Monday, September 30, 2013

The Space Between The Stars

Honey, I'm home.

In the last month, I've been high and low, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, I've been close to home and across the water, I've been alone and seen old friends and new. I've never strayed too far, though. I read all your comments and have responded to many, though not every one yet.

I did almost all of the things I usually do: Went on walks with my family, took countless pictures of my cats and quite a few of my feet, wrote notes on books I'm reading, on the ideas they spawned, thoughts they gave rise to, and yeah, I also followed Ariadne's tangled red thread around the internet.

What I didn't do was spend hours in front of the computer. My interest in facecrack, or endlessly reading the papers online, was pretty minimal. I read a few of my favorite blogs, but not the ones I peruse when I'm procrastinating.  I wrote a few long emails. Got lost in some research once or twice. I checked in and then, quickly checked out. I even took an internet sabbatical for five days, checking only for weather a few times,  a couple of emails, once out of necessity and once out curiosity, but always hurrying away from the next click.

And what did I feel? An emptiness, a longing? A relentless question itching for a quick, dirty, delightful Wikipedia answer?

One of the things I figured out in the past few weeks is that though the internet is addictive, and it's easy to gorge on its smorgasbord of articles and pictures and stories, though it's a huge maze that you can easily get lost in, for what seems like days (and there are quite a few Minotaurs!), once you finally emerge, nauseous and blinking into the light, it's easy to leave behind. That is if you can walk away.

Once you leave the internet, you pretty quickly forget it ever existed, save for the convenience of finding a recipe, the future rains and winds, how your friends and loved one's are doing. But of course, there are other ways. They were always there, just waiting for you to get back: the cookbooks, the horizon, the phone, the letter...

Maybe I don't have an addictive personality, or maybe I'm just a born quitter, but giving up bad habits has always come easy to me once I actually decide to quit them. Smoking, TV, coffee gone... At least for a time. I still dip into coffee on trips, and watch hours of shows on DVD in the winter and when I craft, but I don't have to have them each day, at regular intervals.

The longer I quit things for the harder it is for the addiction to return in full swing.

One of my favorite authors, frequently featured here as well, Lauren Groff, takes a month long internet sabbatical once or twice a year. It sounds so tempting. I think though, that to start with, I'm going to take first one, then two days offline each week. It sounds so easy, so little, but I think we all know it's big.

And what did I miss, you ask?

You, silly. And this space.

I missed having a writing assignment, be it self-imposed, a couple times a week. I journal, I write fiction, but this space is sort of my uncharted place, somewhere to write quick, but composed, complete pieces. There's a wildness and unpredictable-ness here that comes from the perfect storm of having to forge personal writing into a cohesive form.

This format is rather well suited for my recreational writing needs. Not to mention the delight and nostalgia I already feel combing through the archives. I can only imagine how sad I would be not to have such a good, illustrated record of my family's future exploits. I won't tell you I haven't felt a little lost without it.

However, the concerns I shared with you about blogs, blogging, micro-blogging, how feminism relates to them, collective narcissism,  the personal and the public, are still very real to me and I haven't quite wrapped my head around them.

I'm still figuring out how much time this hobby should take, how much love I have to spread for bloggers I enjoy. What the limits are between a healthy online life and addictive behavior?

I wish I could return with some sort of a statement, a manifesto of what I plan to do with this space.

All I know is that there's a compelling argument, made by many of you, that one way to solve the problem is to be a counter-force to that which one finds unnerving and wrong, and that maybe this space has been just that, regardless of my doubts.

If anything, your comments made me feel like there's a near universal exhaustion with our current media overload, the cult of cute, the skim read, the unmitigated glossing over of our online selves, at least among my readers. Frankly I'm a little surprised by how few differing opinions came out. I hope you know that I would welcome them. I like a lively debate.

Know also that I never meant the piece to be interpreted as reproachful towards you. I wasn't accusing you of skim-reading, lack of commenting, or frivolous social media use. I simply think that often an effective (and in this case heartfelt) piece of writing needs to not be written in "I statements". That a writer should be able to use their own experience to at least attempt to speak for a wider constituency than an army of one. The meaning of "you" depends on the context and I do hope you caught that.

I can't say I wasn't flattered and honored by how many of you felt the need to tell me they read the post from start to finish. Know that you are more focused readers than I am some of these days. And that I salute you for it. It's grand to know the word-girls (and boys?) are out there.

And it was a little unnerving to read the goodbyes some folks construed us as saying, kind of like attending one's own funeral.

Perhaps it wasn't evident from what I wrote that I just needed a sabbatical, a little space. That we're not braking up.

I have a lot of love for this blog.  It's brought me great things in this life, friendships, new ideas, books, music, self-knowledge. All of which reach into my real life by now. This may be a parallel universe, but it spills over into the physical one every day.

