Ubiquitous Computing, Or, Thoughts on Whether I Really Want My Laptop to Become Even More of an Appendage
On the agenda was "Ubiquitous Computing"--which, I've discovered, is more than just computers every-fucking-where, but the ways in which computing can be "liberated" from computers, per se, and embedded into everyday life. Other everyday examples of "ubicomp" include wireless PDAs, cellphones, IPODS, all these little handheld gadgets that are becoming our appendages, our instant means to communicate or access information--to be instantly and readily available at all times.
Oh Brave New World, right?
So, I do carry a cellphone. And for a year now, I have actually had it switched on for the best part of the day. And how often do I talk on it? About 2-3 times, to my husband, for 2 minutes, to check in on The Boy, what's for dinner, who's got the "good car" and all that. I could count the other calls to other people in a month on one hand. I can attribute this to me not being much of a phone-talker (and a lazy-assed friend) and also someone who is pretty resistant to being instantly and readily available at all times.
And part of this resistance comes from the fact that in my work environment, I sit here behind not one, but two computers and three screens, and communicate with many members of staff (and not a few friends) via instant messenger and email. And even though I know a more productive way to deal with email would be to shut it off completely and check it on a schedule, I leave it open, and can never resist the siren call of the "new message" ping. Whatever I am doing, I can't resist taking a look and "just quickly responding" (Which is why, if you ever write to my work account, you sometimes get an uncannily swift response. So swift, you might think I am a bit sad and have nothing to do. Which is both true and not true.)
It is mainly for this reason--the ability to step away from work when I go home--that I have consciously resisted putting a wireless router in our house. Yes, we have broadband, but accessing it means plodding downstairs to the basement study to fire up the PC and get online. It means a physical separation and a bit of hassle. I use it, of course, but it is not as convenient as having the networked machine right there at your fingertips. I do have a swanky laptop that is literally about 100 times more powerful than Old Faithful in the basement, but I use it for work and work alone (and by "work" I mean blogging and checking gossip sites during work hours, naturally).
But lately, on little lunch trips to CompUSA, I have taken to fondling the routers and thinking that for a mere $100 I could have all the access I want, all over the house.
I could listen to the BBC and catch up on This American Life while I cook in the kitchen
I could check IMDB when watching "that guy in that film. He was in? Oh what the fuck wazzit again?"
I could check t.v. listings, quickly pull up recipes, shop, pay bills, renew library books, and Google for dinosaurs with my son (this, as far as he is concerned, is the primary function of the computer).
I could blog more
I could network more
I could read more
I could email more
I could stay in touch more
I could work more
And herein lies the rub. First, I do not need my boss to expect Instant Messenger or email access to me at 9pm at night, because, believe me, there are those who do and for those people their workday never seems to be over. (And as far as I am concerned, it does not make anyone more productive. If it's *that* important, call me. And leave a message, because I rarely pick up. But this might be a rationalization because I am inherently lazy)
Lately I've been arguably pollyannaish about how maarvelous all this blogging is, and how rich and rewarding it is to participate in these communities, and how radical I think it all is. And I still stand by all that (as most of us do) but the last two weeks have seen not a few "dark side" posts many of seem to point to a more suffocating, all-consuming and even obsessive aspect to the whole enterprise.
And I do wonder, if I got that wireless and remained "networked" for many more hours of the day, whether I would begin to feel the same way, whether I would be posting more, commenting more, reading more--it would probably not hurt my own blog traffic at all to be a bit more consistent and ever-present. And I do suffer from feelings that I am not keeping up with people and being a "bad" blogger for not responding to every comment I get, or returning the favor. This could only help all that, right? right?
Yes, I am very transparent, because you all know where this is going. Along with all that access comes a burden. More obsessive checking of comments feed to see if anyone else has chimed in. More checking of stats. More "audience-building" and investment in "audience-building." More work. And as someone who is not making any kind of living or professional career out of this thing, there is no need for me to "work" this blog. And for those folks who do make an income from their blog, I wonder if for them--even though blogging reaps unique rewards--it feels like they never get to "punch out"--that the work of blogging is ever present, always there. Like a bunch of people in your house who won't go home, even though it's 2am already...
