Two things I’m often heard complaining about: I don’t have enough time to write and I don’t get enough sleep. What I do have is a full-time job and two little kids, so my beefs seem pretty legitimate. There’s a supportive husband in the mix, but no extended family close-by, and we don’t have the money to hire much in the way of time-saving. We do the cooking, the cleaning, the yardwork (or we don’t). We skimp on or swap for babysitting.

At this point, some readers are probably like: You have a yard on top of all the rest? Cry me a river of unspilled ink. Others might be thinking: You clean your own toilets? Glad I’m not you, but honestly, it’s irrelevant, and it’s sort of pathetic that you bring up the fact that I don’t.

There’s a lot of snark and defensiveness around the issues of time and money. This is evident everywhere from the rhetoric of the Tea Partiers to the comments sections inspired by mommy warriors like Caitlan Flanagan, sure, but exhibit A in my trial is my experience of living with myself. I am still rankled by an interview in The Rumpus in which, when asked how she does it, what with two little kids and a nonprofit and a writing and editing career and all, Vendela Vida  says that everyone can find two hours a day to write. That interview appeared over six months ago, but many a day ends with me shouting in my head: Do you see two hours of writing time in this day? DO YOU SEE TWO HOURS OF WRITING TIME IN THIS DAY?

And then a little internal voice might say: Well, if you’d gotten up at six and jumped right on the computer you might have been able to get an hour in. And admit it. You probably spent at least an hour today dawdling online—you read that interview, didn’t you? And what about those two episodes of Friday Night Lights you watched back-to-back the other night?

And then a much shriller voice says: Six o’clock is not sustainable! She said everyday, and didn’t you hear me say already that I don’t get enough sleep? And am I not allowed to ever relax with my husband? To exchange news with a friend on Facebook? To read a book?

And then, the loudest voice of all screams at ear-splitting volume: No! You’re not! (That voice runs out of breath the fastest.)

There’s also a reasonable murmur, which calls for order: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Show some compassion. And don’t be too easy on yourself, either. Employ some self-discipline. And definitely don’t waste your energy whining. Calm down, and write or don’t. No one really cares by you.

Indeed, it’s true. Which is both a relief and salt in the wound.

The thing is, I do care. When my son was born I kept up a writing schedule for a while, but I ceased any regular exercise. By the time he was around two, I felt crippled. Curled into a child’s pose in yoga class with my back screaming in pain and relief, I swore that as God as my witness, I would never go two years without exercise again. It’s the same sort of difference between writing and not. Except that two or three hours of yoga in a week makes me easily feel great, whereas two hours of writing a week can sometimes feel like worse than nothing. Especially when had on consistently inadequate sleep.

So I get back to ole woe is me, and the plaint that it’s hard to sustain a creative project while raising kids and working.

But this year when going through a box of old journals that had been packed away for years, I came across an entry from, oh, about 1995. I was child-free, lived alone, worked close by, and my only obligations were to spend some time with my friends and my boyfriend. And what was I complaining about in a journal so old it was now turning to dust in my hands? That I didn’t have enough time to write and I didn’t get enough sleep.

Hmmm. So maybe just: Writing is hard. (And sleep is sublime.)

The other day, I enjoyed this post by Victoria Patterson on Three Guys One Book, talking about the dangers of Facebook and Twitter for writers. (Found time to read that too, did ya?) Well, yes. I clicked on it while procrastinating on writing an essay about my writing process with my first novel, and the combination of the post, the procrastination, the memory lane made me recall that when I was writing Currency, I felt the need to keep eliminating things from my life: I drank less, I socialized less, I more or less dropped friends who required a certain kind of effort, and I ceased my involvement with the zine I co-published. I didn’t write anything else, for anyone, no little reviews or essays. One after another things got hauled to the chopping block, even during a period when I had a life as conducive to finding writing time as mine is ever likely to be.

And that was before the distractions of the internet had multiplied so splendiferously, before online networking time became almost as important a part of a writer’s schedule as writing itself.

I remember a conversation with a writer friend who had a semester off. He went away to a solitary residency somewhere, and when he returned from the mountains or the meadows or wherever he’d gone, he was a little rueful. He’d felt that at home, even with no formal obligations in the way of class time or teaching, his social life impeded his writing progress. But alone for a month or two, he found that having no demands at all didn’t necessarily speed things along. Sometimes it’s not the time, exactly, that we need. Even the most concentrated beam of hours can’t always melt away the difficulty. Uninterrupted concentration often breaks on its own, and depending on where, or why, it can leave one happily spent or empty and unsatisfied, sticky and fidgety with loneliness and doubt.

Although staring down my own novel project was difficult, I also felt a huge amount of momentum. The momentum was the mudslide that pushed away other things that were enjoyable and important to me, that made me sometimes resent invitations to weddings or writing events or pleasant outings with friends.

If I were on fire with momentum now, would I be hauling Facebook up to the chopping block? Maybe. Probably. But what about the tender arm of a toddler? What about the lean buttock of tweenaged boy?

Because here’s the thing about the having-kids part: I don’t want to resent spending time with them. I don’t want to be any more distracted and impatient with my family than I already can be. And when I’m immersed in a world I’m creating, everything that competes feels like a hindrance. To walk the tightrope every day between my outward and my inward life, to trot out the litanies for strength and mantras for balance—that’s exhausting in its own right, and makes me need a nap that much more desperately. I resist writing not (only) because it’s hard, but because it’s hard to come back from. It’s hard to keep in perspective.

That sounds good, right? That sounds like I might actually be a writer, and not only a divisor of elaborate complaints? I hope so, because that’s the image I’m going for. But also, I believe that it’s true.

In 2007, I traveled to Duluth to hole up with three women I’d met at an author’s retreat in the previous decade. At that time, I’d not been doing much writing for the past few years. I’d worked on no fiction at all, beyond some scribbling in notebooks. But rereading the scribbling had a powerful effect on me, and after spending a couple quiet days with those notebooks and myself, writing many more pages in a frantic hand that became illegible as the hours wore on, I had a passionate and almost violent outburst in a deserted outbuilding of our motel. I was absolutely frenzied with both my desire to surrender to the fermenting ideas and with my need to defend my family from that happening. My son was five at the time, and parenting was becoming slightly less all-consuming, and perhaps the wrenching that I felt was the emergence of a submerged self from a chrysalis. It’s hard to say for sure, because within a couple months I found myself pregnant and undergoing a career crisis. My full attention was called for elsewhere.

All of us in Duluth had raised or were raising children, but when we first met, I was still a maiden, affianced. I remember studying Ladette and Allison, who were already mothers, because I knew even then—before I really knew anything, really, about what was in store for me with parenting—that it was an achievement to have maintained a writing life in the face of supporting others economically and emotionally. When I asked Ladette about how she’d done it, she quoted Toni Morrison, a single working mother when she had written The Bluest Eye, as saying that she wrote her first novel “in mornings and noon hours.” I can’t confirm the quote, but it’s stuck with me. I know that Alice Monro wrote her first collection in the scraps of time she found while raising three kids, and that there are many other parent-authors who have written in the margins of busy lives—but if I stop writing now to do some research on exactly whom overcame what I will never get this post up before my kid wakes up from her nap.

So suffice it to say that some of our greatest living writers are part of the “everybody” who can find two hours a day in which to write, no matter what. And yeah, I doubt they all had even occasional housecleaners. But they’re not me.

