I am Alice or writing through the looking glass

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Sometimes enough disparate elements come together and you have to write about it because to do otherwise would be to toss fate’s good idea down the drain. So I find myself writing about writing and weblogging and self-censorship, when I think I should be writing about a girl and a bicycle and trees with eyes.

Last week I wrote about Fight or Flight, an essay about me coming to terms with how I deal with the negative comments that can occur with much of my writing – usually my technical writing, though I’ve attracted a few wasps with my political writing. I mentioned in the essay that I was inspired by another post but didn’t want to link to it because I didn’t want to bring relationships into a story, which ultimately was about my own journey for understanding. Unfortunately, the linkage occurred anyway, but fortunately, it didn’t leak into my writing – the words were accepted at face value, on their own worth, for good or bad.

There are times, though, such as now, when I’m not only inspired by others’ writing, I link to it because they’ve started a conversation and I’m only one voice in it. I am not so clever as to write with multiple voices in one writing; I can only write in my own.

Happy Tutor’s been writing quite a bit about the anger, aggressiveness, and the flaming that can creep into our conversations at times: here and here. In particular, one essay highlighted the conflict of differentiating between the flames of passion and the flames of cruelty and how, at times, the only difference between the two is one of perception. He writes:

Any time you talk about gender differences in a profession, you might as well expect a bashing. All I would ask, if you are seething with indignation, if your selfhood is now in play, is a) discharge yourself fully b) respect other people’s right to be wrong and c) recognize that we are all fearful and sometimes immobilized on this ground strewn with landmines. So, in other words, make allowances, if you can, for other people’s vulnerability, as you would hope they do for you – still, discharge the emotion fully. Any one with a good maternal instinct, or paternal, for that matter, is welcome to bind up the wounds we inflict on one another. The truth is just a word for what might emerge if we had the courage of our convictions, and the courage to learn by putting them at risk.

For a woman who writes from a platform of passion, I see these words as a benediction and a bane. If selfhood is engaged then we have to recourse but to expend our emotions, but does this mean we should not allow our selfhood to be engaged? Or does this mean, when we do, we have no option but to respond honestly, even passionately if passion is how our truth is conveyed?

I was considering this and not sure if I wanted to write about it when I received an email from Elaine about a posting she wrote in response to a Chris Locke diatribe, written in response to another weblogger’s posting. It would seem that the recipient of the Rageboy writing was so upset by it that she pulled not only the one posting, but her entire weblog.

Elaine writes Shame on you for shutting down a female blogger’s weblog:

So when bad boy Rage Boy spoilingly shuts down a fellow female’s blog for fun and fame, I say shame, shame on you, you sad, bad, boy blogger. Is that what blogging is about? Slash and burn? If you don’t like it kill it? (Sounds an awful lot like Dumbya, doesn’t it?)

I couldn’t read the original post that set Rageboy off, but I did see a piece of it at Blog Sisters. In it, the writer, Lindsay, talks about seeing a personal ad that read, in part, SWF, 40, attractive. Looking for man aged 40-55 for friendship, maybe more. Of the ad, and the need for relationships in general, she wrote:

t’s not so rare for me to talk to someone, who is about my age and has never had a relationship, and hear them saying “I feel so lonely. I wish someone wanted to be with me.” I even read in one person’s online journal that he wanted someone “to fill this hole inside of me.” The confusion of it all is so crazy, the thought that we need someone to fill the gaps in our lives, that we cannot live fully until we find our “soulmate” who is going to make us feel complete, and we can finally be happy and carefree and la la la.

I think most of this is due to laziness and insecurity. People don’t want to do the work on themselves so that they can feel complete independently. They want someone else to do it..

The problem is not that you haven’t found “the one.” The problem is that people are often too lazy to spend much time working on themselves alone, when they have the chance to do so, before they end up in a relationship and a situation where they will almost inevitably end up codependent.

There is much to agree with in Lindsay’s writing and I’ve written before that other people cannot make us whole, we can only do this ourselves. However, regardless of our wholeness or not, to see loneliness and react, at a minimum, without understanding and with intolerance is just as ‘ugly’ as to use words that overtly burn on their reading. It’s easy to condemn and criticize the woman in her 40’s who is lonely and seeking companionship, when one is not in that person’s shoes. Or, in Chris Locke’s shoes, worn loafers of a man in his 50’s, also lonely, always attracted to the flame that will ultimately burn him.

