social media meta stuff

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
MacBeth, Act 5, Scene 5

it doesn’t matter, of course.

it is only a website and if i am not here it is not the end of the world. i tell myself this.

it’s just a website. a collection of digital words and images in a genre that’s been declared regularly dead for the last four years. dead like the squashed slug on the bottom of my back steps…except, unlike the slug, the blog has a whole Jesus thing going on where it regularly resurrects itself.

or at least quietly continues on, dead or no. i like that about blogs. dead is just a state of mind.

i repeat this to myself as i stare at the trail of ants marching back and forth around the slug’s worldly remains, efficiently erasing all trace.

it’s only a website, i mutter. and dead is just a state of mind, anyway.

i look around and wonder if i am my own set of ants.

once upon a time, if you wrote something, you knew when you were done. the story or the book came to an end and then – if you were very very lucky – it passed the sanction of the gatekeepers and went off to the printers and that was it for that particular tale, that voice, at least until the anniversary reprint edition or the sequel.

print media have an inherent finite quality. they create artefacts, discrete objects. books can’t be 73,000 pages long. you run out paper, of arm strength. you are bounded by physical constraint.

digital media have no such clear lines. i’m in the midst of writing about this, on my theoryblog, for the Reading in a Digital Age class i’m teaching this summer. i’m in the midst of writing a bunch of things, one of which is my long-suffering and increasingly long-overdue thesis proposal. i’m writing all the time.

but i’m not writing here.

at the end of April, i marked Finn’s birth and death here, as i have every year but the first. i didn’t write of him that first year. the blog was three weeks old. Oscar was eight days new and still in the NICU. my very first boyfriend – he of the first sloppy kiss by the bricks out behind the junior high – had just died of AIDS. he was thirty-five years old. his funeral coincided with what would have been Finn’s first birthday.

i was so full up with life and death that everything was dust in my mouth. i sat at the hospital computer and opened up a post window and closed it again. i was not certain, yet, that this was a place i could speak of anything beyond the platitudes of baby poop. i left the hospital for an hour or two, with Dave and my mother, to dig and mulch Finn’s trees. i went back to the NICU to feed my baby. while my friend was laid in the ground, i sat in a hospital rocking chair, my shirt lanolin-stained and my fingers dirty with soil, crooning OMD’s If You Leave to Oscar. it was the best i could muster, for all of them.

that dust is gone from my mouth, now. i have written it out. and that voice has been precious to me. but this year, in the post for Finn, i said “there really isn’t anything else to say, anymore.”

and i realized that that i do not know what to do with this voice.

if this were a book, i would simply say done. rest now. and i would close the covers and feel immensely satisfied at a chapter closed, a piece of life’s work done, and proudly.

but if this were a book i would have said nothing yet because it would still have to go through the gatekeepers and the editors and there would be no thousands of comments and conversations and networks formed here over years, no traces of friends found and since gone and i would be the lesser. and i know it.

yet i think i am finished speaking in this voice. i think i am finished with this story, this piece of the narrative. i think its hour upon the stage is done.

i do not want to mark another birthday.

this August, in NYC, i’m lucky enough to get to host a BlogHer panel entitled Blogging for the Love of It. and i do love blogging, dead though it may be.

but i do not know what to do with this one.

it is only a website, i tell myself again, but i shake my head. i know better.


another part of me recoils and throws my arms around this space as if it were a living thing, because that’s what it’s been, to me: a voice, a network of relationships, a narrative, a precious, tenuous growing thing. an artefact, yes, for my children. but so much more. in the grand scheme of things ever written, a tale told by an idiot, indeed. but to this happy idiot, a life’s work. or at least the beginning of such. an enormous, beloved chapter.

i do not like declarations of done-ness. i am not done with the network, the relationships, the people. i’ll be around, on the theoryblog, on Twitter, in the too-many places i’ve had the privilege of stretching to.

but this voice has dwindled to a whisper, and it occurs to me that in this digital age of infinitely expandable and reproducible and extensible creativity, perhaps what we miss is the built-in sense of knowing when to stop, of being pulled up short and silent by physical constraints. i cannot run out of paper, here.

maybe i wish i could. it would be easier, that way, to say fini.

here, all i can say is see you around. and xo.


i maintain it was nobody’s fault, but rather an unfortunate accident. i could have prepared, had i known to expect her. she couldn’t prepare, because she didn’t realize the chasm between us.

until Tuesday.

The Awkward Event:
the rapping came at the back door which was odd because it was a weekday and nobody who would use the back door knocks and i was on my feet, bewildered, stealing a glance at the car through the window as my feet hurried me to the back of the house. i registered that i was still in my slippers as my hands wiped themselves against my jeans and automatically reached up to smooth bedhead and check for offending particles in my teeth.

it was 3pm.

i caught bare shoulders and a stray bra strap in the mirror as i shuffled by and i was just struggling one arm into the paint-spattered hoodie i’d slipped off earlier when i heard the door open and she entered the kitchen just a second before i did.

hellOOOOOo. her voice announced her, jarred me; not an inquiring tone so much as a demanding one. where was i? it came up short as we both stepped into the kitchen via different doors.

i smiled, or i think i smiled. smiling is a reflex, right? i meant to smile.

she is one of my oldest friends. we greeted each other with an economic half-hug and stood in my back doorway.

what are you doing? i asked, intending more friendliness than my voice really managed and trailing off before the accusatory “doing HERE” slipped out.

not working, she grinned, shrugged. what are you doing?

my answer spilled before i could stop myself, but when it did, i let it sit for a beat, between us.


i am working. that is what i do when i am here all day paying other people to look after my children. this is where i work.

and all the while she was here – which wasn’t a long visit, she took the message – i know that beat hung in the air like my rictus of a smile.

The Internal Monologue:
the beat meant to say, oh, my dear friend.

it is *nice* that you’ve come back from Bermuda and have another week off from your government job and it’s nice that you’re keen to tell me you don’t even open emails for work during holidays because surely you can have just two weeks actually off even if i can’t quite fathom the concept of not opening email for two weeks, let alone unplugging entirely, and it’s nice that you get to engineer this complete separation between professional and personal life for a two week period.

i don’t get it, but i got to tell you, it sounds nice. really. it does. nicer than Bermuda, even.

the beat meant to say, i feel helpless because we have become different species, my friend, and i know you don’t mean to offend and neither do i. i swear on my mother.

but here we are. and i should have offered tea, and i know it.

it is the 24th of May, the Queen’s Birthday. the old rhyme my grandmother taught me ends, “and if we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away.” i need a goddam holiday. but Victoria Day or no, there is no running away from the fissure between my friend’s life and my own.

so instead i offer this, a helpful primer on my kind.

print it out if you need to. share at will.

