Ink

So, this happened.

Of course, it didn't quite just "happen": like I woke up from some bender with a typewriter on my arm. 

But it happened, in the sense that I walked into San Francisco’s Black Heart Tattoo on Valencia with one idea — a sailor heart with “MOM” on the banner — and ended up with this instead. But that’s sometimes how these things go: all the planning, all the analysis, and then you find yourself in the chair, being inked with an image that came to you in a flash and that you knew, immediately, was completely right. Or at least close enough.

My dad worked for IBM when I was a kid, and one of the highlights of visiting his Vancouver office in the early 80s was getting to call my Toronto friends long-distance on the company dime. The other was typing for hours on the heavy, humming IBM Selectrics that populated the office, crunching out words and sentences in analog before we even knew what that was. 

I wanted one of those machines, desperately, but they were out of my price range even with the family discount, and so when I was 13 I plunked down, on a whim, $300 for a lesser-quality electric typewriter at Woolworth’s. That machine — more specifically, seeing my words in type — gave me such a sense of power: what a rush, to press a key and have a machine respond so immediately, so eagerly, to my touch, to feel the speed and the weight of metal keys striking real paper, nothing between them but ink.

I don’t remember what I wrote on that typewriter, nor do I know what became of it — our family acquired a PC and a dot-matrix printer shortly thereafter, and that’s what I begin using for school assignments, letters, stories. My dad got me my very own PC when I started my undergrad degree, and it was on that computer’s internal modem that I first hooked up to the Internet sometime in the mid-90s. (“Guess how many e-mails I got today?” I once remember my friend Kim asking excitedly: “Twelve!”)

And the rest, you might say, is history: from e-mailing and primitive online chat to Facebook and Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Instagram, all of which I participate in fully, knowingly, even as I no longer actually type — three-quarters of a lifetime on keyboards and mice long ago blew out my forearms and wrists, and so now I dictate into my computer and my words and images appear magically on the screen, all over the world, with the silent push of a button and who knows what kind of behind-the-scenes machinations.

“What do you all do?” asked Cody, my taciturn tattoo artist, inking in the keys. (Everyone in the place was taciturn, not quite unfriendly but definitely not going to give me the benefit of the doubt — just another fortysomething walking in off the street without a clear vision and mostly virgin skin. The resplendently tattooed Farrah Braniff, who was with me and took all these photos, was determined to warm them up with a steady stream of Texan charm and tattoo cred, and eventually Cody got talking and laughing.)

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"Um, I’m a writer,” I said, gesturing to the stencil of the typewriter on my right bicep. He asked what kind of writing I did, and I explained: magazine, essays, blogs—

“Hey — there’s a blogging conference going on in San Jose!” he said, and we laughed, because that’s where we had just come from: BlogHer 2014. “A couple ladies came in last week were going to that.” And so we put two and two together and midway through my tattoo I was Twitter DMing, one-handed, with Tiffany and Christine, whom I’d met at the conference, and who now sported Cody’s seahorse and butterflies respectively. And of course I was fielding Facebook chat about the process, all the while Instagramming the ink, as Farrah took and shared photos.

Funny, isn’t it? The way these two worlds have merged? I spent a week in California, three days deep in Silicon Valley, discussing new paradigms for publishing, the increasingly visible Web, live-tweeting everything, texting and DMing and Facebook sharing privately and with the world so many of the details.

And yet, as always, what the conference was really about was direct connection: conversations over lunch and brunch and dinner, a quick coffee grabbed between sessions (thanks, Liz — and now I’m noticing sentence fragments everywhere, including the ones in this post), stealing away with my roommate/blog girlfriend for blog-girlfriend conversation the midst of it all, all the dozens of micro and macro connections made in real time, the way you can meet someone for the first time instantly know she’ll be your favourite.

And, as always, the best conversations and moments are probably the ones we don’t necessarily Tweet right away, or ever. Instead, they inform our writing, our work, our perspectives, get distilled into the words and the art, the bigger picture, keep us thinking, help keep us focused on the next project or adventure even when we can’t quite see how it will turn out.

I didn’t bring my computer to the conference — one more thing to weigh me down when I already have baggage about carrying too much — but after a week in California without making time to journal, I wrote eleven (yes, eleven) longhand notebook pages on the plane, taking up the better part of two hours just getting down thoughts and impressions, barely any analysis.

