Category Archives: Digital Age

Two Years

Image by Ray_from_LA

You are a young woman. You are a middle-aged man. You are childless. You are a mother of five. You live in Cambodia. You live in Chicago. You are a marketing professional. You stay at home with your kids. You want to be a writer when you grow up.

I met one of you in person at a suburban Starbucks near where I grew up.  I shared iced coffee and dreams with another of you on the Upper West Side. I talked peanut butter cups and writing with one of you over lunch this summer.  I enjoyed my first weekend away from my three children with two of you earlier this fall. Some of you sent me handmade gifts when my daughter was born this winter. Some of you I only know by a mysterious moniker or a coy avatar.

But all of you – all of my blogging buddies – are my friends.

Little did I know when I wrote a hasty but heartfelt comment on one of your blog posts two years ago that I would be typing my way into a digital community – one that has supported and challenged me with each letter I write and each word I read. When I found myself living in a new town trying to navigate a new identity as a mom, I reached out to you and you welcomed me. You laughed with me. You let me laugh at you. You asked the right questions. You gave me the right answers.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that it takes a village to raise a mother. And you – you virtual and very real friends of mine – have helped raise me.

On this, the two year anniversary of Motherese, I thank you for your friendship.

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The (Bargain) Price of Freedom

Image by blue2likeyou

On Sunday afternoon, I bought myself 60 minutes of Freedom.

I clicked on a small icon on my desktop – a clock with a shield in front of it. A pop-up window appeared and asked, as if it were the simplest matter in the world:

How many minutes of freedom would you like?

Hmm, I thought to myself.  All three kids were napping – hallelujah! – and my husband was upstairs, watching the Eagles and the Redskins, ready to attend to whichever child woke up first.  And there I was, just me, alone at my cluttered desk in the basement.

How many minutes of freedom would you like?

60, I thought.  60 would be enough to get some writing done before I had to get back upstairs to fold laundry, to wipe runny noses, to start chopping the onions for the soup.  60 was the right number.  Less than I wanted, maybe more than I should have asked for on that rainy afternoon with a house full of sick kids.

How many minutes of freedom would you like?

I entered “60.”  I clicked “OK.”  And just like that: Freedom.

Or a 21st century version, at least.  Freedom, you see, is a computer application that disables your Internet for as long as you ask it to – up to eight hours!  My iPhone upstairs, Freedom running on my computer, my kids asleep, my husband on guard.  Just me and my computer-rendered-typewriter.

And here’s what I did:  I opened up a Word document with an old, ailing essay and polished it up.  I wrote.  I edited.  I added some words.  I took others away.  I tried to shape a story out of a collection of anecdotes.

While I was writing, my monkey mind prattled on as it always does.  And my right little finger twitched toward the Alt key and my left index finger toward the Tab key so that I could escape from my writing into the wilds of the Internet.  To shoot off that email to Stephanie about dinner on Saturday, re-categorize last week’s blog post into “parenting” and “writing” instead of “living,” update my homework assignment on Meagan’s Facebook page, check the YourTango writer’s guidelines to see if this essay would be a fit, look up how to spell contrapposto, look up the definition of ad hoc to make sure I was using it properly.

But Freedom wouldn’t allow it.  Freedom kept my fingers where they were and my eyes on my essay.  And, oh, the liberation – the freedom! – of being able to just write – no chance – no excuse – to stop.

I first learned about Freedom from Dani Shapiro at our writing workshop at Kripalu.  Afterward, my friend Elizabeth pointed me toward an essay Dani had written about it and about the ways the rabbit warren of the Internet threatens to derail her writing.  First an e-mail, then a thought about a chest of drawers in the novel she’s writing, then a form for summer camp.  She writes

Had Jane Kenyon (or Virginia Woolf, for that matter) lived long enough to be told to build a twitter platform, she might have resisted. She might—as many of us do—have found ways to build a fortress around herself, a cathedral of peace and silence. She would have emerged from that cathedral…only in her own time, and at her own bidding. Or so I like to think. Yet, whether rose quartz, blindfold, earmuffs, spiral-bound notebook, or a small cabin off the grid, still, we all need help, sometimes. The noise in our heads is growing louder, and louder still. We all have good days and bad days, don’t we?

