Going (Semi-)Viral

A funny thing happened this past week. A friend of mine shared an upsetting incident on Facebook where she experienced public prejudice against breast-feeding. Her story then went viral, earning (well-deserved) media coverage and public outrage.

That’s not the funny part. The funny thing is what happened next: I wrote a blog post about the event, and then I went viral, too.

See exhibit A, WordPress’s visitor stats summary for JALC during the last couple weeks:

stats copy

The August 12-19 stretch shows me with my customary rate of site visitors — usually somewhere in the 15-25 range, with slight upticks and down-drops depending on factors like weekday vs. weekend, if I skipped a day, etc.

August 20 is when I posted about Ingrid’s experience: you can already see the uptick to 60 site visitors in those hours between hitting “Publish” and midnight, as a few folks started sharing my post within their own networks.

The next day, August 21st was when things hit big (relatively speaking). Yeah, that’s more than 400 hits — and from there, things have dropped off until yesterday and today I seem to have re-equalized back where I started.

So, all told, this is a very mild flavor of “going viral,” as compared to Youtube videos that get hundreds of thousands, or even millions of hits. Still, it was such a disproportionate spike in attention that it feels like the junior baby blogger version of “going viral.” And the sorts of study and self-examination the experience has invited for me — well, I wonder how different these reflections would be if I were talking about 4,000 hits rather than 400. I’m thinking: perhaps not that different at all.

First: Who woulda thunk it? For the most part, my writing here on JALC has been divorced from expectations about achieving any particular readership level on any timetable. The practice for me has been a practice of showing up, of experimenting with regular, focused writing. Finding my voice again. Yes, at some level there’s the prayer of my words being read and having positive impact — otherwise I’d just be writing in my diary rather than in a blog. But I’ve maintained a pretty decent level of non-attachment from any expectations about how many readers I want to have and how quickly I want them to appear.

And if you asked child-free me what sort of post I’d predict might be the first one to get public traction, there’s no way on this earth I would have predicted it be something about breast-feeding and the mommy wars. Talk about a subject that’s completely outside of my field of knowledge! (Okay, not completely, since I do have breasts as an anatomical feature of my body. But still.)  You never know what’s going to hit a nerve and garner that flash of attention. Like catching lightning in a bottle, that is. Write something true and honest and authentic, and I guess sometimes it’ll hit a nerve, fall in with a moment of zeitgeist. But to predict what’s going to hit that zeitgeist energy? Not within my current powers, as so clearly evidenced by the disconnect between my expectations and the actual happening of which JALC post first topped 550 views.

SecondYou never know what’s going to hit a nerve and garner that flash of attention. I’ll admit, however well I’ve maintained a state of non-attachment around my readership numbers where they were at a low and steady pace, that there was something sincerely exciting about seeing the bar graph keep climbing during the 21st. And when I sat down the evening of the 21st to write my first post-viral post, I could absolutely feel myself on a precipice. Feeling the demand that I “measure up” to this new level I’d achieved, feeling the temptation towards finding some other juicy topic that’d be “click bait” and that could build some kind of popularity for myself.

I walked myself back from that precipice, reminding myself: it’s like catching lightning in a bottle, that is. All I can do is continue showing up at the screen, writing as true and authentically as I can, taking on the topics that grab me and won’t let go until I say what I have to say. That’s why I wrote my post to begin with — even though I’ve spent years trying not to comment on parenting choices or the mommy wars. Something about Ingrid’s story just grabbed me, and I couldn’t rest until I wrote about it. That’s the feeling I need to keep following: I can’t rest until I write about this, rather than I think this will get good traffic.

So who knows? Maybe another post of mine will hit a zeitgeist moment a few weeks from now. Or a few years from now. Or never again. It’s all in service, however it unfolds.

I just need to keep in the practice of it. Say it plain, say it true. Stay as authentic as I can be.

“Showing Up” In Virtual Space

Okay, I’ll admit: I am not feeling flush with inspiration tonight. I’ve looked at some of the go-to feminist sources on my Facebook feed for something to pontificate about. I’ve been thinking about what’s going on in my life to see if there’s something insightful or reflective that I want to say. And I got nuthin’.

However, I’m quite aware that I skipped posting Friday and Saturday night (though I did try and compensate with a split-the-difference Saturday afternoon post), so I’d like to turn that trajectory around by getting something up.

secret-to-bestseller

Especially since I’ll be off-the-grid at the end of this coming week and through the weekend — meaning, inevitably, more silence — and it’s another crazy deadlines week starting tomorrow — which may mean yet still more silence.

So what’s a young girl middle-aged blogger to do?

