Dear Dooce, RIP

From her book, The Valedictorian Of Being Dead

Dooce, AKA Heather Armstrong, AKA Heather B. Hamilton has died. I heard the news and felt deeply sad. She was one of the first bloggers I ever read. She was one of the first people who made me think blogging was possible for me. And now she’s dead. She died as she wrote, AFAIK, by her own hand. Rest in peace you lost soul. The fish bowl is a lot lonelier now.

I wanted to be a writer ever since Mrs. Carol Stewart (also RIP, bless her) gave me scratch-and-sniff stickers in first grade. I found Dooce in college and it was a revelation. I hit the next page and refresh buttons hard. Dooce was an excellent writer, combining the personal and cultural, the mundane and the profane. You felt like you were talking to somebody like you and also somebody not like you, which is the delicious non-dualism of good writing. It was, as I said, a revelation. A window into another life, and a mirror I could see myself in. The best possible use of a screen.

This was in the early days of the Internet when blogging was its beating heart and not a vestigial organ to social networks. People maintained their own websites which returned both their opinions and 404s. It was the spirit of the original Internet, the idea that people could maintain their own pages, not be owned by larger players. It was a fun time to be alive and Dooce was living it. I felt like I knew her. Hence, given the networked nature of existence, I feel her passing away.

Like so many of my friends from college, we’d lost touch. But as James Taylor sang,

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

I’m finally going back to America to visit friends and family after 10 years, but when I hit refresh on the old Dooce page all I see is a mausoleum. When I pick up her books I see a long cry in the darkness when I just wasn’t listening. Like picking up a Nirvana record in late 1994, I picked up her book. It’s called The Valedictorian Of Being Dead.

That book details the process of doing fentanyl/propofol/lidocaine with your mom and a doctor, a medicalized version of the self-medication so many Americans do. She had herself put into a medical coma over and over again, to effectively turn her brain “on and off again”. To try and reset whatever problems were there. But I read it and the problems were not so contained.

Her book also details the sterile wasteland she lived in, strip malls and car interiors and insurance co-pays and text-before-you-call and apologies for asking family to be family. It’s sad and she was understandably sad. It wasn’t just her headspace, it was the space she lived in. And it’s not just her.

When I read that book (not finished) I was struck by how her medication followed the self-medication path so many suffering people take. Americans take fentanyl and even propofol (the ‘Michael Jackson drug’) to anesthetize themselves against some deep fucking pain. She took these drugs under controlled, clinical conditions, with anesthesiologists and her mother in the room, as part of an experimental therapy. For a time she said it worked, but like her anti-depressants before, the effect faded away. And the feeling reared its head again.

When I was in college I was ‘depressed’ to, though I don’t know what to call it. Just a constant feeling that something is wrong (and it’s definitely you) following you around all day. After school I came back to Sri Lanka (an unusual reverse migration at the time) and lay on clay floors under ceiling fans, just being depressed for a while until my Amma and some Prozac and CBT and meditation and I guess just time dragged me out of it. I got married and doubled (quadrupled?) my family and had my own kids and I settled. Shit happens to me but I don’t feel shit.

It’s not some personal achievement, my happiness is literally defined by my connections. By the time I checked in on my old college connection Dooce, however, it was too late.

I heard that she had been unkind to trans people in her later days. Sadly these peoples existence has become another distraction for the Cable-TV Colosseum, a circus that people can proudly give a thumb up or down down, while the rulers cart everybody’s bread away. To me it’s all part of the same old divide and conquer, setting people up to fight over right opinions while right action is a million miles away. It splits families down the middle and it splits brains. I feel I have to acknowledge that, but that wasn’t Dooce to me. She was a friend from school and I loved her like that.

She loved music and there’s a Pink Floyd song I think about, it goes

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here

The gods know she was suffering, but as a fellow human who felt a human connection, I do wish she was here. I met her when I was also a lost soul swimming in the fish bowl of the Internet. Now, even so many oceans away, it all feels so much emptier without her. My prayers with her children, her family, her loved ones, and everyone who knew her as I did, through the wan comfort of a web page. She was one of the first to do it, and she did it well. My dear Dooce, this blog’s for you.