Talkin’ ’bout my generation

9 12 2010

My blog-friend Mo at the Daily Snark has nabbed something which has been bothering, and eluding, me for a while:

I wonder if my focus is too broad. Or not broad enough. I’ve actually thought about abandoning this blog and maybe starting over. At one point I thought about starting a blog about dogs. I’ve even considered ditching blogging altogether. Which, truth be told, I don’t really want to do. . . . It’s been frustrating because I feel like I have to force myself into a niche but I don’t want this space to feel forced or contrived. I don’t want to make up a niche or a topic. I don’t want to be like some of the bloggers who are so entrenched in their niche that they can’t break free from it even though we know and they know they should have a long time ago. I like the freedom to write about anything and everything.

Yes: I want both focus and freedom.

When I started this blog, I had the idea of addressing philosophical and political matters in an accessible manner—intellectual journalism rather than academic scholarship, if you will. But I couldn’t keep my own self out of this blog, and the skew has turned much more personal than political.

I’m not terribly comfortable with that mix; however, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that I’m not terribly comfortable with that mix. I don’t think life is just one thing, and if I want, in my own uncertain way to ask about the meanings of life, well, things are going to be a bit of a mess.

And, as I commented to Mo, perhaps we should reject the niche in favor of the anti-niche:

We’re in the same generation—post-boomer, Gen-X—what I used to call the Un-Generation because, unlike the boomers, there seemed to be so little to tie us all together.

So why not go with that? This is who we’ve (uncollectively collectively) have always been. We could call it the ‘dishabille’ style. . . .

We’re thrown together (in oh so many ways), so it makes its own kind of sense that our blogs—our thoughts, our writings—would reflect that.

Besides, ‘dishabille’ sounds so much more dashing than ‘slacker’.

The thrill is gone

11 06 2010

I’d have been a helluva blogger at twenty.

I tried to take in everything at that age—every last news thing, that is—and I had an opinion about everything, which I was (surprise!) not shy about expressing.

It helped that I had a weekly column with The Daily Cardinal, so I could share my views about, oh, everything, with the world.

Hot schnocolate. Platoon and ‘being there’. Sex ed. Feminism. Class.

I once started started a column with ‘Enough fucking around.’ (It was about the hostages held in Iran. I was wrong.)

Then there was the column I published about [the lack of] tolerance on the Madison campus—the day of an interview with campus officials for a scholarship. (I was asked about the column; I got the scholarship.)

I loved being in the newsroom, that sense of something always going on; I remember standing over the AP machine watching news unspool on the long roll of paper, and thinking, ‘Man, how many other people know this right now?’ And we got to tell them.

Opinions to burn, baby, I had ’em.

Still do; never lost ’em. In fact, at one lunch with a guest to a bioethics center, I introduced myself by stating ‘I have lunch and opinions.’

But I am tired. The news felt new, back then; now, it’s more of the same. There’s a kind of wisdom in that, I guess, or at least knowledge, of the sort that can only be gained with time and experience, but the frisson is missing.

That’s okay. Just as I no longer need to get roaring drunk to have a good time, and rather enjoy pulling the ‘old, old lady’ card on my students, I don’t need bubbles in my brain at the mere sight of updated headlines.

But, oh, what I could have, would have, written, back in the day, how I would have been energized rather than enervated by the constant flow of information, and how I would not have even thought to have paused before adding my own bits to that flow.

It would have been fun. I like this gig, now, this greater reflection and slow pace, but, still.

It would have been fun.

(h/t EmilyLHauser)

I must be moving on

1 02 2010

State of the union. Sarah Palin. Bipartisanship. Obama. GOP. Moderates. Health care reform. Financial reform. Don’t ask don’t tell. . . .zzzzz

Okay, no, not really. I care about all of that stuff—tho’ not, obviously, all in the same way.

But I don’t want to write about it.

No good reason not to, really. I’ve got that ol’ political science degree, a long history with American politics, and Oh! leftism to burn! Plus, I never really shut up.

Laziness? Perhaps.

Or perhaps there is one good reason not to: Someone else is already on it.

