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June 22, 2010

Important Artifacts 2

I’ve been thinking more about “thingness” as narrative since reading Carin’s comment on my last post (and it was her review that brought me to read Important Artifacts and Personal Property… by the way). She remarked that the hipster aspect of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris’ life together was probably to emphasize its emptiness, that it all looked very slick but was without substance. That a couple can’t build a life together on vintage bathing suits alone. And so Shapton’s text was to be a counter-narrative to the thingness then, making clear what was going on beneath surface? I’m not totally convinced, but it’s an interesting idea to consider.

What I am convinced of, however, and what the book makes clear, is that these glimpses we’re given into other people’s lives (whether by auction catalogues, lit windows or Facebook data) is often so deceiving. Partly because what we glimpse is so contrived, (which is Shapton’s entire point), particularly since social media is such a performance. Because I’m all too aware of the view of my window from the sidewalk, because I’ve actually spent my whole life cultivating such a view, but you’re never really going to know what happens when I pull the blinds down, are you?

Motherhood is the best example of this, particularly its presentation via social media. I was devastated last year when my daughter was born, and I found my feelings in the days afterwards so far from the obligatory “Kerry is totally and utterly blissed out and in love with her gorgeous new daughter” status update. Everybody writes statuses like that, and I absolutely couldn’t, and at that point I didn’t know how many moms were just more capable of lying than I was (or of being “blissed out in love” in addition to having a pretty terrible time, but the terrible time itself they never cared to mention). All all of us have a “just given birth, baby on the chest” photo somewhere in our Facebook stash, but it so doesn’t begin to tell my story. We let it stand in for the story, because it’s more comfortable that way, but that doesn’t even begin to stand in for the real thing.

Of course, it’s not supposed to. Online anywhere is not the best place for private life anyway, and there is something to be said for keeping some things to yourself. But I must say that I was fooled by the Facebook motherhood narrative. The blissed out love, the dreamy photos, the quiet baby asleep in a bouncy chair– it did not convey the effort it took to get that baby to sleep. The effort it took to get that mom out of her pyjamas. I felt so incredibly inadequate for not being able to put myself back together as easily as my FB friends had, for being thoroughly miserable when I should have been blissed out in love. I had been expecting blissed out love because I’d perused so many of the pictures. And how could a picture lie?

But they do. They don’t just withhold– they totally lie.

There is no longer such thing as a candid shot, if there even ever was.

7 thoughts on “Important Artifacts 2”

  1. Kristin says:

    FB is ridiculous; no doubt.

    You know, I found this post surprising. I have only been reading your site for about a year, probably starting right after Harriet was born. And in that time, I don’t remember reading any posts “complaining” about the difficulties of motherhood. In fact, I have always envied you and your life with your husband and baby, because you present it as being quite happy and easy.

    I know this site is more about books than parenting, but what you’ve chosen to share about parenting has been for the most part the good times. I would never have guessed that you had such a hard time in the beginning. I had a baby shortly after you did, so maybe I’m forgetting those posts in my own sleep deprived fog.

    My point of this is not to castigate you for doing the same thing as those FB friends, but to say that while I agree that sharing your whole life online is not always a great idea, you do have a wonderful forum right here to use if needed. I would happily read about the good and the bad times you have in parenting your lovely daughter. It seems like you have a wonderful community of readers and commenters on your site, and being able to share the hard moments with them would be worthwhile too.

    1. Kerry says:

      Life is pretty happy, and if I don’t complain much, it’s because my complaints are like everyone’s and those too shall pass. I did try to be pretty honest about my experiences with baby blues, particularly here just because it did seem dishonest to pretend it was bliss love, because it often wasn’t. And I have talked about my problems with the sleeping (which have been alleviated, oh the bliss of that!!). I did have a tough time adjusting to motherhood– it took me about seven months to be sure about it, but I touched on that in some posts and also on my relief when things began to feel like normal. I would talk about the fact that my kitchen is infested with ants, but then I’d just have to cry… Anyway, I think that for me, this blog has always been a record of what I want to remember for myself, and that explains the rosy hues. Also, for me sharing is not always theraputic (I think this is what comes of marrying an Englishman; I’ve inherited some of his reserve and I think it suits me). I do know what you mean though. The “I” of the post who’s aware of the view through the window is decidedly me. Though it’s worth noting that it’s the most candid blogs in the world that are, however conversely, probably the most contrived of all.

  2. Kristin says:

    Ok, I just woke up from a much needed nap and re-read what I wrote, and I feel just a little terrible for my comment. You have of course shared the good and the bad, and you should only share what you are comfortable with the world knowing. I really enjoy your blog and would happily read anything you wrote. I’m not sure why I picked on you. Let’s chalk it up to the baby not sleeping for the last week due to an awful cold and two new teeth, and the 3 year old in bed with us all night due to a very long and loud thunderstorm. Sorry!

    1. Kerry says:

      I know all about it. Don’t worry! And you gave me something to think on. PS- I miss your blog!

  3. Laisha says:

    I heard a parenting bit on CBC this morning debating whether or not parents should be their kids’ Facebook friends. Some insist on it – either I’m your “friend” or you can’t be on FB – & some think that children should have their *privacy*. Really?!? That’s when I choked on my cheerios a bit – since when is Facebook considered private? Are people confusing their own constructed social narratives for a private life? Sheesh.

  4. Kerry says:

    Laisha, I’ve been thinking about all the ways I constructed my own social narrative in high-school (which was pre-FB, obs)– how I decorated my locker, the scrapbooks we made full of quotations, yearbook comments and grad comments (which I’d been planning for years), the photos that framed the mirror in my room. Not to mention *my room*. Funny how much of that is all the same as what people are doing on Facebook now, just more public. Oh, but when you’re in high school, isn’t a constructed social narrative better than a private life? High school private lives are wretched…

  5. Nathalie says:

    One of the things I love about the growing field of mommy-lit and “momoir” is that we are hearing about the darker side of things. For anyone who is struggling with a sense of self after having a baby, I cannot recommend Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work highly enough. She gets right at the sense of self divided. She is acerbic and honest and just plain good medicine when motherhood feels overwhelming and the only messages seem to be about blissed out love for baby.
    Great post, Kerry. Happy belated birthday!

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