Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Good Friday Morning

It's Good Friday morning and I'm sitting back on a lounge chair with my laptop. I've had my morning coffee and instead of making a proper breakfast, which I might still do, I've eaten three chocolates from a box I bought myself at the supermarket this week. 50 cents from the sale of the chocolates will go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

I've already checked Twitter and Facebook, both of which seem to be my first port of call on the Internet these days. Some might think this explains my absence from this blog for nearly a month, more really, if you consider that my last post was really just a link to another blog, but I don't know. Maybe. I think it might be more the case that Twitter and Facebook fulfill a social need for me that blogging doesn't always do. It can be quite lonely when your carefully thought out words don't inspire any comments. Here I'm not admonishing anyone for not commenting, of course there are many who do. I suppose if blogging has taught me anything it's that I have the same difficulties (if that's the right word) with relationships online as I do offline. I suppose I get a bit more of an instant response via Twitter and Facebook than I do from blogging and so I find those platforms more gratifying, at the moment.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Part of it is that there're some days when, what with everything else going on, it's all I can do to look at the LOL Cats. I know when I look at them I'll laugh and get the rush that comes with laughter. Blogging takes time and effort, not only to write, but to foster and maintain relationships. I'm still a bit shy online. Many times I think that any comment I might make on someone else's post will just be repeating a comment already made, but that's how relationships build online, through comments. No one knows you're nodding in agreement or feeling as connected as the 23rd commenter if you don't tell them.

Hmmm. I suppose there are many that would see the shift to the 140 characters of Twitter as evidence of a society-wide diminishing of attention spans. The 'Like' option on Facebook is even more damning, if that's your view. For myself my attention span is being sucked up by trying to do my thesis between some rather heavy and stressful teaching commitments.

Argh! I didn't want to write an apology for not posting here. I long since came to the conclusion that there's nothing to apologise for. It's my blog and I'll not post if I want to. (How odd it seems that now blogging has attained some gravitas one feels the need to apologise for not putting the commitment into something that was once so derided as insubstantial). That said, I'm not impervious to the couple of requests I've received to write something here.

I'm not quite up to Mark's request to blog about cooking Asian food. When Zoe gets back online she's promised to write about the demystification of Asian ingredients talk she gave in Canberra, including posting some recipes. Otherwise Tseen and Oanh have the skinny on Chinese and Viet food (and fancy cakes!) respectively, as do some of the folks on their blog rolls. Myself, I haven't really cooked anything of particular interest lately. If anything I've not long become aware of how much my recent cooking has been drawing from the food my parents prepared for our family when I was a child, which was fairly standard Anglo-Australian fare. I've been mulling over posting something on that, because I've been slightly taken aback by the realisation and I want to reflect on what it all means. I'll probably give that one to Progressive Dinner Party but, of course, if you're not a regular reader of PDP, which you should be, I'll post a link here to take you over that way when I get it together.

The other request I had from someone to post something here was from a friend who was visiting from New Zealand, but formerly of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. My excuse to him was that I felt my blogging had regressed to whiney 'poor me, everyone is mean to me' posts. Well, actually, it may always have been about that, but since I'm taking my advice from Robert McCallister these days, I'm trying to realise that I'm an adult and I should 'get a filter'. It's a lot tougher than I thought.

One solution that has presented itself to help with my dilemma has arisen through what I call the 'serious' reading group. It's not necessarily serious because Polish beer has made an appearance during at least one meeting, but it's true that we're making our way through The Norton Anthology of World Literature. We're just moving onto the section 'Poetry and Thought in Early China'. The first reading is excerpts from Classic of Poetry aka Book of Songs. I was reading the introduction to the Classic of Poetry and learned that:

The power of the Classic of Poetry to 'stir people' probably refers to their frequent use in conversation and diplomacy. Citation of one of the poems was often used to clinch a point in an argument or, more subtly, to express an opinion that one would rather not say openly (Owen 812).
With this in mind, I decided I might've been better off post 'Boat of Cypress' to express my thoughts about my relationships with my brother and others:

XXVI. Boat of Cypress

That boat of cypress drifts along,
it drifts upon the stream.
Restless am I, I cannot sleep,
as though in torment and troubled.
Nor am I lacking wine
to ease my mind and let me roam.

This heart of mine is no mirror,
it cannot take in all.
Yes, I do have brothers,
but brothers will not be my stay.
I went and told them of my grief
and met only with their rage.

