The story within the story

Reporters will tell you there are two, maybe three narratives in the Middle East. They’ll split the stories into perspectives and call them Palestinian and Israeli or East and West or Arab and Jew. But that’s like saying Moby Dick is about a whale and a man. I don’t know what Moby Dick is about — I still haven’t read it. But hundreds of thousands of people have and I can’t believe it’s because it’s a story about a whale and a man.

So it is with the Middle East.

There are so many stories. People. Lives.

READ THE FULL POST (in the Times of Israel).

 

Disclaimer: I am not the me you think I am

In the days since the Justine Sacco twitter incident (which has officially been labeled a mob by the New York Times), I’ve spent a little time on a project that I’ve been meaning to focus on for a while:

Cleaning up my internet bread crumbs

You see: I’ve been at this a while. This thing I call “sharing of myself with strangers.”

I’ve been writing and posting opinion pieces, and uploading and approving photos of myself online since … well, at least since 1997. That’s as far back as I am able to trace myself though I imagine a stalker or a fairly good sleuth with a wad of cash with my name on it could identify earlier instances. Let’s hope that the first doesn’t exist, and the second never does.

For most of those 17 internet loving years, I stood firmly by the belief that sharing was good; identity theft was bad; and that since there was no way to stop people bent on investigating you or stealing your credit cards, why not position yourself in the light you prefer.

There was one little detail I didn’t pay attention to.

It’s that the light I want to shine in is ever shifting.

Even more so, there may come a time when I don’t desire the light. When I prefer to be hidden in the shadows.

Shadow me

Shadow me

If one day, a mob were after me, they’d find judgmental rants I am now ashamed of; they’d unearth unkind comments that were written on an off day; and they’d be able to amass a decent collection of really unattractive photographs of me in really unfashionable clothing (especially if they come across any from 2001 – 2003).

They’d find pictures of my kids that were cute in context, but now seem inappropriate. They’d stumble upon references to wacky dreams I’ve had or remembrances of drunken bodily performances. They’d certainly find articles written in a voice that is no longer mine; in a tone I no longer wish to express myself in.

I am not the girl you will find on a Google search.

I’m not even the girl who began this blog in 2011.

I’m someone else entirely.

In the cleaning up of the bread crumbs of me, I began by deleting or making private any online content I thought might embarrass my growing children. An effort of Herculean proportions that I will certainly never complete to their satisfaction.

Next, I tried to dig up the most obnoxious, off-the-cuff public statements I’ve made over the past year or two on Twitter or Facebook. Things I meant in jest, but might one day be held against me in a court of rash, cruel, public opinion.

But I know — even as I do this —

I know

That my efforts are nearly inconsequential.

Because what is appropriate now might one day not be. And what I see as an innocent or well-intentioned sharing of myself  could, at some point, be used to position me as anything from self-centered to irresponsible to crazy.

What do you do with that knowledge?

Do you unplug completely? Do you spit in the face of future detractors?

Or do you do what any good lawyer would tell you to do?

Add a disclaimer.

disclaimer jen

 

 

Why I am more appalled by the internet than by Justine

In the ongoing, yet soon to be old news saga of PR professional Justine Sacco, Gawker has surprisingly (not!) tarred and feathered a woman, and called it “reporting the news.”

When I saw the #hasjustinelandedyet saga in a friend’s Facebook feed over the weekend, I was drawn in. It was hashtagging at its best, after all. Alluring. Personal. Clever. With a hint of snark.

However, I was too busy monitoring a group of rowdy eleven year old boys shooting themselves with balls of paint in celebration of one boy’s birthday — my boy’s.  Smartphone occupied more by Instagram than by Twitter, I didn’t get as sucked into the online conversation as I might have otherwise, but feel compelled to contribute my two cents this morning after reading the Gawker story.

What’s really bugging me?

The majority — who assumes Justine is a disgusting piece of crap that doesn’t deserve to be called a human being. And the majority — who feels holier than thou enough to write about it.

And really? The disgusting piece of crap that doesn’t deserve to be called human?

It’s the internet.

The internet, which has determined that one really awful statement typed into a keyboard or a device registered to a human being determines who and what that human being is.

The internet, which in general, didn’t really consider the (albeit, unlikely) possibility that Justine was hacked.

Which, frankly, seems possible to me.  I’m a communications professional — one with a big mouth and strong opinions. The first thing to smell fishy to me about this was the idea of a PR person showcasing her racist side on her Twitter account.

It’s really, really unlikely.

PR people can be ugly and awful. But they’re usually really, really good at making the rest of the world think otherwise.

My first reaction, instead, to reports of Justine’s racist AIDS tweet was, “She’s either drunk, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or she’s been hacked.” Call me level-headed (or, in the end, call me naive), but my first reaction wasn’t:

“FIRE THE EVIL BITCH!!!!!!!  HUMILIATE HER, FIRST!!!! THEN FIRE HER!!!!!”

The second thing that’s getting my goat about this story is the “trial by twitter” era that we live in. Even if Justine is truly a racist, not just a stupid person or a drunk person or a person who made a bad, impulsive decision, I feel more sick by humanity’s reaction to this story —  fire her! excommunicate her! humiliate her! — than I do by the unacceptable remark made by the possibly stupid or drunk person who made it.