A Primer, to Facilitate Pleasant Relationships between Networked Humans and Those Who Love Them:

i am homo new medius: the networked human.

this is life, with a few tweaks and variations, for many of us in the 21st century.

maybe you are a networked human, too. or maybe you just know one. perhaps you have a friend or family member who has become swallowed up by networks and you no longer know how to interact with him or her.

please know that the gap is kinda painful on both sides. homo new medius probably cares about you, just as you care about him or her. but cross-species friendships and family relationships take special care and understanding.

Networked is Constant
first, it’s important for those of you who aren’t networked to understand that being networked is not actually a bad thing. it’s just different. it’s very different.

for some of us, it allows privileges like working from home or being part of our kids’ lives in more flexible ways than traditional jobs allow. for most, it’s an add-on to already busy job and life commitments. but it’s part of the price of being engaged in the culture or arts or education industries in the 21st century. business, too, though not all of them have caught on yet.

it also enables handy things like paying mortgages even with an Arts degree.

for many of us, it means doing what we love. it is a privilege, just a bit of an all-consuming one.

it tends to mean we work a lot. often on scattered and widely distributed projects, often using widely variant voices and skill sets in the run of a day. we do a lot of sharing of our work, because impression management and reputation-building are part of getting more work. we’d share your work too, quite generously, if you were putting any out there.

Networked is Time-Managed
being networked means that our personal/professional divides have long since blurred in ways you probably find baffling and disconcerting. we may have tried to explain this to you once or twice. we have probably given up.

it means the notion of a vacation in your sense of the term – unplugged not just from technologies but from the professional aspects of who we are – is as quaint and foreign to us as any other holdover from the Victorian rift between the domestic sphere and society.

it means that we are uber-connected, but that our relationships – particularly those not with young children, for whom many of us make special exceptions – have to be managed, because we are juggling multiple deadlines most of the time.

homo new medius can actually be decent friends, i swear. we’re often good communicators, though we prefer to communicate in-network. we’re usually pretty tuned into relating with others. it’s just, if you want our undivided attention so we can relate to YOU, you’ll need to give us notice, the same as you would for any other busy professional.

Networked is Always In Two (or Six) Places at Once
and so – and this is the Most Important Part of the Primer – while you may find us in our houses, that does not mean we are actually sitting around eating bonbons and watching Days of our Lives.

or if we are, we’re probably still working straight through it.

homo new medius can be found in a variety of semi-natural physical settings. we are also almost always simultaneously in at least one other online setting – at the very same time – working or sharing or learning or doing whatever it is that your particular networked human does.

our failure to respond to your unannounced visits or phone calls with unbridled pleasure and hospitality is not intended to be rude. it is, rather, simply, that you don’t recognize our work habits. you will not see us barging into your offices unannounced expecting to chitchat for no reason beyond the social. please accord us the same the respect.

Networked is Not Your Monkey
and yet, i know, you mean no harm.

to you it looks like we’re just home, piddling away on nothing. or Tweeting. to you, those look the same. sometimes they are. but not usually.

but when you assume they are, and you joke and diminish things you don’t understand while still demanding our time, you make us feel kinda like we’re in the zoo, required to explain our own personal brand of exotica.

if you want to visit your networked friends, please bring your own peanuts. also, do not expect us to drop everything at your convenience. that is all.

Pro Tip: if you would like to schedule a meeting outside prime productivity hours – when we’re usually still working but more amenable to taking a break – that’d be great. and if you ever want us to explain to you how this networking stuff works, just ask. we’ll mostly be happy to show you.

though beware: it’s catching.

Coda: i’m not advocating networked as The Way to live. today, a ticket to Bermuda and two weeks radio silence sounds absolutely beautiful. and i need to do a better job of carving out time for my friends and family who aren’t part of my online networks, because they’re important to me.

but we live increasingly in a world wherein the divides that used to operate between time-on and time-off don’t hold anymore, and while those of us who’ve made – for business or pleasure or some mix of both – the move to more networked practices are literate in how the other half live, the reverse is not so true. or is limited to the righteous annoyance (relatively justified) of all of us who’ve ever tried to have a conversation with someone unable to tear their nose out of their phone for three seconds.

still. i believe that networked humans and non-networked humans CAN get along. i believe in a world of peace and love between those of us trying to learn to walk the blended personal/professional tightrope, and those who’ve chosen other walks in life. this is my missive to them.

did i miss anything? any other homo new medius out there with anything to add?


it was 3:20 when we all raced in from the park and scattered.

four people, six different directions. the calculus of families. physics probably says it’s impossible but i have always said pshaw! to physics.

physics wins, of course, in the end: thirty seconds after scattering the two smaller ones were back, pulling me in entirely opposite directions. physics will not allow me to split myself in two.

physics is a damn honey badger.

but i have my own secret calculus: three, not two. sometimes the invisible has its own demands. i said, i am going to the basement now. and then i disappeared. sha-zam. magic.

they followed me, both of them.

but when i pulled out my laptop, they pulled out Lego and Plasticine docile as lambs and there we sat the three of us companionable and so perhaps it was magic after all.

and i made it in time.

i saw the numbers on the clock. i blinked and there he was, small and splayed as they swept him away from me to the bright lights and the yellow gowns flooding the room. dark hair and a trail of blood and one perfect ear and then i could see nothing else, then or now. the window closed. gone again.

i typed into the Facebook status update: “3:24 pm. seven years. happy birthday, Finn.”

there really isn’t anything else to say, anymore.

we planted two new baby trees, at the new house, but that was mostly by happenstance. we went over to the old house to see the trees planted that first Mother’s Day, seven springs ago. they are thriving, strong. we bought some cupcakes on the way.

a regular day – life for the living. a cacophony. physics.

until i sat down late last night and opened Facebook again and saw the comments, the likes, the acknowledgements. the love.

for us, i suppose. but for him, too. for a child almost nobody ever met.

each time i write about Finn, i feel a bit skinless, even now.

