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Pickle Me This

February 22, 2019

Why I Put My Children Online

Once in a while, some thoughtful person will ask my permission before posting a picture online—a Facebook page, a community website, their Instagram feed. And in response I always start laughing. “You go right ahead,” I assure this person. “After all, I’ve plastered both of them all over the entire internet already.”

For 18 years, I’ve been telling my life stories via blogging, and when I became a mother, I didn’t see a reason for things to be different. In fact, when my eldest daughter was born, I needed the communities of blogs and social media more than ever. It was through my blog that I puzzled my way through early motherhood, and found friendships and connections that made me feel so much less alone at a difficult time. 

Of course, things became more complicated as my children grew, developing into individuals in their own right. I knew that they would be implicated in the stories I told, and so I exercised caution, asking myself, “Will this keep my child’s dignity in tact?” before posting a photo or an anecdote. Only once I ever fudged this, and this was when I posted a photo of my naked child’s bare bum as she played in a paddling pool on a rooftop. The backdrop was a cityscape—it was quite dramatic—and I figured that as you couldn’t see her face, she would come off from this fairly innocently.  

But what about the pedophiles???, some worried parents will inevitably respond to this (and they did, in fact). To which I reply that while I do keep such nefarious individuals in the back of my mind, letting these people guide the way I operate myself online would be misguided. Regarding the internet as a place wholly apart from the world would be similarly wrong, and so instead I proceed with a spirit of openness with a sensible amount of caution. 

Letting my children exist on the internet at their young ages is also a useful way to acquaint them with social media, which will presumably be a huge part of their lives in general when they are older, just as it is a huge part of mine. They are currently invested in how they appear on social media and on my blog, and are developing an understanding of how it all works, which will make them more savvy online operators when they’re ready to venture into the world without parental accompaniment. 

For my older daughter in particular, I do ask her permission when I post images of her or write about her. (There are many photos I never posted, and stories that I’ve never told.) Although I also understand that the permission granted by a nine-year-old is dubious at best. But this is where the fact of me being her parent who is looking out for her interests comes in handy—it’s actually my job. And she trusts, and I trust, and her father trusts too, that I will make smart decisions that will also keep her safe—and preserve her dignity as well. 

Of course, there will be mistakes and misinterpretations. Things will go wrong. Posts will be deleted. I hereby reserve the right to mess up, but to keep on learning too, rather than just simply forgo my children appearing in my online life altogether. (There are also indeed weirdo parents who blatantly exploit their children for YouTube notoriety, but maybe let’s not make this base-level parenting be the standard from which all our ideas and discussions about parenting begin.)

My biggest reservation with the expectation that women not share their images and stories of their children is that it implies that certain parts of a woman’s experience no longer belong to her once she becomes a mother. It reminds me of those 19th-century images of “ghostmothers” shrouded in black holding their babies in portraits. It’s not so far along the spectrum from a line of thinking that once a woman becomes pregnant, she doesn’t even properly belong to her body anymore and therefore someone else can be charged with her reproductive choices. 

There is also a gendered element to this discussion, in which mothers often refrain from posting photos of their children and explain that it’s because of their male partner’s discomfort with social media. I find it strange and troubling that a man whose partner is active and literate in social media could not trust her to make smart choices in this space (often a feminized one) which he is less savvy about, and instead has the power to decide what she posts online. 

While I acknowledge that a woman’s life is no longer just her own once she has children, I assert her right to maintain an existence on the internet (which these days is where a lot of life happens) that acknowledges her entire personhood—and motherhood is a part of that, if she desires it to be. The stories I tell about my children are their stories, but they’re also my stories too. 

 In my novel, Mitzi Bytes, my protagonist learns that while compartmentalizing one’s experience and maintaining a rigorous divide between online and actual selves seemslike a smart approach, ultimately it’s not sustainable. Living in the world is more complicated than that, both online and off it. 