So even though that computer is separate from you, really the network is not--it becomes an ever-present part of your identity. Might as well be tattooed onto your arm (I so wanted to use the line "tattooed on your arse" there, but this would present distinct usability challenges).
And so this, for now, is why I am not getting that wireless. But I reserve the right to change my mind. Mainly when I am lactating 24/7 and in the baby vortex to come. When this time comes, though, I'm going to need to set myself some boundaries. Because though I would love to party hearty all night long, if I don't get to excuse myself for chunks of time, I am liable to hurl all over your carpet.
This has led me, as a form of elaborate digression, to take various "tours" of my own. Blogland tours. And on the agenda today is the erratic itinerary that is motherhood.
First, Her Bad Mother has me digging deep into my soul over how one articulates that deep, primal and physical affection we feel for our children. How do we find the language that works without venturing into "pervdom"? As someone who's got a bit of a thing about language and aesthetics (shut up. i mean reading it, not writing it...) her post appealed to the deeply repressed poet in me, and suddenly I was revelling in the inexpressible joys of snuggling my son in the morning when we are slugglish with sleep, and how there is a physical pleasure in that which is not easily transmitted in words (note use of term "snuggling"--I rest my case over the "not writing it" part.)
Catching up with Sweetney, I read her "stalkery" interview with Ayun Halliday, whose book I have not read, and whose site I have not seen, and I am asking myself "how the hellian did I miss this woman whose schitzophrenia so resembles my own???"
On weekends, we tend to loll around our tiny shotgun apartment much longer than we should, littering the floor with newspaper and toys, enjoying being in our pajamas, until this invisible switch gets thrown, the bitch switch, I guess it's called. Suddenly, (at around 10:55am), I am flooded with evil feelings, because our apartment is such a wreck and the breakfast dishes are covering a counter that should be filled with lunch preparations and none of us pajama-clad dullards have the gumption to get motivated, let alone dressed.
Meanwhile, move over, because Kristen and I are spreading. Like Kristen, the legs, the upper arms, the cheeks (both kinds) are softly inflating--remember that look of panic on Violet Beauregarde's face as she chewed that gum and took on the proportions of a dirigible? I empathize with that bitch. And today I am thinking the choice of a hot-pink maternity dress--which looked sassy and bold in a "I am big-ass woman, get over it and hear me roar" in the mirror this morning--now might now only add to the sense that all we need is some oompa-loompas to roll me right out of this joint.
Now entering the third trimester, my weight gain is gathering momentum, and when I look down at my already taught and itchy stomach I am alarmed that I still have three motherfucking months to go! [Case in point--just met with "fly-me-to-the-moon" client, and she commented "But Joy, you're already so HUUUUUGE!"] And yes, I know any empowered feminist diva worth her salt should revel in the expansiveness, in the unstoppable force that is her body, that is WOMAN, but right now I just feel a bit fat. And constipated. So, the thighs are getting reaquainted with one another, the term "back fat" returned to my vocabulary, and I am currently busting out of some of those hipper maternity clothes, and stepping to the billowing tents, the enormously gussetted capris, the shapeless t's---anything without SEAMS, please gaaawd.
Jozet? Well Jozet is sleep deprived. We all heard the glorious news that she popped out her baby boy on July 31st. Since then her personal blog has been relatively quiet...(what gives, Jozet? Sheesh!). Except that right now she has given us a post that returns us roundly to aesthetics, and poetry... the pleasure of the stream of consciousness that is borne of no sleep... Here I give you a mere taste of a post that at once had me tittering even while I was gripped with sheer terror over the eye-clawing tiredness to come:
wiping drool from corner of mouth
I am sitting up…
sitting up typing…
typing for my bog…
These stories went a bit like this:
"I went down to the bus station after school today to see if I could find you and give you a lift home. There was a young girl there, about your age, and I remember feeling just so terribly sorry for her mother when I heard the torrent of obscenities that came streaming out of her mouth. She had the lanugage of a guttersnipe. And then she turned around, and I realized It Was My Own Daughter...."
