Archive for the ‘Blahgging’ Category

Movin’ On Up

June 17, 2009

Oh, hey, you hear that? That is THE SOUND OF SILENCE.

It’s pretty quiet around here, and might be for another day or so. Because? I am – wait for it – moving shop! Finally making the move away from Blogger and onto to more sophisticated blogging platform pastures. Which, I know! SO AWESOME. Also, terrifying.

Anyhoo. If you’re starved for the pathos and pedantry and total lack of humor that only I can provide, you can amuse yourselves by reading my other blog. Or by checking out what we’re up to over at MamaPop. Or by puttin’ on the beaver over at Canada Moms Blog. Or by reading whatever it is that you read when you’re not reading me. Which, yeah.

You better promise that you’re coming with me on the move, got that? Otherwise, I will be sad. And we don’t need anymore of that, now do we? Right?

Good.


Because nobody likes teh sad.

Advertisements

Sufficient Unto This Day

April 22, 2009

Last week, I almost quit blogging. Almost.

I wasn`t going to say anything about it. If I had quit, I would have gone totally silently into that good blogless night. There wouldn`t have been a post angsting about whether or not to quit; there wouldn`t have been a post proclaiming some long goodbye. I was just not ever going to post again. Which, I know, is kind of douchey, but still.

I was not going to post again, because the imperative to post was hurting my heart and making me crazy in a week during which I felt, strongly, that I simply could not post, that it would be wrong to post, that it would be wrong, somehow, to even Twitter all the fears and anxieties that I was struggling to contain. I wanted to write, but my preferred forum for writing was closed to me, or so I felt. I ached to write, to write anything, even just 140 characters proclaiming my fear; my fingers twitched, desperate to tap messages into my phone as we circled Emilia’s bed in the hospital, as we fretted and worried and paced. I am so scared, I typed, I am so scared. And then my fingers retracted their message, backspaced, deleted, and I resumed my pacing, my worrying. What could I possibly accomplish, publishing my fear? And how hollow, how terribly, selfishly, hollow to whine vacantly into the void when others were living and sharing darker fears. Realizing darker fears, the worst fears. What would I be doing, to add my own selfish anxieties to that chorus of pain?

No pain is hollow, of course. Seeing my daughter slumped and incoherent, eyes sunken in dark sockets, skin white and hot, was terrifying and horrible and I felt my anxiety in every moment as a strangling hurt, a terrible pressure against my lungs and throat that threatened to cut off my breath. But that was only my hurt, my fear, and although I know that every parent understands how terrible that hurt and how horrible that fear, it was not the time to share it, it was not the time to reach out. It was simply not the time.

Which invites the question: is it ever the time? This is a rhetorical question, of course, because, yes, yes, there is always a time for expressing and sharing fear or anxiety or sadness or all of these together. If we never shared these experiences, we would not know that they are common, ordinary even. We would not know that pain is something that we all live through. We would not know that it is something that we share. And we would never be able to find community in and through our pain, if we didn`t express it, share it.

But doesn`t sharing the pain, sometimes, just exascerbate it? Doesn’t it become, sometimes, a sort of twisted indulgence, a way of lingering in an ache and prolonging the sensation of hurt, in the same manner as scratching compulsively at an itch, even though it causes us bleed? If I write my hurt, am I expunging it or clinging to it? And if I draw others into my circle of anxiety, does it serve to comfort all of us – by underlining how common the experience – or does it serve to discomfit all of us – by making the experience common, by forcing others to live it, vicariously? Do I want community, or do I want attention? Can these two desires even be distinguished?

My anxiety about writing through my fear last week reduced to these three concerns – that I wanted to write because I wanted to wallow in that fear, that by wallowing, publicly, in my fear I’d be forcing others to experience that fear (in a week when fear and pain were already in too great supply) and that my writing/wallowing might be construed as attention-seeking (look! look! I hurt too! come see my pain!) – and these conspired to shut me down. And so shut down I did: I unplugged my computer and disabled e-mail on my phone and resolved that the only writing that I would do would be with pen and paper and kept entirely private. And then I cried. A lot. Because blogging has, in the worst of times, been a lifeline for me, a way of working through the pain and fear of struggling with depression and with the challenges of motherhood and with the general anxieties and regrets of a life well lived and with the looming spectre of death. And so the thought of abandoning it – of being abandoned by it – was terrifying, gut-wrenching.

And so I decided to not decide. I would simply not write about my pain that week, and hope that I would somehow grow an ability write light-heartedly and humorously so that I might not be so often an agent for spreading dark and gloom across the internets. And then Monday came and Emilia seemed better and so there was something happy to say – Emilia seems better! – and so I opened my computer and said it and the universe didn`t collapse in on itself, so. Baby steps.

I still don`t know how I`ll handle writing about Tanner, whose condition is worsening, and about how I`m going to explain the fact of his inevitable death to Emilia (something that becomes ever more pressing with every question she asks about his disabilities), and about lost siblings and hurt parents and depression and darkness and faith and all those terrible, difficult things that seem to have become my stock in writing trade. I just don`t know. I do know that I will write about them, sooner rather than later, just as I know that I will, someday – later rather than sooner – stop writing this blog. But I`m not going to worry about those things now.

For now, I`m just going to keep writing, and see what happens.

You can tell me, honestly – is there such a thing as oversharing hurt? Do I do it? Do I need – do we all need – to bring less angst and more happy? DOES THE INTERNET NEED MORE UNICORNS? I think maybe.