———-

I’m sure we’ve all heard, at one time or another, the notion that the most important ingredient to any learning/mastery/creative process is to “just show up!”

For example, this quote from an interview with Isabel Allende:

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

Show up. Show up in front of the computer or the typewriter. And if I show up long enough – it happens.

Or this post from a blogger who cautions against advice that makes writing seem too “difficult” — an excuse for us to continue procrastinating, he says — and who insists on the simple necessity of the “just show up” message:

I am not about to tell you that writing is easy. Writing is hard. Writers never stop fearing that what they write isn’t good enough. They can’t come up with good ideas. They come up with brilliant ideas that don’t work. They write terrible things and good things. And they try to make sure that people never see the terrible things, and that as many as possible see the good things.

No writer I know thinks writing is easy.

But no writer I know thinks writing is complicated.

If you’ve been waiting to write because you think that one day someone will give you the advice that makes writing easy, stop waiting. No one can make it easy.

All we can do is make it simple.

Show up. Write.

Or there’s any number of similar sentiments in this collection of bits of writing advice from actual real writers.*

And I get this approach. I do. I believe in this approach. Even though I eventually decided not to finish my dissertation or my Ph.D., I will tell you that my most productive months on that project were once I was able to shift from a place of full-on “frozen by depression and writer’s block” to embracing the idea of daily writing on the project. Every day, putting my inner critic into her lockbox for at least a tiny little bit and putting fresh words on the page. (I know the recommendation of a Ph.D. dropout may not mean much in this context, but this was one of my productivity bibles. I can’t speak highly enough for how it benefitted my life and my work.)

So, yes, I’m a believer in “just” showing up at the page.** It’s why I strive for a daily journal-writing practice. It’s why I am often the one at work most willing to send out that “sacrificial first draft” to get a project moving. (‘Cos this much I know for sure: if we don’t get started, we ain’t never getting to the finish line.)

Mucha-MuseIn short: I am not the kind of writer who sits waiting for my muse to waft in looking like an Alphonse Mucha engraving, with her artful Art Nouveau tresses and dresses wafting on an unseen breeze. But I’m not yet sure I’ve figured out the finer points of bringing this insight into my blogging practice.

Because everything I know about “showing up at the page” is predicated on the notion of there being a first draft — whether you call it “sacrificial” or, following Anne Lamott, “shitty” — and then an editing process by which the first draft becomes something more polished, worthy of publication. But when the draft-to-publish cycle is as truncated as it is in the blogosphere, what does it look like to have the practice of showing up at the (web)page? Does it mean publishing things that are half-formed, rougher? (In short, publishing shittier things?) Does it mean cultivating more of a practice of drafting, revising, and editing for blogposts? (Which, I’ll admit, feels a touch daunting for my life’s schedule. Maybe I should cut back on even more TV…)

I don’t have this conundrum worked out yet. But, with the willingness to navel-gaze and write about the writing process, I at least found something to reflect on that justifies a post for tonight.

I’ll take care of tomorrow’s post — if there is one — tomorrow.

* ‘Scuse the snark — the post’s title, although clear as clear could be just hit a nerve tonight. D’you think maybe we’d be expecting writing advice form fry-cooks or makeup artists?

** Had to use the scare quote, ‘cos the word “just” in “just show up” kind of cheapens how essential showing up at the page is. It obscures the raw, radical courage of showing up.

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Image credits:

Secret to a bestseller: http://elizparker.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/writers-show-up-by-getting-a-writing-buddy/

Mucha, “Muse”: http://www.alfonsmucha.org/Muse.html

J is for Jetlag

Okay, so there have been a few glitches here in JALC-land.

First off was a certain irregularity in the pace of scheduled posts. This has nothing to do with WordPress and was purely operator error: I had time before we left for the airport to tag and schedule the first 4 of the 6 posts I had “in the bank.” I chose an every-other-day pace, because I assumed it’d be easy to find little bits of time during travel and evenings to quickly tag & schedule the remaining 2 posts, and also to take my Game of Thrones idea and lay some quick text down.

Except then I got swept up in vacation mode, and the pace of travel and excursions was so intense, that the blog pretty much completely left my head until I sat down on our last at-sea day (21 July) to lay down that Game of Thrones text and realized — much to my chagrin — that nothing new had ben posted since the 16th. ‘Cos I’d never actually tagged and scheduled songs number 5 and 6, you see. Whoops.

jet-lag-is-comingSecondly, I know I’ve been a touch delayed in getting back to writing since returning home. Chalk this up, as well, to a touch of over-optimism on my part about my available time and energy. We landed early evening Wednesday, and although I was wise enough to know I wouldn’t have any writing in me that night, I did expect to be ready to type something quick come Thursday. Friday, at the latest.

