You Are My Sisters

Tasha Fierce wrote an incredibly personal essay As Fat As I Wanna Be, which was picked up by Jezebel and has touched off a bit of a dust up in the comment section. If you value your Sanity Watcher points I strongly suggest you avoid reading the comments.

Tasha Fierce says:

When someone is fat shamed, the person doing the shaming often justifies it as them being concerned for the fat person’s health. Of course we know that’s bullshit. Fatphobia has nothing to do with health, if someone was really concerned they wouldn’t harp on it to the detriment of fat people’s self esteem. And a ton of fat people can attest that they eat healthily and exercise. I however, cannot. So is the health argument justified in my case? Well, no, because fat also has nothing to do with health. It’s the food I eat that’s the issue. It’s the fact that I eat when I’m definitely not physically hungry. It’s my lack of exercise.

Tasha’s passage here echoes much of the conversation regarding false good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy. While the most vitriolic of commenters on the Jezebel repost scanned as nothing more than garden variety concern trolls, it would be reductive to suggest there wasn’t a bit of the sentiment coming from within the Fat Acceptance movement as well.

Leslie of Fatshionista shuts it down like this:

This divide is unworthy of any size acceptance movement because in the real world, we all straddle these lines, and trying to create a homogenized group of “acceptable” fat people only further marginalizes the fat people who, for reasons both within and outside their control, can’t fit into that category. Not everyone can afford a gym membership or fresh produce; not everyone has time to cook healthful balanced meals from whole foods, or to spend an hour running to nowhere on a treadmill; and not everyone can stave off health problems, no matter how virtuous their habits may be.

Marginalized groups must work to resist the tendency to devalue or bristle over any member whose actions might be viewed as “making the rest of us look bad”. The work to end all forms of oppression does not involve policing group members to ensure they are “on message”. Ending oppression – be it fat or racial or gender or whathaveyou – requires an active commitment to resist any cultural messaging seeking to frame one member of a marginalized group as representative of all members – regardless of whether the framing presents the members in a negative or positive light.

This can sometimes be difficult to deal with as a person who often feels uncomfortable when I see other women of color behaving in ways I feel are counterproductive to the struggle to end racist, sexist oppression. That said, if I really value being seen as an individual first, rather than my gender, size, race, then I must accept that other women are also free to make choices about the way they lead their lives as well. More importantly, I must actively work to ensure their ability to make choices I might not personally make is free of sexist, transphobic, classist, ableist, homophobic, racist and sizeist oppression. After all, they are my sisters – regardless of whether or not my own lived experiences mirror theirs or I agree with their life choices.

In my opinion, if we can’t all get to the mountain top it just ain’t worth going.

Fluff: “Arnold raced out of the door,”

Fans of Murder, She Wrote are often as fascinated by every detail of the opening credit sequence as they are with the actual episodes. In the sequence, Jessica engages in a host of wholesome activities having little to do with staging murders to later solve or writing about those staged murders. The exception is a few scenes providing the audience a glimpse into Jessica’s writing process, which involves a lot of focused keystroking, carriage returning and the shuffling of papers into what looks to be a menu from Red Lobster.

The few flashes of manuscript – thought to be from Fletcher’s first novel, The Corpse Danced at Midnight – only allow viewers seconds to absorb this particular phrase:

I vacillate between sensing there is more to the Arnold story than twelve seasons worth of episodes and two seconds of screen time reveal to believing Arnold – like the second most famous guest star appearing in any episode of Murder, She Wroteis just a red herring. As far as I know neither the producers of the program nor Angela Lansbury have ever publicly addressed the issue. In addition, Arnold has never come forward with his own version of the events.

I should point out one of my favorite Murder, She Wrote related activity is coming up with lyrics for the instrumental theme:

    There is a murder, a murder she wrote…Jessica can kill you by bus, bike or boat… Jessica, get out of there (cello solo) Jessica, get out of there…

It’s Friday and in some areas of the country – though not here – it’s Spring. It’s a fluffy open post, which hopefully will stay fluffy and can encompass any range of topics, AS LONG AS IT IS FLUFFY in nature. If you can cuddle it, water it, read it, write it, hot glue it, dance to it in your undies or bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes it’s all good. You can even dish Murder, She Wrote. Whatever.

In the meantime please enjoy this faithfully rendered send up of the opening sequence.