Monday, Monday

March 16, 2009

I have typed six paragraphs this afternoon. I have deleted them all. I have deleted them all because they all said the same thing, and the thing that they said was boring and stupid and self-obsessed and whiny and I couldn’t decide whether or not I was willing to indulge in any more self-obsessed whining in this space and so I kept retyping the same blah-blah-blah-tired-malaise-blah crap onto the screen and then erasing that same blah-blah-blah-tired-malaise-blah crap because, really, who wants to read about that? Who wants to write about that?

Bah.

So I decided to spare you my melancholy. Instead, I’ll just direct you to some better reading, and go take a B-complex multivitamin:

1) When grandmothers get mad: my mother, frustrated and angry with the New York Times, lets loose on her own blog. (Yeah, you heard me. She has her own blog now. She needs encouragement, so please visit.)

2) You think you’re stressed out? Marital discord and sexual abuse and frustrations about babies having babies are being discussed over at the Basement. (Remember the rules over there, people: comment nicely. You’re free to disagree with opinions, and tough-love is welcome, but it all needs to be dealt nicely. Civilly. Respectfully.)

3) What do Jim Carrey, Pam Anderson and I have in common, other than a troubling propensity for oversharing? We’re all Canadian. So are all these bloggers. Check out our new project (it’s still, like, totally in beta, but you should still visit, and cheer us on!)

4) Or, just shut your computer and take a nap. That’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Out Like A Lamb

March 9, 2009

I don’t understand how this works, but for some reason, getting away by myself for one night this past weekend seems to have caused me to become even more tired than I am usually. Of course, the fact that getting away for that one night involved flying to New York and attending an event that was by some turns thought-provoking and by others head-exploding (more on that at some later date, when head-combustion is less of a threat to the structural integrity of my psyche) and, in the process, suffering near-intolerable nursing-boob-related pain (relieved only under circumstances that, again, must wait until I am considerably less tired to be explained and discussed) goes some distance to explaining why I am so tired. It does not, however, explain why I feel so emotionally fatigued, why I feel so utterly tapped-out, so completely drained of any will or energy to write/create/stand upright.

Spring is pressing upon my window, and I feel in my bones that the coming season will bring good things (a baby who sleeps through the night in his crib, who takes an occasional bottle – both causes were advanced by my night away – renewed energy for me, renewed spirit, sunshine) but at the moment I just feel limp. Lifeless. Maybe this is just late-arriving winter dormancy; maybe it is just March coming in like a depressed lion. I don’t know.

Whatever it is, it requires that I sleep. And eat, maybe, and try to not worry, for the moment, about finding ways to express things that have hurt my heart or my brain. That, and watch the entire first season of Gossip Girl over the course of an afternoon while eating chocolate and popcorn. I need a day, or two.


And a little mental space to enjoy me my sunshine.

The Story’s The Thing

January 13, 2009

Here’s the thing about maintaining a personal blog: one sometimes forgets that one is not simply maintaining a diary – albeit a carefully thought-out diary, one that is edited for style and for grammar – but publishing, virtually, a sort of memoir or collection of essays or some combination of these. One forgets, sometimes, that one has made, is making, one’s story public.

I forget this all the time.

The primary danger, here, is not that one might unintentionally reveal something that one might later regret. We most of us hesitate with our cursors hovering over the Publish Post button every time that we write, mentally reviewing what we’ve said and how we’ve said it and worrying over how it might be received. The Publish Post button reminds us, in the crucial moment, that we are in fact publishing, making public, our stories, our rants, our confessions. What the Publish Post button does not remind us, however, is that with every post that we publish we are constructing and furthering a narrative that is followed by tens or dozens of readers, tens or dozens of readers who might well want to know what became of that problem, was that issue resolved, what happens next? They follow a narrative, and our blogging platforms don’t provide tools for reminding us that we’re weaving such narratives as we write. And because we are not reminded, we – I – sometimes forget.

I was reminded – uncomfortably – of this the other day when I wrote a confused, rambling post that was a variation on another post that I’d written a few months ago. I knew that I had already written on the topic – whether or not I wanted to keep open the possibility of having a third child – and was just trying to sort my feelings out further. It was a post that I wrote for myself, not one that was intended to advance my story, such as that story is. And that pissed at least one reader off, a little: she protested that I was just retreading old ground and that it was frustrating and why didn’t I make more of an effort to let readers know what I was doing to prevent what seemed to be my inevitable slide into whiny insanity – for example, what had I done about the sleep issues? Had I taken any readerly advice? – because, seriously, if I kept this up – and certainly if I made the terrible mistake of committing mental suicide by further childbearing – she, for one, was not going to be able to read me anymore. (She later apologized for articulating herself so harshly, and made clear that she was just frustrated because she is a fan of the blog, and I’m totally comfortable with that, so please don’t smack her in comments.) Which: OUCH.

The comment struck a nerve, because a) I’m sensitive about the possibility that this blog can be, you know, angst-ridden at times, and believe me, my angst bores even me, and b) oh, gawd, I like totally can’t maintain the thread on my own stories, can I? But there’re reasons why I don’t always (read: almost never) maintain a narrative thread: because sometimes doing a follow-up on how nothing has changed and how I’m still angsting out over the same old miscellaneous bullshit seems, I don’t know, tiresome, and because – more often than not – I forget. Some other issue comes up – the girl pours canola oil on the living room sofa, or I become obsessed yet again with the finality of vasectomies – and whatever thread I had begun to weave about sleeplessness or feeding baby or finding long lost siblings gets lost.

