Tag Archives: blogging

Amazing the Room

My dad always said I keep my thoughts to myself unless I think I can amaze a room.

It’s too true.

I’ve written very little this month, and there are several reasons for this. I am hampered by several factors right now, and I’m starting to envy those who blog anonymously. I always want to write authentically, but right now there are only a few things I can discuss without the cloak of vagueness. So why blog at all? I can hear you asking.

I don’t know. I have missed blogging this month. The less I blog, the more pressure I feel to amaze a room with my next post. That’s probably the worst thing about not blogging for me. I get out of the practice of writing, and begin feeling pressure the more I don’t post to ONLY come back if I have something unique, something thought-provoking to say.

Clearly I don’t have anything like that to say today.

Mostly, I just miss everyone. I know I’ve been a terrible commenter, and for that I am sorry. Blogging was always more about community for me. The sense of going to a virtual coffee shop and discussing issues at a roundtable, with smart, opinionated people.

So, since I don’t have anything earth-shattering to say, I’ll ask you guys, oh wise ones, if you are still here at my virtual coffee table. Do YOU have problems when you stop blogging restarting again? Do you feel your next post has to be so amazing that you just give up and don’t post? Would you rather post anonymously?

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Filed under What Say You?, writing

The Issue of Class and Blogging

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I’ve been watching the first season of Revenge on NetFlix. Oh, is it fun! One of the reasons the show is so enjoyable is the schadenfreude involved. We watch (and cheer) as villains are taken down from their lofty stations in life. The villains are thinly disguised versions of Bernie Madoff and other Wall Street crook types. They are fabulously rich and they have committed all sorts of crimes, including murder, to get where they are – the top of the heap in the Hamptons.

But there are more subtle discussions around class on the show: mostly how difficult it is for anyone not born fabulously wealthy to make opportunities happen for themselves. How life is a struggle for most of us. For those cheek to jowl with such wealth, who have none for themselves? It’s difficult to compete.

Where I live is fairly similar to the Hamptons. Immensely wealthy out-of-towners come here to set up residence because of the natural beauty and proximity to Silicon Valley. Then there are the townies, like me, who were born here and love it. But we are faced with rising costs of living and often can’t compete with the newcomers financially.

What Does This Have To Do With Blogging?

It’s becoming more and more difficult to break into blogging as a career. Most bloggers don’t make a living off of their blogs. I would venture to say that most bloggers are hobbyists. There used to be a group of bloggers who were able to make a living off of banner ads and high levels of traffic, paid articles and even book deals. These bloggers established themselves with their unique voices and in many cases, their writing prowess.

I have read (and heard) that it is becoming increasingly difficult for these bloggers to make a living, due to a collapse in revenue for banner ads. Some welcome this development, saying it is high time for some bloggers to get a job, like everyone else. I am going to disagree.

Right now, the blogging “voice” of choice is visual and highly branded. Affiliate links, pay for pins, branded merchandise, TV shows even: these other sources of revenue are where the money is. What this means is those making money from blogging now are increasingly not sought out and valued for their writing. And, well, let’s be honest. A lot of the biggest bloggers doing well, who are at the top, are financially independent in some way: whether through their husband’s job or family money or whatever. They don’t NEED the money they make from blogging, but they can “afford” to spend a lot of time blogging and marketing themselves because they don’t have to go out and “get a job.”

I don’t see this is a positive development.

The Parallels To Journalism

I think I’ve mentioned before that my dad was a journalist in the golden age of journalism, when the most talented writers (regardless of how wealthy or not they were) could get well-paying jobs at magazines or newspapers. As the internet grew in popularity, circulations then salaries shrunk and as a result, since working/middle class journalists couldn’t afford to feed themselves and their families on a small salary, the prestigious papers (like The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair) began to be more and more populated by younger writers who were Trust Fund Babies. They didn’t NEED to be paid a lot. I’m not saying they are not talented writers, either. They are. What I AM saying is the Voice of the publications became different, less diverse. When many/most of your writers don’t need to worry about everyday life and expenses, this becomes obvious in your publication’s tone.

As an example, just look at The New York Times’ coverage of infertility and adoption. Their articles almost exclusively portray those going through adoption/loss/infertility as wealthy, or they filter the story through the lens of a political position.

Where Does This Leave Us?

There were those who said blogging would become the “independent voices” lacking in journalism. I think that was true in the aughts: you had talented writers like Alexa Stevenson (Flotsam), Heather Spohr (The Spohrs are Multiplying), Monica Mingo (Rantings of a Creole Princess) and Eden Riley (Edenland) even properties like Television Without Pity, which launched the Fug Girls. These blogs and forums were staffed and voiced by new, fresh talents with diverse points of view.

