Anthology theory

I’m very happy to have this book from 1936, “Contemporary American Women Poets.” To me it reads like poems all in the same or similar registers, mostly formalist, but on a deliberately wide variety of subjects, so they don’t all come from the same position (a common fault of anthologies). Yet there is something huge missing – an experimentalness – a flair – diversity – range. It reads like it’s all poetry that was to one person’s taste.

I prefer the approach taken by María Monvel in her 1930 “Poetisas de América”. She puts in poems by poets she likes, yes. But she also puts in stuff she doesn’t like. She bluntly makes fun of it, or makes little digs about how it comes off as old-fashioned, or it’s trying too hard to be experimental, ultraist, or new at the expense of quality, or she makes it plain that she disagrees with the poem’s politics when it’s all about communist revolution. But she put them in for a specific reason: to represent the diversity of work being written by women. By the standards of “that kind of work” — communist ultraist poems, or romantic epic effusions — the poets she chose are representing, and are good. She put them together in order not to deny their existence; out of honesty. “Contemporary American Women Poets” lacks that dimension of honesty, and doesn’t represent diversity, and so gives a false cross-section of “how women were writing” at that particular time.

That’s why I like people I don’t like! I’m a junkie of difference! Anything else is *not truth* and is oversimplified. If you can look through a lot of different windows at the same thing, then why limit yourself to only one window, one filter, to reality!

talking gender – a long digressive juicy post

woolf camp
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

I was prepared to talk during the Bloggercon “Bridges” panel but not quite for Elisa’s question of “Are we ready for men to be allowed on BlogHer panels?” I didn’t even know where to start. I mean, “What? No! Are you kidding? Maybe after the patriarchy’s smashed…” And then kind of in frustration I said something like “What the heck. What man would want to, why would a guy want to come into one of the very few women’s spaces that is set up for women to talk and listen to each other and for women to figure out what it is that they want to do as women, and demand that women listen to them? WTF, men? ” Apparently that was shocking and controversial. Obviously, I am not a separatist. But I am a fuzzy separatist. That is to say, I believe strongly that where there are unequal power dynamics *overall in society* then it is quite valuable to have identity-based conversations – because different conversations happen when you do. Then, the people having that conversation get a sort of base of power, of validation, of figuring-out. You get somewhere new. I believe very strongly as well that you then need to communicate outside that focus group. thus the “bridges”.

This is a pretty complicated topic… I think sometimes it takes trying it to see the point of it, and to see what use it can be! Think of it as a thought experiment and as something that has to be both ongoing and temporary.

When you get a group of women with computers and blogs together, what do they talk about? What’s important to them? What do they know and not know and want to know, and how can they teach it to each other or figure it out? No one is going to figure that out while we are judging ourselves by what men think is good and important and significant.

So, back to Bloggercon. I said something else that I think annoyed and shocked a bunch of the guys in the room and probably some of the women as well — that it only takes one loud dude to make a roomful of women stop talking to each other. I want to give a couple of examples from Woolfcamp, an unconference about blogging and writing we had at Grace Davis’s house earlier this year. It was a lot of fun, it sparked tons of energy, and I learned a lot from organizing and attending it. It was around 25-30 women, some babies and kids, and maybe 5 men who braved the OMG Sparkly Ponies slumber party atmosphere that we deliberately cultivated to express our girl cootie pride.

Here’s the two incidents. At the start of one of the days of Woolfcamp we did a sort of “go around the room with a brief intro” session. It was quite touchy-feely. A lot of us were sitting on the floor and there was lots of heartfelt confession of vulnerability.

(Which I have to digress about. Women often communicate by the mutual offering of vulnerabilities and uncertainties. This can come off as annoying or bewildering self-deprecation, but in a group of women, it functions well. I say “I’m not sure about this idea, and gizmo theory, and I’m not an expert, and here’s the three mutually contradictory ways I feel about it, and here’s what I do know, and I wonder what my priorities are and what I’ll do.” Then you say “Me too, sort of, and I’ve always worried that I don’t know how to widgetize well enough.” And then we have established our mutual trust and non-arrogant stances, and begin the actual information exchange and work together towards confident steps to action. It is an approach to the process of conversation. The same conversation between women and men often goes like this: “I’m not sure about my gizmo theory abilities, and…” “I’m so sorry. That sucks. Maybe some day you’ll know what you’re doing. Here, let me tell you how to do it.” *guy now puts woman into the category of incompetent whiners* *woman gives up on actually having a productive conversation with guy*)

Caution: I am now going to pick on Marc Canter, and I really like and respect Marc, and I’m only picking on him because I know he can take it…

