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I'm not who I was then, now :
b performing identity girl cams and blogs
h [electronic resource] /
by Katherine Bzura.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: The task of documenting the evolution of the self over time has been attempted by women artists throughout history. The practice of this documentation has been greatly enhanced in the last several years by the progression of new technologies for the capture of digital images, the advent of the internet as a common textual and visual communication device, and the availability of free resources to publish and disseminate the resulting constructions. Women artists now have the tools needed to document the life of the self, and to publish it immediately to an audience. Most of the women documenting their lives on-line, in real time, do not consider themselves to be artists, and the art world has yet to embrace their practice as artistic activity. But as documents of women's performance, these sites are important historical, visual and cultural occurrences.In addition to containing both textual and visual elements, these endeavors incorporate and elucidate the concept of performativity of gender. In watching these sites (cams and blogs) of women's performance over time, it becomes clear that identities are complex constitutive creations, on both sides of the computer screen. The women of this study are doing, making and inventing a way to assemble the stories of their lives for a reading and looking audience in a manner that calls attention to the way all subjects are made by language and culture. The sites of these productions, located in the space of the internet, offer the spectator an opportunity to interface and form relationships with visual materials and contents. In the space opened up between viewer and artist/performer, identity work can be accomplished and the masquerade of femininity can be critically assessed in new and engaging ways.The challenge and the promise of this research: the journey into the spaces of these sites, with all of their varied formations of identity and performance as woman, will provide a document that both claims these practices as unique artistic performances of self and delineates new possibilities for looking.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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Advisor: Bradley Nickels, Ph.D.
x Art History
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
I'm Not Who I Was Then, Now: Performing Identity in Girl Cams and Blogs by Katherine Bzura A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Art History College of Visual and Performing Arts University of South Florida Major Professor: Bradley Nickels, Ph.D. Elizabeth Bell, Ph.D. Soraya Murray, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 6, 2007 Keywords: art history, performance theory, new medi a, autobiography, selfportraiture Copyright 2007, Katherine Bzura
i Table of Contents List of Figures ii Abstract iv Mirror 1 Chapter One What is a Cam Girl? What is a Girl Cam? 2 Chapter Two What About Blogs? 12 Chapter Three That Was Then Jennicam 22 Chapter Four Making Do Anacam 30 Chapter Five Reading Heather 39 Post Partum Depression Meets Post-Partum Document 43 Mary Kelly as Precedent for Dooce 44 Chapter Six Looking at Stephanie Klein 51 Carving A Greek Tragedy 54 Chapter Seven Watching Monica 60 The Girl Who Lives in Another CuntTree 62 Steckel and Other Forgotten Feminists 65 Chapter Eight Now, Disappearing Grief 70 Bibliography 74 Appendices 80 Appendix A Figures 81 Appendix B Heather Armstrong and Post-Partum Depre ssion 121
ii List of Figures Figure 1 Jennicam webcam captures 81 Figure 2 Jennicam Life, Online 82 Figure 3 Jennicam and anacam site structure/cam interface 83 Figure 4 Time s Person of the Year You cover 84 Figure 5 Jennicam early site portal 85 Figure 6 Jennicam example of cam capture of Jenni at her desk 86 Figure 7 Jennicam examples of appearance/disappearance 87 Figure 8 Jennicam Jenni is absent but there is always a promise of return 88 Figure 9 anacam as art 89 Figure 10 Ana Voog self-portrait 90 Figure 11 Ana in the mirror 91 Figure 12 Ana documents the documenters 92 Figure 13 Ana Voog journal entry with self-portrait 93 Figure 14 Ana changes from moment to moment 94 Figure 15 Ana documents her changes on anacam 95 Figure 16 Ana morphs 96 Figure 17 About Heather Armstrong 97 Figure 18 Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document: Documentation VI, Pre-Writing Alphabet, Exergue and Diary (detail), 1978 98 Figure 19 Dooce snapshot of our mornings in bed 99 Figure 20 Dooce on the left part of the dresser 100 Figure 21 Dooce Daily Picture Letas room with the toddler bed 101 Figure 22 Dooce Heather Armstrong most comfortable in this po sition 102 Figure 23 Dooce piano 103 Figure 24 About Stephanie Klein 104 Figure 25 Greek Tragedy the family jewels 105 Figure 26 Greek Tragedy to-do to-have to-hold and more to-dos 106 Figure 27 Greek Tragedy consumption the foxy kitchen 107 Figure 28 Eleanor Antin, Carving: A Traditional Sculpture (detail), 1973. 108 Figure 29 Stephanie Klein photos of me (detail) 1 09 Figure 30 Greek Tragedy a nod to sunblock 110 Figure 31 The Girl Who 111 Figure 32 The Girl Who Street Fair 112 Figure 33 Judy Chicago, Red Flag 1971 113 Figure 34 The Girl Who self-portrait 114 Figure 35 The Girl Who self-portrait grid 115 Figure 36 Anita Steckel, Rodeo (Giant Women in New York), 1973 116 Figure 37 The Girl Who self-portrait mirror with screen 117
iii Figure 38 The Girl Who inner peace self-portrait 118 Figure 39 The Girl Who self-portrait And You Thought I Was Only Into 119 Figure 40 The Girl Who Last Night I Dremt of You 120
iv Im Not Who I Was Then, Now: Performing Identity in Girl Cams and Blogs Katherine Bzura ABSTRACT The task of documenting the evolution of the self o ver time has been attempted by women artists throughout history. The practice of this documentation has been greatly enhanced in the last several years by the progression of new technologies for the capture of digital images, the advent of the internet as a common textual and visual communi cation device, and the availability of free resources to publish and disse minate the resulting constructions. Women artists now have the tools ne eded to document the life of the self, and to publish it immediately to an audie nce. Most of the women documenting their lives on-line, in real time, do not consider themselves to be artists, and the art worl d has yet to embrace their practice as artistic activity. But as documents o f womens performance, these sites are important historical, visual and cultural occurrences. In addition to containing both textual and visual elements, these endeavors incorporate and elucidate the concept of performativity of gender. In watching these sites (cams and blogs) of womens performance over time, it bec omes clear that identities are complex constitutive creations, on both sides o f the computer screen. The women of this study are doing, making and inventing a way to assemble the
v stories of their lives for a reading and looking au dience in a manner that calls attention to the way all subjects are made by langu age and culture. The sites of these productions, located in the spac e of the internet, offer the spectator an opportunity to interface and form relationships with visual materials and contents. In the space opened up bet ween viewer and artist/performer, identity work can be accomplished and the masquerade of femininity can be critically assessed in new and en gaging ways. The challenge and the promise of this research: the journey into the spaces of these sites, with all of their varied for mations of identity and performance as woman, will provide a document that both claims these practices as unique artistic performances of self and delinea tes new possibilities for looking.
1 Mirror I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Whatever I see, I swallow immediately. Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike I am not cruel, only truthful The eye of a little god, four-cornered. Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so l ong I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over. Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me. Searching my reaches for what she really is. Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the m oon. I see her back, and reflect it faithfully She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands I am important to her. She comes and goes. Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkn ess. In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an ol d woman Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fis h. -Sylvia Plath
2 Chapter One What is a Cam Girl? What is a Girl C am? All media are extensions of some human faculty ps ychic or physical. The wheel is an extension of the foot, the book is an extension of the eye, clothing an extension of the skin, electric circuit ry, an extension of the central nervous system. Marshall McLuhan in The Medium is the Massage New media are proving themselves to be eerily simil ar in practice to the musing imaginations prophesied by philosophers of t he recent past. The internet has proven itself to be a lasting site of cultural production; growing to be as vital to the navigation of our daily lives as the synapse s and electrical firings of our cerebral cortex allowing us to move about, in and out of bodies, through the world as we know it. Advancing technology is permi tting the capture and distribution of enormous amounts of information in the form of images, text and sound, through the technological space commonly kno wn as the internet. The territory of the internet is inhabited by sites whe re this information is compiled and organized by authors for a reading and watching audience. My spectatorship within this technology and informatio n structure occurs in the spaces of sites on the internet created by women to contain collections of the traces of their performance as women. The working concept of performance used in this res earch comes from feminist philosopher Judith Butler. In Undoing Gender she writes: If gender is a kind of doing, an incessant activity performed, in part, without ones knowing and without ones willing, it is not for that reason
3 automatic or mechanical. On the contrary, it is a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint. Moreover, one does n ot do ones gender alone. One is always doing with or for another, even if the other is only imaginary.1 This spectatorship of this study is of women perfor ming as women. In these performances, women are moving towards an improvis ation (Butler) of the female masquerade theorized by feminist film theori st and media and culture expert Mary Ann Doane in Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator: The effectivity of masquerade lies precisely in its potential to manufacture a distance from the image, to generate a problemati c within which the image is manipulable, producible and readable by th e woman.2 These documents, the evidence of the performance an d masquerade amassed and assembled, is witnessed in the form of web cam based images and blogs. A web cam is a broadcast of images (still or video, silent or with audio), that have been taken with a camera and subsequently posted to the World Wide Web. The first web cams were focused on busy coffe epots and soothing fish tanks3 the idea being for the user (the viewer), through the click of the mouse or the stroke of a keyboard, to be able to see into a space without physically needing to be there. Web cams can be trained on an y area or space the necessary components are: a digital camera, the har dware and software to 1 Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), 1. 2 Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory and Psychoana lysis (New York: Routledge, 1991), 32. Doane borrows the term masquerade from Joan Riviere (a translator for Freud and a psychoanalyst). Doane writes that for Riviere The masquerade, in flaunting femininity, holds it at a distance. Womanliness is a mask which can be wor n or removed. (25) I am hoping to move on to Doanes more hopeful ideas for female masquer ade outlined above. 3 Quentin Stafford-Fraser, The Life and Times of th e First Web Cam, Communications of the ACM 44.7 (2001): 25.
4 support it, and a network of connections for viewer s to access the visual information it captures from their remote locations It wasnt long before the utilitarian first subject s of the web cam evolved into something more complex and dynamic. Women be gan turning cameras on themselves. A girl cam is a web cam that transmits images from within the womans domestic sphere. These women performers an d artists are creating dimensions of artistic content from cameras trained on the self, by the self. A girl cam is defined by its creator and editor, the cam girl. The camera(s) in her home are focused on her, events as they evolve in t ime, and the contents of her domicile. In presentations that are self-controlle d and self-edited, women use girl cams to document themselves as women performing as women in the home (Appendix A, Figure 1).4 While folded in front of the computer, viewing thes e performances, two things come to mind. First, to reiterate: this res earch is about looking and spectatorship. The roots of thinking about being f olded while engaging with the internet come from communication professor Michele Whites study of embodied internet spectatorship The Body and the Screen In writing about the things she sees on the monitor always flickering and changing she says: The constant doubling and folding of the morph/body into itself evoke the spectators fragile and folded body and self-engage ment while in front of the screen.5 4 All figures referenced in the text are numbered co nsecutively in Appendix A. 5 The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spect atorship (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2006), 175.
5 Her ideas about being folded, vulnerable and in con stant engagement with the self while viewing internet content are integral to solidifying this research as spectatorship. Secondly, in using technology in this specific way, the viewer is learning to be alone while someone else is nearby. This idea o f being alone while someone else is present comes from Victor Burgins article entitled Jennis Room: Exhibitionism and Solitude.6 In the article, Burgin (an artist, scholar and cr itic) refers to the ideas of child psychologist D. W. Win nicott regarding play and transitional objects and to psychologist Melanie Kl ein regarding feeling lonely while in the company of loved ones. Burgin uses th ese ideas to interrogate the motives of a specific cam girl, one who is also the subject of this research, and I share some critical ground with his thinking. What the subjects of this research are doing, and what the spectator is doing, is simi lar to what children do when they play as a pathway to learning. Not quite read y to be alone, there is a longing for assurance that there is someone watchin g, or that there is someone present. This is the way to learn to be alone, fir st with someone in the next room, or around the corner. Girl cams, and later blogs, offer a place to learn by looking in this specific way. There are two critical aspects of the girl cam. Th e first is the context within which it is presented, and second is the tec hnology that allows the distribution and reception. Michele White defines girl cams in this way: Womens webcams are free or low-cost representation s that can be viewed when operators link a camera to a computer, employ software to 6 Jennis Room: Exhibitionism and Solitude, Critical Inquiry 27 (2000): 77-89.
6 deliver images, and construct websites to frame and contextualize their representations.7 The technology being used for production and recept ion (software, hardware, digital cameras, etc.) of the girl cams and the pla ce where they are considered (the internet) are important characters in this sto ry as it unfolds. Not surprisingly, the term cam girl has come to e nvelop sub categories of performers, not all of which are related to this pr oposed exploration8. For the purposes of this research, the broad category of ca m girls needs to be refined. Included in this inquiry are two types of web cams the life cam and the art cam. This writing encompasses two cam girls: one who operated a life cam ( Jennicam ) and one who operates an art cam ( anacam ). Both of these women use the web cam to capture images of the self and t he home as the centerpiece of a site that also contains a collection of other graphics, texts and visual elements assembled by the cam girl/author. What could be the impetus for such a mass creation of cultural material aimed at capturing what used to be considered the p rivate, mundane aspects of life? There is a long tradition in visual arts of pictorial realism the attempt by artists to portray the dull and banal to reveal the truth of objective reality. But what is operating in girl cams is the desire to doc ument a performance of woman 7 Body 57. 8 I will exclude from this study any project that ex ists exclusively in the realm of pornography. Many pornography sites exist today on the internet that promise to give paying customers a glimpse into the bedroom of a real, live, girl. Th ese sites are, for the most part, not owned and maintained by the women who are pictured on them. The cams and blogs I have chosen feature nudity and sexually explicit writing. The intent o f these sites is not to create pornography, and they are controlled, written and edited by the wome n who create them. Although this study focuses on women and how they construct an image on line, it is not my intent to focus on the production of imagery and content that exclusively emphasizes and exploits female sexuality for titillation and profit.
7 as subject. Girl cam sites are documents of the pe rformances that each woman engages in: living. As Butler defines it, this per formance becomes a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint.9 Theresa Senft, an expert in womens performance and celebrity in new media, dec iphers the enticement in her pioneering dissertation on the performative asp ects of girl cams:10 Yet using performance, women may speak back to re alism in at least two ways. They may remark their own commodification wi thin global capitalism, and/or they may resist objectification by an invisible viewer, and speak their minds.11 The space for this dialogue with realism on the i nternet is similar to the unmarked space that performance theorist Peggy Phel an hopes to identify in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. Phelan defines the unmarked in various ways: Lacan and Freud called this immateriality the uncon scious; it speaks through the symptom. I am calling this immateriali ty the unmarked; it shows itself through the negative and through disap pearance.12 And further speaks to the motives for both performi ng and viewing in this unmarked place: Seeing the hollow blindness of our own eyes is dang erous because it risks both self-absorption (one sees nothing other than t he self) and selfannihilation (one sees only the nothing of the self ). But until one can accept ones internal other as lost, invisible, an unmarked blank to oneself and within the world, the external other will alway s bear the marks and scars of the lookers deadening gaze.13 9 Undoing Gender 1. 10 This dissertation is due to be published by Peter Lang as a book entitled Camgirls: Webcams, Livejournals And The Personal As Political In The A ge Of The Global Brand on May 30, 2007. I am working with a draft of the dissertation that wa s published online at http://www.echonyc.com/%7Ejanedoe/diss.html 11 Theresa Senft, Camgirls: Webcams, LiveJournals an d the Personal as Political in the Age of the Global Brand (PhD diss., New York University, 2004), Chap. 1 pg. 17. 12 Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 19. 13 Ibid, 26
8 There is power for women in choosing to document th e self in a world that surveils its citizens with regularity. In each dir ection that a woman may look, she will see images of women, represented with the inte nt to bring about desire of some sort often for consumption or idealization. By retaining authority over their own images, women that offer representations of themselves performing their lives subvert the controlled categories offer ed to them in the current economy of female imagery. Women will be surveille d and their images captured, manipulated and distributed. Producing s ites for self-surveillance opens a place for the collection of images created by women, as an alternative to the sites for mass consumption of distorted images. In these sites of performance, being visible does not automatically r ob women of their power. White reports on her findings after studying women s web cams: Women webcam operators place themselves in a field of visibility. Some of them set up their own version of surveillant pro tection with webcams. However, their comments indicate that controlled fo rms of visibility, which they choose, provide a much more empowering positio n than submitting to traditional forms of the gaze.14 The precedent for all private performances mediat ed through cameras and edited for mass consumption is An American Family (the Louds), first broadcast in 1973.15 The Louds home environment and the dynamics of everyday family relationships were the subjects of a documentary series intended to air on television. The trend continues after th e advent of girl cams with The Truman Show (1998) and EdTV (1999), films that are fictionalized entertainment 14 Body 72. 15 Jeffrey Ruoff, An American Family : a televised life (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
9 meant to illustrate the pitfalls of a private life under constant surveillance (an aside: both of the subjects of the cameras intrusi ve gaze in these movies were men). But despite the hazards involved in being co nstantly recorded and documented by cameras, there is a continued interes t in reality-based entertainment in the United States. In the current line-up of broadcast and cable television programming, there are hours of realitybased shows available every night of the week. It is important to note the peak in production of r eality-based entertainment as it happens concurrently with the rise in popular ity of girl cams and blogs. The allure of reality entertainment is similar to that of girl cams, but with important differences. The distinctive difference between re ality entertainment and the production of content to be found in the sites of t his study resides in the agency at work in the two systems. Reality entertainment is filmed with the intent to edit and broadcast the images in a narrative, serial or contest based sequence. In this case, editing control lies not with the subjec ts who are pictured, but with third parties who are usually concerned with generating a n audience and garnering high ratings for the final product. In both the gi rl cams and blogs chosen for this research, the creator of the real content of the site is using her own life and lived events to craft the end product. The site is created by her, depicts her and is controlled by her. Girl cam sites and blogs can become popular with audiences, but the responsibility and control of au thorship resides finally with the woman creating it.