"I was driving home after school today, and I saw a young girl, about your age, walking up the hill, and I remember feeling so terribly sorry for her and her mother because this girl was so clearly disabled in some tragic way. She dragged her feet, her cardigan was sloppily hanging off her shoulders, the sleeves slouched over her fingers, her bag was trailing around her ankles, and her head was lolling to one side. I don't know how she could see with that fringe completely covering her eyes. And then, as I passed her, I realized It Was My Own Daughter..."
Clearly I was channeling Robert Smith or Morrisey in the latter scenario, but this miracle was utterly lost on my mother, who only saw a sloppy and foul-mouthed little urchin emerging into puberty. Although it was immediately obvious that these "stories" were fabricated for shock-purposes only (in both cases, I think I would have noticed my mother stalking me so closely) she won in the end. By the time I hit sixteen I had shifted from the carefully cultivated grubbiness of an altnera-chick to a new-wave "casual." I sported the permed-do and frosted lipstick to prove it. When I started wearing cameo broaches, 10 chains of plastic pearls, and silk floppy shirts over leggings, she audibly heaved a massive sigh of relief and then set her sights on my brother.
And there, in a nutshell, is one reason why I have not given my parents the link to this blog. My mum and I have a great relationship now, in spite of (or because of?) being several time zones and an ocean away. Despite her remonstrations of "blasphemy" when I uttered the word "shit" at fourteen (it turned out it was unwise for me to then explain that, technically, "shit" was not a blasphemous term) she now uses the term liberally when we chat about certain things. The other day when I chatted to her on the phone, she used the term "minging" at least 5-6 times (to refer to my brother's hallway carpet) which I actually found quite disconcerting--no, I was shocked that she would use such a base word so freely.
So in some ways it would be safe to pass on the link. I made it a policy to myself when I started this thing that I would never write a word that could potentially hurt or offend anyone in my life (although I think there's an early post in here somewhere where I recount my mother's sadistic "acne treatment" methods from around the same period--maybe she would see the funny side....).
For me, this is a public and completely open space where anyone has the right to access what I have written--but that's due to the nature of how and why I write. Different contexts for writing will change this for people--and I respect that. I am, of course, protected by my anonymity--although a lot of friends of mine log on and read to see what's going on with me. I have toyed with passing on the link to Mum and Dad--and I think for the most part they'd get a kick out of it. Even the swear words might not really phase them too much (case in point, the BBC, since my departure, has now Ok-ed the "f" word for usage after 9pm. So if the Beeb is saying "what's the big deal....?" then...)
But when I brought up the idea to my husband the other day, he simply said "don't...it will affect your writing, knowing they are out there..." And I realized he was completely right--it would affect me. Even stump me. So for now, gingajoy is just between us.
So how about you? Has there ever been a time when the discovery that a certain person was reading your blog gave you pause for thought. Is there anyone you protect your blog from? I should add, I also protect mine from work colleagues--but this was mainly because when I started, I was not sure if I would end up writing about the workplace. What I have discovered as I went on with this is that if I am posting on something that one day I could regret or come back to bite me--best to not write. A friend of mine recently commented on how "honest" my writing was--and I responded, "well yes and no...There's a lot I don't write about too." I suppose this is another way of saying that my writing is filtered--I work to be honest and open, but at the same time it is carefully directed. I am not writing a personal journal documenting all my thoughts, fears, hopes and frustrations--though there are many people out there who are doing just this who I find fascinating and enjoyable to read.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts about how your writing is affected by a sense of who is "out there" (if at all). Did you, like me, find that once you had a better sense of that audience or other bloggers that resonated with you that your writing style changed?
Or let me put this another way--do you let your Mum read your swear words online??