Reality check. I am not as young as I used to be, and it turns out I was sufficiently tired-out and jet-lagged that I was in bed at around 8:30 both Thursday and Friday night. (Yup, partying like a rock star.) So, obviously, no blogging either of those evenings.

———-

first-world-problems-shampooNow, Im hoping that none of this is coming off as whining. Because a few missed blog posts and a little bit of jet lag are a tiny price to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime European trip.

So please understand: I am not complaining about any of this. (Were I to do so, it would really be the obnoxious epitome of first world problems. To the extreme.) I am filled with gratitude for where I have travelled, what I saw, what I was able to learn. What I am sure I will continue to learn as I reflect on these weeks, and as the unwinding of my life’s journey brings new layers of meaning and insight to these events and sights.

Instead, I’m simply reporting out on the various bits of foolishness that have led to JALC being in a bit more of a gone fishin’ mode than I’d expected or hoped might occur.

Now that I am (mostly) caught up on my rest and feeling (mostly) human again, I expect to be catching up on the news, which will likely inspire the occasional feminist screed. And yes, there will be some reflections on the trip and what I learned, and my usual hodgepodge of ongoing learning, reading and introspection.

TL;DR: I’m back at the keyboard.

It’s good to be home.

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Image credit:

Jet Lag: http://www.fitacrosscultures.com/jet-lag/

First world problems: http://moneyramblings.com/first-world-problems/

 

On Modulations and Tone

(Quick hit: another proposal due tomorrow, and also much in the way of packing/preparing for the house-sitter. Still, since these grounds will be semi-fallow for a stretch of time, I am compelled to put something up, even if it’s more quotes from others’ writing than words of my own.)

tone_police_sheriffAs I’ve been expressing my outrage over various current issues during the last several weeks, I’ve been aware of a delicate push-pull within my system around the issue of tone: how to speak strongly without “going overboard.” In short, being just a little tiny bit invested in tone policing myself.

Obviously, that investment has only been a few pences’ worth — I know what bullshit tone policing is:

The tone argument is a form of derailment, or a red herring, because the tone of a statement is independent of the content of the statement in question, and calling attention to it distracts from the issue at hand. Drawing attention to the tone rather than content of a statement can allow other parties to avoid engaging with sound arguments presented in that statement, thus undermining the original party’s attempt to communicate and effectively shutting them down.

And, therefore, I don’t do a whole lot of policing myself. But I do a little.

For example, I know I’ve said the phrase “morally repugnant” a few times in the last week as I’ve been responding to SCOTUS’ shenanigans. Plenty strong of a description, I suppose. But a step or two shy of the word I hear in my head to label these decisions and the misogynist world-view they embody: evil. (Yeah, I went there.)

I’ve been lucky thus far not to have anyone outside of myself pull the tone policing card on my writing. If that had occurred, I’d probably have responded with an explanation of the ways that anger is justifiable, appropriate, and even inevitable in situations that reveal the many injustices of the kyriarchy. To quote Do or Die:

Living in a world that reminds you daily of your lesser worth as a human being can make a person very tired and emotional. When someone says something oppressive . . . it feels like being slapped in the face, to the person on the receiving end. The automatic response is emotion and pain. It’s quite exhausting and difficult to restrain the resulting anger. And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences. 

[. . .] Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be abusive, or oppressive in response to a person who fucks up. But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

And this is all true to my understanding of the world and of human psychology, and of activism and social justice work.

But a day or two ago, I happened across something that puts even another lens on the occasional necessity of outrage and outraged speech.

If you speak about injustice and privileged people get offended, people will condescendingly explain to you that things are easier to hear if you are nice, and that you are more likely to convince people if you speak to them respectfully.

This is true, and often important to keep in mind – but people who say that to you in a conversation about injustice are usually missing the point.

They’re ignoring something fundamentally important about addressing injustice: Sometimes, the goal is not to convince privileged people to treat others better. Sometimes, the goal is to convince marginalized people that the way they are being treated is unjust and that it’s possible to resist.

Now, I’ll admit to the smallest bit of discomfort about the phraseology around “convincing marginalized people . . . that it’s possible to resist.” Something about it rings a bit too close to “white savior” territory for my liking.

Nonetheless, there’s a piece of this that’s really opening my perspective. What are the ways my writing is for the public (it is in a public forum after all), and what are the ways I am the primary beneficiary of my words? How does my writing help me overcome the habits of self-silencing?  Are there times I’m hoping to change minds and hearts, and other times where I have no expectation to “convert” disbelievers but simply need to sound a rallying cry for myself, my friends, my allies? Or sometimes a paradoxical mixture of both those strands?