I didn’t take enough photos, don’t have the energy to write out all eleven pages’ worth of details here, and even if I did you wouldn’t want to read them all. But what I came away with from the conference is that, for me, blogging is still about the writing. Even if writing is no longer only about ink on paper. I led a session with Meiko Patton on self-editing at the conference, and when people asked about things like SEO, I just shrugged my shoulders. It’s not that I don’t care about the numbers, about visibility. Of course I want my posts to pop up first in searches, to reach a wide audience. But mostly, I want to play with words, write headlines that will make me happy, even while the blinking light in my SEO indicator stays firmly in the red. I don’t care if it goes green — I just hit publish when the words are ready (enough) to go.

In a world where so much is digital, it’s good to remind myself of that. It’s good to come away from the epicentre of technology reconfirmed in what I’ve almost always known: what I want most is to get the words out, to get them down, indelible. What I need most in this loopy, hybrid, digital/analog world are the words, as immediate as possible. Pen on paper, metal keys striking through the fabric ribbon, or my voice transmuted through microphone onto a blank page — that’s what that typewriter reminds me of, Cody’s hands etching it into me, metal needle on skin, nothing between the two but ink.


In between nothing at all

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I am in between right now.

That’s the best way to describe it. At this very moment, in between lunchtime pickup and collecting the kids from camp and childcare to take them to the dentist. Waiting for one load of laundry to finish washing and another to be put away. I am in between worlds, trying to follow what's going on in conflicts across the globe, caught between my desire to know more, to try to make sense of it all, and the overwhelming amount of information and opinions masquerading as understanding. I am in between jobs — everything is at design or with its editor or waiting for approvals, and I sit here with my checklist full of checkmarks, wondering what might next come down the chute. I am in between “work” and “vacation”: I head out tomorrow for a weekend in a tent with Isaac (I know, I know ...), and then next week to California and BlogHer, and I am so excited about that that I want to pull a Madeleine L’Engle and wrinkle time so that I can get there without all this messy business of being in between then and now, here and there.

(BlogHer, California: I want to see you, and you, and you, some of you whom I’ve met before in person and some of you for whom it only feels like it; I want to close the circle between the richness of last year’s conference — and the one before that — and this upcoming one, refuel with the physical presence of all you on-liners, and chance encounters, and spoken words, and dance-floor shenanigans to get me through another year.)

And so I’m in that space where I find myself saying, “I guess we’ll talk about that in August. I guess I’ll see you after I’m back,” as though nothing real can happen, no plans can be made, between now and then.

(Even this website is in between — you can’t tell right now, but it’s under a serious overhaul as I grow it up, take the ultimately rewarding also occasionally profoundly uncomfortable steps of shedding an old skin, moving to an online presence that’s a more accurate reflection of who I am, what I do (and what I want to do). Nothing like taking a hard look at all the work you’ve done over the past decade and a half and trying to quantify it. Nothing like talking about yourself for pages, struggling to find the happy place between honest portrayal and marketing-friendly. Especially for somebody who so loves to use em-dashes and parenthetical asides.)

It’s not my favourite state of being, this liminality, hovering between what’s happened and what’s next. I don’t like waiting for the ping of my e-mail (one just came in, by the way, from a magazine: they love that essay on Star Wars, but can’t use it, in case you want it), for the likes on Facebook, the reply to the text, as though they and not I will determine next steps.

I should be doing something, but what? Write, work, or step away from the computer, pull the kid (the one not at a beloved summer program this week) out of the babysitter’s, and head out on a river hike with a friend and her children — out of cell phone range, off the grid.

Because, these kids, they know how to be here now. We hiked (walked, meandered, skipped) through the wooded path out to the rocks and the river, until they suddenly stopped at a pool filled with tadpoles and baby salamanders, where they stayed for the next two hours, catching and releasing and processing and engaging in the usual discussion of the ethics of taking home living things in plastic bags. (“And what do you think it would be like if a giant monster came down and picked you up and said, ‘He’s so cute! I think I’ll take him home and put him in a jar and feed him motor oil! I'm sure he’ll like that!’”)

At one point, we asked — as grown-ups do — if the kids might like to walk a little further, a little higher up the river, and they replied immediately, in unison, “NO!” As though the idea was preposterous, even offensive, which it was: why on earth would they want to be anywhere but exactly where they were, right then? And who were we to ask?

They were right. And so we stayed, and played, and lay in the sun, and peed in the woods, and found a frog, and a spider with an egg sac, and a carnivorous plant, and looked and looked at the sky and the rocks and the trees, none of which were waiting for anything at all.

Frog

P1030756 It’s hard to write about feeling like a fraud.

(Freudian slip: I originally dictated “frog” up there instead of “fraud,” like I’m just sitting around, waiting to be kissed and recognized for what I truly am: a goddam prince. Maybe that’s a start.)

