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.

In Which I Am a Victim-Blaming Bitch

Dear Internet,

Pursuant to yesterday’s post at Jezebel, I feel I should clarify a few things.

1) If you are not an Oscar-winning actress or similarly well-known personage, I was not talking about you. I understand that if you don’t routinely get media inquiries about your personal life, you probably do not have people in your employ whose job is to keep the public from thinking poorly of you. This means that no one, least of all me, will ever expect you to issue a public statement regarding the actions of your douchebag partner.

2) If you are concerned that I would judge you by the actions of your douchebag partner, or that I do not understand how easy it is to be fooled by someone you love, please see the passage beginning with the fourth sentence of the goddamned post, which reads:

Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way suggesting that a wife is responsible for her husband’s behavior. I’m not even saying Bullock must have known; just as it’s possible for women not to realize their husbands are cheating or married to other people or, say, responsible for multiple murders, it’s surely possible to miss the signs that your partner is, if not an active neo-Nazi, the kind of twisted asswipe who finds humor in taking photos that suggest he is.

3) If you are concerned that I am unfairly judging Sandra Bullock herself, please revisit the post, paying special attention to the following lines:

  • “all anyone can do is speculate”
  • “all of the information we have comes from questionable sources”
  • “I have absolutely no idea what she knew and when she knew it, and no way of finding out”
  • “I like Sandra Bullock”
  • “I’m not saying we should be accusing Bullock, or assuming anything just yet”
  • “all I know for sure is that I don’t know the woman at all”

Perhaps that sort of close reading will make it easier to understand that I have not, in fact, decided that Sandra Bullock is a Bad Person. I have not, in fact, decided anything about Sandra Bullock as a person. What I have done is call attention to the following points:

  • When you are married to someone who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny, it may be unreasonable for people to presume you share his views, but it is perfectly reasonable for those who are interested in your life to ask you things like, “Um, do you think it’s funny too? And were you aware that he did? Hypothetically speaking, if your husband were shown to be an aficionado of Nazi culture, would you consider that a dealbreaker, y/n?”
  • When you are a very famous actor, fucking everyone is interested in your life. (This is why you have people to deal with your public image while you deal with your private life. See point 1 above.)
  • It is customary for very famous people who are at risk of being tarred with someone else’s douchebag brush to issue statements denouncing the douchebag in question. Ergo, it is curious that there was no immediate move from Bullock’s camp to distance her from a man who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny.
  • It is also customary for the media to talk all sorts of shit about celebrities who might plausibly be tarred with someone else’s douchebag brush. Ergo, it is also curious that so few people seem to even be idly wondering whether Bullock was aware of the breadth and depth of her husband’s douchebaggery.

4) At the end of the day, I am really not all that interested in what kind of person Sandra Bullock is, and I certainly do not feel she owes me or the public a damned thing. But I am very interested in how the cultural conversation about a photo like this goes:

All too predictably, loads of people (in Jez comments and elsewhere) are saying shit like, “It’s just one picture” and “We don’t know the context” and “It was obviously just a joke.” To which I would respond:

  • How many pictures like that would you need to see to be appalled?
  • What context would make it okay?
  • What on earth makes it funny?

If all you mean is that it would be unfair and premature to conclude from this photo that Jesse James personally wants to commit genocide, I’ll grant you that. But I am entirely comfortable concluding from this one photo — let alone other recent revelations — that Jesse James is an epic fucking douche, and that racism is a noteworthy element of his douchiness.

That, of course, is what some people get so upset about. Heaven forbid we jump to the conclusion that someone captured on film doing a “humorous” Hitler impression perhaps has some problematic views about race. We’d better wait until we have the whole story before we go off half-cocked and say things we might regret! I mean, for all we know, he might have just been…

What? What would make that picture okay?

Hint: Nothing.

For fuck’s sake, what does a white person have to do around here before a critical mass of other white people are willing to say, “Yep, that’s some racist bullshit”? More than use Nazi imagery for laffs, apparently. And that, more than anything, is why it troubles me that Bullock didn’t immediately issue a statement, and so few people even seem willing to question whether she was aware that her husband held the sort of views that, at the very least, made him think that photo was funny — let alone whether she holds similar views. Because giving her the pure and unfettered benefit of the doubt at this point is only a milder version of making excuses for him. It’s all based on the same premise: that being called “racist” — or even questioned about your association with someone who, say, uses Nazi imagery for laffs — is such an unbelievably painful thing to endure, we must never, ever imply such a thing without hard evidence that the person in question deserves it.