Which is fine, in a way: this is my story, and if it’s disjointed, so what? But still: I like a coherent narrative thread, and so far as coherence is possible in personal narratives, why not pursue it? I can’t promise that I’ll follow up on every little issue, but I can promise to make an effort to not just abandon cliffhangers (I laugh even as I write this. Who among you was waiting with bated breath to see if Her Bad Mother would ever sleep again, dun dun dun DUN?!?!?) So, to that end: the first of a series of semi-occasional, whenever-the-hell-I-feel-like-it, will-probably-forget-to-do-this-ever-again updates on stories that you probably don’t care about but this blog is a narrative, dammit, and so the story must go on:

1) Did Her Bad Mother ever sleep again? No, she did not, and probably will not again, ever. She has tried most of the suggestions offered and none, so far have worked. She would just give up and look into becoming a vampire, were it not for the fact that she doesn’t want to eat her baby (I don’t care what Stephenie Meyer implied in Breaking Dawn about mother-love overcoming the temptation to sink one’s teeth into buttery baby butt cheeks; if I were a vampire I would totally eat my baby because, my god, the deliciousness), so she’ll just persist in this lovely and only slightly inconvenient sleep-deprived fugue state.

2) Did Her Bad Baby ever take to solid foods? Yes! He did! He does! But only if they’re, you know, solid. As in, able to withstand the clutch of a chunky little fist. Which is to say, hunks of bread or cereal biscuits or meatballs or whole baby carrots or, for some reason, pickles. Anything mushy, anything on a spoon, anything in a bottle (sigh) is rejected with a swat of a chubby hand.

3) Did Her Bad Mother ever find her long lost brother? Has she made any progress? Not so much. Believe me, you’ll hear about it when – WHEN – anything happens.

4) Whatever happened to the Phallic Lovey? He (Christian name: Toadstool) was tossed aside by the girl – who declared herself to be ‘too big for Toady now’ – a few weeks ago. It was like a sad Toy Story 2 sub-plot, really, and Her Bad Mother got a little weepy. Her Bad Husband, however, rejoiced. And then this happened:


And so it goes.

Any other questions on narrative threads that I may have dropped, recently or, like, eons ago? Fire away in the comments, and I’ll follow up them, someday. And tell me, what are the narrative threads that you’ve dropped? I’m not the only one out here who can’t tell a story, am I?

Also, oh, hai: yesterday was Delurking Day, and I missed it. Feel free to make up for that today.

Sunday Morning Music Show: Comedy Edition

January 4, 2009

It takes the baby a minute to get the joke, but when he does, he falls out of his seat laughing. I’m that way about fruit jokes, too.

(Sunday Morning Music Show: Music Editions are on indefinite hold until the girl retires the burlesque, no-pants version of her show, which is entirely NSFW. Nude comedy, on the other hand, can be shot waist up, so.)

********

Speaking of Nashville, which I wasn’t, but still: I’m speaking at next month’s Blissdom conference, and although I can’t promise to be enlightening or anything, I can promise to have a baby attached to my hip and to maybe fall down if I have a glass of wine. You should totally come watch.

That’s Me In The Corner

July 24, 2008

Two years ago, after BlogHer ’06, I wrote this:

I left behind something that I think that I am going to miss… the me who was happy and fulfilled in the absence of the loves of my life. The me who could assimilate the quiet ache that is that absence, the pressing ache of those missing limbs, into another kind of energy and move, happily, despite that ache. The me who felt both quieted and stimulated alone (sans child, sans spouse) in the company of other women, other writers, other mothers who, for a moment, put the activity of motherhood or whateverhood aside and said, now, what about me? What about us?


That experience? That was missing for me, this year. Because I did not and could not put those other parts of me aside. I did not attend BlogHer this year as the me who has a passion that extends beyond and away from her family, the writer, the friend, the woman who can compartmentalize her manifold selves and carry on, and flourish. I attended BlogHer as a mother, with babe-in-arms and lactating boobs and head fuzzy from lack of sleep and heart sore from guilt and anxiety and all that tremendous and challenging mother stuff that distracts one from the business of being anything other than a mother, full stop. And that was hard. Really hard.

And so I felt, for much of the conference, as though I was watching from the sidelines, from the other side of the curtain, from behind my locker door, my baby clutched like so many books – my vulnerability, my shield – to my chest. Which is to say that, yes, there were moments, some moments, when my experience reminded me a little bit of high school, albeit the kind of high school experience that you see in low-budget after-school specials about how having a baby at sixteen means that you’ll be left out of all the parties and your cute-girl clothes won’t fit and you will feel like an outsider and omg why did you not cross your legs like your mother told you?

But those were only moments, and they had nothing to do with anyone or anything other than me and my own issues and insecurities. It was hard for me to expose myself as a mother at BlogHer, because being a mother in real life is not the same thing as playing one on the Internet, and all of the vulnerabilities that roll onto the screen so easily don’t play so comfortably on a real life stage. No matter how exposed we are on that screen, no matter how bravely, fiercely naked we allow ourselves to be, we are still, end of day, behind the screen, sharing fragments of our whole selves, preserving whatever other parts need to be preserved as private in order to protect our self-regard. So while it was one thing for me to bare my breast and nurse my child in front of the audience attending my panel – because, of course, I knew that everyone would be glad to see it – it was quite another to attempt and fail to soothe my child in public spaces, or succumb to a panic attack in the presence of friends and strangers, or to admit to exhaustion and frustration and sadness when everyone else was trying to party. And so I kept, mostly, to the sidelines, and observed.

And what I saw was this: friendships being formed, friendships being renewed, friendships being celebrated and revelled in and enjoyed. I saw love and tenderness and warmth; I saw women cheering each other on, and men cheering the cheering. I saw all of the things that I’d seen that first year – “women who are, like me, trying to use found moments of lived fearlessness to navigate the murky waters, the frightening waters, of womanhood and motherhood and writerhood (here be monsters, here be monsters. We know this. Still we fly our sails). Among women who are willing to say, out loud, that they don’t know how to always be fearless. Among women who walk with fear, but who carry wit and intelligence and charm and strength as rods and staffs for comfort” – and more.