10 Modern life is so disjointed, so filled with images and choices that viewing subjects need help validating what happens in livin g, looking and being on a dayto-day basis. It is alluring to turn to the specte rs that inhabit the screen to help delineate an identity as a woman moving through the world of representations, both on-line and off. Taking control of the content of the personal and t he self, girl cams and blogs open a space for the spectator to see, to read and to watch so as to alleviate fears of displacement and offer a site of comparison to temporarily anchor constantly shifting perceptions of the self. Jennifer Ringley ( JenniCam ) and Ana Voog ( AnaCam ), the chosen examples for the web cam/girl cam genre in this res earch, were the firsts in their respective endeavors16 Jenni was the first to maintain a life cam and A na was not far behind, but the first to call her project art. It is not intended that Jenni and Ana stand in for the entire field of web cam op erators (men and women), but that they serve as focused examples in this explora tion of what happens when one woman watches other women perform Life, Online (Figure 2). Web cams began as a way to add content to a person al home page on the internet. Home pages were the first and simple st form of online identity. If you wanted people to be able to find you on-line, i t was necessary to define a space and deposit personal information in it that c ould then be accessed on the web. Site authors often wanted to add pictures (o f themselves, friends and relatives) to augment the idea that the web site th ey were creating was conveying as much information as possible about the m, and was an accurate 16 Simon Firth, Live! From My Bedroom, Salon Jan. 8, 1998.
11 snapshot of the personality of the creator. Init ially, Jennicam and Anacam were created because Jenni and Ana believed the most suc cessful way to present themselves fully on their home page was to offer vi ewers a continuous web cam view of the self17. I assert these sites are among the first attempt s by women to document and place performances of their l ives, as representations of the self, onto constructed internet sites. 17 From Jennis Frequently Asked Questions portion of her site, in 1999 Q: Where did you get the idea to do this? A: Initially, I bought the ca mera to update portions of my webpage with pictures of myself. A friend joked that it could b e used to do a FishBowl cam, but of a person. The idea fascinated me, and I took off with it. Q : Do you ever stage what we see? A: No, the concept of the cam is to show whatever is going on naturally. Essentially, the cam has been there long enough that now I ignore it. So whateve r youre seeing isnt staged or faked, and while I dont claim to be the most interesting person in the world, theres something compelling about real like (sic) that staging it wouldnt bring to t he medium. http://web.archive.org/web/19990508052112/jennicam. org/faq/general.html (accessed March 4, 2007). From Anas Bio section: why have I decided to do t his? curiousity. to experiment. to study human nature/culture. but mostly i feel i have a lot of c ool things to share and communicate with a worldwide audience in a totally spontaneous and i mmediate way from my home .so Im also doing this to say HERE YA GO, HERES MY LIFE, IM A REAL PERSON AND HERE I AM IN ALL MY MUNDANE AND SPECTACULAR GLORY! http://www.anacam.com/anaframesn.html (accessed March 4, 2007).
12 Chapter Two What About Blogs? But here I argue that it is computer screens where we project ourselves onto our own dramas, dramas in which we are producer, direct or and star. Sherry Turkle in Life on the Screen In addition to providing a view of life events as t hey unfold in the home, successful girl cam sites nearly always contain a d iary element, a log of the dayto-day events of a cam girls life, and other areas where visual and textual assemblages can be stored and retrieved by viewers (galleries, links, etc.). Through the years, Jennicam and Anacam experimented with different structured areas within their sites to communicate with viewer s (in addition to e-mail) and let them interact with each other, such as chat or comm ent interfaces. By reading the web log/diary, looking in the galleries of imag es, watching chats (or participating), reading/writing comments and integr ating other clues, the viewers connect the dots individually and uniquely to form a story line that animates the images appearing from the cam. The important diary portion of the sites was where the cam girl could give her own commentary to her images. White acknowledges the importance of the materials surrou nding and augmenting the cam images in this way: the presence of multiple webcams as well as the ad dition of diaries, chat forums, and other chronicles allows the specta tor to weave a narrative and provide some kind of action. More im portant, these materials contextualize the webcams otherwise unst able images and act as meaning producing mechanisms.18 18 Body 64.
13 The cam is a tool to capture and distribute visual information about the self, but the images are only a part of how meaning is made. As the site is read, and navigation is achieved through all its components, viewers often decide what a camgirl signifies through an active process of as semblage rather than a passive acceptance of clear narrative.19 A continuous and uninterrupted cam performance f or an unknown audience is not a sustainable practice for a divers e set of reasons. Due to the time-consuming pressures of site upkeep (coding, te chnical malfunctions, new software updates, etc.), financial constraints due to bandwidth and demand (the more people who log on to watch the more it costs) and the constant demands of being on camera, many cam girls elected to go off-l ine permanently or just maintain the diary aspect of the original site. In many instances, the diary and its revelations had become the focal point of the site for viewers and site producers alike. During the time in which I watched for the purposes of this research (19982007) the girl cam practitioners engaged in sharing their lives online exploded in population and subsequently disappeared. Jennicam went dark at the end of 200320 and Anacam continues to broadcast only a fraction of the time At the same time, technology advanced, due to consu mers demand for both hardware and software less expensive, higher quality image capture devices/cameras and free user-friendly software to produce/edit content and upload pictures to the internet for sharing. For t hose with access, skills and 19 Senft, Camgirls, Chap. 1, pg. 24. 20 See Terry Teachout, Jennis Footnote, National Review Online December 11, 2003.
14 inclination, it became much easier to produce sites that could contain personal content. It was not as easy to bear up to the cons tant scrutiny and surveillance of a cam, and often the usefulness of the practice as a performance came to a natural end. It became apparent during my inquiry that the girl cam was dying as a mode of expression for the life of the self. Blo gs were taking the place of these sites for women perform in a similar capacity, but with less risk and more control. The term blog is currently being defined by its cu ltural use on the internet. Websters Dictionary defines it as an online diary; a personal chronol ogical log of thoughts published on a Web page; also called [W eblog], [Web log].21 The striking difference noted in watching the shift fro m cam-based modes of representation to blog-based modes is structural. A blog is configured to be more like a diary, and designed to be more textual. Blog software is set up to let the author publish information easily, categorize i t, organize it and arrange it in an understandable chronology. A blog is designed s pecifically to house an unfolding stream of information that is created and published by the site author. Commonly, a blog also includes areas for the author to post a brief biography or profile and a list of links to other sites with whi ch the author chooses to align. The links to other sites, often the sites of other bloggers, establish blogs formally in communities and networks of representations of s imilar interests. To return again to the issue of agency over image and identity for women creators of sites, the web cam site architecture (F igure 3) sets up an expectation, 21 Dictionary.com. Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, Pr eview Edition (v 0.9.6) Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blog (accessed: March 04, 2007).
15 in the viewer, of a somewhat continuous flow of ima ges. While this flow perhaps initially felt liberating and creatively complete t o the site author, too many sacrifices (privacy, a home full of wires to captur e the performance) had to be made to sustain a constant stream of images. Creat ion and maintenance of a blog offers more control over content. The creator can choose what images to post, what events to include and explain and what p arts to leave out. The author is much more in control of the performance. And as the software tools develop for web expression, more women have access to these tools and the abilities to create an on-line repository for recording their pe rformances as self in daily life. In short, the tools for creating are much more acce ssible and the hazards of constant surveillance are ameliorated. In the prod uction of blogs versus the strategy of performing for an unblinking cam cont rol increases and risk decreases. Blogs are now produced by people all around the wor ld, and are proliferating at an exponential rate22. Again, the essential element of a blog is textual and offers the author an easy way to create edit and publish text documents to the internet, link to other blogs and archive materials. However, all the free software available to create blogs today ( Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, TypePad, etc.) also include tools to eas ily post photographs or other visual elements, a feature that is often utilized, to different ends, by bloggers. 22 Technorati.com is a website that tracks blogs of a ll kinds. In the About section, Technorati reports that they are Currently tracking 70.3 mill ion blogs and The World Live Web is incredibly active, and according to Technorati data, there are over 175,000 new blogs (thats just blogs) every day. Bloggers update their blogs regularly to the tune of over 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second. http://technorati.com/about/ (accessed March 4, 2007).
16 The most recent technological advances center aroun d the ability to embed and share videos across the internet, and in blogs. In 2005, the YouTube web site ( http://www.youtube.com ) became the first clearinghouse for users to post and watch videos, in any format, from nearly any comput er. As ease of use and familiarity with video technology increases, more a nd more blogs will contain video elements.23 Video is rapidly adding a visual and auditory ric hness to the internet, as well as expanding its capabilities a p ossible site for performance. Continuing development of video technology and its integration into the internet will undoubtedly augment the ability of site author s/creators to document events and tell stories.24 Blogs are currently a contested site of cultural p roduction. The tools for making sites that construct on-line identity are no w available to a wide range of authors who choose to express all sorts of opinions and present themselves in a variety of roles. There are personal blogs, food b logs, political blogs, self-help blogs, art blogs, dog blogs, gossip blogs, technolo gy blogs, sex blogs and blogs that rate blogs to name just a few. The creators o f these blogs have hardly any of the barriers to access (credentials, notoriety, extensive resources or education for example) that exist in the traditional publishi ng model. It takes about fifteen 23 See Lev Grossmans Time Best Inventions 2006 YouTube ( http://www.time.com/time/2006/techguide/bestinventi ons/inventions/youtube2.html accessed March 10, 2007). Remarking on the relevance of thi s advancement and its users he says: They sat alone in their basements and poured their most intimate, embarrassing secrets into their webcams. YouTube had tapped into something that app ears on no business plan: the lonely, pressurized, pent-up video subconscious of America. Having started with a single video of a trip to the zoo in April of last year, YouTube now airs 100 million videosand its users add 70,000 moreevery day. 24 At the time of the writing of this thesis document none of the subjects of this research has initiated the regular use of video on their sites.
17 minutes for a literate person with internet access and a moderate amount of computer savvy to set up a free blog and begin to p ublish their views on anything they choose. The blurring between expert and amate ur in blog sites has unleashed a torrent of denigrating criticism and a wave of optimism surrounding the conceivable communities to be formed by blogger s and the content they produce. Time Magazine in their Person of the Year issue for 2006, dec ided to focus on the issue of self-publishing on the intern et. The magazine chose You as person of the year, complete with a mylar mirror inside a computer screen on its cover to offer a reflection of the reader as th e magazine was held in hand (Figure 4). Inside, writer and consumer electronic s expert Lev Grossman, comments on blogs: This is an opportunity to build a new kind of inter national understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great ma n, but citizen to citizen, person to person. Its a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder whos out there lookin g back at them. Go on. Tell us youre not just a little bit curious.25 Brian Williams, a television news anchorman for NBC cautions: Does it endanger what passes for the national conve rsation if were all talking at once? What if talking means typing on a laptop, but the audience is too distracted to pay attention? The w hole notion of media is now much more democratic, but what will the effect be on democracy? The danger just might be that we miss the next grea t book or the next great idea, or that we fail to meet the next great challenge because we are too busy celebrating ourselves and listening to the same tune we already know by heart.26 25 Person of the Year You, Time December 25, 2006, 41. 26 Enough About You, Time December 25, 2006, 78.
18 The tune that women subjects and spectators know b y heart could use a little bit of interrogation and unlearning, Mr. Williams. The next great idea just may be that subjects can be made anew in this cacophony of conversation. And finally, Steven Johnson, an author who studies communities, culture and communication in new media says about bloggers writing about what they know personally: Whats so interesting about those local conversatio ns is that they involve experiences that the experts in traditional media h ave largely ignored for good reason. Those experts realize that they cant compete with the real experts: the people who live in these communities a nd know all the issues small and large that shape their daily lives.27 Yes, the space of blogs on the internet offers wome n a chance to reclaim their expertise as women back from glossy false media por trayals (in watching, reading and creating) and render their own personal experiences publicly. Why is there this sudden surge of self-revelation a nd self-publication happening on the internet? In their comprehensive study of the internet as a new site for artistic production, Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito (New Media Professors at the University of Maine) think that: One reason for this proliferation may be that our s tories have been taken from us, repackaged, and sold back via broadcast me dia for so long that we are eager to get them back.28 In watching these sites of production, I am thrille d by the possibility that there is a place where I can look at other women with all of m y desire for my own story intact, and without the fundamental meddling of inf luences that are present in the hollow world of mass culture and the fetishized rea lm of art objects. In regarding 27 Its All About Us, Time December 25, 2006, 80. 28 At the Edge of Art, (New York, Thames and Hudson, 2006), 95.
19 sites that are built and designed by female authors as a place to collage identity and receive feedback, I am reminded of the hope I h ad placed in feminist art: Thus feminist awakening was something fundamentally personal and social at once; it was a kind of mutual understandi ng of what it had meant to feel oneself alone, and a declaration of a new c ollectivity.29 Women have felt isolated, like the work of feminist identity was being performed alone, but now there is a place to gather and watch that makes this isolation obsolete. In these sites women can make new meani ngs and teach themselves how to define their performances, especially as we become aware of ourselves seeing. Feminist writer Naomi Wolf describes her hope for women learning to see in The Beauty Myth : If we are to free ourselves from the dead weight th at has once again been made out of femaleness, it is not ballots or lobbyi sts or placards that women will need first; it is a new way to see.30 There is no dead weight that I can see through th e portal on my screen. I see, not utopia, but a shared space for doing this new l ooking. The subjects of my blogging research (Heather Armst rong of Dooce http://www.dooce.com/ Stephanie Klein of Greek Tragedy http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/ and Monica Bielanko of The Girl Who http://www.thegirlwho.squarespace.com/ ) are women who create sites where the visual elements are integral to the site itself. T hey are clear descendants of the girl cam in that these sites are constructed in an attempt to offer a window into the daily life of the author. Each of these women posts new content to her site 29 Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2001), 33. 30 The Beauty Myth (New York: William and Morrow, 1991), 19.
20 regularly and builds a self-portrait through images and entries that are part autobiography and part journal. The format is diff erent and evolved from the heavy coding necessary for the earlier girl cam sit es, but these blogs build on the intent and the aesthetic of the earlier model. As the cam model gives way to the blog model, each of these authors employs technolog y and enacts a different strategy to display and perform herself within the structure of the blog. All five examples chosen for this research are you ng (current ages 30 41), white, middle-class American women. In this w riting, I aim to unpack my own spectatorship of these select examples and spea k to their ability to create a site where a certain type of visual and identity wo rk can take place. This work, for me, involves being white, female, middle class and American. When I seek to shore up my own identity, I am constrained by the r ealities that are uniquely mine. When thinking specifically about the limitat ions of research inquiries into women performing in new media, Theresa Senft reason s: because it is a type of mediatized performance pra ctice, homecamming works according to the complex rules of mimesis and mimicry. For this reason, what it means for women, and what they wi sh it to mean, depends on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) sexuality, class, race and personal familiarity with the media in question.31 When I began looking and interfacing with these sit es on my screen, I wasnt looking for subjects for research or inquiry I was engaged in a spectatorship that involved both my mind and my bod y. As a witness to these sites, and to tell the story, I am folded over my c omputer screen. In gathering my body around my screen and searching, my monitor bec ame my mirror and my 31 Senft, Camgirls, Chap 1, pg. 30.
