Thursday, November 23, 2006

Badger Badger Badger!

(Watch this if you're interested in understanding the layer of meaning of this post title that pertains not to TrinBlogWarriors' reading material, but I warn you: it's kind of like audio/visual crack).

Because I cannot seem to catch up on reading for anything else (thesis reading? All of Pride & Prejudice in 24 hours, you say? Psh. Piffle), that tonight I caught up with blog class reading makes me feel like a veritable superstar and entirely justified in overindulging in Turkey Day comestibles and tomorrow joining the squalling hordes of consumers to justify retail minions' anxiety over the most terror-striking, awe-inspiring of all workdays known as Black Friday.

I read in entirety Badger's lengthy and remarkable essay . You tell me remarkable, and I'm usually dubious, but this article really is both of those things. I found informative the section on photobloggers (besides, hchamp's stuff is really quite nice), and the discussion of photo continuums and their capacity for storytelling with both clarity and ambiguity was a point well made. I especially liked this as a summation of the wedding of photo/video/text in the blogosphere, so kudos to Badger for this:

"The blog medium is one that allows disparate elements and contrasting styles to co-exist harmoniously, rubbing up against each other and influencing the way we respond to the other elements contained there. It is hard to think of another publishing medium that creates such a successful blending of tone, style as well as the public and private aspects of the one person."

But of course I found elements with which to contend. Muahahaha.

Exhibit A:
"weblogs deliver bite-sized portions of information on a daily basis to an ever expanding audience. Weblogs are the conjunctions of the Internet: the ands, the buts the ors – they add to online conversations, refute them, or provide new perspectives altogether. "

I'm a bit puzzled as to what these two sentences actually mean. To me, this assertion of Badger's reduces blogs to mere fragmentary slices of petulantly random interjections. This invalidates blogs just a wee a bit, doesn't it? Is that Badger's intent? I, for one, believe blogs are more than just conjunctions of the internet (even though that metaphor is cute); can't they be regarded as entities in and of themselves? Come on! Legitimize blogs! Waaaah!

< / end petulantly random interjection >

Ah. And on to one of my most favorite topics: the blog as public or private medium/monologue or dialogue. Badger writes:

"The Internet feels like an intimate space. We tend to view it on our own, and up close; the computer screen is like a face, watching us as we work. The weblog format propagates this sensation; the first person narrative with its confiding tone can make us feel that we are partaking in a one-on-one exchange."

It seems to me that Badger starts off talking about writing blogs, then somehow conflates writing blogs with reading blogs. Logistics aside--I wonder how many bloggers actually intend for what they write to feel like a one-on-one exchange? When blogging, I, for one, do not feel as though I'm interacting with a sentient confidant. The blog is a comfortingly blank confessional space, not a kindly ear with an inherent bias or repository of presuppositions about me or what I say. I write with the understanding that others may read what I write, and even some vague, fuzzy notion of who those others may be; yet I am not talking with them--I'm talking at them. I'm collecting and spewing out all of my thoughts on my confessional space before the eyes of observers get to comb them-- in effect, observers have no choice once I've published (save halting their reading) but to let me talk at them for a little while before collecting up their own response. Blogs provide a nice way to ensure that all of my thoughts get presented and everything I want to say is given some voice before I get cut off by anOther's aside. It's a way I can fully think through my ideas and express them before an interjection of mine or anybody else's intrudes and sours or simply changes the mental riff. I'd contend that while it's being written an original blog post (unless it's a response to something read in another post) is NOT a one-on-one conversation--it's a mental dump created with the awareness that, when all's said and done, somebody may want to hop on board, create another post, and turn it into a conversation. A single blog post in its creation stage is not inherently a conversation, but an open ended invitation to begin one that reads something like, "Here's what I'm thinking. I'd be completely amenable to speaking with you about it/defending my ass/kissing yours, so please by all means do reply if you like, but don't feel obligated."

I also really, really liked this Rousset quote Jill of jill/txt pulled and translated from French:

"...this temporal position, which makes the narrator contemporary with what he is telling, tends to make the narration itself into the action . . . The epistolary instrument makes it possible to imagine a narrator who would tell nothing, who would have no other object than his own writing and its effect on himself or others."