Frog, prince, frog, prince, frog … my voice-dictation software insists upon capitalizing “prince,” as though I must be writing about The Artist Formerly Known As and not some generic fairytale character/metaphor. Maybe I should take that as a sign as well. My computer, at least, thinks that I’m a sexy mofo.

But, frog. Fraud. Because I am struggling with a healthy case of imposter syndrome. And — especially because it involves writing, and blogging — I’m thinking that the best way to begin to move through is to write and blog about it.

I’m on a panel at the 2014 Mom 2.0 Summit. The panel, loosely, is on issue-based blogging and being a “true agent of change.” Which, at first glance, makes me feel like a deer caught in the headlights: what are my issues? What, really, have I changed? Is there any “truth” to my “agency”?

And then there are my co-panelists. My co-panelists are people who have worked directly with Hillary Clinton. They are people who have had Jeopardy questions written about their blogs. They are people who lobby Congress and speak to senators and found nonprofits. They are people with millions of readers and Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

And they are on a panel with me.

And yesterday morning, I got off a teleconference call with all of them as we plan for our panel, and they are all lovely, lovely women. And I’ve been to their blogs, and many of them write candidly and openly about their own vulnerabilities: their anxieties, their depression, their fraudulent feelings.

And yet my immediate response was still: Aren’t they all wondering why I’m on a panel with them?

Because I don’t feel like an agent of change. I don’t feel like a known voice in the blogosphere. I feel like I have some piddly little site with its few hundred Facebook fans and I haven’t cracked 1000 Twitter followers and barely anyone comments and so yes I put out a book but that was nearly five years ago and then I decided to stop writing my novel and how can someone as insignificant as me pretend to be a true agent of change?

And on what issue? Being a queer parent? This, too, feels fraudulent: I don’t queer parent all day; I parent. (And I barely parent all day —what with school and day care and working, sometimes it feels like I barely see my children.) And it’s hard to give myself credit for being an agent of change for something that I just do every day because the kids, well, they won’t parent themselves, now, will they? In any case, I write about so many other things — writing, cooking, my mom my mom my mom. Just being who I am, while a laudable goal, doesn’t really seem worthy of being set up as “an agent.”

God, sometimes I feel so Canadian.

I struggle with this sometimes. Usually I comfort myself by focusing on the quality of the writing. I’m here, I tell myself, because I’m a writer and this is my online notebook. I’m not here to make friends and cultivate fans — although it’s nice if and when that happens — but rather because what I need more than anything is a regular writing practice. I’m here primarily to hone this craft, to keep in shape, and only secondarily to win friends or influence people.

(Of course, that stance is also a convenient fallback when one doesn’t  I don’t win friends or influence people to the extent that one I might wish to. And as much as I don’t want to fetishize numbers and “likes” or prioritize them ahead of craft, there’s the uncomfortable possibility that — as cockily confident as I am about the quality of my own writing — I’m doing something wrong, or that I could be doing things differently or better and gaining the recognition that I truly merit deserve other people have.

You see how this is a slippery slope.)

So I got off the conference call and I lay across my bed with my forearm covering my eyes and I told all of this to Rachel, who nodded said: “Small-scale cultural work is still real, and important for social change.”

And I texted Vikki, who said, “You are there [on that panel ] for a reason. Also because you’re queer. You have a voice and create change in your own way. Remember — we still live in a time when it is radical to be out and visible as parents. It doesn’t always feel that way to us because we are desensitized to it all but to others we appear radical and brave and are a visible representation for others. We push the dialogue about families forward!”

(And she also said, in a related discussion about WTF to wear to the conference, “You have nice cleavage and know how to use it.”)

And then I updated my “About” page and added in a bunch of stuff that I actually have achieved. It’s not so shabby.

And then the May issue of Today's Parent arrived in the mail, with this in it:

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And then I thought about all the blogs that I read and don’t comment on, and the comments and private messages I’ve received over the years, thanking me for putting my voice out there, whether it's about grief, or parenting, or queer parenting, or something else altogether. And I thought about the way that this blog has been an online portal to some fantastic friendships and opportunities.

And you know? It helped. But I won’t pretend to be over my imposter syndrome. What I will do is continue to process it, and figure out a way to talk about it as honestly and openly as I can without trying to hide behind false modesty or exaggerated expressions of inadequacy. Or, for that matter, adequacy. (Can one exaggerate their own adequacy? That sounds super-Canadian, too: “She has an exaggerated sense of her own adequacy.”)

(God, I love words.)

So: today I am a frog. And maybe, also a Prince/prince. And holding both of those things in the same hand requires believing in two simultaneous, if somewhat contradictory, truths:

First, the only person has any real power to transform me from one to the other is me.

And second: sometimes, I yearn to be kissed.