I am a mommyblogger, or Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Preparing for the Nebraska Writer’s Guild Spring Conference, I took out my purse–an oversized, faux leather monstrosity purchased because absolutely everything fits in it–and began to pack. Out came the diapers, the diaper wipes, the extra outfit for the two year old, the extra pants for the baby. In went two pens, a notebook, directions and the piece I planned to read aloud. With a nagging sense that maybe a blog entry wasn’t appropriate for a public reading, being “only” a blog entry after all, I kissed the children and clicked out the door, conscious of each step in the unaccustomed heels.

A single word struck my thoughts: mommyblogger.

With articles like “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand” and “World of Sex, Lies and Mommy Blogs,” the curious world of the mommyblogger is again making news and again making waves. Hinting at a bit of irony in the “minivan crowd” discussing SEO and defining it as a $two-trillion market, the authors dismiss the validity of the efforts of thousands of moms–some of whom blog about being moms.

The spin isn’t new, nor the subtle criticism. While the term mommyblogger is a badge of honor to some, it ruffles the feathers of others.

It reminds me of A Room of One’s Own. The fight a century (and more) ago for women to be taken seriously as writers.

The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?

In 1713, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea writes of her craft,

My lines decried, and my employment thought
An useless folly, or presumptuous fault:
She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, or visitors, or any persons beyond her own family party.  She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper.  There was, between the front door and the offices, a swing door which creaked when it was opened; but she objected to having this little inconvenience remedied, because it gave her notice when anyone was coming.
And in 2009, Joanne Bamberger writes in Don’t call me a ‘mommyblogger,’
Some may be curious about my pique because sometimes being a mom blogger is a brand, one that can be used to one’s benefit. But when others try to flip the title to describe us as writers and, yes, sometimes activists, it ends up as shorthand for someone who is less deserving of respect or influence. It makes our opinions much easier to ignore.

{Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?}

Who’s afraid of a woman. . .a wife. . .a mother. . .who has found her voice?

After I finished my reading, I returned to my seat and my oversized bag. With hands still trembling, I slipped my papers back in and caught sight of my baby’s shirt, neatly folded in the bottom. I stroked the soft cotton, thought of his soft skin, could almost hear his soft coo. It focused me on why I attended this conference and why I write.

I am a mommyblogger.

Even if it is accomplished in fits and starts, between all the tasks of motherhood and household management.

I am a mommyblogger.

What my daughter has learned through blogging

The Science Mouse coverMy daughter has been pitching blog ideas to me for some time, but I have been a little less than enthusiastic knowing just how much work goes in to a blog.  I had two prerequisites.  First, her spelling needed to improve to the point that editing it wouldn’t be a full time job for me.  Second, she needed to come up with a topic that would be sustainable over a period of time.  But she finally managed to pitch the right idea at the right time.  I’ve been trying to think of ways to focus more on writing and she came up with the idea of doing a monthly e-zine about science…The Science Mouse.

It seemed a perfect match.  And given the topic, I didn’t mind turning over half of her homeschool day to her new endeavor.  That’s right.  At the moment, we are doing bible, math and blogging.  That will change as she gains independence in her endeavor, but it really is amazing how much she has learned even before her first edition has been posted.

What is a blog?

The most interesting part of this to me has been teaching the blog as its own genre with its own structure and purpose.  She is actually writing an e-zine, which is sort of a cross between a blog and a magazine.  She has been looking at some different blogs and magazines to see how they are set up and has used that to inform some of her decisions.  She chose to go with self-hosted WordPress and spent some time thinking about her domain name.  Although this was essentially a gift to her, the little bit we have spent on setting her site up has not gone unnoticed.  And let me tell you, reading problogger with a ten year old is an interesting endeavor, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

A flair for design

My poor Mouse spent hours looking at different templates for her e-zine and sorting through what plug-ins she thought she would need.  We are not worrying about coding at this point, and she only has a vague understanding of what a plug-in even is, but she is learning the basics of WordPress and trusting her mother’s advice on the rest.  She has learned how to insert links, position photos and a little about how to format the text.  For the first time, we have talked seriously about copyright law and she is beginning to see intellectual property on par with physical property as she thinks about what it would be like to have someone take all of her hard work without even asking.

She has learned about different ways to get images for her entries and quite a bit about photoediting as she and I designed her first cover.  When my parents come up for the birth of the baby, she is even hoping to come up with a sort of mascot to appear on every cover.

The art of the caption

Caption writing is an art in itself.  I never thought much of it until we sat down to write her first one.  I wrote a couple as an intern which were published in HydroReview, a magazine about hydroelectric dams.  They seem easy because of their brevity, but a good caption packs a lot of information into those few words.  That is something we will definitely be working on more in the future and I hope to see improvement as we take more time in future issues to concentrate on caption writing.