Hmm. Narration as action is not a NEW thing--(don't make me dive back into the 18th Century and earlier)--but the idea of a narrator as a being telling his own writing, and caring for nothing but his own writing is fascinating to me. On the one hand, this thought seems like it may punt the act of blogging into a territory swollen with narcissism (I concede that this is a realm in which it may rightly deserve to dwell), but it DOES make for the ultimate in attention to rhetoric, no?

Anyway. I think I'm through being an internet scribbler for the evening. Perhaps I'll start Pride & Prejudice early and buck the poor habit of last-minuteness I've bred into myself over the years. We'll see. In all likelihood, I'll go lay on my bed and stroke my poor cat Gemma, to whom I don't pay nearly enough attention, and read Barth. :)

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

I love cycles. They're so...cyclical.

Maybe we talked about this in class? It's entirely possible, so if I'm jacking somebody's thought, slap me on the knuckles and I'll be glad to give credit where credit's due. This just struck me tonight, passing over something in this week's reading.

Blogging is a new oral tradition--perhaps the only kind of oral tradition a people bred to be so isolatory in nature can truly maintain. We've already established that in the 2006 here-and-now cyberspace is one of the few only spaces in which humans really share and interact. I for one cannot picture a gathering in Central Park 'round a campfire for the sole purpose of people telling stories. Psh. Kum-by-freaking-yah. So instead we've got the new greenspace: we've got the internet. We've got blogs.

So picture this: we members of the new frontier sit around our campfire out there in Deadwood. We roast our weenies, we make s'mores, we drink and we talk. We make fun of one another and we make eyes at one another, and we tell truths and lies and stories, yes? They start out as anecdotes; some are immediately forgotten and some are pleasant to mull for a short period of time, but some? Some stories, some tellers, get remembered. If the weaver of the web is good at his craft he draws a crowd--the same listeners come back for more, perhaps bringing new ears, eyes, minds with them, instating the storyteller with cred and lending him a type of tribal power. If the yarn he spins is as good a tale as he is a storyteller, perhaps even after he's stopped telling that story and moved on to something else, or maybe stopped telling stories altogether, the legend he told continues to be diffused through time and space.

Still there? Ach. You're so sweet.

'kay. So.

In a similar--(though not analogous) --fashion, bloggers sit around and tell one another stories. Some of the really fine tale-tellers get a following or get syndicated, or just become really really cool. Some of those really good stories become cult items. Great posts (cyber-tales?) may be linked, replicated, and the original stories retold. Snippets of the original story relayed by Legend Master #1 might be used to supplement another blogger's fresh story. Thus, the yarn that that one man once spun is hyperlinked, alluded to, or semi-consciously accessed by another blogger... and another... and another, helping to architect the collective conscious of those in the new frontier.

Maybe we ain't got lips out hurr in Deadwood to employ in relatin these stories (okay, so not ones that get heard or seen minus video), but what we do have are fingers and what we can do is link and retype, passint those "legends" down and across in our new communal space, in new reorganized (and perhaps waaaay more far-reaching) tribes.

I promise I'm going to actually write on topic next and bring my whimsy up short of taking me wherever it wills.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cowering leads to buried treasure

I love this.

On the topic of blog rhetoric (real post on that to come):

To escape the matriarch downstairs who terrorizes me as only a bossy 5' grandma can do, I ended up cruising the words of Alchemy Anyone. Glorying in the polished prose of his posts brought me up sharp, made me remember to value the words I put in a post, on a page, in my mouth. It made me remember that writing is an evocative, inspiring, illuminating art. It made me ashamed to call myself a wordsmith. (grin). Whilst hiding from your family (oh don't even tell me you're not--I KNOW you are. I SEE those shifty eyes! Why did you bring your laptop in the closet, hrrm?), I highly suggest you go read some of slaghammer's sometimes poignant, sometimes irreverent, but always exquisitely penned postings. (man, I alliterated the hell out of that one. I can now die grossly self-indulgent. whew).