not because he makes me sad. he never made me sad. his absence made me sad for a long time, but it does not, not anymore.

still. too effusive in my words and you might think me maudlin, unkempt and troubled by grief even after all this time.

too casual in my “liking” of your comments and you might think me crass and cheap and ridiculous.

i do not want to be maudlin, or crass.

i simply want him to be part of my story.

seven years ago today, i woke like a bruised thing.

he had been there. i had held him. and i looked ahead and i thought i might choke to death on the silence.

i knew i could not sit, seven years hence, in polite sane company and tell strangers on a park bench: i had a son. he would have been seven today. he’s dead.

in person, in our culture, you cannot do that.

but in the networks of social media, you can. thank Jeebus. some say Facebook acknowledgements take all the human connection out of sorrow and remembrance: perhaps they do, by some people’s definition. but i would say they add back in a whole other dimension of possibility. i do not need you to wail and gnash your teeth on my behalf, especially not anymore. i do not need you to hold me.

i just need a space to speak him, now and then.

Josephine is reaching an age where she is beginning to understand “dead.” Her great-grandfather died last spring, and she has come around to understanding that he isn’t coming back. She knows, vaguely, that she had another brother. Oscar has told her Finn is a star in the sky. I smile, and say maybe he is.

but the other night they were going to bed and Oscar mentioned the stars, and Finn, and suddenly, from her side of the room, a sob.

i don’t want to die, Mummy! she burst out, her voice small and cracked. even when i’m an old lady, Mummy! i don’t want to be lost!

my heart. i went to her and stroked her hair said, of course not, pet. you will never be lost, my love. you are tied to me, to Daddy, to a thousand stories. you will always be my girl.

magical thinking, perhaps. physics might object.

but i write of Finn to tie him to me, to weave him into the fabric of my life. to say, you will always be my boy.

you have given me that space. you have received him, and nodded back, and layered love and kindness where once there was only absence.

he is dead. that is what it is. it is surprisingly okay.

but he is not lost: he exists here. he has a record, like the rest of us.

and more than that, i cannot ask.

so what i wanted to write last night on Facebook was, thank you. just thank you. and yet so much more.

for almost six years now, i’ve written here. at least a few posts every month. sometimes, in the heady old days, twelve or more. but always a few.

i kept going because i was afraid if i stopped, i’d stay stopped.

until this month. i’ve been busy, under deadlines, distracted. three weeks went by. bless me internets, for i have sinned. it’s been nearly a month since my last blog post.

the words piled up in my throat and it felt strange, not to write, but also kinda…freeing. like unintentionally walking out a door and just keeping on going, collar turned up into the wind, not looking back.

yeh. self-aggrandizing fantasies. i was totally Bob Dylan, 60s-version, in soulful black and white. maybe i’d walk on ’til i found me some Allen Ginsbergs & men in heeled boots to hang with on suitably seedy streetcorners.

Photo courtesy of vvanhee

suddenly i can see why old rock stars get grumpy about playing their ancient #1s over and over and over again, no matter how much gas those hits have put in the car over the years.

old identities trap us, in a sense, like flies in amber.

and in the radio silence of the past month i wondered what it would be like, to close this door.

if i stopped, who would i be? what would i miss?

this is my brain on inertia.

the longer i hang on out here on the misty flats of the so-called long-dead personal blog, the more i suspect the radio silence – whenever it creeps up and swallows another of us – never comes from having nothing to say.

it comes from getting out of the habit of speaking.

and then the shame and fear creep in and we doubt ourselves. and maybe we stop. maybe we walk away. maybe we try to become experts on something people clearly want to listen to, instead.

because what value can there be, in just…writing?

i talk in my head all the time; stringing long disjointed narratives that trail out and weave tiny baskets of madness in my head, like waking dreams.

i assume you do this too. don’t crush this illusion for me, please. let’s just call it our little secret.

(well, ours and my neighbour’s, who caught me today as i scraped spring-wet slush from the sidewalk, words leaking aloud. i spun around and smiled, tried to look normal. she gave me a remarkably kind look as she scuttled back indoors. perhaps i should make her a pie. though my pies might be scarier than my muttering).

but that muttering? it’s a private activity. i don’t assume that everybody wants to hear every thought that runs through my head.

it’s just that the longer i go without filtering it somehow, without speaking aloud, without writing, the less i can tell the difference between what i need to say and what’s just noise.

Dave went to India last week. i work at home, so i didn’t talk much in the time he was gone. i mean, i talked to the kids, but my kids are small and forcing them to act as sounding boards and filters for the kaleidoscope blur inside my head seems…inappropriate. and he & i talked on the phone, but…he was half a world away. in a place i can barely imagine. and nine time zones removed.

by the end of the week, between his absence and my extended blog vacation, i was totally, absolutely fine…but unsettled, unsteady. i was Lassie, ears permanently pricked. Timmy, are you down the well?

and then i knew i couldn’t stay stopped. i couldn’t walk away.

this space steadies me. here, i make myself look in the mirror. here, i make myself speak.

when i do, i am lucky enough – sometimes more, sometimes far less, but still lucky – to find my words received, and reflected back slightly differently. this space is where i force myself to believe that i have something to say.

oh sure, i have my niche spaces. they’re easier: they’re focused. i write about academic research or open online courses or upcycling and renovating and i understand going into those posts what i want out of them.

here, i seldom do.

this house of who i am when i’m online? this lived experiment? has many rooms.

Twitter’s still where i spend the most time: i can work and play there, both. Facebook’s the kitchen party, where the old friends are and the longer conversations unfold. LinkedIn is the parlour with the plastic still on the furniture. Pinterest is the guest room i wish i had.

the theoryblog? it’s my study, with the door propped open because i don’t want to be alone.

but this blog is truly mine own…a space i no longer have in my embodied life. it’s my bedroom circa adolescence: the place where i am still working out who i want to be, the place from which all those other public identities got their voice.

and so i’ll stay here, try to stay in motion, try to keep speaking. not because the words are always important. but because the writing them matters. to me.

what online spaces matter to you? why? and how do you keep Timmy out of the well, in your own head? 


when i first knew Dave, he was a cocky 22 year old with a scruffy black notebook always in hand. i asked him once – because my own writing was then so closeted i turned pink anytime i cracked the spine on my journal – what he wanted to write for.

did he have an end in mind? a great novel? an opus? a garret to freeze in?

