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Pickle Me This

March 2, 2021

Something to Be Said for an Island

During the past year, I lost all my patience with the hive mind. I don’t think I’d ever blocked an acquaintance on Facebook before, but this year it’s been something of a reflex, and not even without sometimes telling that acquaintance to fuck off first , as in *typing it right out there in the comments thread,* instead of just yelling at my screen as per usual.

I mostly have quit Twitter altogether, because constant access to everybody’s thought processes like a ticker-tape was turning me into a misanthrope.

I still marvel at all those curious enough to put the big questions onto social media, beyond maybe, “What are your plans for tonight’s supper?” I am here for the minutia and your photos of your cats. But oh my god, I have never cared less what you think about vaccinations, or lockdowns, when you’re local nail salons should open, and my aversion to the airing of these concerns is so apolitical—the over-anxious bother me as much as the laissez-faire types. (Though it’s worth noting that I don’t have many of the latter in my circles, really. And if I did, I probably told them all to fuck off last April…)

I think it’s because I’ve found this very tenuous balance of keeping it together, and anything that causes me to waver makes me irate. And I don’t mean “anything” in terms of data, facts or news stories—I am always happy to consider these, because it’s not like I don’t inhabit reality, but it’s just other people’s feelings, other people’s fears and worries about the same things I fear and worry about—I just absolutely lack the capacity to take them on board.

Which is why my blog has more than ever seemed like a beloved retreat. Where I go to write pieces for myself, and I don’t even share some of the posts on social media because I really don’t care what anybody thinks of them, and I write these pieces for myself more than anything. If someone shows up and finds my thoughts worthwhile, then that’s terrific, but it’s not like I’m broadcasting them, you know? It’s “I don’t care what you think,” but not even from a place that’s defensive. Like really, all the work I can do right now is the work in my own head.

(It’s worth remarking that I have infinite capacity for other people’s blog posts, for their thoughtfulness and process, for work that makes me think. It’s the more surfacey, less exploratory kind of content that I just can’t contend with.)

And the strange thing about all of this is that while I’ve also been having no truck with the virtuals, I’ve been trying very hard to be zen about the actuals. Accepting that the behaviour of others is beyond my control, trying to trust that most people will make good-enough choices for our community, and trying not to lose my mind about people who don’t, because that anger serves no one. Possibly this is easier because the actual people are more theoretical these days of isolation, and virtual people are all getting up there in my online grill, having ideas and opinions, and everything.

(It is possible that the latter group of people drives me up the wall because they are proof that Project of Live-and-let-live is a lost cause? Or does Live–and-Let-Live only work if you keep people at a remove [ie not while receiving a tickertape of their every waking thought]?)

On the weekend, there was an article in the newspaper about “conspirituality,” which is the kind of nonsense I’m all over—if you ever want me to read an article, make sure it’s about a cult, is what I am saying. And I checked out the Instagram account for the woman mentioned in the first half of the article, and couldn’t stop scrolling because her audacity and entitlement was just so fascinating to me, like all I want to do is figure it out… But I won’t. And eventually I had to stop because if I didn’t, my brain would have exploded, and I just have to let it go, let that whackadoodle woman do her whackadoodle thing, and let all her whackadoodle fans respond to her posts with the worshipping hands emoji.

Like I’m reconsidering the idea of society as a web, is what my point here, or maybe I’m talking about (just?) the web as a web instead. This blog as the place I’ve got out in the country, off the grid, where we’re collecting the water in a rain-barrel, and while you’re welcome to stop by and I’ll pour you a cold glass of lemonade, there is really something to be said for an island.

January 11, 2021

Imperfection is a Privilege

The revelation I had last night when I was reading Ijeoma Oluo’s Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, is that imperfection is a privilege. Imperfectionism being the gospel I espouse in my blogging course and elsewhere: “There is no place for perfectionists in the blogosphere. Blogs are inherently raw, wild and unpolished. The important thing is to write the best you can, get to Publish, and then onto the next post. There will be spelling errors, and sloppy grammar, and things will be formatted weird. You’ll get facts wrong, and often you will change your mind. (Ideally, you should always be changing your mind—or at least entertaining the possibility.”