What my purpose for writing isn’t an either/or but instead is a plurality, a yes/and?

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Image credit: http://thetonepolice.tumblr.com

25 Songs in Slightly-More Days

I mentioned in passing that we have a bit of a family trip coming up in July: Mr. Mezzo and I will be cruising the Baltic on one of those once-in-a-lifetime before the kids grow up and leave us in the dust trips. (My sister’s kids, not mine.)

OUAT-my-feelsAs much as there is part of me that would want to try and keep up with my posting and with current events while we are a-travelling — so many news stories! so many feels about those news stories! —

In the mature part of my heart and brain, I know that to try and do that would quite simply be bananas. Although I think we’ll be able to find some sort of “Internet cafe” on the boat, I don’t want to count on a robust enough wifi connection to sustain my long-windedness. Besides, this truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’d like to give myself the chance to really experience it, rather than be devoting my energy to surfing the news sites and waxing loquacious about what I find. Slate, Salon and HuffPo will all still be going strong when I get back stateside…

But I also don’t want to leave JALC completely shuttered for the time we’re a-sea. So, I’m going to start (slowly!) taking on a “25 songs in 25 days” blog challenge I stumbled across.

25-songs-25-days

It seemed one of those challenges that was tailor-made for me. After all, when asked to write about only three songs back during the Writing 101 experience, I was kind of jammed up by needing to reduce all my passion for music into only three pieces. (And even then, I stretched it to four songs, rather than three. *grin*)

I also like how instead of just asking something banally impossible like “What’s your favorite song?” — favorite for what purpose? in what context? current favorite or for-the-most-of-my-life favorite? — these questions are asked from very specific lenses. I think it’ll be fun to see where these different angles of inquiry take me.

So here’s the plan. During this holiday weekend, alongside of the packing, the Wimbeldon-watching, the last-minute shopping and the job-work I need to do, I’ll be responding to the first however-many of the prompts on this list: as many as I’m able to, but you can see that I do have a few other things on the to-do list. So I’ll just have to see how many I get written.

Whatever that number is, I’ll use the handy scheduling feature (thank you, WordPress!) to scatter those song posts semi-evenly throughout the time we’re away. That way, there’s at least a little bit of activity on JALC, and it’ll also be a cool chance for me to talk about something — music — that has always been an important part of my life.

I’ll chip my way through the remainder of the 25 songs list once I’m back in the States. So it’ll definitely take me more than 25 days, but it’ll still be a fun project.

 

Of Conversation and Community

fremont-troll-bridgeI’ve been thinking about comment policies today. You see, there’s  a comment sitting in the mod-queue for yesterday morning’s post about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It’s mildly snarky, not particularly offensive in its content — no slurs, hate speech, or anything like that. But the one-liner is also sufficiently, provocatively disconnected from the facts and the issues at hand that I keep asking myself: “Are you someone trying to have a sincere disagreement, or are you just a troll?

To borrow an operative definition from Hubspot:

Trollers are people who leave comments on posts to try to get a rise out of either the author, or other commenters. The best practice for dealing with trolls comes down to one easy-to-remember phrase: Don’t feed the trolls. This means the more you engage with trolls, the bigger and stronger they become — that’s what they want! To get a rise out of you.

So the distinction I’m trying to spot is whether A) the would-be commenter strongly disagrees with my politics but is wiling to have a substantive discussion, or if B) the sole purpose of the provocative one-liner is to be a shit-stirrer. And of course, with nothing but words on a screen and my regrettable lack of psychic insight to go on, that is a very hard distinction to distinct.

Are you human or troll?

It’s a little bit of a conundrum. Do I delete the would-be-comment and take the chance that I’m silencing someone who’s coming from a real-person rather than a trollish perspective? Or do I approve the comment, respond to its reality-disconnect, and take the risk of getting dragged underneath the troll bridge? It’s a tricky, charged decision. Not because of this one specific comment on its own — again, let me acknowledge that it’s more a snarky one-liner than anything else — but because my choice today carries the weight of creating a precedent for how I may address disagreement, dissension and doucehoundery on JALC in the future.

I’ve been thinking about the aggressively clear commenting policies at two of the feminist communities I’ve long-admired: Shapely Prose (where I participated) and Shakesville (where I’ve not participated but look admiringly from afar). Both of these documents are the result of years of community-building, resulting in a vibrant commentariat and also an astronomically high frequency of trolls and bigots targeting their posts and threads for attention. Obviously, JALC is a baby newborn blog, with a teeny-tiny readership and an even smaller community (if that term can even legitimately be applied.) So a lot of what those policies contain aren’t on-point for me. I do not have or need a group of co-moderators to keep up with the comment traffic, nor do I yet have an establishing commenting culture I need/want to protect.