Now, in conversation, I’m more than willing to go over this stuff, rehash what others have said, reconsider my own thoughts, find out what the other person is thinking—it’s quite enjoyable, in fact. But what makes it enjoyable is the give-and-take, the mutual mulling-over, and our willingness to let ourselves dig in or get distracted down some other conversational path; what makes it enjoyable, in other words, is the other person.

But chewing over an already-well-chewed nugget of political wisdom: eh.

It’s not that all of my thoughts are original (if only. . !), or that an issue which has set off a kabillion other people won’t also set me off. But the main reason I write is to find something out. When writing fiction, I write to find out what happens. When writing nonfiction or when blogging, I write/blog to find out what I think.

This isn’t always the case, of course: there are the rants, and there are times I simply want to record an impression or observation or line of argument. Yet unless I happen to have WordPress open at the moment of or shortly after the observation, or unless an impression was so striking or has so wormed its way into me, I’m unlikely to blog about it. And sometimes I simply want to sit with a thought, let it work its way through me.

As for political commentary, well, it’s rare that I notice something that someone else hasn’t already noticed. Obama runs steady? I think one or two people have already remarked on that. Palin is as good with truth as she is with syntax? Ditto. I might find each phenomenon worth commentary, but it doesn’t have to be my commentary.

(Now, the question in politics as to the role of truth, lies, and lies which believe themselves to be truths—now that’s worth some thought. . . .)

I’m not trying to be precious or present this position as a particularly principled one. This is more about temperament than integrity: I get bored by the repetition, and can only motivate myself with the prospect of discovery.

(This is not unrelated to why I left academia—but that’s another post.)

If it’s already been done, and done well, I pause, applaud—then move on.

Like a bird on a wire

28 02 2009

Tweet tweet, warble warble, titter twit. . .


Yeah, that’s one question I have about Twitter: Does it turn us into twits?

I get it: You can pass along bits of information quickly and efficiently to large numbers of people. This can be useful, as in letting underage party goers know that the cops are coming—and even politically useful, as in letting activists know that the cops are coming. So I’m not anti-Twitter.

But I am skeptical. I awoke to NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday and a conversation between Scott Simon, Daniel Schorr, and some guy named Adam (?). As I was still in the process of rousing myself, I missed some of it (I’ll go back and listen to whole thing tomorrow), but I did get to hear Schorr’s main reservation about Twittering, namely, editing. Editing matters, he noted, not just in cleaning up the language, but in attempting to get the story right. Ain’t much editing happening among the Twits.

Now, one kind of reasonable response to this is to say that while any one Twit may not edit, a kind of ‘mass editing’ can occur, to wit: multiple witnesses to or participants in a particular event may offer alternate versions of the event, either at the same time or after the original Tweet. Yes, there’s the telephone game problem (information is distorted as it’s passed along), but, again, multiple tweets could obviate any distortion. On balance, then, I think conscientious Twits can add to good information about an event.

My concern is somewhat different: What happens to thinking? Twittering sends out small packets of data all at once about a breaking event; where is the reflection about that event? Where is the context, the history, the stories beneath the story? One gets information; does one get understanding?

I’ve already written about the distinction I make between blogging and writing—that I consider blogging draft-ier and less careful than writing—and it seems that there’s another set of distinctions to be made. Twittering, in the main, seems even draftier than blogging, information  on-the-fly (or wing?). Again, this isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t supplant other forms of communication.  Do Twits tweet and move on? In other words, what happens to the event after the event?

Some bloggers crow about the death of so-called dead-tree journalism, but it takes a hell of a lot of resources to be able to cover a story deeply and well. And as a blogger, I freely admit my parasitism on journalism: I need the much-maligned MSM to tell me about the world. But I don’t rely just on newspapers and radio; I regularly turn to magazines and books to drill into a story or phenomenon. Perhaps Twitter could be considered as the opening link to the already-existing chain of information. It’s a clue, a data bit, a passing word which leads to further exploration, to a news story, to multiple news stories, to books.

Do I carry the analogy further? From tweet to a few bars to a whole composition, repeatedly performed?

No, I didn’t think so.

Anyway. I don’t tweet, just as I don’t text. (Texting just seems a private form of twittering; given that I think that any use of Twitter is in the social information transfer, texting seems, mm, useless. I’ll save the justification for that judgement for later—or never.) A coupla’ months ago my friend S. gave me information on Twitter, and it all seemed so exhausting.