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A version of this previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine

Fluff: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

Jezebel ran a post called How Tragic Kingdom Saved My Life and while that particular album didn’t evoke a similar response in me, I adore the idea of dishing the music that’s been instrumental in one’s life.

I suspect that most of us have an ultimate soundtrack filled with songs for different occasions and from different eras of our lives. Growing up in the 80s I was exposed to a variety of musical styles and artists – and much of it was mad cheesy. Despite having interests reflective of many genres – including the oft derided country and hip hop – I still find myself going back to the same few artists: David Bowie, Earth, Wind & Fire, Lyle Lovett, The Legendary Pink Dots (I was a teenage goth) and for some inexplicable reason Eric Clapton – don’t ask, it’s a long story.

I wish I could say I had uber amazing in taste in music, but I don’t. I like all kinds of foolishness without shame or a clear understanding of the concept: guilty pleasure. I don’t like listening to radio unless it involves blathering about cooking, gardening or alien abductions . I tend to like the structure of a set schedule of programming, given that I have ADHD and all.

What kind of music are you enjoying of late? Recommend something. Enjoy. Let’s be fluffy, respectful and all that jazz – yes, I love me some showtunes.

Currently, I can’t get enough of McCartney particularly the instrumental “Momma Miss America”:

That Lump in Your Pants is Not My Sexual Education Opportunity

Dear [name redacted]:

I get it. Discussing the fabulous ordinary whiteness of being as portrayed in Stillman films such as Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan is really hot. He creates fantastic, witty – albeit incredibly fatuous and pretentious – characters, giving them meaningful goals and interesting things to say. And I like what you said in terms of Stillman’s ability to put aside the snark in favor of crafting a substantial, sympathetic and realistic portrayal of a generally maligned group: yuppies (though often for highly understandable reasons). Your comments echoed those of reviewer Christopher Long of DVDTown who said:

Stillman isn´t here to mock. He had every chance to do it in “Metropolitan” with his privileged, self-absorbed young socialites who obsessed over literary criticism and televised debutante balls. But Stillman loved his characters not just despite but because of their foibles, and he treats his disco-loving drifters with the same gentle sensibility.

There was a lot of what I believed was appropriate passion in your voice as you quoted your favorite lines of dialog from the LDoD. That is until I glanced away from you face and noticed you were fumbling wildly with the lump rising in your rumpled and stained khaki pants. Okay, maybe fumbling wildly is a bit of an exaggeration, given that we were in Barnes & Noble, it was reasonably well lit and there were a few other patrons in our general area. That said, we can both agree you were conjuring up the contents of your boxer in a way that felt – well – problematic.

I’ll admit my share of the blame – as limited as it might be – because I am the kind of person starved for meaningful discourse about films. I have my mom and my boyfriend and that’s about it. Most people just don’t have the desire to delve that deeply into the kind of films I enjoy viewing. Now this isn’t to suggest my tastes skew towards the obscure, the pretentious or the punishing; they don’t. But rather, I tend to regard every film I view as ripe for cultural deconstruction, even if it does happen to feature Harrison Ford in the lead role.

I will also admit my eagerness to dish film whenever I get a chance does often causes me to act against my own best interests. That said, I’m just not willing to take on the responsibility for your wayward boner. That’s what the whole, “Motherfucker, please. Go bunch your slacks on someone who gives a shit!” business was all about. Yeah, I was kind of loud and indignant about it and I’m real sorry you were asked to leave the store before you were able to find some other fool to love you.

Okay, actually I’m not really sorry about that.

Now I’m really trying to get out of the telling business, but I feel I must give you this parting piece of unsolicited advice:

In the future if you’re talking to a gal who makes you go bunchy in the dockers region, and you’d rather not get cussed out in public (I could tell you didn’t much enjoy that one bit) or watch others get the attention you worked hard to cultivate, perhaps you might save your slack bunching for the privacy of your home, car or depending on your previous criminal record – a long subway ride.

I’m not here to judge, but oh c’mon. Seriously? Where exactly did you see this train headed? If you seriously did not realize the train was going to DERAIL, then consider this your painfully humiliating wake up call. Trust me, you got off easy – well technically you didn’t get off, ew, actually let’s not even go there. But I was a lot nicer to you because I was in a good mood and you had given me 3 minutes of non Skeevy Wonder time. I guess happy endings really are alike.

Well, maybe not for you.

Sincerely,

Snarky’s Machine.