i think he laughed. and paused. and then he said, i want to be interviewed by Peter Gzowski.

if you lived in Canada through the 80s and 90s, maybe you know what that means. Gzowski was the lion of CBC morning radio. me, i barely came out of my self-imposed radio-free cloister in time for the end of the man’s career; i passed much of my misspent youth under the impression that radio was merely a commercial haven for swaggering DJs, Rick Astley, and my mother’s beloved Saturday Night Hoedown. but my liberal arts education eventually bequeathed me the CBC at the height of Gzowski’s reign. he accompanied a whole generation of us X-ers into the mornings of our adulthoods, with his courteous curiosity and his capacity to make everyday corners of our huge, vanilla country seem absolutely riveting. he did it not in soundbites but in long, drawn-out conversations that always always made me wish i were the third cup of coffee at that table for two voices.

so when Dave said Gzowski, i understood. Gzowski was not about fame, per se, or writing as discipline and craft and greatness. Gzowski, as a definition of success, was about access; the honour of sitting at the table where the big story was being told.

Dave was an early adopter of the 21st century outlook on creative expression. art, like technology, is not an end in itself; it is simply what it affords us. it is – or can be, if one is lucky – a seat at the table.

in the old model, singular greatness was supposed to be both its own reward. it was also supposed to launch one to fame and fortune, but it was vulgar to consider those goals. success was entirely a vertical game.

Gzowski was my first introduction to the idea that it might be more horizontal, more about voice and access and participation in a conversation than some mysterious process of coming to exist on whole new planes of merit and grandeur.

Peter Gzowski died almost ten years ago, on my thirtieth birthday.

yesterday, a couple of weeks before my fortieth (mercy), i got closer to Dave’s old dream than i’d have imagined possible, back then. i was on the CBC’s The Sunday Edition. national radio. a seat at the big table.

i’ll never meet Gzowski, but an hour in the CBC studio talking to Ira Basen, with his convivial, intelligent questions? hearing myself on national radio talking about momblogging and monetization?

i was honoured. and flattered. as The Pogues taught me long ago, when you live with someone years on end, you kinda end up taking their dreams as your own. being on The Sunday Edition is my idea of doing Dave proud. and myself.

and it was as cool as i’d have thought it would be. almost.

it is almost impossible – as almost anybody in momblogging will tell you – to talk about momblogging without treading on toes. we’re the Fight Club whose fights and divisions and hurt feelings stem almost entirely from breaching the unwritten rule of not talking about Fight Club. we are a community that hasn’t really been a single community for years, like most in social media. but we still get lumped together  – even by many of us, me included – under the convenient if always controversial and slightly pejorative handle of mommybloggers, and we bristle and feel misunderstood and wonder what the hell we have in common.

even in polite Canada.

the documentary explored The Great Monetization Divide of Mommyblogging. i liked it. my sense was that Ira tried hard to treat both sides of the monetization conversation respectfully.

my voice ended up on the non-monetization side of fence: a partial truth, but you dance in a two-sided polka and you end up in pants or a dress, i suppose. narrative conventions dictate that there BE two sides, given equal air.

i see it more like this: i haven’t monetized this blog, but i do get to speak at conferences, and the blog has gotten me paid work in other venues. i see myself as a part of the networks and economy that make monetization possible.

i said that, but not all of it made it to air. that’s okay. it’s not the CBC’s job to represent me to the world.

that’s MY job.

for me, social media has been about taking the Gzowski model and truly, uh, horizontalizing it: giving regular people platforms on which to publicly tell their own stories and host their own conversations about their riveting corners of otherwise seemingly vanilla worlds.

these platforms are built of people. networked audiences, in peer-to-peer relationships.

social media also has vertical channels, avenues by which ordinary folk can sometimes find seats at tables that were once closed. this too is a sort of democratizing force, compared to the old models of how people got their voices “discovered.” these vertical channels of brand and big media are also increasingly the business engine by which social media sustains itself.

most of us whose audience aspires beyond an intimate network of friends are invested in both the vertical and the horizontal. but that’s what’s getting lost in the increased polarization between monetized and non-monetized camps.

i hear the critique on both sides; personal bloggers are indulgent crap. monetized bloggers are sell-outs. you can be a friend, but my peers are professionals, now. we’re splitting ourselves down the middle based on horizontal or vertical aspirations. and i’m tired of feeling like i’m caught in a bad divorce.

truth is, you can’t have social media without the peer-to-peer connections. then it’s just media, my friends. and there are never going to be jobs for all of us in a traditional media economy. i think we’re stuck with each other, building horizontally as we build vertically, unless we want the whole shebang we’ve built on these peer-to-peer connections to come crumbling down.

a non-monetized blogger benefits from the profile gained by vertical national exposure. people with entirely vertical aspirations need  build enough horizontal peer-to-peer buzz and profile that they begin to stand out to those peering in from the vertical towers. BECAUSE WE’RE IN THE SAME REPUTATION ECONOMY. that’s what social media IS.

the divide between monetized and non-monetized? i think it’s a fake one, a trap we’re party to constructing and leaping into.

remember Jon Stewart in 2004, shrieking at that little Crossfire turd in the bowtie and his so-called liberal foil? YOU’RE HURTING AMERICA! ?? yeh. remember that?

we don’t have to play along with the theatre that divides us by pretending we have nothing in common. a whole lot of us have both horizontal AND vertical aspirations.

but maybe we don’t know how to talk about it. maybe we don’t hear about it on the radio, or even see much of it on Twitter. we start thinking about social media as us and them.

so the CBC documentary? great for me, so long as all those of us who heard it didn’t walk away even more convinced that the polarization is natural and inevitable and hopeless. and moreso, so long as, if we did, we don’t just leave the conversation there.

because the beauty of social media is that sure, an industry giant can explore us and reflect us back to ourselves. but our platforms let us pull up to the table and join the conversation: our critical reflection comes as part of the deal.

social media gives us access: lets us all talk to Gzowski, in the figurative sense. i don’t want to sell that short.

can we talk about Fight Club? or blogging? or whatever the hell we ought to call it, from here on in? tell me what YOU want from social media, for 2012. tell me what YOU’RE invested in, out here.

can we split this conversation beyond the two camps, once and for all?


