that he had to get out in front of the vultures and turn the story from gore and guilt and madness to friendship and love and the wonderfulness that is America. He was everywhere, answering questions and directing the conversation.  The media will fill a void with the most sensational, dramatic, disturbing visuals they can find.  The story will be anger and hatred and hostility because that gets the ratings.

But that was not my story, and it certainly was not Christina's story.  We were a couple of girls on a Saturday morning outing, without evil intention.  Without any intention, really.  We were hanging out.  It was important that the story be told from the correct point of view.  From our point of view.

Anyone who has ever spent 15 minutes with TBG knows that he is the most private of private persons.  Sharing his story in public (read public as anyone other than immediate family, and even then.....) is antithetical to who he is.  When the hospital spokesperson asked for a volunteer from the families to speak to the press, no one moved. Reluctantly, he raised his hand.  The hospital was being so good to us, it seemed almost rude not to help them out.  He anticipated a small conference room with 5 reporters holding notepads.  Instead. he found himself in front of a phalanx of cameras and screaming questioners and rude producers sticking their cards in his pockets.  In his pockets, denizens.  Strangers were touching my guy.  It took a cordon of hospital personnel to get him out of the room.

From that moment, it was game on. TBG versus the forces of evil.  My guy defending me against the world.  Have you seen him on tv?  Except for the fact that he needs 3 weeks of sleep (don't we all!) he's been unbelievable.  With no training in media relations, with no preparation by anyone other than himself, he has calmly and intelligently and cogently asked Americans to look at the mentoring and the public service and the friendship and he has deftly avoided the negative.  He told America who I was, and I love the picture he's painted.

But Ashleigh Burroughs has been outed.  My little refuge here in The Burrow is now a public space.  I've gone from 11 followers to 74 ....oh ....77.... and people are using my real name to communicate.  I am overwhelmed (and just a little saddened) by the change. Given what's been going on, though, it's a small blip in the larger issue.

So, allow me to introduce myself.  Blogosphere, this is Suzi Hileman.  Suzi Hileman, this is the blogosphere.  Welcome to the conversation.

*from Advice to Writers by Billy Collins, published in The Apple That Astonished Paris


  1. The term I used to myself to describe TBG's remarkable presence on camera in that first televised interview was "poised." That wasn't even the half of it, was it? He was creating a space, in which the you, Christina's family and your family could begin to think sanely about what had happened.

    And, as it turns out, TBG was aiding and protecting us all, helping us all to frame the events with sanity, dignity, and hope. I am honored to "meet" your good, good man and so grateful to him.

    Now, A/B, your class enrollment is full and you have the floor. I will be your student and TBG's and Christina's. We are fortunate in our teachers.

  2. I figured it out a couple of days ago, but I hoped you would be able to keep your anonymity as long as you needed it. It's weird how I was praying that lady on the news who had to deal with losing the little neighbor girl, at the same time I was praying for a fellow blogger I knew only fleetingly through someone else. And then to find they were the same person somehow, weirdly, didn't surprise me at all.

    I saw you on the news yesterday--you and TBG are a poised, gracious couple. May the media attention only bring you healing love and support.

  3. I knew when I saw you on the news that the name did not match. I thought maybe my brain's wires crossed and I heard incorrectly, but, I knew you were Christina's friend, and must be the same....I kindly present myself as a new reader of your blog. I know you will inspire me. Yours is a story that must be told on so many levels...More healing thoughts coming your way!!!

  4. To be outed is never expected, is it? I, and I'm sure many others, appreciate your gracious acceptance and explanation of the place in which you find yourself today. Sending more warm, healing energy and thoughts your way.

  5. I once tried to write an anonymous blog, and can only imagine the confusion of feelings you must have at being outed so violently. But as you say, you have a Voice and a platform for sowing healing and love, and I am so grateful to be here, witnessing it and virtually holding your hand.

    Wishing you healing, peace, courage, and strength. This country is sorely in need of all this and more.

  6. TBG has been absolutely amazing. I've seen him several times speaking to the press and he's so eloquent and calming. Your family sounds absolutely amazing. I haven't watched the Nightline piece yet. I recorded it, but I'm not certain I'm able to watch it without sobbing. I need to be able to watch it and cry and not have three children crawling on me asking, "why are you crying mommy?". I've literally cried every day these past two weeks.

    I'm sending a big virtual hug your way. Thank you for writing this blog and thank you for giving us a glimpse of your life.


  7. Suzi, your family handled the swarm of media in a truly amazing and marvelous way, as did you! Bravo on your strength and courage in your interviews with media folks, and telling the story of little Christina. Hopefully your words will diminish the evil that is part of this story to an insignificant blip.

    I truly hope you don't feel outed! I am sure you will gain a following for your eloquent, thought provoking, and considerate writing.

    Welcome to The Burrow, new readers! And continued healing, my friend!

