Monday, November 17, 2008

Dear Liss

An Open Letter to Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan

We started this letter a few days ago, in the middle of your discombobulating (to us) weeklong absence from Shakesville, the magnificent bastion of feminist/progressive commentary that you have painstakingly built in the blogosphere over the past four years. We were delighted to find you back in action today, with several posts and a long message about the crushing sense of fatigue that had driven you to consider abandoning the project for good. We decided to go ahead and finish this letter, because, like most such public epistles, it was always about much more than the occasion that produced it and the person to whom it was addressed – which is perhaps to say that it was always more about us than you, but here it is anyway. We want you to know how much we missed you and how fully we understand how you’ve been feeling.

You don’t know us, but we know you. We are a humble dog blog – a pimple on the butt of the blogosphere, as Moose says when she’s had a couple of drinks on a day when traffic is slow. We bow in homage to the mighty force of the teaspoon-wielding cadre of smarty-pants writers and fighters for justice you have assembled at Shakesville. We express our gratitude to you for your extraordinary effort to create and sustain an island of sanity, civility, and daily kitteh in a world too often lacking in such qualities. Even we dog bloggers can appreciate the importance of a daily dose of kitteh, I swear.

We understand that you are tired. Broke. Feeling near the end of your rope from months of overwork and under-appreciation through the course of an overly caffeinated presidential primary race and the general election. Ready to quit. Pack up your teaspoons and maybe head back to the real world.

We know how you feel, Liss. We’ve suffered from our own periods of blogger fatigue and anxiety disorder around here, though Roxie’s World is so much smaller than the vast left-wing empire that is Shakesville. By June 7, when Hillary Clinton formally suspended her presidential campaign, we thought perhaps we had embedded our last link, come up with our last synonym for “gritty,” and finished scouring the internets for flattering photographs of the junior senator of New York. What was the point, we asked ourselves? We lost or alienated friends during the primary campaign and saw our generally happy little comments section turn tense and weird. Oh, and our candidate lost, which kinda made us feel like our teaspoon had a hole in it or something. For reasons not entirely clear, we rallied our forces for the general election and wrote on, maintaining our principled refusal to endorse Barack Obama for president because of our objections to the way the party had resolved the nomination battle. Many of our readers were baffled (to put it mildly) by our perverse preference for the dry martinis of dissent over the brightly colored Kool-Aid of unity, but we soldiered on together, even bellying up to a virtual bar we set up in a blatant rip-off of the virtual pubs you host every Friday on Shakesville.

That’s just one of the many cool tricks we stole from you as we tried to turn Roxie’s World into a bigger, better, bloggier place. You’ve taught us so much, Liss, about the nature of online communities and the kind of political and analytical work that might be done there. Once we learned our way around Shakesville, it became one of our favorite blogospheric destinations. It’s rare to come upon a place where the writing is so consistently strong and the integrity so high. We admired the fact that you were as diligent in tracking misogyny aimed at GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as you had been in tracking that aimed at Hillary Clinton, because, as you patiently explained, that’s how feminism works. Would that other “progressive” commentators had been as committed to feminist principles as Shakesville was. We were grievously disappointed to see so many left-leaning citizen journalists willing to traffic in lies and the most toxic forms of misogyny – rape and murder fantasies – in order to tear down women candidates. We admired your willingness to call everybody out on his or her bad behavior.

Back to your burnout, though. We get it, Liss. We really do. Our situation is different from yours, in that blogging is your fulltime job, while I am an old dog who has never been expected to bring in much income for my household. My typist, on the other hand, does have a fulltime job that requires her to keep her head out of the blogosphere for extended periods of time to make sure that the world is safe for Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, and a generation of college grads going out onto a depressed job market armed with expertise in all things gay, queer, bi, and trans. (I know – Nice work if you can get it, right?) Though blogging is a labor of love for us, there are times when my typist feels overwhelmed by the demands of what almost feels like a second fulltime job. On her worst days, she feels that she doesn’t do either one of her jobs very well, that each suffers for not receiving her full attention and that she suffers from lack of sleep and the kind of regular exercise she got back in the days when she didn’t spend hours every single day hunched over a laptop trolling for material. She feels guilty about neglecting friends, family, and a range of obligations. She’s even gotten bad about paying her bills! Goose has learned to recognize a quality of distraction in her eyes and voice that means she’s lost somewhere in the blogosphere, either gathering or generating material, trying to help me find just the right angle or frame on some fresh news or outrage. “Are you listening?” Goose will say. “No,” Moose will sheepishly confess, as she peers up over her laptop screen.

There is a certain irony for Moose in the pressure she feels to research and write quickly for Roxie’s World. It is the opposite of what she is expected to do in her day job and more like what she experienced as a newspaper reporter during her misspent Midwestern youth. Moose left daily journalism for academia because she disliked having to process information so quickly and crank out words with the awful tick-tock of a deadline clock pounding in her ears. She craved time to reflect, to read deeply and to write without the constraints of journalistic formulae. For years after she escaped the newspaper business, Moose reveled in being able to let an idea unfold in a paragraph that went on for more than two sentences, though she has always credited her early training with making her writing crisper and clearer than typical academic prose.