The best of these spillages for me has of course been a posse of real-life buds, soul mates, sisters-by-another-mother. Know too that these tight relationships are not some exclusive club as a few readers confessed to feeling like, but rather something that could happen to any of you.

As Heather so wonderfully put it in her comment, perhaps this sense of ennui with the more superficial aspects of the internet will lead people to reject it in their hearts and focus on what's real here.

It was good to have my oldest internets friend visit right in the middle of my sabbatical, to give some much needed perspective, possibly in the form of trying to explain to one of my local friends how we actually met. I believe the words "an internet subculture where women post pictures of their daily outfits" were used. It was kind of hard to tell between all the hysterical laughing.

It still never ever seizes to amaze me how out of something so frivolous, could grow a community of women who've seen each other through brake-ups, new loves, babies, the joys and sorrows of a very real life.

If the only thing I ever got from this venture were the relationships, all the relationships be they intimate or tentative, longterm, or short, deep, or casual, it would have all been worth it a thousand times over already.

This much I've figure out, so far, with a little help from my friends: I want to continue to use this space and what little influence I may have to put forth the stuff I believe in.  To put the political, environmental, radical into the personal.

At the same time, I want to remain true to the roots of this movement, subculture, whatever: this blog is the journal of my family, my brain children, my weird relationship with my hair, my herbal expeditions, my love of 90s DIY culture, my dream with looking like "that 70s teacher". I don't ever want to feel like I can't talk about something just because it's silly, or pretty, or pretty silly. All I can hope is that I can put these obsessions and personal interests into a wider context than just "I got this new cute dress on Modcloth."

And for the record: I think I can. It's in the cards for us.

I won't promise to stay forever, or not to wander into the woods again, or hide in the dark for a while. And I wont promise particular content, or a publishing schedule, when exactly I will return and how often, but I promise you this: stick with me kid and we'll figure it out together. And probably have a pretty good time doing it.

There's also a lot of excitement in the cards right now. The stars are aligning in all kinds of wild constellations.

Come what may, I hope you'll be there with me.
'Cos here I am.

ps. I also  got my html on and cleaned house. How you like it?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Sound Of Silence

Lately you've probably noticed, or maybe you haven't, because such is the way of the internets, that I've been in a little bit of blogging slump. Not by quantity, but by how downcast I may have seemed. I've kept up my posting pace, but this space has become a little desolate.

Back in February, I said I envisioned myself scribbling away in this, by then obsolete format, well into my old age, or at least many years to come, but lately I've been experiencing a strange fatigue associated with it.
Writing here has seemed like a chore, not an inspired thing. A big part of it might be the summer, which always taps my creative energies, but there are other more permanent seeming factors.

In the last year a lot of people, actual people, not bloggers, with whom I've grown close to over the years have, for one reason or another, seized to be active in our little circle of logs. At one time, I couldn't have imagined stopping this hobby partly because I would never want to lose the close connections I've had the good luck and utter pleasure of forming as a result of it. But talking to Missa, my oldest internets friend this spring, it occurred to me that those connections aren't going anywhere now. These folks are part of my life, they're friends not just blog-friends.


I asked Missa if she missed it, blogging, because I certainly miss having that connection to her life as it is; what her and Clover are doing, what's growing in her garden, and yeah, what she's wearing. But even as I formed the question, I realized that I already sort of knew the answer. Blogging, so intimately connected to our lives, inner and outer, is just a medium. When you're not doing it, you don't miss it, just like while you're camping you don't miss facebook. Or at least I never have. It dawned on me then that if I was to quit doing this, I could probably just walk away and never look back.

There's a sense of freedom in that.


In the beginning, I wrote for myself. Then for myself and my friends. There was a small, lively conversation going on. Then I discovered that there are hundreds, almost a thousand of you. I was amazed, a little terrified. Suddenly, I felt way more responsible and accountable for what I said here.

In the last six months, I've also had a few, perfectly lovely, encounters with total strangers that knew a lot about me. It was the most unsettling feeling. As I said before, in order to keep writing I pretend that the only ones reading are the small circle of commentators  A lot of those friends whom I pictured I was writing for are no longer part of the conversation here.  Instead it feels like there's a lot more silent strangers. Lovely, like-minded, but strangers all the same.

I mean this in the nicest possible way. I appreciate all of my readers and in no way want to demand that you must make yourselves known. Every week I get gorgeous, generous emails from you guys, unveiling yourselves in the sweetest possible way. There's a many a blog I read in the same manner. But in the absence of those core folks who keep the conversation going, I suddenly feel apprehensive of who might be reading, of whom I actually am writing to. I'm realizing I enjoyed the exchange as much as the expression.