  8. TBG was magnificent. I'm thankful he took the lead and steered the story correctly.
    Your words are strong and refreshing to hear. Keep it up Ashleigh, I mean Suzi:)
    With Love, Meg

  9. I came across your blog through BlogHer and when I finally commented on your blog for the first time a couple of days ago, I was wondering whether I should or not because I figured you had been blogging with anonymity for reason in the past. It's unfortunate that such a circumstance changed that.

  10. I am going to be Ashleigh here in The Burrow, and I'm going to hope that the media storm will die down and that I can go back to being less of a public figure.

    But Christina was going places and I'm taking on her mantle..... SOMETHING good has to come of this, and if I am the vehicle to be used, so be it.

    One thing, denizens.... I am counting on you to keep me grounded. Suzi Hileman has a public voice and should be listened to. Ashleigh Burroughs lives here in The Burrow and writes a magazine of her life.... she should be enjoyed.

    Thanks for the love and support. Welcome to you newbies....... I'm glad you are here. As I recover, I promise to get back to responding to your comments.

  11. I found you through a link on one of Rain's posts, after the nightmare shooting. In reading through the comments here, I noticed that someone called you Suzi. I was confused, and thought it had been in error, because you were Ashleigh Burroughs. But something about how you wrote and what you felt and what you knew about the moment made you that Suzi. When I started blogging years ago, I started out as "Rexroth's Daughter" from a song by Greg Brown. It was incredibly liberating to take my own name. I am glad that you are Suzi Hileman. I hope you are healing well, Suzi.

  12. Understand that if America saw more of people like you and TBG, maybe we'd be less crazy a nation. Maybe not. But it's a thought.
    We see SO much (too much) of the crazy angry--yes, even evil--side that it's easy to begin to think that is the whole deal.
    And it's not. As my husband and I have watched the news, we said to each other--if we had to move somewhere, Tucson would be a wonderful place to live. And that thought came AFTER the shootings. Because of you. Because of TBG.
    So, sorry that you were outed. Very sorry that you were hurt. Grieving that a sweet sweet girl was killed.
    But your and TBG's presence on the news has been such a glimpse of warmth and affirmation that you give me hope.

  13. from Julie

    Several months ago, I discovered your blog when reading Time Goes By, What It's Really Like To Grow Older. Thank you for telling us about your insights from your window looking out at the world. Watched your interview, last night, on t.v. Sobering and inspiring. Please keep doing well.

  14. Suzi, I am touched reading your words- Honest and Inclusive - of your shock, your sorrow, your loss, your strength, your giving spirit, your gratitude, your burden, your Love for others and your Love for your supportive Loved Ones. I keep a journal and you make me want to be better at it. Be more Honest, less Afraid, but mostly you make me want to Appreciate Life and be Mindful. That even though I don't know you or Christina or any of the Others who were lost, hurt and traumatized that day - I feel a responsibility to all of you to Appreciate, all that is meaningful to me, and be Ever mindful.......You each paid a very dear price, an unspeakable price, and I owe you a debt, and I'm realizing the only way to Heal is to reach out with that Appreciation to others, in community. Thank you for your sharing. You encourage me in all that is Good about Life.

  15. I am sorry that you were outed at all, much less in this awful way. I plan to keep Suzi and Ashleigh straight/separate as much as my pea brain can manage. I can continue to appreicate both of you, separately. I am sending a virtual hug to Ashleigh and soon I hope to give a real hug to Suzi. We love you, Laura for The Cheeses xoxoxo

  16. second message from Julie

    I just remembered that, like Robin, I had also known of your blog through Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts blog. It also gives me an excuse to tell you how TBG impressed me for taking good care of you and being a strong sound support for you right now.

  17. I like your emphasis here and the understanding you have of where the emphasis should be. Your husband was indeed very impressive as he got out the story of love that mattered. I have also not used the name of the shooter and started that years ago when one of these things happened and I thought I don't want that person getting the publicity. I don't want them to be heroes to someone who will equally be deranged someday. The emphasis here should be on people who cared about our political system and were working in positive ways to help it do good things. You were nourishing that in a small friend and she was growing it in herself as part of her belief she could someday make a difference also. That is what we should concentrate on not the ugliness of some minds which have become so distorted they aren't worth trying to sort out. I wish you well with your efforts to use this in a positive way. Given our world today, that's not easy but it's a worthwhile goal

  18. You're up to 79 followers now and after I click it will be 80... I'd hopped over a few times from Tepary's blog but was not a consistent reader. I'm looking forward to seeing where you go from here, from what I know of you so far, it will be inspiring and thought provoking.