Also, I just saw Colin waiting at a red light at the intersection of Brace Road and North Main in the WH. Stalkers who lust after the make & model of the McEnroe mobile, apply within. We might be able to arrange a swap--acceptable forms of payment include chocolate covered pretzels, red wine, gym memberships and pretty scarves.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Miscellaneous Maundering: a Coffee-like beginning, pondering persona, and the story with slothsinabox

So, post-class, I'm sitting at my desk in Summit, sipping a rebujito (for y'all that don't hablar el espanol, that's a mixture of red wine and citrus soda--in my case, Sierra Mist. Really quite delicious; I highly recommend it), and pondering how on November 20th last year, at this hour U.S. time, I was fetally scrunched on a too-short couch in Germany in the dark. Freezing, isolated, I cried carefully, quietly, into borrowed blankets, curled across the room from the only man for whose love I've ever truly ached. I didn't reach for him, he didn't reach for me. Ten feet intervened and I let them--spatial anxiety lasted four nights. By the second, I'd stopped crying and pulled up my coat collar against the cold, literal and figurative. And you know--I never put up a fight. I'd like to think I'm smarter than that now, but until I'm put in such a situation again I s'pose I can't be sure. I do know that I was vulnerable then, soft. I believed in his well-intended ambivalence, and he believed me when I said it was okay. I'm not soft now. I'm keen as a gimlet-point and unequivocating. I am skeptical. I draw a steady bead on the foreheads of all y-dominants and say "Here. This is me. You don't like it? Walk away, because I'd rather be alone than dishonest." Those're all things for which I simultaneously congratulate and loathe myself. Because of class, I'm pondering persona and true self, thinking how different I am now, yet how fixed I've always been. Funny how 365 days can change both so much and so little.

Secular confessional* indeed.

In class, Kirsten (or maybe Sara?) posited that the pseudonyms we select for ourselves tell something about who we are. I smirked to myself; slothsinabox, I thought? of course that's indicative of me. (*snark*) In some ways it is, in some it isn't. I am not lazy. I do not think inside the box. The name slothsinabox first positioned itself in my head this summer at my fabulous internship with marketing and design firm Fathom. Anthony (vegan, significant other to a fantastic vegan chef of whose cookbook I am editor, an advocate, a very original, leftofcenter individual and one of my favorite people in the world, ever) and I were talking about the band Mogwai. I Google imaged mogwai and came up with the picture that you now see as my avatar/icon/whatever it is. "Oh my God!" I squealed, "I LOVE them. They're so real and so fake at the same time!"

Highly intelligent statement, Caitlin, congrats.
Do I sound like a valley girl? Sure. But was the dimwitted observation unwittingly appropriate? I think so.

I hate being pigeonholed. In fact, I refuse. I have consciously always been just a bit contentious. I like being somewhat of a contradiction. I am a well-dressed nerd. I am a socially competent dork. I am a confident insecure person. I am 100% overanalytical English Lit major (that one I won't argue). Slothsinabox? Taken at face value, it's not at all me. By presenting such a bizarre internet persona, I suppose I unconsciously challenge people who visit my blog to untangle what that actually means. I am whimsical (in the words of smart and savvy lednik); I like irreverent, bizarre things. At the same time, I'm also cripplingly occupied with unpacking the meaning behind every single action and thought. I am serious and pensive while being lighthearted and entirely unable to carry on a conversation without making a joke of myself. So I guess slothsinabox is indicative of who I am--but only if you dig. Or if you read this entry. (grin).

As class wrapped up tonight Colin said that he didn't know what kinds of implications come with blog anonymity and people allowing themselves to, in a rather self-aggrandizing manner, adopt an exaggerated version of themsleves. I for one hope that permitting these exaggerated blog personas to co-opt at least a small portion of our realtime existence will allow us to have more authentic interactions with one another. If I had a nickel for every time a little more honesty would've fixed an unhappy ending or an unfortunate situation that only occurred out of insecurity or a dogged, half-hearted allegiance to social conventions, I'd be a rich woman without any student loans and a fleet of jet skis. Not to mention two bionic hips.

I sincerely hope that the blogosphere's respect for honesty, forthrightness and tendencies towards the incendiary and blisteringly honest make for more authentic face-to-face human interactions. I'm going to watch for it. I'm going to promote it much as I'm able. We'll see how it goes.

Now, to enjoy a night of college before I'm home for days, working on my thesis. Turkey, mom and dad. I'm happy. I'm excited for my last Thanksgiving return home as a student for a while (hopefully, next year will see me in Spain, teaching English).