And yet, there are value statements in those policies that ring true to me.

Whether you can comment at Shakesville is ultimately at our discretion—and plaintive, angry, or accusatory wailing about free speech will be met with yawning indifference. This isn’t a public square. This is a safe space. (Shakesville.)

I am not a representative of the government; when I tell you, directly or indirectly, to shut up, it does not in any way violate your Constitutional rights. If you want to speak freely, the fine folks at WordPress will be happy to provide you with the exact same kind of platform I use. . . . [W]e have probably, on occasion, banned or berated a perfectly decent person who might have eventually blossomed into the kind of commenter we can’t wait to hear from. And you know what? We’re okay with that. We’re not proud of it, and we certainly don’t set out to exclude bright, interesting people from the conversation here. But if it happens every now and again, oh well — because overall, our being hardasses helps keep this blog readable and only rarely crazy making. (Shapely Prose)

All of this is resonant with the sort of community I would want to create, if I am ever so fortunate as to have JALC (or some future endeavor) blossom into becoming an online community. And you know what? Even though I feel an embarrassing level of grandiosity in modeling my choices after these communities that have literally changed my life for the better, there’s another, more immediate lens through which I’ve been contemplating my decision.

If nothing else is certain, I know the would-be comment is an anti-feminist statement. And there are so many other places in the world where the patriarchy and the kyriarchy hold sway as the dominant discourse. (Exhibit A: SCOTUS and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.*)

Do I really need to give that perspective untrammeled sway in my own digital living room? No, no I do not:

My blog is my living room in my home. I set the rules. I determine the tone. I determine the topic of conversation. When you post a comment on my site, you agree to abide by my rules, you stick to the topics I determined, and you keep the tone I deem OK to be used in my home (imagine reading out loud your comment in front of my wife, mother and kids). I have the right to warn you and to kick you out of my home – it’s my party, after all. You have no right to be here, no right to say anything – it is up to me to welcome you here, and up to you to ensure you are welcomed. (A Blog around the Clock)

So, ultimately, would-be commenter: I’m sorry not-really-all-that-sorry, but your comment will not be getting airplay this week. It’s not as if I’m setting a zero-tolerance policy for anti-feminist speech here on JALC. (Not yet, at least.) But anti-feminist speech that looks a bit more trollish than human?

Just not worth the odds.

* And also McCullen v. Coakley. (But as far as the June 26th decision goes? I can’t even, right now. Not enough spoons.)

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Image credit: http://mystrangefamily.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/under-the-bridge-with-the-fremont-troll/

 

Jukebox Memories

[Set-up] Okay, the Writing 101 folks are definitely on a roll with their advocacy of free-writing. Today’s prompt (Day 3!) is partly about a topic, but it’s mostly about committing yourself to a daily, full-out free-writing practice, a la Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones — no stopping, no editing, just allowing yourself to lose control and get beyond the self-censoring into the marrow of things.

Now, I don’t necessarily have a complaint against this notion in the abstract (says she with the daily morning pages/soul writing practice). I’m less convinced about my willingness to post that level of unexpurgated free-write out for all to see. For me, the thing about free-writing is exactly the way it functions as a safe space to be messy and uncontrolled and just blurt out every molecule, knowing that you can then build on the raw passion and bring in craft and shape and structure. (Do you know how hard Kerouac worked to craft that “spontaneous voice” in On the Road?!?)

But anyhow, I’m going to play the good student, set my timer for 15 minutes and type like a madwoman (in the attic?) on the topic at hand. After that, I’ll decide whether to hit “publish” or to save the free-write content as a private artifact while shaping a public blog-post.

Oh, and the topic? “Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?” [/Set-up]

musicThis is as unfair a question as you could possibly ask. Only three? You have got to be kidding me. With as important as music has been in my life, the idea of narrowing my life down to a jukebox with only three 45s in it is simply ludicrous.

But here’s a first thought. “Carol of the Birds” — French, maybe 14th or 15th century? It was the first time I sang a solo in a choir/stage performance. 3rd grade (we were Brasil at the time, not that that’s a pertinent detail), preparing for the Christmas concert. This was back in the days that schools still had music programs, so a Christmas concert was a regular kind of event. And the full “choir” — elementary classes — sang verses 1 and 3, with then little old me singing verse two. I honestly can’t remember at this distance whether there was an audition, whether I was just selected, whether I shared the solo with another girl. I just remember it being the first chance I really sang on my own in a public performance, and, for better and for worse, that was the start of the many years of singing and performing I have had to this day. With the love of music and expression and also all the greedy ego-desire for the spotlight and for acknowledgement. It’s such an obscure little carol that I have at least one CD in my holiday music collection that I keep primarily because it has a version of that carol on it. (Not that the rest of the CD sucks, it’s just a generally unexceptional playlist and performance style. But then this one song with all the depth of personal meaning and memory it inspires for me.)