I feel like I need that help Dani writes about.  And I’m grateful to know that Freedom can be mine for the bargain price of $10.  I’m still in the midst of my free trial now and am certainly tempted to shell out the money for the full application.

But I’m left wondering: how free am I really if I need to pay an invisible man inside my computer to grant me what my will power can’t?

Do you have will power where the Internet is concerned?  How much would you pay for freedom?

Mama Got a Brand New Blog…and a Big Fat Check

Image by meglet127

I’ve been catching up on some reading during our road trip and I finally made it to last month’s feature in The New Yorker on Ree Drummond, better known in these parts as the Pioneer Woman.  I haven’t read much from the Pioneer Woman, but I found the piece on her to be very interesting, perhaps most for its insights into our little bloggy world.

A few tidbits that stood out to me:

  • Ree Drummond’s blog receives over 23 million (!) page views per month.  (I don’t know how many page views Motherese receives per month, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere south of 23 million.)
  • The Pioneer Woman made about $1 million in ad revenue in 2010.  (I do know how much Motherese made in ad revenue in 2010: $0 million.  Then again, I haven’t started running ads so that probably makes it harder to earn anything from them.)
  • Drummond’s husband’s cattle ranching family are the 79th largest landowners in the United States so she’d probably be doing okay for herself even if she didn’t earn $1 million in ad revenue, not to mention much more in book royalties and the money she’s earned from the Hollywood option to her story.  (No one has yet contacted me here at Motherese to option my story for a movie.  I am, however, waiting by the phone.)
  • The article cites a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that found that “approximately fourteen percent of women who are online in the U.S. write blogs.”  (Okay, no snarky comment here.  That number just blows me away, as it did when Jana first pointed it out to me on Twitter.)
  • Drummond’s profiler, Amanda Fortini, puts her finger on a delicate issue in the blogging community: “As a canny author of her own persona, Drummond surely realizes that she must encourage the fantasy she has created.  To remain interesting, her life must be aspirational.  She is who her readers would be if they had more time, more money, a quiet life in the country, a professional teeth-bleaching, or the support of a laconic cowboy husband…But it is tricky to inspire wishful thinking without fomenting resentment.”  (This comment made me think of our recent discussion about hiring household help and my own desire to fess up to the help I have; clearly, though, Drummond has to walk a finer line than I do between telling all and keeping the image of a “domestic idyll” alive and well for her readers.  Something tells me you’re not suspecting too much “idyll” ‘round these parts.)

What do you think of the Pioneer Woman and other big time “mommy bloggers”? Do you prefer to read blogs by people like you or by those you might aspire to be more like?

Get Smart[phone]

So I think I might owe all of you an apology.

Do you remember how, with perhaps not a small amount of self-righteousness, I spent a fair amount of time talking in the past about my aversion to new technology?   In one post, I even wrote:

And it’s not as though I oppose technology in general.  I acknowledge the ways in which these devices and services enhance many people’s lives.

It’s just that I don’t think they’d enhance mine.

Well, I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  At least as far as the Smartphone is concerned.

A few weeks after Baby Sister was born, my cell phone carrier welcomed the iPhone and, for reasons that I’m still not sure of – perhaps a commercial cocktail of sleep deprivation and saavy Apple advertising? – I welcomed Smartphone technology into the Motherese household.

And I haven’t looked back.

I love having a camera at the ready.  I love the apps (a favorite being the potentially hypochondria-inducing WebMD Symptom Checker, through which I accurately diagnosed my own case of shingles and Big Brother’s pink eye).  I love having instant access to the weather forecast.  I love reading the paper and listening to NPR podcasts while nursing Baby Sister.