How to conduct an interview

Looking at some different magazines and blogs, Mouse quickly jumped on the idea of interviewing someone in the field for each edition of her magazine (provided we can find someone).  She already has an interview lined up for this issue and a likely candidate for the next, but before she actually started trying to think up questions, I think she thought this would be one of the easier parts of putting together her e-zine.  How hard can an interview be?  You just ask questions, right? For the first time, she is thinking hard about what kinds of answers certain questions solicit and trying to figure out how to ask questions that cannot be answered simply by “yes” or “no.”  She is also trying to think from her prospective readers’ perspectives.

Mouse, editor-in-chief

Mouse has had sort of crash course in the world of publishing.  She has learned about queries, deadlines, the need for a theme list and the importance of editorial guidelines.  She has been thinking about the kinds of features she would like to have in each issue, and how to create a sort of personality for her publication.  And her very first lesson was the difference between personal and professional emails.  My daughter loves smilies, pretty fonts and multi-colored text.  She was a tad disappointed to learn that these are not appropriate for a professional email.

Half the work is marketing

In a way, children are born marketers.  She is excited to tell her friends and relatives about her project, unlike me.  I’m always a little self-conscious about talking about my blog with people I know.  Mouse, on the other hand, wants to design business cards to pass out to any and everyone she knows.  And as I noted above, reading problogger with a ten year old has been interesting.  I read his blog occasionally, and take tips here and there, but “making money blogging” is not exactly my primary goal here.  I just want to improve as a blogger.

But now my little Mouse wants to come up with advertising rates, analyze her statistics and figure out a sort of marketing plan for her little project.  She has been learning about affiliate links and Google AdSense.  She wants to know more about search engines and how to help people find her e-zine.  She reads this stuff and wants to do all of it.  I’m just trying to pace her.  After all, somewhere in there, she has to write some actual content.

And did I mention science?

After all, it is a science e-zine.  She has been willing to write more than she usually will, and I have noticed an improvement in both her writing and her spelling.  I think mostly because now she cares and is actually paying attention to what she is doing rather than just trying to get through the assignment.  But she is also looking at the piles of books we check out from the library differently.  She looks at the illustrations and the text with an eye for whether or not it would be a good item to review.

Whether or not she has learned any more about the solar system than she would have had we just stuck with our normal routine I cannnot judge, but she has certainly taken ownership of her learning.  And that is all I have ever wanted from the beginning.

Oh, and if your child would be interested in contributing to her e-zine, she can be contacted via her contact form.  She has been developing a theme list and talks a little about what she is looking for on her about page.

Is blogging killing communication?

communityI have been doing a bit of reading recently about the internet, communities and the concept of virtual communities which develop over time.  The internet seems to offer an incredible ability for us to connect regardless of geographical boundaries.  To find information on a broad range of topics and often to find first hand accounts of how the stories we see in the news are affecting communities around the world.  To engage with people we might not otherwise ever talk to and find points of commonality as well as develop a certain level of respect for ideas we disagree with.

But I have found that the more I read other blogs, particularly political blogs, the more I appreciate my readers here.  It seems that in any serious discussion, there are two basic types of comments left: “Amen” or “You’re an idiot.”  There is very little meaningful or respectful discussion of any issue.

Maybe it is the nature of the blog and the internet.  A million voices are shouting through the noise and the easiest way to attract a following is to market outrage.  The e-newsletters I receive never merely outline an issue, provide some bShoutackground and offer suggestions for organizing against an action.  Mixed in with this purported goal of the newsletter are hyperbolic statements about the end of America.  The end of homeschooling.  The end of the family.  The end of worker’s rights.

Everything is sensationalized.  There is never a middle ground.  There is always a call to arms.  And someone like me who generally believes that most of the consequences we get ourselves so upset about were unintended consequences of an action designed for good is passed off as “blind to what is really going on.”

Speaking about the recent outrage over Prince Harry’s comments about the Taliban and an Pakistani officer, Bookworm Room (via To Love Honor and Vacuum) puts it best,

The level of anger and hysteria about everything nowadays — absolutely everything — just puts me off, especially because it leaves no room to paint with the real brush of outrage.  If calling your enemy by a pejorative, or using a very low level slur in a sarcastic way to refer to someone who is obviously a comrade in arms, is exactly as horrific as using children as human shields, you’ve rendered your moral compass useless.  To use an analogy only those of us over 40 understand, if you play your records at 78 rpm, they all sound like indistinguishable gibberish.  We live in such a hysterical era.