October 29, 2018

More Fun Things

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of returning to the Stratford Writers Festival, where I moderated a panel about women’s experiences with Sarah Selecky, Andrea Bain, and Emily Anglin, and it was wonderful. I still remember the first time I was asked to moderate anything, years ago, and how I accepted the job because I thought it was the kind of thing I’d really like to do, although I wasn’t sure I’d be very good at it—and I wasn’t. But over the years, I’ve become comfortable with public speaking and confident about my own skills as a reader, to the point where I’m a kickass moderator and I know it, and I love it. It was a real pleasure to be part of this event.

That same weekend, I had the joyful experience of my review of Iona Whishaw’s A Sorrowful Sanctuary appearing in The Toronto Star’s venerable books section. So nice too that Whishaw’s all too timely historical novel gave me an excuse to be calling our shady nationalist politicians and Nazis in the media. ‘“I suppose I’m simply naïve,” [Lane] explains. “I want all my Nazis parceled up and put on the shelf of history after all our hard work in the war. I didn’t expect to find them here.”’

And this weekend, I’m off to Sudbury for the Wordstock Sudbury Festival. On Saturday morning, I’ll be appearing on a book industry panel with Hazel Millar and Holly Kent, and later that afternoon representing Mitzi Bytes with Margaret Christakos and Diane Schoemperlen, and I’m really looking forward to it.

September 14, 2018

In the woods, on the radio, and online!

We had an amazing time at the Dunedin Literary Festival “Words in the Woods!” last weekend, where I had the privilege of moderating a panel with Karma Brown, Tish Cohen, and Uzma Jalalludin. It was a very good day and left me excited for my next event, which takes place on September 23 in Huntsville as part of Huntsville Public Library’s Books and Brunch series. I’ll be there with Hannah Mary McKinnon and K.A. Tucker, and all of us appeared on the most recent episode of the library’s very own radio show (how cool!) Keeping Up the Librariansyou can listen to it here. And I was also happy to take part in the “Behind the Scenes With Book Reviewers” series at the Hamilton Review of Books, which was published this week—go here to learn all my book reviewing secrets.

July 19, 2018

Mitzi Bytes: Big In Muskoka

Though not for lack of trying, I have never encountered anyone reading my novel on the beach, but I came very close last week when a copy was spotted in the library at the cottages we were staying at. My friend saw it first, but only mentioned it offhandedly because she’d assumed I’d put it there. But I hadn’t—at least I didn’t think I had. And the other families we were vacationing with, both of whom had stayed at the same place last summer, promised that they hadn’t left the book either. I didn’t really believe any of us—was it possible that my book had been purchased by a person I don’t know (or who is not, a least, a friend of my mother’s)? But it had a sticker from Chapters Indigo, so it was certainly not a copy I’d dropped off and then completely forgotten about (distinctly possible…) My friends hadn’t bought their copies at Indigo either, and the spine was even cracked. And while I could have decided to respond to this situation by being despondent that a reader had left my book behind and not committed it to their personal library for all of eternity because it was the most affecting and incredible novel they’d ever encountered in a lifetime… instead I was just pretty thrilled because the cottage library was in alphabetical order even, featured some pretty excellent titles, and each one was stamped with the cottage library stamp, which seemed very official. This cottage library was legit.

And presumably, someone had been reading my novel on the beach…even if I wasn’t there to see it.

So that was pretty cool, and then my sense of being Extraordinarily Popular in Muskoka was only compounded when we went into town for the day and my face was on the Huntsville Public Library’s Books and Brunch poster, plastered all over town. And on the library display screens displayed prominently over the checkout desk—my children were very excited!! To be famous in a library is no small thing, although nobody recognized me—when my author photo was taken I was wearing make-up, had washed my hair recently and wasn’t covered in bug bites. But still, they knew it was me. It was all very exciting. (The Huntsville Books and Brunch Event is at Hidden Valley Resort on September 23 with superstars K.A. Tucker and Hannah Mary McKinnon [whose The Neighbours I read before I went on holiday, and liked so much…] You can buy tickets through the library.)