21 portal. I found in these sites a second mirror tha t offered an answer to my seeking gaze. For this spectatorship to function b oth as a place where I could be alone with other people, and for the sites to work as a transitional objects,32 the subjects were of a necessity, very similar to me in age and situation. In recounting the story of what happened while I wa s watching, it is my intent to bring back a tale to this place of what h appened in that one. Theresa Senft reminds me that like Jennifer of Jennicam I am limited. Of course, the only reality Jennifer was capable of portraying was that which was available to her: the domestic life of a red haired, blue eyed, upper middle class educated American woman under th e age of forty.33 My margins are defined by my place and my self and fear of disappearing altogether this is the anxiety that seeks a remed y in the space of the internet. Language and writing seem inadequate means to narra te the space of fracture in my spectatorship. Im learning to see there, and I ll never be finished. In a document that cannot be whole, regarding unfinished specters and remnants of performance, I offer what I can remember from where Ive been in the perforation where my desire becomes the portal and the mirror on the screen. So I will feel my way through this paper, as I giv e voice to a body inseparable from a mind. The pulse will be a chorus of possibi lities, not a drone of proofs. Joanna Frueh in Feminist Art Criticism 32 My working definition of transitional objects com es from D.W. Winnicotts Playing and Reality. I have introduced the terms transitional objects and transitional phenomena for the designation of the intermediate area of experience, between the thumb and the teddy bear, between the oral eroticism and the true object-relationship, between primary creative activity and projections of what has already been introjected, between primary unawareness of indebtedness and the acknowledgement of indebtedness. (2-3) The use of transitional objects begins in infancy, as a way to mature into separateness from the mother and establish ones self as being distinct and unique. In my experience, learning to use diverse transitional objects throughout life assists in distinguishing and re-interrogating our own subject ivity in an intermediate area that helps to regulate and reconcile inner and outer realities. 33 Senft, Camgirls, Chap. 2, pg. 8.
22 Chapter Three That Was Then Jennicam Having spent far too long trying to get off on no t enough, my writing is one place where too much is how much I want, and I fi nd that too much here, at the intersection of autobiography, feminism and desire. Becky McLaughlin in Jane Sexes It Up It begins with an immediate attraction. I hear abo ut her on the radio, something discussed between two disc jockeys as par t of their on-air morning banter. Hey did you hear that theres this colle ge girl that has a web cam in her dorm room? She leaves it on all the time. Has sex in there, gets undressed, everything. Everything? I continued my drive to work and thought about everything. I was so eager to see this phenomenon, this girl t hat broadcast everything in her life, but I couldnt remember the exact web site to look for. I remember it as being her name, but I cant remember the exact n ame. It wasnt so easy back then to search for things on-line. You really had to know what you were looking for. My fastest web connection in 1998 was at work, and I remember going in early to the office, for the singular purpose of fi nding that site. I didnt want anyone to know, in case it turned out to be pornogr aphy. Typing in various search terms, I eventually found her web site addre ss. I felt a peculiar excitement at getting to see into someone elses r eal life. Would the camera be on? What would I see? After following the guest link on her site (Figure 5) to
23 her cam, I found the image of a young woman, at her desk (just like me), caught in the middle of a laugh (Figure 6). I was transfi xed. What I found that morning alone in my office coming face to face with Jenni fer Ringley is what brings me here. But first, there: when I found Jenni, I was experie ncing profound grief. I spent my days, unbeknownst to myself at the time, c onstantly searching for something to alleviate the suffering and the anguis h that I felt in every moment.34 It was an intuitive process, and not one that I was consciously aware of. I had always been interested in self-portraiture, and it was the only way that I worked personally to make art. I was also working as a pr ofessional photographer at an all-woman owned aerial photography company. My wor king life was filled with images. Selling them, making them, editing them, a nd archiving them. I was 34 In December of 1997, my brother committed suicide. In this action, he broke a silent promise that we had kept between us to not disappear. I understood it to be true that he would always be present for me. This promise comes from place i n my mind that is pre-lingual, and exists before I have any memories. In the time and space of my life, he would be constant. His loss terrified me. The steps necessary to walk through the grief were taken, and I wondered how a person has the strength to commit th e act of suicide. I know that many days my brother felt like he just couldnt take it. Countl ess times he slid into drug and alcohol abuse as a mechanism to cope with the heavy burden of daily ex istence. His behavior had caused a gap in our relationship, but one I thought could be reconc iled when Kev got his act together. The finality of his death and the space he left in me, I cannot seem to fill. I had always felt his destin y was tied to mine and now he is unknown to me. It is also necessary to mention that I have, mysel f, wrestled with depression, as it came to be known to me, for my entire adult life. I have b een hospitalized on several occasions, and have a personal understanding of the disease that comes with the delicate balancing responsibilities assumed to keep a healthy mental house. This suff ering with mental illness, was one of many shared bonds. But it was something we never discus sed. When he gave into his despair it opened up unanswerable questions in me about how ex actly one went from wishing to disappear to actually making it happen. As result of the sudden abandonment I felt at my b rothers loss, I escaped into whatever coping mechanisms worked for me. One of these mech anisms was the JenniCam Through watching Jenni appear and reappear in my life, I wa s able to rebuild a psychic foundation that allowed me to keep my eyes open to my grief, to kee p speaking, and keep moving on with the work of my life.
24 surrounded by images, image-making and women imagemakers. All of these elements are necessary to acknowledge the viewer I was that day. There we were, Jenni and I, as we each might be pre vious to the cam, working at our desks, writing, talking on the phone looking at our e-mail, whatever may fill our morning ritual. But, unlike me, Jenni had opened up a gateway through which an audience could watch her l iving her daily life. Victor Burgin talks about this opening, and hints at how i t can be used by the viewer: This provides a visual aperture through which Jenni s room remains constantly visible regardless of what other tasks a re performed by the computer. By this means Jennis room, and at times Jenni herself, becomes a constant companion to the otherwise solit ary computer operator.35 In the first moment I recognized the image as being a self-portrait, I realized that I had never seen anything like it before, and that it was very close to the thing that I had been looking for in my own self-portraiture w ork. As I waited for her picture to refresh (every fifteen minutes for guests) I rea d more of the site, and her journal. As I continued my engagement, I found mys elf inside of something that had not existed only moments before. Jennifer Ringley is widely acknowledged as the firs t person to broadcast her life onto the internet. Her initial idea was to use her cam as a sort of novelty, a tool to allow her friends to see and wat ch her in her room much the same way as viewers had watched goldfish swim about on aquarium cams. In Theresa Senfts in-depth study of girl cams, she re ports: 35 Burgin, Jennis Room, 80.
25 If there is a history of webcams, then academic, po pular and webcam communities have all credited Ringley, rather than a hardware designer, with playing a key part or even inventing this pr actice.36 Jenni viewed the site as a project and called it J enniCam Life, Online. She purchased her first web cam from her college campus bookstore. The camera, set up on top of her computer, offered a view of al most her entire dorm room her entire life. She did not turn the camera off. In the time between when I heard of Jenni (on the r adio) and when I was able to locate her, I had started to form a story i n my mind without realizing it. I had begun to think about the project without being able to see it. Being a selfportrait artist, I was fascinated with womens depi ctions of themselves throughout art history. When I was able to find and see Jenni I was elated by the physical appearance of something I knew could exist, but as yet was unable to articulate myself, or find anywhere else. When I began watching this performance, I thought about it all the time, like a business deal that was so hot, but that I co uldn't afford. Like a sale just missed. But at the same time, I wasnt angry or fr ustrated, I just couldnt stop watching. In the first years I watched Jenni, I wa s settling into my own life quite nicely. Buying a house, setting up domestic relati ons with the man who would become my ex-husband, and generally splitting my ti me between the work sphere (where I watched Jenni) and the home sphere (where I did not). Because of this dichotomy, my impressions of Jenni were formed by watching her in the daytime, when she was either not at home or working at her desk. As 36 White, Body 65.
26 a result of my viewing habits, mostly I was waiting for Jenni to appear, and monitoring her empty desk chair. Then I became aware of other sites just like this one. I visited some, including Anacam (I will discuss this site later), but Jenni held m e in. Was it her writing style, the fact that she looked like me, st ruggled like me, for me and millions of others to see? I was watching her ever yday, or watching her empty spaces, and I was putting the pieces of her life to gether from the journal entries that she would post every couple of days. And then I found the fan sites. The sites dedicate d to Jenni and the bulletin boards where you could catch up on the day s happenings in case you missed or couldnt watch at all. This opened up Je nnis night time world to me. I could now track what she was doing while I was at h ome, tending to my domestic affairs. Fellow audience members were saving her i mages to their hard drives and distributing them in various places on the inte rnet. So, learning to search and to look for the pieces of the performance that I was missing, I filled in these times with the information that her fans were pos ting. I mostly got the juicy stuff and the screen captures from the bulletin boards. These alternate sites became integral for me to understand Jennis whole perform ance, and I began to use them frequently to make sense of what was becoming a phenomenon in front of my eyes. I did not post on the bulletin boards or in the for ums. I watched, but these virtual spaces are less about the sharing of inform ation as they are a repository for an on-line performance of identity by posters t hat doesnt particularly interest
27 me. No intellectual musings, just how many times did you see her tits and who is she screwing now and gosh we are so desperate to watch such a fucking cow have sex, etc. But you could read between tho se lines and there were some early watchers who had a talent for reporting the facts. Some fans turned out to be quite taken with Jenni, or the project, o r both. Some turned away when the watching got rough for them, when Jenni got bor ing, employed, fat or all three. It was addictive to log on to see if there was a new journal posting, so that you could get what you had seen straight, so that y ou could know the storyline. Or Jennis version of it. Things unwind slowly and purposefully in daily life Jenni becomes like a friend that I see every day. I know her. I know o f her intimate struggles, I know what she looks like naked, I know that she didnt g et out of bed at all last Tuesday. I dont notice when Jenni starts to gain weight, or when Jenni loses weight because the day to day changes are so small. I notice these changes only when I flip back and forth in her galleries fr om month to month. At this point, every one of my coworkers is watchi ng Jenni, taking a moment to look at the ever present window in my com puter monitor screen when they stop into my office. Everyone knows the story to date, and wants to be updated if something new should happen. They see w hatever image is displayed on the screen (as mentioned before, it is usually Jenni at her desk or Jennis empty chair, as in Figure 3), get the story from me, and then are content to wait until something new happens.
28 Jenni exists for us as a surrogate member of the s taff, and for me, a reassuring presence that just happens to not be phy sically present. My coworkers inquire about her life as they might inquir e about my life outside the office. I am using Jennis site as a surrogate obj ect, an intermediate space in my grief where I dont have to be alone. She always a ppears, eventually (Figures 7 and 8). I think all of us who were watching Jenni were somehow playing Freuds fort/da37 game, hoping to could gain mastery over what cann ot be controlled in life. Outside of the space of my computer, there i s a terrible truth: people leave and dont come back. Jenni remained on-line, interrupted only by physica l relocations of her home, technical difficulties and power outages from April of 1996 to December of 2003. Her project was a complex amalgamation of vi sual elements combined with her writing, that have over time, captured her progression from college student to young woman, and to fully-formed interne t celebrity. As the project unfolded, Jenni passed from the roles of college st udent to live-in girlfriend to social worker. While in operation, Jenni had an e normous following on the internet and many web sites were created with Jenni s project in mind. Some sites pay tribute to her, but many offered venomous critiques of her appearance, her clothes, her ideas and her boyfriend(s). Her a rchive, were it one place, would encompass thousands upon thousands of images. 37 The German words fort and da translate to gon e and there. Freud recognized that some infants play a game with objects where they throw t hem away from themselves (gone), and then retrieve them (there) to practice separation from t he mother. See The Pleasure Principle 13-18.
29 Jenni shuts down the Jennicam site at the end of 2003 because she doesnt need it anymore. As a transitional object and space for her to transition from college to adulthood, her work is finished the re. Burgin comes also to this conclusion, albeit before Jenni finally gives up th e site, by summoning Winnicotts ideas from Playing and Reality : Of the fate of the transitional object Winnicott wr ites; It is not forgotten and it is not mourned. It loses meaning, and this is because the transitional phenomena have become diffused, have b ecome spread out over the whole intermediate territory between inne r psychic reality and the external world as perceived by two persons in common, that is to say, over the whole cultural field.38 In the acts of forgetting and mourning, in the work of it, my remedies also gradually lose their efficacy and meaning. In perf orming and making the site, Jenni has allowed the meanings and memories to diff use into the whole the commerce of the rest of her life. She doesnt need it anymore, but I need her. Im not finished with my transition. But to summon her now is to summon nothing. To call her name in letters only, dots an d dashes, yields an error. Where do I go from here? 38 Burgin, Jennis Room, 89.
30 Chapter Four Making Do Anacam The common desire to look to representation to con firm ones reality is never satisfied; for representation cannot reproduce the Real. This keeps us looking and keeps us hoping. And so we are, most of the ti me, kept. More particularly, we are kept suspended between the depressing loop o f disappointment and the aspiring arc of hope. Peggy Phelan in Unmarked An art cam differs from the life cam in that it op erates within a different working methodology. The art cams site goal is to establish a presentation space for images representing the physical body of the cam girl as she explores methods of inventing, performing, capturing and bro adcasting her identity through the fluid and certain march of time. Every day life is important as it is related to the development of new trials and experi ments to explore through the cam. The art cam is heavily supplemented by pictur es made with a mobile camera employed by the cam girl, as a traditional c amera could be used in selfportraiture; many different modes of picturing and performing the self are attempted in the exploration of identity formation. Ana Voog came on-line with her version of the girl cam shortly after Jennifer Ringley ( Jennicam ) debuted. On August 22, 199739, Ana became the second web cam to broadcast live, 24/7 from the hom e. She is a musician, and in 1993 was searching for a record label. In the a ge of assembly-line marketing of pre-packaged pop stars, Ana was encountering muc h resistance to her free39 Information is from the Biography section of Ana s site http://www.anacam.com/anaframesn.html (accessed January 3, 2007).
31 wheeling personality and curious appearance. A rec ord executive gave her a digital camera and told her to go home and try to r epackage herself as something marketable, and she did. But what Ana discovered i n her homework was that she did have a talent for packaging herself, just n ot quite in the way anyone had imagined. The images created by Ana are eclectic a nd show a clear evolution in working method over time. Ana is very open to usin g her body as a site of exploration, and she feels the explorations incompl ete unless she can post the record to her site in the hopes that her viewers wi ll interact with her performances, and with her. Anas fans are as invo lved as Jennis were, offering her continuous adulations and assessments. Ana wor ks primarily through selfportraiture, but her project also features a cam th at tracks her movements through daily life, but not as thoroughly or purpos efully as Jennicam s Life, Online. Ana is acknowledged as being an artist working wit hin the cam methodology. Michele White compares her with an as sortment of artists: Such artists as Laurie Anderson, Joseph Bueys, Kare n Finely, Holly Hughes, Adrian Piper, and Carollee Schneeman produc e works that seem to share their lives with the audience. Other ar tists, including Ana Voog and Julia Scher have employed webcams in their work .40 Although Voog has never been included in a gallery or museum show (excluding a link to her site in the Fame After Photography41 exhibition online catalog, which also includes Jennicam ) she regularly and systematically creates self-por traits, 40 Body 64. 41 Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fame After Photogr aphy, Marvin Heiferman and Carole Kismaric, http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/1999/fameafterphoto graphy/index.html July 8 October 5, 1999 (accessed March 12, 2007).
32 photographs, collages and textile items (mainly cro cheted hats), engages in costumed performances and uses the internet as her exhibition site of choice. In watching Voog over the years, it is clear that she works like an artist. She has a studio in her home, and consciously creates works. Her cam is a supplemental activity to the creation of the art (Figures 9, 10 and 11). Anas work creates a strong first impression. The resa Senft describes when she first came across Ana: God, did I hate what I saw. A refreshing photo of a couch with a dog on it, shot in some sort of blue filter. Next to that, a photo collage of Ana, an under-nourished white haired pixie woman, making ar ty poses. Ana licking a window. Anas eyeball, close up. Ana wi th headphones on. Ana with a pair of scissors across her pubis. Anas ha nds, folded in prayer. My avant-garde freak wire had definitely been tripp ed.42 Senft conveys the sentiment that, at first glance, Ana seems to fit the stereotype of the artist, trying so hard to make meaningful wo rk that it is almost painful to watch and read. i want to keep expanding myself in the different wa ys i can communicate. i'm an artist to my core. it was such an intense idea. and i like intense, an d i like to push boundaries of what people think a woman is and isn' t. 43 In contrast to the life cam model, Ana is clearly c omposing herself in an attempt to express creativity, not just to document her lif e. Senfts further reaction is to think to herself about Ana Absolute art school corrupts absolutely.44 Through her art, and her constant productivity through the years, Ana has helped to undermine the snap decisions that both Senft, and s ociety at large, make about 42 Camgirls, Chap. 2, pg. 13. 43 Information is from the Biography section of Ana s site http://www.anacam.com/anaframesn.html (accessed January 3, 2007). 44 Camgirls, Chap. 2, pg. 15.
33 artists, cam girls and other women. Through furthe r investigation, and reading her journals, Senft comes to understand Ana as bein g much more complex that she had first assumed. First, Ana, a native Minnesotan, never went to art school. Unlike me, she was self-taught, and it often shows. But while Ana turns out image after image in front of a live camera, I (who went to an art school of sorts) spend far too much time worrying about whether I ap pear too arty to people.45 It takes the unfolding of the images over time and the reading of the stream of journal entries as they are written, for perceptions of Ana to regulate. Women often make these judgments about other women (and artists) when there is no desire to look further than the surface or wh en there is no further to look to. The art cam site is an important step in learning t o look at this specific kind of production. In investing in Anas strategy over th e years, and finding a desire to investigate, connections can be made that didnt ex ist before. One of these important connections is made when in watching Aeryln Weissmans documentary film Webcam Girls which features Voog. In the film Ana takes the filmmakers on a tour of her apartment and it becomes clear that the viewer is being shown areas and items that info rm how Ana constructs her performance. Throughout her apartment, the props a nd costumes that go into making Ana Voog appear as Ana Voog are strewn about Her closets of clothing and randomly collected odd items are completely int egrated into the other aspects of her domestic life home, studio, comput er, cords, cameras, life. They are all the same thing. 45 Ibid, Chap. 2, pg. 15.