One reason I've been remiss in posting is because our meeting and a host of other stuff I've been reading and thinking about lately has had me chewing the proverbial cud over this whole blogging thing. (Yes, you've guessed it, here comes the obligatory post where I pontificate on blogging and its role in my life. I need to apologize in advance for both the length of this one, its potential to disappear up its own academic arse, and the possibility of incoherence. Like right now...)
Be warned, this one is a doozy--so feel free to skip Acts 2, 3, 4, and 5.
YES! This one has ACTS.
Act One: When Blogs Collide
Many of you guys might have had BlogHer, but I got my own little taste of real-life blogger-on-blogger action last Saturday when I hooked up with Elizabeth for ice-cream. The idea of ice-cream was that our kids could come along, and would be relatively occupied while we chatted. In reality, I found that taking my 3 (nearly 4) yr old to a joint that would ply him with pure sugar on an empty stomach was not exactly the ideal recipe for having a relaxing chat with a fellow mom and blogger. Yes, he was compliant for all the 3-4 minutes it took him to wolf down his kid's cone, but this was swiftly followed by some, let's say "spirited" behavior, where he tore around the place yelling "Hey, you guys CHASE ME!!!" to Elizabeth's well-mannered and funny boys (Elizabeth--as I said before, those boys are a real credit for you, and a ray of hope for me letmetellyou ;-).
Herding preschoolers aside, Elizabeth and I managed to fit a great deal of furious chatting into the 45 minutes or so we had (albeit punctuated with "hey, you do NOT whack that woman's butt with your spoon--now say you're SORRY!"). She filled me in a little on BlogHer, and her experience of it, we talked about people she met and I lived vicariously through her "oooh, is she as nice as she seems online?? ooooh!!! you met Amalah? ooooh!!!" We talked about our local school district and it's utter incompetency, about having boys, and we talked about blogging and what it means to us but not nearly enough. It was really quite fascinating how easy it was to just begin talking to her--we had a shared context, shared points of reference, shared friends and aquaintances...and we had never met.
So all this got me thinking. First, that I looked forward to meeting up with Elizabeth for lunch some time when Monkey-Boy was safely ensconced at school (I highly admire all earth-mothers who can integrate their kids effectively into their adult social lives--I am not always able to be one of those people. Especially when there's serious chatting to be done). The rest of it..well read on (at your own peril) and you can see what's been spinning around my brain for the last few days/weeks.
Act Two: Starting a Blog of One's Own
I started this little blog back in February. My motivations for doing so were simple--after reading and commenting on various blogs for a while, I found that I really wanted to join in the conversation more wholeheartedly. One of my early posts tried to articulate the impulse, but when I look back on that one I realize I was still pretty wet behind the ears (and probably still am). Those who know me are all to aware that I am a leeetle bit of an exhibitionist, and I do love to spin a yarn. So the blog was a space where I could "tell stories" and experiment with writing. While the thought of pursuing traditional publication routes tended to paralyze my creative flow, the blog offered a form of instant gratification and (very important to exhibitionist-me) an audience (even if only a couple of people—because that’s all I really need, I’m afraid).
A while back, Mom-101's take on this helped me process what blogging was coming to mean to me--that its the communal and interactive aspect of blogging that becomes the fuel for processing ideas, for writing.
"I'm not the kind of writer who can create just for myself. I have stacks of dusty journals filled with idea starters, creative sparks, writing germs that never went beyond that initial flush of excitement that conjoined pen and paper for a few brief moments. It kills me to admit this, by the way. To acknowledge that I'm not more inner-directed is like admitting I'm not a Real Writer. A Real Writer is angry and independent, free from social expectations. A Real Writer hates parties. (And she has bad hair anyway, so who would want her at their parties?) A Real Writer is reclusive and asocial; she will shut herself away in a friend's lakeside cabin, happy to see noone but the ashen-faced postman for weeks on end until she finishes her manuscript or runs out of Camel unfiltereds, whichever comes first. A Real Writer, or so I was led to believe by misguided writing instructors, doesn't care what you think about anything she has to say."
Yes, in this scenario, I am also most definitely not A Real Writer. And I say this as someone who has produced a dissertation, given conference presentations, even published a couple of articles. (though, let me say, the dissertation process is less an exercise in intellectual rigor than a test of how much you can persist, how much you can be inner-directed).