It still seems exhausting. But perhaps I’ll go back and look at the info again.

Reflection, leading to reconsideration. Look what Twitter hath wrought!

Targets and stray arrows

3 01 2009

The Dawn Chorus linked to this story in the (Australian) Courier-Mail, ‘Economic decline sees return of 1950s housewife.’ An (apparent) DIY sensibility toward food and clothing = housewifery!

That’s right, girls and boys, any turning away from corporate culture means a return to those mystical 1950s gender roles. After all, MEN certainly couldn’t be interested in gardening, cooking, or sewing, could they?

After all, the poll embedded in the story asks: Where should a woman’s place be?

Possible answers: In the home; in the workplace; both; wherever she wants.

Ha. Now, about man’s place. . . .


C.’s blog is finally up and running. I’d been nagging and trying not to nag her into getting this sucker going, not least because I’m looking forward to our conversations and arguments.

Check it out. I’m expecting brilliance. (But no pressure, C.)


Reconnected with an old friend/colleague from my FelineCity days. Ct. works at a university in Ontario, and writes on nationalism (among other matters).

It is directly a result of her arguments in favor of some versions of nationalism that has caused me to rethink my absolutist stance against it. I’m still a skeptic, but Ct.’s observations that nationalism isn’t always exclusionary or aggressive (and that, sometimes, even when it is, it has its purposes) has intruded in and unsettled my thoughts over the years.

So I’m glad she’s back. A friend who can calmly unsettle you is a good thing!


I never read blogs before I started writing my own. I have my regulars now (some of which—the political ones, natch—send me into a ditch screaming), but I still poke around, looking for something to catch me.

Admittedly, this is partly out of self-interest: I’d like it if others would be willing to be caught by me.

But it’s not all calculation, given that I find sites I truly enjoy. Mo at The DailySnark cracks me up, and I’ve just started reading bandnerdtx.

Should I overreach and say that this approach justifies my avidity for messiness? That a mix of motives can itself increase hybridity, leading one ever further into. . . .

Okay, okay, I’ll save me huffin’ an’ puffin’ fer another day.


Struck by silence. Still in the midst of Tremlett’s Ghosts of Spain, and he makes much of both silence and forgetting. (They are not, of course, the same thing, and the holding of one’s tongue can, in some circumstances, lead to the preservation of memory. But I’ll save that for another time.)

I tend to think well of silence, seeing it (among other things) as a refuge from authority. I’m a terrible liar, but even I, of the endless words, knows how—and when—to keep my mouth shut. Sometimes silence is the only defense one has.

Of course, silence can also be self-defeating. Silence while in a therapist’s office, for example, tends to work against the purpose of therapy. Still, my determination to hold my tongue did lead me quickly to end one budding therapeutic relationship:

I was in college, self-destructive, and, uh, encouraged by the dean’s office at BigTenU to seek therapy. So I saw one person, N., who I quite liked but couldn’t afford. She recommended J., a resident. It was not a good match. J. had a very clear sense of how therapy should work, and that included the iron-clad rule that the client start every session. Not a word from her until I spoke. And when she did speak, she tended to repeat what I just said. So I became less and less willing to speak. I would sit silently five, ten, minutes, watching her shift in her seat, in full-concentration mode, waiting. By the last session (four or five, I think), I said nothing for almost thirty minutes. I looked at the plant.

Did I mention that she was recording the session to discuss later with her supervisor?

I returned to N. and worked with her. I was a terrible client, alternately trying to help and sabotaging my self, but I did talk.

Anyway. Silence can work as self-preservation, as I think it did with J., but I would also use it as, if not precisely a weapon, then a shield, in therapy with both N. and K. These were good therapists, and I did myself no favors in withholding information from them. Even so, N. and K. were smart enough not to get into a battle of wills with me about it: they knew the silence was for me to overcome.

Of course, authority figures often consider silence as a threat. Why not profess one’s allegiances—unless you have something to hide? Some dictators are more than happy with silence—keep the populace scared and alone—but others hear treason in the quiet. I’m about to start reading Orlando Figes’s The Whisperers, about life in the Stalinist USSR. I have a hunch Stalin feared everything.