What are we rallying around here people?

Are we truly rallying around the fight against racism? Around our empowering ability to use social media for good?

Or are we just scared little animals waiting like vultures to pounce on road kill because pouncing makes us feel strong?

More than anything, this story makes me want to leave the internet.

I don’t want to be around to find out the truth behind Justine’s remark.

I don’t want to be around to hear her apology, or explanation, or the internet’s remorse when she hangs herself because she is so shamed by the very public and unfair trial she got on Twitter.

Gawker, of course, will be the first one to write, TWO TEENS CLEARED OF CRIMINAL CHARGE IN THE TWITTER-INSPIRED BULLYING DEATH OF PR PROFESSIONAL.

And then all of Twitter, with sorrow and regret in their hearts, will hashtag #nomorejustines.

I don’t want to be around to be the person the internet tars and feathers next.

Seriously, internet, I want to leave you on days like today.

I want to break up with you forever and forget about all the good times we had.

All the community building.

All the activism.

All the kickstarting.

Days like today make me sick of you.

Is blogging the new MFA program?

Before I was in high tech, I was in publishing.

At Scholastic, I worked in the creative marketing department, not directly with authors, but with their work; trying to make their work appeal to the largest audience as possible.

My claim to fame is that I wrote responses to fan letters for R.L. Stine and K.A. Applegate. So if you came of age in the late 90s, we were probably pen pals.

I also was a part of the exciting marketing campaign surrounding the release in the U.S. of the first Harry Potter book.

Good times.

After I left Scholastic, I spent a few years in other publishing jobs: in the promotions department at Parade Magazine and as an assistant editor for a Jewish newspaper.

I soon became expert in making other people’s work better.

Of course, through this experience, my work became better, too.  In addition to assigning and editing stories to freelance writers at the Jewish newspaper, I would report on local happenings and sometimes interview C-level Jewish celebrities for features.

Every time my boss, the Editor, would hand me back my first draft, I would grimace at the red marks in the margins.

But the marks, when implemented, always made my stories better.

In time, I became a confident writer of short form non-fiction. Your work becomes better the more you write and the more heavily you are edited.

I imagine the process is similar for any form of writing; especially in fiction and poetry, two genres in which I am experimenting and want to improve.

This is why so many emerging writers and published novelists come out of MFA programs.

They’ve dedicated themselves to writing, yes — but they’ve also committed to being publicly criticized for two years in the hopes of improving. In the hopes of one day being so good they will be noticed. Noticed like a misused metaphor, like a dangling participle.

This element of the writing program — the communal critical eye — is missing from the fantastic writing community that is the blog-o-sphere.

I never — or hardly ever — publicly criticize a blogger’s work. If I add a comment to a blog, 99% of the time it’s a positive comment. If it’s a negative comment, it’s finely worded so as to not offend the author.

I’m not talking about political blogs, where trolls feel completely uninhibited to offer their frank opinions about how the author is a stupid, naive right-wing psychopath. I’m talking about the community of essayists that have sprung up through the popularity and ease of the blogging platform.

Mommy bloggers.

Aspiring novelists.

Flash fiction writers.

People who feel the need to chronicle the every movement of their cats.

Everyone can be a published writer now.

A published author even — thanks to Amazon.com and a host of self-publishing software.

And, yes, this is awesome.

Really awesome.

And … not so awesome.

I like to read good writing.

I like to pay for good writing.

I’m annoyed when I read bad writing, especially when I’ve paid for it.

I want the books I read to have been written by people who cared enough to become better writers. I want those books to have been through at least one, if not five, careful revisions by an editor.

I say this not just as a writer, but as a consumer of the written word.

Maybe I hold myself up to too high a standard. (That sounds obnoxious, I know. )

Maybe if I didn’t, I would already be a published author myself now. (I’m not counting The Fantastic Adventures of Me & My Friends or the two other activity books I wrote for Scholastic. That also sounds a bit obnoxious, doesn’t it?)

Maybe I’m worrying for nothing.

Maybe the world is a happier place because more people are writing and finding their own audiences.

But I think there is room for criticism in the blogging world. Perhaps we would do more to support each other by not just commenting when we think a post is good, but when we think a post is almost good — when something could be just a little bit better if only it was rewritten once or twice.

It irritates me when I write a post that I think is really good and a commenter writes something simple like,

“Lovely.”

This happens a lot. Which should be a good thing.

But I want to follow up on that “lovely.” I want to know, “Why?”

“Why do you think this is lovely?”

Did it strike a chord?

Was it my careful phrasing?

Was it how elegantly I described the herd of goats by the side of the road?

And how could it be better? How could I rewrite it into something you’d be happy you paid for? Satisfied you spent your time on?

This is what is missing from the blogosphere. And why, at least now, blogging in community will never be as serious as a writing program.

Most of our comments are just blatant attempts at trying to attract new followers.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Are you a blogging writer who seeks comments like this? Who wants more than just a

“Great post!”

If so, let me know — perhaps we can build a more critical commenting community together.

Help each other… emerge…from red marks in the margin.