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17 Jun

Mêtêr Politikon – Part II

This is Part II of a two-part (read, breathtakingly pedantic) post. If you haven’t already, you can catch up on Part I here.

I will prepare a Father’s Day breakfast for Bad Husband while you catch up on your reading.

All caught up? Good. Now that you have been hypnotized by my proficiency in Greek and my food styling talents, I will reveal to you that this post is very, very long. If you’re short on time or bored already, you may skip ahead to the conclusion: (Blog) Party Politics According to HBM.

So, as I was saying…

There has been much talk recently about how political the blogosphere can be, and so how like high school it can feel here. But in my humble opinion – and this is only opinion, so feel free to disagree – our corner of blogosphere is not political, where politics is understood to refer to the pursuit of power, influence or status. (Again, see yesterday’s post for the background to this argument.)

And it is not like high school.

I don’t know what your high school was like, but social life at all of the high schools I attended (we relocated frequently) was defined by tribal politics. The population at each school was divided according to tribal allegiance – usually determined according to such nebulous criteria as whether collars were worn up or down – and the boundaries of these allegiances were rarely if ever crossed. As a perpetual new girl, I was frequently in the position of total outsider: no understanding of the social history of the tribes in any given school, no understanding of the nuances that distinguished members of one tribe from another (jock from prep, art geek from book geek, stoner from rocker), no idea whether collars were supposed to be up or down. So I usually hung on the outside for quite a while, until an art geek or drama geek or book geek or goth chick noticed me cross-legged in front of my locker at lunchtime wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt (Never Mind the Bollocks!) or The Cure’s concert tee and reading The Bell Jar.

I was never admitted to a high-caste tribe until my last two years of high school, when my family moved from Vancouver to Ottawa and I enrolled in a high school that organized its student council according to grade averages. That is, the student government (with the exception of Head Boy and Head Girl) was appointed by the School Powers and the criteria for appointment was good grades (a confused effort, I think, to produce a high school version of the Just City described by Socrates in the Republic. Philosopher-Weenies Rule!) Suddenly, I was in.

And it was political. We all jostled for the plum positions on Council and griped and gossiped and undermined each other. We looked down our noses at students who weren’t ‘university-stream’ and so outside the circle of influence. I was still an art/drama/book geek, but now I was one with power: I insisted that the kids in black get the same concessions for their activities as football players and cheerleaders got for theirs and I won my arguments by disparaging the latter. I thumbed my nose at cliques that I thought were not cool – um, football and cheerleading – and refused, with my friends, to consort with those lesser beings or go to their parties.

I was a cow. I was Tracy Flick in artfully arranged vintage clothing and a serious I’m-too-smart-and-hip-for-you attitude problem. The sort of monster that could only be created by an industrial accident resulting in the personality fusion of a female Duckie Dale and the Shannen Doherty character from Heathers. Which is to say, I became political in the worst way. I had been on the outside for so long that when I got in, I became a tyrant. (Some of my drama buddies called me DBH. Drama Bitch from Hell. I loved it.) I was secretly thrilled at being able to exclude people. And I felt completely morally justified in doing so, because I was excluding members of the tribes that had long excluded me and my kind.

(Having indulged my big pretentious self yesterday by citing Aristotle in transliterated Greek – tho’ I did remove the Greek characters because that was just freaky and hard to look at – I will refrain from rambling into a digression on Nietzsche and ressentiment here. You’re welcome.)

My point is this: I’ve been on both sides of the quote-unquote politics of high school. I have been subjected to such politics, and I have subjected others to such politics. I’ve seen how viewing everything through the lens of politics, how insisting that everything is political, begets – you guessed it – politics. And I’ve seen how it can get uglier and uglier. I’ve been part of keeping things ugly. I get it. I know it. I don’t like it.

And the blogosphere – or at least, our corner of it – is not it. Not on my watch, anyway.