Okay so back to Woolfcamp. We’re all sitting around in a circle being girly hippies. People are stating why they’re at Woolfcamp, why they blog, what cool stuff they do, and also… a lot of insecurities and conflicted feelings. Then it comes to be Marc Canter’s turn… And it was absolutely like he was from another galaxy. He was up above most of us, up at the top of the room, physically dominating the situation. He talked extremely loudly, with a lot of speech patterns like “I’ll tell you exactly what the problem is…” And rambled about DRM and RSS to a roomful of women who mostly did not know what he was talking about and had no idea what his deal was. They’d never heard of him. I’d never heard of him, though I knew what he meant about DRM and I’ve heard that rant before. But what he was *actually saying*… the subtext of what he was saying… was “I have not listened to you. I don’t know who I am and why I’m here, and if I do, I’m not telling. I am an expert, and you are my students, and will listen, because I’m the person here who knows what’s really important. You are ignorant about Three Letter Acroynm, and if you were really geeks, you would know, and since you don’t, I’ll do you the huge favor of explaining it at length.” So, what happened? The room was horribly tense. A bunch of people just weren’t listening. A few women got up and left the room as unobtrusively as possible. I am an aggressive, assertive person and yet it took me a while to work up the mojo to bust through Marc’s wall of blustering. I had to get beyond being pissed off and transcend about five levels of meta-meta-meta to say something calm yet effective. I don’t for the life of me know what came out of my mouth, but it was smooth. It was polite. It shut Marc up in some magic way that saved face for him. We moved on. There was a giant collective sigh of relief. Later, in corners… in private… quite a few women came up to me to giggle about what had happened. “OMG it was like one thing was coming out of your mouth and it was all calm, but I could *see* the thought balloon over your head that said “SHUT THE FUCK UP.” Or… most telling – from a woman who does not identify herself as a feminist – and the thing that men most need to know about this story… “I was so angry at what was happening in the room that I didn’t know what to do or say, and so I went into the kitchen and started washing dishes because I was so pissed.” You know what, that happens all the time. Secession happens, because there is no way to get across what is messed up about a situtation and about the communication dynamics. It takes so much work to go across the differering perceptions of reality! I’m trying to do some of that work, by talking about this kind of thing.

I know that Marc makes an easy example, because he has a very strong personality and is very equal opportunity about who he pisses off. (And – another digression – I value that kind of person a lot, and it takes an asshole with a thick skin, like me, to say some of these things; i.e. it is our cluelessness or not-caring-what-other-people-will-thinkitude, and our not following the rules, that stirs shit up and makes a productive conversation happen.) But, Marc is just the obvious easy example, and this dynamic exists all the time in many situations, not just in the geek conference world.

– are you being an expert?
– are you lecturing?
– are you being loud, backing a woman into a corner, or towering over her physically?

If you are and
you’re not being paid to be a teacher, then you are probably making some chick so enraged that she would gnaw her own arm off rather than come to your conference… If you’re lucky then she will sleep with you just to make you shut up…

Okay, that was rude.. but half of you are laughing. ;-P

Please understand that I’m also saying this as a woman who grew up loving competition, harsh situations, games, boasting, winning, chest-beating, and showing off… I can get very much into that scene. I try to keep it out of my actual life in situations where it is not effective, and I don’t do it for my own ego, or I try not to. If there is a point, like winning a board game or making money, then hey, go for it. It does not make for productive brainstorming, user-developer sessions, teaching, product development, or interesting conversation… and it does not attract women in general to participate.

Okay, story two is actually more of the same. We were talking about “nifty techie bloggy tools”, discussion led by Sarah Dopp.