34 Ana is also the only web cam girl featured in Webcam Girls to turn her camera on the documenters. Out in the streets, whi le filming, she says to the crew Here we are in wintry Saint Paul woooo an d Im taking a picture of you, taking a picture of me.46 (Figure 12) Her project is multivalent and compli cated. The meaning is not just the persona that she contin ually creates though the performances, the cam, the self-portraits, and the content is not just the site(s) where she deposits the traces from the performances Her art is in the living itself. While weaving new meanings and moving from Ana to a rt to life intellectually as the documentary unfolds, a famili ar face pops up Theresa Senft. About Anas method she says: It works off a tradition thats very common in perf ormance art which is the idea that the line between art and life is so blurr y as to be indistinguishable sometimes.47 Exactly. And Senft goes on to mention the influenc e of artist and musician Yoko Ono, who also blurred the line between the art and life. She saw Yoko as somebody who saw every moment of li fe as full of artistic promise. And I think Ana tries to frame h er cam that way. I think she tries to both do performances and really raise the question well, what does it mean to train a camera on yourself?48 Interrogation into the meaning of surveilling the s elf combines with the elements of self-conscious performance and documentation as self-portraiture in Anas work. This combination propels Voogs work into a category that can be 46 Aerlyn Weissman, WebCam Girls. 47 Ibid. 48 Ibid
35 recognized within the frame of art and performance. Ana responds to her critics in the Weissman film this way: When I say my web cam is art, Im saying not each p icture is art. So many people come and hang in there and theyre like this picture is stupid I could do that. Its like yeah, but could you do it for six years? 49 In that statement she refers to her web cam, and th e pictures she creates with it as art, but she also designates the space in which these documents exist as a place there where her audience can see her work and interact (come and hang) with it. Indeed, she has created a site for the performance of her life, her body and her self that exists today, almost 10 cont inuous years after its creation. Ana has the potential to comfort the viewer with h er presence. She is now pregnant at forty (Figure 13), and regularly makes journal entries that document her choices as an unmarried woman artist who will s truggle to provide for herself and her unborn child. The site of her work, where she keeps her performances, her pictures and her words, will continue to engage viewers as Ana whispers through it Just look at me in all my mundane glory .50 Along with its continued presence, anacam also assuages identity anxiety through its depictions of the changes in Ana over t ime. All subjects migrate from here to there and from then to now, moving through life and performing identities. Sometimes perceived pluralities can turn interpreta tions of self to halting, fearful thoughts of coming apart. With Ana on the screen, the subject is served with a visual reminder that there is no use in attempting to measure the self as fixed in a discontinuous world. Ana never fails to change i n this she is an excellent 49 Ibid 50 Ibid.
36 example of media theorist and cultural critic Vivia n Sobchacks morph. In Metamorphing: Visual Transformation and the Culture of Quick Change Sobchack defines the morph: Like that which is uncanny, morphing generates our physical and cultural double some radically other familiar whose vi sible image not only reflects us but also renders and clarifies us As our physical double, the morph interrogates the dominant philosophies an d fantasies that fix our embodied human being and constitute our identit ies as discrete and thus reminds us of our true instability: our physic al flux, our lack of selfcoincidence our sub-atomic as well as sub-cutaneous existence that is always in motion and ever changing the morph enacts our own greedily and effortless consumerism at the same time as it terrifies us with reflected images of our own consumption.51 Although she does not morph artificially, as in ani mation or computer graphics, Ana mediates her performances with technology. Sit ting with her performances over time, they exist as morphs in the spectators memory (Figures 14, 15 and 16). The morph fascinates because it fantastically explo res (with skill and a seeming effortlessness) the possibilities of real t ransformation. In transforming the self from moment to moment, identity can change over the course of a day. Often these changes are made clumsily and with regr et. The morph informs and seduces the viewer watching with awe as things un fold; its beautiful and strange and oddly familiar. Ana is the performer who will morph. Working as an artist, she continues to create and to deposit her proof on the internet. anacam is like the weather...the only predictibility (sic) it has is that it WILL change.52 51 Meta-morphing: Visual Transformation and the Cultur e of Quick Change (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), xii. 52 Information is from the Bio section of Anas site http://www.anacam.com/anaframesn.html (accessed January 3, 2007).
37 Spectatorship changes over the time as well. In th e beginning I watched Jenni ( Jennicam ), mesmerized by this portal that had opened up on my monitor. A space was created for me to grieve and to transit ion, in time. Jenni kept me company by opening the window into her life, by lea ving her cam on, and writing about all of it in her journal. Ana ( Anacam ) keeps the viewer enthralled visually; she fascinates by her constant making and doing. I n searching, an observer can always find her creating herself anew somewhere on the internet. But the quest continues for something that works as a transitiona l object a place to work at reconciling inner and outer realities. I make do w ith Ana for a time, but there is a missing element that I cant quite put my finger on .53 It is Anas words that fail me. Ana makes plenty of images, but she doesnt sp end much time putting her thoughts into language. It is not just the images that are desired, but the words to help with understanding. The combination of wor ds and images is what enacts the remedy. Still working on self-identity in relation to what is witnessed in the portal, Peggy Phelan helps articulate this d ependence on sustained engagement : 53 Peggy Phelan sums up this longing in Unmarked : Self-identity needs to be continually reproduced and reassured precisely because it fails to secure belief. It fails because it cannot rely on a verifiably continuous history. Ones own origin is both real and imagined. The formation of the I cannot be witnessed by the eye. The p rimal scene itself is (probably) a screen memory for the always-lost moment of ones own conception. Moreover, within the logic of psychic displacement, the memory of the primal scene also f unctions as a rehearsal for ones own death. The primal scene is a psychic revisiting and antici pation of the world without oneself. This vision is devastating and liberating; but it cannot be end ured very long. One prefers instead to see oneself more or less securely situated. The proces s of self-identity is a leap into a narrative that employs seeing as a way of knowing. Mimetic corres pondence has a psychic appeal because one seeks a self-image within the representational frame. Mimetic representation requires the writer/speaker employs pronouns, invents characters records conversations, examines the words and images of others so that the spectator can secure a coherent belie f in self-authority, assurance, presence. Memory. Sight. Love. All r equire a witness, imagined or real. Emphasis is mine (4-5).
38 Identity cannot, then reside in the name you can sa y or the body you can see your own or your mothers. Identity emerges in the failure of the body to express being fully and the failure of the signifier to convey meaning exactly. Identity is perceptible only thro ugh a relation to an other which is to say it is a form of both resisting and claiming the other, declaring the boundary where the self diverges from and merges with the other. In that declaration of identity and identif ication, there is always loss, the loss of not-being the other and yet remaining d ependent on that other for self-seeing, self-being.54 This spectator is still wanting writing that helps to delineate inner and outer, and ultimately, loss. Folded, longing, and looking to the mirror on the screen these are the circumstances in which the blogs of this re search are first witnessed. 54 Unmarked 13.
39 Chapter Five Reading Heather Each time, writing appears as disappearance, recoi l, erasure, retreat, curling up, consumption. Jacques Derrida in Dissemination Sitting down at my computer at the end of 2005, I w as ready to search for some examples of this phenomenon of on-line journal ing that I kept hearing of. Girl cams were clearly a thing of the past, but I s till wanted a space to continue my research. As with all my internet searches, I b egan with Google. After typing in blog, bloggers, weblogs, I had begun to se e that I would need to narrow my search55, so I centered more on my interests: womens blo gs, and finally personal blogs women. There were still many site s to sift through, but it was a rush of excitement to see the results of this searc hing: so much production of information, by women, on the web. It was not unli ke the first day I saw Jenni. In searching through sites found on search engines I followed a circuitous path around and through many, many web sites writte n by women that contained a diary element. I estimate I have browsed and rea d some content on at least two hundred womens blog sites. Heather Armstrong s stood out from the beginning because of the number of other sites that pointed to hers. Heather Armstrong was the first blogger to get fired for he r blog, Dooce (dooce.com).56 It is a similar (and familiar) experience to reading a rt history. You know what artists 55 On January 27, 2007 at 4:10p when I type blog in Google it returns 1,210,000,000 results. 56 See Darren Waters, Digital Citizen: The Blogger.
40 to look at because there seems to be a consensus am ong authors as to which art is important enough to include and keep pointing to When I first searched for womens blogs, I allowed this sort of logic to prop el me forward. At the very least, this grounding in research methods and train ing as an art historian could be a starting point for the journey into this unfam iliar territory. After very little time reading the content on Heat her Armstrongs site, I felt a strong natural pull towards the material. Heathe r is tall, white, upper middle class, a little younger than I am, and a self-descr ibed perfectionist. She struggles with depression, is self-depreciating and her style of presentation and writing appealed immediately to me. It is about sameness. She is not just like me, but enough like me that I am willing to engage, and rea d, and look at the pictures. She made me laugh and wish that I had written what she had about where shed been. Because I had been there too. Not just lik e she had, but there were enough similarities between us that I wanted to fin d out how she got to where she was, and what would happen next. I had not bee n finished looking when Jenni closed her site, and now Heather presented to me a very real alternative for the visual practice I had enjoyed in interfacin g with Jenni. With Heather on my screen, I was able to reclaim what I thought had been lost with the girl cams. In her content I found that a blog could be the mir ror and the portal to looking and thinking critically. As a spectator, I am now in a place that Rosalind Krauss witnesses in Boomerang a video made by Richard Serra, featuring Nancy Ho lt:
41 What Holt is describing in Boomerang is a situation in which the action of the mirror-reflection severs her from a sense of text: from the prior words she has spoken; from the way language connect s both to her own past and to a world of objects. What she comes to is a space where, as she says, I am surrounded by me.57 Like the creation of a new kind of space by Serra, Dooce is a place where flickering images, language, looking and reflection echo around a viewer to create a distinct experience of simultaneous connec tion and disconnection that leads to new ways of thinking about spectatorship, subjecthood and the objects and spaces of these inquiries. Through reading her near-daily posts (Heather posts with regularity every weekday) and referring back to older posts to fill in the blanks, I quickly brought myself up to speed on the saga that is her unfoldin g life, as she presents it (Figure 17). My name is Heather B. Armstrong. Some of you may re member me as Heather B. Hamilton. I am married to a charming gee k named Jon. We live in Salt Lake City, Utah, with our two-year-old daughter, Leta Elise, and our four-year-old dog, Chuck. I am a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM) or a Shit Ass Ho Mot herfucker. I do both equally well. This website chronicles my life from a time when I was single and making a lot of money as a web designer in Los Angeles, to when I was dating the man who would become my husband, to when I lost my job and lived life as an unemployed drunk, to when I married my husban d and moved to Utah, to when I became pregnant, to when I threw up and became unbearably swollen during the pregnancy, to the bir th, to the aftermath, to the postpartum depression that landed me in a menta l hospital. Im better now.58 57 Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, October Vol. 1 (1976): 53. 58 Information is from the About This Site section o f Heathers site http://www.dooce.com/about.html (accessed March 3, 2007).
42 For me, enough said. Each day I log on to see what new things have happened to Heather Armstrong, in her life at home and in he r mind. I want to know what develops with her because it echoes some of the str uggles I have with myself. Sometimes I cant articulate the worries that I hav e, but I can go to Dooce and find a category there, with a post, that represents something that will put me in touch with the thing inside myself that can find no language. Heather represents to women the promise that Naomi Wolf was ultimately looking for in the Beauty Myth a place to gather and re-consider what we see and believe. In reading the blog, looking at the p ictures and navigating the content that is available, I come to understand tha t this experience offers me an alternative to the seductive, packaged siren song o f womens magazines. Women want to know about other women; they want to know what they look like and how they feel, but it is now understood that ma gazines give only false performances designed to sell goods and services. For so long (since women became consumers of products and images) magazines have been the only choice for women when choosing where to look for id entity. Even while engaged, it is understood that these magazines are counter-productive. Wolf explains: Readers themselves are often ambivalent about the pleasure mixed up with anxiety that they provide.59 And this is what women experience when reaching out to popular media constructions to see something that can help shore up identity. Women need more than pleasure mixed up with anxiety 59 Wolf, Beauty 62.
43 when trying to check the self in the cultural mirro r to assure ourselves that were being women right. Post Partum Depression Meets Post Partum Document Perhaps most compelling in Dooce are Heathers writings about her encounters with depression and her accurate, sensit ive, humorous and sincere description of the affliction. She has battled the disease her entire adult life, and took anti-depressants up until the time of her firs t pregnancy. After giving birth, Heather tries to stay medication free so that she c an breastfeed her daughter, Leta. Through her blog, readers can follow (or ret race her steps) as she concocts coping strategies to help her deal with he r escalating anxiety, and witness the gradual decline of her psyche. The des cent begins with the end of her pregnancy, continues after she gives birth, and accelerates along with her anxiety level as she is confronted by an infant who screams and cannot be soothed. For more than six months she struggles, u ntil she is forced by constant thoughts of suicide into checking herself into a me ntal hospital.60 This is a place I have, literally, been before. De pression, intense anxiety attacks, and a fear for my own safety have driven m e, on a few occasions, into the protected walls of a mental hospital. Finding the words to describe what makes a person cross this barrier, into the stigmat ized world of psychiatrists and the company of others who are in desperate fear of losing their own minds, is difficult.61 The most terrifying thing about slipping into dep ression is losing my 60 The extended narrative of Heathers battle with de pression is available in Appendix B. 61 Andrew Solomon is eloquent with his description i n The Noonday Demon : There is a moment, if you trip or slip, before your hand shoots out to break your fall, when you feel the earth rushing
44 words, and my ability to express myself. There is a gradual slowing down to the point of inaction. This loss of words in my depres sion corresponds to the original loss we all suffer, the separation from our mothers : when first words are spoken we are irretrievably separated from her. This is a loss that will cause a subject to try to find her again, along with other objects of love, first in the imagination, then in words.62 All of these concepts pastiche together while con templating Heathers site (mother as artist, acquiring languag e and the resulting symbolic break from the mother, anxiety, depression and imag ination) as a construction. Remembering another place where these ideas and exp eriences reside leads the eye from Dooce back to the history of 1970s, and Mary Kellys Post-Partum Document Mary Kelly as precedent for Dooce In the years from 1973 1979, artist and scholar M ary Kelly gave birth to her first child, a son, and nurtured this baby thro ugh the seminal moments of childhood. Concurrently, she was also making art about the experience. Flush with her knowledge of Freud and especially Lacan, s he set out to make a work that did not include or represent her body or the b ody of her son in any way. She up at you and you cannot help yourself, a passing, fraction-of-a-second terror. I felt that way hour after hour after hour. Being anxious at this extre me level is bizarre. You feel all the time that yo u want to do something, that there is some affect tha t is unavailable to you, that theres a physical need of impossible need and urgency and discomfort for which there is no relief, as though you were constantly vomiting from your stomach but had no mouth. With the depression, your vision narrows and begins to close down; it is like trying to watch TV through terrible static, where you can sort of see the picture but not really; where y ou cannot ever see peoples faces, except almost if there is a close-up; where nothing has ed ges. The air seems thick and resistant, as though it were full of mushed-up bread. Becoming d epressed is like going blind, the darkness is at first gradual, then encompassing; it is like goi ng deaf, hearing less and less until a terrible silence is all around you, until you cannot make an y sound on your own to penetrate the quiet. (50) 62 Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia trans. by Leon S. Rouidez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 6.
45 relied on diagrams, documents, and items from her h ome that were used in service of caring for her child to carry her heavil y coded messages. As a whole, the work is called Post-Partum Document and as Kelly herself describes it in the Introduction to the work: IN THE POST-PARTUM DOCUMENT, I AM TRYING TO SHOW TH E RECIPROCITY OF THE PROCESS OF SOCIALIZATION IN THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF LIFE. IT IS NOT ONLY THE INFANT WHOSE FUTURE PERSONALITY IS FORMED AT THIS CRUCIAL MOMENT, BUT A LSO THE MOTHER WHOSE FEMININE PSYCHOLOGY IS SEALED BY THE SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOR IN CHILDCARE.63 It is important to note how the Post-Partum Document exists as an art object in its own space and historic time period. Critic Andrea Fraser notes in her article On the Post Patrum Document in Afterimage (which is an engagement with the work in book form), published i n 1986: Kelly began work on her six-years, six-part, 135-pi ece interrogation of maternal femininity in 1973, the same year Laura Mu lvey delivered Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema as a lecture and Jul iet Mitchell completed Psychoanalysis and Feminism for publication. All three women participated in the same study group at the Womens Liberation Workshop in London.64 Although in some ways it is impossible to unanchor this work from the 1970s, I primarily understand the work, in my generation, as a high form of feminist art. The work is pictured in nearly every book I own or have looked at that seeks to illuminate the work of women artists (Figure 18). It is the work of feminist art because Kelly is a woman (mother) and an artist at the same time, without showing her self in any way. And yet I never reall y understood what it was trying 63 Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Californi a Press, 1999), 1. 64 On the Post-Partum Document , in Afterimage (New York, March 1986); rpt. in Post-Partum Document by Mary Kelly (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Universi ty of California Press, 1999), 214.