Toronto. Blissdom Canada, year 2.

i had fun. saw some of my favourite people, had interesting conversations, danced, got kissed by a yam puppet, and sat on a panel with Nora Young of CBC Radio’s Spark. i can die happy.

i also realized that social media is slipping through our fingers.

tonight, the night after the morning after the morning after, what i miss is the people. the sitting up late, perched on staircases or outside in the blue air, talking. connecting. cementing tentative bonds of recognition.

that’s what conferences are for: the connecting.

i like to think that’s what social media is for, too. (i mean, not ONLY that. i haven’t been asleep since 2006. i like the word brand, may gawd strike me down).

but after Blissdom this year, for the first time, i have real misgivings about the future of social media.

i think we mighta sold the farm, Virginia. and we didn’t even notice.

once upon a time, long long ago before anyone had invented the term SEO, there were days when social media was mostly about peers. finding ’em. creating relationships.

online platforms were a means of finding others and their ideas, of network-building, and sharing. the connections grew rhizomatically, like weeds, node threading to node without formal goal or overarching strategy. it was a bit of a jungle.

there were always metrics: ways to judge one’s Return On Investment for the time put in. eyeballs on one’s work always mattered, and some identities were bigger than others. so were their networks, and their reputations.

(this world was not a monolith by any means, Virginia: different communities and corners of what was then mostly called “the blogosphere” had their own etiquette, their own implicit rules around reciprocality.)

but it was mostly a world of what’s called produsage: the people who created stuff and shared it were also the consumers of other people’s stuff. that’s what the connections served.

it was more or less a peer-to-peer environment. connections were about interest, even when the people forging the relationship had platforms of different scale. yes, there was cultivation of fame for its own sake, and fawning over major profiles: all the things that metrics encourage. there were ugly things there, too, and inane things, and lots that probably made no difference to the state of the world in general. it was very human. but for all its flaws, it was full of potential.

it was a network model of being in the world, rather than a top-down organizational model. it was emergent rather than planned, and distributed rather than owned by any one entity.

this was, of course, probably rather bewildering to the entities used to owning things.

social media did some pretty crazy things for those of us out there participating. it flattened hierarchies by enabling and encouraging person-to-person connection and actual engagement. it foregrounded individual voices and relationships. and it represented a new way of relating to what had always been untouchable sacred cows: institutions, corporations. it gave us – often more theoretically than in everyday encounters – an agency we had not previously tended to consider possible.

an emergent model, of course, doesn’t provide very good salaries. this is where we get back to Blissdom, Virginia.

since about 2008, there’s been a strong push in social media to monetize, to leverage the platforms and networks users build for a share of advertising and sponsorship dollars. for many, especially for women, this has been an incredible opportunity to work outside the traditional institutional structures of 9-5, as freelancers and entrepreneurs. and especially for women whose social media content relates to domesticity, there’s been an incredible response from traditional mainstream brands with a vested interest in the domestic market.

just as social media was making the personal branded, it made brands personal. they were shifting their broadcast model strategies, we heard, and connecting, and changing.

great. financial opportunity AND agency to forge new paths. i gave a nod of thanks to the car company that drove me around gratis, and to the razor company – was it razors? or orange juice? – for the free manicure.

then i noticed that there seemed to be a whole swath of conversation that had nothing to do with what i do, both from brands and other attendees.

i was okay with that, at first. not everybody wants to be a personal blogger, or – mercy – an academic one. i like money. i can’t fault anyone for wanting to make some.

but it appeared that for a lot of people at the conference, the PURPOSE of social media is to enable individuals to connect with brands. for the purpose of furthering the brands themselves. end story. a path into the machine.

the first – and maybe second – generation of bloggers and social media personalities who worked to forge partnerships with brands and as entrepreneurs tended to do so from a base in peer-to-peer relationships. connections. voices.

some have had incredible business savvy and success, but most have been inclined to promote and preserve some of the values of both independence – from traditional power structures – and interdependence – on each other – that are hallmarks of social media. and traditional power structures have had to treat them accordingly.

there’s a shift occurring, a sea change in discourse. i heard it in the lunch lineups, over cocktail trays, in the tense conversation after the film screening. a significant proportion of conference attendees spoke about their social media goals entirely in terms of connecting with brands. not even primarily as brands themselves – in a sort of peer-to-peer relationship – but as consumers of opportunity, looking to become part of the major institutional system of major media and corporations.

forget agency and voices and relationships. if you are using your network solely to sell the message of a corporate entity, what you are doing is NOT social media, no matter your platform. what you’re doing is at best a marketing job, and more likely something akin to Amway.

i even heard it when i sat on the stage with Tessa Sproule, who is lovely and savvy and Director of Interactive Media at the CBC, but who largely appears to see social media as a way of engaging consumers with her brand.

this is not a two-way street. this is consolidation of power to the old familiar models, in which one can be employer or employed, but not really a whole lot else. the dream of a distributed, collaborative society of creator-consumers?

time to wake up, i think, my friends.

social media is, in too many fields, becoming simply a nice interactive tool by which the traditional corps and powers-that-be gain more eyeballs. they’re not so nervous, anymore. because increasingly people join social media NOT to connect but as a path to a piece of the pie: they’re there not to be public but to gain enough platform to be sponsored or spokespersons or stars, for the traditional monopolized industries.

what do we do about it?

i don’t think we take the pitchforks out. this isn’t about blaming or Othering the new generation. they want jobs. i’ve had jobs. that’s a glass house few of us can stand in.

but we need to ask ourselves what our role IS – and can be – in a social media environment becoming crowded with marketers, not creator-consumers.

we need to understand the potentiality of social media and what it offers us. for me, at least, that’s this space, and the theoryblog – rooms of my own. community. network resources via Twitter and G+ and even Facebook that interact and offer and share with me daily, on topics and perspectives that don’t have a market value.

that a cultural shift like social media has major forces aligned in their own interests against it probably shouldn’t be a surprise. maybe i’ve just been down too deep in the echo chamber to hear it coming. but i do think it’s important to start this conversation, among all of us who want to do more with our online spaces and voices and networks – all of which are very much an integrated part of our so-called REAL lives – than be part of a better bottom line for major brands.

what do you see as the future of social media? of blogging conferences? have we sold the farm?

give me hope, Virginia. connect. hold me.



yeh, you. really. you.

okay, fine, not you. but you. and you. and me.