This heart of mine is no stone;
you cannot turn it where you will.
This heart of mine is no mat;
I cannot roll it up within.
I have behaved with dignity,
in this no man can fault me.

My heart is uneasy and restless,
I am reproached by little men.
Many are the woes I've met,
and taken slights more than a few.
I think on it in the quiet,
and waking pound my breast.

Oh Sun! and you Moon!
Why do you each grow dim in turn?
These troubles of the heart are like unwashed clothes.
I think on it in the quiet,
I cannot spread wings to fly away.

I haven't decided if it would be even more annoying for other people to have me sending or quoting poetry to them in order to make my point in a subtle way--some might call it passive aggressive. It might have worked in Early China, but contemporary Australian society is not so fond of people quoting book learning. More than half of me would expect to be dismissed as someone who couldn't come up with an argument for themselves and so had to resort to pretentious poetry. Still I like the efficiency of presenting a poem that could express the nuances of an argument while avoiding offence, simply because it's part of an acknowedged body of thought and diplomacy rather than entirely personal.

The other solution that has presented itself to me in response to the angst of my most recent posts, in particular the one on my feelings about the dismissal of social networking sites as an 'authentic' mode of social interaction, is that I'm now teaching in two subjects that are about new media and Web 2.0 applications. In retrospect I feel a bit silly that I was so readily drawn into the argument about whether online interaction was 'authentic' or not. In my defense I guess I had not yet theorised my experience of online environments to the extent that I could make a point about their value in an effective, less hostile, way. When I look at the body of academic work on digital communities, it's suddenly a no-brainer: new media is pervasive and becoming more so; if you ignore it, you do so at your own peril, because it has changed and continues to change the nature of human interaction at all levels of society from the social to the professional, through to the political process.

But I suppose even if I couldn't articulate it, then I knew it in an unreflective way. Here I want to say that I might have known it the way that Plato reports Socrates view of poets' wisdom:

Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in the same case, and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. (Plato 784)
This quote probably undermines my hope that the Classic of Poetry might be the solution to any of my troubles, but I do think that by having the opportunity, through teaching, to further examine my lived experience, I have been able to reach a greater understanding of my rather emotional response to the dismissal of the worth of social networking sites and other digitally mediated experiences, including Wii (aka the 'fancy butt warmer' pictured above).

More than the recognition that Web 2.0 and social media just aren't going to go away, however, I think the Eureka! moment on this issue came for me during Ien Ang's public lecture which I posted about over at Sarsaparilla Lite. The key word used by Ang was that of 'empathy', specifically she noted a lack of empathy in those 'elite commentators' who dismissed the television programme Dallas because of its popularity. For herself she was interested in Dallas precisely because she wanted to understand why so many people enjoyed it. Rather than setting herself above the programme and dismissing its viewers as 'others', she sought to find the common ground between them, searching for the substance of the connections in this instance that otherwise serve more broadly to sustain human society. Here, I don't want to suggest that anyone who takes a position against digital and social media, and can't or won't imagine the pleasure that others derive from it, is uniformly lacking empathy across all aspects of their interactions with people, but I do want to suggest that any evidence of a critical mass around a given cultural object or experience might be better understood as the opportunity to explore the sociality between fellow human beings rather than an occasion for othering fellow human beings all for want of understanding and empathy.

And now it's Good Friday afternoon. Happy Easter.


lucy tartan said...

Happy Easter to you too. That was a wonderful post.

captcha is 'irhydru', the dehydrating effect of going too long between refreshing draughts of Irn Bru.

Mark Lawrence said...

What a lovely post, Kirsty - it struck me that it was one you were 'saving' up for a while until it was ready to come out. Which are what some of the best blog posts are exactly like.

I've been struggling with the immediacy of social networking - in my case, twitter (i'm still refusing facebook at the moment) - and a sense of frustration that I want to know more than 140 characters, or even 2 or more strings of 140 characters. I'm all for the story, the back story, and the inside story. With the immediacy, I get sucked in to compulsively following what's going on and being reactive.

(Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying the writing discipline that twitter is offering my own writing: less back story/ inside story, and just the story...; more short and sharp.)

As a result, I'm returning to blogging - both my own and reading and commenting at others' – as a way to avoid twittering away my pressured time at work, and saving up for bursts of effort and reading and commenting and writing at hopefully more frequent intervals.

Which is why I keep coming back to various blogs in the hopes that someone has posted, (as well as, rather than instead of, twittered).

Which is why I'm really glad I dropped in on your blog again, today.