As for me, now, the house is unusually quiet for a weekend afternoon. My daughter is asleep, and the other half of the family is at a friend’s house watching the Bears-Packer game. (That’s what I’m missing today. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying.) If all the stars align—which they could, because she was up for chunk in the middle of the night, and I along with her—I might manage to post this before Lilli wakes up and still have time to close my eyes for ten minutes myself. I won’t have worked on any fiction this weekthe long haul versus the quick fix is a whole other topicbut still, that’s a pretty good day.

(I am not even joking when I say that literally at the moment I typed that last line, my daughter woke up.)

(And I did get to watch the Steelers win, so it was an extra good day.)

Throughout the season my phone rings at all hours. My facebook inbox is full of notes from football heads from all over the globe. But it’s my email that gets hit the hardest. Vicious, drunken utterances on how my picks for the week suck, how I suck, how my girlfriend sucks (I don’t even have a girlfriend), how I don’t know a damn about football, how the Steelers (I’m a Steelers fan) come from some stiff hillbilly state and that if I was a true tree-huggin’ liberal then I’d be a Seahawks fan. Or a Saints fan. Or a Niners fan.

I write them back.

Fuck off, I tell them.

The only thing from Seattle worth my time is Brad.

That I like Reggie Bush, but I like his ex-girlfriend more.

That I would never be a Niners fan because my uncle would turn in his grave or may surge with life, find me chowing down at In-N-Out and do me in mid-bite.

Most of the notes come from old friends. Bastards that feel they can write anything, say anything to me. One of them I call Lips because Lips has no lips. All you see is teeth. He looks like a mummy. He looks like Fire Marshall Bill. He packs my email to the gills.

I grew up with Lips.

He’s knows everything about me.

My mother’s name.

My therapist’s name.

The drugs I did.

The food I like.

He calls me Weed.

Weed,

I read your latest bullshit on The Nervous Breakdown. Really, loser? The Cowboys? They suck. Tony Homo? He’s a fag. And do you really like Rodgers or are you trying to bang some slut from Wisconsin? He’ll take GB nowhere. The Packers are nothing without Favre. They’re nothing with that old man. Brett needs to go back to the sticks and do whatever it is those people do. You’re wrong about the Bears. Watch. They don’t need Obama. They play in a weak division and will take it easily. The Colts are rebuilding this year. Kind of like your ex-girlfriend with the plastic tits. Ha! I say the Saints and the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Fuck your stats, Mexican, the Saints are going back. Mail me some cash and I’ll put in your bets. Later.

That’s how it went.

That’s how it’s still going.

For the bones have been thrown.

The smoke has cleared.

The playoffs, people, are here.

In the NFC the Saints, Seahawks, Eagles, Packers, Bears, and Falcons. This translates into three birds of prey, one pious fucker, a fuzzy mammal, and a…what is a Packer? Well, in this case the name comes from a meat packer. Lovely. Packing meat. Nevermind. In the AFC, the Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Ravens, Colts, Chiefs made the grade. Need I translate again? Right.

As I wrote before, you never know how the year is going to pan out. Some folks thought the Cowboys would be in the hunt. Nope. They weren’t. And they’re not. They suck. The Titans, who I thought would be solid this year, were shot out all season long. Same goes for the Chargers and the Vikings both of which were favored to go into the playoffs with the Super Bowl in their sights. No go. It’s a wrap.

The Chargers, who in recent history don’t lose in December and go into the playoffs gunning, got their asses handed to them and now they’re sitting at home watching the playoffs with the rest of us saps. Brett Favre and Vikings? What can you say? Well, you can say that they stunk up the field from coast to coast. Their coach got canned and Brett Favre’s life and his limbs imploded right before our football eyes. He needs to split and leave us and the game of football alone. Please, Brett. I like you, bro, but please go the fuck home and stay there.

Please.

There’s no need to mention (but I will) that most of us predicted that the Lions, Panthers, Bills, Cardinals, Browns, Bengals, Niners, etc, would have shitty seasons. We’ve come to expect these atrocities to occur when these horrific teams take the field. And they did. I should mention that the Bills played tough this season and they’re record did not reflect the character of that team. But to hell with the rest of them. They offered nothing to professional football, its fans, and should consider joining a pee-wee league.

Okay, enough of that. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

The Wild Card Round

First up was the World Champion Saints against the Seahawks who farted into the playoffs with a 7-9 record. People bitched and complained that a team with a losing record shouldn’t get into the playoffs. But the rules state that the team that wins their division gets a ticket in. Period. So the Seahawks were in and hosting the champs. No one gave Seattle a chance. No one. Not me. No one. I settled in with a carne asada burrito and witnessed Seattle do the unthinkable: They won. It was one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. Matt Hasselbeck played lights out. That bald bastard threw four TD passes to Brees’ two. The Saints made a run, but in the 4th quarter Marshawn Lynch punched and pounded his way for a 67-yard touchdown that buried the Saints for good. It was one hell of a run.

My phone was ringing off the hook as the Saints were marching out.

Seahawks fly into Chicago.

Next up was the main event: The Colts against the Jets. This one had people talking. Peyton against Fat Ryan and his Jets. I’m no fan of either of these teams, but I like Manning and because of Jabba Ryan and his obese macho talk I now loathe the Jets the way I loathe T.O. So, I was pulling for the Colts. C’mon, Manning! C’mon, baby!

But it didn’t happen.

It was a slow-moving game. Both teams couldn’t move the ball. Good game for true football fans, but a bore to those who want to see some action. The Colts had the game wrapped up, but Blair White—a rookie out of Michigan State—couldn’t hold onto a Manning pass that would have pushed the clock down to a nub for Vinatieri to kick in the winning field goal. But it didn’t happen that way. White dropped the ball, the Jets got it back, and Sanchez and his crew marched down the field and won by one point.

Dead Colts.

Jets board their plane and head into Patriotville.

Damn.

I was 0-2.

On Sunday I opened the day with a three-mile jog in the freezing desert morning. I was chugging like Rocky determined to redeem myself after being blasted with emails and phone calls on how much my Saturday picks came up lame. I lost an Andy Jackson in the Colt game to a running buddy of mine. He hates football, thinks it’s for jerk-offs. He bet me because he wanted to prove his point that anybody can win a football bet whether you know anything about football or not.

“You have a fifty-percent chance,” he said confidently. “I’ll take the Jets. I like their helmets.”

“Helmets. Great. You’re on.”

I handed over the cheddar pissed.

The Ravens took the field against the Chiefs. I wanted the Chiefs to win, but I knew the Ravens would take it. But what I didn’t know was that they were going to dismantle the Chiefs to the tune of 30-7. I didn’t pay attention to Kansas City this year so I didn’t know what they did or how they did it. Apparently, they had a great running game all season long. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to beat the Ravens. Their running backs did look impressive at the beginning of the game. Fast strong fuckers hitting the holes like missiles. But then the Chiefs turned the ball over five times and watched the game turn into an ugly movie. Now they’re at home eating BBQ.

The game of the day was the Packers against the Eagles. Mr. Rodgers against Michael Vick, aka, Ron Mexico. I picked Green Bay to have a great season. I think Rodgers is a fantastic QB and if the Packers front office makes the right decisions they have a QB that could bring them the Lombardi. I also picked the Eagles to have a horrible season. I didn’t see Vick coming off the bench and having a good year. He was headline news all season long especially after his historic performance on Monday Night Football where he single-handedly beat the Baby Jesus out of the Redskins. Anyhow, these two teams took the field in Philly. I wanted the Pack and after the smoke cleared Green Bay was moving on and the Eagles weren’t.