This summer writing my Sisyphean clothes post and a related post on feminism, I've uncovered a deep uneasiness with some of the very things I'm involved in because of this blog; our society's perpetual, virtual self-obsession, the narrowing of women's lives to "lifestyles", the blurring between selves and self-branding.

This past weekend Nichole and her beau J, visited us and of course, like all the good kids of the internets-era (and bloggers) we got onto the topics of blogging and social media. Being a few years younger than me and living in an urban environment they had rather interesting and different points to make from my own.

Not living under a blanket of cellphone coverage, the whole smartphone, always hooked into the internets phenomenon has been a rather abstract one for us. It's certainly unsettling to go to the city and see people completely unable to put their phones down, to see friends scanning their screens even as you're trying to talk to them, or worse, steal surreptitious glances at them, the true sign of addiction. But what really troubles me is not the time that folks seem to spend on the internet, but what it is they do while they're there (and believe me the internet is a place that we go, quite apart from our physical reality).


Smartphones have gone hand in hand with two things in my mind: reduction and distraction. The reduction is what people do; they scan facebook, check instagram and twitter feeds. They don't necessarily read or look at pictures. Instragram (from my very limited experience of it) reduces reality into a stream of images. A well-curated, lovely-hued images, but images without much text, or context to accompany them either way. In the scant year or so that this phenomenon has existed, it's actually completely altered our perception of visual pleasure. Twitter reduces complex thought and political argument to 140 characters. It may have been magical at Tahir Square, or Zuccotti Park, but most of its power lays in dumbing down complex concepts. And we all know what facebook reduces social interaction to.

As Nichole pointed out, there's a popularity contest element to these medias. The more people like your post, the cuter, the wittier, the more insightful, or inspirational it is. The more people read your blog, the more worthy it is. The more people re-tweet you, the cleverer your quip.

And it's not ever like, "Oh I got ten "likes" today, I'm good. I guess I'll close facebook!". In these spaces we share with the expectation of quick gratification through approval of our chosen peers.

We perpetually scan the internet in the hopes of stimulation that never quite satisfies us. No amount of cute, filtered photos, of funny animal videos, of short, sharp political japes can ever truly be enough.

According to some researchers and thinkers this scanning habit is actually affecting how our brains work. The more we do it, the more it becomes how we do things. The advent of instant access to internet has began to make reading long chunks of text obsolete. I mean, stop and think about it for a minute: Did you start reading this piece from the beginning? Did you scan through it first? Were you about to click away, satisfied with the calmness of my images, when some sentence caught your attention? Do you have multiple windows open right now? Did you click back and forth to any of the links?

I don't know about you, but it now takes me little while to get into a book at night. Or to focus on that NY times mag article online. There's an itch I can't quite scratch. A phantom limb getting ready to do something else.

I'm a word girl. Hundred-and-forty characters does nothing for me. But word girls are becoming obsolete on the internet. More and more we are all after beautiful images conveying stories, inspirational sayings, uplifting paragraphs.


I've gotten so much from this hobby over the five and a half years of doing it. Friends, bosom buddies, ideas, creative satisfaction. I've grown to love photography. I've chronicled my married life. No small things.

In the last few months, large, life-chaning, amazing things have been happening to our family. We're in the process of changing how we do things and a lot of these changes are stirring, creative. Art projects have taken over creative real estate from this blog and life situations that I don't feel I report here have made it difficult for me to chronicle my emotions and excitement honestly.

Blogging was what kept me writing during a year in 2011, when I gave myself a break from fiction.  For someone who's always worked on writing, taking that year off from it due to lack of inspiration (and severe health issues) was rather big deal. But it was also the most liberating thing I've ever done. Saying that the one constant in my life didn't define me as a person. And it made me realize how much writing really is a part of me and in fact made me a better writer. Both here, and eventually on paper, when one morning I sat down and wrote fifteen pages of a story in one sitting.

The thing is, I had to step away from it to see what it really meant to me.
In so many ways blogging has been a natural continuum of expression for the zine-maker, teenage school-newspaper-taker-over, penpal hoarder, the one time early-adapter side of myself.

Introverts (something I wouldn't have known I was were it not for this blog) communicate through writing. And writing is by-and-large no longer the language of blogs. Dashes, paragraphs, measured characters and captions are...
I guess what I'm realizing, is that perhaps I've changed, my circumstances have changed and that this medium too has changed, and those changes may not have been compatible. Don't let's get melodramatic. I'm not saying goodbye. I'm just saying "I gotta go into the other room to think some things through.", or maybe that old introvert adage "I love you, but I have to go be alone now."

I love you. But I have to go be alone now. For a while.