Negotiating Online Boundaries

“Mom, you just don’t get Tumblr,” my daughter insists.

She’s partly right. I have a Tumblr, of course, but I don’t use it much. Merlin can spend hours being alternately horrified and delighted by the parade of images at her fingertips. I’m easily bored with it. I thought, ‘Well, maybe I just need to take a lesson or two from an expert,’ so I wandered over to her page to check out what’s got her so enthralled. When I entered her email to find her, it automatically made me a follower so I could view her page, but it didn’t notify me on the screen. I scrolled through her posts, nearly had a seizure from all the animated gifs and decided that, all things being equal, I could probably stand not to engage on this platform, but in the interest of giving it a fair trial, I signed up to follow some education tumblrs and a couple of people my daughter follows.

Three days later, I had decided that there’s nothing I want on Tumblr that I’m not already getting elsewhere. By then, though, Merlin had noticed that I was following her and the vlogbrothers, and she pulled her father aside to ask him if he would talk to me about my invasion of her space.

I get it.

She’s thirteen, and she “gets” Tumblr, and she loves John Green, and in a real sense, those things “belong” to her. In her view, they do not belong to me, and my interest in them is suspect. Even though I recommended John Green to her, and I had no intention of spying on her posts, my accidental “following” of her Tumblr felt like an encroachment on her space.

In a horrifying reversal, I’ve had several online border disputes with my own mother. I write about things, and I post them, and sometimes I link to the posts on Facebook. When my mother has something to say about a post on my blog, she comments on the link on Facebook which drives me nearly to distraction. The personal and painful things that I sometimes write about in my blog posts are not read by the majority of my Facebook “friends,” so when Mom posts lengthy and personal commentary on them on my Facebook, I feel caught in a conundrum. On the one hand, my blog posts are haphazard, and the few interested parties like to be notified when I make one, on the other, I expect any specific or lengthy reaction to the posts to be routed through the blog itself or through private message. I use Facebook for “liking” and “sharing,” not necessarily for communicating.

So what space is mine and what is theirs? Merlin’s attempt to toss me out of her space produced mixed results. Her father insisted that one of us follow her on Tumblr because she is too young to have unfettered roaming rights online. I’ve quietly deleted Facebook links that generated commentary that I felt got too personal, but I’ve never attempted to have a conversation with my mother about it.

The metaphors of space tied up in conversations about the internet imlpy (to the capitalist mind, certainly) issues of ownership and property, of what is “appropriate” in a given “location,” with the boundaries (often imperfectly) agreed upon by the users. What are our territorial rights and responsibilities online?

Managing Online Identity

Welcome! This is my public/professional space to collect all the materials and ideas that skitter across my path from here to the end of my PhD. It feels strange setting all this up when I’m not looking to market myself for an academic job, almost like I’m jumping the gun, but it seems wiser to get it started now and build it as I go along than to wait until I need it and cobble something together. I confess it makes me both queasy and excited every time I have to set up a new digital stage for my work. Queasy because I have such a long trail of failed/abandoned projects and excited because part of me insists that all those failures were really just learning experiences setting me up to get it right… eventually.

Over the last ten years, I’ve poured a tremendous amount of time and energy into online composition. Sometimes I’ve felt rewarded for the effort and sometimes discouraged. Many (most) of those email accounts, journals, blogs, and photo-sharing sites are abandoned. Every year or two I get manic about knowing all the logins and passwords and drive myself crazy trying to recover posts or pictures, trying to remember who I was when I set up that account. I go spare worrying about the rights to content I’ve made and content I’ve “sampled.”

I’ve used account names that reflect my real name and pseudonyms meant to protect it. Some platforms actively encourage (demand!) one form or the other. I’m not sure how you can know which username you want until you experiment with a new service and understand how you are going to use it. I know there are arguments for complete transparency and complete anonymity, and I know that most people use a mix of both. I’ve found that my online identities seem to fall into four distinct categories: Public, Private, Professional, and Play.

My public accounts are recognized by family and friends and often co-workers and acquaintances (if they are interested in the content). Everything I post is meant to be accessible to anyone who might be interested whether they know me or not.