During all my reading around the Isla Vista murders, I somehow stumbled across an article about Tori Amos and her song “Me and a Gun,” and the way it’s served as a galvanizing inspiration for women to share their own stories of sexual assault and sexual violence. Having said that and implied I might be writing my own similar thing, I’m actually going to take a slight left turn and say that the Tori Amos song that’s ringing in my head since that story is actually “Silent all These Years.” It has some of the same tone of surviving past traumas and finding one’s voice. Which are both things that speak pretty deeply to me. Thinking of the ways I’ve talked, at least obliquely, at some of my past patterns of keeping myself contained and hidden, and the stumbling efforts I take now and again to find ways to speak the truth. (I hate saying the phrase “my truth” because it has a bit of self-indulgent “new age” tone to it. Like, let me inform you about MY truth and therefore ignore your lived experience and perspective.  Though saying some thing is baldly THE truth doesn’t really do any better at ALL to ease the idea of denying other perspectives and experiences.) Anyhow, “I’ve been here, silent all these years” is ringing in my mind’s ear. I was here all along. Keeping silent, but I was here all along.

And why don’t I go the somewhat cliched route and talk about a wedding song? Our first dance was to Jason Mraz’s — what the hell is the title? this is fucking embarrassing. I can hear the tune in my head.

Okay shift. Let’s think about “Here Comes the Sun” — the James Taylor/Yo-Yo Ma arrangement that was the inspiration for our wedding musicians (flute and guitar) for a key moment in the ceremony: taking two roses from separate vases and then putting them in a vase together to signifying the joining and interweaving of two lives into one. Simple and somewhat cliche, and at some level you’d kind of expect it to be a little silly, since we’d been living together for 5 years or so by the time the wedding day rolled around. And yet this simple piece of ritual was incredibly moving and meaningful, and then as we stood holding each other’s hands and there was still a whole lot of song left to listen two, both Mr. Mezzo and I came close to finally losing our cool and becoming soggy weeping-with-joy sorts of messes.

And that’s a good stall tactic, but I still can’t remember the Mraz song.

Oh you done done  me [. . . ] so hot that I melted.”  Trying frantically to come up with more of the lyrics so I could maybe get my way to the title. This is really embarrassing. Anyhow, whenever we hear the song come on the radio, we normally dance for a t least a few seconds’ time. We’ve done that in grocery stores, in the middle of cooking, all kinds of unexpected moments and places. So I guess it’s not the title or the words that are most important to me. It’s that feeling of hearing the particular lilt of rhythm and melody and then celebrating.

Buzz!

[Post mortem] I am constitutionally unable to send this out into the world without at least correcting the spelling errors — because otherwise, I’m not so sure this would even be intelligible as English. Beyond that, I’m going to let this go up as-is, not especially ‘cos I’m thrilled about it but because it’s an insanely busy week at work. Started editing at 4 AM this morning, will have to do the same tomorrow, so there’s just not enough awake minutes left in my system for me to come up with a better alternative.

Oh? And here’s the song I blanked on. Unsurprisingly, the title came back to me within 90 seconds of that damn buzzer ringing….

[/Post mortem]

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Image credit: http://wantoncreation.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/my-top-ten-bands-music-monday-3/

For Neither Fame nor Money

Five years ago,* I started this blog to create a space for my self-education about fat acceptance, within the larger of context of my ongoing work to increase my capacity for self-acceptance and self-love.

Three months ago,** I came back here to continue that project, but with the more specific goal of using the structure of blogging to remain awake and in the study of my HCG experience as a detox journey, providing a quiet counter-narrative to the usual emphasis on HCG as a weight loss tool.

With the end of my HCG protocol, I’ve been a little bit wondering where to focus my blogging. The Isla Vista killings have provided a temporary focus in the 10 days since I completed my HCG experience, but I know I won’t be spending the rest of my writing life unpacking that one incident and its ramifications.***

So, once again, I’m grappling a bit with the question of “What am I doing here and what is it that I have/want to write about?”

I’m glad to say there’s been no pull towards stopping. I know to my bones that there something in the structure of writing here that has been beneficial for me. But a lot of the the conventional wisdom around blogging — find your niche, stay on target, use it to pitch yourself/your company/your products — just doesn’t mesh with where I’m at.

You see, I have no plans to be monetizing my blog in the foreseeable future. This is perhaps a self-evident statement considering my low reader count, my merely-half-hearted efforts at amplifying posts via social media, and my only-just-beginning level of effort to read all the other great writing out in the blogosphere and participate via follows and comments.