PS: Nobody leans their dirty, bunchy trousers on Snarky’s Machine.

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This entry previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine with a much longer title.

Cha-Cha-Cha-Chaka Chubby

When it's this good there's no saying no...

I once signed up for a dating site and despite stating I was chubby/fat/whole lotta woman I frequently received messages of the “well just exactly how fat are we talking?” variety.

These assclowns had a lot of cheek demanding I clarify shit that was spelled out when their own profiles often rocked euphemisms like freelancer. Have a job or learn a trade or write a novel – just don’t waste my time with high flying acts of chow chowery designed to disguise your lack of ambition. I didn’t care what folks looking to date me – when I was on the market, so to speak – did for work/living/rent scratch, as long as it didn’t involve sitting on my couch all damn day, burning up my internets and making my light bill sky high – while graciously allowing me the privilege of financing their fuckery.

It should go without saying, I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT FOLKS WHO ARE UNABLE TO WORK. It should go without saying, but since it won’t – for the privileged hard headed folks in the cheap seats1 (cause of that whole othering POC thing, which frames our word choices as far more loaded and intentions far more sinister than if the same words were written by a NWL) – I’ve said it HERE AND NOW.

Playa, do you have a jobby job or what? Well just exactly how deadbeatish are we talking?

If the spirit moved me, my reply might go something like this:

Go to American Eagle/Gap/Macy’s and pick up a pair of [size redacted to avoid "you're an inbetweenie" derailing] pants and hold them up to the light. If they look “too fat” then my delicious fat ass is TOO FAT FOR YOU. Good day to you, sir!

I am fat. I am a chunkerbutt. I am hourglassy. I got real big tits. I got a real small waist. I got some hips. I’m 5’0ish. My weight fluctuations have mirrored that of my personal hero Chaka Khan. Sometimes I’m Chaka Khan “I Feel For You” size.

Ha. I dance like that (still). *point Cha-cha-cha pizza served head snap big finish*

For like ten minutes in 2002 I was Sweet Thing chubby and often wore my hair and clothes like that.

Mostly, I’m Chaka “Ain’t Nobody” fat2 Oddly enough I have that outfit and sometimes my hair looks like that, except dark brown. Damn, I wish I could SING LIKE THAT, though.

I used to hesitate calling myself fat, not because of any shame – cause I don’t have any – but with an earnest desire NOT to misappropriate the term, in real life only when I won’t let a zombie playa street harass me or on the web or when I’m on certain meds, do I get called fat to my face. Chubby is the way I acknowledge I fully understand that my fat is relative and my experiences have often been relatively free from the kind of tormenting – though I’ve certainly had my share – faced by those bigger than I am.

Besides, you just aren’t going to hurt my feelings by pointing out the OBVIOUS.

With FULL FRONTAL FUCKING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I am an “acceptable” kind of fat given the shape of my body and my height – my fat gets a “pass” not because I’m black. Not even cause I got real big tits, but mostly because as a black woman I’m just not supposed to be “sexy” or desired anyway. Sexualized, yes. Sexy, not so much. Being called fat – when it’s tossed about in as an insult and in an ignorant manner – is another way of saying, “You’re supposed to something else. Something a little less eye sore-ing and a lot more crotch tenting/soaking.”

In addition being fat isn’t my sole visible oppression. There are few others that get way more attention, thus it’s not always at the top of my lists of things I need to deal with, but it’s always there. Moreover, it doesn’t change how I practice my activism, which is different than most people.

I don’t seek to win hearts and minds. That’s not my style and besides, they are way better folks for that job. I don’t care what people think as long as it doesn’t blow up my spot or the spots of others dealing with oppressions. What I care about is behavior. My activism seeks to make it unpleasant and EMBARRASSING and EXPENSIVE to engage in fuckery. My style of activism – whether it pertains to fat or other -isms – seeks to cause folks tremendous shame and discomfort so they STOP ENGAGING IN THE BEHAVIOR and pressure others to do the same. That’s why I’m nasty when I smack down acts of -ism fuckery. I’m not trying to get folks to “embrace a diverse range of voices” – I’m way too pragmatic for that – I’m just trying to get them to STOP WHATEVER FUCKERY THEY ARE DOING, hopefully embarrassing them and causing others to give it serious thought before engaging in similar behavior.

I am all about the “you ain’t got to go home, but you’ve got to get the fuck up on out of here” style of activism. I’m like Eastwood after beating down a mess of assclowns who then looks around and says, “Anyone else want some of this?”