My private accounts may have no links to people I know in person, or may be recognizable only by a few friends, or may be “friends only” – closed off to anyone I haven’t vetted. The idea of a private account is to have a space to post without fear of reprisal and with some confidence that the “privacy” of the post will prevent hurt feelings and damaged reputations.

My professional accounts are in place for potential employers seeking information. They are, in essence, a public advertisement, and they are meant for people who are looking for me specifically, regardless of my content.

My play accounts are in place to try things out. Perhaps I want to blog every day for a year, but I’m worried about the quality of content that might be generated from such an enterprise. Perhaps I want to create an online comic or vlog, but I don’t quite have the artistic or technical skill to pull it off right away. Play accounts are not necessarily private, but they may not be linked to or acknowledged by your professional or public online identities.

Different platforms may lend themselves to one use or another, but many of them can be tweaked, and all of them can be used as play accounts. Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, and Dreamwidth can be made more or less private depending on the settings. (Here I am talking of general privacy and not whether any of them are relaying your info to advertisers or businesses for the purpose of profit.) LinkedIn markets itself as a professional account community. Pinterest is entirely public, as far as I can tell. You might be able to obscure your name, but you can’t hide your content. It would defeat the purpose of the site.

So what is all this mess, then? It turns out that navigating identity online may be as complex as it is in-person. Perhaps even a bit more complex since I’m not sure we are all clear on the terms of engagement. How do you decide who gets to see your content? How do you decide what content to put up? How do you respond if someone misinterprets your content? It happens all the time, and right now, we are learning to deal with it “on the job” as it were. Are there ways to teach internet safety and ethics that go beyond admonitions not to reveal on twitter that you are away from home for two weeks? How do you get to know the “who” behind the “what” that you are reading? I think learning to curate our digital lives is going to become increasingly important as we move more and more of our lived experience into online spaces. I use such spaces daily to reinforce and maintain the connections I’ve made in person and to build connections based on shared interests and concerns with people I may never encounter in person. We can expect the platforms to continue to evolve, and I suspect we may always be just that little bit behind them in anticipating the rhetorical difficulties (and novelties) of social media, but it is critical that we get people to “join the conversation” about what it means to have a life online.

ETA: relevant recent post on io9

Slow News Day

I made green enchiladas with chicken for supper.  Probably one of the easiest things I make – it’s all assembly – and I owe a shout out to Shannon Aguirre for first introducing the idea to me.  The recipe, such as it is:

1 can green enchilada sauce
2 cups cooked chicken, cut up
1/2 onion, chopped and sauteed (if you like)
Monterey jack cheese
12 corn tortillas
broth or oil to soften the tortillas in.

Pour enough green sauce in the bottom of a baking pan to cover.  Heat the broth or oil, dip the tortillas in, fill them with chicken, onion, and Monterey jack cheese, roll up and place seam side down in the baking pan.  Cover with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle with cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Still sick and miserable.  It’s getting boring.  I used all my energy today taking a one-and-a-half mile walk because it was such a completely awesome gorgeous day, and I have been trapped in the house for almost three days now.  I’m taking antihistamines and decongestants all day and Nyquil at night.  I’m actually answering my phone.  It’s gotten that bad.  If I still feel sick on Monday, I’m going to the doctor.

being sick/making soup

I am sick.  Being sick really sucks a lot.  You all know this.

When I stay home sick, I piddle around the house and clean.  It can take all day, partly because housework will expand to fill the time, but also because I feel lousy.  I take medicine, and when it kicks in I.Feel.Great! – so much better than I did when I was irrevocably glued to the bed.  I get up, drink 4 cups of black tea with sugar, and become SuperProductive for about three hours.  Then crash.

I understand some people just watch a movie.  That probably would have been wise.

I did three loads of laundry, two loads of dishes, swept and mopt (this is how this word should be spelled) the house, put the bread dough that Merlin and I made on Sunday into the oven, and made Potato and Kale soup from an old Cooking Light recipe. Most of this activity took place between 10:47 and 2:15.  At 2:15 I started coughing again, so I made my 5th cup of tea and settled in to watch Color Splash on HGTV and The f word on BBC America.

Now I am going to eat my soup and then take some Nyquil.