The deal is, in our roomful of kick-ass interesting blogging women, no one believed they were qualified enough to stand up and lead. We had to bully each other into doing it with a lot of petting and persuading and poking and jokes, a lot of encouragement. By the end of Woolfcamp, women were calling each other on self-deprecation… not letting each other put ourselves down… basic consciousness raising results which made me very happy. So, even Sarah, who among the craft bloggers, complete newbies, literary women, fat awareness activists, etc. stood out as a person who was actually a *programmer*… even Sarah had to have her arm twisted to lead the Nifty Techie Bloggy Tools session, even when she had prepared for it and had a handout. During the session she went through her handout and all of us in the room were cross-talking, were recommending things and confessing ignorance of other things… And part of what was good about what was happening was that we were all talking to each other, participating, and finding out that.. hey! I know something valuable to contribute, too, even though I didn’t know I did! Unfortunately.. then Chris Heuer, who I otherwise and at all other times love to death and who is a genius of unconferencing and encouraging participation, came in and… yes you guessed it. Stood in the doorway, weirdly yelling at all of us sitting on the floor about all the things he knows that we don’t know and how we *should* know them and how can we not have known them OMG! You could see the newbies in the room shrinking. And again, there was a panicky telepathy… what to do? The thing is… no one could deny that he knew more than we did, probably, about blogging tools. We would in theory like to know. But not quite at such uninterrupted length…. So, since no one could leave the room and since… well I confess, I was exhausted and could not get it up to derail him… What happened was that most people in the room stopped listening, and pointedly started quiet conversations with each other, like bad kids in class, even scribbling notes. And the IM-ing grew fierce. Sarah, who was leading, did not know how to make him shut up without … The thing is, it takes practice. It takes practice on both sides, on the shutter-upper, and the person being told to shut up. We need to be able to say, “You’re hijacking a good thing that was happening in this conversation, and now that will stop.” Without that being made a huge deal, or the focus of the conversation. And without having to then take care of the shutted-up person’s feelings. We also need to practice shutting up gracefully when asked. (I say, as the same person who kept talking about confrontation and anger to Mike Arrington who was moderating and trying to shut me up… )

It was so weird, because I have never before or since seen Chris do anything like that… and again, a bunch of women in the room had that “omg, that thing that happened! and he wouldn’t quit! and we weren’t sure what to do or say!” conversation afterwards. But they did not have it where Chris could hear it. Maybe Grace did, actually… and I meant to, but never got around to it. Everyone wanted to, I felt, but they would normally feel major barriers against doing it in front of everyone else, the thing to do would be to do it privately to his face, with much praise and consideration and ego-boosting: in other words it takes quite a lot of time and energy to get past basic defensiveness of “What! I’m not sexist!” No… in your mind you’re not… you are even so cool as to be at a feminist conference… and yet “how you are” intrinsically is not the issue, but instead, “how you just behaved not by your own perception but by the perception of *a majority of women who had established their own cultural norm*.

So, that is why I do not support men on panels at Blogher… Because we all need to develop more of those skills.

And because men who get to hear the conversations that develop when women are talking – they are lucky, and should value the opportunity to hear the conversation in the kitchen… when we are angry and can’t explain to them why in public, because it would be rude, and we’re washing the dishes instead… That is a really good opportunity for anyone. If you talk all the time you will not hear anything.

a strawfeminist speaks up a bit

i am laughing at dave winer
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

So, to explain a bit why I was incredulous at Dave Winer saying that he wanted to write about feminism, but not get yelled at or criticized… and why I was even more incredulous when he said “I live in fear”. I respect Dave and think he’s nifty for organizing this conference and inviting a bunch of different communities. I give him mad props. And I also like Dave for his ability to talk without a filter and just say whatever. That’s so useful for everyone else! It gets a lot of conversations started! It’s often painful to be that kind of person. And I should know!

But! (I have a big but!)

It’s bogus to think you get a free pass to say whatever you want about women or feminism without getting called on it… just because you are condescending from your position of privilege where you don’t have to think about it, and bothering to think about it, which is so scary! Sorry. There is no free pass! I don’t get one, and neither does Dave! I am interested in what he has to say, though, and will read it and talk to him. For me part of going to conferences like these is that it’s a commmitment to dialogue.

Dialogue does not mean I don’t get to point out stuff that seems messed up to me while I listen to guys saying how afraid they are that women might be offended by their attempts to understand feminism.

So when Dave said “I live in fear” I cracked up and I think I might have heckled him by squawking “oh yeah, because feminists are so powerful and scary!”… If you cannot see the irony I will have to explain it more in another post… I hope this is not fearsome criticism – in case anyone hasn’t noticed, I’m not scary: I’m just a blogging blowhard like everyone else. Anyway, “I live in fear” was so over the top. Perhaps it was a joke… well… that’s not funny. (As the punchline goes.)

This question of fear kept coming up. In fact, later, in the “core values” discussion, the major theme was guys talking about how hurt they were by trolls and people being mean in their comments. And there were some stories of actual scary situations. but mostly, actual physical violence, threats, and stalking was conflated with …. mean comments on your blog. So, I think it’s important to be clear that we are making distinctions between people being rude assholes on the internet, and scary, psychotic stalking.