So, aside from the quirkiness that is me, I don’t entirely know what my niche is. And my interests are potentially wide-ranging enough to completely obliterate any hope of “niche” or “focus” or “staying on target.”

Challenge-AcceptedI’ve decided to take part in The Daily Post’s Writing 101 blogging challenge, in hopes that that structure might give a playground to help explore some of this territory. I’ve been looking over some of the archived prompts from recent Blogging 101 and Blogging 201 challenges, and I’m thinking some of those topics might also be fruitful tools for this exploration. (Even if I remain quite fuzzy around what it means to think about establishing a “brand” in this non-business non-monetizing headspace I’m in around my writing.)

I haven’t seen the first Writing 101 prompt, so I’m not sure how easily they’ll mesh with the other sorts of topics I want to be exploring. I do still have more ruminations sparked by Isla Vista, and then there’s events elsewhere in the world that also have me Thinking and Feeling things. If the prompts don’t interweave readily with the ongoing threads of my writing, I’m not quite sure how I’ll handle the time management required by “doubling up” on my posting.**** (And let’s not even get into the fact that I’ve also started re-establishing the daily ritual of morning pages/soul writing.)

I’ll figure all this writing out, one way or another. If nothing else, I can cut back on TV or embrace a little bit of sleep deprivation in my June….

* Give or take a month or so.

** Give or take a week or so.

*** Although there are legitimately a LOT of ramifications that could productively bear some examination.

**** Luckily, WordPress’s scheduling functionality allows me to stagger when things go online — like this very post, which was written in fits and starts over the weekend but has been scheduled to “go up” late Monday morning, East Coast time.

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Image credit: http://bunburyinthestacks.com/challenges/challenge-accepted/

Permission to Speak

One week later and I’m still reading and link-collecting and doing a lot of thinking about the Isla Vista murders. Part of me feels apologetic about this, even self-indulgent. After all, I wasn’t even remotely affected directly by these events. I have no six-degrees-of-separation ties to any of the individuals involved or to the locations where the events occurred. (I mean, yes, I was born in the same state, but we moved away from CA before I turned two, and I have zero sense of myself as a west coaster.* I don’t even know where Santa Barbara is in geographic relation to my birthplace.)

gag orderSo there’s lots of ways that I’m privileged to have some distance from these events: a fact for which I am extremely grateful, and one which also makes me somewhat embarrassed to be giving it such brain-space and blog-space. I even felt the temptation to title “Yet Another Post” from me about these events with some variant on the plea “Stop me, before I post again!

But then I read this post from the Standing on the Side of Love blog.** In it, the author juxtaposes the legacy of Elliot Rodger’s misogynist writings and videos with the passing of Maya Angelou and her legacy of speaking out about the existence and effects of sexual violence. Then both of these events were further counterpointed against the simultaneously bombshell and matter-of-fact observation that in the week prior to writing her post, the blogger herself had been sexually assaulted.

These milestones all occurring this week make it so clear to me that patriarchy still rules our society, that sexual assault and misogyny are not limited to one incident but are a ubiquitous threat, in varying levels, to all of us. The humanity of every person is threatened by this reality. I wanted to share my story both to help me heal personally, and to provide information that yes, all women, and all people of all gender identities might find useful.

And then, in following the links from that post and my Facebook feed, I came across two other sites. First, a report on a study which reveals the way adolescent and tween girls understand (and wildly under-report) sexual harassment “as ‘normal stuff’ that ‘just happens’ because it’s what ‘guys do.'” Then there’s the tumblr analogue of the #YesAllWomen twitter movement: When Women Refuse, a collection of stories about domestic and sexual violence that is intended to demonstrate “that Rodger’s mass murder was not an anomaly, but instead part of a larger cultural pattern of violence against women.”

And I thought about my own checkered history of experiencing sexual violence, street harassment and misogyny. The rape in college. Years in Philly which were very mild, all things considered, but still contained a few catcall/honking incidents, the occasional groping, and a couple drunken “encounters” where I wasn’t entirely sure in my (inebriated) head that it’d be a good idea to “back out now.” And all of that happened soaked in the cultural miasma of a patriarchal system. For example: the many incidents throughout my schooling where the message from peers (and some teachers/administrators) was that I was too smart, too ambitious, too opinionated for a girl to be. And so part of the lessons I took from my childhood were about learning to live small, stay quiet, conceal the truth of my mind’s intelligence and my heart’s wisdom.