Rosemary Walnut Bread

Potato & Kale Soup

I need to fix the date stamp on my camera.  And I will post recipes when I figure out how to insert code into my blog template to enable cut tags.  Jeez, this should not be difficult.

why i haven’t quit yet

I want to share a conversation that took place in my classroom on Friday, but first: an introduction to the key players.

Student 1: Came to my class about two weeks ago.  I asked him, “Where did you come from?  Another teacher here?  Another school?  Another town?”
“I came from JLC  miss.” 
“Ok.  Is that here in town?”
“No!  Don’t you know miss, it’s the state Ju-Ve school.”
“Oh, Ok.”
“You wanna see pictures of my son?”
Our conversation went on to cover how long he had been in a Juvenile detention center, how old his two children with two different baby-mamas were, how often he got to see them, and what he could write about for his first rough draft for me.

Student 2:  A skater boy with long emo hair who has not done a stitch of work for me without serious argument and negotiation, always at the last minute

During SSR when everyone is supposed to be reading, Student 1 and Student 2 are both doing nothing and trying to blame each other.  I threaten and hand them books, and they quiet down momentarily, and then:
Ju-Ve says, “You’re pretty,” to skater boy.
Skater boy replies, “You’re a fag!” to Ju-Ve.
Ju-Ve says, “You really wanna get on that train?”

In deference to the (relative) silence of the room, I suppress the laughter threatening to burst out of me by covering my mouth with my hand and shaking uncontrollably.  It doesn’t really work.  I finally say, “I’m sorry, do people really say that?” and then go back to my shaking silently gig.  They catch it from me and are now trying to control their giggles as well.

We survive the next fifteen minutes reading, and on the way out Ju-Ve tosses some comment about how stupid reading is, and I ask him, “You really wanna get on that train?”

He doesn’t.

Long Work Day

Very tired.  I need a break from work, I think, but I’m kind of afraid to leave my squirrely new class with a sub until it is better settled.

I wish I could figure out how to pay off my house.  Why is this so hard?

In other news, I’m deciding to adopt the “fake it ’till you make it” attitude and calling myself a writer.  I want to fill out some official form, so I can put it down as my profession.

I’m having a cup of tea and thinking of turning in early. It was that sort of day.  It ended well, though.  My friend brought the children home for me, and I made supper.  I tried to clean the grime out of the bathtub (I was about half successful.) and then I took a shower.

We’ve been talking about the possibility of selling this house and moving because we are unable to refinance it at a reasonable interest rate.  It’s ridiculous.  In June, we will have been in this house for 10 years.  It’s the longest either of us has ever lived anywhere.  It’s true that mowing the grass and maintaining the house is a pain, and that it is kind of a money pit because I am always thinking of projects, but…I like this house.  I like where it is.  I like that it looks like me.  I have rosemary and lavender and roses and jasmine growing here.  It was built in the 70’s, so the bedrooms are tiny and the front hallway opens onto an awkward room that has variously been a living or dining area (it is now both, sort of). I feel like we’ve finally settled into an arrangement that pretty much works for us.  My environment is important to me.  Is it $1400/month important?  Is it 10% interest important?  Is it “poison ivy has attacked my husband again” important?  I don’t know.  Maybe?

I’m pretty decent with numbers, but I don’t have a head for these emotional decisions.  I’m going to sleep on it.

I might be losing it

I’m thinking about taking a sabbatical from my job.  I still love teaching, but…I don’t know.  Existential Crisis.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  My husband assures me it can be done.  He’s probably right.  I think I’m just worried about asking that level of sacrifice from all of us (myself included!  Though I haven’t had a massage since July, I am hopeful.)

What would we be giving up, exactly?  Movies, restaurants, travel, concerts, plays, eating.  Seriously, we can live off his paycheck if I can figure out our food.  I’m not even sure what we spend on food. 

Then there’s the health insurance thing.  Right now the kids’ coverage comes out of my paycheck.  If I stop working, insurance will go up at least $200, and it will have to come out of his check.

It means I really need to piece together $1600 a month, and that’s for subsistence.  Not sure how to do that.  Thinking on it, though.  It would help if we could actually refinance the house.