46 to say. Thats tough to admit because as Lucy Lip pard reminds me If any work of art should be allowed to speak for itself, it is this one, since its goal is to give voice .65 and Laura Mulvey seconds it gives voice to the p ain and pleasure that women have lived as mothers, understood by eac h other, despised as domestic by dominant culture.66 But the voices of these texts sound just like the ones permanently discarded for telling me I have pe nis envy and castration anxiety. These words have not convinced me. Until now. Now that I have read and lived with Hea ther Armstrongs words and her journey through motherhood, now that I have more knowledge about myself and the masquerade, now, now I can see. Ins tead of dismissing Kellys work as some overly theoretical pile of conceptual (and formally gorgeous) fetish objects, I can now (after working through Dooce ) see what she was getting at. But I needed to be shown, I needed to be invested, and Kelly didnt give that to me over my years as an aspiring feminist and schola r.67 Heather did. When Lucy Lippard saw Mary Kellys Post-Partum Docu ment in 1977, she had a personal way of reading it. I saw it, as mo st people do initially, as a fetish a more or less conventional work of art, visually refined, hung on the wall in pretty plastic boxes.68 When I came across the site that Heather Armstrong was building, I had a similar reaction. I felt that the work showed the formal signs of being pleasurable to look at and th at it collected things that were 65 Foreward to Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), xii. 66 Post-Partum Document review, in Spare Rib no. 40 (London, 1976); rpt. in Post-Partum Document by Mary Kelly (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Universi ty of California Press, 1999), 202. 67 And this is also due in part because Mary Kelly had to disguise her work, thinking through the complex combination of subjecthood that is mother a nd artist, as conceptual art. 68 Kelly, Post-Partum xi.
47 vitally important to her, her writings, photographs of her daughter, her dog, her home and her husband into a nicely displayed compos ition (Figures 19, 20 and 21). But the engagement became more pronounced as I became more familiar with the depth and breadth of the materials and the project itself. As Lippard goes on to say: On a general level, the juxtaposition suggested the collaged lives of women who choose both to create and procreate, to p lay both the masculine and feminine social roles. And finally I was moved by the intellectual refinement that I then only sensed ben eath the images surfaces. I went home and read the lengthy Footno tes and Bibliography booklet that revealed some of those depths. In the next four years I saw additional sections of the work, saw the piece exhi bited as a whole, and read a great deal more about and by Mary Kelly, my respect increasing with each new effort.69 I do not intend to say that Dooce displays the rigor to intellectual ideals that Mar y Kelly strives for and interrogates. If Heathers s ite were all Lacanian diagrams and intricate feeding charts, it would not have com pelled me to stay. But Lippards way of reading Kellys work echoes the en gagement that is possible with some types of internet spectatorship (in this example reading blogs), and also points to how it differs from looking at art o bjects. In the discourse that lauds Kellys work as high a rt worthy of inclusion in the canon there are echoes of the associations that can be found in carefully constructed blogs like Heathers Dooce Lippard writes about integration with social life and interaction with audience: After 13 years of scrutiny of womens and feminist art, it seems to me that the most important contributions are those which pr ovide not only an image or even a new form of language, but those whi ch delve down and move out into social life itself. These works tend like PPD to be 69 Ibid., xi.
48 intricately structural, the results of years of lab or not autonomous series, but ongoing sequences of learning, communication, i ntegration and learning some more from the responses of the chosen audiences.70 Jo-Anna Isaak on the possibility of using the objec t for new meaning-making: The intent and the effect of this theoretical mergi ng is to bring the viewer and the materiality of the work together in such a way that the reading of the text becomes a subversive act. The process of u nderstanding how meanings are produced and organized in language lea ds to the undermining of the bourgeois order shattering its belief in a transparent text.71 Margaret Iversen, with more details on the process of seeing the work: As we move between visual interest, theory and narr ative, we make different discourses, different modes of significat ion, inform each other. Rather than confirming some a priori unity of consciousness, the artistic practice pictures the construction of the subject within an ensemble of social relations and discourses.72 And Paul Smith, on how women subjects can reclaim t heir stories inside and outside of theory: In her art-practice there is now the theoreticallyworked room for the subjects hopeful and happy writing, as that must n ow begin to assert its importance alongside the moral discourse of the des perate and the melancholy protagonists/antagonists for whom discou rse is truth.73 These same possibilities repeat, repeat in my mind as I read Heathers site. With Dooce, Heather moves the subjects of motherhood, domestic intimacy, and the psychological growth of women within the confines o f home and childcare out into social life itself (Lippard). Her practice pictures the construction of the 70 Ibid, xv. 71 Our Mother Tongue: the Post-Partum Document , in Vanguard Vo. 2, no. 3 (Vancouver, British Columbia, 1982); rpt. in Post-Partum Document by Mary Kelly (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 204. 72 The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Own Desire: Readi ng Mary Kellys Post-Partum Document , in Discourse No. 4 (Berkeley, 1981); rpt. in Post-Partum Document by Mary Kelly (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 210. 73 Mother as a Site of Her Proceedings: Mary Kelly s Post-Partum Document . in Parachute no. 26 (Montreal, Ontario 1982); rpt. in Post-Partum Document by Mary Kelly (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 213
49 subject within an ensemble of social relations and discourses (Iversen), as these are not autonomous series, but ongoing sequences o f learning, communication, integration and learning some more from the respons es of the chosen audiences (Lippard again). Both Heather and Kelly are working to elucidate the pitfalls of motherhood. Kelly chooses not to picture herself and to reveal intimate details only as a counterpoint to the tremendous dogmatic elements of the composition. This protects her from potential criticisms that would p oint to representing her body and the body of her child to the male gaze. In 197 9, that would just be business as usual, the woman offered up for consumption. He athers choice, from 20012007, is to include herself, to reveal herself (Fig ure 22), to represent her body, the body of her child and that of her husband. She also opens a view of her private spaces, her home, so that we can have an id ea about where the events are taking place. If Kellys strategy was to exclu de the self so that we would pay attention to the inadequacies of our own understand ings of motherhood as they had been explained to us, what is the strategy of Dooce ? Heather constructs her site as carefully as she arr anges the items in her home (Figure 23). As the site is built, it contain s all of the important memories (visual and textual) that Heather hopes to remember and preserve. Part of Heather lives in Dooce and always will. In Dooce Heather will always have a place where she was one (single life), part of a du o (courtship and marriage), and part of trio (pregnancy, birth and motherhood). It can all ways, always house her desire, her memory and the artifacts from her journ ey.
50 Comparing Dooce and PPD begins to put into practice the ideas of feminism: the questioning of images, of texts, of l ooking, and of feminine masquerade. It is the place where women watch her performance, consider their own, compare themselves with history and assess the work which yet needs to be done.
51 Chapter Six Looking at Stephanie Klein we must acknowledge the positions from which we s ee, the particular embodiment of our own eyes, and then be both critic al of our vision and accountable for it. Marsha Meskimmon in The Art of Reflection Stephanie Klein is the kind of girl that other girl s envy. Her hair is longer, prettier (and redder), she is smaller and thinner, her life is more glamorous and she always seems to have stylish jewelry and clothi ng. In other words, there is envy for her body, what she has naturally, and what she achieves with it her style and panache. Her blog is easy to find becau se she is a master selfpromoter, having worked as an interactive art dire ctor in advertising74 for a top ad agency in New York City. Her blog reflects her sensibilities as a proficient marketer and her ability to get across a message I am fabulous, I am beautiful, and I am so together and to sell herself as the mo st intelligent, glittering and captivating woman in New York (Figure 24). If a woman like this is going to write a diary-like site, with pictures, and post it to the internet, it will compel women to re ad it. Im powerless. The part of female masquerade that seeks to mimic,75 to spend ones life chasing after 74 Information is from the About Stephanie Tara Klein section of Stephanies site http://www.stephanieklein.com/about.html (accessed March 5, 2007). 75 I have to acknowledge my own antitheatrical prejud ice in watching Stephanie Kleins performance. This prejudice, originating in the wo rks of Plato, tells us to be wary of imitations of Forms (the original true thing). When feeling this prejudice, performances become like the shadows seen on the wall of Platos cave, or in my case, the internet. There is the lingering question of what is authentic and what is only a se cond-rate copy. Mimesis is not the whole of womens performance, and it is especially important to acknowledge that through my
52 looking good, demands it. But its not long after my spectatorship begins that I see what the surface image hides. Its what women suspect and hope for all along (again, women know it from the pleasure mixe d up with anxiety that Naomi Wolf exposes as part and parcel of The Beauty Myth to be found in culture). These women that seem so enchanting and intensely delighted with themselves are all just master performers. Most o f Stephanies words convey what the pictures cant. She is a terrified girl w ho longs for acceptance, wants everything to be perfect, and is willing to work ve ry hard to make everything appear just so. Her grip on the presentation of he r life is stone cold. hard knock life December 4, 2004 There are women in this world who lipo suck and spi t silicone, and I know they do it for confidence. Because no amount of ti t alone makes you desirable; its how you wear it. I diet, and somet imes while Im busy dieting, I somehow forget to diet. I eat fries and burgers at 2 am thinking Ill be better the next day. Next day is full of h ungover and get me an egg and cheese on a roll before I vomit again. Im try ing really hard to be the thin girl. I hate myself fat, more than I hate mys elf stupid. Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth and hit replay all night, wishing I'd stayed home. More often than not, though, instead of my foot, I swallow everything else. And then I wake up with something worse than guilt: insecurity. It's worse, even, than the fact that m y jeans which were loose only a month ago now push fat out along the edges. Oh dear god, I have edges. Fuck curves; theyre edges. Lane Bryants marketing people are good. interrogation of Kleins strategy, I hope to furthe r understand the special onus on women to get past this constriction. In my wish to get away fro m Rivieres assessment of masquerade as a mask (Doane) to get closer to a manipulable (Do ane) masquerade and Butlers more complex definition of performance as a practice of improvi sation within a scene of constraint, I have to work through my prejudice when regarding and questi oning representations that are only mimesis, that never move past imitation to more pro ductive and meaningful ends.
53 Thats me, me with me (sic) fear of fat and insecur ity, from a lifetime of being Moose. Save me the 'that's not who you are a nymore' talk. It is very much who I still am inside, regardless of my s ize 6 clothing. I think I'll always be the fat girl, and you know what, that jus t has to be alright. While I've grown up into a thin woman, Moose will a lways be a part of who I am. And while you might be tempted to say when I realize I've outgrown that puffy girl, then I'll be real, you're wrong. Realizing that Moose is who I was, and who I will always fear being again, is who I really am. That's real. Weve all got our own worries of inadequacy. At l east you have a personality and depth, Lea says over the phone. I mean, you can always lose weight. There are people out there dev oid of passion and soul, Stephanie. And you cant learn that. There s no diet for it. Yeah, but men don't want to date passion and soul with a double chin. Some of my girlfriends ask me to teach them to talk dirty. I laugh and apologize, Its not something you can really teach You either feel it or you dont. Come on, just a little something And then I share with them, in the back of a taxica b, my latest bedroom vocals. Where do you come up with this stuff? Even the c ab driver turns his head when I say the words fill me. Thats the thing. You dont invent it; you genuine ly feel it. I even know some women who ask me when they should moan. This isnt a theorem or periodic table with rules. You stop worrying, a nd start really letting yourself enjoy the moment, just as you are. I get pleasure from expressing myself, and to be honest, Im worried I cant believe there are women out there who fake things. But then I lo ok in the mirror. Im no different; I just fake thin. Maybe were all knock-offs, spending years trying to pass for the real thing We all want to be desired and sought after, but at what price? Ive learned my price. Bottom line, we all want someone to love us for who we really are, whether were conservative, soft-spoken or timid. And in my case, loud, passionate, and sometimes fat. And we dont become the pricey must have, the real deal, until we stop tryi ng to knock ourselves off.
54 We become valuable when we realize our worth just a s we are. (Emphasis is mine)76 Stephanie is terrified of her own masquerade. Look ing at her eases the dread women feel that they will be found out as fak ers. The construction of her site reassures that loud and bawdy women are someti mes rewarded, and it simultaneously serves as a touchstone to what rampa nt materialism looks like (Figure 25 and 26). The level of guilt and anxiety I can tolerate is to consume her consuming (Figure 27). I want to set up a connecti on to productive performance against Stephanies particular example, but I still worry about this disguise. Proceeding with caution, Naomi Wolfs warning rever berates in my dreams: The modern arsenal of myth is a dissemination of mi llions of images of the current ideal; although this barrage is generally s een as a collective sexual fantasy, there is little that is sexual about it. It is summoned out of political fear on the part of male-dominated institutions thr eatened by womens freedom, and it exploits female guilt and apprehens ion about our own liberation latent fears that we might be going to o far.77 Stephanie is the temptation of consumption and the seductive beat of advertising that caters to the new feminine folklore of pretty perfection in all things. Do women listen to be critical, or is the melody seduc ing us? Carving A Greek Tragedy In 1973, Eleanor Antin experimented with performanc e/document when she put together 148 photographs of herself taken o ver a five-week period, as she engaged in an intense diet (Figure 28). The b lack and white photographs 76 Excerpt is from the fat passing for thin section of Stephanies site http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/greek_tragedy/2004/ 12/hard_knock_life.html (accessed March 5, 2007). 77 Beauty 16.
55 display her, from all four sides, in a very straigh tforward manner. Joanna Frueh says in The Body Through Womens Eyes: Far from being glamorous, the four repeated poses t urn the poetry of the nude into mug-shot prose. Overweight women commit a crime against patriarchal femininity, but women who diet are arti sts who try to shape perfection. Antins intention was, in her own word s, to make an academic sculpture, an ideal form. Just as the Classical G reek nude occludes womens bodies in this kind of aesthetically rigid form, so the socially correct beautiful body disciplines and punishes women, through frustration, guilt, anxiety, and competitiveness wi th other women.78 Antin calls this work Carving: A Traditional Sculpture to point to the ways in which women participate in rigorous controls of the boundaries of the body in attempting to sculpt the self into perfection. Ste phanie, along with many women in our consumer society, suffer through the punishm ents of desire and search for the roots in an effort to allay the pain. She pret ends, and writes, and I watch, while thinking about her efforts to craft the perfe ct site -on the internet, in her books, in her life and with her own body (Figure 29 ). Looking at Stephanie, there is futility. It is exp ressed fully in the discourse on Antins work: In Carving the future-orientation of the project is accompan ied by a sense of incompetence. Femininity is articulated as fals e consciousness and as a type of labour in the form of dieting. It record s the ritual of selfobservation involved in the process and brings to m ind the sense of failure that accompanies this. Here femininity consists of a developmental, teleological aspiration to an identity that is, ult imately, never achieved.79 Women can never get there. And . 78 The Body Through Womens Eyes, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact, eds. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: H arry N. Abrams, 1996), 195. 79 Clare Johnson, Traces of Feminist Art, Feminist Theory 7.3 (2006): 315.
56 The work describes a never-ending, but nevertheless measured, movement towards an unobtainable goal, which is, in turn, always shifting its terrain.80 While Antin intends her work to be about the unatta inable, and uses photography to document her efforts (the actual dieting) that e xist outside the time that society considers productive, Stephanie is documenting her time spent in the rituals of being a woman as productivity. Because of the visual memory of Ant ins Carving when regarding Stephanie, I already know shes st riving for something that will in all ways elude her. Im getting bette r at seeing. Klein intends for her site name, Greek Tragedy to portray the disappointment and shame that overtook her spirit w hen all the sororities at the affiliated Columbia University spurned her when she sought to pledge them while attending Barnard College (where she graduated magn a cum laude).81 greek tragedy May 11, 2004 In high school I was "Moose," the fat smart-ass pre sident of the science club oh yes I was, too. Upon my arrival at college, I was thin and on my way to becoming a writer. I was popular and fashion able. What do popular thin girls do at college? They pledge. Rush night, Im decked in an espresso brown gabardi ne suit, white French cuff top, Gucci vintage bag; Im brown envy. Were made to visit rooms of different sororities, housed in an official buildin g. Each sorority had a room, where we toured, introducing ourselves in our own small clusters of a rush group. I was friendly and polite. Stacked up names and tried to use them again, to feign interest. Oh thanks so much, nice meeting you Simone. I was even nice at the sorority known as the one with the dogs. 80 Ibid., 315. 81 Information is from Stephanie Kleins official bi ography on Harper Collins website http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/29946/Stephani e_Klein/index.aspx (accessed March 5, 2007).