Hard evidence like… well, something more than one photo taken out of context that was only meant to be a joke, surely. And if that’s not admissible, then merely being married to someone who would take that one photo is, without a doubt, utterly meaningless — so it would be tasteless and cruel even to ask the spouse, “Dude, what the fuck? Did you know about this?” In fact, the consequences of accusing a nice white person of racism, falsely or not, are so unspeakably terrible — why, some people might think poorly of her! — it would probably be better if we never used the word “racist” at all, except with regard to people who do, in fact, personally want to commit genocide. Just to be on the safe side.

And if that means we can never really confront racism when we see it, well… that’s unfortunate. But come on. We don’t want to make people uncomfortable. White people, I mean. I understand that racism itself tends to have damaging effects on everyone else, but since I’ve never personally experienced it, I can only speak as a white woman — and let me tell you, being told that something you’ve done as a well-intentioned, liberal white person was, in fact, racist? AWKWARD! So before you go trying to end oppression, you should probably take that into consideration, okay?

Look, I truly don’t have an opinion on what’s in Sandra Bullock’s heart. But I have an opinion on that photo: Appalling and inexcusable. And an opinion on Jesse James: Racist fuckwit. And an opinion on attempts to somehow justify that photo and steer the conversation away from words like “racism” and “anti-Semitism” and “white supremacy” at all costs: Bullshit. And all of that brought me to the opinion that if Bullock wants to keep the stink off her, she’d best issue a statement denouncing her husband’s racist behavior in no uncertain terms. As fast as possible. Which means, basically, yesterday.

That’s what I was talking about. Not judging her or blaming her or making presumptions about her, but expecting her, as a public figure, to take this seriously. Because that picture, despite what James’ defenders say, is fucking serious. And while it’s very possible for people to remain ignorant of a lot of things within a long-term relationship, it is also, exactly as I said yesterday, reasonable to wonder, and to ask, whether someone shares or condones or willfully ignores her partner’s odious views.

But we’re not supposed to wonder about Bullock. Because she seems like such a nice person, and she’s publicly said non-racist things, and she’s going through so much, sure. But also because it is considered rude and vaguely scandalous to not give an apparently nice white person the extreme benefit of the doubt where any suggestion of racism is concerned. And that’s bullshit. I don’t know one way or another what she thinks of that photo, but for those of us who have never met the woman, in the absence of a public comment there is no more reason to assume she deplores it than there is to assume she thinks it’s hilarious. So it’s really disturbing — albeit not unexpected — that so many people seem to think even posing the question is a vicious assault on her character. Jesse James does a Nazi salute with one hand and a Hitler mustache with the other, and people scramble to explain why we shouldn’t assume it means anything, you know, negative. But ask what his wife thinks about that, and why — for the sake of her own public image, if nothing else — she hasn’t commented (via a publicist, so it’s not like she has to be articulate in the midst of heartbreak and humiliation)? Tasteless! Insulting! Victim-blaming! Why, I never!

That’s pretty fucked up, folks. It really is.



Guest Blogger Tasha Fierce: A Maxie Girl In A Barbie World

Tasha Fierce edited the amazing ‘zine Bitchcore from 1998 – 2001 and co-blogs at I Fry Mine In Butter. Her writing explores black invisibility and racism in feminist spaces, sizeism and fatphobia, black queer invisibility, and transgender issues and subverting gender roles. Also, she’s my sister – okay not blood related – but she’s my family.

I have a deep, abiding love of fashion and the various bibles that dictate the terms of such. No matter how many times I tell myself I’m not going to pick up another fashion magazine, no matter how many times I reflect on how damaging staring at anorexic-thin models in clothes I will never fit into is, and no matter how many times I cancel my subscriptions, I still eventually give in to the lure of “100 Accessories under $100 You Can’t Live Without” and buy the damn magazines again. And start another subscription, because, you know, 12 issues for $8 is a really good deal.

So since my chosen career path is “fashion/beauty editor”, and I have started my own nascent fatshion blog to hone my skills, I find myself needing to exist partially in that world that really wants nothing to do with me. At least, until the next “love your body” phase comes along and “plus size” models are all the rage — and even then, I don’t exactly have the shape or height of your typical plus size model. Loving Chanel but knowing Karl Lagerfeld is hugely fatphobic, to the point where he can’t even stand the thought of fat women wearing his diffusion line at H&M, causes serious cognitive dissonance. Writing about fashion requires looking at current runway looks and trends, and while plus size fashion has come a long way, it really pales in comparison to the variety, beauty, and creativity you find in designer clothes made for “normal size” women. It’s extremely hard to desire the amazing looks but be unable to wear them. While low end retailers are going up to larger sizes, you still need to be at the smaller end of the fat spectrum to fit into those sizes, no matter how much stretch they put in their clothing. And even those who can get with the stretch would be hard pressed to fit into the non Lycra-infused items.