The privilege of being able to be imperfect, sloppy, raw and unpolished in public and still be taken seriously—that’s what Oluo’s book is all about. But it’s relevant in my work too, which is mainly with white women, for whom overcoming the constraints of perfectionism is a challenge. But it’s doubly a challenge for people of colour, the demand for perfection coming from within and without, from a white supremacist society ready to jump on any imperfection as a confirmation of racist bias.

So what to do that that, I wonder? To recognize it first is essential, but of course, it is not enough. What else? To do my part to combat white supremacy, to help make a world where people of colour are as free to make typos as I am. Part of the work I do to this end involves reading works by writers of colour, and insisting on their excellence, because, as Mediocre shows, our definitions of excellence tend to be defined by white guys, and I wish to challenge that. EXCEPT that it takes us right back to where we started, where writers of colour are not permitted the same latitude as those who are white. The pressure for excellence is enough to keep a writer from writing forever, which so many people who started blogs and them quit them very well know.

How about to create space then, for writers to emerge and learn and grow? I have decided that starting now, I will reserve one space in each of my courses for people of colour. To continue to insist that imperfection is for everyone—because what is imperfection if not the right to be human after all?

November 30, 2020

Smitten

I loved EVERYTHING about this profile of Deb Perelman in The New Yorker. I had no idea that she was an old school blogger before she was a food blogger proper, but I should have guessed—and it’s possible that this is why I love her blog as much as I do.

Incidentally, my blog (if not this blog, but rather my blog in general) turned twenty years old last month. To mark this occasion, I just went back and found my OG blog in the Way Back Machine Internet Archive—the first archived post is VERY EMBARRASSING and possibly not anything to celebrate or commemorate. To be so obviously needy. It’s a miracle I had any friends—and not surprising that I didn’t have a boyfriend.

But—it’s hard to altogether rue the person who got me here, which is not a bad place to be. She was trying (really, really, REALLY hard).

Some sensibilities of old school blogging are totally baked in though, integral to my process. I recognized this from Deb Perelman: “I try to have a schedule, but I’m extremely bad at keeping schedules. I have watched corporate blog after corporate blog go to crap, because there was a posting schedule where you had to write five posts a day. I think that everybody would rather just write when you have something good to say.”

Or even when you have nothing good to say, but feel like checking in anyway.

October 21, 2020

Taking Stock

I am not super into memes, but I’m currently in a mindset that requires a bit of grounding and also anything Pip Lincolne does, I want to do too.

Finding: That once again, publishing a book is making me feel vulnerable like nothing else. It’s TERRIBLE. At least I know what it is this time. A combination of “Why is everybody looking at me?” and “Why isn’t everybody looking at me?” at once. Shawna’s post yesterday spoke to me.
Wishing: For Covid infection rates to go down.
Cooking: So in love with Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti and Meatballs, and the carrot white bean burgers, both of which we had this weekend. I don’t know what I am making for dinner tonight…
Making: Hatching plans to knit a baby blanket for a friend. I suppose the only thing I’m actually making right now is a new draft to my novel that has been long in-progress, but it feels very good to be doing that now. And also: plans for next year’s garden.
Sipping: Star to Fall blend tea!


Reading: Big Friendship, by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman


Looking: At the leaves turning yellow outside my kitchen door.
Listening: All I want to do is listen to songs that were played on Top 40 radio during the year I was 20, like “I’ll Be,” by Edwin McCain. It’s ALL EAGLE-EYE CHERRY ALL THE TIME OVER HERE. I think this is what happens to people once they turn 40. (And Taylor Swift’s folklore, obviously.)
Wishing: For the polls to be right.
Enjoying: The Storygirls Podcast!
Liking: How wonderful it is to take my children to school every day
Loving: The Searcher, by Tana French and Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, both atmospheric reads that I’ll be writing about tomorrow.
Buying: Choco-Sol Halloween Chocolate after reading the latest edition of Five Minutes for the Planet


Watching: Season 4 of Schitt’s Creek which I am watching very slowly, because I watch TV about once every three weeks. Whatever the opposite of bingeing is—abstaining?—is my approach.

