Washed away by the rain, beached by the flood

Where have I been?




Trudging through the cold, month-long rain. Gasping in the gaps, when the sun washes the cobbles white, the leaves glisten.



Teaching students (and loving that, though I will not write about anything work-related here, a personal vow).


Writing through bleary eyes, one page a session, but really convinced I’m doing good work, for now.


Reading – really reading so much stuff I’ve never encountered before. Reviewing only a tiny bit of it as time allows here and on Pank. Leaving the stuff written by dead authors behind, because let the dead blog the dead.


Receiving a letter from an author (who shall remain nameless, only out of consideration for their privacy, because I don’t know their wishes)  in which the author spoke so kindly and warmly about my review that I nearly teared up. And could only hope to read more from this author in the future.


Another big part of my time lately has been engaged in thinking about a discussion on the nature and norms of online communication – forgive me if I go on a bit, but I think if you are a blogger, particularly a woman who blogs or comments online, or uses Goodreads, or has their own space for criticism of books, this will be of interest to you.


The question is on how women, in particular, present themselves and their opinions on blogs and in dialogues and comment sections. How the spaces (the unwritten and written rules of what is acceptable to say, the colour of the background, the choice of font, etc) shape the way we perform, play, at ourselves. This, and what makes good criticism in a female-driven space. Must we be objective? Or do emotions have their place? Fragments of our lives, and which fragments? What about tone – is humour any less valuable than seriousness? Is criticism subject to gendering? Are we too nice, too ‘girly’?


What the hell is ‘girly’ anyway, given that many women of differing attitudes and scales of appearance start out as girls, and as girls are so different as to make a narrow standard impossible to formulate.


I am asking a lot of questions. I am a blogger, I am a writer, a reviewer and I’ve commented, thinking about my tone, trying to be witty and also to be kind. This is relevant. If you’ve done any of these things, it’s probably relevant to you. I’d love to hear what you think. I have no answers, really, beyond my own experience.


This tumult of questions was in response to an interesting, if flawed essay by Molly Fischer ‘On Ladyblogs‘ from Kate Zambreno ‘Ad Feminim‘. Also very much of interest in this vein is this conversation between Zambreno and another WriterKate, Kate Durbin.


You might have read some of my book reviews. I really cannot be objective, particularly, when it comes to books. I am I, who loved or found a book complicated. Because there is an ‘I’, I cannot seek to harm the book with indifference in my review. I feel culpable, and bound to care. I feel about with my fingers, finding the shape and texture of books. In real life though I say less, sometimes, than I do in my reviews. I am bound by the indifference of those I am speaking to, and of the nicheness of my interests in fiction that takes risks, and by my shyness, and sometimes clumsiness of speech.


All this means that there is a difference between the voice I use online, and the voice I use in real life. As there are between the voices I use at work, and the voices I use with my family, with my friends, with D, with writers and reviewer and internet persons I am trying to articulate difficult things to. This seems to be jamming up against the idea of sincerity, which I blogged a wee bit about, and which Montevidayo has explored more extensively, and many others besides. Authenticity. The idea that there is only one truth in appearance.


I accept multiple readings and plural selves (the writer, the commentator, the teacher, the jester, the friend). I want multiple perspectives on the news and on life as I will never have the chance to live it. I want the freedom to play with voice. To support those who have done so.


But what is your opinion? Is there any difference between who you are online in various spaces and who you are at work? At rest?



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5 responses to “Washed away by the rain, beached by the flood

  1. Sentiment is the bone we “girl’s” have been thrown for eons. Honey, sugar, sweet pea love. The difference between my stoical social self whether online or analog and my Writng mind is in my reluctance to sugarcoat. If girl blogs are living rooms of repression, as they often are, extolling a position, defriending critical thought– then I for one will gladly retreat into the wide open freedom of the page.

    • Living rooms of repression – a good phrase, though I think untrue of the blog in question in the article (The Hairpin) but true of some, yes. Often there are wild ones in that living room, throwing the furniture around. But it’s that very idea of a constructed, constricted space, which is interesting. How do we break it down, be critical, but avoid chaos? I await the unrolling future of the internet as much as I love the page and its freedoms.

      • I agree it is not true of The Hairpin. First in line–resist the self congratulatory-which I know you do, Helen and -invite the unrolling with fierce Zambreno self reflection. Break the polite 3rd wall of rectangular comment sections.

  2. nzumel

    I only occasionally read either Jezebel or The Hairpin; so I read Molly Fischer’s original article (“So Many Feelings”) in the same detached way in which she wrote it. I stopped, momentarily, to think about it; but it’s nothing that I have very strong opinions about either way.

    But I have to say, the negative comments that she quoted in her followup article (and I suppose she did cherry-pick) irked me. I confess, this is probably because I take some of it personally — due to my professional and some of my personal interests, most of my friends and colleagues have always been male, and I do feel more comfortable in a large group of men than I do in most large groups of women.

    The real issue though, is that those comments were personal attacks on the author, following up on an article that didn’t seem (to me) to be a personal attack on anyone else, or even particularly vicious. Such a tactic only serves to repress even the mildest dissent or critical thought, and it’s not admirable, coming from either men or women.

    So to answer your question — I suppose all of us would feel most free to voice our opinions — “critical, but kind” — in an atmosphere that insists on the division between critiquing the opinion and attacking the opiner. Does such a place exist? That, I don’t know.

    • It would be useful, I think, to work towards the creation of the ideal space for critique. Unfortunately, there will be always a few people who prefer to hiss from behind their hands. And people who know better, and indulge in that habit rather than try to build something. But I think it should be an aim, utopian perhaps. Perhaps what is needed is the right sort of response to these comments, whatever that is.

      As someone who has been a victim of bullying (from both sexes, incidentally), I am painfully aware of my inability to create this pacific atmosphere on my own.
      I do think, in general, The Hairpin, in their friendly tone seems to aim to keep above snark while trying to allow for personality differences, those people who are harsher than I would like. What should happen? A kind of calling out? Ah, I wish I had definite answers.

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