Now, it seems there are a few posts that go viral because of controversy (like the whole “Hall Family” slutshaming debacle, ew) but not bloggers who emerge as writing talents. Please correct me if I’m wrong: I’d love to be tipped off to some excellent new bloggers writing about issues of interest.

I’m becoming disheartened that bloggers only get “PAID” when they have deep pockets, a business plan, a publicist and pretty pictures.

Do you agree? Or do you think the cream always rises to the top?

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Hoaxed: When Do Internet Lies Matter and When Do They Not?

Every few months, it seems, there are a few stories that come out of the depths of the Internet, go viral, then are found to be untrue.

Some examples:

Warrior Eli
Other Side of The Rainbow (Full disclosure: I sympathetically commented on that blog, and was listed on her blogroll.)

Last week, several people I know linked to a blog post from A Mother Thing, which detailed the experience of a mother, her son, a pink headband and a man dressed in camouflague who supposedly ripped said headband off the son’s head at a Wal-Mart. Awful, right? A story around this blog post then appeared on Huffington Post, and finally on BuzzFeed. On BuzzFeed (I am an embarassingly regular reader of BuzzFeed by the way. Go ahead and judge.) I noticed a number of people commenting they suspected the story wasn’t true.

We still don’t know whether the story is true. Here is what we do know, from The Ledger:

Asked Tuesday if she made up the story, (the blogger, name redacted) responded with a firm no. But she doesn’t care whether deputies find proof in the Wal-Mart surveillance footage.

‘I don’t think it will do any good,’ she said. ‘I just want it to go away.’

Now there is a new viral sensation around a despicable letter to the family of an autistic boy. And already, people are wondering: is this letter a hoax? At this point, it doesn’t seem so.

I’ve been thinking what these developments mean to bloggers and to readers of blogs. How important is the truth in writing blogs? And what should readers do if they suspect a hoax?

Truth and Blogging

Blogging is often maligned as journalism’s more uncouth cousin: unprofessional, uneducated but sometimes making sound points at a dinner table discussion. Blogging came out of online journaling (remember Live Journal?) and its roots seem firmly planted, even now, in the first person memoir experience. Many people have written dissertations about the memoir format and why it matters, but I think this quote by Gore Vidal (via Wikipedia) is a good superficial overview of the genre:

“A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.”

I think most people would agree that most bloggers do exactly this: they write about their lives without fact checking, relying on their own memory and emotions of events to help guide them in their storytelling. Obviously, many of the stories I have told on my blog would probably be remembered differently by others involved. Blogging always reminds me of the Rashoman Effect, and the most eye-opening writing exercise I ever particpated in was the Rashoman Slumber Party, where Bodega Bliss, Stumbling Gracefully and I each recounted our own version of the same event. Our own stories of the same event were radically different.

So, blogging “truth” is probably in the eye of the beholder. But what, then, do we as bloggers owe our readers?

When people’s perceptions of events are often radically different, I think there are lines that can be crossed while telling our stories. In the case of A Mother Thing, it SEEMS the blogger in question accused a Wal-Mart customer of touching her son in a rough way (I’m being very careful with language, here, maybe a lawyer friend like Miss OhKay can help me out here.) Is this a crime? As far as I can tell, she loaded her post onto the Huffington Post platform, which indicates to me that she wanted her post to be widely read. But I must confess my general ignorance about Huffington Post. The post went viral, even appearing in The Daily Mail in the UK.

In the back of my mind, I always consider the idea that a post I am writing could go viral. It’s very unlikely, but possible. I try to write as responsibly as I can: I try not to accuse people of crimes (my father was trained to always beware of libel laws), I try not to state blatant untruths and I try to tell events as they happened, although the Rashoman Sleepover has made me aware that this may not even be possible. I have learned from bitter experience to try not to tell someone else’s story. That’s not OK. Ever.

I think all bloggers should think about this every time they hit publish. And if they want to share something that might be in a gray area, they can always password protect a post.

Do you agree with this code of conduct?

What Do Readers Owe Bloggers?

Melissa Ford published this thought-provoking post over at BlogHer about A Mother Thing, which is what prompted me to really probe my feelings about Internet hoaxes. I sometimes read blog posts that don’t quite add up. My BS meter is pretty low and I generally trust people, but if I become skeptical, I stop reading. I do what Melissa suggests: I click away. I do this in life too. Who knows why someone lies or distorts the truth? I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Like Melissa said, vitroil on the Internet IS a huge problem. One only needs to read the comments on YouTube to lose all faith in humanity.

However, I think there are two exceptions to the click away rule.