    Listening to TBG's press conference was the first time I actually cried since the shooting had happened a few days before... Prior to that, my husband and I were like a couple of stunned zombies, all up in our heads about it, not able to be fully present with our kids because of the enormity of the situation. Then I hopped into the car on my way home and he was on was as though the floodgates opened and I sat in my driveway and cried and cried and cried. To say that he was eloquent is an understatement. He was so very brave to step forward, and I am grateful because his own words have helped me process and take a few steps forward.

  19. Well, I didn't know who you were so it's nice to meet Suzi. (I'm not totally dumb, just took me awhile to figure it out...)
    I've been wondering about your mom through all of this. I love reading about your time with her.
    I also am not sure I can watch the long interview. But, it's recorded and so, I'll see...
    Best wishes for continued healing.

  20. Ashleigh, I feel a bit of an intruder. I am sorry that you no longer have your privacy and no longer exist. I only found out about "the burrow" today, through one of my blogger friends, whom I've never met. We live on the opposite sides of the country. I too, love my blog and like you, no one knows about mine except my husband and my readers and a select out of state friends. I wanted to write about my grandkiddos, friends, life... the way I wanted to write. Like Ashleigh, it makes me feel free. I'm glad you are going to continue to write, I think it will help heal the terrible loss you are feeling for your loving friends. I can't imagine how you are feeling, but I am sending healing wishes and prayers to you and your family. I also pray that God gives you strength to endure this awful tragedy....debbie

  21. Ashleigh, you still exist. Suzi, I am so glad you still exist! I feel we've met before, but I don't know where exactly in Tucson it might have been.

    My personas, blogonyms, and avatars are very real parts of myself - I gave up trying to be anonymous and keep them completely separate when I realized the cost benefit ratio was all out of whack when my CODEPINK activities drew attention. I think that multiple public pseudonyms can protect privacy just as well as one well-defended blogonym. I call it the "old confuse a cat routine" (a la Monty Python.) I know who I am and that is all that matters. I suspect you fit that description too.

    I figured out how to follow you, too, so even though I've already been commenting for a week plus under another name, but this is how I will comment from now on... as Nerthus. Nerthus uses an avatar from Second Life, Ana Herzog, for a pic. "Her name was McGill and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy."

    So, anyway, to the matter at hand... TBG. I knew I had to read your stuff once I figured out that the composed, strong, and peaceful man who had been speaking to the media was your hubby. Searching for and choosing Tucson to live in, the national tragedies that hugged both sides of Christina's life, your blogging experience, these things all fell together in a way that makes a progressive agnostic like myself scratch her head in wonderment. I can't help but think the Goddess has put a few pretty obvious paths in front of you (and because of the heavy burden of that, gave you a dreamy husband as a bit of a perk.) It will undoubtedly take a while to sort out your feelings and options, and feelings about options, and optional feelings, and then the actual options contractually offered to you.

    If it wouldn't make me seem like a superstitious fool I would say that you have been given this set of life circumstances for a reason, and you will recognize that reason at the right time for you. But I'm not a fool and I don't want to seem like one, so I will just read and take inspiration where I find it and enjoy an ever-expanding network of brilliant, savvy, progressive women who are changing the world every day with their every breath and keystroke.

  22. It's fun to see how so many of us exist in several spaces at the same time. Blogonyms Rule!

  23. You do realize, don't you, how thoroughly you've confused those of us who admired and just plain liked the bejeezus out of a/b? I feel like I'm now gonna have to tiptoe around Suzi's blogging, lest a/b find out There's Someone Else. Tempted to created a new blogging persona of my own, just for use around here. Taste of your own medicine.


    Seriously, I do wish I could see the faces of your new readers who wander through The Burrow's archives in search of Suzi Hileman and leave in blog-love with Ashleigh Burrows. (I'd be jealous of their experience if I hadn't been able to walk the same route in reverse.)


    P.S. Ashleigh was tall and willowy but I never saw blonde. She was sort of Emmy Lou Harris-ish, but with diamond-hard, don't-cross-me-buster eyes.

  24. Love you back darling a/b. Looking forward to a time when we can go do yoga together. Selfishly, I'm using your recuperation time to get in shape.
    And TBG? Yep, pretty darn brilliant I'd say. The forces of evil have no chance if we have folks like TBG on our side.

  25. Dear, Darling Readers,
    TBG and The Ballerina have just hear me read all these kudos to his poise, calm, intelligence, and good looks. He says Thanks to you, and told me he's going to ask for a raise. I'm not sure what he thinks he's been paid,lately, but what the heck... why not?

    Thanks for loving my guy. I agree, he's one of the good ones. Out of nowhere came this man who redefined an American conversation. I am honored and thrilled and....ok I am stopping now as his head expands to dangerous levels.... but suffice it to say that he is every bit as wonderful as you've said.

  26. Nice to meet you, Suzi. :)

    Somehow I've missed all the news hubbub, which means I haven't seen either one of you on TV.

    You say you like the picture he's painted of you, but you've just painted an amazing picture of him.


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