Hoping: That people buy my book, and then we get to celebrate that plus a new US president the following week
Needing: A new US president. It is not fair that such a stupid man has caused me to be scared and worried for four years.
Wearing: My Desserts and Skirts zebra tunic, OBVIOUSLY. The tunic I wore until it had holes and then purchased a replacement.


Noticing: That my anxiety towards illness is going to be what my kids talk to their future therapists about.
Sorting: The porch and garden for winter. Cleaned away a lot of clutter, and purchased a pretty pot of fall flowers for beside the door.
Getting: Used to the ease of my children having their extracurricular activities (Girl Guides and piano lessons) online and so much less running around.
Craving: Indian takeout for lunch!
Coveting: The Gladstone Press edition of Wuthering Heights

Feeling: A bit lugubrious (thankfully temporary), but also grateful for so much

October 8, 2020

You Get to Frame Your Own Picture

You don’t have to read the books on the shortlist. You don’t have to watch the debates. The world won’t end if you don’t know the latest numbers, unless you work for Public Health. Your timeline isn’t neutral. Neither are your Google searches. You are allowed to not be interested. You are permitted to sit this one out.

What gets to be important? Did anyone catch the sunset last night? I’m thinking about a person who doesn’t have their head in the sand, and how they have absolutely no idea what’s going on underground.

Who’s been keeping up with the cloud formations? Do you know how little bearing the stock market has on most people’s lives? The way the patch of sunshine travels across my kitchen table, which is a story I’m tracking. It’s important to pay attention.

A long time ago, you got to design your own internet, with the assistance of your aunt who’d send your forwarded jokes. She was a curator then, although we didn’t call it that, but the rest was up to you, the sites you bookmarked. I had a Google reader, and a list of blogs and websites that I’d check in with everyday.

But then Google killed their Reader–it’s harder to drive advertising with users who navigate the internet on their own say-so. And now it’s Facebook who decides what we should see, what we will watch, what we read, and what we’re thinking. And while at least newspapers and journalists control the narrative with some degree of responsibility and a sense of the importance of their role, it’s still never been the entire story. Always, there’s something else going on outside the frame. And something else is almost everything.

This week, I’ve been listening to the “You’re Wrong About” Podcast, after at least two people recommended it online. While various overwhelming calamities have been occupying the minds of many, I’ve been all wrapped up in the courtship of Charles and Diana, and I’m not sure why this matters any less than all the other kinds of other soap operas going on concurrently.

The other night, I was reading to my children from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light, and it referenced “Cartesian,” but my daughter thought I meant “Khardashian,” but it didn’t matter anyway, since she doesn’t really know anything about one or the other.

I think therefore I am?

This is the book where Grandfather, anticipating Twitter in 1980 (when the book was published), says to Vicky, “Maybe instant information isn’t good for us. We can’t absorb it.” And I think about this all the time, about how there is nothing “natural” about the news cycle. It’s as organic as the economy. And the idea that we have a duty to pay it our attention, to centre our experience of the universe around it. Like its a fire we’re all drawn to, but it’s not, and who profits?

Ten years ago, I started working at 49thShelf, which means that for a decade, people have been sending me lists of books and authors. In the beginning, most of the time those authors were white, and around 2012 people started calling this out. Why were so many of them men as well, and there were people who got angry about this, people who didn’t see race or gender, but just focused on excellence, and it was just a coincidence that all their favourite books were written by white men.

In 2020, very few people would dare submit a list that includes only a handful of old white guys, and not just because doing so would make me go YIKES!, but also because it’s just really boring. Because it betrays the narrow limits of a reader’s experience, and most of us don’t like to brag about those, and all this is relevant because it shows how arbitrary is the way that things are framed, among them literature, and “the canon,” and how I used to take those all-white-guy lists for granted.

The way I used to see them and think I was looking at everything.