But I also saw insecurity and anxiety and nervousness and reserve. I saw another mom with babe-in-arms keep to the sidelines, like me. I wish that I’d done more to connect with her, beyond waggling my baby at her baby (an effort that made her baby scream, which, you know, can really make someone feel like a fuck-up), because I wanted to ask her, is this as hard for you as it is for me? I heard a woman crying in the bathroom, and another woman soothing her, and wanted to say something, but I didn’t, because I was embarrassed, having been soothed myself the night before, and still feeling awkward about it. I saw, many times, women sitting by themselves, and sometimes I approached them, and sometimes I didn’t, because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was working the room – don’t laugh, it happens – or demanding attention (oh mah gahd have you seen mah BAYBEE?!?!) or, sometimes, just because I felt stupid and awkward and who knew when the baby was going to start crying again or the front of my blouse go wet and what would I say then (oh, hai, I’m HBM, pleez to excuse the sloppy mammaries and squalling infant)?

I saw a wonderful woman, anxious and hurting, defending herself in front of a crowd of a thousand. I saw a crowd of a thousand wonder, some of them – wrongly, wrongly, so wrongly – whether it was all an act. Actually, I didn’t see this, because I was on the other side of the doors, tending to my baby, my heart, wondering what was up, what was going on, what was I missing now? only hearing the details after the fact, and watching the video, and wanting to wrap virtual arms around my hurt friend, too late to help her in the moment that mattered, because my attention was divided, and while one hurt woman stood up to another (because, yes, it all had to have come from a place of hurt, it just did, and that sucks for everybody, for real) and the conference fell into a hush I was outside the room, in the corner, ruminating on being on the outside, lost in myself.

We all feel on the outside, all of us, sometimes; even the biggest and brightest of our stars feel their distance (let’s mix metaphors and wonder whether, if you prick them, stars bleed their brilliant light and burn holes in the sky. Is this what happened?) Whether we know a hundred people in the room, or one, or none, we feel, in certain moments, lonely. Misunderstood. Lost. Alone. We’re women, we’re human. We can be surrounded by love and still feel isolated. We can project love and still feel empty. We can be friends and make friends and still yearn for friendship. We can be inside and still feel completely outside. We’re internet geeks, girly ones, some with babies, some without, most with vaginas, all with hearts. We’re complicated.

I love us for that. I love this weekend for that. I love BlogHer, and BlogHers, for that. But there is still the ache. So please, can we be gentle with each other, forgiving of each other, this week, next week, and in all the weeks and months to come?

Thank you.

Grover knows. He did the whole conference with a hand up his ass. He gets us.

(THE LOVE. I do not do this exclude. I really, truly, do not. But I can’t and won’t censor my impulse to send warm hugs to the people who really took care of me this weekend, and/or who just added a special degree of awesomeness and oh god I am going to forget somebody really important I just know it but here goes: the spectacular lady who offered the loveliest, most welcome haven from the fray, the wonderful, baby-whispery heart-breakingly sweet man who snuggled J and cuddled J and crooned him to sleep with baseball stats, the lovely, lovely guy who stretched his arm to the breaking point swinging an infant-laden car seat on multiple occasions, the gorgeous young woman who snuggled the babe until his need for boob overwhelmed my entire session, the beautiful pregnant lady who stole my son’s heart – while he was still on the tit oh god – I may now have to call him Jasperalah – and who I was unable to rescue from partum faintage because I have no life skills – and who always makes me laugh even when my head is about to burst from anxiety, THIS beautiful woman whose very presence with her even-more-beautiful daughter made me cry, and the amazing, truly amazingly big-hearted woman who rescued me from my corner and insisted that it was okay for me to cry it out and OH GOD I cannot even refer to her in the third person without tearing up, and this super-smart chick who I wish I could spend way more time with in Canadaland and the amazing women that I hadn’t met before but now will be stalking relentlessly and her and her and her and her and her, oh lord, my girls, my bosom buddies, my heart-friends, my (oh sob) total BFF comrades-in-arms, my hearts… *collapses in tears and smiles*)

Let’s just all cling to the love, kay?

GoogleHer

July 14, 2008

The other night I did something that I had never done before: I Googled myself.

(No, seriously, I’d never done it, not once. Seriously. Because, you know, I’d heard you could go blind from it.)

Here’s the thing about Googling yourself: once you start, you can’t stop. Even when you go through a page of Google listings that have nothing to do you – I share my name, apparently, with numerous Irish women of the 19th century, and at least one high school sophomore in Chicago with a distinguished record in middle-distance running – it’s fascinating. And it’s all the more fascinating when you hit pages upon pages of links to references to yourself. Look – there’s me mentioned in the Globe And Mail! There’s my AlphaMom interview! There’s my first peer-reviewed academic article! There’s that cheesy essay about being Prime Minister that I wrote as an undergrad! Look, everyone: my 15 (fractions of) gigabytes of fame!

It is, in some respects, I suppose, the 21st century equivalent of rifling through a shoebox of mementos – the newspaper clippings that your mom collected and kept in a ragged file folder, the tattered certificates of achievement, that undergraduate essay that got published, somewhere, the picture of your graduating class – except that the things you find aren’t things that you’ve saved – they’re things that the Internet has saved. The virtual detritus of an unfamous but not entirely obscure life. Which makes it a little surreal. I came across that aforementioned undergraduate essay, along with a handful of professional academic articles, a lot of blog-related miscellany and an assortment of virtual newspaper clippings about awards and speeches and the various whatnots of an overfunctioning young woman trying to prove herself in a world that records bits and pieces of that life in code, and holds it out for anyone to see.