Man, I really do love blog class.

*sophisticated and apt expression brought to you by the genius of Trinity's own David Calder.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On my only happy long term relationship

Colin said in class something to the effect of people falling basically into one of two categories in regards to information: there are information addicts, and information sharers. He then hinted at a shadier third category where he said he, Scott, and "maybe Caitlin" (me!) fit; according to Colin's characterization, the three of us (or at least he and Scott...andmaybeme!) use information in order to express self. I'm going to step over onto the other side of the line Colin drew and remove the "maybe" from my distinction tp assert that this is a pretty decent estimation of me and my relationship with information.

I've always esteemed knowledge as the most valuable commodity (if I can even fairly call it a commodity. For sake of ease, just let me). For me, the most powerful people are those who possess not money, not fame, not beauty, but information--those that process it well, those that use it--the "smartest." I suppose this opinion took root at a very early age. Consider: the strongest impression I have of my father is an image of him pausing with head cocked, raising his right hand slightly and making a single, controlled conductors motion, asking, "Hey Cato, did you know..." "I learned something really cool today," or "Here's somethin' neat I learned," or "Want to know something kind of cool?" (I usually stay silent and glower at him not because I don't want to know, but because I do, and I'm jealous that he probably knows something I don't. He says "Fine. I won't tell you." and we continue eating, or reading, or whatever, untl he finally tells me. (There you go, Dad--there's the playbook!)). Always a voracious reader, an audiobook fan(atic), a watcher of all "bug-mating-shows" on the Discovery Channel and The History Channel, my dad is ever learning a new tidbit, always wanting to tell it to me or my mother. WhenI was little I think I formed the impression that THIS--THIS curiosity, this knowledge, was what made my dad special. It made him smart. I learned to value that and probably unconsciously decided to create myself in the same image.

The kind of information I collect is specialized. I like random factoids, but what I like more is unraveling strands of information that pertain to my particular interests and then sharing those, sometimes with a purpose--a little like "Hey! Look what I know that pertains to what we're talking about, but is slightly left of center. See if you can figure out what this says about our topic, and about me and the way I process the world (internal monologue addendum "not that you give a shit, but if you do, that'd be cool!"). I like information, and I like to be able to share information that is a reflection of who I am. I suppose the kind of information one chooses to give precedence in his or her education and to which one pays most attention is as much an expression of self and a revelatory act as is the music she chooses, the clothes she wears, the homies with whom she rolls (snicker), and the career she pursues. Yes?

Power, for me, is intelligence, and intelligence means possessing and being capable of using and expressing information. There's probably more I could say, but as I told Spazeboy earlier, for days my thesis has been whipping my ass--not in a fun and games, "I-know-the-safety-word-and-will-honor-it" kind of way, either. For the time being at least I've appeased that cruel mistress and she's retreated for some rest into the recesses of my flash drive. So now, after having handed in damn near 30 pages of what I hope is coherent writing I can use in a final product, I'm going to toddle off for some much, much, much needed sleep. I'm growing jealous of even the city-hardened, malnourished Hartford squirrels' level of bright eyed and bushy tailedness.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Romancing the Blog

I know that our next exercise for Blogging class was to reflect upon our relationship to information--I'll get to that, I swear, 'cause God knows I love to navel-gaze and I'm very, very excited to address this--but leaving class tonight, Spazeboy's comment about changing his blog's icon to Fabio made me vastly concerned that people had misunderstood my parallel of the blog phenomenon with Romanticism and Sentimentalism. Here: let's set the record straight by acknowledging that a) I was making reference to the Romantic literary movement, not waxing nostalgic about candelight dinners, men with rippling pecs and long hair, and lacy underthings; b)I rather deplore Romanticism and the tendency of its canonical writers to heedlessly careen into self-righteous emotional hedonism; c) I'm a huge proponent of precisely the kind of detached, critically processed and reflective Enlightenment thought Sara was saying she turned to BBC news to obtain. With that said...