We might end up in all variety of social clusters here, but those cluster are not tribes. In my experience, no one excludes anyone else because they aren’t wearing their collar properly or lacking the requisite scrunchy. I’ve never seen – and if you read Mrs. Chicky’s recent post, you’ll see that I’m not alone in this – a mama or dad blogger get nasty about another blogger, and I’ve never seen gossip or back-biting. (I’m excluding blogtards here.) I’ve seen some discussions get uncomfortably spirited, but I wouldn’t – for the most part – characterize those controversies as political in a social sense. Even when those discussions get uncomfortable, I would still say that they are political in the classical sense (again, see my last post for the background here) of demonstrating the human need for discursive connection and exchange. And there is, always, in those cases, a host of voices calling for everybody to calm the fuck down and speak to each other nicely.

Yes, we cluster. But again, not tribally. Our clusters are fluid, dynamic. They’re the clusters that form in really big, really good parties. Parties where there’s a fascinating mix of people who are meeting for the first time but who know right away that pretty much everyone in the room is fascinating. This corner of the blogosphere, it’s like a big ole salon-cum-symposium-cum-agora-cum-playgroup. Large clusters form around some people more than others, but people still keep moving. There’s much conversation, and some dancing. Some people wander off in small groups to smoke illegal substances in the bathroom and giggle at urinals. But everybody ends up making the rounds in some way or another. Even the really popular folks. Everybody mills about, telling their stories, and listening to other stories.

Yes, we check out each others’ dance cards (blogrolls). We’re flattered and pleased when we get on dance cards. We look to see (check our sitemeter) who is listening when we tell our stories. We check the group that has gathered around us and notice whether or not the person whose story we were listening to and commenting upon the other day is among the listeners. We wonder if they’ll turn up and say something (comment) about our story. We look at everybody gathered ’round and wait for a response. We hurt a little bit if nobody comes to listen, or if a small crowd gathers ’round but stares at us blankly.

Periodically someone starts a party game (meme) – a round of I Never, anyone? – to shake things up a little. We’re secretly thrilled when someone asks us to join in. A lot of efforts are made to make everyone feel welcome. Some of us suggest topics for discussion and invite everyone in. Or we do rounds of introductions, of a sort. We applaud each other. A lot.

We form friendships. We develop crushes. We get excited when someone new walks in the room and tells a story that makes us laugh or cry or remember. We thrill when one of the more popular party-goers listens to and comments on one of our stories, or – be still our beating hearts! – mentions us in one of their stories. We get angry when some jealous tard crashes the party and throws plastic cups (snarks) at our friends. We cry when someone who we’ve come to know – or even, sometimes, someone that we hadn’t noticed before, or someone who is protecting themselves behind a party mask – suffers. Or disappears into the night.

We offer support. Lots of it.

We ((((hug)))).

We get close.

The thing about this grown-up party: it’s a party full of people that we like – a lot – or will like or could like or maybe would like if they stopped swearing so much (someone said this of me in a comment to one of the Mommy Blogger Love-In Posts.) We have the most important things in common. We love our children. We love to write. We are smart and funny. We love our children. And so a strange intimacy develops. We share more with each other than many do in their real life friendships. We make meaning together. For better or for worse, we’re close.

And so we’re able to hurt each other. Not in the sticks-and-stones way, or the high-school-politics way, but in the way that friends and would-be friends and intimate strangers do. Accidentally. By forgetting or overlooking or neglecting. It stings a little when someone you like stops coming ’round. It’s uncomfortable to turn up at a party and not be noticed. It sucks to tell a story, start a conversation, and get no response.

That stuff feels bad. But it’s not politics. It’s the natural discomfort that comes from being in community, from interaction and discourse and friendship. Community is great, but it’s not going to make us feel great all of the time. That’s life.

And this is probably true to an even greater extent in this community – this life, it’s the writer’s life. We’re all here because we’re (yes) writers. We want to be heard. We want audience. If we didn’t we’d just be keeping personal journals. So, for us, it stings a little more bitterly to not be heard. We entered this community of writer-parents to find community as parents and as writers. And although being in community is, as I said in Part I, all about discourse, this is nowhere so true as it is in a writing community. We are making our meanings here as writers and as parents and that, for us, requires speaking and listening and being heard.