But it's not until this here blog that I have begun to consider myself as a writer. And I know I am not alone on this score. For many of us, blogging has been a powerful motivational force by virtue of the community that you gain with through the writing. This has even led some of us to think about how we can channel this energy into other types of writing. I have had all sorts of excited conversations with RL friends and my husband about where I might think about going next "as a writer." Kristen and I have chatted via email about this very thing. Kristen, as someone who is very productively (and entertainingly) exploring those opportunities to their full potential, offered some very generous advice and tips on venues to think about exploring for free-lance writing gigs (thanks, lady).
And this is something I am definitely considering delving into.. but there's this other little matter of my job, and the type of publications and research I need to be doing...
Act Three: Wherein I Get A Little Academic on Yo'Ass...
Most of you know that in my professional life, I work at a research center at a large university where I am actually paid to research and think about issues in Digital Culture--and sometimes I even get to teach. Ideally, I would be publishing in this field. In reality, I actually wish I spent a lot more time researching and writing, but I spend a great deal of time overseeing development of software and online content (mainly for educational and scholarly research purposes) . Sounds lofty, but this work often ranks on a par with herding up Monkey-Boy in an ice-cream joint in terms of intellectual fulfillment.
While I have been considering how to channel my writing into other creative outlets, there is the other pressure I feel professionally--to publish or to perish. I would not "perish" exactly in my job, but publications in peer-reviewed journals can take me interesting places if I want to go. It can also get me more credibility and better yearly raises in the place I work now. (Nice!) So yeah, publications would be good. And here’s where the blog has also begun to fuel a bit of creative energy.
Anyone familiar with Barabasi and his Social Network Theory? Me too!
In fact, in many ways we’re all familiar with it—we’re practicing it, for chrissakes. Just big guys like Barabasi get to theorize it for us (and I’ll return to the “guys” aspect here in a few…) For those interested, here’s the bastardized over-simplification of his theory according to moi: Websites (especially blogs) form an ever-expanding “scale free” network. Blogs are scale-free because they are intrinsically connected to other sites/blogs, and this connectedness is potentially infinite. A site’s “status” or degree of power is acquired through the volume of linkages to it (and links from comments are *not* measured in this paradigm—which you’ll see I think is pretty significant). The more a site is linked elsewhere, the higher the “competitive fitness” or “rate of attraction” becomes. Congratulations, you’re an A-list blogger!
Yep, yep—makes sense. And some of the reports from BlogHer indicate that many of the workshops dealt with how to boost one’s bloggy “rate of attraction.” (see how I cunningly slipped in some multiple linkages in this post—I want you to like me, see…)
But there’s something about the unfuzzy and rather neat math here—or rather the use of mathematical principles to create all-encompassing theories about online social networking—that does not quite capture the social. Yes, we can apply this theory and say, “yeah, there are A-listers in the mommyblogosphere, and yeah there is a certain hierarchy, ranking, or even (dare I say it) competitive streak to some of this”—we all love knowing we’ve got an audience, after all—because it means we’re more attractive.
OK--but there’s a whole lot more I see going on in the slice of blogosphere I float around (largely women, largely mothers, largely lefty-liberals with penchant for a drink and a good swear like me) that does not quite fit in this model. (And I am by no means the first to take umbrage with Barabasi’s application of mathematical principles to social phenomenon).
In fact, when I trawl through a lot of these theories, I am struck by how much the discussion is dominated by white guys (not that I have anything against white guys—some of my best friends are white guys). The terminology dominated by references to rank, power, and competition. It’s about the survival of the fittest. It’s about deleting the weakest link. It's all a bit "manly." But is it?
Liz’s mild discomfort earlier this week over discovery of this dark truth of the blogosphere—that “success” is all about linkages and technorati ratings--is just one indicator that there is still a great deal to learn about how our networks or communities reinforce one another. It’s not just about linkages (though this is a key part). The question (as Fred Stuzman and others have asked it) should be not how blogs attain hierarchical rank in the social network, but how we connect.