Cheeseheads unite.

Mr. Mexico has left the building.

So now that’s left us with the Ravens/Steelers, Jets/Pats, Packers/Falcons, and the Seahawks/Bears. One of these teams will hoist the Lombardi. That is a sure bet. The Saturday games start with the Steelers/Ravens. I’m a Steelers fan so you know who I’m pulling for. I don’t like the Ravens. Not many people do. These two teams hate each other and this will be yet another ugly fight. A brutal yet beautiful way to open the weekend. Can’t wait. Pack/Falcons is the late game. Falcons have a great record at home and I picked them to make a serious Super Bowl run this year. I nailed it and here they are with home-field advantage. So what. I’ll take the Pack. Rodgers. Rodgers. Rodgers.

Sunday opens up with the Seahawks/Bears game. The Bears should take this one. They’re at home and I don’t see Seattle pulling out another miracle win. But one never knows. They took out the Saints and they can take out Da Bears which really would be fine with me because that means I don’t have to see and listen to Mike Ditka’s Eddie Munster hair and stupid dog eyes yapping it up in some mob suit. Next up is the Jets/Pats game. Geezus. I already told you how I feel about the Jets and their bloated coach. Fuck him and fuck them. Go Patriots. Brady, don’t let me down you handsome prick! Kick their ass! Period. I’ll be watching this one with a pile of chicken wings on my lap.

I might even ditch my root beer for a bottle of hooch for this one.

Well, that’s it. Four games of pure football heaven. I’m drooling and you should be too. So, order your submarine sandwiches. Fill up your coolers with beer and Sprite. Fire up the grill and let the games begin.

Cheers, folks.

Have a good one.

Newsflash—we live in a completely mediated environment—a datascape of fulminating algorithms thick with the ugly remnants of human in/decision-making—our bombs are smart—our bombers are drones—our stock-market is a mass of computer-processors trading on the megascales that defy human logic—our regal game, chess, was downgraded to mere determinism by a series of what-were-increasingly-sophisticated computer programs—our vision of the cosmos comes through the intimations of cameras and rovers and satellites that send messages into the ether—our hospital patients are beeping, now, because the potassium IVbag has emptied and the nurses have been remotely notified and alerted—our robots are ready to vacuum the floors or report for hazardous chemical duty—our shopping preferences and Facebook “likes” are data mined to provide us with the best deals the fastest deals the deals we can’t miss.


I have one less friend.
I shouldn’t care, but I do.
Why not just hide me?



It has come to my attention, and perhaps yours as well, that virtually everyone in the digital age considers him- or herself an artist. A glance at Facebook is like a trek through the Casbah, with so many people hawking their photos, their music, their writings, and so on.

How can a seasoned artist make a buck in such a climate? It was never easy, and it’s getting harder all the time, as the competition expands. Soon aspiring creative types will outnumber regular folk, who can only spend but so much money on things that—let’s face it—are almost always headed for permanent obscurity. Then, too, a lot of “artists” give their stuff away for free, leading audiences to think all creative output should be free, unless, for instance, it’s written by Jonathan Franzen, whose wealth must approach Illuminati levels if he charges by the metaphor.

Some people go to church on Sundays. I go to office supply stores.

Some people see organisation as a handy but ultimately dispensable tool; a way to corral the events and chores of the day into a docile herd of cattle to drive from the Texas of the morning through the Arkansas of the afternoon, finally coming to rest in the quiet Missouri of the night.

I see organisation as a religion, and every horizontal line on the pages of my daily planner is an ironclad commandment that will keep my eternal soul safe from the fires of damnation and the Devil’s searching hands¹.

Some people are content to let life come as it may and make do with writing the occasional reminder on their Google Calendar that Cobalt Larry expects the money from the book they’re keeping back on Friday and the vig is running².

I pray for these misguided fools, but not often, because I don’t want to throw my schedule out.

I’m trying to make two points here. The first is that suck it Rangers, we won the Series. The second is that my childlike faith in the power of organisation to get me everything I have ever wanted is, at one and the same time, absolutely steadfast and almost completely bordering on the mindless. Especially when taking into consideration the fact that my complex and multi-faceted plans – which can be ludicrously short on detail, but make up for that by being even ludicrouslyer shorter on plausibility³ and correct word usage – rarely go off without a hitch. And that hitch is almost always due to the fact that when it comes time to actually do something, I instead always choose to watch TV.

My reasoning for this is entirely justified. I watch TV because I really, really want to. And while, somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m all too aware there’s an Excel file lying dormant in the far reaches of my computer, at the front of my mind, and much bigger, there’s an awareness that I like to sit on the couch and watch Dexter much more than I like doing any real and actual work, or, indeed, moving much. If it wasn’t for the fall programming break, I would have starved to death years ago.

In principle, the end goal of this kind of hyper-organisation is one of freedom. It stands to reason that if I can get all the things I want to get done out of the way in an intelligent, timely manner, then I will be a) more productive in general, b) more relaxed, and c) left with more time to enjoy my leisure time, as there will be fewer things to crowd in and demand my attention throughout the day.

In practice, this usually goes south in a matter of hours, if not minutes, because inevitably, I fall victim to my various psychological resistances⁴ to accomplishing anything beyond keeping my Spam folder clean of advertisements for Viagra⁵ or, ironically, spamming everyone foolish enough to not have blocked me from their feed yet with constant, unremitting Facebook status updates⁶.

Trying to move past this self-destructive streak is like Tobey Maguire fighting the Sandman in Spiderman 3. No matter what punches you throw, no matter how relentlessly you fight, no matter how hard you hit… you’re still in a terrible, terrible, bad, awful film, and Topher Grace is the only one getting away with his dignity intact.

Knowing this, I still press on.

After returning from the US earlier this year, I decided I needed a plan. I decided I needed direction and structure and motivation. I decided I would put together a list of 20 goals – no more, no less – and knock them over, one by one. I chose to keep the list contained to 20 because I knew I have a tendency to over-burden myself, and, by attempting to do too much, in fact accomplish nothing⁷.

20! I said to myself. And no more! I refuse to fall into the same trap again!

25! I said to myself, one week later. And no more!

I gave myself three months. 25 things across 12 weeks; a mix of the easy and the hard, the time-sensitive and the expansive, the achievable and the requiring of divine assistance.

Given that Plan A hadn’t gone as hoped, I decided to name this goal list Plan B.

Part One.

I enjoy headings.

I completed 17 of the 25 items by the time my self-imposed time limit was done, and the 8 remaining were in varying stages of completion. Not bad, for a first run, I said to myself. And I can’t believe Joe Biden didn’t write back. I thought he was cool. And then, as I was coming back (again) from the USA (again) a few weeks ago, on my Virgin Australia flight, thirty thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, I started sketching out Plan B, Part Two.

Again, 20 items. Again, 12 weeks. But this time, I decided, I would expand my knowledge base. I would husband the gaps in my ability with the intelligence of others. I would create a Facebook group, and ask for the insight and advice of the people I knew. I would access their knowledge and know-how and make my tasks simpler. Running 10K? What do I know about running 10K? Nothing, that’s what.

But I knew I knew people who did.

I created my group, sent out my invites, and got to the work of creating my list of goals.

Very quickly, the replies started to pour back in, and I nodded, sagely, to myself. There it is, Simon, I thought. Proof. Undeniable proof. You’re a genius. No one has ever thought of anything this smart ever. And I started reading through the accumulated wisdom of my peers.

Alice: Hey, do you know every time you update something, I get an email?

