Wednesday, December 17, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Even the Internet doesn’t know everything

MarionFranckW

By
From page A7 | October 20, 2013 |

Confession: I’m a person who interrupts conversation to pull out her smartphone for a quick Google search. When a question arises, I want an answer — pronto. The Internet has captured me like a fish on a line; I’m a ruder person than before, but happier.

Sometimes, however, the Web fails me. I begin looking for a piece of information and, try though I may, I don’t find it. What kinds of things do I spend lots of time looking for? Today I recount one example.

————

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Antarctica, I am reading books about this unique destination. The first was “Ice Bound,” a personal account by Dr. Jerri Nielsen, co-authored with writer Maryanne Vollers, published in 2001.

After a series of difficulties in her personal life, Dr. Nielsen, 46, signed up to become the physician for 41 workers and scientists wintering at the South Pole in 1999. She signed up knowing that during 8 1/2 months of fierce, cold, dark winter no one would be able to come or leave.

In March, not long after travel ended, Nielsen discovered a lump in her breast which she bravely biopsied herself. Communicating with doctors via satellite email, she confirmed a diagnosis of breast cancer, which she treated as best she could.

In July, chemotherapy drugs and equipment were dropped for Nielsen in a risky fly-over. In October, earlier than any previous mission had dared to fly in, a skilled team evacuated Nielsen for treatment.

“Ice Bound” is riveting, but it begins with a few chapters that puzzled and haunted me throughout my reading. Nielsen admits that she went to Antarctica to escape a devastating family situation. Recently divorced from a physician-husband whom she describes as severely emotionally abusive, she loses contact with her three teenage children who decide to stick with Dad.

She attributes their complete silence to sick domination by her ex-husband. She decides not to go to court nor to actively fight for contact with her children because she fears that he will further mistreat them.

This story creates a credibility problem for readers of her book. Do we know for certain that Dr. Jay Nielsen, the husband, is an abuser? Could he have created an environment so sick that the children want nothing to do with Mom, even though she sounds in her book like a normal, loving parent? Could a person be a normal, loving parent and have children who reject her completely?

After I finished “Ice Bound,” I searched for answers on the Web. I found the husband’s and children’s names and hunted for information on all of them. I read obituaries of Jerri Nielsen, who succumbed to her cancer in 2009.

In every location, I looked for something that indicated that the children got in touch with Nielsen before she died. I found nothing. They were adults by then, able to speak their own truth. Still, nothing.

So was Nielsen the brave, caring person she sounds like in her book? Was she deeply flawed? Profoundly blind?

I went back to the Internet.

————

I emailed Nielsen’s co-author Maryanne Vollers who, according to Wikipedia, enjoys a successful career. She was nominated for a National Book Award for her first opus, “Ghosts of Mississippi.” Since then she has helped Hillary Clinton, Sissy Spacek and others pen their stories.

In the acknowledgements for “Ice Bound” Nielsen describes Vollers as “a remarkable friend.”

After Nielsen died, Vollers wrote in the Daily Beast, “We were as close as sisters while we were writing the book.”

Obviously, the two women cared for each other.

I knew Vollers would be unlikely to spill the beans about Nielsen and her children to a stranger contacting her via email, so I tried to offer options.

I wrote, “(Nielsen) seems deeply sad about the loss of her children and claims to have been a loving mother. Why, then, would those children, now adults, not have “surfaced” at some point — unless something is amiss in her story? Can you point me toward any written material that continues Nielsen’s story and might answer questions for a curious reader like me?”

I didn’t expect a reply from this busy writer, but I got one in less than 24 hours.

Vollers wrote, “There is really no way to answer your questions about Jeri. (Misspelling hers.) She was a complicated, wonderful woman, and like all of us — full of contradictions… As for her kids, I can’t offer any more than what you’ve read in the book.”

An answer, but not satisfying.

————

The Internet is great for finding facts. The better you are at research, the better you are at finding what you want. But for questions involving human psychology and human choice, the Internet will ultimately fail you. Levels 5, 4 and 3 are often available. But Levels 2 and 1 cannot be reached. I hope that most people, especially young people, know that.

In daily life, on the other hand, I can occasionally reach a deep, though sometimes fleeting, understanding of another person. If Vollers had kept in touch with Nielsen after their book was published, if they had stayed “close as sisters,” Vollers might have known much more about Nielsen than she did.

Real life can be great that way.

The Internet, not so much.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at marionf2@gmail.com

Comments

comments

.

News

 
Million Cat Challenge aims to rescue shelter felines

By Pat Bailey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Everest visit fulfills judge’s lifelong dream

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Supervisors remove Saylor from First 5 Yolo Commission

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

GPAS and test scores up for UCD’s newest undergrads

By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A1

 
Fatal Capay crash leads to driver’s arrest

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

U.S., Cuba seek to normalize relations

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Water officials fret over rain’s effects

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

Bob Dunning: Not enough hours in the month

By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

 
Donate to STEAC at Original Steve’s

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Beer and film tour boosts bike group’s coffers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Yolo Crisis Nursery in full swing

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
Creative women share food, friendship

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Traditional carols service is Saturday at St. Martin’s

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Have coffee with the mayor on Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Stockings brighten holidays for special kids

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

Evening tai chi classes start Jan. 6

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Overeaters get support at meetings

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Fibro Friends will update their journals

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Input sought on county’s facility needs

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Name Droppers: Law prof earns peace prize for nonfiction

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Community menorah lighting set Wednesday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Latest immunization data shows little improvement locally

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A5

School board will vote on repairs, new portables

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A6

 
Study: National monument could boost local economy

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

Parent/toddler art and music program offered

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

 
Libraries will be closed around the holidays

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

Cloudy — yet safe — tap water adds to negative health effects

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
Round up at the registers for Patwin

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

Come Worship with Us

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

 
.

Forum

This ought to teach her love

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Many thanks to The Avid Reader

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

Language failed me that night, but not now

By New York Times News Service | From Page: A8

 
Steve Sack cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A8

Grand jury function clarified

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
Defying Western academic norms

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

Boycotters are our future profs

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
.

Sports

UCD reveals a challenging softball schedule

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Tumey talks about state of Aggie athletics, where they’re headed

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Davis gets Rio Linda as Curry Invitational starts Thursday

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Sports briefs: Former Aggie Descalso inks deal with Colorado

By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B8

 
Westbrook, Durant lead Thunder past Kings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

.

Features

Some vegetables just can’t be beet

By Julie Cross | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
.

Arts

.

Business

.

Obituaries

Rena Sylvia Smilkstein

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Comics: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6