Act Four: Some Comments on Commenting
It’s connectivity and conversation that most defines our network (or networks). Especially in the female-dominated “mommy” blogosphere in which I participate. Obviously being linked by an A-list blogger can cause a flutter in any blogger-gal’s heart (hands up who is secretly hoping that you’ll turn up on Amalah’s Daily Dose? C’MOOON!) but we know that if you want to bring readers to your site, then you need to interact with other bloggers through the practice of reciprocal commenting. And remember, links from comments don't count in terms of ranking (mainly because then it would count as spam).
There is a whole (as yet) untheorized or unresearched politics of commenting that I am fascinated by (feel free to set me straight on this one). Reciprocal commenting strengthens and broadens our community—or, as Kristen puts it, comments are like blog-crack. In fact, the practice of reciprocal commenting is so central to our community of practice, that many of us in our darker moments have ‘fessed up to feeling a certain amount of pressure to always comment on a post, just to show support (even if you have not read an entire post).
Feed another’s blog-crack habit, so you can get you some in return...
And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, per se (dear God, if you’ve made it this far through this fucking post, you deserve a medal—feel free to Pass Go, and click on “Comments” –or not!) No, commenting for the sake of commenting is not an empty act—it is a vocal gesture of support. (and I hope I am not offending lurkers here—hell, I lurk all over the place….)
Which is why, when someone abruptly stops commenting on your site, many of us can feel a bit slighted. Because it feels like a withdrawal of support. And this is also where the comment-fatigue begins to set in. While we want to support one another—there are so many great blogs and so little time--suddenly the networking and supporting that helped us feel like an active member of the community begins to feel like work. And suddenly you’re realizing that you’ve not posted in (cough) a week, and “oh my god people are going to drop you, and no one will read you, and you’ve spoiled everything you silly bitch.” I’ve weakened my link to the community; I am going to become extinct! Which I am beginning to realize now (seasoned 7 month blogger that I am) is not at all true. (Thank Christ for this article: Why Post Frequency Does Not Matter Anymore ).
But it’s hard to extricate personal feelings about relationships from this work of writing, because it is the relationships, the interactions, that help us write in the first place. Shit, it's those relationships that brought me and Monkey-Boy to that ice-cream parlor on Saturday.
A few weeks ago (like others before me) I uncomfortably discovered how much I was actually invested in the relationship aspect of blogging. I realized that someone who had been an active commenter (and email correspondent) in the early days of this blog had not only stopped commenting (even while I had blithely continued commenting on this person’s blog) but had deliberately removed me from her list of “friends” and even her longer blogroll. I took it really personally (feels stupid to say now) and spent way too much energy wondering what I could have done to be deleted like that. At the same time I was asking myself “why does this matter?” and "why does this feel like High School?" and "what does this tell me about this little writing gig I’ve got myself into?"
Though I did not enjoy the experience at all at the time—it made me confront some of my own insecurities and validation issues that I don’t like to dwell on overmuch--I am now grateful to that person for making me confront this aspect of myself and my blogging—the social aspect.
Act Five: In Which I Dodge the Larger Question (for now)
So the mathematical principles of Barabasi (a physicist) don’t quite account for the phenomenon (phenonemA?) that is mommyblogging, and, I am sure, many other contexts for blogging. In academic terms, we can say this is because social networks are governed not by natural (read “neutral”) laws of evolution and attraction, but instead emerge through communities of practice and their contexts. In other words--if you talk about "blogging" as one thing, it's a bit like talking about all books as one thing. It completely removes the question of context--and why the hell we are blogging in the first place. All of which, of course, begs the question "so what's different about mommyblogging? or women's blogging?" or? or? or? (as if even those terms can adequately account for the various communities within those "genres")
Right now, I can’t begin to answer this or a whole host of related questions fully (nor could anyone, ever) but I do know that I'm going to give it a stab. And some of it might make its way here. I am toying with making an alternate "research" blog--because social network theory bloggers--yes, there is such a breed--are writing some pretty interesting stuff. And I am hoping by having a space to process and write about my ideas will give me the impetus and communal support I need to hone some of those ideas into more "academically sanctioned" forms of publication. Right now "blog posts" don't get you very far in terms of tenure review (which though sucking big ones from a purely selfish perspective, does kind of make sense).