All those things you said about Socrates' understanding of the poets rang bells for me, but rather than genius, for me intuition - which I'm appreciating more and more. It sums up a lot of what I feel about my writing, especially how I am amazed at something I'd just written and wonder 'do I really think that?'. As an undergrad, I used to say that I didn't know what I thought about an essay topic until I'd written it. Though now the inspiration part of Socrates' equation strikes more often now, and I have the kernels of ideas first, and then muddle them out in the writing. As I appear to be doing now. I'll go do this somewhere else, shall I, such as on my own blog?

Happy Easter, Kirsty.

word: 'matical'

- 'of journeys on beach mats'.

dogpossum said...

1. we're cooking 'suburban food' a lot at our house too. This has bored our palets (sp? ah, who gives a fuck about spelling. not me!). We've been cooking this way because most of the food we cooked before is 'fattening'. How's that for a fuckful notion? Disturbing on zillions of levels. But part of me associates 'fancy cooking' with 'indulgence'. And 'eating well' (as in, eating to lose weight) is still, I guess, for me about denying myself nice things. The problem is, of course, with my own lack of imagination; I can cook fancy, not-fatty foods in smaller portions. Or can I?

2. We had guests for dinner last weekend (new potential-friends), one of whom is some rock star chef. He's a lovely bloke. I cooked the worst dinner I've ever made for company. It was inedible. I can no longer cook for company. I am shamed. 'Eating well' has killed my cooking skills. And the term 'eating well' is so challenging, isn't it? I like to think 'eating well' is about eating lovely food, well cooked, using wonderful ingredients. But somehow that type of food has been tagged 'guilt'. And 'eating well' has become about 'eating boringly'. Blah.

3. I read blogs regularly but rarely comment. I feel like I'm reading the paper - I want to see what other people have to say. So I write or contribute on my own blog. I read your blog regularly, Skirt - it's on my list. I like to think of blogging as pamphleting. We're writing pamphlets and distributing them ourselves. And then we meet up every now and then in person to talk. And drink. And laugh our pants off.
Perhaps we're a whisker away from a new type of social media which combines all these things? Or perhaps we should just get onto friendfeed?

Or perhaps we all need to comment more, to remind each other that we're listening?

Oanh said...

I hang out for your posts, but I don't always comment because I don't feel like I have much to add. If it helps, I'm often nodding, or looking thoughtful, or pausing to think some more, or re-reading a sentence because I like it. None of which translates very well into comments!

Interestingly (to me) I waas thinking you did not blog enough (a selfish thought because I want to read what you write, not a reproof) and then I noted that your 'count' of blog posts in 2008 was higher than mine. So - pot - me, kettle -you, black - accusation. Bad me. A perception error: I want to read your posts so I want more of them. I'm too lazy or busy or tired or uninspired to write my own and don't think about the external perception of that lag between posts.

I've got your tweets on RSS, but I agree with Mark - I don't find tweets anywhere near as satisfying as blog posts. I like the backstory. I like the lengthy paragraphs (surprised, hmm?). I find blog posts inspire my thinking; tweets mostly just assuage my curiousity. Though I've started contemplating whether to tweet.

Oh, and I *like* the time lag. I can nod and feel connected in my own time! Huzzah!

Zoe said...

That was a fantastic post. I'm like Oanh in not always commenting here - I think it's because your posts seem so much more thoughtful and complete in themselves than many others do.

And I'd love that piece for PDP, or anything at else you'd care to write. (And you check your email in about five minutes dogpossum!)

JahTeh said...

Twitter is like only eating one chocolate from the top layer of the box. I want to know all about that other layer.

Blogging is fantastic for links leading to other sites that I might not have found and reading about bloggers lives is the equivalent of the back fence gossip of the 'good old days'.

Reading cooking blogs is very good for dieting because after an hour of reading about the hard work involved, I'm not hungry.

meli said...

I also read a lot but rarely comment. Often I think - oh, I could say something here, I'll come back later. And then the moment passes.

From personal experience, sending people poems to express complicated emotions is a bad idea. They're too easy to read any way you want, to easy to take offense at...

Kirsty said...

You're all very lovely, and now I'm rethinking my opinion on Twitter and its relationship to blogging. I want the whole box of chocolates too!

I wonder if it's worth leaving comments like *looking thoughtful* or *nodding in vigorous agreement*. Heh.

Perhaps my challenge is to write more 'open' posts, that aren't so apparently self-contained. I think that might be a general life challenge for me, actually.