I am not sharing this in hopes of earning my own “victim cred,” nor to make a simplistic point about how my past experiences make it “okay” for me to be as deeply affected by last weekend’s events as I have been. Well, maybe it’s a bit of yes and no on that last point. Yes, it’s likely my resonance with these events and the ensuing discourse has been deepened by my own past traumas. But no, I don’t need any sort of excuse to be thinking or feeling deeply about this — or about anything else, for that matter.

It’s a messy tangle, rather than a straight line trajectory (this is why the metaphor to miasma is so present with me right now), but I am certain there’s a web of connections between the cultural expectations of women’s silence,docility, and availability; the patterns of sexual violence, harassment, and patriarchal retribution that have come so harshly to light this past week; and my own instincts towards self-silencing as I considered writing “Yet Another Post” touching on these issues.

But it’s a knot that needs untangling. And so I keep writing — even if sometimes all I’m writing about is about the right to write.

Every hard-fought sentence, every awkward phrase, every word a prayer. May we release this. May we be healed.

* Nope. I’m a New Englander, through and through, no matter what my birth certificate says.

** Yay, Unitarian Universalists!!

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Image credit: http://ravenblackcat.com/blog/2012/5/18/countdown-to-blackout-anxiety-a-gag-order.html

A Dinosaur with a Quill

I work in a very laptop-obsessed office. Every meeting we have is vaguely comical: all of us clustered around a table together and making zero eye contact because so many of us are staring at the screen and/or typing busily away taking notes. It’s especially funny in the offices furnished more by a bistro table than an actual conference table — imagine, if you will, some bizarre version of office jenga.

DINO_PEN_COL_921211fI’m not going to say I’m immune to exhibiting some of these behaviors myself. I carry my laptop into most meetings, in case something comes up in conversation that I need to pull down off a website or pull up out of my email or the document server. But unless I’m capturing the formal minutes of a meeting, I don’t usually use the computer to take notes. Instead, I use the old-fashioned tools of pen and paper.

Yes, I know: this makes me a veritable dinosaur in the contemporary work world. I’ve even read a viciously dismissive article by an Evernote aficionado* that talks about how anyone who takes pen and paper notes automatically loses her respect:

I knew right away, when you walked in here with a paper notebook — a paper notebook! — I realized that this meeting was not going to be a good use of our time. . . . You could be one of those romantic types who say that the visceral process of putting pen on paper liberates your creativity and engages lateral thinking. If you’re an after-hours poet, then, yes, that paper notebook will come in handy. For this, though, can you please go back and grab your laptop?

I’ve tried multiple times to adopt electronic note-taking methods. Nothing yet has worked to my satisfaction. I’m not sure that nothing ever will, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself, some stretch of time in the future, trying another technique, another structure, another iPad app, to crack the note-taking enigma.

But for now, I’m at peace with my antiquated habits. Especially now that I’ve tucked away these two articles (one and two) that suggest my handwriting habits may not be such a bad thing after all. Both articles summarize a study done at UCLA (or was it Princeton? the study authors split their affiliations between those two universities, but I’m fuzzier about which campus actually housed the research) comparing the efficacy of typed note-taking versus handwritten notes. As summarized by Wray Herbert in HuffPo:

Those who took notes in longhand, and were able to study, did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment — better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures. That is, they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording, but they nevertheless did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning. Taken together, these results suggest that longhand notes not only lead to higher quality learning in the first place; they are also a superior strategy for storing new learning for later study. Or, quite possibly, these two effects interact for greater academic performance overall.

The scientists had an additional, intriguing finding. At one point, they told some of the laptop users explicitly not to simply transcribe the lectures word-by-word. This intervention failed completely. The laptop users still made verbatim notes, which diminished their learning. Apparently there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing. And there is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information — and instead to process and reframe information in their own words.

Take that, bitchy Evernote ambassador! Science trumps your unfounded assumptions and prejudice! (Actually, science probably won’t do a damn thing to chip away at Ms. Evernote’s preconceptions. We always cling mostly strongly to the myths that are most unfounded.)

Anyhow, I’m sure there’s a connection between my old school pen-and-paperness at work and the continued parallelism of me blogging while maintaining a pen-and-paper journal as well.

Sometimes my diarizing feeds into the blog: keeping a physical journal can help me have space to process and synthesize things prior to presenting them out here. Sometimes the diarizing stays contained on the notebook pages: a place to process things that are too raw, too private, or just too far off-topic to make sense here. So, partly because of the ways it supports my writing on JALC, and partly for how it supports my life outside of here, I see myself happily filling more notebooks with pen-scribbles for years to come.

* Who is oh-so-coincidentally hawking her own “How to Use Evernote Effectively” e-book.

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Image credit: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/with-ipad-and-notebook-around-who-needs-a-pen-anymore/article2883480.ece