Ben: Hey, do you know every time you make a change on this group, Facebook emails me?

Rachel: ARGH WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO MY INBOX?

If you have no experience with the new Facebook Groups system, what you may not know is that the new default settings mean:

  1. People don’t have the option of choosing to say yes to group membership. If you invite them, they are automatically added and it’s left up to them to choose to leave.
  2. People have to additionally uncheck, rather than check, their approval of receiving notifications about each and every single thing that happens in said group.

If you have no experience with the new Facebook Groups system, what you quickly find out is that everyone gets annoyed by:

  1. Receiving 40 odd emails informing them of every single thing that’s written, in a group that
  2. they didn’t agree to joining in the first place.

After posting groveling apologies within the group, as my status and via email, and wondering aloud at the wisdom of a system that could, technically, allow me to add anyone I was friends with to a group titled anything I wanted, take a screenshot of their membership, and then send said screenshot to their place of employment, families, and Fantasy Baseball leagues, I started hastily deleting people from the group so they didn’t receive more of the same messages.

Once again, I blame Zuckerburg for everything.

That has ever happened to me.

However.

Wildly non-helpful mass emailing of the people I had asked to help me aside, I managed to get my twenty-goal list up and exposed to the accumulated genius of the group.

  1. 8 weeks of Spanish revision
  2. Complete and launch an in-progress e-publishing idea
  3. Complete and submit an in-progress non-fiction proposal
  4. Complete and submit an in-progress scripted TV pilot pitch in the States
  5. Write four pieces for magazine submission
  6. Write my reading list for 2011
  7. Write my writing list for 2011 (list of lists are some of my favourite lists)
  8. 12 weeks of working out and swimming
  9. Take my tri-weekly runs from 5K to 10K (or 3.1 miles to 6.2 miles)
  10. Clean and organise everything
  11. A new laptop
  12. A new camera
  13. Pay off my credit card debt
  14. Write 4 pieces for TNB
  15. Work out where to take my Plan B in 2011
  16. Take better care of my skin
  17. Complete and submit an in-progress scripted TV pitch in Australia
  18. Plan out a vacation with some friends over Christmas
  19. Work out a way to live in the USA again
  20. Make $50K.

Some are designed to be easy. Writing lists of books I want to read, or avenues of publication I’d like to follow up? Easy. Surprisingly fun. And a good way to get some items knocked off straight off the bat and build some momentum. And I don’t have to break anyone’s legs (or put myself in a position where someone will break mine) to pay off my minor credit card debt; I simply wanted to be aware of it.

I have less than no idea how to make fifty grand in twelve weeks. But I figured it’s good to have something to shoot for. Also, I’d really like fifty thousand dollars.

And after the initial hurdles, advice flooded in. Don Mitchell and Kristen Elde provided help with running tips and guidelines for how to avoid injury. Photographer friends gave me advice on good camera buys. People told me what worked for their skin, for making housecleaning easy, for pitching scripts. People mentioned friends of their I should get in touch with; and, if nothing good is on TV tonight, I’m sure I will.

So far I’ve completed items #6, #7, #10, and #11, and made a start, at least, on every single other item.

Which is just as well, because with my schedule, it’s really hard to get anything done.









¹ The damnation of wasted time, and the searching hands of the Devil of an unrealistic budget. Also of my friend Clue, who has boundary issues and makes us all feel really uncomfortable.

² And if Cobalt Larry don’t get his end, you best believe someone’s going in the cobalt.

³ Life List Item #82: Be Mayor of Somewhere.*

* Seriously.

⁴ See: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Paralysed/Maladaptive Perfectionism, and Gerard Butler-by-Proxy

⁵ Where do they keep coming from? Who keeps doing this?

⁶ Everything I think and do is interesting.

⁷ AKA Three Stooges Syndrome.

“Be as vulnerable as you possibly can.”

I read this line in Sara Marcus’s excellent feminist music and culture history Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, and it stopped me in my tracks. She was quoting from Riot Grrrl, the zine, in its second issue, which was in itself quoting from the zine Bikini Kill, written by that band’s ringleader, Kathleen Hanna. This was one of several commands to the new girl order to reclaim traditionally feminine traits. Instead of seeing these traits as weak or problematic, my take is that Hanna was urging women to embrace our entire selves, vulnerability and all. (Other commands included “Figure out how the idea of winning and losing fits into your relationships” and “Commit to the revolution as a method of psychological and physical survival.”)

It would also make a good command for a writer, to be as vulnerable, open, honest and raw as one can. There are times when doing so feels not only like the easiest thing imaginable, but the only thing I can do, the only way to somehow control or explain or even acknowledge my thoughts and emotions, extreme and otherwise. Writing often feels a lot less vulnerable than speaking to people, because there are things you can do from the safety of not only your computer screen, but the safety of language, contorted, controlled, contrived exactly to your specifications. If only our emotions could be so easily mastered.

So I think writers can make good use out of Hanna’s phrase. Yet as a command for life, it’s more challenging, because by its nature, being vulnerable makes you possible prey for those who would indeed see that as a weakness and seek to exploit it, consciously or not.

I looked up the word because I thought it meant something akin to easily embarrassed, but no, it actually does mean, by definition, a form of weakness. According to Merriam-Webster, the first two definitions for “vulnerable” are “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” and “open to attack or damage.”

I find it fascinating that a movement built on the idea of revolution would embrace those qualities, and at first was startled at the connection. My immediate image of “riot grrrl” is the opposite of vulnerable; it’s fierce, in-your-face, proud, rocking out, empowered. Marcus’s book draw the connection, though, by exploring not just the music (including bands like Heavens to Betsy, which did betray vulnerability in their lyrics), but the zine culture riot grrrl spawned, and in those writings, we can see vulnerability unleashed, and also see that it’s not the opposite of empowerment; the two can coexist. We can also acknowledge that even a performer who seems to embody all those non-vulnerable qualities I cited above may very well be quaking on the inside, and the daring it takes to get up on a stage, or put your byline to your words, is still an extremely bold act, whether you swagger or cower your way through it.

On a deeper level, I think recognizing and embracing our vulnerability is being truthful about who we are. It means we might not always know why writing is our first defense and our first offense, we only know that it’s our only option. It feels like our life will stop unless we write this one thing down; not literally, perhaps, but in all the ways that matter. It means, maybe, sometimes writing something and only wondering later whether it should have seen the light of day. It means being okay with the fact that sometimes we have no barriers, no shields to protect our hearts, our egos, and that being “strong” can look like its exact opposite. At 34, I’ve never developed the thicker skin I probably should have tried to grow. Maybe I’m not built that way, or maybe there’s a part of me that needs to be a little undercooked, soft, easily pierced.

In fiction, my most personal and vulnerable pieces have been written in the second person. That distance was something I needed to truly go there, especially when it comes to what I can only describe as breakup erotica. For examples, see “The End” in Best American Erotica 2006 and my recent “Espionage” in Best Women’s Erotica 2011, both fictional stories, the former pretty much true, the latter heavily borrowed from real life. The latter starts:

You tuck your new pink and black coat, the one purchased earlier in the day just for this special evening, around your body, pull it tight like it’s cold out, except you’re indoors and the fire is roaring. You are cold, but it’s the kind of cold that can’t be heated by rubbing two sticks together or turning up the thermostat, the kind of cold that can only be vanquished once your heart catches up. Your heart is cautiously icy, watching and waiting; it isn’t safe to let it melt just yet.