I, too, am lonely, without the closeness of a dear companion, a warm body to hold at night, a warm soul to hold during the day; I also am my 40’s and on the shady side of life, but where the lady in the ad sought companionship, I submerge my loneliness in my writing, and use it to give my writing depth. Does this make me superior? Or just different? Regardless, there’s pain in loneliness and to dismiss it with jejune assumptions of laziness is to invite response. Yes, even passionate response.

In Elaine’s comments, Lindsay wrote:

I didn’t actually choose to run. I had been thinking about shutting down my blog for awhile, because I’d been getting sick of all the nastiness going on in the blogosphere, especially on forums. Nothing like this had happened to me before though, and I figured it was the most opportune time to do what I’d already been planning on doing anyway.

I find it amusing how throughout this whole thing, there have been many comments about my age and implications about my lack of maturity and/or life experience, while at the same time the “adults” are the ones behaving in a way that is reminiscent of recess in Kindergarten. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to play without me.

I’m not defending Chris – as Lindsay wrote in Elaine’s comments, he also attacked her beliefs in addition to her writing, and I can’t defend that. But I can also understand his anger – easy for you to talk about laziness babe, when you’re not the one hurtin’.

The issue, though demonstrated effectively by this interchange, really has to do with that civility that Happy Tutor writes about. The problem with civility, though, is that it’s so open to interpretation. Some would say that being civil implies agreement, others that the discussion stay passionless and non-personal, and still others that anything goes as long as the parties agree to engage at a certain level.

It’s not easy to figure this all out. I think of reducing our writing in disagreement to assertions that begin with “I beg to differ”, and my blood runs cold; we have sold the heart of us, traded it in kind for polite political correctness. One person’s ugliness, is another’s beauty, and perhaps that’s what Tutor was saying – we must continue as we start because to do otherwise, is a lie.

In a technical post that was almost guaranteed to generate flames, I wrote about Pie/Echo/Atom and a recent seeming rejection of using RDF/XML for its primary format. How odd that a topic so seated in technology can be so potentially explosive, but any who know the players should, at this point, be shuddering at the implications. In this case, though there was disagreement and a combination of players that should have resulted in burning bits of cinder raining down on all – the conversation stayed civil. Not without bite, and not without passion, and there were hooks aplenty on which to launch flames, but it stayed civil.

I consider this thread a triumph for all the participants, but would others point to it and say, “See, lack of civility”?

This issue is only compounded because so many of us know each other, either through months, years of communication through our weblogs and phone calls and emails, or even in person.

Happy Tutor uncannily, or perhaps knowingly, also writes on self-censorship because of assocations we make with each other. This follows from Steve Himmer’s essay, where Steve talks about the impact knowing our audience has on us:

I’ve been thinking about an aspect of reading weblogs that I hadn’t considered before as I approached them as literature and whatnot. Namely, what difference does it make to our reading(s) when the blogger in question is an offline acquaintance, let alone someone we consider a friend.

So we lose the anonymity, and gain richer friendships, suggesting that we are forced (or feel forced) to censor ourselves more closely, be more careful about how we write ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, how we write about others…This suggests a dovetail between questions of audience and issues of acquaintance, but that makes sense: part of the shift from anonymity to known entity we undergo as webloggers as we become more and more social, on- and offline, corresponds to a shift our audience undergoes from nameless, faceless readers (or, when we begin writing, no readers) to known and named readers.

Tutor responds with:

In the course of this perceptive and congenial post, Steve suggests that as we become better known face to face, and via email, among our blogging circle, that we necessarily begin to censor ourselves, for fear of hurting those we now know, and for fear of the repercussions in the larger social world. Some might say that such self-censorship is a step towards civility. It can also be like “coming out,” an act of courage – or stupidity.

(Neither edge of Tutor’s sword is dull. I wonder if this is natural, or if he deliberately hones the safe side to keep his readers from experiencing comfort? )

Steve and Tutor both make a point: unlike other writing, the audience we have here is not that unknown Reader, but people we have come to know. Does this effect our writing? How can it not? But does this, then, lead to a lie – that unexpressed emotion that Tutor wrote about earlier?

