Keeping a Notebook

This morning, I came across Joan Didion’s great essay, “On Keeping a Notebook” (via Brain Pickings). Since I love to keep notebooks—virtual ones, like on this blog, and material ones, like the several dozen composition books that I’ve written in over the past 20 years, I was drawn to the brief essay. Quickly reading through it, I was inspired to stop and pause at her pithy and honest response to why she keeps a notebook: “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” Yes! In reflecting on this statement, I decided to fashion it into a problematizer for my Staying in Trouble Tumblr:

This is a picture of my current writing and researching notebook. I use this notebook for jotting down my tentative ideas for blog posts, problematizers, digital accounts and more. Why do I do it? Partly for the same reason that Didion suggests. In my post, “An urgent need to document by process/ing,” I wrote about why I blog:

I think one of the reasons I write in this blog is to create a space where I am building up an archive of ideas and experiences that I can access, remember and engage with now or tomorrow or ten+ years from now. This archive not only serves as proof of my past/present/future existence, but it enables me to craft (and imagine?) and perform a self that endures through time, space and a range of sometimes contradictory experiences and that is connected through (rooted in? beside) past selves and to generations of family members and various communities.

Writing this blog post and revisiting my words about writing and remembering my self, raises a lot of interesting questions for me. I wish I had time to explore them now. Since I don’t, I’ll pose them with the promise of returning.


1. In her essay, Didion is careful to distinguish notebook writing from diary writing (which aims to be more factual and “true”) and public writing (which aspires to share and connect with others). The notebook writing to which she refers is private and intended for and perhaps only intelligible to her. How would we categorize blog/social media writing or recording? Does it blur the line between public and private? What does/should it aim to do? Where do I fit in my own blog writing versus my notebooks?

2. Later she writes:

Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self, interrupt with memories of beach picnics and favorite Liberty lawn dresses and the rainbow trout in a creek near Colorado Springs. The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout.

Is documenting the moments/fragments of our lives an unacceptably selfish activity? Is it always merely/mostly self-absorption? Just about us (the “I”)?

Didion argues that notebooks allow us to remember our past selves, to keep in touch with those selves so that we don’t forget them and so that memories of them don’t pop up on us when we least expect them. She continues:

It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

I want to think some more about this last line and what it means for the private documenting of our lives and our past/present selves. My immediate reaction is to disagree with her statement; our notebooks can be helpful to others! They are archival material that might provide some insight into who we were and what we were thinking. I know that I partly write to offer/leave an account of who I am for my kids.

But, as I think over her claim more I wonder if Didion isn’t trying to create space for a self who can remain unintelligible to others. Our notebooks don’t need to make sense to others. We don’t have to always explain what we mean. We can have a space for documenting whatever fanciful (or questionable) idea we have without having to always temper it with the question: but, will this make sense to others? As someone who has a strong impulse to be intelligible to others (but still manages to never quite be able to), this idea of a space of unintelligibility is exciting.

Speaking of unintelligible, I want to end this post with a few images from my current journal:

Oh Bother?! Gender Performance in Detergent Commercials

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how gender is performed/regulated in the recent “My Tide” campaign. But, I was never inspired to create an “Oh bother?!” about them until this morning, when I saw this commercial:

This commercial doesn’t make me angry, as in “Oh Bother!,” but it makes me curious, as in “Oh Bother?” How does masculinity shapes the language that the Dad uses to describe the mundane care-giving activities that he is required to do as a self-proclaimed “stay-at-home Dad”. Doing laundry isn’t a household chore, but “classic problem-solving” and fixing his daughter’s hair isn’t simply described as french-braiding, but in terms of “herringbone or fish-tail.” I wonder, does this re-framing of care-giving as work only apply to men/stay-at-home dads, or will also transform how we understand what stay-at-home moms do?

And, here’s another one that makes me curious:

What do we make of the girl’s interest in hoodies instead of pink, frilly dresses? Is this suggesting that norms for girls have changed? How does this change get undercut by the Mom’s desire for her daughter to continue wearing dresses?