I’ll give you an example. I used to work with a woman who often used the term “Porch Monkey” (hopefully I don’t need to explain why that’s not a good thing when the bulk of the org’s service users were BLACK). I am not the freaking thought police. I don’t care what she thought about black folks, provided it didn’t inform her treatment of them at work and as it related to the services she was supposed to be providing.

I made things REALLY unpleasant. I tattled. I brought it up in meetings and finally demanded they bring in a diversity specialist to shame us all via workshops for two long days. You know what, after that, I never had to say another word and wouldn’t you know she modified her behavior. If she even started to say any word with a “pah” sound there were like five coworkers ready to bitch about not wanting to do “race training” again. Moreover, she became a better worker, when she actually had to do her work rather than complain about the folks she served. You’d be surprised how quickly folks change their behavior when the price is too high to stay the same.

I didn’t care that my doctor – initially – blathered on about my size when I had good numbers and came in for vaginal tune up. His thoughts about my size or his biases were not my business; his behavior was. So I complained. I ranted at him. I ranted for all the fatties who aren’t as mean as me.

Three years later, he’s the one proselytizing HAES and FA when I lose my way. Think I changed his heart or his mind? No. But I damn sure changed his behavior. And if you happen to go to him, you best believe he won’t be concern trolling you about your fat.

I’d do this for fatties who love me. I’d do this for fatties who hate me. I will have your back even if I don’t like you. If someone’s blowing up your spot (regardless of -ism), you can call on Snarky’s Machine. I’ll smack ‘em down hard enough to harsh their ancestors’s mellows. Seriously. Nothing gives me more pleasure – other than sex and cupcakes – than telling an assclown where to go and how to fucking get there.

As a fat activist, that’s how I roll.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a hairbrush and a standing room only engagement of Through the Fire I need to attend to. Hopefully I can finish before the neighbors call to report hearing the sounds of small animals fighting in the dumpster.

a more expletive riddled version of this post appeared on Snarky’s Machine.

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1 don’t even start. “Cheap Seats” is a termed most often attributed to Broadway where there is no such thing.
2 and sometimes this version of Ain’t Nobody fat too And you better believe I strapped big ass into an outfit JUST LIKE THIS ONE in my goth days and you couldn’t tell me shit except, “Play on, playerette.”

Tell Me Something Good: Open Thread

What’s currently thrilling you – pop culture wise. Books, music, movies, interesting blogs? Share with the rest of the class. Also, why aren’t you reading and commenting on Snarky’s Machine? Tsk Tsk! After Kate’s electrifying post oh yes, I’m most certainly going to toot my own clown horn, baby. You’ve seen me here. You’ll soon see me on Bitch Magazine guest blogging this summer. You want more Snarky’s and I love giving people what they want.

And even though I’m pretty sure this song didn’t come out during the spring, it always reminds me of Spring. Snow be damned! I’m putting on my springy dress and maybe even a big silly hat.

I present Miss Chaka Khan for your chair dancing pleasure.

So as the title says, Tell me (and each other) something good.

Toot your own clown horns, Shapelings! This thread is open and ready to serve you!

The Butt Might Be Smaller, but the Disappointment is Still Pretty Big*

MSN Health is running a story about folks who have shed weight, but not the fantasy of being thin. The article – saddled with a terribly clown hornian title “Skinny Dream Bubble Burst” – had all the greatest hits of TFOBT.

That said, it was incredibly heart breaking to read this early in the morning with snow falling gently over Vermont.

Here’s how the article’s main subject Jen Larsen is described:

Despite being a self-described “accomplished fat girl,” with a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of San Francisco, a great job working in the school’s academic library, a slew of friends and a loving boyfriend, Larsen thought her life had hit a plateau. By age 32, she believed she’d be writing a book, “doing something important,” she says. The only thing holding her back, she thought, was weight. [...] Larsen thought skinny came with a mega-boost of self confidence. And a huge dollop of happiness. She thought she’d be dynamic and brave and ready to take on the world, just because she was thin.

Larsen states:

“I think fat people are sold a fantasy, and then get no support in the reality, because we’re simply supposed to be grateful that we’re no longer fat,”

The article stops short of suggesting anything approaching FA or HAES. In fact, it suggests the way to dealing with the disco fame hangover is to tamp down expectations once weight goals are achieved. I don’t know about you, but I’m just not sure people work that way.