What I was trying to articulate in class is that the Blogging movement seems to be doing for communication, writing, and perhaps eventually the literature of our generation something similar to what the European Romantic movement did in the middle of the 18th century. Emphasis that had been traditionally placed upon Englightenment processes (such processes being the value for carefully vetted ideas constructed with a keen eye toward objectivity, attention to societal expectations and norms, and the practice of approaching all literary production, acts of authorship and thought with a critical lens) is now being shifted to the highlight the individual's unique perception, feelings, and experience.

In the Eighteenth century, critical essayists like Johnson, Addison, and Dryden championed a disinterested, detached, intensely objective and philosophical approach toward cultural productions with emphasis upon presenting only the general--the "just representations of general human nature" (see Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare for more on this). However, with the influence of the French Revolution and the general populace growing weary of this dry, removed manner of experiencing the world, first Sentimentalism, then Romanticism came to the forefront as alternatives to (even replacements for) Enlightenment thought. The traditionally venerated emphasis upon the general and the respect for the critical lens was placed instead upon individual experience and peculiarities of each human man and his feeling. This shift in attitude is evinced even in literary subject--novels like Fielding's Tom Jones and Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling along with myriad sentimental poems swirled around the particular experiences and good feelings of the common man.

Sentimentalism (a predecessor of Romanticism) has its roots in an aspect of Lockean philosophy that maintains a belief in the "natural sociability of humankind and the importance of impulsive, spontaneous sensibility."* This meant that these new literary trends placed all of their trust in the basic goodness and innate desire to do right, be right, and act in a righteous and socially sensitive manner possessed by every individual.

So what does this have to do with blogging?

Well, with the quickly ascending visibility of and import placed upon blogs, a shift in the ways in which we expect our information to come to us is occurring. The authority to be an information sorter is being removed from the hands of the bureaucratic "many" that may find, revise, editorially review and decide upon what is shareable and what is not, and placed instead into the grubby, work-worn paws of the common man. This means that the value placed upon the detached and far-seeing critical lens that we've long hoped and expected our mainstream media would utilize is perhaps in the very early stages of being replaced by trust in the instincts of the individual to differentiate between what information is right, what is good, what is acceptable and worthy of dissemination. With blogs having such a low entry barrier and being so personal in nature, oftentimes without any sort of higher authority or censorship, the individual blogger is given Most Supreme Executive Power.

That the ways in which we vet and present our information may be changing in this manner is at once elating and, quite frankly, terrifying--maybe even dangerous. With so much trust in the basic goodness--even the basic intellect--of the common man, we have to wonder: is the common man basically good and is each man intellectually and morally capable of distinguishing "good" from "bad" information? This brings us to a basic Lockean and Hobbesian debate--is man basically good, or basically bad? Can we trust individual bloggers' ethics without a system of governance that will sound their moral core and decide for us whether or not they've got moral fiber of teflon or of cheese cloth?

Ultimately, it becomes a question of whether, (should this trend develop and manifest itself in the same ways Sentimentalism and Romanticism did--and I know that's a reach, and maybe I'm totally off my rocker--fine), we as untrained individuals really have a grasp of how to read with a critical lens and how to write with a nod toward social responsibility. The prescription for behavior that Locke intended with the above statement attributed to partially birthing the Sentimental movement presumed that individuals, though acting upon their own naturally good feelings and urges, naturally possess a critical enough eye to make choices that are sound for society as well as for themselves. In the case of bloggers, this would mean each blogger maintaining an internal code of ethics that force him to ask before posting something inflammatory or polemical whether the information he is about to share is something he's propagating in good faith with clean motives and whether it might serve society in some manner, or if it is in fact something he may be presenting out of carelessness or self-interest. I'm not sure that we're ready to self govern this way, but I'm excited to see if we can try.

(This quasi-philosophical rant brought to you by Caitlin's thesis).

*Quote taken directly from page 1 of the book Framing Feeling by the brilliant Trinity professor, Barbara Benedict (who is also my idol).

Monday, November 06, 2006

The headless body still functions!

Class tonight, sans Colin, worked out really nicely I think. I was nervous someone would seize leadership and monopolize the conversation, but to my relief we all spoke in turn and attentively listened to one another. There was a real sense of an even exchange of ideas and genuine, attentive interaction. There were, of course, a few individuals who spoke oftener than others (and I thank them for providing the discussion's shape), but for the most part, the class was relatively vocal and focused. Toward the end of claa side conversations began to sprout, but a core class discussion remained regardless.