Why do we blog, Liss? It all boils down to that question, doesn’t it? An old friend and one of the loyalest of my loyal readers once told Moose that Roxie’s World is the newspaper column she always wanted. There’s a lot of truth to that. She might never have left journalism if she could have skipped the thankless years of covering school board meetings and schlepping to the police station to record the weekend arrest reports and gone straight to having a platform for popping off a couple of times a week. Imagine how nice it would be to bump into Moose in the pages of the New York Times rather than the execrable Maureen Dowd! She loves being able to hold forth on whatever happens to capture her – and, er, my – attention in our crazily cluttered, hyperkinetic, multi-media universe. When she doesn’t feel burdened by the pressure to keep the blog fresh, she delights in the spontaneity of what we do here – the quick bits that stitch together two jokes, three links, a video, and a clever title; the longer pieces that analyze or brood upon some issue of the day, trying to capture some neglected piece of a story or the emotional penumbra of an event; the goofy slice-of-life vignettes that invite readers into the radically ordinary space inhabited by a dog, two moms, and a lone surviving goldfish on the outskirts of Washington, DC. She loves our experiments in comedy, because she is a funny girl at heart, even though she has never before in her life as a writer tried to put humor onto the page or screen. One of the great appeals and the enduring mysteries of blogging to Moose is that something in the medium allowed – indeed, impelled – her to try to “write funny,” as she puts it. If she ever stops blogging long enough to write the scholarly book about blogging she has been threatening to write recently, perhaps she will be able to plumb the depths of that mystery.

Oh, dear. As this letter goes on, I sense a crisis of persona management developing. All this talk of Moose’s writing and blogging may give readers the idea that my typist is something more than a typist. Paging Mark Twain! Paging Mark Twain! We are hemorrhaging credibility with every word! Please come to the elegantly appointed conference room on the third floor of RW Enterprises, LLC, immediately!

The thing is, Liss, Moose has a theory about identity in the blogosphere – a whole weird poststructuralist kind of thing about the voice of every blog being a persona made out of words, links, videos, and interactions with a constantly changing set of readers. She’s also been thinking through some stuff she picked up from Donna Haraway about how dogs and humans “make each other up” in and through their relationship as companion species. “Roxie the blogger is no more a fiction than I am,” she’ll say when we’re in the throes of composition. “No more – and no less.” The work and play we engage in here is all about intimacy and imagination, connection across difference, the mystery of what each of us sees in the eyes of the other. All love is mostly make-believe, don’t you agree, Liss?

This post has gone on so long that fans will think I have decided to become Bob Somerby in my old age, but I can’t close without touching on one more essential answer to the question of why we blog, because it has saved us from any temptation we’ve ever had to give up and just go back to being a simple dog and a more conventional English prof: the audience, of course. We don’t deny that blogging would be fun even if no one but Goose ever visited Roxie’s World, but it’s a richer place for all that my legions of loyal fans and those who stumble in through Google searches on Jodie Foster or Rachel Maddow bring to it. I know that big blogs like Shakesville have terrible problems with trolls and spam and the general difficulty of managing huge volumes of comments, but at its heart every blog is also a space where strangers – for even those of us who know each other in the “real” world are strangers in the not-quite-reality of cyberspace – experience moments of encounter and connection akin to what Samuel R. Delany (in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue) calls “contact."

Shakesville gets thousands of unique visitors per day, Liss. That’s thousands of possibilities, thousands of dreams, desires, and questions that lead restless fingers to click into the world you’ve called into being. I know you feel them out there, and I know you know that for every jerk, every naysayer, every stubborn ideologue, and every foul-mouthed creep, there are hundreds of friendly folks trying to figure out how to get through the day with integrity, purpose, and a sense of connection with like-minded others. Forget the jerks, Liss. Hold the friendly readers in your mind, and let us hold you in our hearts while you are tired and hurt and trying to re-kindle the beautiful energies that sparked the original conception of Shakesville. We owe you that much, you who have given so much of yourself to us – practically every day, for free, for so long. Gratitude feels inadequate, but that – and a tip in your jar – is what we have to give, and we give it gladly.

Thanks for all you do, and thanks for coming back. We hope you will feel you can stick around Shakesville for a good long while. We need you, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do next. Although you are a cat person, we hope you will accept a face lick and a five-paw salute from Roxie’s World, with our best wishes for your success and happiness.

Very truly yours,


  1. Anonymous6:12 PM EST

    Just one fish left?! Roxie, have you been snacking?

  2. Goose loves this long post, though she's pretty certain that some readers will be asking, "whatzzuppwiththat???" But it's important to pay tribute to other feminists working hard, and that's the primary reason that Goose LOVES THIS. Some fancy pants academic came out today to say that sexism is THE discrimination that almost everyone allows and almost no one questions. No shit, Sherlock!

    But Goose does have a couple of corrections (ok, maybe more): first, Moose almost never confesses to not listening on the first query ;) second, we have KOI, a single KOI, in our pond, NOT a "goldfish"; third, would Mark Twain EVER come to the third floor of RW Enterprises, LLC? Shouldn't you be meeting him at Ishmael's; fourth, IS all love "mostly make-believe"? Goose thinks NO. That's what makes LOVE, real love, different from everything else. All is make-believe, 'cept for LOVE. It's strong enough to trust to, or something like that ;)

    But you know what? All of my "corrections" are done in LOVE, which is what Shakesville and Roxie's World have always been about. May we see the same on our national front. And on the international front.

    With love & many kisses,

  3. Ha,NO, Aaron -- I haven't been snacking on the fish. I suspect the herons who hang out in Sligo Creek occasionally swoop by for midnight treats. In my younger days, I'd have chased them off the property, but now, between blogging and napping, I have to confess my fish security patrols have gotten short shrift. Perhaps if I had an energetic young man to race around the ridiculously large back yard screaming at the top of his lungs from time to time the birds would get the message. :-)

    And, Goose, saying that love is mostly make-believe is a compliment to love's power. 'Tis your own Emily who said, "To be Susan is Imagination" -- and she meant that as praise!


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