There’s a lot of chow chow about naughty media preying on folks and we’ve all heard that before. But nothing approaching a serious analysis. (fortunately, that’s what SP does!) The article seems unaware of the extent to which culturally sanctioned messages telling us getting thinner impact fatties, regardless of whether or not they diet. It’s clown horn journalism at its finest.

Or as Kate put it:

The question is, who do you really want to be, and what are you going to do about it? (Okay, two questions.) The Fantasy of Being Thin is a really convenient excuse for not asking yourself those questions sincerely — and that’s exactly why it’s dangerous. It keeps you from being not only who you are, but who you actually could be, if you worked with what you’ve got. And that person trapped inside you really might be cooler than you are right now.

She’s just not thin.

Just another reminder of why I love FA so fucking much.

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*opted to change the title after reflecting on the term and not wanting to upset folks or hurt feelings.

Guest Blogger Tasha Fierce: Jillian Michaels Be Illin’!

Tasha Fierce is THE shit! Her work been featured on Racialicious and Jezebel. She’s the creative director and the real boss of IFMiB, which is to say she handles all the administrative duties while I dish Milos Forman!

Shapelings, show your love for Miss Fierce.

So screeching, overly pushy Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels refuses to “ruin her body with pregnancy“, in other words, fatten up. Think of the stretch marks! The post-baby pooch! Apparently Ms. Michaels was fat as a teen and just can’t handle having a baby mess up her weigh ins again. I don’t want to judge her choice to not bear children, it’s her body – but I don’t appreciate the implicit fatphobia implied in saying pregnancy would ruin her body.

This celebrity aversion to gaining weight during pregnancy is nothing new, of course. It’s unfortunate that it’s the case, however, because it just ends up fat shaming women, who don’t have access to trainers or 5 hours of time to spend every day working out, and tend to gain much more weight while pregnant. And again, it just goes back to the general fatphobia constantly pervading our collective consciousness, to the point that the natural and needed weight gain associated with pregnancy is something to be reviled and avoided at all costs.

The whole celebrity “lose the baby weight in 10 days” drama plays out on the pages of tabloids every day. Because female celebrities are unfortunately seen as role models for everyday women, losing the weight fast after pregnancy is seen as a primary goal to be reached, even to the detriment of a woman’s self-image and esteem – or even health. Women are made to feel bad if they gain too much weight during pregnancy or take too long to lose it.

You see the effects in makeover shows featuring women trying desperately to lose the baby weight and devaluing their own bodies for the changes it went through during pregnancy. If we can’t be fat at the one time in our lives that weight gain is supposed to be healthy, that obviously doesn’t bode well for those of us that are just plain fat. So please, Ms. Michaels, adopt as many kids as you want and never bear a child, but refrain from saying that a fat body is “ruined”. Of course, when your whole job consists of fat shaming, this may be too much to ask.

Treme/TV Themed Open Thread

Treme – HBO’s hot anticipated series by writer/producer/personal patron saint David Simon (The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street) premiered last Sunday to exTREMEly glowing reviews from Simon fanboys and television critics alike.

Hank Stuever at WaPo says:

Will it be as good as “The Wire”? Three episodes in, I’m willing to say “Treme” (the title is two syllables; it rhymes with away) has the potential to be better than “The Wire.”

Them’s probably fightin’ words to fans of The Wire.

While I appreciate The Wire I am an old school Simonite. Treme evokes Homicide: Life on the Street in terms of character development and tone than it does The Wire, which if you know anything about me is the best news ever.

Treme tells the story of NoLa (New Orleans) in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and honey, they have brought it in terms of casting: John Goodman, Melissa Leo (H:LOTS, Frozen River), Wendell Pierce, Michiel Huisman, Khandi Alexander, Steve Zahn, Kim Dickens and Clarke Peters. I expect there will be cameos and guest appearances by many other bright stars in the Simon universe.

I am hoping against hope Treme finds a loyal audience and is showered with the praise it so richly deserves. And while the recent unexpected passing of co-producer and Simon’s frequent collaborator – the undercover black man himself – David Mills is a somber moment in an otherwise exciting time for Simonites, my enthusiasm refuses to be dampened.

I know Simon’s gonna do right by his road dawg and NoLa.

So are you excited about this show or other new shows? This is a TV THEMED open thread. Have at it, Shapelings.