We chatted about ethics and whether or not there should be a "cred stamp" of sorts that bloggers--personal and otherwise--may attain by observing a certain degree of dedication to truthfulness, objectivity, transparency and the like. I think that for political blogs, scientific blogs, and blogs discussing scholarly information, this would be useful in order to distinguish "good" information from "bad" information. For personal bloggers, though, what do we care about their cred? Visitors to personal blogs would probably be equally okay with knowing they're popping in for fiction as much as they are for fact. Then again, this also means that bloggers are under no obligation whatsoever to even try to represent reality or truthiness (what is reality and truthiness if reality is perception, anyway?), which is the current case. Personal moral and ethical standards rule the day. Some of us are devoid of them. Some of us make bad choices. Some people get hurt--end of story. Honestly, I don't think personal blogs should be regulated.

At some point Kristen brought up the Rosen article. We then discussed how sometimes people don't even know they're being blogged about (in the case of Debbie's swains), and I believe Brenda brought up the point that failing to divulge one's own identity but readily supplying that of others is a big no-no in ethical blogging. I got to thinking at this point about Coffee. Being someone who has read her ENTIRE blog, I've noticed that she is, in fact, the paragon of blogging ethics. She never reveals the true identities (save that of her best friend Kat) of the people in her blog--not even the despicable men she reviles. I think that's actually pretty impressive. Coffee maintains her credibility and her blog ethics by not identifying herself or those who fall into the coding of her blogs by name. That's no mean feat.

As we chatted in class today I listened carefully to the kinds of comments the people in our classroom were making and it struck me, finally, that we are all so very bloggy. We're the kind of people who enjoy the subversive, the divisive, enjoy satire and parody and biting sarcasm. We berate ourselves and everyone around us--we are, in many ways, social critics. Kind of cool. We are, I think, readily identifiable as a blogging community, even away from the cyberrealm.

Peace out for now. The thesis beckons. And by beckons I mean screeches.

Because this is obviously important.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The Northeast
The South
The West
North Central
What'>">What American accent do you have?
Take'>">Take More Quizzes

Um... Thank God I have a good voice for Tv?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

This started as coherent, I promise. Just didn't end up that way.

Blogherald: a blog about blogs? Why, yes, thank you! I found the site a pretty interesting and useful read. It offers a nice, neat overview of how blogs are being used, who's making use of them, and what kind of impact they're having WITH context and specific stories. I enjoyed the snippet about the blogging nun. Also, remember me spouting about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in the first or second class? No? Okay, I'm not surprised, but you can learn more here about how to avoid doing it the wrong way (which'll give you an idea of how to do it the right way). Cool, right? Thanks Blogherald--you promoted my quasi-legitimacy by furnishing a helpful link.

The majority of the sites I've cruised that offer literature on blogging "ethics" prescribe conversation as being the cornerstone of a healthy individual blog or blog community. Blogs do, indeed, have to be conversations--but bloggers don't always know this at first. I suspect that often blogs start off apostrophic in nature (I, for instance, began my LiveJournal in the Spring of 2005 with a particular audience of one in mind. That audience then just happened to expand without my ever intending it to) or the blogger has no real hope of gaining a following (take the elderly female technophile's blog--you know, the one with the robodog?) ...but then something miraculous occurs: comments flow in. All of a sudden, the thing that always should've been a conversation but never necessarily was becomes one. Sometimes an uncomfortable one. From the moment that commenting begins, the blogger is powerfully reminded that he is no longer alone in his own personal cyber realm--he's forced to react to and interact with myriad other bloggers in his blogosphere. This means that he's got to censor himself more. This mean's he's got to be accountable. This is when tension arises as we've seen with Jason Scott and Coffee.

Those of us who posted acerbic comments about Jason nervously awaited his arrival in class, wondering if he were planning upon bringing a loaded magnum and a set of brass knuckles as dates. As Jim has pointed out, it's easy to forget--even WITH the immediacy of comments and having established that we do, in fact, have an audience and a responsibility to have a fair, transparent conversation--that there are other HUMANS in the mix here. One of our TrinBlogWarriors deleted her post after she came to this realization herself but, alas, due to Jason's wily cybertricks, it'll be preserved forever on however many mirror sits. With Coffee, too, we got into trouble. Or...erm...mainly I did. I whipped off a snap judgment as I'm wont to do--only I didn't make this snap judgment in the ear of a confidant or in my own head. It was in writing. It was part of the conversation. And Coffee talked back.