One:

I think if a reader discovers a hoax where someone is deliberately representing themselves falsely for monetary gain, then investigates and brings the fraud to light: I would argue this is a new form of investigative journalism. This isn’t really very different than when a big newspaper discovers a Nigerian email scam and writes a story about it, right?

I’m probably not going to get much disagreement on this.

Two.

The big viral stories that get play, then turn out to be patently false. We don’t know whether this is the case for A Mother Thing, but the police have found no evidence of a crime at this time. It is strange that the blogger in question wrote and then (maybe: HuffPo users, let me know about this) distributed her story on a big platform then decided she wanted it to go away. I think her story should have been investigated by the police, as it eventually was. As it is now, many doubt her.

Why does this matter? To me, it’s because of James Frey.

James Frey, the memoirist whose memior about addiction was supposedly fact-checked for accuracy by his publisher turned out to have exagerations. You can read them all, here. Probably the most notable was that Frey claimed to have been in prison for 87 days, when in fact he had been detained for mere hours.

Why did this matter? To people who suffer from the disease of addiction, Frey’s memoir had been a tool to educate friends and family about what addiction does to a person. After Oprah endorsed it, many many people (the book sold 5 million copies) who did not understand addiction had their eyes opened up to what an addict goes through and how difficult it is to rehabilitate. One could make the case that the book created public empathy for addicts. So when Frey was publicly chastised on Oprah and the book received a huge black eye, you could argue that black eye extended to his topic of addiction as well.

There are so many real life events of discrimination, assault and hate crimes. But when a viral post like the Wal-Mart headband one sweeps through, enraging then causing skepticism, it causes us to become cynical. In fact, the first thing I thought when I heard about the autism hate letter was, here we go again.

That was a lot of sentences of words, as my daughter would say, on a bunch of controversial topics. As always, I want to know what you think.

Should bloggers be aware that every post could go viral and write accordingly? Should readers be allowed to question whether posts are true?

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Filed under Blogging, What Say You?

Living in An Enneagram World

I think I mentioned a while back that I took an Enneagram personality test, via Project Progeny. The results? I’m a type four, an “Individualist.” I didn’t enjoy reading the personality description. It was not very flattering, in fact, it was pretty judgemental.

From the site:

“We have named this type The Individualist because Fours maintain their identity by seeing themselves as fundamentally different from others…They often see themselves as uniquely talented, possessing special, one-of-a-kind gifts, but also as uniquely disadvantaged or flawed. More than any other type, Fours are acutely aware of and focused on their personal differences and deficiencies.”

I would say this description sort of fits my blogging persona, which mostly focuses on my infertility journey. And being infertile? Well, it means that I am in reality a person who IS “disadvantaged and flawed” when it comes to reproduction. I think it’s probably true that I still carry the scars of infertility, and that I feel flawed overall sometimes. But I don’t think I am uniquely talented or that I possess special gifts. If anything, I think I am exceedingly ordinary.

It gets worse.

“They (Individualists) are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity.”

Ouch.

In other words, the description was “Way harsh, Tai.”

When I joined a company a while back, I took the Meyers-Briggs personality test. I was classified an INTJ. I don’t remember feeling that the description made me feel, well, deficient. The INTJ description embraced my personality for its good points and offered useful ways to work around my weaknesses. The Meyers-Briggs used a constructive criticism approach, if you will.

In most of the parenting books I’ve read, positive reinforcement is praised as the most proactive tool we have to affect change with our children. It’s difficult sometimes to remember to give that positive reinforcement to children, because our eyes can be so focused on the negative, on the lookout for the worst.

And so it seems in blogging, too.

I was struck by this post by Uppercase Woman today. I’ve gone into my feelings about how blogging has shifted from a landscape of “letting it all hang out there” emotionally to a picture perfect world of bloggers whose lives are beautifully turned out at all times. And I’m starting to think that this change is really reflecting society at large. It’s a case of a zeitgeist shift.

Here’s my theory. Back in the 2000s when we all thought the economy was good and all groups in society seemed to be making gains, and all economic levels were encouraged to make the American Dream a reality by buying homes, remodeling homes and taking expensive vacations: well, maybe we all felt a bit privileged, whether we were or not. Maybe we were more open to being sympathetic to others, to the plight of others. Maybe that expansive sense of security led to listening more. Maybe we felt secure enough to speak about problems and issues we were facing, from infertility to parenting.