I have a long list of home repair/replacements that should probably happen before we lose half our income.

Despite the sheer terror i am feeling, I’m also kind of excited about it.  I worry, though, that I won’t use my time productively, that I will disappear into supporting my children’s school and social lives.  It would be easy to do. 

I don’t know how to find out the answer to this question without just jumping in and trying it.

I can’t multi-task

I expect my modern existence will be revoked now. I’ve been staring at this screen with things to write that I haven’t been able to get out because of the noise from the TV, from the other computers in the house. I can’t string together a coherent thought. My life is full of noise. I’ve made it that way. I seek out the chaos. I enjoy it. I enjoy taming it, and I enjoy giving up to it. I’m spry. I’m finding that spry means that I seem to dart and dash without building anything. The constant running keeps me busy, and that busyness keeps me from becoming introverted, which is not good for me these days. I’ve lived my life thus far by improvisation, going where the wind blew me. “Blooming where I was planted,” as many well-meaning people have described me. And it’s worked for me, I guess. It’s kind of zen. Wake up in the morning, see what the day brings, don’t borrow trouble, all that… But I’m wishing that I was doing something real. I’m wanting a serious goal, a serious reason. I don’t quite know how to find one, I think. I’m not sure I’m a serious person, to tell the truth. I don’t let myself concentrate on it much. That’s pretty much the only defense I can make, and it’s pretty much crap. Where do you start to set lifegoals when you’re 35? I don’t feel that I even have a clear idea of how to define what I’m after. My day-to-day existence is pretty cool, actually. I have people I love, students I teach, projects I abandon, and stories shot through all of it. What more am I seeking, exactly? Money? Fame? Purpose? Enlightenment? And then sometimes, I think I want something that I do for the simple love of it. Because it makes me happy. What is it that I simply love? I feel too tired and distracted to even think about it. Even now, I’m splitting my attention – thinking about making a birthday wishlist. I’ll go ahead and do that here: bike knitting needles cool mighty boosh stuff music maybe a kindle dx? (not sure on this one) That’s all I’ve got that feels like birthday. Of course, I have a list of house projects and ideas. I want to pay things off, and travel, and spend time with just my husband, and with just my family, and with just my friends, and with just myself. I want to make something of myself. I want to make something cool for dinner. But those desires are ongoing. Judging by the company I keep, they are widespread, as well. Everyone I know worries about juggling commitments, dividing their time and money into smaller and smaller slivers to parcel out to hungry schedules. We are all muddling through. Lives of loud desperation. I need the quiet.


I hate confrontations. I’ve been known to put up with some ridiculously bad situations for a ridiculously long time in hopes of just outliving the problem. I’m a patient woman. I teach 15-year-olds for a living. So today I stirred up some trouble and went looking for a fight with, of all people, my principal. I wrote a long (3 page) letter about how I didn’t like his evaluation of one of my lessons and besides that his new regime was sending us into a death spiral of negativity. Something along those lines. Now I’m just waiting. His move. I might have mentioned that I teach 15-year-olds. It’s an odd sort of thing to do with your time. And it’s full of confrontation. But I like it. We wrangle, we negotiate, we laugh a lot. I traumatize them with the literature that traumatized me. Good times. I tease sometimes that teachers live on caffeine and gratitude, and we pay for the caffeine ourselves. But it isn’t really a tease. I live to see a kid delighted by a book or writing an essay that reflects how they really think about things – in ways that other people can understand. I understand that the first step to that end goal is often resistance. Loud, forceful resistance. To which I smile and say, “I think you should write about that.” I wear them down. It takes a while. They learn that resistance is futile. And then they turn that energy into something productive for themselves. Sometimes it occurs to them to thank me. I am the immovable object. I teach them to become the implacable force. And I could mainline coffee with no appreciable difference in my personality or sleep patterns.

My yearly post

Long about this time of year, I feel an itch to write that will not be ignored, and cannot be satisfied until I spend some hours trying to remember my login and password from the previous year. Fun times. Anyway, here I go again. With the writing thing. Not sure what is going to appear here, but since it’s really only me reading it, I should be safe to say any damn thing I like. Cheers.