So I'll keep you posted (har har, no pun intended). And if you've made it this far, thanks for reading. Because without you folks I would not be here right now, and I am kind of liking "here" right now...
UPDATED to add: I should also thank Tracey, of course, because she was the one--back in January when I was uhm-ing and ah-ing to her over instant messenger about, "uhm, writing, uhm, a blog"--who told me something along the lines of "you can fucking write, go for it!" Which made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy. (and, Paula, if you're reading this, thanks also for the extra shove;-))
When I opened this card, I got a tear in my eye...
Yes, this menacing rabbit might well be the perfect statement to celebrate our love (besides the Big Fuck Off Television that is). You think it's all going to be hearts and bunnies as you stand there in white smiling at the cameras, but you slowly discover that beneath the facade there resides a dark underbelly that can only really be suggested through this disturbing visual metaphor.
Actually, want to know something really disturbing? My son picked out this card with Daddy, and would not leave until this was the one they secured for "Mummy..."
This actually makes me feel doubly proud. In much the same way as when I hear from his teachers that he has been habitually informing others that "Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles.." (He's not yet four... but Daddy's word is Lore)
Ten years after The Old Man and I stood up and said "I do" in a quaint country church in Kent, I am woken by my three-year old crawling across me--carefully maneouvering around my belly. My husband brings me coffee in bed, kisses me, and hands me twisted greetings cards. And I know we're doing all right. We're quite smashing, in fact. Yep. I'm one lucky hussy.
A raucous time was had by all. Among the guests was one of my advisors who had seen me through the whole strungout ordeal. He had been to several parties of ours over the years and made an observation that unnerved me: "Joy! It's like you threw over all your old friends and got new ones!"
Yeah, man. I took a look at my friends and thought "this lot ain't up to snuff. Time to get me some new best-friends-forever..."
The thing about graduate school is that you make intense friendships--the horrors of seminars on Milton, Comprehensive Exams, and the Abyss that is ABD being more than enough to make you cling to anyone in the wreckage--but then people do horrible things like finish and get jobs and move on... Unless you're like me, and then you have a kid, buy a house, get a job, and then finish your degree.
The party was filled with new friends--mainly our neighbors and fellow parents from our son's school. 90 percent of whom mercifully have no part in academia. But there among the few friends from the Old Life, the person who I could point out to my advisor and say "SEE! I DO retain friendships..." was Jill.
It was Jill I said goodbye to on a steaming door-stoop in St. Louis on Monday morning, and who I left so she could start a whole new fucking life as a professor, in a whole new fucking place that I live way too fucking far from.
It was Jill--one November day in 1992--who sat along with me through a punishing Old English midterm exam, and who enthusiastically agreed when I suggested a drink to the class. While the beardy-weirdies and D&D crowd scurried back to their books for the next onslaught of study, she and I tripped over to the bar across the street and slowly and systematically became drunk off our asses.
It was the day that Clinton was elected. The bar was chockfull of poll-watchers by the afternoon and Jill, 25 and freshly moved from Florida, was quite giddy having recently converted to a democrat-zealot. She had not yet had time to vote, and was becoming increasingly (and vocally) paranoid that she would be barred entry from the polling station due to her inebriated state, or that she would screw up her ballot because she was used to pulling levers and shit. "And-what-if-Bush-wins-and-I-have-a-hand-in-it??? OMG!!!!!"
I, on the other hand, had no such concerns. I had been in the country for a couple of months. And at 22 and fresh of the boat, I was still an avowed Labour supporter, and "what with me only going to be here for less than two years," was not too caught up U.S. politics, which was stupid anyway. I mean, reproductive rights was on the ballot forgodssake..how retrograde... how phillistine... Yeah, Michigan is nice an'all, but I'm not stoppin' long, right?