Digital Moments: Some Experiments

Recently I got an iPhone 4S and the iMovie App. I’m enjoying using them in my digital accounts/storytelling experiments. I was initially skeptical of the app, especially after reading some of the reviews about its limited functionality. But, since it was only $4, I decided to try it out. I’m glad I did. So far, I’ve only used it for two brief projects, so I’m still in the very early stages of experimenting with it. As far as I can tell, you can’t:

1. Import video from other devices (so that rules out using my old footage)
2. Play around with the music files (so I can’t just use part of STA’s great music, but must use all of it, unless I edit it down somewhere else)
3.  Have black/white screens with titles (and there doesn’t seem to be a choice of fonts)
4. Choose between different fades (just dissolve, if I remember correctly)

But, after a few minutes of grumbling, I’ve found that I don’t mind having these limitations; they’re helping to shape what sort of video projects that I create using the app. Tentatively I’ve decided to use the app for doing (almost) daily digital moments: minute long digital stories that are fairly straightforward and are aimed at capturing a fleeting thought/idea/experience. One main purpose of these moments is to get in the habit of paying attention to/reflecting on/troubling my daily life. I want these videos to be really quick and easy to make, so that they won’t take up all of my time. The iMovie app is extremely easy to use. I can do video directly in it or easily grab photos, videos or audio from my iPhoto and iTunes. I can split clips by swiping down and delete bits I don’t want with a double-click. And I can quickly share the video to Vimeo (which my preferred online space for video; you can also share to youtube and facebook).

Here are the two digital moments that I’ve created so far:

From Saturday, November 10th

From Monday, November 12th

An interesting note about using these moments to pay attention/be aware of my everyday experiences: Throughout the second moment, a fairly loud plane is passing overhead. Having lived in the house for 8 years now, I’ve managed to tune out the sound of planes at the nearby airport. When I was shooting the footage, I remember thinking how quiet and peaceful it was outside (well, that was until RJP appeared and began singing!). In editing/creating this moment, I was surprised to hear the plane; it made me question and re-think my perception and memory of my experience in/with the snow.

Some Monday Reflections

Some days I look at my twitter feed and I don’t find anything that makes me curious or inspires me to ask questions and reflect. But, not today. I don’t know if it’s the 16 oz latte, my 2.5 mile jog at the YWCA, or the early snow that has my “little gray cells” working overtime, but I have a big list of items to think/reflect/trouble/write about on this snowy, cold Monday in November. At first, I was planning to write a series of blog entries on each topic, but I soon realized that that was too much. So instead, I’ve decided to create a post with just a few of the links, along with some reflections.

Item One

Did Jezebel cross the line by ratting out teens for their racist tweets?

Background: Shortly after President Obama was re-elected last week, some twitter users began tweeting their highly racist reactions. And the data-mapping experts over at Floating Sheep tracked and mapped them. This tracking, particularly how the map made visible where certain clusters of racism tweets existed (i.e. Alabama and Mississippi), was a popular topic on twitter, facebook, blogs and online news sources. A few examples: Map Shows You Where Those Racists Tweeting After Obama Election Live (Colorlines), The Racist States of America (Daily Mail UK) and Twitters Racists React… (Jezebel).

According to Slate, Jezebel took their tracking of the story too far, by not only publicly shaming the twitter users, who were primarily teens, but by

reaching out to the tweeters’ schools to get the kids in trouble (and, presumably, to gin up page views). They then meticulously noted each administrator’s response. They also updated us, gleefully, on the status of the students’ twitter accounts: Which kids were embarrassed enough to delete them? Which ones offered half-assed excuses? Which ones doubled down on their racism?

Here’s Jezebel’s follow-up post, detailing their efforts to contact the tweeters’ school officials in order to hold the tweeters accountable and in the hopes that the officials could “educate them on racial sensitivity.” In their critique of Jezebel’s actions, Slate author Katy Waldman, argues that a major media outlet like Jezebel is not the appropriate venue for meting out discipline. It not only punishes these “stupid kids” too severely for their lack of judgment (evidence of their mistake and the resultant shaming will exist for years online), but is more likely to piss them off and shut them down, then encourage them to be educated and accountable for their tweets. Here’s the closing line of the brief article:

Morrissey writes: “We contacted their school’s administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students’ ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity.” Perhaps. More likely, as my colleague put it in an email: “It probably won’t make them less racist if they’re bitter forever.”