So, yeah, it sucks when we’re not getting as much of that as we might like. But that’s life. That’s the writer’s life.

So? Suck it up. Turn it around. Do something about it.

Yeah. Suck it.

So, herewith: (Blog) Party Politics According to HBM (or, How We Rock It In Her Bad Hizzouse.) Feel free to adopt these principles as your own.

1) Everyone’s invited. Except blogtards. If you’re a meanie and you know it, stay away.

2) Introduce yourself. If this your first time to this blog, say so. Make sure that there’s a link back to your blog so that I can come over and say hello.

3) Try to not be hurt or offended if I don’t come over right away. This is a pretty busy party and there are a lot of discussions going on and stories being told and I have short attention span. And, I’m packing a baby. A squirmy baby. Approach me again, remind me that you’re out there. (And, don’t automatically assume that I’ve forgotten you. I read, like, ten thousand blogs. I can’t always comment. And sometimes I forget where and when I’ve commented. I get disoriented easily at parties. Be patient.)

4) Be social. Let everyone know that you’re here. Join in on party games and celebrations and support circles and the like. And don’t be shy about proclaiming your stories. Let’s banish the term ‘link-whoring’ right now. Or rather, let’s embrace it and be unashamed blog hussies and hustlers. Got a story that you want me to hear? Let me know. E-mail me, leave a comment, say it loudly – COME READ THIS. Ask me to link to something that you’ve written and I’ll do it, happily (aforementioned restrictions on meanness apply here).

5) Don’t get too caught up in how many comments you’re getting. We all love getting feedback – it’s one of the things that keeps us writing in this forum. But whether you get 5 or 10 or 20 or 100 comments on your posts, appreciate the feedback that you do get. And remember that comment numbers aren’t necessarily commensurate with writing talent or how loved you are. Girl’s Gone Child only gets a fraction of the number of comments that Dooce gets, but she – Rebecca – is a phenomenal writer (one of the very best, on-line or off) and a brilliant humorist and is much, much loved.

6) Try to take blogrolls with a grain of salt. They’re often not fully representative of a blogger’s actual activity at the pary. I, for example, am disgracefully lazy about my blogroll and rarely update it. So my new policy is this: blogroll is going to go on a separate page. And, like Izzy and others, I’m making it a voluntary, self-inclusive blogroll. Wanna be on it? Let me know and I’ll put you there.

7) Take a time-out if you need it; partying hearty can be draining. Step outside for some air. We’ll still be here when you get back. But if you step outside for a long while, let us know when you’re back.

8) Enjoy the party. And if you’re not enjoying it, give some careful consideration to possible reasons why. If you realize that you want a quieter corner, make that happen. If you’d like to be more involved, attract more people to your stories, just do it. But if you’re frustrated about not being the centre of attention, reconsider your reasons for being here. We’d all love for our writing to bring us attention, requests for ads, paying gigs, and the like (I’ll be honest – I certainly would. Mothering doesn’t pay well. But I curse like a sailor and am incapable of writing succinctly so it’s probably a very long shot.) But if that’s the primary reason that you’re here, you’ll probably end up frustrated and disappointed. Blog because you love blogging, because you love writing, because you love writing about your children, because you love community with other writers who love their children. Write about what you want to write about, tell the stories that you want to tell, and enjoy this great community while you do it.

Enjoy it. Through good times and bad. Embrace the crazy politics that is making meaning and becoming human through community.

And remember that high school is in the past.


Now bringing the party live! Any Toronto mamas out here who want to start getting together from time to time? Daytime, evening, weekend? Park with babbies? Bar without babbies? Both? Sunshine Scribe’s recent post about how tardish some real-life moms can be got me thinking that it really is INSANE that we subject ourselves to boring playgroups or hostile competimommies when we know that there are lovely, literate, funny ladies lurking out there.

Leave a comment or send me an e-mail with your preferences and I’ll organize something and announce it on the blog…