All this requires me to live in the “double consciousness” described by W.E.B. DuBois, not just in the fact that I’m a black girl living in a white world, but also in the fact that I’m a fat girl desiring to live in the fashion world. DuBois describes double consciousness as such: “[…] this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” How accurate that is when applied to my relationship with a world so obsessed with being as small as possible, but that I at the same time love so much. Battling diet obsession becomes that much harder when you’re doing research by reading magazines full of stories of severe calorie restriction just to fit into a size 2. And battling self-hatred is that much harder when l’m looking at runway looks I’d love to re-create but can’t because the designers just don’t see me.

But this is the field that I love, that I feel drawn to. So it falls on me to continue to love myself in the face of if not hatred or disdain, erasure and invisibility. Because I’ve chosen this. It’s not something forced on me; this is not some other oppression. I can work to change the way the fashion world works, and thankfully there are a growing number of women doing that right now. Some may say it’s a silly world in which to try to create some kind of movement for inclusiveness, but hey, what can I say. I love beauty in all forms, and there is beauty in fashion, just like there’s beauty in fat bodies and the way we dress them. And I think, just maybe, if we can effect change in the fashion world, the larger world, which is very much influenced by fashion’s ideals, might change too. That’s the more noble purpose I strive for. And if I get to wear cuter clothes because of our success, well, I’m not going to object to that.

Another non-post

So yeah, I was off on the return date by nearly a week. Sorry about that.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve quit writing for Broadsheet — last Friday was my last day. I was a bit burned out on daily ladyblogging, and I want to get working on a new book. (No, I’m not ready to talk about specifics yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I am.) So in theory, I’ve got more time to hang out here again, and I’m planning to. In practice, a whole week’s already gone by, in which I got a lot of writing done but never blogged. So it goes.

Right now, I’m out of town until next Saturday, attending a wedding and visiting family and old friends — so realistically, I probably won’t post much this week, either. But I wanted to say hi.


OK, bye.

Spring Break

Hey, folks, Shapely Prose is going on hiatus until on or about March 22. Everybody’s batteries are running low, and some shit’s changing behind the scenes, so it’s blogcation time. This will be an open thread unless I get pissed off and close it at some point, so… be good.

Everybody Loves a Strawman!

You can't win. You can't get even and you can't get out of the game.

As a Pop Culturalist, I’ve never found it my job to critique media I do not enjoy, nor do I give much credence to those who do. It’s really easy to pick apart even the legitimate shortcomings of media you don’t like, but it’s hardly productive. Okay, so you found all the problematic elements of content you’ve established NOT LIKING. Good for fucking you. Now here’s a barrel of fish to shoot!

You will never hear me rant about the problematic aspects of the following:

Joss Whedon’s universe
Howard Stern
Harry Potter
The Office
Reality TV

BECAUSE I DO NOT LIKE THESE THINGS. And state as much up front. No, it does mean I think who people enjoy these thing are bad people. It just means I don’t happen to share their passion for these things. I also don’t need to hear one more reason why I should be moved to partake in any of these things. Please move your foot so I can close the door. Me no like!

Besides, what would be the point? To prove I know how to pick on an easy target?

There ain’t no black people in LOTR. Booyah. I’m done. Okay, I can go out for a soda or something. Joss Whedon’s world is like Tori Amos’s world, which is like Jesus’s world. Possibly great but the followers appear to be large pains in the ass when proselytizing about their savior. Done with that one. The rest are probably self explanatory if you’ve read my blog for any appreciable length of time.

And that took – what – like a paragraph. Should I waste more of my time analyzing all the ways in which I believe these things to suck with supportive evidence of their suckery? As I say often say, I don’t know how many hours your day comes with, but mine only has 24 and I intend to use them wisely.

Honest examination of the media you actually consume means never having to say, “Omg, I can’t believe ____ said/did ____!!!” and you won’t find yourself so god damned shocked by what was in front of your face all the time. Granted, it’s a lot more difficult to unpack and examine media you find enjoyable, but it’s work that needs to happen. Ain’t no two ways about it. The alternative merely ensures it is always someone’s else’s heroes, interests or passions that are problematic and never yours.


A version of this previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine where I blog daily, and often more than that.