As far as protection goes, I don't think bloggers (or persons involved with bloggers) can expect it. As personal bloggers we're all more or less blogging in a manner dictated by our personal moral and ethical codes. The topics that get spewed out there into the vast blog conversation are dictated by our own preferences and whims. We can keep ourselves safe in our own blogs, free of personal detractions, but that doesn't mean our friend who also blogs will have any compunction about outing us. According to his moral and ethical blog code, making mention of something that might embarrass us is perfectly acceptable for sharing. This struggle ultimately boils down to the fact that perception, to a great degree, is reality and varies so greatly from person to person. What's acceptable blog-fodder for one blogger may not be for another. So, perception coloring this decision so vastly, regulation is impossible. To bring it into the real, this exact issue (personal versus private, and who has the right to share how much) cracked the final support column of the relationship of two of my close friends whom we'll call Ellen and Max.

Ellen is an incredibly private person. If you tell this girl a secret, it's more secure with her than it would be written in invisible ink in mirror script Kufi, then locked up in a Swiss bank's safe and guarded by a team of man-eating rock trolls. She's equally witholding with her own secrets so it's very, very hard to really know her. Max, on the other hand, is the man to whom I often refer as no-holds-barred-Max. Max will tell you anything and everything about his emotions, his thoughts, his needs, his problems, his personal life and the personal life of anybody else he knows. Dating Ellen, naturally, was a problem, because in being together they created a collective personal life. Max, used to sharing his own, was very much willing to discuss this collective personal life whilst Ellen...well...wasn't. Max argued, "Hey! It's my life. I decide which parts to omit and which to share." Ellen countered with, "It isn't just your life, Max. It's mine, too." Max protested, "It's ours, Ellen. Not yours." Ellen's final rebuttal was, "Well if it's ours then that means at least a portion of it is owned by me, and I prefer you not discuss our relationships with all of your friends." Max couldn't understand these restrictions on his expression. Ellen couldn't understand why, to him, the right to share as he pleases is sacred to him. Naturally, she dumped him.

Max never shared or discussed anything he did in a mean-spirited manner--his definitions of what was acceptable to share and who had ownership just differed vastly from those of Ellen. This little example is exactly the same as what happened with the Bloggers of the NYT Rosen article. Debbie, for example, believes it to be her Internet-given right to identify her bad dates while they'd prefer some anonymity. If a person truly believes he or she has every right to share what he sees fit, regardless of the desires of others, then isn't regulation impossible? Unfortunately, I kind of suspect it is, and I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, or whether it isn't that easily definable at all.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ageist Criticism

Two weeks ago I sat at the Bistro with my professor's four year old daughter. Julia contemplatively munched her Sunchips and I gulped grape-flavored water with sweetners that will probably kill me while answering questions such as, "Why are those girls brown and those girls aren't?" and "Does Cinderella live in that castle?", Julia's tiny finger inclined toward the Chapel. Until very recently, children amused me about as much as amusement parks (verdict: highly unamusing), but now, as I creep precariously nearer to the child-bearing age, I find that not only do I like them, but they fascinate me.

But this story isn't about my newfound appreciation for little kids. It's about prejudicial old men.

Initially I thought he was flirting with me. From the next table over a seemingly harmless older man clad in a hat and tan jacked asked me my name, if Julia was mine (to which I replied a vehement NO!), identified himself as a retiree, a returning grad-student, a grandfather of two boys. To his inquiries I replied that I was a senior, an English Lit major, involved with activity x, y and z at Trinity.

He seemed all right, if a little tiresome due to a pronounced tendency toward attention seeking, but my Spidey-Senses (finely attuned to outing creepy older men) soon began to niggle at me, urging me to cease conversation with Mr. Retired Grad Student. As politely as I could, I shortened my answers, turned by body away from him and attended fully to Julia, discussing the far more interesting topics of flowers and French fries. As is a habit with men, after I rejected him, he moved on to a younger woman. A much younger woman.