I would also like to add that stalking and violence, and its threat, is something that every woman lives with even when she is not an A list or a Z list blogger from the age of puberty or earlier. So think about how that sounds, to us, to have Chris Pirillo or Mike Arrington or Dave Winer or Steve Gillmore talking about their blog-comment PTSD. I want to validate their feelings of being hurt, and of feeling the pressure of celebrity and public scrutiny, which I’m sure I can’t imagine since I’m not a bigass famous person, and yet on some level, I have trouble hearing their plaint. Especially when as a woman, when I am offended, hurt, or threatened, and then I say so, my feelings are trivialized and I am told that I’m being too sensitive, and that I shouldn’t be feeling the way I’m feeling, and that in fact (as so often happens) my being annoyed or offended is more harmful to the annoyer than their (non)offense could ever be to me … Oh, you know what I mean. Or do you?

Or is the point of Blogher being invited to Bloggercon, in a way, that some of the big boys are tired of being big boys and not crying? Maybe a little bit! Thus the sessions on emotional life being mostly about guys talking about how it was a new big thing for them to have emotions on their blog and then to talk meta- about their emotions on their blog. And that’s amazing and cool… It reminds me of something really good I was reading on ap_racism on LJ lately, on this post, On being an ally, in a comment by holzman on the stages of cluefulness white people go through when thinking about racism:

# Racism? Didn’t King fix that in the ’60s?
# Wow, racism is still a problem. I hope those minorities fix it soon.
# Gee, racism is my problem, I’d better lead the charge in fixing it.
# Hm, racism is my problem, but my assuming I can lead the charge is part of the problem, so maybe I’d better let those minorities know that I’ll be their ally if they ever get back to doing anything.
# *headdesk* No one was waiting for me to announce I was ready to be the center of attention, and there’s work to be done, and people are doing it, so I’m going to go get involved in helping them do it in a way that is useful for them.

That progression could be useful to many of the intelligent, questioning, sympathetic men at bloggercon.

I passed out that a-zone essay by someone named Mike… in paper handout form… figuring it was a cool men’s lib thing and might be the sort of thing these guys would never read otherwise, just because they’d never come across it. Also, in between the advice on hugging each other and learning to deal with emotions, there was some great stuff about not putting the burden of your emotional work on women to do for you, and also on stepping back, inviting women to take the lead on a project, shutting up, and doing the shit work for them for a change. I know a lot of the men at bloggercon won’t be able to hear this sort of statement for how I mean it, because they were not even at a place where they could hear the statement “Sexism exists” and agree with it. but, anyway, some of them will hear it and go “Oh! hmmm!” Dave clearly has thought about that kind of thing or has listened to someone who has. As SxSWi also did… with great results.

Unlike people who last-minute go “shit, we don’t have any women in our conference… let’s ask a couple of them, except we don’t know anyone good enough, but we’ll ask them anyway. Wonder why they said no?” And then you end up with a panel with 4 expert old men with beards and one bright young woman with no experience or authority, carrying the responsibility to represent for womanhood on her shoulders… so annoying… tokenism… arrrgh.

I should write more about what I leaped up to say about conflict and aggression, but maybe in the morning. In short though… Heated exchanges can be productive. A commenter on my blog can be an asshole, and personally insult me, and yet still have a valid point that it benefits me to listen to, if I can get past the personal reaction. The angry person may not be persuaded, and yet the exposure of the angry exchange can be productive for a community. We don’t have to take abuse, and yet we don’t have to completely dismiss anger and demand (or enforce) civility. I am suspicious of civility and its function: it’s great a lot of the time, but not all of the time, and it can function to suppress legitimate anger. Anger can also be the proper response to a situation, a good response. Finally, and this is unfortunately the part that Mike Arrington cut me off at: We can get angry, but it should be part of our “core values” as bloggers that we can also APOLOGIZE. That is an important part of a commitment to an ongoing conversation, which is what blogging is.

brief visit to barcamp

Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

I hung around barcamp for a little bit and had a nice conversation with Will Pate from Flock. In the nicest possible way he was like “What do women want?” If anyone has an extra day 1 blogher ticket, Will woudl like it. (SJ from I, Asshole also wants one!) So I babbled to him endlessly about what I want from my browser. It should vibrate.

Also! I want a pony! In my browser!

Talked about multiple/flexible identities and work environments. Social networking built into your browser… the difficulties with that. I forget whatall I said, but I thought of more things. For example, why am I ever cutting and pasting stuff, or URLs? Should be able to click on a page – right click it and email it off to someone, so that I can annoy all my family and friends with more “humorous forwards” and glurge. No, really! They want to be annoyed by me! I’m sure they’ve thought of that already though.