But most of all I love the way the iPhone has eased my feelings of isolation in these early months with a new baby at home.  And rainy and cold months they have been.  Months in the house, in the glider, looking out at the slowly greening trees.

And perhaps you’d say I should have spent those months – should be spending them – gazing into Baby Sister’s eyes while she eats or reading to the Brothers while feeding their sister.  And believe me: I have done a lot of those things too.  And those moments have been gorgeous and good.

But there have also been moments of laughter that come from reading a funny remark from a friend on Twitter, moments of support that come from a kind e-mail from a fellow new mom, moments of camaraderie that come from checking in with a favorite writer’s blog.

And I’ve been grateful for these moments of connection.  Because it’s really all about connection, isn’t it?  As much as I’ve loved the moments of bonding with our new baby and our new family, sometimes a woman wants to connect with other women, with other grown-ups, with current events and the world outside the literal and proverbial crib.

E.M. Forster famously wrote about the centrality of connection in (what I think is his masterwork) Howard’s End:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

I have had few experiences more isolating than the sleepless first few months with a new baby (and the irony, of course, is that you feel alone when you are never, in fact, alone).  But my third time through that fourth trimester period has felt far less lonesome thanks, yes, to my bigger kids – and thanks to my iPhone.

So call me a contrite convert.  A late but happy adopter.

Are you shocked by my conversion?  What is your favorite way to connect?

Howard’s End is E.M. Forster’s greatest novel.  Discuss.

Image: iPhone 4’s Retina Display by Yutaka Tsutano via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Am I a Luddite?

Friends, I think I’m getting old.

Not old in terms of years, but old in terms of attitude.

Yesterday, while watching a TV commercial featuring two scantily-clad teenage girls, I actually said the words, “I just don’t get kids these days.”  And this expression came from me, a long-time high school teacher, who always felt like one of her strengths was understanding “kids these days”!?

Sigh.

But the area where I feel most out-of-sync and out-of-step is technology.

Sure, I e-mail.  I blog.  I even Tweet from time to time (but, even after almost a year of doing so, I still feel like I haven’t quite figured it out; I suspect my seven followers would agree).

But, other than that, I am completely un-savvy in the realm of social media.  I don’t have a Smartphone, an iPad, or a Kindle.  My cell phone is the barest bones model that came free when we signed up for our plan years ago.  I think I’m one of three people in my demographic not on Facebook.  GPS?  Forget it.  Still a Mapquest girl.

And it’s not as though I oppose technology in general.  I acknowledge the ways in which these devices and services enhance many people’s lives.

It’s just that I don’t think they’d enhance mine.  A Kindle?  I can’t imagine giving up the physical sensations of reading: the feel of the pages, the smell of an old book.  Facebook?  As much as I know I’d enjoy seeing pictures of my brother’s recent road trip, I don’t feel compelled to reconnect with the people I’ve lost touch with.   A Smartphone?  I can barely keep myself from checking my e-mail ten times a day as it is.

For every device, I have an excuse at the ready.

But I wonder if, hidden behind all of those reasonable-ish justifications, there’s some part of me that is getting more conservative, more afraid of change, less ready to adapt to progress.

What do you think: am I secretly a Luddite?

How about you: Are you an early adopter, a late adopter, or a non-adopter when it comes to new technology?

Image: Typewriter by toastytreat87 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

A Room of Mom’s Own

One year ago today, I published my first blog post.

For the first few months, I posted every day.  Then I started posting six days a week.  Then five.  Then three.  Now whenever.  Those all felt right and this feels right too.  For now, at least.

I’m not sure what initially drew me to blogging.  I was definitely inspired by two of the wonderful blogs I had been lurking around for a few months.  I was interested in the idea of finding a creative outlet.  In connecting with a community.  In – to borrow a phrase from Kate at Watercoloring on the Table – “feel[ing] a part of the grown up world.”  In having something to do in my life that was for me and me alone.

And that is the single most important gift that blogging has given to me this year: a virtual room of my own.  One populated by adults, writers, parents, thinkers.