That Google search revealed, in some small and completely messed up way, an index of my life (and, of course, my blog life, which may or may not be the same thing) as it has been captured on the virtual screen. It is, for better or for worse, my biography as it appears to the virtual world. So I thought, why not use it to introduce myself? It is, after all, BlogHer week, and we should really be trying to get to know each other, better, no? And what better way to get to know a blogger than through her online profile? Herewith, then – Five Things That You Can Learn About Me Through Google:

1) Despite my protestations to the contrary, I am Tracy Flick. Rather, I was Tracy Flick, once upon a time. I am so not kidding. My career as an undergraduate was one long exercise in look how good I am! I am smart! And a good person! OMG I can totally save the world!

2) It was kind of sweet, though. I meant well. Also, I figured that if I played my cards right, I could be Prime Minister.

3) But then I decided that I hated politics, and committed myself to the pursuit of the philosophic life. In the pursuit of which, I embraced misanthropy, and publicly (academically) defended Hannibal Lector as a tragic Rousseauan figure. I’m still proud of that, as I am for having, in my first peer-reviewed book review, called out Erich Segal for writing what is possibly the worst book on comedy (v.v. the history of classical thought) ever written in the history of the world, ever.

4) Misanthropy gets old fast, though, so I turned my professional interests to love, sex and virtue in the history of political philosophy. Because, you know, love and sex are much more fun to think and write about than are grumpy, bourgeois-hating old men who may or may not indulge in a little cannibalism. Which brought me around to the field of academic research that I stuck with, which was women – and specifically motherhood – in the history of political philosophy. How did I get from misanthropic critiques of bourgeois liberalism to motherhood? Basically, this: they are, if done properly, the same thing.

5) Which brought me here, to the state of being and creating that is Her Bad Mother. Here – the domain of my Bad Motherness, Badtopia, Badmotherlandia, the Badlands – speaks for itself, I think. But if you’re new to HBM, and don’t feel like spending hours reading the archives, or if you just want a refresher on what I look and sound like (I am so much more, after all, than just words on a screen) Google offers you this HBM Live With LeahPeah On AlphaMom TV moment:

It’s two years old, but I haven’t really changed all that much. At all, really. So there you go. Just look for the blond bobbed, recovering-Tracy-Flick-with-babe-in-arms in San Francisco. That’ll be me.

(Um, hey? You should totally do this too! GoogleHer yourself! You know, for fun and edification.)

Community Is Hard. Deal With It.

July 2, 2008

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this post may not be agreeable to every reader. Reading this post may cause disagreement, hurt feelings, discomfort, frustration, boredom and/or anal leakage. The Author will not be responsible for any feelings of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, existential malaise or gastro-intestinal distress that might be caused by the reading of this post. CAVEAT LECTOR.

Here’s something that I’ve been feeling badly about: I have, in recent months, been a terrible blog citizen. I have only sporadically wandered out into this virtual neighborhood and checked in with friends and neighbors and kept up on the goings-on and the what-for and all the stuff that keeps this community humming. And I feel badly about that, because the neighborhood – you – have been so good to me, constantly dropping in for visits and bringing me pies and casseroles and bunches of flowers and keeping me surrounded with so much company that (oh shame to admit this) I haven’t felt that I needed to go out. Which is wrong, and I’m determined to change that as I feel better. Because I love this community.

I love this community even though it sometimes undergoes paroxysms of indignation that sometimes render it just a teeny bit intolerant. You can be cute when you’re indignant, oh internets, but when that indignation turns into sour judgment and hand-slapping, I get a little frustrated. Do we never learn? Why do we, as a community, find it so difficult to maintain our bearing when the road of social life gets bumpy? Why does every conflict, big or small, turn into a harbinger of our destruction or decline oh woe is us? Why do we get so fucking cranky?

Many of you know the current story, even though most of the posts and tweets and hand-to-ear whispers about it played coy with the details. I won’t be coy. Here’s the story: Sweetney twittered a comment about Fussypant’s blog, criticizing the similarity between the name of the latter and the name of another longstanding and very popular blog – Fussy – that many of us know and love. Sweetney’s tweet – which I did not see firsthand because, as I said, I’ve been hiding in my virtual kitchen, only peeking out from behind the curtains occasionally, which causes one to miss stuff – was on the snarky side. Sweetney – or, as I know her (this here would be a disclosure of bias) mah beeyootiful beeloved Traceyis snarky. She is opinionated. She is straight-talkin’, don’t mince words, don’t hold back, got-somethin’-to-say-gonna-say-it honest, and sometimes that honesty comes with a bite. (She is also an all-around awesome person with an honest-to-goodness good soul, and I say that as a person with very discerning taste in souls. Mmm, souls.) Because that’s who she is. And that’s how honesty is, more often than not, if we’re really honest about it.

The judgment from the internets was, from what I’ve seen and heard from behind my kitchen window, swift and merciless: Tracey’s Twitter comment was deemed bad. It was – everyone said – mean. It was nasty. She was mean and nasty. How dare she? How dare anyone say something like publicly? Who was she to criticize another blogger for emulating another? Who was she to call it copying? NOT NICE. BAD TRACEY.