57 Once I met the girls from the good sorority I was swarmed. They were attracted to me, could tell I was salt of the same earth The next evening, we picked up our bid envelopes, t elling us which sororities wanted our pledges. Unlike the other env elopes fanned in alphabetical order, mine was cast off to the side. Biffy (I swear to god, her name was actually Biffy) offered me an awkward smil e as she handed me my envelope. No one wanted me. I was the only one in the entire rush not wanted by anyone. Even the pimply faced dog fat girls got bid s. You know the types. They walk around in tapered jeans and line the back seat of their cars with small stuffed animals. It was heart breaking. I nev er told anyone, until now, as I type this at 1:12 AM in the thunderstorm. Instead, I said People without social skills join sororities at city schoo ls. Im too much of an individual. An individual who went to her dorm alo ne and cried. No one wanted me.82 Stephanie is carving a sculpture on her site and I am looking. She wants me to see that she is imperfect, but the perfection she seeks in her own performance would make the Greeks, with their ideal s, look like the pimply faced dog fat girls she both despises and secretly fears I perceive her tragedy to be less in the rejections from sorority girls and more in moments like this one, from an abortion clinic, where Stephanie ponders her cho ice to terminate her pregnancy after she learns her husband has been unf aithful. She recalls this conversation: Who would be with her when he could be with me? Ju st as I ponied up to thoughts of mommyhood, Gabe [Stephanie s soon to be exhusband] saddled the idea of another woman. Mrs. R obinson didnt just rob the cradle she stole away with my rattle, bou ncer seat, and designer diaper bag. I didnt care that my vagina was now showing, as I heaved into my knees, grabbing handfuls of my gown, I began to cry 82 Edited excerpt is from the greek tragedy sectio n of Stephanies site http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/greek_tragedy/2004/ 05/go_outside.html (accessed March 5, 2007).
58 Dont worry sweetie. Youre still young. Youve got plenty of time to meet many more assholes. She didnt seem surpr ised by my tears. This wasnt an accident. We tried to have this ba by. We tried for months, and the fucking piece of shit coward is pro bably playing golf right now. I wanted everyone to hate him. You can change your mind. You dont have to . No, I didnt want a baby, I said through the sno t, I wanted a family. I crossed my arms around my shoulders, an d began to rack myself out of the sobs.83 Here, she admits that she is willing to get pregnan t only in the service of completing the perfect picture of her marriage (I didnt want a baby, I wanted a family). When that marriage proves, through her h usbands infidelity, to be less than perfect, she is willing to terminate her pregn ancy, discarding the baby because she couldnt have the family she wanted ( a picture in her mind that included rattle, bouncer seat, and designer diaper bag.) This is where imitationonly representation reveals the ugly side of Carving for perfection. In Carving Antin is prompting the viewer to think about the ways women attempt and document changes in their lives. Antin puts the pictorial documentation of a diet, her attempt to make change s and sculpt delicately from her insides out, on display. In these documents sh e is nude, baring all, in the hope of illuminating for women the futility in seek ing perfection in the flesh of womans bodily form. Antin presented her body as the object of her own s culpting activity, through a process that, unlike carving, worked from the inside out. Like the Greek sculptor she could choose when to stop.84 Stephanie is also trying to work on herself from th e inside out, and by constantly working on her site, she makes progress (Figure 30) Greek Tragedy is where 83 Stephanie Klein, Straight Up and Dirty A Memoir (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), 237-238. 84 Helena Reckitt, ed., Art and Feminism (New York: Phaidon, 2001), 85.
59 Stephanie (like Antin) displays herself from all si des, in an attempt at naked honesty and a place to work on her insides, both bo dy and mind: I blog for many reasons, mainly it's my "throat cle aring," an online journal of thoughts and questions I try to write for myself As my life changes, so does my blog. It's a diary. I don't keep it to ente rtain or delight. It's a record of my life, and by putting myself out there, I hope others find comfort and maybe learn something, right along with me. So whil e it began documenting my slew of dates as a Oncewife with a W asband in NYC, it has since followed me to Austin, Texas with my furk id, Linus, and my fianc, The Suitor.85 Through looking at Stephanie, reading her words, an d remembering Antin, women can continue to learn to choose when to stop (Reckitt) when performing their own identities. In moving ever closer to Bu tlers performance of woman as improvisation, women can learn here to give in a li ttle less to fears of inauthenticity and a little more to the matrix of p ossibilities in improvising multiple authenticities. 85 Excerpt is from the first time visitors section of Stephanies site http://www.stephanieklein.com/first.html (accessed March 13, 2007). Stephanie is now marri ed to The Suitor and gave birth to twins in December of 2 006.
60 Chapter Seven Watching Monica And while feminism may have freed women to fuck, t he fuck has in many ways stayed the same Merri Lisa Johnson in Jane Sexes It Up Monica Bielanko is a 29 year-old Salt Lake City tr ansplant living in New York City. She is tumultuously married to a rock m usician she calls The Surge. She began her blog in July of 2005, with aspiration s of honing her writing and working through some disturbing events from her chi ldhood and her recent past (growing up Mormon, an abortion, dating a married m an, etc.). Her journal is an experimental type of therapy, a way to work through to adulthood, and an attempt to leave some of the things that haunt her memories and her current existence, outside of her somehow. Her goal is to write the s tory of her life -she intersperses her Chapters of recollections with o ld family photographs and videos, and with anecdotes and images from her dail y life in New York City (Figures 31 and 32). Of the bloggers in this study, Monica mediates and self-edits her performance the least. Despite the fact that she i s a professional writer (working overnights at Good Morning America ) and has spent her career in news reporting86 she does not rewrite herself the way she edits the news. It is clear in 86 Information is from Monicas blog entries And Her Happiness Made Her Boring http://www.thegirlwho.net/journal/2007/1/15/and-her -happiness-made-her-boring.html and What Do You Do? Oh, Im Between Jobs http://www.thegirlwho.net/journal/2006/6/9/what-doyou-dooh-im-between-jobs.html (accessed February 11, 2007).
61 her writing that because of her chosen profession, she knows the difference. She says about her writing: Women are amazing creatures whose identities and se lf-esteem get a regular bulldozing by the celebrity perpetuation of the ideal woman. Fuck Cosmo with it's (sic) airbrushed celebrity photos a nd articles that have the nerve to pander to the average women while trying t o make us feel like shit about our normal bodies, bad relationships and boring jobs.87 Monicas site contains the most awareness that livi ng life as a woman of her generation involves an awful lot of performing, and the most hope that it is possible to move beyond it. In the space of her p erformance there is promise in peeling back the layers, remembering how women lear n to perform, and there is also optimism that perhaps women can learn a new wa y together. Contrasting with her current life in the city, whe re she struggles with money, career and marriage to a man who is often ab sent, Monica reveals details about coming of age in Utah. She is making public through the words and images on her site, her transition to womanhood, wi th all of its insecurity, falsestarts and failures. The episodic evolution of her current self is very much tied to the young girl she once was, reading Judy Blume and comparing herself to other adolescent girls. She remembers the events of her early discoveries with clarity and wit: Community Cunt She was the first girl I knew who used a sponge to apply foundation. Whats that youre doing? Its a make-up sponge. Like, to clean make-up off your face? No, it helps smooth on foundation evenly. 87 From an on-line interview with Monica Bielanko on the Daring Female website. http://www.daringfemale.com/featured_fem18.php (accessed February 11, 2007).
62 Oh. She was the girl who taught me what fingering mea ns. He fingered you? Yes! Can you believe it? Like, he gave you the bird? Flipped you off? No, he stuck his finger up my pussy. Oh! I flinched as the word pussy slid off her ton gue as if slathered in the baby oil she was rubbing liberally on her bronzed l egs. She was the first girl I knew who took a razor to h er bikini area. Look how smooth it is. She said while thrusting h er pelvis into my face. Um.. what exactly am I looking at here? My bikini line! No razor burn, see! You shave there? Why? I only shave to my knees. Boys dont like a hairy beaver. Oh. Beaver? Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 200688 The Girl Who Lives in Another CuntTree As I have invested myself in her site, reading abou t her childhood, and her current experiences and speculations in New York Ci ty, I am reminded of an article I saw reprinted in the book Feminist Art Criticism It is written by Maryse Holder, who is most famous for her sexual sojurn an d murder in Mexico89, but the tone of her writing in 1973 somehow parallels the w riting of Bielanko now. What Holder had been searching for, and thought she had discovered At Last, a Mainstream Female Art Movement is familiar to me. I have discovered the same thing in womens new self-representations on t he internet. In the article, Holder explores her experiences wi th artists, art and gallery spaces as she is becoming aware that women all ov er the country and in all 88 Excerpt is from Monicas blog entry Community Cun t http://www.thegirlwho.net/tgw/2006/2/1/community-cu nt.html (accessed February 11, 2007). 89 See Maryse Holders Give Sorrow Words: Maryse Holders Letters From Mex ico.
63 media are describing unprecedentedly explicit sexua l content.90 Among the things she recounts is seeing Judy Chicagos silksc reen Red Flag (Figure 32). What we see of the posture suggests assertive stanc e, staunch bloodletting; it makes taking out a Tampax a warrio rs act. This print breaks not only the menstrual taboo but suggests th at any revelation, if handled confidently, is possible.91 Such optimism for disclosure brings Monicas writin g immediately to mind, and how she often puts menstruation into a contemporary context. Monica is not afraid to (literally) sling her tampons around: Holiday It Would Be So Nice It's raining when we leave the club. My hair goes f rom pin straight to a swirling vortex of heavy metal rocker hair within s econds. So we hail a cab not because my hair is out of control but because it's raining. On the way home I engaged my husband in a bit of The Hanky Pan ky and then realized there would be no hanky or panky for me be cause it is That Time Of The Month. Disapointed (sic) that I would not be able to have my cliche of taxicab sex I set to work on The Surge. As we zoomed through th e Lower East Side to the soundtrack of the Middle Eastern drivers' forei gn rants into his walkie talkie thingy I decided I would not, could not be s topped from enjoying myself. Was wearing requisite Black Dress, no under wear and so I did what any self respecting lady who wanted Some Actio n would do. In one swift movement I cranked the window down, yanked my tampon out and flung it into the inky night and got back to the bu siness at hand. And that my friends, is how tampons end up on the streets. Posted on Thursday, October 5, 200692 Monicas conscientiousness in portraying female sex uality isnt always confident. She is painfully aware of her own perfo rmance while engaging in sexual activities with her husband. Honestly, and as a supplement to the jaunty 90 Another Cuntree: At Last, a Mainstream Female Ar t Movement, off our backs 3.10 (1973): 2. 91 Ibid., 3 92 Excerpt is from Monicas blog entry Holiday It Would Be So Nice http://thegirlwho.squarespace.com/journal/2006/10/5 /holiday-it-would-be-so-nice.html (accessed February 11, 2007).
64 self-portraits which have her appearing sexy and co nfident (Figures 34 and 35), she communicates about her need to self-medicate so that she can feel less uneasy in the bedroom. I Want To Know About But when it comes to activities in the boudoir, I a m still an uptight little Mormon girl. Most of the time. I need to know I'm n ot alone. I hate myself for not being the wife The Surge deserves. I want t o rock his rock'n'roll world. I know I do, for the most part... I make him laugh, I surprise him with my knowledge, he likes to read this here blog... Ye t when it comes to sex, much of the time I end up feeling guilty or foolish like an actor. I fold into myself. Origami girl. Don't touch me. I feel weird. I want to lose myself in the moment, not think about it. I wanna get freaky, yo! Yet, unless I've smoked a joint, most of the time I am hyper aware a nd can't let go I remember one night, I was high on The Pot and beg an ogling The Surge with "The Look".. The Look that says I want to brut ally fuck you and I'm going to do it right now! He likes that look. I rem ember making out with him on our couch, high school style, for what felt like hours. "I finally feel like myself. Like, when I'm high al l that weird sex bullshit that buzzes around my head is gone and I can be who I re ally am." I said to him between tongue battle. "Don't say that." he said. "Why" "Because you need to feel like yourself when you ar en't high." The sageness of this sentence struck me like a fist and then haunted me for days. Why can't I feel natural, like myself during sex?? I've been told by former lovers that I ooze sex app eal. Now, I don't know whether that's true but I do know that I know how t o act sexy, I just don't know how to seal the deal in the bedroom. Well, I k now how to do that too I just don't know how to relax and feel okay and not weird about it, oh say, three times a week? Is that the right number? Posted on Monday, September 4, 200693 93 Excerpt is from Monicas blog entry I Want to Kno w About http://thegirlwho.squarespace.com/journal/2006/9/4/ i-want-to-know-about.html (accessed February 11, 2007).
65 I do know that I know how to act sexy, Monica says. Its the being sexy, the space between our performance and our bodies th at makes us keep questioning our masquerades. Holder pronounces in 1973 that Women are the natural mystics of sex. Repression a lso plays its part in the new sexualism of women: we are finally allowed not to feel like freaks for being sexual.94 And I wonder, in 2007, folded in front of my comput er screen and contemplating desire, how much progress we have made in 34 years. Steckel and other Forgotten Feminists Holder ends her article by giving an extensive look to the work of Anita Steckel, whose work she has seen at Westbeth, a gal lery and artists residence in Greenwich Village. Her written words ring in my ears: Anita Slavin Arkin Steckel is a breakthrough genius who fuses various elements of popular culture and contemporary conc ern in an original and revolutionary manner. Her form, as well as her con tent, is new.95 She goes on to write about the formal qualities of the work, and comments on the layers of detail that go into each of the large (8 x10) photomontages that she sees in the series called New York Skyline. Anot her of the series, entitled Giant Women in New York are more moderately sized (4x3) and include the photographic image of the artists face (Figure 36) It sounds a lot like Monica to me: Steckel started out with a photograph, then came to grafting a fantasy image, and then decided to superimpose her real sel f in the fantasy image.96 94 Another Cuntree, 5. 95 Ibid., 6. 96 Ibid., 6
66 Monica starts with her writing, tries to cut throug h all the fantasy that goes into making her own image, collages the writing with dig ital representations of herself and pastiches the entire thing into a site that can be accessed through the internet. Steckel renders female experience in a way which ma kes pain undeniable, but also presence, fantasy, power, sexu ality. Most significant, her tone is epic : nothing but the largest arena, the most far reach ing resonances for women.97 Holder claims Steckel for the epic struggles and the hope that she sees unfolding before women. I claim Monica (Figures 37 and 38). This is the promise of the blogs: in appearing as multi-valent sites that chronicle and unpack womens identity, they are the contemporary potential visual and textual communication of the struggle of performing female in the mainstream. These blogs are places where women c an gather, present the self, create imagery, check information and circula te content without objects and the burdens of the material world. Work can be dis played with no gallery, no critic and no invitation. To my mind, wondering about the models in Playboy m agazine and thinking about Judy Chicagos The Dinner Party (1974-1979)98 had happened on two different levels. And these levels were distin ct again from thinking about the self, and how identity is performed, or how all of these things worked together. 97 Ibid., 6. 98 The Dinner Party is an installation piece created by Judy Chicago in collaboration with many female artists. It consists of 39 place-settings a t a triangular table measuring 48 feet on each side. The place settings are meant to designate wo men artists neglected of their place at the table throughout history. Each setting has a plate (with vaginal/vulvar imagery), napkin, utensils and a vessel/goblet that contain and layer symbols and information (name, artworks) about the artists. In addition to the place settings there a re 999 white porcelain floor tiles in the center th at name other women deserving of a place at the table of historical memory.