June 4, 2020

The Trouble With Memes

A checkerboard floor

On Tuesday morning, Instagram went black. User after user started posting black squares in support of the fact that Black people deserve freedom from violence and murder by police, and this came a week after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a day after corporate brands were busting out all over with their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, when the reasonable suggestion was being made by many that right now was a moment where white social media influencers could “mute” themselves, taking a step back from their platforms to amplify the voices of Black leaders instead. In the music industry, two Black women—Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang—had already launched #TheShowMostBePaused for Tuesday June 2, an initiative to show that they and others in music would “not be conducting business as usual without regard for Black lives.” And somehow this idea was spilled beyond their industry and over onto Instagram in general, utilizing the symbolism of the black squares, and users began adding the Black Lives Matter hashtag…because Black lives do.

But the effect of this proved disastrous, and because influencers are gonna influence, the effect was also huge. By Tuesday morning, the Black Lives Matter hashtag (essential for organizers and activists) was lost to a sea of dark squares, the noise of well-meaning white people’s efforts to be quiet. Though of course not everyone was white, and there were many Black people who were also part of the meme too, no matter how it absurd it may seem that any Black person should be silent at a moment when Black voices have never mattered more.

But this is how memes work. There is a sense of obligation, in addition to one of reflex, and of course, it’s easy. Although it’s not as easy to share a meme on Instagram as it is on other platforms, where sharing and retweets are built into the system. (They weren’t always. Once upon a time, pre the RT button, one had to go out of their way to share on Twitter, copying and pasting in order to post other people’s content.) On Instagram, users require a external reposting app (or screenshot captures) to share posts beyond the ephemerality of Instagram Stories—and this extra step required is why Instagram has long been my social media platform of choice. The extra step creates enough friction for users to be more thoughtful about what they’re posting, and it also makes it less trouble to post original content, something users have created themselves.

(This does not mean that Instagram is an intellectual oasis. But sometimes, it’s one of the less stupid sites on the internet I see.)

The black squares were so simple though, their symbolism poignant, and the matter was urgent with real lives at stake—so I understand why someone would leap on the bandwagon without thinking. And it’s not so much this particular bandwagon that I am critiquing here, because the fallout was dramatic enough to be obvious, but instead I want to critique the “without thinking” itself, which is the essence of meme culture and meme activism, undermining political messaging and making the internet a much less interesting place.

Of course, memes work. Right wing movements owe much of their success in the last five years to garbage social media accounts stating simplistic or misleading ideas, and demanding that your great uncle share if he agrees, which he does, and he did, and this is probably why some of you quit Facebook. More recently, however, progressive groups have tried similar approaches, which is why your enlightened uncle on the other side is sharing posts from “North 99,” which means that your Facebook feed is a little bit less racist, but it certainly isn’t any less dumb.

But what would an internet without memes even look like? And here I will hearken back to the glory days of blogging, to the first five years of this century when most people were barely online. Where instead of social media and algorithm, we had blogs instead, where everybody was a different kind of social misfit, and everything was a little bit technically clunky. If you wanted to put something online, you would have to write it in your own words, instead of borrowing somebody else’s—unless maybe they were the lyrics to a Dar Williams song.

Now this kind of nostalgia is as substantial as a meme is, so I’ll stop here, but I share it to show you where I’m coming from, the kind of “interesting” I’m looking for when I’m scrolling around online.

What if you believed in the power of your own words and ideas to speak up and make a difference? Just think of what kind of power that could be. What if, instead of a black square, you shared an image from your field of expertise and wrote some paragraphs about your thoughts on racial violence from your perspective as an art appraiser and as a parent? What if you curated your feed into a gallery of Black voices? What if you posted a picture of the view from your window, accompanied by a sentence or two about how that view looks different to you now that you have a new understanding of the murderous brutality of police violence? How does your sky look different today because of that? I’d really like to know. (And you don’t even have to tag your Black friends in this post, because none of this, to them, is news.)

What if it wasn’t even about what you posted, but instead about what was in your mind?

And if you weren’t ready to share that yet, if you still had learning to do, instead you could sit back and listen?

April 8, 2020

What’s Your Blogging Challenge?

Looking for a diversion? How about a quiz? In which I nail your biggest challenge in blogging, and give suggestions for how to overcome that challenge and achieve your blogging goals.

PS Want to be part of Blog School event in June?