Ironically, but not unexpectedly, much of the judgment passed on Tracey has gotten pretty mean itself. In the posts and comments that I skimmed last night, I saw statements to the effect that she was nasty and arrogant, that she’s just another mean girl, that her own blog is derivative, that she’s like totally stuck up because she’s popular omg and it’s totally obvious that she’s like threatened because that other blogger is like totally nice and omg you can just tell that she’s mean because she doesn’t follow as many people on Twitter as follow her. Also, she’s singlehandedly undermining the spirit of the community because, did you know? SHE WAS NOT NICE.

Which, okay already, I get it – feelings got hurt and nobody likes that – but people? CALM THE FUCK DOWN. Because you know what? The furor over Tracey’s comment is, I think, doing way more damage to the community – and says way worse about the community – than the comment itself. Because the blanket condemnation of Tracey for tapping out 140 characters into a Twitter box – characters that spelled out something critical of another blogger – amounts to a kind of censoriousness that I find a bit discomfiting.

There are a few issues here, as I see it, in considering that fateful Tweet: 1) was the criticism expressed in the Tweet wrong or inappropriate? 2) was it wrong that the Tweet was quote-unquote not nice? and 3) do either of those two issues, if confirmed as wrong, warrant censoring criticism?

1) Was the criticism wrong or illegitimate? Queen of Spain’s was the only post I saw that actually tackled that issue directly. The analogy made in her post on the subject was to hamburger joints: McDonald’s enjoys robust business on its street corner, and then one day another burger joint, Burger King, opens up shop on the opposite corner. Mickey D’s might not like it, but it shouldn’t criticize BK for just doing what it already does, right? Criticizing BK for just wanting a piece of the action is, like, a hallmark of hegemonic market domination, no? And anyway, there’s enough room in the market for everybody so don’t be a hog, McD’s, ‘kay?

Which is fine and good as a point of comparison except that in this case: a) it was not BK, but Mr. Mickey Donald’s Burger Emporium that opened up on the opposite corner, and b) it wasn’t McDonald’s that criticized Mr. Mickey Donald’s name and enterprise – it was a hamburger-loving (veggie-burger loving, in this case) observer who, between bites of crispy fries, said, oh hai, whaddup with Mr. Mickey Donald’s and its Rainbow Arches over there, yo? Isn’t that, like, not cool? So it’s not like this was some obvious turf issue, as has been charged – the observer in this case has nothing to gain from making the observation. She was just expressing an opinion. A trenchantly critical opinion that rubbed some people the wrong way, and that was undoubtedly hurtful to the proprietor of Mr. Mickey Donald’s Burger Emporium (who I’m sure is a lovely person who just thought that the name she chose was awesome and maybe didn’t look across the street), but still. It was critical opinion – and entirely fair comment, regardless of whether you agree with it or not, because no matter how you slice it, a blog called Fussypants that is written by a blogger who signs off as Fussy begs comparisons to the longer-standing blog called Fussy that is written by a blogger who is widely referred to as Fussy – critical opinion that, it seems to me, has been dismissed outright simply because it was plainly critical (and, also, that it was made by someone quote-unquote popular, which is an argument that I cannot for the life of me fathom. What does Sweetney’s – or Fussy’s – popularity have to do with the legitimacy of the critical observation? Seriously? Do we all need a lecture on Nietszche and herd morality? DON’T MAKE ME.)

Is the suggestion here that we should not, in this community, be critical of each other? Bullshit. A community that proscribes criticism within is not a community, it’s a cult. Or is it that we should not be critical of each other in public or semi-public forums? Also bullshit. We’re bloggers – everything that we say and do as bloggers occurs in media for which the lines of public and private are well and truly blurred – a proscription of ‘public’ criticism is a proscription of all criticism, full stop. And a community in which open criticism is proscribed has no foundation for robust discourse. It is, as I said, a cult.

So if we allow that we are, as members of a community, allowed to criticize each other, and that the critical observation under dispute here is not an outrageous one – indeed, that it is, arguably, entirely reasonable as an observation, regardless of what conclusions you draw from it or how contentious you view it – where’s the problem?

2) The criticism was ‘not nice.’ Tracey’s critical observation of the similarities between Fussypants and Fussy (and other bloggers; I’m not going to address those broader concerns here) was not articulated delicately. She was up front about the fact that she was criticizing someone, and not just gently pointing out a social faux pas or a small green piece of parsley between their teeth. She made it plain that the conclusion she drew from her observation of the similarity between Fussypants and Fussy.com was that such similarity was, in her books, not cool. And that plainspokenness was, unfortunately, hurtful to the blogger known as Fussypants.

Of course it was. I would find it hurtful. I, in fact, find most criticism hurtful. I don’t like have it suggested to me that something I’ve said or done might be wrong or inappropriate or in need of improvement. I want everyone to just love me and think that I’m awesome. Even the best intentioned criticism, the kind that is usually called ‘constructive,’ carries a bit of a sting. I is imperfect? Oh noes!

Criticism is almost always uncomfortable. Criticism, indeed, kinda sucks much of the time. Even when it turns out to be really helpful and promoting of growth yadda yadda blah, it’s just not the funnest thing, you know? And of course, criticism that comes in plainspoken – or snarky – terms is the least funnest thing of all. But here’s the thing: if we condemn anyone who utters criticism or makes critical observation – again, Tracey’s supposed crime here was not name-calling or general nastiness, it was the making of an (albeit stinging) critical observation – we silence ourselves, to our detriment. Criticism keeps us, and our community, self-aware and self-reflective. Yeah, it stings, but that’s why Socrates referred to himself – the greatest and most uncompromising of critics – as a gadfly: because no meaningful criticism fails to sting.