Returning to my essay Fight or Flight, and my hesitancy to link to another weblog post. I did not link because I did not want to write to an audience of close friends – I wanted my audience to be Reader. I did not want to join a conversation, or invite a conversation, unless it had to do with the words, not past associations. This isolation is almost unheard of in weblogging, but it’s essential for writing. Writing centers around the words and the intent, the passion and that pesky truth – not friends’ expectations and feelings, old baggage and civility.

I hesitate now before I link to another weblogger’s writing. I think to myself, “Will this person want to be invited into this conversation?” and “Do I want this writing to become a conversation?” If I can’t unequivocally answer either of these questions with Yes, then I am not going to linclude a reference to their writing. Yet, this is considered uncivil. Do we choose writing, or do we choose community?

This would be all so much easier if we had thick skin and little sensitivity; but then we’d also be lacking in empathy and passion, joy as well as sorrow – pleasure and pain; what good the writing without the wonderful highs and lows?

I know one thing without ambiguity: I am a writer. Anything else, is and must be secondary; and the consequences of same is, all too often, more loneliness in which to feed the muse.



Welcome back, Cobber

A long time friend from weblogging, Allan Moult, has restarted his weblog. Welcome back, Allan, you’ve been missed. I look forward to many of your photographs with that digital camera you have and that I covet so strongly.

A catalyst for Allan’s return is effort he’s involved in with regards to Tasmania’s environmental treasures, specifically the Styx Valley. As part of this effort, there’s a campaign afoot to build an enclosure within the forest, completely made out of red knitted panels. The hope is to use this effort to demonstrate international support for the local group’s efforts to protect trees that are the largest in the world – second only to California’s Redwood forests. What are these grand old trees used for?

Wood chips. For Japan. For processing.

The town I grew up in, Kettle Falls, originally was an old timber town. I remember the wood mill just outside of town, and looking at it’s rusty brown slanted walls, and watching the fire and the smoke and the sparks come out of the top as the by-product of the timber refinement was burnt off. I also remember summer days when the wind was just right, trying to ride a bike or play ball when the smoke was so thick, you could barely see and it made your eyes water. And the smell. All the time, the smell.

In later years, when I started hiking I would travel to the mountains of the Northwest and I remember driving long highways with trees thick as night along side of the road. However, if you once pulled off on old timber trucking roads, you would find clear cut as far as the eye can see, hidden behind the trees so that the timber companies and the government could hide exactly how much public land was being cut down to stumps and weeds.

I remember my grandfather talking about the timber industry. He was a farmer but had to supplement his income with a job in the local timber mill, as most folks did in that area. Thanks to progress, and machines that enable one person to do the job of 100, the number of jobs the timber industry generates is pitiful; to continue to use this as a reason for timbering what should be publicly held lands, held for future generations, is a sham. My grandfather once said that the timber industry was …a crime against the people and against the land….

I’ve also looked, with approval, at efforts in Washington and elsewhere to create tree farms using trees that make the most use of a little bit of land and that are perfect for wood pulp and wood chips and other products we need. Row after row of tightly packed trees in a couple of acres meant several hundred acres of natural forest would be left untouched. There are alternatives, but they’re not as profitable.

There’s no need for old growth forest to be touched, other than a robber baron mentality that says grab while the grabbing’s good. And while the public is watching their televisions at night, their sitcoms and their unbiased news, their reality shows and their public programs and their sports and movies, rape their heritage and fade away in the night, pockets full of dimes.

There is no trade deficit, no employment program, and no tax-base that is overly influenced by timber to the point that giving up our remaining tiny spots of old growth forests is a fair trade.

I don’t knit and my only attempt was a purple and gold scarf for my brother that ended all curly and so tight you could use it for a pot holder. You would wrap it around your neck only if you were interested in dermabrasion therapy. But I can write, so I write in support of Allan’s efforts and encourage those of you that do knit, to think about buying a bit of red yarn and helping our friends down under preserve a tiny bit of their legacy.

And welcome back again, Allan. Give ‘em hell, have an amber for me – and post some pics, will you?