We Have Too Much Stuff.

all of us. i know this because last night i sucked half a century of dirt and dog hair into my lungs, and as God is my witness, before i expire from some dread disease caused by ancient vacuum mites it is on my heart to shout it from the rooftops.

Too Much! Clutter Kills!

i am thinking of having bumper stickers made, except they would sit in a box in some corner of my house and moulder, and i would trip over them, and that…well, yeh.

there is an estate sale at my grandfather’s house tomorrow.

i grew up in apartments, so this house is the last of the places i have known since childhood. my whole life, the very same.

i stand in the living room and i see myself in those grainy Instagram-esque Christmas 1972 snapshots, learning to walk on the moss green carpet. and i see him on the same green carpet in May, with the paramedics around us, and all the 39 years between. all equally vivid. it makes my eyes hurt.

yet as we dismantle and sort and clean, the bones of the house grow unfamiliar and strange. i see things i’ve never laid eyes on, things de-coupled from their stories and their contexts. and i am sad, sniffing about unmoored, a dog searching for its master. i look for my grandfather in the vacuum tubes and the tools and the dust and his 1931 First-Prize-winning hand-drawn map of Australia, marked Clifton, age eleven years, that we found in the back of the basement last night.

i look, but i find him again and again on the green carpet, until my brain clamps down and says no more. he is not here. he is gone. now you go, too. vacuum. wipe. sort.

my grandfather was neither packrat nor hoarder, and he was frugal for the most part and loathe to buy new what could yet be fixed or made serviceable. still, forty-five years in the same house yields Stuff, in copious amounts. stuff not touched or cleaned or seen for years. stuff with its stories forever untold, that none of us understand or can make sense of. stuff that my uncle and my father will take today to the dump, and pay to leave.

last night my uncle pried open the enormous canister of the 1967 Central Vac and i managed somehow to dump half of its contents on the basement floor. i inhaled things no human body has any business inhaling, including what i swear was the fur of a dog who’s been dead since i was in high school. you are welcome, eventual buyer of the family home: this is my body, broken for you. i think i have a hairball.

this is part of the circle of life, in our late 20th-century/21st century existences in this privileged part of the world. our elders grow old and die or move to nursing homes, and we cart away decades of precious things that have devolved somehow into crap, and make landfill, and squirrel a few items aside for another generation to deal with when we go.

there are a few billion of us living this way. the rest, we are taught to assume, aspire to it. we get pimped new stuff everywhere we turn.

the math is suspect.

before Dave & i die, we should probably clean the shed, for the sake of our children and the grandchildren who do not exist yet. but here’s the ugly truth: we don’t know what to do with the stuff in the shed.

it’s probably useful, if we could actually identify what’s in there or lay hands to most of it. same goes for the upstairs closet. we might need it. we don’t know. life is uncertain. there’s a hurricane on the way.

here’s the problem. stuff is stories. stuff is both aspirational and grounding, a tether to who we think we are.

even this so-called virtual, where we can trade in actual stories, is no antidote.

sure, i like the internet because my clutter stays mostly hidden, ephemeral. admittedly, my semi-defunct delicious account is a poorly annotated mess, and my laptop’s colonized with programs i ended up not using, but the absolute stunning beauty of the world of bits and bites is its immateriality. poof! now you see it, now it floats like a cyberjunk satellite in an orbit you need never encounter again. (this quality became a lot more appealing after auto-save was invented, admittedly).

and yeh, digital clutter is a marginal improvement, at least for safety purposes. paper burns, after all. i own more books than i will ever read in this life, even if you locked me in the attic for decades with nothing but books and a bucket of fishheads to sustain me. i have paperwork stuffed away in files that i vaguely suspect no one will ever look at again. every surface of my kitchen is plastered with folksy child-made art collages leaking glue and wasting trees left, right, and centre.

but. all of it, digital and trip-over-able, mostly gets in the way of living. it demands. it wants cleaning, curating, sorting, attending to. it wants time. it wants you to buy matching oven mitts.

someday, my children or their children or some poor sot will have to dig their way through what i leave behind on this planet when i leave it. you too. what the hell do i want them to find?

my grandmother’s Art Deco wedding china? my grandfather’s WWII documents? maybe, if i can remember to tell them the stories beforehand. maybe photos – whether albums or holographs, it doesn’t matter. maybe a couple of beautiful things that have some monetary value: art or antiques, perhaps, that they can sell or keep. that’d be thoughtful of me, if only i owned stuff like that.

maybe the blog. Thomas King said, “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” but really. are they going to read it?

at least it doesn’t require vacuuming.

…what about you? what are you keeping? what do you want to be keeping?

(and while i’m cleaning the shed: anybody need a free Supercycle ten-speed, circa 1984? it’s on the street outside my house: finders-keepers. huzzah).



California was mythical, even in reality.

San Diego was a whirl of sunshine and parties and fish tacos. i don’t eat fish. i almost never stay up for 24 hours dancing and talking about porn and philosophy with people i’ve never met before. i don’t often read my own words to crowds of thousands, or try to hug them all afterwards. yet i swear it happened. and Mark Twain was right, San Francisco in the summer was colder than winters i’ve spent. people had down jackets on. in August. i hadn’t believed. my unbelief is fixed, now. and i have a new sweatshirt.

one week away. one week without children. first time in more than five years.

the verdict is in: we still like each other. there is still some syncopated rhythm between us two, even when the two small drummers and the routine we all march to are removed. it is good to know. you hope, but you cannot quite know.

mind you, we spar more in their absence. more attention to give, to smooth out, to make something of. i am difficult. i work overhard at this. it may sometimes be exhausting.