I started blogging at a moment in my life at which I felt very detached from many of the other adults that I interacted with in person.  So I blogged constantly, writing here and visiting you as a means, I think, of creating a community when no real one existed in my offline world.

But, as I wrote more, and read more from you, I started seeing things in the people around me that I had taken for granted before.  I also felt more comfortable sharing the vulnerable truth about me with my friends: I am not a perfect mother and I don’t really want to be.  And, as I shared more, I found that others started to share more too.

Counterintuitively, blogging reinvigorated several of my friendships offline.  And, as that happened, I found myself online less often, but still enjoying the fruits of the blogging “work” I had been doing.

Another benefit that I’ve gained from blogging has also increasingly lured me away from the computer.  I’ve fallen in love with the art of writing and I want to do more of it, learn more about it, practice it.  Joining this community of thinkers and writers has therefore helped me get in touch with a part of my non-mom identity that I hadn’t tapped into before.

Last, but not least, I think blogging has made me a better mom (well, at least it has since I stopped spending every waking moment online).  I’ve been inspired by your stories, by your struggles, and by your honesty.  I’ve learned more about riding the waves and rolling with the punches.

Above all, blogging makes me happy.  And I didn’t realize until I built this room of my own – this room for this mom – how important my own happiness is for the well-being of my kids.

Thank you for being here this year, for being part of my journey.

Image: Windows #1 by michaelgoodin via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

What’s Your Book Rejection Policy?

I just finished reading Julie & Julia, Julie Powell’s blog-turned-book about the year she dedicated to cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I came into the book with high expectations.  Eagerly engaged in my own happiness project, I thought I’d be inspired by reading about Julie’s.  Moreover, I really enjoyed the movie version.  (Plus, what blogger wouldn’t be intrigued by the idea of a teeny-tiny blog exploding into a hotly selling book and a blockbuster movie starring Meryl Streep?)

But, as it turned out, I wasn’t a fan.

On the one hand, I think that Julie Powell is a talented writer.  No, I didn’t care for her liberal use of vulgarity.  But I do think she has a strong voice and a way with a phrase.  On the other hand, I was annoyed by her self-indulgent (and nearly constant) whining.  (Needless to say that it became quickly apparent while reading why I found Amy Adams to be so irritating in the film version.)   I also found the organization of the book to be odd and the book itself to be in serious need of further editing.

But even worse, I was disturbed by the callous way in which Powell mines her family and friends for narrative fodder.  From mentioning her own workplace flirtations (how did that make her husband feel?) to revealing that her father had an affair while he was married to her mother (how did that make either of them or her brother feel?), Powell takes the idea of transparency to upsetting ends.

When we choose to blog, or write memoir, I think that we must be conscious of the threats we’re making to the people we love most.  Reading Powell’s story, I saw her loved ones as victims of her work.  (Did they know beforehand how they would appear in her story?)

So – and this brings me to the point of this blog post – why did I keep reading?  I wasn’t really enjoying myself and I got increasingly frustrated with Powell as the book wore on.  Why didn’t I put it down, put it away, and then give it away?

I struggle, you see, with my own personal BRP (Book Rejection Policy).  For years, I forced myself to finish every book I started, especially if the book had earned an award or praise from a friend or other respected source.  Then, about five years ago, I swung in the other direction, allowing myself to give up on a book if I wasn’t hooked 50 pages in.  (After all, isn’t life too short to read bad books?  Hat tip to Katy.)

Somehow, though, I’ve worked myself back to a place where I slog through books I’m not enjoying.  But for what?  A sense of accomplishment?  A sense of obligation to the author?  An imagined gold star coming my way?

Tell me, friends, am I alone in this?  Am I the only one who can’t bring herself to bid adieu to a literary clunker?

What’s your BRP?  What’s the last book you BRP-ed?

Did you read Julie & Julia?  What did you think?

Image: used books by babblingdweeb via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.