It’s a story that, frankly, makes me cry when I reread it, but I’m still glad I wrote it, glad I took a situation where I felt nothing but vulnerable and could step back and assess it with a smidgen of distance, turning it into something outside of myself, where it wasn’t about me, but this character, this narrator–“You.”

I’m often so wary of being vulnerable, of being any emotion that’s too soft or scary. But I think we all have our moments when something shatters the calm we want to project onto the world, when things seem on the brink of collapse, whether because they truly are, or our minds distort our inner worlds to appear so.

This topic reminds me of Brin Friesen’s post here, “The Facebook Aquarium,” asking whether The Nervous Breakdown and its commenting community are “too nice.” I don’t know if that is a qualification I or anyone else can make, but with the internet deluged by often hateful, stupid or hateful and stupid comments, I don’t think we should discount kindness. Not to the extent that we tiptoe around each other’s emotions, but instead recognizing that any writing, or art, takes guts to share with the world, or a slice of it.

While I do believe the personal is political, unlike Hanna in the context above, I don’t think striving for vulnerability is so much a political act, as a holistic one. It’s something we can embrace and acknowledge without succumbing to it, or playing the victim. I’ve been mulling over this, my first posting here, for several weeks, and have talked myself out of it more times than I can count. Perfectionism and vulnerability go hand in hand, and the former often keeps me from exposing the latter.

Ironically, perhaps, about a month ago, I got a tattoo on my back that says “open” as a way to remind myself to be, well, open, emotionally, to not shy away from either my own fear of rejection or from experiencing new challenges, personal and professional. But old habits die hard. Embracing and consciously engaging in radical vulnerability, which is what I sense Hanna was aiming for, is not easy. I don’t think we can be that vulnerable all the time and still protect ourselves the way we need to to survive, but never being vulnerable means missing out on not just taking our writing to the next level, but our lives. I want to strive to keep peeling back the shell I often hide under, whether via simply not trying, or masking it with something more “fun,” like humor. For me, writing speaks to me loudest, as author or reader, when it goes somewhere that makes me squirm, that makes me think, “How could he or she expose so much?” I’m up for the challenge, though I’m not putting a quota on myself for X days per week of wringing myself dry on the page. How often I “possibly can” remains to be seen, but in this case, I believe the process of trying counts as much as the outcome.

the whole ecosystem

more semantically aware

most things aren’t social
most things don’t use your real identity
connections aren’t just happening

My mom’s on Facebook, and I’ve accepted her friend request. (Hi, Mom!) She doesn’t own a computer, she doesn’t own a cell phone, she still deposits checks and withdraws cash by walking up to the bank counter, but she’s been on Facebook for a few months now, which is long enough, as she informed me (actually, when she was just a few weeks in), to learn more about me by clicking links than she’s learned from me in person. She found one mention of herself in my online writing—it was on this site, in my self interview—and she took issue with it. She wants you to know: That hummingbird that got into her bedroom? She tried every other way to get it out, she tried for hours, before she killed it with bug spray. It was horrible and it was late at night and she needed to go to bed.

It’s not that pre-Facebook I hid my writing from my mother, or from anyone, exactly. In the nineties, I co-published a zine called Maxine, and I included in it writing of mine that was sometimes sexy, sometimes weird, and almost always personal—for example, I collaborated on a comic loosely based on my best friend and I that involved cunnilingus. And I sent the copies to my parents. I sold copies to co-workers. Devil may care! I liked the feeling, actually. I liked the combination of accepting ownership but relinquishing the fantasy that I could control others’ perceptions. It felt very different than finding someone listening at the door or rustling through my stash of journals and love letters. (You know you did that, Mom!)

In fact, publishing personal writing on paper felt like an anecdote to privacy invasion. I’m not sure why online writing feels like something in between. Is it just because it’s more likely that something online can worm its way anywhere, easily? That it wouldn’t be a magical, fate-ridden thing for someone I knew to stumble onto a blog post the way it would be to stumble onto a zine? All it takes is being bored at 2 AM. What’s that old girlfriend doing. What about that cousin who I played doctor with once. What about that daughter. She always kept the room to her door closed. She always had her nose in some book or up in the air. She’d always give me this look, like. . . . And now, when she finally does call, she’s too busy to talk.

My mom knows her own inclinations. She says that’s one reason why she doesn’t want a computer: she’s a voyeur; it’d be too tempting. She did her Facebook sleuthing this summer, when she was living with my sister-in-law, whom my brother has been divorcing for years. They’re still fighting over money and visitation and blame. I told my mother that it was a bad idea, that things would get awkward. And they did. She was on the phone complaining about it one day, perhaps commenting about the quality of my sister-in-law’s mothering—and her appearance and her eating habits and her housekeeping—without realizing that her hostess was sitting on the porch just outside the open window. When my mom walked out there, Stephanie told her, “If you don’t like it here, you can leave.”

When my husband and I found my mother snooping around our windows the summer before, when she was house-sitting down the street, we choose not to say anything. We just pretended it had never happened.

My mother, who when I told her I had quit smoking, said, “That’s not very sociable, is it?”

My mother, who when I told her as a new parent that I didn’t have time to go shopping for sales said, “If you’d get off your high-horse and go to McDonalds once a week you’d have one night a week to go shopping.”

My mother, who was actually very concerned about nutrition when I was growing up, and who insisted for awhile that I eat cubes of cheese in the morning, for fat and protein. I did not want to eat cubes of cheese in the morning; they disgusted me. So I did what any self-respecting kid would do: I palmed them and later slipped them into a drawer in the playroom.

And my mother, upon discovering the colony of cheese cubes—by this time with edges turned a waxy blood orange and sides coated in powdery mold— became enraged and made me eat them as punishment. It was a Mommy Dearest moment, her towering over me and brandishing the plastic spatula with which she sometimes spanked us, me choking down a cube or two before pushing past her to go retch into the toilet. I can still see the hunter-orange curdles floating in the shining white bowl—my mother kept a very clean house. But she is no Joan Crawford. She didn’t make me eat any more after that, and cheese was taken off the breakfast menu. So I think I won that round.

Yes, when it comes to my mother, I am a perpetual adolescent who will—obviously—air old and dirty linen in public to score a point.

Although this is the first time I am doing so. In a piece that I am posting to the internet.

As a kid, I was the kind of good girl who was secretly, sneakily bad.

In first or second grade, I went to the bathroom and locked all the stalls from the inside before crawling out of the last one and going back to the teacher with a report: I couldn’t use the bathroom; someone locked all the doors. “Probably some sixth grader,” the teacher said, “who thinks she’s being smart.”

When I was in sixth grade—an impeccable student—I had already developed a taste for bad boys, and I befriended the grottiest trouble-maker in class, Scott Bilow. He was actually a pretty nice kid who had a rough lot. His dad was a drunk, and a good day for Scott was when he was sent to the bar to get his dad and was invited in and given a Coke instead of a back-hand. Scott had stories to tell, and dirty poetry to recite, and I was all ears. One ditty ended with the memorable line: “Sister’s on the corner yelling pussy for sale.” I thought on that a lot. The pieces were just starting to add up for me. Sometimes, if we had indoor recess or whatever, I’d play a game he taught us where I’d hold a pencil and follow directions that resulted in the spelling of fuck or shit or mother fucker on the lined, grey paper of his writing tablet.

When the teacher found these pages in his notebook, she took him out in the hall and hollered at him. The rest of the class couldn’t hear his side of the conversation, but we didn’t need to:

“What did you say?”

“You’re trying to tell me Zoe Zolbrod wrote those awful words in that awful handwriting?”