Alive and kicking

17 12 2008

More or less. Troubles with the intertubes and grading and, mm, grading.

Lotsa thoughts, tho! More blather to come!

Can I save this post with a quote from Hamlet about ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and. . . .’

Damn. Can’t remember the whole thing. Still. Later.

Get offa my cloud

6 12 2008

Getting bogged in the blog.

I have in mind a couple of pieces (about abortion, morality and politics) in which I lay out a comprehensive argument, with arrows running hither and yon, connecting outliers to the center, blah blah, so as to capture as fully as possible the phenomenon under investigation.


Bit by bit, I know. Still, I used to be able to pull my thoughts together for more than a paragraph or two, so my current impatience-slash-laziness (hm, what is the connection between impatience and laziness? I’ll have to blog on that. . . .), both feeds that distraction and increases my sense that I should do. . . something.

Anyway, a coupla’ good pieces on abortion and conscience clauses from Slate:

Dahlia Lithwick notes that so-called conscience clauses only run one way, that is, those who oppose abortion (and anything contra-conceptual) may opt out of their fiduciary responsibilities to their patients any procedures or conversations related to these matters, but those who do provide abortions have to read from scripts with which they disagree and know to be medically misleadling.

And William Saletan has more on the obsfucations surrounding the morning-after pill, involving, unsurprisingly, the substitution of religious for medical definitions. My take? Hey, if you want to make a religious argument about the status of the embryo or fetus, go right ahead. But don’t misrepresent that position as the scientific or medical definition.

Shite. Now I’ll have to blog on the relationships between science, medicine, and morality. And, oh, hell, let’s throw in politics.

Okay, one last thing: the William Ayers op-ed in the New York Times, and Obama’s interactions with Ayers. There’s a lot that’s provocative in this piece, but I want to pull back and consider the larger question of conversations/arguments in the public square.

I gotta go to work, but I want to argue that it is precisely in public that one is able to meet or even consort with those with whom one disagrees, or even finds distasteful. (Remember, I’m an argue-and-eat-pie kinda gal.) I wouldn’t invite a fascist into my home, but I’d certainly talk with her outside of my house.

Shit, this could all get quite complicated quite quickly, and I really do have to go. Would it make sense to say that the public is a more a space of freedom and the home more a place of judgement or discernment?

Nah, I didn’t think so. More on this. Eventually.


Sing a song

4 12 2008

So I’ve used the same Poi Dog Pondering song for THREE posts. Yeesh. And I discovered this while checking to see if I used another title previously—which I had (neither post was published).

It’s not as if I don’t have enough song titles and lyrics to choose from. Yeah, ‘Sandra at the beach’ is explicitly about same sex love (‘no kinds of love are better than others’), but it’s not as if I require my posts and the titles or lyric bits to line up exactly. If I like a line, I use it—in this case, three times.

Gotta keep on top of things.


Is there anybody out there?

31 10 2008

No money. I don’t want this to be about money. If it’s about money then it’s about money, and not about life or philosophy or lifting yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven. Readers, yes; money, no.

I am not opposed to making money; in fact, I’d like to make more of it. It’s handy to have, especially when you want something like your own apartment or Doc Martens or a plane ticket to somewhere else. But as useful as money is, that’s all that it is, and I don’t want to have to think about it beyond its utility. In other words, enough to live a stable lower-mid-middle class life is enough for me, and enough for me not to think about it.

So when Jtt. at Job2 asked if I were trying to make money off my blog, I might have (accidentally) spit on her in my emphatic denuciations of monetization. No no no no no no no! If I try to make money off of blogging, I told her, then that’s what I’ll be thinking about, worrying about. I’ll become a saleswoman, with just another product to hustle.

Okay, she said (backing her chair away from me a little), I get it. But what about your novels? Don’t you want to make money from those?


‘Splain, please. I don’t write novels to make money, but once it’s written, once it’s done, I’d like to get it into the hands of readers. There are a couple of ways of doing that, including self-publishing, publishing it bit by bit online, or doing the whole agent-publishing house route. It’s the last option which is most likely to lead to a paycheck, as well as readers. I’d take readers without the paycheck, but if I could have both, then why not?