On Productivity and Absorption

So, Al bought an iPad yesterday. Don’t ask me how I didn’t see that one coming, because Al buys practically every gadget that comes along and has a particular affinity for tiny computers. But since he’s not an Apple nerd in particular and has so far resisted the urge to buy an iPhone, when he said “Let’s go look at the iPad,” I actually believed we were only going to look. You’d think I just met the guy.

Anyway, it is indeed a cool little device. And what I like about it is pretty much what Laura Miller talks about in her review here — it’s terrific for consuming all sorts of media — but because I wasn’t excited enough to read a million reviews before it was released, I didn’t realize some people thought that was a bad thing.

Between being a youngish (emphasis on the “ish”) person and having a gadget geek husband (with a job that pays well enough for him to be one),  I already consume practically all of my media via small, portable computers. Music comes from iPods and internet radio, not CDs and a stereo. We no longer have a proper TV or a cable subscription, and I can’t tell you the last time either of us bought a DVD — we mostly watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon on Demand and the like on our laptops or via a Roku box hooked up to a projector. And since I got a Kindle, I’ve pretty much stopped buying paper books unless they were written by friends or aren’t available as e-books.  (Also, you probably wouldn’t have guessed this, but I read the internet a little bit every now and again.) As Laura says, a laptop can do all those things, but for various practical and emotional reasons, she’s so far found the iPad preferable for non-work-related media consumption. I think I would too. After Al and I had messed around with it for a while yesterday, my overall impression was, “That’s a really nice little entertainment delivery device” — like a TV or a stereo or an e-book reader, except all of those and much more. Which is kind of awesome.

But I forgot that nobody’s supposed to be entertained without an opportunity to respond anymore, so apparently, just being able to watch TV and movies, listen to music, play games and read books, magazines, newspapers and the entire internet on one device that does all those things pretty damn well is not good enough. (Not that you can’t interact with a lot of the above on the iPad, but it’s not always as easy as it is on a laptop.) So this paragraph of Laura’s really hit me:

The iPad may not be ideal for what the tech industry calls “productivity,” but it’s well-suited for the purpose I had in mind: absorption. Even the most creative individuals will tell you that they have to spend some time simply soaking up the world around them, including the work of other creators, or ultimately the well runs dry. Much techno-utopian rhetoric implies that devoting your whole attention to someone else’s creation, sans interactivity, is necessarily a sad, incomplete, merely passive experience. Not only is that incorrect, it reflects certain troubling psychosexual attitudes about surrender and control that I don’t even want to get into here. When people complain nowadays about not being able to think or read as deeply as they used to, they’re not just acting like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies: They’re noticing a genuine lack of substance, the threadbare sensation of living in a culture where everyone’s talking and nobody’s listening.

I love technology, generally speaking, and I don’t like people who are all “Oh no! The internet is killing genuine human experience!” But I also don’t like people who think that entertainment or art without a high level of interactivity is necessarily inferior to the new kind. That’s a whole other post, but for now, let’s just say that as someone who lives much of my life online, I’m actually finding it makes me appreciate passive media consumption — as Laura puts it, listening – even more.

Al and I spent last week in Toronto, where I lived about 2/3 of my adult life to date.  Crossing the border meant the roaming charges were obscene, so we both turned off everything but the phone parts of our phones. Which meant that for 8 days, we couldn’t e-mail, update Twitter or Facebook, end an argument by looking something up on Wikipedia, or read random internet shit unless we were actually in our hotel room with our computers. Now, everyone who witnessed the Sandra Bullock shitstorm knows I was online plenty last week — but I was also offline a LOT more than usual. Because these days, I am used to being online whenever I’m on public transit, when I’m out for dinner (yes, I’m that rude asshole, at least when I’m with my rude asshole husband), when I’m waiting for a movie to start or a friend to show up, etc. So when I realized I’d been out for hours and had no idea what was going on in comments on the Bullock post, for instance, I’d have a moment of panicky frustration before I remembered oh yeah, IT WILL STILL BE THERE WHEN I GET HOME.

I went more than 30 years without owning a smartphone, but it did not take long for me to become disturbingly dependent on one. And living without all those extra features for a week made me really conscious of how frequently that takes me out of the moment. Or, more precisely, it puts me in a different moment — I don’t think constant internet access makes you fail to be present or engaged with your own life, as some would argue, but it can mean a lot of your life takes place in your head more than your body.