Hysteria and outrage, not simple disagreement.  This incident can be exchanged with so many issues going on in our culture and our government.  That whole Subway thing?  Sure, if you were upset about it you don’t have to eat at Subway.  But the comparison to “Negroes need not apply” were a bit over the top for me.  The Motrinmoms thing?  I was all for baby wearing mothers to bring attention to the ads and to baby wearing in general.  But in the end it reached a level of outrage which went a little beyond rational.  Especially once I began to see blog posts popping up asking if Motrin’s actions were “enough” once they pulled the campaign.  Even the current outrage over CPSIA.  I am totally against this law, and believe that we do need to act against it.  But do I believe that our elected representatives are sitting around in darkened rooms thinking up ways to kill small business and take books away from children?  Hardly.

The Economist has an interesting article which Lynn of Bore Me to Tears linked in my comment box and I’ve been meaning to come back to ever since:

“We now live in a giant feedback loop,” says Mr Bishop, “hearing our own thoughts about what’s right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear and the neighbourhoods we live in.”  The Economist

It doesn’t seem to be about community anymore, but about isolation.  The paths of communication between groups are getting narrower with the advent of the internet rather than broader, pushing us to the extremes of our political philosophies as there is a decreasing need to get along with anyone who disagrees.  We are in a “giant feedback loop” as American society becomes increasingly fragmented according to religious and political views.

There is a danger in this. Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats.  Ibid.

At first, I thought what I was seeing on the internet was a combination of providing a platform for extreme views to be expressed and the lower level of social inhibitions in online communication.  But now I’m not so sure.  As it becomes easier to associate only with those we agree with, we are pushed to the extreme.  Outrage is cultivated and rewarded through attention, traffic and a following.

What could be an excellent tool for community building and crossing political and religious divides may actually be making those divisions deeper and more difficult to cross.

On blogging, dirty laundry and respect

Penny Raine recently posted a nice entry on Respectful Mom Blogging, citing some of her concerns she has with blogs which perhaps reveal too much about the young children placed in our care and the “dirty laundry” some seem to feel compelled to air.  It’s good advice, but I stumble over a couple of the “rules.”

I don’t share a lot about my family on this blog, although I have been known to go into lengthy tangents about pencils as well as share a few very personal struggles.  And I do have a more personal blog where I share some of my reflections on parenthood, the silly things my children say, a bit of misbehavior, and just tidbits of my life as a homeschooling mother of four.

For me, it is difficult to come up with hard and fast rules about what to share and what not share about our lives.  When I write an entry, I am inviting my readers into a part of my life.  And I clean up a bit, just as I would straighten my house before you came over for tea.  Excessive compliments would not drive me to leave my children’s laundry scattered about the house and the sink full of dishes the next time you came, but I also wouldn’t pretend as if my house always looked that way.  The blog is a curious medium, part diary and part public address system.  It becomes personal, and we begin to feel a very personal connection with those readers who comment regularly as a sort of community begins to develop around our blogs.  As our sense of community in our own neighborhoods diminishes, I think we will see more and more people seeking to fulfil this very important human need online through these virtual communities.

Whether or not a particular story I read on a blog bothers me has more to do with the purpose behind the sharing than exactly what is revealed about the life of the blogger. If it seems to be about sacrificing the esteem of a child in exchange for traffic, I, too, would be a little uncomfortable reading the entry.  If it is about sharing a little humor about the often trying task of parenting, I may be inclined to share a story of my own.

I hope some day that my children can look back on what their mother has written about them and see a different side to our relationship that perhaps they do not see as much right now.  After all, my children saw a very humorless mother the day they dumped a storage tub full of books and a fifty pound bag of dog food on the laundry room floor.  Looking back over these events, however, I hope they see not a mother making fun of them, but a mother who truly delights in their developing personalities, even through the inevitable struggles of parenting young children.

And some of us are truly struggling in relationships with parents, children, spouses or other significant people in our lives.  Of course we need to be careful how we discuss those in a public forum, but for every person willing to talk about their struggles there are many thousands who feel isolated and as if they have no one to talk to and no one who would understand their problems anyway.  My most recent article for Heart of the Matter certainly gets into the deeply personal, and involves a bit of “dirty laundry” that I, too, would just as soon not read about on other people’s blogs.  But it wasn’t about traffic or recognition.  And the last thing I want is sympathy or anyone to take “my” side.  It is more about giving purpose to a difficult issue and hoping that others can find some eoncouragement in dealing with their own personal struggles.

I am not too good with rules, anyway, but I think for me a better guideline is not specific topics that we should discuss or that we should shy away from, but asking ourselves what the purpose of sharing any particular topic is.  Is it uplifting and edifying?  Great!  Would it fall under bearing one another’s burdens?  With some common sense applied, terrific!  Is it about bringing attention to ourselves?  There you’ll have to be the judge of exactly what kind of blog you want, and the kind of community you want to build around that blog.