“Zoe Zolbrod has beautiful handwriting and she would never write those dirty words!”

Thirty years later, I’m still proud that I accepted the blame. The teacher was so dumbstruck at the dissolution of her categories that I don’t think either Scott or I was ever punished. Or maybe the punishment was just a note home to my parents, still married then. They wouldn’t have given me a hard time for something like that. They might have congratulated me on taking responsibility when I could have skirted it. Honesty was their big thing. As a teenager, especiallywhen some of my friends physically feared their parents or were routinely denied freedoms—my mom and dad let me get away with a lot, as long as I told the truth.

So, my mom’s on Facebook  (welcome, Mom!) and that’s what’s inspiring me to trash talk her to you all and to post this up on TNB. But I’m not sure whether I’ll link to it. And my mom’s back home now, no longer living with my sister-in-law’s laptop and internet connection. She uses the computer at the library sometimes, but it’s not open at 2 AM, and during business hours, well—she still works part-time as a care-taker for elderly people, and she plays tennis, and volunteers, and shops the sales. (She basically clothes my children with her findings, saving me needed time and money. She’s the only person who has ever watched the kids overnight or over two. She . . . but I digress.) So she might not see this. And if she does, I’ll own up to it. These are some facts. Shrug. Nose in air. Laid out just so. That’s all I’m saying.

 

Davis Schneiderman took the quiz.

Davis Schneiderman played the game.

Davis Schneiderman took the ‘what psychedelic-era pop song crossed with a washed-up sci-fi character are you?” quiz. Answer: Tomorrow Never Knows Mr Spock…

About two years ago, I wrote about the Facebook phenomenon that was (finally) hitting adults. My essay, “Thirty-Seven-Year-Old on Facebook,” discussed my personal experience—while laid up with a broken leg—with Facebook. It’s an amusing piece, so I’ve been told. I wrote it when I was enjoying Facebook.

How are you?

By Mary Hendrie

Letters

Hey John,

Thanks for the note on my wall. Your exuberant “hello” was heartening like good soup on a bad day, which isn’t to say yesterday was bad. It was a good day. I heard from you, after all, and work went pretty well. Aside from the hour I spent looking through photos of friends I no longer speak to, I’d say the overall experience for the day was net positive.

But it’s a funny thing when people write on your wall and want to know, “How are you?” It’s a more sincere question than the passing-in-the-grocery-store variety, but it’s loaded, and it can’t really be answered via wall post.

How am I? Well, I’m alive, but somewhat disillusioned. I miss the slow, easy life of our hometown, but I don’t miss the ignorance of some of the people. I quit smoking since we last spoke, and sometimes I wish I hadn’t.

I live near DC, where the air quality is toxic, and I know because they tell me every day on the radio about the air quality — code orange, which means we should all avoid strenuous outdoor activity. I’d like to lose a little weight, but that’s hard to do with all these codes to follow.

Every day, I drive home and scan the radio for familiar songs to fight off the particular loneliness that breeds in my car, and when Morrisey comes on, I belt out all the words, right or wrong.

I have a good job in a boring city, a great husband, and a normal sex life, I think (but I don’t know what’s normal). Oh, and I wrote a book of sorts, but actually it was my grad school thesis, and I can’t bring myself to look at the thing for editing purposes or to print copies to send to agents, so it’s just sitting on my shelf now. Some of it is pretty good.

To tell the truth, when I look at all our old friends on Facebook, the people who are outrageous and fabulous and those whose lives are quiet and generic, I feel I’ve lost something. I’ve been hollowed out a bit, and I don’t know how it happened or if I am alone. I feel I’ve had limbs severed, but all my parts are here. I wasn’t looking when this phantom part of me died, so I’m not really sure what I’m trying to revive.

I have not yet joined the ranks of lonely folks who teach their pet birds to sing pop songs, but I have lost a couple cats. Anyway, I guess birds do it for some people. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t like birds much.

The truth is, I keep waiting, John. I keep thinking something amazing will happen, and then I’ll feel right. Like the book I’m meant to write will just spontaneously come into being as a best seller. Then I’ll feel like the person I was always meant to be. Like my ship has come in, right? But until then … until then …

Well, I took a bike ride after work, and I went down to the grocery store just to see if I could do it. I wanted to go inside and buy some squash to cook for dinner, but I didn’t know what to do with my bike while I went inside, so I just turned around and rode back home. It was fun, anyway.

And tonight, we’ll celebrate my husband’s birthday with a few friends at the house. Our house. Did I tell you I own a house now? We’ll eat crabs and drink beer on the back deck. We have a lot of trees, which are pretty, and a nice view of a little creek. After dinner, we’ll watch a movie. It’ll be fun. Maybe before the night is over someone will end up naked, but most of our friends have outgrown that.

I was about to say life ain’t half bad, but maybe it is, John. But even if it is, 50% is better than some presidents get. And the truth is, at least I have people, ya know? At least I love someone and go outside sometimes. Code orange be damned, right?

So, how are you?

The last time I participated in a cyber-discussion on TNB in the comments section, I expressed my gratitude that authors, unlike actors or singers, don’t rely on appearances, and thus don’t have the same pressures—particularly those of needing plastic surgery to further their careers, specifically boob jobs. Besides, I offered, most writers aren’t that good looking.

 

 

A commenter disagreed, suggesting that plastic surgery might possibly help sell books. An author should do everything in his or her means to promote, including looking his or her best, whether through surgical enhancement or other means. Besides, boob jobs and plastic surgery are akin to braces and tattoos and teeth whitening and hair dye. A personal choice. Not a political one.

It got me thinking: If I got a breast lift, would I sell more books? If I lost ten pounds, would I be a better writer?

 

Recently I was on a panel titled “Getting Published” at the UCLA Writers’ Faire. My fellow panelist talked quite extensively about having a “platform.” A blog, Twitter, Facebook. A presence. These, she seemed to suggest, were more important than the writing itself. At the very least, without a platform, the writing, no matter how great, would remain unpublished.

It got me thinking: Do I need a blog, Twitter, and Facebook to be a better writer?

In other words, if I became more of a narcissist, and if my vanity increased, would my writing improve?

Nah.

I’ll probably gain ten pounds, let myself go, and stay off Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Scene:

Melbourne, Australia, Friday 13th, 11:13pm-ish.

LOCATION: STUDY, INTERIOR.

Pan in on SIMON at his computer. SIMON is 28, dark-haired, with an air – no, an aura – about him, perhaps something around the eyes, that seems to say, ’24 hours later, I’m still amazed by the fact I made a conscious choice to start drinking Swedish strawberry cider last night, and, 24 hours and kilos of bacon later, I’m still amazed by how hungover I remain. You tricked me, Sweden. Again. Fuck you.’

Also, he’s really VERY HANDSOME; like Cary Grant, Billy Zane, and someone who onlookers would describe as ‘really very handsome’ all rolled into one.

Soundtrack: This Busta Rhymes – AC/DC mashup that SIMON cannot seem to stop listening to right now.

We see the small red notification informing SIMON he has received a new message appear on the Facebook taskbar. The message is one in an ongoing conversation between SIMON and his friend DARCI in New York. Regrettably, this conversation is about FRED DURST (not present in the scene). The discussion focuses on how anything can be made funny by adding FRED DURST to the equation or rather, SIMON’s half of the discussion focuses on this.

SIMON then makes a reference to the once-famous phrase ‘DON’T FAKE THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK‘ and how he finds it just as hilarious as the existence of FRED DURST.