How about not just the tagging, which is handy… but a ratings bar for every page i look at? 10 stars… and I have the option to rank a page i’m looking at – very quickly and without waiting for some other window to pop up – just in my toolbar — and then at the end of the day I could see a list of my top ranked sites for that day. That would make browser histories automatically way more useful. As it is, I have a browser history that’s unwieldy and gross and not useful – but if I were to see the subset of pages I bothered to rank, that might be good. Is this different from tagging? … hell yes! Then, with social networking built in, scary! i coudl turn on the option (opt in) to let my friends see what my top ranked pages are and I could go look at their. I could push a button to send the list of links nicely marked up to a designated public blog that was just my top-rated links of the day, or the hour, or whatever. It could be all built in!

Don’t forget the pony…. OMG ponies!

fun idea meltdown

so I’ve had these ideas before but suddenly feel like my head will explode if I don’t blog them and say t hem again.

With the video and vlogging discussion, again, I love that everyone will be making home movies of their kids. – which susan mernit described rightly as “documenting families”. What will make it *different* from other times like when everyone had shoeboxes full of super8 home movies… is the metadata. You don’t know who is going to become interesting or important. Whose home movies of childhood do you wish you could see & why? various reasons, right? fame? relation to you? other reasons?

About social networking, again… I’d love very much to see historical friendster. Like, social networks 1870. Social networks 1926. Step through years, and get a picture of changing relationships & personal & power networks over time. Who knew who? Wouldn’t that be awesome to have? Get the NEH to fund it. And have it be very easy to contribute, be wiki-ish, so that anyone can log in and add people from history and add data and relationships.

bloggercon meltdown

Everything’s peaceful, sweetness, light, rainbows and unicorns over here at Bloggercon. I’m kind of overloaded on social and techie conversations! i keep phasing out and being snarky on the irc channel and then missing what people are talking about.

whoever the punk rock dude in the back row is, it was fun to listen to him.

Cookies, and a nap… mmmm… and yet, barcamp beckons.

Meanwhile, this was obnoxious yet kind of funny… someone linked to it off the irc chat.

Making money session at Bloggercon iv

We’re talking about monetizing blogs. Ads. Localization. How to make it easy for local businesses to get small ads on blogs. Subscription models for blogs. Micropayments. Networks.

So, I’m thinking locally and it seems like every podunk chamber of commerce and downtown business association should be paying a blogger. Many local newspapers are moribund – bought up by big media organizations who don’t actually care about the local scenes. Local blogs should have the chamber of commerce/business connection hooked in, for ads, and should also have political use… man, every town should just have a package of group blog, phpBB-style forum, etc. They’re reluctant to commit to that even in my small silicon valley town because of class, language, etc. barriers, i.e. half the town isn’t online and it’s a big deal to get them on and so if you commit resources to online stuff you are leaving them out. However, it’s not like the xeroxed flyers are reachign very many people EITHER. (duh). So if you built structures where it was *possible* for everyone to participate then people would have a reason to *get* online and say something and read something about local politics….

Um, meanwhile, I’m sure it could be monetized some how… can I go off on a tangent or what?

Oh, how I love to say dumb things on the internet… join me…

lisa williams
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Multitasking was tougher than usual today. I languished on the floor in the back of the room while trying to type, listen, rest, and do an IRC chat while taking, uploading, and tagging photos. Good thing my mommyblogging homie Mary Tsao was on the job.

During the emotional life discussion I got distracted by Robert Scoble discussing his emotions in the bloggercon chat window. I asked him if his attitude about blogging personal stuff had changed over the lifetime of his blogs… and if Maryam also blogging changed his blog style. He pretty much said yes & that since he knows she’s going to blog something, he might as well say something because it’s not like people aren’t going to know. I had to ask, because Lisa Canter and I and some other people had an intense talk at SXSWi about being the loudmouthed blogging-writing girlfriends of “famous” geeks, and what that was like from our point of view… and from theirs.

Anyway, I wrote a bit about that idea in an article, “Blog It, Sister” that I’ll be reading Tuesday at Intersection for the Arts, a reading with Other magazine and Tachyon Press. In which article I say really embarrassing and silly things about my geeky teenagerhood and how I used to invite this one guy over, and make out with him, so that he’d tell me clues for Zork II and teach me assembly language. The story was to illustrate a point about sexual politics, information exchange, boys’ geek social networks and how women become peripheral to them, and how to fix that. So since Wired has apparently been linking to my dorky post about gay truckers on IRC, I figure I should mention this fun event while you’re all looking, because, well, I’m a total blog tart. Come and hear me and Chris Garcia from othermag, and Peter S. Beagle and Terry Bisson from Tachyon. And you can whisper the hints to old text adventures into my ear…