67 These disparate arenas of wondering can now fuse as women continue to learn how to look at the images that present themselves t o through the portal in the monitor, and the words that appear in the mirror of the screen. Pussy Party On many models I could see, what can only be descri bed as inner lips, protruded like tiny tongues, from between the outer lips. Other women, were neatly packaged like a store wrapped Christmas gift. A tightly wrapped BOX, if you will, a pink bow on top, nary a n inner lip to be found. These pictures bored me. This was what I had imagin ed a pussy should look like. Skin, with a line down the middle. A sma ller version of a butt, really. It was the other pictures that drew me. The everything-out-there girls. They had all the us ual equipment, but when legs were splayed, delicate inner lips popped out a nd saluted the camera. Velvet pink rose petals. These must be inner lips. Makes sense. I get it okay. But then there were the roast beef girls. The ir goodtimes simultaneously fascinated and repulsed me. The woma n, legs spread, with what appeared to be roast beef peeping from ou ter lips. Mocha colored and wrinkled, this was not something I asso ciated with womens' genitalia. Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 200599 In watching, finally, I have been released from the tyrannical mythology of unattainable ideals. In a society that enforces an d distributes misleading tales of the performance of femininity, there is power and a gency in choosing to surveil the self. The masquerade of femininity that women are taught to accept unquestioningly is perpetuated when, as women, we d ont have a place to test real masquerades against perverse ones.100 Our own performances become 99 Excerpt is from Monicas blog entry Pussy Party http://thegirlwho.squarespace.com/tgw/2005/9/28/pus sy-party.html (accessed February 11, 2007). 100 My ideas about perverse masquerade come from Louis e Kaplans Female Perversions A perversion is performed by a person who has no othe r choices, a person who would otherwise be overwhelmed by anxieties or depression or psychosis . (10) and one of my major reasons for exploring the female perversions is to expose the d eceptions that are buried in those social
68 perverse in that we use them to alleviate the anxie ty and frustration we feel in knowing that these performances will never be done, and we can never become actualized. By creating sites for performance of t he self, women are creating a space for other women to check their intractable sc enarios and inquire and interrogate these perverse masquerades (Figure 39). These self-surveyors are creating a place to learn how to look, to discover how to mosaic an identity and a performance together that will be less riddled with impossible and unreal ideals. Shame Spiral So in a way, although I'm trying to be real I end u p performing to an extent. What I realized is this; since I've been wr iting in this blog I stopped keeping a journal. Because this blog was my journal But I don't write everything I'd write in a journal in this blog for fear of offending or hurting someone's feelings. I didn't realize it but I've be en bottling up many of my feelings and not letting them out anywhere. So.. wh at now? I suppose I could turn off comments. It would create a more sol itary vibe so that I feel like I'm only writing for me and if anyone happens to read the shit, great. If not, s'fine too because either way I won't know who 's reading and what they think.. But I like reading comments. Sometimes it's nice to know I'm not alone in my fucked up life endeavors. Also, why am I giving it so much thought? Who the fuck cares, it's just a silly litt le blog. There are millions of 'em out there. Today: I hate myself, I hate The Sur ge, I hate how I think, I hate how I feel. I want to be somebody else. Posted on Thursday, September 7, 2006101 Monica wants to be someone else, then. And thats possible. Women can now improvise in these performances of gender o n the internet, albeit still within a scene of constraint. These performances m ove closer to Judith Butlers definition. As this place of invention opens up, w hat now? How will women gender stereotypes, for whatever else they are abou t, perversions are certainly about the social constraints placed on human desire. (18) 101 Excerpt is from Monicas blog entry Shame Spiral http://thegirlwho.squarespace.com/journal/2006/9/7/ shame-spiral.html (accessed February 11, 2007).
69 devise the next steps in making meaning while doin g gender will the eyes close, to forgetting what came before, and to dream s (Figure 40)? In dreams, women will remember that ...one does not do one s gender alone. One is always doing with or for another, even if the oth er is only imaginary.102 102 Butler, Undoing Gender 1.
70 Chapter Eight Now, Disappearing Grief The imitation and mimicry at the heart of repetiti on is motivated by the desire to retouch, revise, re-interpret how one has lost, is lost. Critical writing, with its citations, quotations, allusiveness, and intertextu al resonance is a field of grief and longing. Peggy Phelan in Mourning Sex There is a fracture in this experience, in encounte ring sites that flicker and appear when called to the screen. They became a pl ace where a rupture occurred and a simultaneous growth ensued. Regard ing them, the spectator is of body and mind contemporaneously, but differently than in a lived existence away from these instances. These are not static ob jects that can be held and controlled, to any extent. In summoning the sites by typing their addresses into an internet browser, the viewer asks to watch a per formance in which they become a player. The performance occurs only then, in those moments of watching, reading and looking into the screen. In the limited visual cues to be found among the textual chains, a mosaic of meaning can be strung together that occurs within the space of these vanishing collages of text, images and sound. The key to this fracture is that these sites are specters as many times as they appear when called, there is always the possibility that they will disappear and never return. One of the promises of feminism has been that women could figure out the riddle of claiming agency in visibility togethe r, but where is the place for this?
71 Without a common and accessible venue, women will k eep re-learning how to produce themselves visually anew each generation un less they can take hold of their performances and acknowledge the desire to kn ow one another across generations and boundaries. By choosing visibility and disclosure, the women I encounter in my study leave traces of their perform ances with which a spectator can work to make connections and find new meanings between there and here, between what the body and mind know, and in the pac e with the viewers desire in visibility. In this spectatorship and meaning-making, a space i s created for women to go back into memory and reclaim ideas about femi nism, art and performance. These ideas have been presented to us intellectuall y but never expressed in such a way as to be fully comprehended at a level w here they could become integrated into the larger context of living. By constructing accessible internet sites upon which to perform and in which to deposit remnants of performance in the form of images and words, the women of this res earch create a space for contextual learning to take place. They create the se sites to validate their own identities and to communicate and be reassured that as women, we all struggle in getting through the performances and productions that become our lives. Viewing and reading them is a consumption to reassu re the self. Women are rendezvousing around the same mirror, and transitio ning into learning to look together. These sites are our collective transitio nal objects. Who needs a transitional object to get to womanhood ? Every woman who lives in a culture that tells her, through all her senses, that hers is a performance
72 that will never be finished, and will never be ackn owledged as such. In no longer believing in the omnipotence or the essential quali ties of femininity, women are now in their own mirror phase. We are not connecte d to this ideal state; we are all alone and embodied, left to figure the riddle o f otherness. I present to you, my reader, not an answer to the riddle, but the report only of my progress in learning to look, and regard myself and the other in the pla ce where technology is a screen, a mirror and a portal. It is Derrida that opens the eyes to blindness and allows this thinking about girl cams and blogs. Derrida brought me to P helan and Phelan insisted I pay attention to Kristeva and Lacan103. As we all dance around our indefinite centers and disappear, threatening to never assign any meaning to anything, there are moments when meaning does materialize onl y to morph into the next moment where it changes yet again. Or is it us, ar e we changing it? Writing about identity, and the artists who are try ing to inscribe it, is much like Derrida describes his attempts at drawing. In truth, I feel myself incapable of following with my hand the prescription of a model: it is as if, just as I was about to dr aw, I no longer saw the thing. For it immediately flees, drops out of sigh t, and almost nothing of it remains; it disappears before my eyes, which, in tr uth, no longer perceive anything but the mocking arrogance of this disappea ring apparition.104 When the girl cam and blog sites are in front of me flickering on my computer screen, I understand the pieces as a communications of personhood. This is what it looks like to be me. This is what it feels like to be me. But when I close 103 Memoirs of the Blind led me to Unmarked to a Black Sun and The Mirror Phase. 104 Memoirs of the Blind: the Self-Portrait and Other R uins, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago and London: University of Chi cago Press, 1993), 36.
73 the screen, disable my portal and walk away from th e mirror and the sites, I am left with only my memory of it and the mosaic quali ties that are inherent in all identity construction. Just as I begin to write ab out my experiences with the sites, it is as if the feeling I had of understandi ng spontaneously abandons me and leaves me with nothing to hold (no real art wor k) and nothing to say. Perhaps this is part of the melancholy that affect s me deeply as I consider working through these problems of identity, as Kris teva laments: Where does this black sun come from? Out of what e erie galaxy do its invisible, lethargic rays reach me, pinning me down to the ground, to my bed, compelling me to silence, renunciation?105 In these moments I would give the whole thing up. I sleeplessly wonder in silence, paralyzed by fear, why I ever tried to tac kle it in the first place. That is the problem with all my theorist friends. They don t actually lead me anywhere that I can form a coherent thought; they just keep running me around with their beautiful language and their elegant ideas. I need real tools to help me hash out the problems of critically engaging these sites to find out what they mean. Are these women really making self portraits on the web that are only there when I look at them? What do the portraits look like when I am not looking? Its undecidable here, in the end. Because of what happ ened then, and what I saw in the portal on my screen, from now on, I feel con fident that I can improvise. Im still watching, but as my grief and desire change m e in front of my mirror, my eyelids are very heavy. 105 Black Sun, 3.
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79 Websites Dooce. http://www.dooce.com/ Girl Who, The. http://thegirlwho.squarespace.com/journal/ Greek Tragedy. http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/. Voog, Ana. http://www.anacam.com.
81 Appendix A Figures Figure 1 Jennicam webcam captures (Photographs are from http://www.jennicam.org accessed Aug. 2, 2000)
82 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 2 Jennicam Life Online (Screen capture is from http://www.jennicam.org accessed Sept. 24, 2002)
83 Appendix A (Continued) Flash! Come watch the inaugural episode of the JenniShow on RealVideo! Information for subscribing to the JenniCam availab le here! (Screen capture is from http://www.jennicam.org accessed Dec. 6, 1998) (Screen capture is from http://www.anacam.com accessed March 21, 2007) Figure 3 Jennicam and anacam site structure/cam interface
84 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 4 Time s Person of the Year You cover (photograph taken by the author)
85 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 5 Jennicam early site portal (Screen capture is from http:/www.jennicam.org accessed Dec. 5, 1998)
86 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 6 Jennicam example of cam capture of Jenni at her desk (Photographs are from http://www.jennicam.org accessed Feb. 17, 2003)
87 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 7 Jennicam examples of appearance/disappearance (Photographs are from http://www.jennicam.org accessed July 29, 2000)
88 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 8 Jennicam Jenni is absent but there is always a promise of return (Photograph is from http://www.jennicam.org accessed Nov. 29, 2002)
89 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 9 anacam as art (Photographic collage is from Anas Yahoo photo sit e http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anacam/ accessed March 11, 2007)
90 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 10 Ana Voog self-portrait (Photograph is from http://www.anacam.com accessed Jan. 10, 2007)
91 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 11 Ana in the mirror (Photograph is from http://www.anacam.com accessed Jan. 10, 2007)
92 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 12 Ana documents the documenters (Image is a still at 8:16 from Aeryln Weissmans do cumentary film Webcam Girls)
93 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 13 Ana Voog journal entry with self-portra it (Screen shot is from Ana Voogs LiveJournal entry f rom March 9, 2007 http://ana.livejournal.com/ accessed March 10, 2007)
94 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 14 Ana changes from moment to moment (Photograph is from http://www.anacam.com accessed Jan. 10, 2007)
95 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 15 Ana Voog documents her changes on anacam (Photograph is from http://www.anacam.com accessed Jan. 10, 2007)
96 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 16 Ana morphs (Photographic collage is from Anas Yahoo photo sit e http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anacam/ accessed March 11, 2007)
97 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 17 About Heather Armstrong (Screen shot is taken from Dooce http://www.dooce.com/about.html accessed March 11, 2007)
98 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 18 Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document: Documentation VI, Pre-Writing Alphabet, Exergue and Diary (detail), 1978. (Collection of The Arts Council of Great Britain)
99 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 19 Dooce snapshot of our mornings in bed (Screen shot is from Heather Armstrongs Flickr sit e, which is linked to her blog, Dooce http://www.flickr.com/photos/dooce/403705146/ accessed March 12, 2007)
100 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 20 Dooce on the left part of the dresser (Screen shot is from Heather Armstrongs Flickr sit e, which is linked to her blog, Dooce http://www.flickr.com/photos/dooce/404175606/ accessed March 12, 2007)
101 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 21 Dooce Daily Picture Letas room with the toddler bed (Photograph is from http://www.dooce.com/archives/daily_photo/02_28_200 7.html accessed March 12, 2007)
102 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 22 Dooce Heather Armstrong most comfortable in this po sition (Screen shot is from Heather Armstrongs Flickr sit e, which is linked to her blog, Dooce www.http://www.flickr.com/photos/dooce/277331212/ accessed March 12, 2007)
103 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 23 Dooce piano Excerpt from the blog entry I resolve to eat more leafy green chocolate January 2, 2007 (This screen shot is taken from http://www.dooce.com/archives/daily/01_02_2007.html accessed March 12 2007)
104 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 24 About Stephanie Klein (Screen shot is from Greek Tragedy http://www.stephanieklein.com/about.html accessed March 12, 2007)
105 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 25 Greek Tragedy the family jewels Excerpt is from the blog entry the family jewels categorized under being a girl October 18, 2006 (Screen shot is taken from http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/greek_tragedy/being _a_girl/index.html accessed March 13, 2007)
106 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 26 Greek Tragedy to-do to-have to-hold and more to-dos Excerpt is from the blog entry to-do to-have to-ho ld and more to-dos categorized under being a girl September 11, 20 06 (Screen shot is taken from http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/greek_tragedy/being _a_girl/index.html accessed March 13, 2007)
107 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 27 Greek Tragedy consumption the foxy kitchen Excerpt is from the blog entry the foxy kitchen c ategorized under consumption February 22, 2007 (Screen shot is taken from http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/greek_tragedy/consu mption/index.html accessed March 13, 2007)
108 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 28 Eleanor Antin, Carving: A Traditional Sculpture (detail), 1973. (Collection, Art Institute of Chicago)
109 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 29 Stephanie Klein photos of me (detail) (Screen shot is from the page of pictures of Stepha nie Klein on her site Greek Tragedy http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/photos/photos_of_me / accessed March 13, 2007)
110 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 30 Greek Tragedy a nod to sunblock (Screen shot is an excerpt from the blog entry a n od to sunblock http://stephanieklein.blogs.com/greek_tragedy/2006/ 05/a_nod_to_sunblo.html accessed March 13, 2007)
111 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 31 The Girl Who (Screen shot is from The Girl Who main page http://thegirlwho.squarespace.com/journal/ accessed March 13, 2007)
112 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 32 The Girl Who Street Fair (Screen shot is from Monica Bielankos Flickr site, which is linked to her blog, The Girl Who http://www.flickr.com/photos/monicabielanko/2922939 84 accessed March 13, 2007)
113 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 33 Judy Chicago, Red Flag 1971. (Photolithograph number 51/94, Collection of the Mu seum of Menstruation)
114 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 34 The Girl Who Self-Portrait (Screen shot is from Monica Bielankos Flickr site, which is linked to her blog, The Girl Who http://www.flickr.com/photos/monicabielanko/2119492 01/in/set72157594236790047 accessed March 13, 2007)
115 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 35 The Girl Who self-portrait grid (Screen shot is from Monica Bielankos Flickr site, which is linked to her blog, The Girl Who http ://www.flickr.com/photos/monicabielanko/sets/721575 94236790047/with/281 073409/ accessed March 13, 2007)
116 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 36 Anita Steckel, Rodeo (Giant Women in New York), 1973. Photomontage 3x4. (Photograph is from the Westbeth Gallery website http://www.westbeth.org/steckel/steckel.html accessed March 13, 2007)
117 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 37 The Girl Who self-portrait mirror with screen (Screen shot is from Monica Bielankos Flickr site, which is linked to her blog, The Girl Who http://www.flickr.com/photos/monicabielanko/2061599 92/in/set72157594236790047 accessed March 13, 2007)
118 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 38 The Girl Who inner peace self-portrait (Screen shot is from Monica Bielankos Flickr site, which is linked to her blog, The Girl Who http://www.flickr.com/photos/monicabielanko/1097970 73/in/set72157594236790047 accessed March 13, 2007)
119 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 39 The Girl Who self-portrait And You Thought I Was Only Into (Screen shot is from Monica Bielankos Flickr site, which is linked to her blog, The Girl Who http://www.flickr.com/photos/monicabielanko/3517678 03/in/set72157594275165733/ accessed March 13, 2007)
120 Appendix A (Continued) Figure 40 The Girl Who Last Night I Dremt of U (Photograph is from Monica Bielankos Flickr site, which is linked to her blog, The Girl Who http://www.flickr.com/photos/monicabielanko/3517678 03/in/set72157594275165733/ accessed March 13, 2007)
121 Appendix B Heather Armstrong and Post-Partum Depres sion What follows in a short-hand version of Heather Arm strongs bout with postpartum depression. All the materials are taken dir ectly from her web site dooce.com ( 2001-2007 Armstrong Media, LLC. All rights reser ved). I have taken the materials and reassembled them her e to try to give a sense of how I read them and followed along in her journey. As they exist in this document, her words are taken out of their original context on-line and are limited in their ability to convey their intended meaning. The intent is to offer the reader a short version to use as a tool for understanding the argument. The Spiraling, Ridiculously Flawed Logic of an Unme dicated Mind That Seriously Needs to Be Medicated, Like, All the Time Tuesday, 13 January 2004 age 28: Im swelling in my face and in my hands. Th ere are slight traces of protein in my pee. My doctor says everything is oka y but the internet knows more than my doctor and I am going to develop preeclampsia and have to have an emergency c-section because my body is going to cut off oxygen to the baby and she will be born a hermaphro dite dwarf baby and we will have to decide whether to raise her a girl or a boy, and when he/she gets to be 18 he/she will stumble into an in ternet chat room with other people who were born hermaphrodite dwarf babi es, and he/she will be told that what we should have done was raise him /her as both so that he/she could make his/her own decision about it at the appropriate time, and he/she will resent us so intensely that he/she will never talk to us again. We will die homeless, alone, willing everyth ing including the stainless steel Kitchen Aid refrigerator which stil l isnt paid off to our hermaphrodite dwarf baby. A Labor Story Tuesday, 16 March 2004 Tuesday, 4:00 AM (Feb 2) Jon cuts the cord. The baby is whimpering. She is r ather quiet. They wipe her down and place her immediately on my chest. Her right arm is stretched out toward me. We look at each other dire ctly. Jon leans down, places his left hand on my head, his right hand on the babys back. This is the most defining moment of my life.