Sometimes, that’s a wonderful thing, especially for people who for various reasons can’t be physically present everywhere they might like to be, or who find it much easier to be social this way. But for me, the blessing and the curse of it is, I spend much more of my life than I used to thinking about what I’m going to say next. I’m composing a comment in response to what I just read instead of sitting with it; I’m having “chats” with friends where there can be no pleasant silences without one of us wondering if the other is still there; if I’m observing the world around me, half the time I’m thinking, “How do I make this a funny tweet?” When I was writing for Broadsheet, I read other feminist blogs desperately looking for fodder, rather than just taking it all in because it’s smart and interesting — which is exactly what got me interested in them and made me want to start my own in the first place.

All that thinking up something to say gets fucking exhausting. Which is ultimately a big part of why I gave up daily writing for Salon, and why I’ve been so absent around here for so long. (After a day’s work, I’m supposed to think up even more things to say?) And one of the things that made me realize I needed to make a change was that I became obsessed with TV. Like I said, we don’t have cable or a proper TV, and part of the reason for that is because we just weren’t watching enough to bother. It wasn’t a big part of our lives. But over the last few months, I would finish work and just want to sit there for hours watching Hulu/Netflix/Amazon stuff — whatever was available to stream and looked remotely interesting to me. I’ve found a few shows I really love that way (Leverage, In Plain Sight, Better off Ted, the sadly long ago canceled Kidnapped), but I also watched a hell of a lot of crap TV, two straight seasons of 21 Jump Street in a weekend and about a million episodes of Law & Order I’d already seen. Because all I wanted to do after thinking up shit to say all day was sit there and let someone else tell me a story that was easy to follow and demanded no response.

I really do love writing online and talking to other people about what they’re writing and what I am. But man, I also really do love sitting on my ass and letting someone else do all the thinking. I didn’t realize how much I missed that when I was in my honeymoon phase with the blogosphere and totally delighted by all these new avenues for interaction with enormous numbers of people.

I also love reading and writing fiction, neither of which I’ve been doing much of all this time; another reason I gave for quitting is that I’m trying to get back into writing a novel. But getting into the mental space for that involves reading a lot of other people’s work, as Laura notes, as well as sitting with my own work and getting no immediate feedback. It involves a hell of a lot more offline time, absorbing time, listening time — listening to other people and to myself far more closely than I can when I’m writing to deadline every day — so it’s a surprisingly big adjustment, considering it’s what I spent most of my time doing just five years ago. And meanwhile, I don’t want to fall off the radar completely with my nonfiction and online stuff, so I’m still taking the occasional paid opportunity, trying (or thinking of trying) to blog here more, tweeting, commenting and working on personal essays that could go in a book. Which means not writing or reading much fiction, unless I can figure out a good balance.

That’s what I’m trying/hoping to do right now. It’s too early to really say how that’s going yet. But I’ve written a bit of fiction without checking e-mail every ten minutes, I’m reading more books and watching less TV, and that week without a smartphone was surprisingly instructive. It will all still be here when I get back.

I travel a lot, usually with my Kindle and netbook. And I usually work while I travel. When I first considered whether I might want my own iPad — thinking mostly of traveling with it — I thought, “It would be nice to have everything on one device*, but I don’t think I’d like working on it.” Right now, though, I’m thinking that’s exactly why I might want one. Because someday, I might take a real vacation again, go somewhere and not work at all, just explore and observe and maybe passively consume some entertainment on the plane or in the hotel. Just like I did until a few years ago, always carrying several paper books and maybe a cell phone that didn’t do anything else along with me. I’m probably too far gone to want to go more than a day or two without internet access at all, and I’m okay with that.** But I love the iPad precisely because it reverses the netbook’s priorities — it is ideal for absorption, not productivity. And if my TV binge taught me anything, it was that I need to work more absorbing into my life if I don’t want to go completely off the rails.

So yeah, I kind of want one. Probably won’t get one any time soon, because they ain’t cheap. But it is a really cool little entertainment delivery device. And I think that’s all the recommendation it needs.

Also, if you don’t see me around here? It’s generally safe to assume it’s because I’m feeling the need to do more listening than talking. That’s all.

*Yeah, I could read Kindle books on my netbook, but I really don’t like that as much.

**Unless someone wants to offer me a free week on a beach somewhere I can’t possibly get it. I would take that, just for the record.

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