One other exciting thing is that Karen Green at Bookclubbish included Mitzi Bytes on a list of books by Canadian authors to read for Canada Day—alongside writers including Karma Brown, and Sharon Bala. If you missed it, fear not! You can also read Mitzi Bytes for the August Civic Holiday Weekend…

And in case you were curious about what Mitzi Bytes and I are up to this fall, I’m pleased to be taking part in some fantastic events across the province—The Dunedin Literary Festival, Huntsville Public Library Books and Brunch, Stratford Writers Festival, and Wordstock Sudbury. If any of these these happen to be in your neck of the woods, I’d love to see you there.

May 22, 2018

Mitzi Bytes and Margaret Drabble

This essay is exceedingly whiny, but makes a point worth underlining, which is “The book industry is partly kept afloat by a shadow economy in which the main currency is bullshit.” It’s true. For example, I could tell you how my Mother’s Day present was a road trip to Furby House Books in Port Hope (which is such a wonderful place!) and how I arrived to find Mitzi Bytes on their Staff Picks shelf like that was ain’t no thang. But it was a thang. Plus, and most importantly, they knew I was coming, which was undoubtedly how a book that’s three seasons old ended up there. Also it is a very good book, and I’ve been grateful for Furby House’s support of it since its released, but still. A shot of my book on the staff picks shelf (now autographed—there’s even a sticker!) does not count as full disclosure. There’s always more of the story to tell, and even the best bits are difficult to appreciate when and if they finally happen. It’s like that line from a Bob Dylan song, “What looks large from a distance close up ain’t never that big.”

Not everything needs to be big though in order to be appreciated. I think the key to keeping going in a creative career, in any career, is to pay attention to the small things, to mark your milestones, to not write off any of the tiny miracles it would be so simple just to take for granted. Like the photo above, a photo of Mitzi Bytes on the shelf at Furby House Books. In such excellent company—what a thing to share shelf space with the likes of these books. What spectacular company, basically everything I ever wanted and everything that I never quite dared to believe could come true. But there is one title in particular that stands out here, the reason I took this photo in the first place. That yellow book on the lower shelf, far right: Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises (which I loved, remember?). Margaret Drabble who made me want to write novels like no one else ever has—the first book of hers I read was The Radiant Way, which I discovered when I was still young enough to be impressionable but old enough to get it. (Rohan Maitzen just wrote a great post on the book, although she did not love it as I do.) I remember reading her books for the first time like I was discovering the world—but I was also discussing the limits of my talents and abilities and the hugeness of ambition at the very same time. It was a lot to comprehend. And so to see my book alongside hers years later is almost too incredible to be properly understood. It sounds overstated, but it isn’t. If someone had told me years ago that this photo was a thing that could possibly happen, even with the main currency of the book industry being bullshit, I would have considered this success beyond my wildest dreams.

My point being that sometimes it’s possible to arrive; it’s just the trick of remembering to notice once you get there.

March 14, 2018

Happy Birthday, Mitzi Bytes!

On the occasion of Mitzi Bytes‘ first birthday, and it being Pi Day (which is A VERY IMPORTANT HOLIDAY) I did the only possible thing and baked a chocolate cream pie whose recipe comes from literary comic icon Nora Ephron. The pie was delicious, and there’s even leftovers in the fridge, which is a fantastic way to be. We didn’t light any candles, but it’s still been a very good way to make a special occasion, a year since this novel came into the world. I’m so grateful for all the places it has taken me to, all the conversations its led me to have, and for all the readers who really engaged with the novel and its questions, and who saw the humour too. It’s all been a dream come true.

February 6, 2018

Neat Things: A Round-Up

Hands down, the best thing to happen to me last week was my conversation with writers Elizabeth Renzetti and Nicole Blades, and broadcaster Michael Enright, on CBC’s The Sunday Edition. Apart from the excitement of actually being on a show I listen to every week, the conversation itself was such a pleasure to take part in, so much fun and really interesting. You can listen again to it here.