We see SIMON, suddenly inspired, update his status to read ‘SIMON… NEVER FAKES THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK.’

Moments later another red notification sign flares into life. This time, it is the small square with rounded edges that sits at the corner of the little blue world globe, letting SIMON know someone has commented on his status. He clicks on it.

Note: Simon remains VERY HANDSOME, but the moment is about to get ugly.

Not Simon, though.

CUT TO: Focus on the screen, where one of SIMON’s friends has commented: ‘Gay.’

SIMON: does that kind of reverse whistling/suck in air thing you do when you see someone bark their shin on a car door and draws back from the computer into the cushions of his chair.

End scene.

*

Now, it was about this time we hit trouble.

Seconds after the first notification, a second friend, from the same group, left a comment on the same status: ‘Double gay.’ A third, again from the same group, left another: ‘Triple gay.’

And I just went… Really?

And that was when I realised that maybe I was about to get caught in the middle of a nasty dunk. And if so, then no matter what else I did, the one thing I could not do was fake the funk.

*

The Nasty Dunk

See, I know these people – some of them for over twenty years. They’re among my best friends. None of them are hate criminals, if that’s a term.. They’re tertiary-educated, cosmopolitan, well-traveled types. They’re not close-minded or mean or particularly bigoted, or at least, my experience of them, which is a fairly comprehensive one, says to me they are not.

On the other hand…

It took maybe twenty seconds for my brain to itemise all the 21st rules of speech and political correctness involved. Everyone involved was and is past the point of ignorance; we’re all internet users, we’ve all been exposed to the difficulties of comment culture, we’re all past the point of being surprised by online speech. And a quick Google search revealed no one had split the gay lingual atom while I wasn’t looking; there hadn’t been some mass acceptance of the term as fair game.

And so that’s where I was: the term gay denotes a particular sexuality, and the term gay was being used as an insult, so, therefore, we’ve got textbook discrimination here, right on my Facebook page, where I am both the owner and the owned of any information that goes back and forth.

With acknowledgment of that fact came the confirmation of my suspicion that this was indeed a dunk I had on my hands, and, furthermore, a nasty one. My question to myself was what would constitute faking the funk, and how could I avoid such an outcome?

*

Faking the Funk

As I saw it, there were a number of options available to me, many of which would constitute faking the funk – the very situation I wanted to avoid.

Funk Fake #1: Over-seriousness.

I’m a firm believer in the use of humour and discussion to deflect and resolve conflict, especially on the internet, when disaster is never further than a LOLFAG! away. Not every situation calls for charging out, guns blazing – doing so can often be counter-productive, because it only makes people dig in their heels and sound off all the louder. I didn’t want to start a giant debate or flame war, because, given that I assumed these people were probably hanging out, and drinking a little, and working themselves into a mentality of poorly-thought-out teasing, rather than expressing any deep and true homophobia, bringing the hammer down wasn’t an option that would do any real good for anyone.

And because, really, when the shoe’s on the other foot… fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Funk Fake #2: Under-seriousness.

But at the same time, if I was to just let the issue slide… that would be a tacit endorsement of speech  I don’t agree with. To engage positively with the name-calling or to say nothing would be to indirectly say ‘Hey! You can use the word gay as an insult, no matter how minor your intent or disconnected from definition, and that’s perfectly OK by me, Simon Smithson!’

It’s not as if I thought the whole world was watching with bated breath; the goings-on on my Facebook page were hardly going to carry over to influence much of anything, anywhere, ever. But still…

Would that go on my passport?

Simon Smithson: Feels OK about discriminatory insults. Facebook proves it.

I could see, in my head, a vision of trying to get back into the USA, and the staffer behind the immigration desk looking at me, looking at my passport and reading those accusing words, then looking back up at me… and slowly narrowing his eyes.

Of course, in my head, he is a member of an ethnic minority. And transgendered. And he/she’s a Scientologist. Who likes Yanni. And the film Glitter.

God.

The shame.

My shame, I mean.

Although the transgender customs official would be right to be ashamed of liking Glitter.

That fantasy aside, all I could think of was this at the 1:30 mark.

Funk Fake #3: Total and Complete Hypocrisy.

99% of humor is based on laughing at someone or something. There has to be an object, which means, no matter how you slice it, there’s potential for someone, somewhere, to be offended. And I laugh at horrible things all the time. I make inappropriate jokes, delight in the shattering of taboos, and if you show me a sacred cow, then I’ll tell you a story about how it cries during sex and also, it’s fat. And we should eat it. Because its tears make it taste sweeter.

At the same time… I pick my audience. And I’m aware of setting. Context changes everything; it’s why the line ‘that’s what she said!’ is funny; why you don’t swear in front of children. It’s why we don’t, when asked by our new girlfriend’s parents how our day was, say ‘It was retarded!’ It’s why you don’t have the same conversations with your girlfriend as you have with your grandmother.

Unless they’re both performing on stage in the same North Korean sex club at the same time.

Because we’re not idiots.

Funk Fake #4: Weird Co-Opting of a Crusader Identity.

Because, just like Ludacris, whose words I try to live by every day, especially when it comes to bitches… man, I don’t want to do that. I want to have a good time and enjoy my Jack, or, rather, my Swedish strawberry cider.

It’s midnight. On a Friday. I don’t want to set off down some moral pathway where I start to define myself as someone who voices disapproval of the possible infringement of the right of a group of people to enjoy an existence untainted by bias¹. I certainly don’t want to end up in some foggy internet netherworld of political correctness and high horses and debate over definition and intent.

Especially because it’s unpleasant and unappealing and nobody likes it.

And yet, here I am. I’ve been put here.

Goddamnit.

You dicks.

Funk Fake #5: Freedom of Speech.

Which is something I believe very strongly in. Where does my subjective truth about what is acceptable or not end and objective truth begin? Can I be justified in calling people out for expressing whatever it is they’re going to express? Isn’t that, like, Communist, or something? It’s definitely Russian, I know that much.

Can I balance thoughts of consequence against thoughts of censorship and find that the scales tip one way or another? Don’t we have freedom of speech on the internet, of all places? We’ve certainly got freedom of porn. All of these questions welled up before my eyes.

But then three sweet, sweet words emerged in my head: right of reply.

*

Then I figured fuck it. I’d just delete the offending comments, the writers would, I hoped, get the message, and we’d all move on with our lives.

I deleted them, and then thought Ah… damn it. Deletion isn’t really explicitly saying hey, don’t do that, but… ah well. The problem has been dealt with.

Seconds later, more comments appeared from the same people. About censorship, me being a gay little lesbian², uberhomo, quintuple gay (you skipped quadruple, idiots)… et cetera. And I thought damn it! I’ve forgotten the law of the schoolyard! Don’t fuel the fire!

And then I thought Wait, what? I’m 28 years old. These people are 28 years old. And no matter what they say about censorship, there’s no way they’d use the term gay pejoratively in, say, a job interview; they’d self-censor at the drop of a hat and jump squeaking through any hoop that was put in front of them.  They’d contort themselves into mewling pretzels to avoid the appearance of bigotry.They just think they can get away with it in this specific instance.

My next step was to write something non-engaging and non-condoning. I searched for the perfect phrase, and, again, found three simple words.

‘Dude. Not OK.’

To me, that was the perfect pitch of disapproval without judgment or self-righteousness.

It didn’t work.

So I followed it up, explaining that on my personal Facebook page, my online representation of my day to day life, I would censor who and what I pleased, and I don’t condone the use of the word gay as an insult.

Again, this didn’t work.