(we’ve flown all night, seated in front of a very loud, entitled woman who was apparently new to the 21st century and to the concept of not sharing every. single. thought in her head at full volume with the entire. fucking. airplane. did you know that there are screens on the seatbacks? yep. she got a full tutorial which she repeated for everybody. at midnight. did you know that the seats tilt back? full tutorial on that too. she ordered a chicken sandwich at one am. turned on her light so she could dissect it for the listening pleasure of the whole plane. she didn’t eat it. her voice was a giggly caricature of middle-aged feminine faux-passivity. yes, she probably had anxiety. or mental health issues. still, it was a five hour flight and even with my earplugs in i only managed to sleep about 45 minutes. i wanted to smother her with a lipstick. Dave slept like a baby. all that to say he might have been a little wiped out.)

but we had fun. and i was surprised. it was my first BlogHer, and our first trip to California, and i thought it was possibly a ridiculous mistake to try to combine the two. but i am not one to shy from a ridiculous mistake if i can kill two birds with one stone, and ill-conceived whim or no, it rescued me from the nail-biting of having to try to find a roommate for the conference and discovering i am actually a pariah whom nobody wants to sleep with. even platonically. so, i brought Dave.

and he was game. really game, genuinely hey, i’m putting my best self out there game and hey, i am totally happy to take care of myself while you hang with your friends game and really just altogether agreeable and cool and some part of us time-travelled back years to a life we left behind a long time ago, where we were social and fey and the life of the party. he even deigned to play tourist in San Francisco and take pictures of me in cheesily mythic locales, waving at the ghosts of Jerry Garcia and Jack Kerouac. we danced, and we were flaneurs wandering city streets and we sat with old friends and laughed, and made new ones. i turned my head once, sidelong, and said hey you in a tone i haven’t used in years, and he laughed and i thought we could have a rocking good time at the old age home someday, us two.

(our cupcake cuteness courtesty of the lovely & talented Schmutzie, aka Elan Morgan).

so is it true? is joint BlogHer the key to cohabital bliss?

well kinda. BlogHer itself is everything you think it might be, and more. people will write better on that than i. it’s huge, and overwhelming, and fabulous to see people, and i’m not much for swag but i liked the BlogHer folk immensely and loved having my arms around people who’ve previously mostly been words and stories, for me.

all that would have been a pleasure on my own. i actually spent a lot of the conference on my own, because Dave’s pass was only for the evenings. so i met new people. i researched. i sat in on sessions and discussions. i had my nails painted yellow – for free – by a day hire for Tropicana. i sat backstage with the Voice of the Year women, which made me feel ten feet tall and wrapped in a hand-stitched quilt of kindness and support.

but when i stepped out onstage in front of everyone, i knew he was there.

no need to explain it later, to try to capture it. i knew his face was smiling up at me, a pillow for the quilt.

because this is the secret rule, people, the one that is the key to all public coupledom beyond the bounds of cloistered domesticity and duty. one simple thing.

your spouse needs to get that people online are real. that’s it. if you leave it to BlogHer to shove that message through an unwilling skull, you’re wasting half your weekend.

but if you ever had a love letter relationship, it’ll work. if your partner understands that connecting with people through words makes for deep ties, bring ‘im. bring ‘er. give ‘er.

it helps if he or she likes people. and is maybe your friend, as much as or more than your romantic mate. BlogHer is no space for jealousy.

it also helps if he or she is cool not knowing everybody. because even you won’t. no matter who you are.

and if he or she is cool wandering off alone sometimes, so you can connect with people as yourself and not just a member of a twosome.

and if he or she is willing to hold his or her own, and be your social equal, whatever that means for the two of you and the circles you run in, that’s the clincher. if you’re a talker or a joker or a wild party-dancer and your blog community are Just Like You and your spouse isn’t, he or she may stick out as an extra, rather than a member. there are all kinds of intersecting communities there to be part of, and they’re porous and fairly welcoming, but they are based on affinity. membership is extended, if a person can step into the roles available.

know your people. and your person. if you think they’d be a rotten fit, don’t do it to any of you: don’t go to BlogHer together.

if you need to justify your hundred internet friends to your loved one, you will have a miserable time. if you need to justify your loved one to your hundred internet friends, you will have a miserable time.

if your loved one likes the idea of meeting and expanding your circle of internet friends – and perhaps taking The Palinode hat shopping in the process – then consider a party pass and a shared room.

you may surprise yourselves.

and when you go home, to the other life, the small world where few of us are superstars, you will not have to explain anything. you will crash together back into it, neither of you owing the other. and you will think, damn, am i lucky.

hello kiddos. we missed you. we’re home. and we’re good.






there was this line in Heave, maybe twenty-five pages in: Anne of Green Gables does the Big Time.

i read that line and exhaled a great, dramatic sigh and thought, there it is. the adolescent dream of a proper PEI girl.

the protagonist, she’s in London. a girl from the Maritimes, twenty years old and drunk as a sailor. quite profane, also high, and busy passing out in a graveyard. but in London.

when i was a sensitive foolhardy kid dying to be absolutely anywhere else on the planet but here where god and parochialism had planted me, far too big of head for the world i knew but far too small and provincial for anywhere else, i dreamed of London. i had barely been to Moncton, but i read everything about London i could get my grubby paws on. Boy George lived there. David Bowie lived there. actual straight men apparently lived there too, but they were not much on my radar when i was thirteen. i read and i hungered and i dreamed, because my horizons had suddenly outgrown Anne of Green Gables and i had no clue what came next.

had i read Heave at thirteen, i might not have needed to live it all quite so messily. but since i did, reading Heave was like finding a fictional kindred spirit.

not that Heave is meant for thirteen-year-olds, by any means. it ‘s the coming-of-age story of a quirky, singular, imaginative girl-woman, struggling to find her place in the richly cloistered, old-fashioned world of her Maritime hometown…and alternately, in the wide-open anonymous wonderland of danger and self-destruction that a city like London can be when all you have to hold you together is other people’s stories of who you are.  Heave is the story of a deeply-rooted Maritime sense of place and an even more deeply-rooted sense of culture and hierarchy and everybody in their place that anyone who has ties to this part of the world will recognize. Heave is ripe with characters, just like Rachel Lynde and Mrs. Blewitt, and with pathos, just like Matthew dying. except that its heroine, Seraphina, is very much an adult. she has a drinking problem. and a bit of a wedding problem, it turns out. she is Anne of Green Gables coming of age in the Big Time of the confusing late twentieth century, in a darkly rollicking story that is, in the end, a love letter to these small Maritime worlds that shape so much of who we are.