We are obviously not in a good economy any more. Things are improving, but the sense that things are going to be better for any of us? That optimism seems to be mostly gone. Women have been the beneficiaries of most of the jobs in the Great Recession. And guess what? With that gain has come the biggest backlash on women’s rights I have ever seen in my lifetime. But there’s more than just a backlash at work, as troubling as that is. There seems to be a pervasive, stoic, “suck it up” attitude. A sort of revised “keep up appearances,” if you will. Had you ever heard the term “first world problems” before 2008? I hadn’t. Yet now more and more infertility is dismissed as a “first world problem.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is it seems to me to be a shame that in an increasingly judgemental world, a woman can go to a conference like BlogHer, which I found to be a wonderfully empowering event last year, and be afraid to let her guard down.

But back to the Enneagram test. Right now I feel like we are all living in an Enneagram world instead of a Meyers-Briggs world. A place where we are judged for not fitting into a graceful, perfect mold. And I find this to be a very dismaying development.

What do you think? Have you noticed a more harsh, stoic sense attitude among others or even yourself since the Great Recession began? Are you often afraid to express negative feelings for fear of being labeled ungrateful?

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Why Blogging Matters

Whew! What a week, huh? It’s shaping up to be a pretty historic June. Like most of you, I’ve been thinking and discussing the fast-moving developments with friends and family, feeling my head whip forward, backward and forward again. I have noticed an increase in conversation, particularly in DIALOGUE, about things we as Americans don’t often talk about.

I hate to say “Mainstream Media” as if there is just one monolith of opinions by journalists (print, broadcast and online) but it IS difficult to avoid seeing these wide, vast issues reduced into in tart soundbites and simplified arguments. The Paula Deen controversy, in particular, has been boiled down to a few pungent ingredients, for example. Pun intended, obviously. Racism vs. scapegoat, obesity vs. healthy eating, empire-building vs. nepotism. The End.

Except, not. And here’s where blogging comes in. I get very cynical about blogging sometimes. It is a love/hate affair that comes around and around. And then I’ll discover a post that is illuminating and makes me think about many things entirely differently.

Because the greatest thing about blogging? It gives POWER TO THE VOICELESS.

Case in point: Michael Tweedy’s post, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen”

Tweedy makes a number of powerful points in this post about race, America and food and cuisine and language. He argues that the charges against Paula Deen (which he mostly pardons her of) obfuscate something much deeper: the real roots and collaboration (willing and unwilling) African Americans don’t get recognized for in the style of cooking she has made famous. It turns out, Southern Cooking and Paula Deen owe much more to African American traditions and ingredients and preparation than I think most of us are aware.

Don’t forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks, some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor’s Georgia plantation. You, just like me cousin, stand squarely on what late playwright August Wilson called, “the self defining ground of the slave quarter.” There and in the big house kitchen, Africa, Europe and Native America(s) melded and became a fluid genre of world cuisine known as Southern food. Your barbecue is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat—have inextricable ties to the plantation South and its often Black Majority coming from strong roots in West and Central Africa.

Not exactly what we’ve been reading about, eh?

He goes on:

We think you are a businesswoman who has made some mistakes, has character flaws like everybody else and in fact is now a scapegoat. I find it hard to be significantly angry at you when during the last election the re-disenfranchisement of the Negro—like something from the time of W.E.B. Du Bois was a national cause celebre. Hell, today the voting rights act was gutted and I’m sure many think this is a serious win for “democracy.” If I want to be furious about something racial—well America—get real—we’ve had a good twelve years of really really rich material that the National media has set aside to talk about Paula Deen. Yes Paula, in light of all these things, you are the ultimate, consummate racist, and the one who made us fat, and the reason why American food sucks and ……you don’t believe that any more than I do.

Think about that for a while. WHEW!

And yet, Tweedy reminds us so powerfully that reconciliation, learning to work side by side, is ALWAYS the answer.

If there is anything The Cooking Gene has taught me—its about the art of reconciliation. We aren’t happy with you right now. Then again some of the things you have said or have been accused of saying aren’t surprising. In so many ways, that’s the more unfortunate aspect. We are resigned to believe and understand that our neighbor is to be suspected before respected. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to go on forever.

In the closing passage that made me cry and want to be a better human being, Tweedy invites Paula Deen to come to an event and co-prepare with him a traditional plantation dinner: one that includes sourced ingredients from local farmers and takes place in the one of the biggest plantations there ever was in the South. In this simple gesture, Tweedy reminds us that while history and the past are ever potent, we have a choice to make the world a better place through forgiveness and understanding. Understanding what has made us ALL who we are, but also, ACTION, not just idle talk: we can CHOOSE to be better people. Less suspect. More welcoming. More hospitable. More, well, SOUTHERN.

To paraphrase JK Rowling, it’s our choices who make us who we are.

Have you come across any powerful posts from blogs which have illuminated your view beyond the media soundbites? Please share! I’d love to read them.

And don’t worry…more “How to Dress” posts and “Project: Dreamcatcher” to come!

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