And I thought You know what? Harvey Milk wouldn’t put up with this bullshit.

Also, I’m getting disrespected here. And yeah, that really kind of pales in comparison to the larger issue, but still… this whole thing is really getting out of hand.

Three times, I had expressed my disapproval. I don’t know what it is about the magic power of the number three, but, there are the three aspects of God, luck runs in threes, apparently the Condor has three days… and so I said to myself The next person who mouths off… well, we’ll just see about that.

At this point, a friend from high school, and the same group, who had been previously silent, lumbered into the discussion and dropped the g word, and subsequently became a cautionary tale of the power of the block button.

A tingling taste, like raw power, or sherbet, or a delicious, fizzy mix of the two, spread across my tongue.

Before anyone had caught on, one of the earlier perpetrators commented again. “You’re so concerned about people saying gay on your stupid facebook page. That’s gay in itself.”

Boom.

Blocked.

Awesome.

And I don’t care if you are my best friend’s girlfriend.

My phone started to ring at this point, and I ignored it. More comments appeared, this time about hurt feelings.

Not from the people I’d blocked, of course.

Because they couldn’t comment any more.

I spoke to another, unrelated friend about this today.

‘Did you give them any warning?’ she laughed. ‘Maybe they didn’t know that you were going to block them.’

‘Well,’ I said.

‘They fucking know now, don’t they?’

*

This kind of censorship and debate is a new experience for me. I haven’t found myself in a situation before where I’ve felt the need to tell someone they can’t say something, or that I disagree with a public statement they’ve made, on grounds of discrimination.

I’ve certainly been told in the past that I’ve said things that are out of line.

Which is probably fair, in practical terms, if nothing else.

But it raises the question – who’s to say what’s allowable, and what isn’t? Who is to say, objectively, what can and cannot be said, in which theatre? Who is to say what the appropriate steps to engage with such discussions are?

The answer, frankly, is clear.

I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

¹ – these are also Ludacris lyrics
² – as if I’ve never been called a lesbian before

Michael Steele, former bass player for the eighties pop group The Bangles, released a statement this afternoon informing the world at large that due to recent and negative events in the world of politics she has made the decision to formally and legally change her name. Below is the transcript of her statement, read live to a moderately attended group of fans and reporters on stage at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California.

 

Steele: Fellow Citizens, Seekers of Truth and Peace, STAR-FM Promo Department… thank you for gathering here today.

(She pauses to adjust her bass strap and decides to swing her guitar back behind her so it stops hitting the mic stand as she holds her notes out in front of her.)

Steele: I come before you today to ask a question. (Squints at paper.) When our freedom is compromised, what are we to do?

(…crowd mutters, sound of glass breakage in background, and a Barback yells, ‘Sorry!’…)

Steele (to crowd): I can’t heeeear you!

(Crowd quieter, more confused.)

Steele: I’ll rephrase. When something impedes upon our freedom, we have no choice but to act. Am I right, people?

She covers the mic with her hand in an attempt to mute it but is still audible, though muffled.

Steele (to someone in the wings behind her): Can somebody bring me my reading glasses?

A roadie pulls out his own pair from his t-shirt pocket and runs them over to her. He also offers her his vent brush from his back pocket, but she declines. Almost immediately, she covers the mic again and yells after him, “Why? Do I need it?” He shakes his head no, gives her a double thumbs up. She continues.

Steele: There comes a time in everyone’s life when the fork in the road ahead is bent in such a way that you can’t quite see beyond it to where it leads…and you have to make a decision.

She looks up to assess the crowd.

Steele: You. (She points to someone in the darkness.) There with the ripped Go-Go’s t-shirt. You made a decision to wear that shirt here today. Perhaps you chose to go down that road because it was the only side of the fork that still fit or was clean. But if you would have done your homework, you’d have known it brings up bad mojo. Remember 1987? The Jane Wiedlin comes on to my boyfriend incident? If you would have considered other roads, made an informed decision — a metaphorical pink and black striped spandex mini-dress, say — who knows where it would have led?

Someone in the crowd: Where’s Susanna?

Steele (steeling herself): But I digress.

She adjusts her guitar strap.

Steele: I have arrived at my fork. And I choose to take the road yet traveled.

Someone else in the crowd: Are you going to walk like an Egyptian on it?

Steele (ignoring): In recent weeks, nay months, an unrelenting nag on my psyche has forced me to a decision that will forever alter my sense of self and others’ sense of me.

The crowd is quiet, seeming genuinely interested in what she’s going to reveal.

Steele: Some might think that my parents naming me ‘Michael Steele’ was a burden from the start. Those people would be right. As a young girl, growing up with a boy’s name, I was constantly teased and chastised. I dreamed of the day I would develop breasts and could show them off to my tormentors. ‘Feast your eyes on these!’ I would say. And they would step back in awe and reverence to my luscious mounds.

Audience member: Ah-oooo-gaaa!!!

Steele (reading): But that day was not to come. I took after my grandmother on my father’s side, and grew into an extremely tall and thin thing, who eventually gained favor with her peers by being able to hide joints on the tops of door jams and paint apartment room walls without the aid of a ladder.

Possibly the same audience member: Show us your mounds!

Steele: My point is that I overcame this burden. Time, and the natural cycle of the mystery of the developing body healed some of it. And by locking down my heart so no one could penetrate it and hurt me further, my transformation was complete. I was Michael Steele. Michael ‘I Wouldn’t Fuck With Me If I Were You’ Steele.

A door opens in the back of the room, and daylight is emitted. A silhouette of a man is visible along with a dolly with boxes piled on it. The silhouette says loudly, “Where should I stack the toilet paper?”

Steele (visibly unnerved): Despite my past, and the adversity I have reconciled, in recent weeks the hardship of sharing my name with Republican Chairperson Michael Steele has become too great. The accumulation of his blunders and the imminent firing, forced resignation, or muzzle wearing that inevitably will become part of his story has landed me here. I have been mistaken for him via email, via regular mail, via Facebook – even though I have my actual face as my picture, not a photo of my cat, or the actress most people tell me I look like, or a kitschy shot of some candy I liked from childhood—

Another audience member: I like Abba-Zabas!

Steele: So even though my Caucasian, female image is displayed prominently on my Facebook wall, according to my fan page administrator, Barkley, I’m still getting messages for the black, male politician Michael Steele.

Audience member/possibly a reporter: Is it true you’ll be taking a trip to Afghanistan next month to assuage the concerns of our troops over your statements against the war?

Steele: Can you see me? (Back to her notes.) And so, just as my parents made the decision to name me Michael Steele, setting me on the arduous path that would become my life for lo this many 40 something years, I have made the decision to take back my name… and make it my own. From here forth, thanks to the jackassery of both my parents and the politician Michael Steele, I present you with the new me… the me of my choosing… Michelle Steele.

Number one fan: Hi, Michelle!

Steele: I thank you for your time. And I thank you for respecting my and my family’s privacy during this transitional stage.

Yet another audience member: Do we have to re-like you on Facebook?

Steele: I’m honestly not sure how that works.

Audience member: Can we expense our drinks to the Republican National Committee’s tab?

 

Questions from the audience were taken for another five or so minutes. When the press conference was officially concluded all in attendance were treated to a sound check by Ms. Steele’s newly formed band Rush Limbaugh.

 

Author’s note: The “Ms. Steele” depicted here is a figment of the author’s imagination. The real Ms. Steele simply had the misfortune of sharing a name with a current political figure. Which got the author thinking. And it devolved from there.