Initially, I felt that the Slate article was a bit too harsh but now I’m not so sure. These tweets are abhorrent and the users who tweeted them should be held accountable, but these teens are minors and represent only a handful of individuals who contribute to (but have not created) the larger systems of structural racism in this country. To shame only these kids (or primarily these kids) enables us to ignore/suppress the larger structures of racism and to fail to consider all of the ways that racist attitudes continue to exist within this country. It’s much easier to focus our attention on a few “stupid kids,” then to face the reality that, as Colorlines’ author Jorge Rivas writes: “racists are everywhere.”

This Slate article raised some interesting questions for me:
1. How should we hold users, especially teen users, accountable for their tweets?
2. What sorts of resources are available for educators, parents, community members for learning how to be more accountable and responsible online?
3. After further reviewing comments from the Jezebel post, I came across this thread in which commenters discuss how they’re contacting school officials. One user refers to these actions as internet vigilantism.

Is “internet vigilantism” an effective tool for holding individuals accountable?

Item two

Two Random Encounters with Judith Butler

1. I found an excellent quotation (from a recent interview) on a great post by Michael D Dwyer about teaching pop culture. His use of this quote comes in a section of his post in which he discusses how we can be both critic and consumer of pop culture (this was a big focus in my pop culture class from 2007).

2. I learned about an advice book that Butler contributed to via this Brain Pickings post. This find is one of the reasons why, even as I am wary of Brain Pickings, I still follow them on twitter. Butler contributes an essay on “Doubting Love,” in the 2007 advice book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation. Looking forward to reading this one; I’ve already requested it from the Minneapolis Public Library! I’d like to think about this advice book in relation to my other research on the self-help industry.

Item Three

Well, I’m quickly running out of time (less than a half an hour before I must pick up RJP from school), so I can’t write much more. Why am I not surprised?! Here’s a In Media Res curated series on The Second Lives of Home Movies that I want to read and reflect on…and put beside my work on home tours.

Bonus Item

Inspired by the snow this morning (and by my desire to experiment with my new iMovie app), I created a digital moment: Minnesota Weather. I plan hope to write more about my thoughts and experiments with the iMovie app soon. For now, here’s my digital moment + my description of the story):

minnesota weather: a digital moment from Undisciplined on Vimeo.

I’ve lived in Minneapolis for the past 9 years (plus 4 years in St, Peter, MN for college and 18 months in Minneapolis in the late 90s) and I still haven’t gotten used to the unpredictable weather. Minnesotans always say, “Don’t like the weather? Just wait 10 minutes.” I was reminded of this phrase when I woke up this morning. Just last week it was sunny, with beautiful leaves on the trees. And, just two days ago, it was in the upper 60s. But, when I looked out my window this morning, around 7 AM, there was snow on the ground. This example of pure Minnesota seemed worthy of a digital moment.

BESIDE: It’s alright to cry

Just a few minutes ago, I watched President Obama’s speech to his workers/supporters at his campaign headquarters in Chicago. Beautiful. There was much in his remarks that made me pause, reflect and be proud of what we did on November 6, 2012: his valuing of social justice, his recognition that he is a self-in-community and not an autonomous I, his articulation of hope. But what really struck me this morning was his willingness to cry and to share that crying with others (both at the headquarters and via social media). Instead of being an embarrassment, treated as evidence of his weakness, this video of him crying is being celebrated and shared by his official website. Accompanying the video is the following text:

What a powerful message to send to boys (and to all kids and grown-ups)! I’m reminded of another video in which an African American man suggests that it’s alright to cry: Rosey Grier’s rendition of “It’s Alright to Cry” from Free to be…you and me.