January 14, 2020

Back to the Blog: One Year Later

I’m certainly no Faith Popcorn, but I think I called it. Almost exactly a year ago, as part of my 2019 intention to conduct myself with more audacity, I declared The Back to the Blog Movement. Was I not blogging because the world no longer made any sense, or had the world stopped making sense because I wasn’t blogging? And as the near year began, I decided perhaps it was the latter, and embarked on a reset and rediscovery of the blog and its myriad possibilities.

And I wasn’t alone, because because my Back to the Blog post got tons of responses, brought new readers and blogs to my attention, and—in the true tradition of old-school blogging—inspired a handful of other writers’ blog posts, including Meli-Mello (my blogging friend of more than a decade!), Rebecca Rosenblum, Shawna Lemay, and my fave swimming blog.

As the year went on, the movement picked up steam, as CanLit blogging pioneer Bookninja returned to blogging, and Steven Beattie resurrected his blog That Shakespearean Rag, and (tongue in cheek, of course) we all know that it’s when men start doing things that people begin to pay attention. (I find blogging and gender fascinating. Of course, it’s impossible to talk about blogging in general terms, because blogs can be infinite different things, and a gendered lens only makes it more so. I once read an entire book about the history of blogging that didn’t have a single woman in it [nary a mommy blogger, nor a knitter, even!] save for the one woman founder of Blogger, who only appeared in the book while running out of a meeting in tears.)

It was good to have these book blogging stalwarts back, and to have connected with other bloggers too throughout the year so that my own blog-reader got longer. I also started a weekly series called Gleanings, in which I went back to the blog in an old-school round-up sense, posting links to the pieces (at blogs and elsewhere) that made the internet a worthwhile place for me to be a reader.

In March I wrote the post “Why Your Own Small Corner of the Internet is Going to Make the World a Better Place”, framing blogging as a way of taking back online spaces, countering the toxicity and meaninglessness of a lot of current internet discourse. “Blogs are important in 2019 because they aren’t underlined by corporate interests, because what parts of them we read aren’t determined by algorithms, because of their focus on language at a moment when politicians are making meaninglessness into an art form, because of their obscurity even and how they give us the freedom to explore off our own beaten track, because they’re not part of an industry that’s flailing, dying, desperate. There’s nothing desperate about a blog. ”

It was the spirit of blogging (and audacity!) that carried into my two big projects of last year, establishing the boutique bookseller Briny Books and my online blogging course Blog School. The idea that small things matter to real people, that little steps can take us somewhere, guided the same DIY ethos that has been inherent in blogging since the beginning. From 20 years (!) of blogging, I have learned that the path is meandering, but it takes us places, and that we get there by putting one good post in front of the other, by simply not stopping. Even when we’re tired. Even when it seems like nobody is reading. Even when the world doesn’t make any sense, but it’s when the world doesn’t make sense that we need blogging most of all.


MAKE THE LEAP is the guided and interactive version of my online course. It’s running throughout February, and it’s an ideal program for writers looking to make the leap to blogging with guidance, feedback, and community engagement. I’m looking forward to spending the month working with a great group of writers, having fun pushing the limits of what blogs can do, and reading and sharing inspiring posts. I hope you’ll join us. Spaces are still available, including one last discount space for students already enrolled in FIND YOUR BLOGGING SPARK.

SIGN UP TODAY!

November 26, 2019

Slow News

It was the Amber Alerts that started it.

But no, lets back up. I’ve been on Twitter for almost a decade, and once upon a time it was a platform that served me well—I made friends, was referred to wonderful things to read, participated in in-jokes, pondered pop-culture trivia, was able to tell people I admired just how much I liked their work. Twitter was a bubble, but the best kind. When Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto in 2010, the breaking news was a devastating collective experience. Not a peep in the Twitterverse (or mine, at least) had indicated that such a thing was possible. We were talking about echo chambers. I would consider how disappointing it was that Twitter wasn’t the world.