FYI: Clothing swap on Ning

If you haven’t been over to the SP Ning community in a while, you might be interested in the clothing swap thread Angie G just started. She noted the number of people who commented on Snarky’s recent post on wanting to get rid of clothes that don’t fit and thought that a swap might be the perfect solution. If you’re interested, pop on over to that thread (and please, everyone, abide by the honor system!). And if you are new to the Ning community, click here to register (you might have to wait a few hours for one of us to approve your membership, so please be patient).

Friday fluff: The forbidden tongue

Apparently, Randy Michaels, the CEO of Tribune Co. here in Chicago, has issued a list to the reporters on WGN, our local public radio station, containing words and phrases they must no longer speak on air. These are not dirty words, a la George Carlin, but words that sound like “newsspeak” (according to WGN news director Charlie Meyerson, who passed along the list to the article’s author). Presumably, this means sounding too much like a cliched newscaster and is not to be confused with cracking down on thoughtcrime. Some of the phrases listed probably do deserve to be retired as outworn cliches: giving 110%; mother of all (anything); senseless murder. Some of them, though, seem designed to make a reporter’s life a lot more difficult: how are you supposed to report one of those senseless murders without using the word “alleged”?

All this makes me feel a little dictatorial myself. I propose that we make a list of words and phrases that should be verboten in reporting about women’s issues, starting with the phrase “women’s issues.” Here’s a few to start our list:

  • Sex and The City references
  • reference to shoes when the article is not about shoes
  • spinster

What would you add?

Cultivate Your Inner Samuel L. Jackson

Can the owner of this many Kangol hats really be that mean?

I have no idea what Sam L Jackson is like in real life, but I sure admire the way many of his characters navigate the world. Not really feeling the excessive violence or the Pacino like shouting, but I do enjoy the indignation and the decisiveness in his responses to mellow harshers. There’s a whole lot of chow chow in our culture about politeness and decorum. Lots of noise about “not making a scene” or “stepping on toes” and all kinds of colorful ways in which folks get told to “suck it up”.

Excluding situations where not sucking it up could result in physical violence (I strongly encourage folks to suck it up until they are safely out of the situation) I can’t think of any legitimate reason one should – you know – suck it up.

People close to me often call me a “bad ass”, which while flattering is not entirely accurate. I don’t stalk the streets, narrowing my eyes and asking strangers if they’re feeling lucky and watching a movie like Silkwood just makes me tired. What they are probably observing is my directness and emotional discipline – neither of which are exactly the domain of the bad ass.

Pop psych frames verbal self defense as though we’re all outgoing, flashy extroverts, possessing heaping amounts of privilege and devoid of fear or ties to our community. Oh yeah, you can get away with their version bad assery once if you’re lucky. Ever notice how many bad asses (as framed in our society) end up chased out of town or dead?

Well, we’re not looking to become subjects of a bio-pic, portrayed by actors who complain about having to gain weight to play us. We’re looking to keep emotional bullies, Grabby Hands Christian Andersons, Concern Trolls and unrepentant close talkers from harshing our mellows.

Look, I do not cut an imposing figure. I have to get up real early in the morning if I want to spend much of it above 5’0.75 (yes that quarter inch matters). I don’t have a big booming voice or command of a lasso. And while I’m hardly shy, I am not an extrovert, flashy or outgoing. But I do a good job harnessing my inner Sam Jackson and here’s how I do it.

1. Decide

I don’t how many hours your day comes with, but mine only has 24. So at some point you really have to decide what exactly are your “Rosa Parks” moments and let the rest go. You can’t eat all the eggs or fight all the windmills.

2. Commit

okay, so you figured out where are your lines in the sand are. Great. Now own it. Don’t diminish yourself by thinking your lines are petty, picky or foolish. That might well be the case, but who cares. Hey, I blast off into outer space when people don’t use coasters. Even if the table isn’t wood! That’s just me. I own it.

3. Plan

While you’re not going in search of mellow harshing situations, you still need to come up with a response plan. Or as Nathan Muir (Redford) said in SpyGame “When did Noah build the ark? BEFORE THE FLOOD”. Grab your list of Oh no they didn’t-s and for each one write exactly how you want to behave if faced with the situation. Again, NO JUDGMENTS! Yes, walking away IS is a viable option. Write your response plan in detail, including any theatrical hand gestures or props you might need.

4. Practice

My hair. Lots of bandwidth has been used ranting about folks playing Indiana Jones in some black woman’s head. So let’s all pretend that we’ve read them and agree with the premise it’s WRONG. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m raging home grown or store bought, people like going all ST: The Undiscovered Country on my head! I’ve done the ragey/stabby/verbal body slam thing and I’ve done the suck it up and just be all passive aggressively pissy thing. Neither worked for me.