Fast-forward fourteen years, and here I am knocked-up with a husband, a child, a dog, a mortgage, and a fulltime job. Still in Michigan. Still in Lansing for god's sake. And while I can't officially vote, I consider myself a democrat through-and-through, and try and make up for my lack of suffrage by indoctrinating all who will listen (Read: "malleable minds of young freshmen..." I didn't say I was ethical)
So I guess you could say I'm stoppin'...
And through all the pitfalls and celebrations. The days of no-fucking-money-or-job, the days of "I got a job, a car, a wedding, a baby, hooray for me!!!!" and the days of "I have a job, a car, a husband, a baby and I'm freaking out!!!!" Jill's been there.
She bailed me out in the early days when I had no clue how to manage my money. She took her own life in her hands, and taught me to drive from scratch in her own car, on the wrong side of the road. She was the trusty soul who ski-ed on down the tallest mountain at Steamboat Springs to get me rescued when she discovered that when I said "sure, I can ski" what I meant to say was "I cannot ski At All..." She was there when I met my husband and she later bluntly informed him in private "O.K. You need to ask Joy out." She was also there three years on when we got married in England, running around like a crazy woman doing my mother's bidding the morning of the wedding (and when I say "running around," I literally mean driving on the wrong side of the road from church, to reception, to house and back in a massive Volvo station-wagon on minute and twisting country lanes. My mother had her transporting the cake, the buffet, the flowers, the programs, you name it.... Jill has still not forgiven me for the fact that she had to attend our wedding with unshaven legs...)
She was there at the Detroit airport to pick up my shellshocked parents the day I was scheduled for a cesarian (didn't happen) and there to hold our colicky baby for us when we hit rock-bottom...
One of the things that has kept Jill and I bonded is a shared sense of "we're still in Michigan??? WTF??" And both of us, while never imagining it, have grown to love this place, even while we have loathed and detested the nasty parts of the graduate school process that kept us here. When you are going through shitty portions of your life where you question everything about yourself, you seek refuge and deep empathy in your friends. And if you're like me, displaced from home and country, some of these people become your family. I married one of them to make it legal on that score, and Jill is most definitely the closest thing I have to a sister round these here parts.
Or rather not in these here parts. Anymore.
But that's OK. In fact, it's more than OK. It's fucking awesome. Because while I might be having a one-woman pity-party that she is moving on, and am also shit-scared for her starting over solo in a Big Bad City, this is what we were moving toward all those years ago when we sat through the gruelling midterms and tried to figure out why the fuck we were being required to learn Old English anyway. She's arrived, and I could not be more happy or proud.
Fuckin' A Jill! You did it. You fucking did it.
Anyway, I want to do justice to the experience, and as work is a freaking circus right now and I have a DENTAL EMERGENCY (please hold me I am very, very pussylike right now) I cannot focus to write.
Yes, one highlight of return trip was eating Subway Sammich and swallowing big chunk of backtooth along with a masticated mouthful of Italian Meats. It's really quite a breathtaking experience. I recommend it.
This means unavoidable mouth x-rays and dental work in about an hour.
This means dental drilling sans nitreous oxide gas.
This means mild hysteria and lapsing into tears on my part (bring on the pitocin, bring on the contractions, bring on episiotomy and the stitches and the pathological fear of bowel movements, but, get that fucking gum-needle bearing novocaine & dental drill OUT OF here. What's that leather thing? Why are you strapping me down? AAaaaaaHHH).
Other news. Big Fuck Off Television now installed. With surround sound. Not sure how I feel about surround sound yet. There is something about all that rumbling coming from the living room at 7:30am as son watches Finding Nemo postbreakfast (while we caffienate, shower, dress, style hair, put on mask, make lunch, put together napbucket, have minor breakdown...) --it amplifies my sense of being slacker-parent when it comes to healthy tv habits. But Netflix is delivering Sin City today, so there always that to really fuck him up with...
BlogHer-ites. Welcome back!