But then came Gamergate, which changed everything, although I didn’t know it at the time. And suddenly Twitter was the place I went to argue with Pro-lifers and have men with terrible beards call me a cunt. And then eventually even those people ceased to be actual people with names and faces (and beards) and became cartoon avatars with strings of numbers after their names and the Trudeau Must Go hashtag in their bio. And now the fact that Twitter is not the world seems like an actual blessing—which is not to say that Twitter has not changed the world somewhat in its despicable likeness. But still, that the world is not Twitter is an idea I now cling to for hope.

I am so glad that I’ve gone Back to the Blog this year, for more thoughtful and meaningful connection and engagement. Because I think that Twitter and I might be totally done. We’re long past the point where I am compulsively refreshing my screen and scrolling in a vain attempt to have the world come together in some kind of narrative sense, to find the answer. (Olivia Laing’s piece on her Twitter addiction really resonated with my own experience.) I took Twitter off my phone years ago, because it really didn’t need to be my constant companion.

There is no suggestion of an answer at all anymore, no complexity. Instead, there are people who are angry about being woken up in the night by Amber Alerts, and people who are angry about people who are angry about being woken up in the night by Amber Alerts. And here I am with my phone alerts on mute, and I just have no fucks to give about any of it.

Once upon a time, I liked Twitter, because even amidst the men who called me a cunt or the Christians who called me a baby murderer, I appreciated learning about other people’s points of view (not those people, obviously) and it was really how I got my news. But I’ve since found another way.

‘But not reading the paper only kept me from not knowing things; it didn’t keep them from happening.’

‘Maybe instant information isn’t good for us. We can’t absorb it.’

—Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light

I still get a newspaper on the weekends, as I have for years, but in the last year, I started buying and then ordered a subscription for The Guardian Weekly. And because it’s a magazine instead of a newspaper (which always feels stale after a day), it hangs around all week, and everybody in our house reads it. There are book reviews, and culture pieces, and news from all over the world, and long-form pieces, and summaries of breaking events. It’s great, but even better? It always arrives in the mail about a week after the fact. Sometimes even longer. So that much of the “breaking news” by then has been put back together and healed over again.

And I love it.

There is context. There are facts. Instead of compulsively refreshing for it all to make sense, I have waited—and then sometimes it even does make sense by then. The news is also finite, which is splendid, and there aren’t Nazis (except in stories on the rise of white nationalism).

What would happen if you had an unpopular opinion and kept it to yourself? What would happen if your consciousness wasn’t displayed upon a ticker-tape for everyone to see? What would happen if people stopped beginning sentences with, “Am I the only one who…” or sharing unpopular opinions about food, or even having opinions at all about food.

What if you just ate your lunch?*

*After photographing it and posting it on Instagram, of course, because not all social media platforms are dead to me yet.

September 24, 2019

Preoccupations

In my blogging life, I’ve made a point of trying not to apologize for the focus of my posts. I think that a sustainable blog should be about what one’s life is about, or even that it has to be about that in order to be sustainable. So we shouldn’t worry about our blogs being all about our new babies, or our illnesses, or vacations, at least not if these are what our lives are all about. Whatever our preoccupations: we get to blog them. And for me, lately, those preoccupations have been all the things that I’m making—Blog School, Briny Books, and working on revising my novel, which is due partway through October. The novel in particular, which I’m focussing on for 90 minutes every weekday by blocking social media apps on my phone and my laptop and getting down to business. I spent most of last week making notes on my manuscript, adding my editor’s with them, asking questions, and suggesting possibilities. Kind of like marking out the space in a field where the work must be done, where to get digging, and this week that work has begun in earnest, and I love it. This might be my favourite part of the entire novel writing process (but then I think I say that about every part of the novel writing process). Still discovery, just as the first draft is, but instead of discovering plot points and twists, I’m discovering patterns and connections that I might not have seen the first time around. Adding depth and texture to the story I’m telling, and so much it seems like it’s beyond my control. As though I’m merely a conduit. Such as the part I figured out yesterday, the familiar and yet archaic word that my character ponders the meaning of. I don’t actually know the meaning either, so I looked it up, and the definition of the word turned out to be precisely one of the central images of the entire book, as revealed in the final third. I had no idea, but the book knew. And my job at the this point is just to let all these connection happen and allow the light to come through.

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