3) The problem, then: there’s been almost no real critical commentary about the substance of Tracey’s comment – almost everything that I’ve seen posted has condemned the fact of the observation-slash-criticism, and not addressed its substance. Everyone seems up in arms about the fact that there was a criticism, and that the criticism did or might have stung – the problem, apparently, being that Tracey dared say something that somebody might find hurtful, not that she was incorrect in her observation. Whether the argument implied in her comment was flawed or sound has, for the most, been left unaddressed, and this, I think, represents a missed opportunity – we could, instead of worrying about whether or not Tracey was too mean (a seventh-grade concern if I ever heard one) or whether her comment belies a vast Mean Girl conspiracy to preserve the mamasphere as the domain of some Trilateral Commission-like cabal of popular bloggers (which omg pleez), be discussing the ethics of propriety over blog names and blog personae and the relationship of this to the integrity of our community. Should we be trademarking our noms des blog plumes? Do we have any right to claim variations on names as our own? Do we have proprietary claims on innovations on style or content? How do we negotiate community when so much of our identities therein are associated with the brands – yes, I said brands – that we’ve (many of us) created? In the context of this community and these identities, am I Catherine, or am I HBM, and how would I feel if someone were going around calling themselves Her Bad Mommy or even Her Big Marmot and using the HBM acronym? Would I care? Would it matter?

The thing about these kinds of questions is, there’s no way to discuss them meaningfully without stepping on toes and hurting feelings, at least a little bit, because discussing them meaningfully means discussing them critically, with reference to each other. Talking about the ownership of our identities and our spaces means drawing lines between you – me – us and asserting our independence from each other. Our is not a wholly cooperative social compact – we do not pursue and articulate a General Will – it’s a network (a densely and intimately connected network) of individuals who work hard to make and define identities and spaces for themselves. We love and share and connect with each other – but we also define ourselves against each other, as distinct from each other. It’s what makes our community so vibrant, so NOT mommybloggerdrone-like.

So why are we not asking these questions? Why, instead, do we all have our collective tits in a knot about whether or not someone in our midst was less than kind in raising a criticism about someone else? Are we not, as a community, so much bigger and better and more interesting than just are we nice enough? Was someone not nice enough? LYNCH THE PERSON WHO WAS NOT NICE ENOUGH. Seriously. By all means, let’s endeavor to be kind, but let’s not sacrifice inquiry and discourse and criticism at the altar of kindness.

If you honestly think that Tracey was wrong or misguided in her observations concerning Fussypant’s blog, then address that issue. Argue the point – there are, after all, points to be made here. Say that you think it’s perfectly fine for one blog to adopt a name that is very similar to another. Say that you think no writer or artist should have proprietary interest in variations on names or innovations in style or content. Say that you think that such things are contrary to community, and that community is key here. Those arguments are interesting, they really are. But fussing and bitching about whether Tracey was being mean in making a criticism to begin with? Not interesting. Not interesting at all. Demeaning, actually, to all us, because it suggests that we’re not so much interested in critical debate as we are in making sure, above all else, that no-one’s feelings get hurt.

We’re a community. We live and love and learn in this space together. Feelings are going to get hurt, and they’re going to get hurt all the time (if you don’t believe me, do an archive tour of post-BlogHer posts for the last two years. Every year people write pages – pages – about feeling hurt and excluded and ignored.) That’s community, always has been, from the beginning of recorded time: it’s messy and ugly and rewarding and frustrating and thrilling and painful and fascinating and hard. That is, it is those things if we’re doing it right. If we come to a collective stop – if we attack and persecute each other instead of engaging each other, if we question our very integrity as a community – every time someone’s feelings get hurt, every time someone disagrees with someone else, every time things get a little uncomfortable, we’re doomed.

(Go on – disagree with me. But don’t call me a mean girl. I can be a pissy beeyatch, but I’m not a meanie, for reals. More to the point, neither is Tracey. Please to remember that.)

Comments to this post are now closed. It’s been a productive discussion, but seeing as Sweetney and Fussypants have – YES – hugged it out and put it behind them, I think that it’s time that we do the same. There’ll be plenty of time for further debate about community, identity and the ethics of criticism at a later date, I’m sure 😉

Peace, ya’ll.

Crazy Narcissistic Exploitative Zombie-Pimp Mom-Bloggers, Unite and Take Over

April 23, 2008

Nothing makes a mom-blogger prouder than to open the online editorial page of a major newspaper and see a picture of her daughter with a hyper-linked headline that asks “Is Blogging About Your Kid Exploitation?”

Of course it is, you say to yourself. And then you print the article and fold it neatly – you know, for the scrapbook, and also maybe for tax purposes – alongside the stacks and stacks of hundred-dollar bills you’ve collected from the enterprise of exploiting your daughter. The stacks that you make her wrap in wee elastic bands and load into the stroller basket to take to the bank. When she’s not busy posing for the pictures that you post on your exploitative ‘GET UR LIVE TODDLER SHOW RITE HEER” blog, that is. Or amusing herself in the corner with old vodka bottles while you spend the better part of each day telling the Internet stories about her. You know, for the cash.

I knew what that Globe and Mail story was about when I agreed to be interviewed for it. And I knew, too, that allowing them to photograph Wonderbaby and I would make us a focal point. I also knew that when I said, in the interview, this is going sound totally inappropriate, and probably needs a lot of explanation – it’s just that I can’t think of a better word – but in a way I think of her as my property, yanno? that the ambivalent preamble would be omitted when the quote was – inevitably – used. (Actual quote, minus preamble: “In a way I think of her as my property, my work of art… She’s a work in progress that I’m involved in. To that extent, I have some licence to be public about having her as my muse.”) I didn’t have a problem with that. I was prepared to stand by that. I knew that I would have to stand by that, because I knew that I’d get shit for that.