Christy Ann Conlin of Berwick Nova Scotia published Heave in 2002. a bestseller then, it made CBC’s Canada Reads Top 40 this past fall. it’s enjoying its revival quite nicely, thank you, as evidenced by the fact that three separate book clubs in Charlottetown ended up reading it this winter.

if you haven’t read it, you should. if you’re in PEI – or can hie thee hence to our pastoral province in four weeks’ time – then this post is especially for you.

next month, Christy Ann is coming to PEI. she’s doing a writer’s workshop with the PEI Writer’s Guild. she’s doing a reading from her new YA novel Dead Time at UPEI the evening of May 21st, in the illustrious company of her fellow Bluenoser Kate Inglis of sweet|salty and The Dread Crew, beautiful PEI poet Yvette Doucette, and, erm, moi. i’ll be reading from Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011, in whose merciful-Jesus-it’s-a-book pages mah words are being published as we speak. i will be the one swooning, like Anne of Green Gables in the Big Time.

but. but.

book clubs make reading go round. so three book clubs were reading Heave. and members of the three clubs – one of them mine – got to talking on Twitter. somebody said, we should all get together! then somebody said, we should invite Christy Ann! then i said, let’s open it up and invite everybody!

social media, you’re fun. or i’m mad. possibly both.

i talked to Random House/Doubleday, Christy Ann’s publisher for Heave, and they kindly agreed to sponsor her trip.

i talked to D.B. Brickhouse, the newly renovated and swanked-up Off Broadway, already one of Charlottetown’s loveliest restaurants, and they generously agreed to offer their warm and lovely loft space, all exposed-beam and brick, for the event.

i talked to the PEI Writers’ Guild, and they sweetly offered up a sponsorship that will buy some nibblies for the evening.

i talked to Christy Ann, and she said she’d love to.

so. Friday, May 20th, at 8pm in the loft of D.B. Brickhouse on Charlottetown’s historic Sydney Street, an evening of good stories and good discussion and good company and probably lots of laughter and irreverence – a #citybookclub for Heave. good wine will also be for sale. all over the age of nineteen are welcomed, open arms.

please come. join us. we want to make it the book club we always wanted to go to.

and…so you can dive into the story of Seraphina Sullivan, late-twentieth century Anne of Green Gables, and get ready for this glorious soiree, we have copies of Heave for giveaway. four of them, to four commenters on this post, who will be randomly selected by my impartial yet helpful offspring this coming weekend.

all you need to do is leave me a quick story. about books, or London, or what place means to you. or whether you think Anne of Green Gables might have ended up with a substance abuse issue had she grown up a hundred years later. or what you’d like to see at a public #citybookclub. or just a nice loud I WANT ONE. whatever. all welcome. locals who can come on May 20th? especially so.

tell your friends. see you there.


last night i was at yoga with my mom.

(the above sentence entertains the ever-lovin’ crap out of me. part of me wants to wrap it up in shiny paper and turn it this way and that, like a spaceship that fell from the sky, because yoga with my mom sounds so pleasantly suburban and banal and normal and first-world problem-y, and i feel like i should follow it with charming antics about our trip to Starbucks after and our little shopping escapades and pedicures. which i can’t. my mother drinks tea. she sometimes buys us diapers. we have a storied history, my mama and i, but it has never involved exercise or girlfriend hobbies or shopping as therapy. and so we are rather imposters in this story. and yet, there we were, at yoga.)

we show up a little late because yoga starts at the awkward hour of 7pm and getting outta my house at 6:50pm is akin to extricating oneself from the grasp of a slightly hysterical octopus. we grab mats from the bin. my mother has not yet committed to purchasing one: after waiting 62 years to try an exercise class, she is not prepared to marry the first novelty that happens along. i just haven’t gotten to a store this crazy fall.

every week at yoga, my mother and i have set our mats down beside each other along the wall of the little pine-panelled room.  at first, she was nervous, careful and defensive and controlled, uncertain whether she was doing it right. i watched her out of the corner of my eye, whispered little encouragements or explanations. mostly i just watched. i listened to her breathe beside me, took in the shape of her back as we lay on our sides. i am like her, i thought. tiny wrists,  short waist, legs that prefer to be curled under.

it is a strange thing, to watch someone and marvel that body was where i began. it has never occurred to me before. we have never spent much time, my mother and i, just being, taking each other in. or if we did, i have forgotten. children betray their mothers’ care, oblivious.

but i catch sight of her hands beside me as we stretch. her winter hands, rough and cracking with the drop in temperature. for a moment, the 38 year old grunting through downward dog disappears. i am a child in bed, those hands on my hair.

forgotten is not the same as gone.

last night, though, when we walked in the room, there was no space for two mats beside each other. and so we ended up at opposite corners of the classroom.

and i missed her.

i was LESS CALM without her. that sentence is almost as funny as the first. when i was in labour with Oscar, and panicking, my poor mother hid behind Dave’s shoulder, hands raised to God, hyperventilating. i did not find this calming. i have found little about my mother calming in at least twenty-five years, in spite of her earnest efforts.

yet there it is. perhaps if we breathed more, talked less.

i know that my children will forget most of these days, this brutal frog-march into winter where i feel like i am failing everyone and everything around me. i feel powerless and inept and uncertain. too many essays churned out, sourced and tidied, sentences cropped into submission. now the words stutter from me, hesitant, timid.

in class later today, i will stand up and talk about blogging, and identity, and how digital technologies have made it possible for whole worlds of conversation about mothering and motherhood and being mothered to exist and to be shared.

i thought it would be the easiest thing in the world to research. what do i know better than blogging and mothering? what am i doing here if not trying to write myself into some kind of coherent existence?

today in class i will them that i started to write two weeks before Oscar was born. almost a year after Finn died. i will tell them i was afraid to speak the open wound of my once and future motherhood, and so i wrote it down, that in-between place of uncertainty and hope and fear that was all that i knew.

i kept writing because that place of uncertainty and hope and fear has never gone away, only changed.

i keep writing because i have no other place to tell my mother that i missed her last night.

but i am afraid.

my life as a student this fall has been a drop down a rabbit hole of half-remembered existence. blogging has spoiled me. i have built a place here where i have grown steadily less afraid to speak. i have unlearned a lifetime of being careful and defensive and controlled, uncertain whether i was doing it right…whatever “it” was. i have grown accustomed to being in a shared conversation.

what i say and write as a student, on the other hand, is graded, judged.

and to stand up and talk about writing my motherhood to a room of mostly childless people, while i swallow the guilt of yet again missing supper with my kids, is to get naked. to expose myself. to judgement that does not come from being inside the conversation of the messiness of motherhood and identity.

i hope they understand. i hope they judge with the same generosity i’ve found out here.

i hope these stories matter, these stories of writing ourselves into some kind of coherence. i hope i can find that coherence again, by opening this life to that other one.

do you open the Pandora’s Box of your online life with people who know you in the flesh?

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