122 Appendix B (Continued) I Typed This Whole Entry With One Hand Friday, 20 February 2004 And then there are bad days, days when I cant see ever leaving the house again, days when I think that by the time I d o leave the house again my hair will be past my waistline because how can I ever get my hair cut when the baby needs to be fed every 2.5 hours?? On bad days I think Ill never be able to walk the dog again, Ill never go shopping again, Ill never see a movie in a movie theater again. On bad days I imagine growing old in a dust-covered house surrounded by hundreds of m ounds of dirty laundry and piles of 40 year old poopy diapers beca use I will never again have the strength to clean my house. On bad days I cry all day long. Surrender Monday, 12 April 2004 My daily life feels like torture. I struggle to mak e it from hour to hour. I feel like I dont know what Im doing. Ive been trying to find the humor in all of this, and keeping this website has been therapeutic in that regard, but I cant ignore these feelings any longer. There are many things about parenthood that I under stand intellectually. I know that this period of her life is only temporary and that things will eventually get better. I know that I am a good moth er and that I am meeting her needs as a baby. But depression isnt a bout understanding things intellectually. Its about an overshadowing emotional spiral that makes coping with anything nearly impossible. Undone Tuesday, 11 May 2004 Some days are really good. Some days start with bacon and biscuits and then mo re bacon because the first round of bacon wasnt enough. Some days h ave foot rubs and flowers and an extra 30 minutes of sleep, delicious and indulgent. Some days the drugs seem to work and I feel like I am bo rn to do this, and I look at her and I dont remember the stretch marks or th e constipation or the episiotomy or the bladder infections or the constan tly malfunctioning left boob that wakes me up every four days with a clogge d milk duct or the hemorrhoids or the bloating or the nausea or the tr emendous weight gain.
123 Appendix B (Continued) Some days I stare eternity in the face and I think about how many diapers I will change that will only get dirty, towels I wi ll wash that will only become soiled, dishes I will load into the dishwasher that well use to eat again and again, and I feel utterly useless, as if I am fight ing a battle that cannot be won. Some days my life is reduced to an hour by hour gam e of survival and I dont feel like Ill make it another 15 minutes and I cant believe I feel this way and I cant stop crying. Formula Friday, 04 June 2004 One of the most surprising things about having a ba by is just how much energy it requires to keep that baby happy on an ho ur-to-hour basis. Its surprising because I thought I had prepared myself for it, working out three times a week throughout my pregnancy. But I should have been training for a marathon, a daily multiple-mile uphill race o f infant management that requires warehouses of energy. And I think this ene rgy requirement is at the root of my depression. So heres what is working for me: 1) I am taking myself off the depression medication slowly, ever slowly. It has done nothing to curb my anxiety; in fact, it ha s only made my anxiety worse because I worry about being tired all the tim e. And I cant be tired. Theres no time for tired. 2) Im working out three times a week, every other night when Jon can watch the baby. Working out isnt fun, but it lets me sweat out frustration and I get to read People magazine for thirty minutes. Have you seen Lindsay Lohans boobs? OH MY GOD. 3) Im taking a half a Unisom at night to help me s leep. Unisom is a perfectly safe and non-habit forming sleep-aid, and it doesnt cause unwanted hair growth or premature ejaculation, or d ry mouth or constipation or diarrhea or heart murmurs. It does, however, facilitate really insane dreams with wicked color schemes and plots involving David Hasselhoff and Anil Dash teaming up to fight Columb ian warlords with clever use of RSS feeds and German love songs. 4) I get up in the morning and get dressed like Im going to work. I approach my day as if it were a day at the office, and when I find that Im
124 Appendix B (Continued) too tired to take another walk or dangle any more r attles above the babys head, I think about all those people who are having to design PowerPoint templates for mean, Prada-wearing bosses. This is a job. I have to work. It's Going to be Okay Friday, 09 July 2004 I get up in the morning having slept only an hour o r two and I cant imagine living another minute. The expanse of the d ay unfolds before me and I cant comprehend how I am going to distract m y cranky baby for the next 12 hours. There will be walks and more walks a nd books and rattles and moving from the porch to the sidewalk and back to the porch to delay her disappointment just a few more minutes. And the n there are the moments when I cant do anything to stop her from s creaming at me, and it feels like shes sad that she doesnt have a mot her who knows what the hell she is doing. I used to just be sad in the morning, and after 11a m I was okay. But in the last two weeks that okay period has been pushed bac k to 2pm and then to 5pm and now I am not ever okay. My nights are just as bad as my mornings. There isnt a moment in the day that I lo ok forward to. I dont see an end to this cycle of stress, and I find myse lf asking much too often, Why go on? Yesterday I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed me a combination of drugs. I wish that there were other ways that I could go a bout getting better, but you have to believe me when I say that this is way beyond herbal remedies or dietary changes. I exercise all the tim e and I have a very healthy diet (except for the pop tarts, but people, a woman needs her pop tarts). This situation is life-threatening. I am af raid of hurting myself. Starting today I will be taking an anti-anxiety dru g and a mood stabilizer, two very powerful drugs that have to be monitored. He did not prescribe a sleep aid because he thinks that the anti-anxiety d rug will stop the incessant and unnecessary worrying that keeps me aw ake at night. I feel very positive about this, hopeful that these drugs may work and that I will one day soon be able to wake up in the morning and recognize what a wonderful life I have.
125 Appendix B (Continued) But there is one terrible drawback to this step I a m taking toward sanity. The doctor told me that I have to wean Leta if I wa nt to work up to therapeutic levels of these drugs. I have to stop b reastfeeding in the next month. Heather, interrupted Thursday, 26 August 2004 I wish that I could tell you that the reason you wo nt be hearing anything from me in the next several days is because were r ight on the verge of launching the redesign. And we are, I promise, wer e right there, just a few more MT plug-ins and some tweaking on the templates and we may have a new site! But thats not the reason. Its also not because Leta is really cute in her ca terpillar pajamas. Or that her face smells really good. The reason you wont be hearing anything from me fo r several days is because this morning Jon is driving me up to the ho spital and Im going to check into the psychiatric ward. I am very scared t hat if I dont go ahead and do this that I may experience some sort of nerv ous breakdown. My anxiety has only gotten worse since I started ps ychiatric and medical treatment over two months ago. Its so bad that it chokes me every day, and sometimes I cant even walk Im so anxious. Iv e tried over 10 different medications and each one has made my anxiety worse. The depression comes and goes, but the anxiety is constant. I can barely eat anything and I still cant sleep, even though Ive tried every s leeping pill available at the pharmacy. Its seriously out of control. Back in March when Leta was just a little over a mo nth old I wrote this: The deal is that when Leta was born all these mate rnal instincts were slammed into the ON position the instinct to prot ect, to nourish, to comfort. And no matter where she is sleeping or pre tending to sleep, whether it be in our bed, on top of me, in a bassin et beside the bed, or in her crib all the way over in her own room, I am hav ing to re-train my body to sleep. My instincts tell me that when I sleep Un known Things happen, and my body totally resists the urge to fall asleep Instinctually I am listening for the sound of her breathing or to the sound of her swallowing, and if those noises sound okay then Im listening t o the sounds of the house to make sure monsters dont come out of the w alls to hurt her. I have every reason to believe that this instinct wil l become numb with subsequent children, but Leta is my first-born, and I have no idea how to turn it off.
126 Appendix B (Continued) Six months later and I still cant turn them off, o r even turn them down. These instincts have turned into demons that terror ize me from the moment I get out of bed in the morning to the hours and hours that I try to sleep at night. I never have a moment of peace. Unlocked Saturday, 28 August 2004 The first night here was probably the worst night o f my life. They didnt have any beds in the unlocked unit of the facility so they stuck me in the least scary locked unit, the one whose occupants av erage over 82 years in age. Everyone referred to me as kiddo and that was very cute and endearing and all, but I was LOCKED INSIDE A MENTAL INSTITUTION. Everything smelled of urine including the plastic e ating utensils. The views out the windows of the facility are breat htakingly incredible. It sits at the curve of a small hill-mountain overlook ing the entire Salt Lake valley. So if you look one direction you see sweepi ng hills and nooks and canyons dotted with green desert plants that look l ike dusty velvet. In the other direction you see this open field of l ights and streets that seems to extend for hundreds of miles, and it feels like youre hovering over the whole scene. You can see the Mormon temple from up here, or at least the buildings in downtown that surround and p rotect it. I imagine that Brigham Young was standing in a place similar to th is one when he looked over the valley and decided that this was the plac e to settle the Mormons. By saying that I am in no way implying tha t he was a crazed lunatic. Not at all. Nope. Inside the facility, however, the lights are fluore scent and the food is plastic. Some of the food even JIGGLES. When I arri ved here on Thursday afternoon I was in such a bad place that I couldnt sit still to read a magazine, and the fluorescent glow in my room was flickering like a sequence in a horror film. All I could do was curl up in my bed and pull the covers over my head. I couldnt believe I was here. Unlocked Part Two, or, On That Open Road in Front o f Me Tuesday, 31 August 2004 I feel good about going home. I feel like there is an open road in front of me, a road to joy and happiness. I feel like I have a new perspective on things. That is what this hospital stay has provide d me: PERSPECTIVE. It has also provided me an appreciation for my regular toothpaste and
127 Appendix B (Continued) deodorant. The first time I brushed my teeth with t he hospital toothpaste I gagged and was certain I had grabbed a tube of oint ment instead of toothpaste, perhaps an ointment for an open wound o r a swollen anus; it couldnt have been safe for my mouth. And the deodo rant! They gave me deodorant that smells like the shavings that line t he bottom of a gerbil cage. I SMELL LIKE A GERBIL. The Other Side Wednesday, 08 September 2004 In the past week Leta and I have formed a bond that was unable to take responded to the new look in my face, the look that says, I am winning this war. She is constantly giggling and cooing an d slurping and kicking her frog feet in glee. And I just cant get enough of her. Because of this new bond I had a difficult time yes terday when the new nanny we hired came to take care of her for a few h ours. As part of my ongoing therapy we have hired someone to come help with the care of Leta for nine hours a week while I work on writing and freelance projects. Its just nine hours, per week. Thats fewer hours than The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Thats fewer hours than the sleep I get in one night. BUT OH THE GUILT THAT SHOOK ME TO THE CORE. I sat in the basement trying to work, but I wanted to throw up the entire time. How could I leave my baby in the care of some one who would play with her and feed her a bottle? How wicked and unca ring of a mother could I be? I might as well throw her in the middle of the street and walk away, OH LOATHSOME EXCUSE OF A PARENT! Not once did she cry; in fact I could hear her laug hing and having a good time upstairs. But downstairs my soul withered as S atan took hold of my being and twisted it like a dirty wet rag. So I tri ed to work, and then I cleaned the entire basement, dusting the crevices w ith a q-tip to keep my mind off the fact that I had abandoned my baby upst airs with a caring, qualified nanny. This still makes me cry as I cut as paste it. My b rother committed suicide by hanging himself with his dogs leash. People leave and dont come back.
128 Appendix B (Continued) You be well for me Friday, 19 November 2004 Last week my sisters neighbor committed suicide. H e was the father of four children, the oldest being 11, the youngest be ing 3, and his wife found him in their bedroom where he had hanged himself. I am telling you this because when my sister told m e about it yesterday I almost hit the floor. That could have been me. It c ould have been Leta who was left without a parent, Jon without a partne r. During the worst months of my postpartum depression I thought about suicide every day. I thought about how I would do it, perhaps hang myself with the dogs leash or maybe grab every pill we have in the cabinet a nd drown them with a couple shots of tequila. I wanted to do some thing, anything to stop the pain. A couple days ago I was on the phone with Beth and I told her that I was coming down with a cold, perhaps what Jon is suffer ing from right now. She said she was sorry and hoped that I felt better and without even thinking about it I said, THIS? This is NOTHING. I can handle a cold. Ive been suicidal before. Talk about pain. Too much is misunderstood about depression, and too many people do not take it seriously. Thats why I have been so op en about what I have suffered, to try and put a face to it for those of you who dont understand it. Its a physically painful disease, one that can rui n lives, one that can kill. I almost died from it. (emphasis mine) If only there were a category for Sappiest Weblog E ntry of the Year Wednesday, 26 January 2005 One of the most terrifying moments of my life was w alking into our birth to Leta. I was stitched up to my chin, but the physica l pain paled in comparison to the shocking realization that I was n ow The Mother, that there was no longer a nurse to whom I could hand of f the baby. It was like I was peering into the heart of a black hole, the m agnitude of my life now swallowing me whole. I would like Leta to read that paragraph and the re st of what Ive written here to understand that her mother loved her and wo uld die for her, but that just like everyone else I bleed when I am cut. I have fears and insecurities, and I wont ever have all the answers Id like to think that by chronicling my pregnancy and her first year of l ife she will better
129 Appendix B (Continued) understand just who this crazy woman was that gave her a pointy chin. I have done all this for her, yes, but mostly for me, because by writing about how hard a time Ive had figuring thi s whole thing out Ive found a bigger piece of who I am, and I like t hat piece. (emphasis mine) The scent of emotion Tuesday, 26 April 2005 Jon would visit me in the hospital two or three tim es a day, and when hed bring Leta she smelled just like that Walmart baby lotion, delicious and tender and beautiful. Id scoop her out of the stro ller and press my nose against her forehead so that I would remember that smell after he took her home. Over the weekend we bought another brand of baby lo tion with lavender and chamomile scents and it smells just like the Wa lmart brand lotion. On Sunday night after giving Leta a bath I lathered he r chubby legs and belly with that lotion and I was instantly reminded of th e hospital and the time I spent there. I told Jon what I was thinking and he asked if it was painful to remember that time. No, not at all. I smiled and looked down at Leta who was smiling up at me with all four of her jagged Billy Bob teeth. In fact, this smell is comforting. It makes me think about how you came to visit me, how she came to visit me, how neither of you gave up on me. I didnt wash my hands after putting the lotion on Letas body, and after we put her to bed and for the rest of the night I woul d sneak quick sniffs of my hands. I realized that this smell would always remi nd me of Life. This open road in front of me just got a little bum py Wednesday, 10 August 2005 Right now were in a holding pattern, sort of a wai t and see where we go from here. I say we because Jon has to field my cal ls during the day where he just says, Yes, yes, okay, sure, even th ough he cant understand a single word through the wad of snot in the back of my throat. Today is a better day, and thats how Im going to measure things for the next little while. Its how a lot of us who suffer through this have to measure our entire lives.
130 Appendix B (Continued) Six times the suck Tuesday, 13 September 2005 These women were clean and pressed and from all app earances were changing their underwear on a regular basis. And th ey were doing it with six times the kid I have. And no one admitted to be ing on any type of mood enhancer, not even French fries. I barely made it to the end of the second show before I had my head buried into Jons armpit, apologizing through sobs for being so damaged. How could I, und er the weight of only one child, have collapsed with such epic incompetence while these women juggled six times the responsibility without showing a single crack or blemish? Jon let me cry, but then he rightfully pointed out, Heather, there is no valedictorian of motherhood. Maybe I just havent seen the Inside Motherhood pro gram, but if it exists it had better show the mother during the first year of the babys life turning to the father and saying, If you want to live to see daylight you had better not even look at my boobs as ANYTHING other than vessels of sustenance for the child you deposited in my womb. I know that the mothers on those shows were feeling some of my same feelings I had, but the producers and editors didnt let any of it thro ugh. Perhaps the mothers themselves didnt let any of it through, and I can understand why. I want an A+ in motherhood, too. Newsletter: Month Thirty-two Thursday, 05 October 2006 I have become depressed again. Almost as depressed as I was two years ago when I had to check myself into the hospital, a nd it has everything to do with stress, recent stress that has threatened t o change and devastate our lives. I have often described depression as the complete inability to cope with stress, and although I think my own depre ssion is manageable with medication medication that I am still taking every day it tends to flare up in a debilitating way when Im thrust into very stressful situations. I keep trying to claw my way up out of this, but for the last month I have found it almost impossible to make it through the d ay without putting my face into a pillow and screaming until I cannot sen se the world around me. You deserve better than this, better than the look of absolute desperation I carry in my eyes all day long. I should be more pla yful, should sing more songs, color more pictures, but Im sometimes afrai d that if I attempt any of these things you will see through it and know th at I am lying. Right now I cant see the world in anything but shades of ver y pale gray. I had hoped
131 Appendix B (Continued) that I would never find myself this low again I w ould not wish this crushing emptiness on my worst enemy but now that I am here Im not quite sure what to do this time, except trust that you and your father will stick by me, will be here when I do feel better. And so I apologize that my depression is a part of your life, but I also promise that I will do everything I can to fight it so that your memories of me are not painful. So that my memories of you will be in color.