And I did. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the force of the shit being flung.

In the comments to the online article, this was the tenor of the response:

“Is it just me or is this poor little kid doomed from the get go?”

“Isn’t this just another form of pimping?”

“At 6 her daughter will likely hire a lawyer and sue her for half.”

“Parents that sit and blog are actually NOT paying attention to their children. You know the old saying ‘where are the parents.’ Well their (sic) right here in front of you honey, but they are zombified in front of a screen.”

“If this is the way this woman views her child, I hope she saves up whatever money she’s earning from her pathetic blog to pay for her kid’s therapy later in life.”

And my favorite (regarding a quote from Wonderbaby, cited in the title of the article) “Who would teach their child to speak like this?”

(Memo to ‘Dennis sinneD from Calgary’: if you know any two-year olds who can not only construct complete sentences, but articulate those sentences with perfect diction, then you live in some alternate parallel universe where said children quote EB White at five years of age, attend Oxford at seven, and publish their collected essays on the rise of the English novel at ten. Which is to say, NOT CALGARY.)

Anyway. OUCH.

The comments are stupid, I know. And, simply, wrong: I’m not some shameless mom-pimp, whoring out an online kiddy show for pennies from Google ads. I’m a writer. I make money from writing; it’s my job, my contribution to the household income, the means by which we’re going to send her to university and pay for her wedding and help her buy a house and just generally take care of her and her sibling. But it’s also a labor of love – I didn’t start writing to make money, I started because I love it. And I started writing about – mostly – being a mom because, in addition to loving the writing, I found solace and comfort and release and community in it. And so did others – readers, and other writers, who shared their stories with me. And so I kept writing, and so I keep on writing, and so I will keep on writing, until I have no words left. The money is nice, but it’s incidental to my love for the practice of writing.

Most of what I write is not Wonderbaby anecdote. I’m not simply keeping a play-by-play (or, more accurately, asskick-by-asskick) record of her life. I’m writing what is, in part, a living memoir of my experience as a first-time (soon to be second-time) mother. She’s a big part of that – the biggest part, in most obvious respects – but there’s a lot about that experience that holds her at the periphery. A very, very close periphery, but still. My motherhood is a work in progress that involves her closely, but it is, also, a work that is more mine that hers. When I said in the article that she’s my muse, that’s probably as close to the truth of the writing matter as I could get. She is the source of my identity as a mother, and my primary inspiration as a writer – but the story that I tell about the experience of motherhood – the experience of womanhood after having children – is not, strictly speaking, her story. It’s mine. Mostly. (The issue of public/private distinctions as these pertain to the quote-unquote institution of motherhood, and the idea of children as any sort of ‘property,’ are subjects for another post. Soon.) (I’ll just say this: the word ‘property’ – from the Latin proprius, meaning one’s own – doesn’t necessarily refer to chattel. Rousseau and Mill took ‘property’ to refer to the broad spectrum of things – including happiness, self-respect, family – that one might hold dearly as ‘one’s own’)

And in any case – even if one does regard my personal blog as simply one long exercise in narcissistic storytelling about life with Wonderbaby – what of it? As this blogger pointed out to me in a private conversation, why does so-called lifestyle writing in print not prompt people to generalize those writers as narcissistic nutbars or neglectful parents or – most pleasantly – pimps? Memoirs, autobiography, lifestyle op-ed columns – these have been around for a very long time, and while some such writers, I’m sure, are called narcissists, most of them have probably not had the unique pleasure of being called crazy, zombified pimps. (Most of them, however, have – from Rousseau to Sedaris – historically been men. There’s something about so-called lifestyle writing or memoir by women – online or off – that inevitably provokes hysterical name-calling and foretellings of the decline of civilization. This has everything to do with the historical consignment of women and family to the private sphere, I think, but again, that’s a subject for another post. I can only skim the surface here.)

There’s something about mothers lifting back the veil of the family that upsets people, that leads people to accuse the mothers who dare do such a thing of neglecting their maternal duties, of exploiting their children, of exposing their children to the dangers of the public sphere, of being bad. But that’s precisely what makes mom-blogging – to overuse a deservedly overused phrase – a radical act. We’ve always been told to not lift the veil. We’ve always been told to stay behind the veil, no matter what. We’ve always been told that the sanctity and well-being of our families depends upon the integrity of that veil – upon modesty and privacy and keeping our struggles and our victories to ourselves. Which has, over the course of the history of Western civilization (and that of other civilizations, of course, although I cannot speak to these with any authority), kept us isolated from one another. Kept us silent.

I choose not to be silent. I choose to tell my stories, tell – while she is young – her stories, tell the stories of she and I and our family and our place in this world and to pull meaning from those stories and to speculate on those meanings and to reflect, out loud, on what it means to be a mom in this day and age and other days and ages and all the days and ages to come. I choose to use my voice, my fingers, my keyboard to make myself heard. I choose to write. If that makes me appear, to some, a crazy, narcissistic, exploitative zombie-pimp who whores her child out for the sake of a few bucks and the self-indulgence of storytelling, then so be it.


It’s worth it. It’s so worth it.

******

Wee update: The writer of the article contacted me and asked if I wanted the offensive comments removed from the Globe and Mail site. I said no – apart from the name-calling, they’re expressing an opinion that I chose to engage with (because I think that it’s stupid and in some cases offensive, but still) and in any case, I’m not much on with censorship, unless it’s me doing it on my own site. Still… was that the right decision? Letting comments that refer to me as ‘vile’ and ‘zombified’ and ‘pimp’ stand for eternity on the interwebs? Or does open discourse require a bit of personal discomfort – perhaps more than I’m used to – sometimes?