Mr. Retired Grad Student tried to engage Julia, asking her her age, what her mommy taught, how she liked school. I gently directed Julia's gaze back to me and hoped she'd eat her chips faster. Fortunately, Julia soon grew distracted by some birds outside, and I prayed this would bring our interaction wtih Mr. Retired Grad Student to a close. Instead, because I think the Gods of social interaction loathe and despise me, his rusty train of semi-creepy palaver jumped its tracks and began to barrel back in my direction.
"Usually lots of people come sit with me before class. I don't know where they all are today," he began.
Really? I thought. Shocking. I smiled, offered a clipped, "I'm sure they'll be here soon."
"I'm taking a graduate course on James Joyce," he confided proudly.
"Oh?" I asked, actually truly interested for the first time. "With Rosen? I wanted so badly to take that, but with a senior thesis and other activities I don't think I would've had time."
"Well I hate having undergraduates in my classes," he told me matter-o-factly. "They do everything slapdash and the quality of their work is embarrassing. They obviously put very little effort into it because none of them care, you know?"
"Excuse me?" I asked, hoping I'd somehow mistaken or misheard that ugly, blatant shitslinging.
"They're useless, undergraduates. They have no place in graduate courses, even if the professor lets them in."
"I'm an undergraduate," I said, my face reddening with disbelief and good old fashioned pissiness. "Have some respect."

I should added more to that. I should have fought then. I'd have said that undergraduates are not retirees who, at age 65, are going back to school for fun; we may not have professional lives and families to attend as do many, many graduate students, but we have four other classes and a potpourri of extracurriculars to which we devote our time. Completing assignments, reading, spending the kind of time an individual without a job and with one other class (like Mr. Retired Graduate Student) may be able to devote is an impossibility for us. This does not, however, I repeat does not mean that we don't care.

I was deciding how much of this I wanted to lay on my new nemesis when Julia conveniently announced she wanted to go play tea party. She rolled up the top of her bag of chips, stood up and pulled me with her. I didn't bother to offer the man a goodbye and I was thankful my teacup that afternoon was imaginary: my fists were in good form to shatter some heirloom china.

For the rest of the week I stewed. Three days ago I saw him again.

He was shuffling through the PRs in the library where I'd been running my fingers over gilded spines for nearly a half an hour, hunter-gathering thesis sources. He looked me over cursorily and we made brief eye contact. No recognition. As he glanced about the shelves around him, definitely overwhelmed, I smiled internally. I do believe, I thought slyly, it is playtime.
"Need some help?" I asked, approaching him cheerily as he squinted through glasses slipping down his nose.
"Why, yes. I'm looking for PS...PS.547."
"Well, these are the PRs," I told him. "Here. Come with me. I'll show you." I led him to the PS section, commenting on the weather and the nearness of Thanksgiving. Upon arrival I inquired of him what book he sought. He proffered a sheet on which a call number was scrawled and as he bumbled about, perusing the wrong shelf in vain hopes of finding his book, I employed my mad library skillz to slickly locate it and deposit it in his hands.
"There you go, sir," I said with that special, private smile for insipid assholes I've perfected, working retail since the age of 16.
"Ah. Good," he said, thumbing through the book and briefly checking the title to make certain I'd indeed presented him with the correct volume. He looked up at me again. "You know. I'm a grad student here." Clearly, he was pleased with himself.
I returned his proud stare with an accompanying broad grin. "I know," I told him, "and you hate undergraduates in your classes."
We stared at one another for a long moment, he in wonderment, I in satisfaction. I tilted my head affectedly to one side, scrunched my nose, eyes and mouth into the sort of smile I'd give to a particularly winsome little lapdog, and began to step merrily off down the aisle.
"That...that's interesting..." he called as I reached the end of the stack. Still grinning, I turned to look at him over my shoulder.
"It was," I said as though congratulating him, "until it got incredibly insulting." I folded my arms, assuming a look and tone of mock confusion. "And as a graduate student of English," I added, pausing dramatically. "I'd think you'd have learned that the most important lesson is to know your audience."'

I winked, waved goodbye, pivoted on my heel and left him there slackjawed, smiling all the way back to my room. Sometimes I'm slightly badass.