Still, how is monetizing (awful, awful word!) a novel different from monetizing a blog? Hm. I sense that it is, but haven’t bothered to shape that sense into thought. So, on the fly, here goes:

1. The novel is done; the blog is ongoing. When I’m novel-writing, I’m thinking only of the novel, of the characters, the plot, does this make sense, is that awkward, etc. I’m writing and editing and thinking about writing and editing, and that’s it. Once it’s done, then I might think, Oh, here’s who might like this. In other words, the pitch for the work is separate from the work itself. And, if I’d actually get off my ass and find an agent, then I wouldn’t have to worry much about the pitch at all—she would. Yes, I know that writers today are expected to help promote their own work, fine. But if/when I get published, I’ll simply be stuck into the maw of someone else’s machine and told what to do, i.e., I wouldn’t have to think much about it.

I know this sounds nuts, but it makes a kind of sense to me. The writing and the dancing-monkey functions are sufficiently separate that the latter won’t ruin the former.

Blogging, however, doesn’t have an conclusive end, and as such, couldn’t be temporally segregated from pitch. Sure, it’s possible that one could keep the two functions separate, but I don’t know that I could.

2. Novel writing requires a discipline that blogging does not. It’s work that I recognize as work, whereas blogging is, for me, an outlet rather than a discipline. Yes, I try to write at least every other day, and I (try to) take care in blogging, but, compared to the attentiveness I bring to story- or essay-writing, I’m pretty much just tossing out the words and hitting ‘publish’.

I like that I can do that. There are times when I wish I had spent more time on a thought before sending it into Cyberland, but given the kind of conversation I am trying to have with this blog’s readers (and occasional commenters), less rather than more editing seems appropriate. I am looser with words in conversation than I am in blogging, and looser in blogging than I am in writing. It’s an in-between space, and I’d like to linger here, to poke around and see what surfaces.

I don’t want to lose the linger. Were I to try to make money off of this, I fear my looseness would degrade into sloppiness, and I’d become so focussed on hits that I wouldn’t be able to see much else.

(This is already an issue for me. I want that conversation—I want readers—but I don’t want to write solely or primarily to increase my readership. I want it just to happen. And it probably won’t. You see the problem.)

3. I am full of shit. To wit: I have written for newspapers, written for money, and hold it against academic journals that they don’t pay contributors to those journals. Writing is work, goddammit, and if you want access to my work, you can pay for it. I cut out a clip from a Village Voice review awhile ago, of an author (whose name I stupidly did not include in the cutting) whose motto was ‘Fuck you, pay me’.  Yeah. Yeah!

The pinko, the writer, and the blogger in me exist in some tension, which leads to incoherent posts such as this one. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I am in no immediate danger of selling out to The Man.

Still, I think that this blather helps to clarify what might really be my problem with monetization: the pitch. I do not want to have to think about selling myself. At all. So if someone were to say Hey, blog or write for me, and I’ll take care of the pitching, I might go for it. Someone else can be the salesperson, and I can be the writer or blogger.

Not that simple, I know, not least because that someone else is going to want a product which s/he can sell. Hell, newspapers have long had to deal with the relationship between the editorial and advertising sides (does the advertising exist to support the content or does the content exist to carry the advertising), and the editorial side does not always win. And editors who shrug off advertising concerns may still assign stories based on presumed reader interest rather than the public interest.

So nothing’s pure. I know, and mostly like, that. But I’d still like to keep some parts of my life free, and allow my mind a chance to wander.

Karma police

9 09 2008

So I have sent out e-mail to a few (erm, more than a few) friends telling them about this blog.

I want readers.

But but but, I worry about readers who know me. Caught.

I want to be read, but not caught. To reveal without being revealed.

Yeah, I know: good luck with that.

My only hope is that my invited readers do not, in fact, read this.

So one way I deal with this neurosis is to badger these same readers into writing their own blogs. Come on! I say, write something! (Don’t leave me hanging out here all alone!)

Then I calm down, and say, What the hell. And I want my friends to write for the same what-the-hell reasons. And I want to hear what they have to say.

So what the hell. Start a blog. Post sketches and films and photos and weird and wonderful bits of whatever.

It’s only life.