Another wonderful thing is Anne Logan’s kind and generous review of Mitzi Bytes—that the book continues to resonate with readers thrills me to no end. She calls it a thought-provoking novel that goes beyond the limits of Mommy-Lit, and declares it one of the best books she’s read in awhile.

And finally, I loved my friend Suzanne Alyssa Andrew’s piece on owning her power and pulling a winning story from a magazine whose editor she didn’t want to be associated with in light of a sexual misconduct scandal and rabid douchebaggery. When I got to the part in which she quoted me, my head exploded—it means so much to me to know the things I write can empower and inspire others. In fact, I find it empowering and inspiring, even…

January 16, 2018

New Mitzi Bytes things…

Photo Credit: Julie at Try Small Things

I was delighted a few weeks back to discover that Mitzi Bytes was the January pick for the Sweet Reads Box, which is a very cool curated subscription box that includes one book and assortment of other fun things associated with the book’s story and theme. And as the boxes have been delivered this week, I’ve enjoyed (along with their recipients!) discovering what items are accompanying the book, especially because they’re so thoughtful and perfect and include my very favourite flavour of tea (which is my character’s favourite flavour of tea too, a detail I’d forgotten). To see what I’m talking about, head over to Try Small Things to see the Mitzi box unpacked, and to enter for a chance to win the January box for yourself. I’ve read the book already, in fact I wrote it, but I’m still a little disappointed that I didn’t order one before they sold out. The giveaway is featured in a few other places too if you search with the #SweetReadsBox hashtag on Instagram. I’m so thrilled to see my book finding readers in such a delightful way!

I’m also very happy to read such a smart and insightful take on Mitzi Bytes by Donna Bailey Nurse, a reader and writer I really admire, and who was kind enough to talk to me about my writing and life in an excellent conversation a little while back—you can read her article here. I’m always appreciative of readers who are able to discern that Mitzi Bytes’ lightness is deceptive and there’s a lot more going on under the surface.

And finally, I am happy to be featured on BoldFace, the blog at Editors Toronto, where I talk about the work I do, my discomfort with identifying as an editor, and also get to give props to the editors I’ve been so fortunate to work with so far in my career. You can read it here.

December 8, 2017

#2017BestNine

My Instagram #2017BestNine is pretty Mitzi Bytes-centric. I am grateful to everyone who helped make the experience of publishing the book a pleasure. Grateful too that my adorable children in their Jane Goodall/Woman Woman Halloween costumes snuck in there as well. Rad Women all around.

November 23, 2017

Mitzi Bytes in the World—and under the Christmas Tree

For a person whose book came out a whole season ago, I had a pretty busy fall doing bookish things, and I realized I’d forgotten a few of these here. The first was my event at Word on the Street in September, which was a day so overwhelmed with exciting things that I kind of lost my mind, but still. I did a fantastic event on literary outcasts with Jonny Sun and Shawn Hitchens, and our tent was packed and I had the very best time.

And in October, we had the most glorious weekend away in Stratford, taking in the goodness of that wonderful town and a showing of Treasure Island—but the whole reason we were there at all was for the Stratford Writers’ Festival. I arrive on Saturday morning and did my blogging workshop for a fantastic group of people at the library.

And then later that day I got to be on a panel on feminism with Scaachi Koul, which was hilarious and invigorating, and she was lovely and exactly as smart and biting as she in her book. It was a great conversation, and it was very cool to see Mitzi Bytes discussed in the context of Koul’s work and her book, and how both books informed each other. It was such an honour and a pleasure to take part in this event.

And I finally, I really think that Mitzi Bytes would make an amazing holiday gift for all your loved ones. (Of course I do!) If you’re going to be giving Mitzi Bytes for Christmas, drop me an email at kerryclare AT gmail DOT com and I will mail you Mitzi Bytes bookplates personally autographed to your gift’s recipient. Because books always make the best gifts and they don’t even require batteries.

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