Now if I get the question I ignore it. I ignore all its overbearing out of town relatives, well intentioned neighbors and pushy supervisors. If I feel a hand about to storm my head like Normandy, I physically MOVE the hand and give the look. It’s a cross between the look my mom used to give us when we were cutting up in church and the look DMV clerks have perfected. But it took practice. A lot of practice. At first I was still alternating between ragey/passy, but I just kept repeating steps 2 and 3 and now it’s just something I do. I don’t even think about it. And, see, it didn’t involve any shift in my personality or lots of processing with people with summer homes and dreamcatchers dangling from their office windows.

5. Consistency

Stick to the response plan. Even if you feel silly and regardless of what they do/say (with the physical violence caveat still in place). Don’t waver. See it through. Particularly with a repeat offender. You have to keep doing it every time they do that thing that you isolated on your list. The reason you practice is so it feels natural even if you don’t feel natural doing it. You know your script, you know all the blocking and you’re just giving a performance. And seriously, most of these ass clowns don’t deserve your improvised efforts! Even if the situations themselves don’t get better, most likely, you’ll feel better and that’s all we’re aiming for. Assclowns don’t stop being assclowns merely because you’ve mastered the force.

This doesn’t come with a guarantee and it won’t be applicable in a lot of situations, but hey it sure beats coffee table rings.

Okay, that was such a clown horn ending.

A Handy Guide to Not Plagiarizing

Via Hoyden About Town‘s Lauredhel* on Twitter, I just discovered this Mediaite post by Glynnis MacNicol** discussing a piece by NYT public editor Clark Hoyt*** regarding the latest plagiarism scandal to be blamed on the fast pace of blogging. Like Gerald Posner before him, Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe says his problem wasn’t that he meant to lift whole passages from other writers, but that when he was gathering information, he’d dump it all in one file, then totally forget which parts he’d written. And the real problem, if you want to know the truth, was tight online deadlines, which prevented him from carefully looking over his work for typos, awkward sentences and parts he did not write.


I mean, it’s possible they’re both that fucking stupid — I can’t rule that out. But I can tell you I’ve been blogging on deadline for some time now, and I have yet to steal substantial amounts of writing from anyone else. Sure, I could probably thank Dooce every time I use all caps for emphasis, and Sady Doyle every time I get exclamation point happy, and I don’t always correct people who credit me with coining the phrase “rack of doom,” even though I’ve explained a bunch of times that I stole it from someone on Fatshionista ages ago. I’m not saying I’m perfect. But you know what I don’t do? Copy other people’s work into my own files and then magically forget that I didn’t write it.

And you know how I don’t do that? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

2) I read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I hit “publish.” Even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing dumbassed shit. But it’s a pretty reliable way to familiarize myself with what my own writing looks like, lest I confuse it with someone else’s.

3) I link to every online source I quote, and when it’s a longer passage, I often use the fancy internet blockquote function. This also helps minimize my own natural confusion between my writing and other people’s.

Here’s an example. Felix Salmon writes:

Kouwe once wrote, in an email quoted by Teri Buhl: “Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs.”

Anybody who can or would write such a thing has no place working on a blog. If it’s clear who had a story first, then the move into the age of blogs has made it much easier to cite who had it first: blogs and bloggers should be much more generous with their hat-tips and hyperlinks than any print reporter can be.

I did not write any of that. It really works!

4) On the rare occasion when I do hit “publish” without remembering to include an appropriate link — it happens**** — I usually notice it when I read the piece over again. Things that tip me off to missing links: The name of another writer, the name of another website, quotation marks, blockquotes, phrases like “As X at Y put it…” If you routinely include such markers when you quote another writer’s work, you will have no trouble later identifying where your own work would benefit from a link to the source.

5) Also, I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write.

That’s it — my whole system for not plagiarizing! And since this blog is coming up on its three-year anniversary with exactly zero instances of a writer here being unsure of whether she wrote something or stole it, I feel confident recommending that system to others. Please feel free to pass my advice along to any veteran journalists you know who understand nothing about online communication and thus assume they won’t get caught — er, rather,  get all confuzzled by the pace of blogging and can’t remember who wrote what. Just don’t fucking forget where you found it.

*See how I credited another blogger, and included a link? Not actually hard.

**And again!

***Works for old media types with an online presence, too!

****In fact, I forgot to link to the Fatshionista Livejournal community where it’s mentioned above before I first pubbed this post. Oops!