Honest School Notes #9

Dear Office,

I’m sorry the children were late on the last day of term this week.

Keith has been away for a fortnight and life as a solo mum-of-three has gone swimmingly. At least, until the last couple of days.

I think the crumble began at rugby practice, which requires the mothers to stand at the side of a wintry field at dinner time, while siblings get increasingly cold and angry. I started checking the time frequently at about twenty past five, waiting for the five-thirty end of training when I can pack the kids in the car and spend the next twenty minutes refereeing fights in the backseat ( a recent battle between my three and six year olds was over who was which number on the digital clock. ‘I’m the nine! No! Daddy is the nine and you are the five!” etc. It is like being in an absurdist improv session.)

However, at the end of training is where the dad-coaches start having a little fun. They chuck the ball to each other while the under sevens run wildly back and forth. The dad coaches are dad-coaching beuase they love rugby, so this bit at the end is their favourite bit. It’s hard for them to stop, even when the clock is ticking past five thirty.

They don’t care that the siblings are getting crazy-eyed and hangry. They aren’t mentally recalibrating when to put the dinner on while carting a dead-weight three year old because the grass is too wet to sit on. Nope, they are chucking a ball around and having a whale of a time.

Suddenly the ball came soaring into our little pack of mums and collected a poor women fair and square on the side of the head.  She was of course kind and brushed it off even thought, clearly,  it had actually hurt her.

‘Sorry!’ laughed the dads, and on they continued with their dad-antics (dantics?)

I checked the time again and thought how long it would take to get the spag bol on. I bent over to get the bags together and ‘Ball! Ball!” shouted the dads. They’d kicked another ball at us and this one was headed for me. I stood up and my real feelings burst out of me. The F word burst from me. Not loudly. But not softly either. The dads were laughing weakly.  ’Once is an accident!’ I said loudly. ‘Twice is…not an accident!” (It was not my strongest comeback.)

I called the children to me and stalked off the field.

Fucking rugby.

Eventually we made it home, Office, through dinner, through a chapter of Harry Potter out loud, through teeth and baths and reading-apples and all the shenanigans that accompany bedtime. Mum was over to help me. Keith’s plane was arriving first thing in the morning and we had to leave for the airport pick-up at 6am.

At eight I got my period, which kind of explained my inability to keep my feelings on the inside on the rugby field.

By ten-thirty Mum and I had finished the washing-up and making breakfast packs for the car and laying out clothes for the morning.  We tootled off to my bed to read magazines together and talk about Masterchef.

All was well until little Pudding started barking. The unmistakable bark of croup. We went next door and checked on her. She was sitting up, hot and coughing, and rubbing angrily at her ear. She’d been complaining about that ear for a couple of days – it turned out there was a tick behind it. So Mum and I held her head down while I pulled the tick out, which was as fun for everybody as it sounds.

We tucked her into the big bed and then followed one of those hours with sick kids. Those google-doctor, what-to-do, is-she-worse/better hours, where you debate whether or not to go to the hospital. She’s breathing pretty funny, but that’s just croup. Going to the A and E at midnight for hours is a pretty good way for her to get sicker.

Unless she’s having an allergic reaction to the tick and her throat is swelling shut.

Fun times, Office!

After an hour or so she settled right down and we all went to sleep. I got the T-Bones bed ready for Mum (she has a chronic lung condition and being breathed on by a sick child is a bad idea for her). Of course when I moved T out he’d pissed the bed with the urinary force of a thousand stallions and I had to change it all.

Then the alarm didn’t go off. I probably set it wrong with my tired, anxious, menstrual-anger fuelled  fingertips. S when we did wake up we were forty five minutes late for the plane. Luckily, it was delayed anyway. As was the children’s arrival at school.

My apologies again Office.

Your sincerely,

Rachael Mogan McIntosh

Honest School Notes #1

Honest School Notes #2

Honest School Notes #3

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Honest School Notes #5

Honest School Notes #6

Honest School Notes #7

Honest School Notes 8

 

 

 

Two Crazed Mothers (One Of Whom Was Not Me)

Young people of Minnesota swimming, from the US National Archives

School holidays have landed.  What are you guys up to? So far we have had one super-chilled, lazy day here at Rancho Relaxo and one busy drop-off-pick-up put-your-shoes-on-whaddya-mean-you-don’t-know-where-your-shoes are kinda day.

I think I will aim for more of the former but for tomorrow at least, we are still in the bizzy zone. All three of the childrens have different bookings in their social calendars and I have some work to do.

Other than that, all is well.  K has been overseas for two weeks communing with the eggheads, but is back now – hurray, hurray. I don’t like advertising on the medias that he is not here, but all went fine. As usual I’m reminded again of what goddesses single parents are.

There are benefits to being the sole captain of the good ship DowhatIsay but it is so tiring, carrying all the weight alone, and there are no breaks in the weather. I don’t like it when all of my people aren’t in the one place, so I’m happier in myself now that we’re all together. Especially when we are together trying to work out Sia’s Chandelier around the piano.  Oh my god,  power notes to thrill, that number. So high that the only solution is to shriek like banshees.

Vat else?

I took young Pudding up for a visit to pre-school last week. She’s my third child to go to this utterly beautiful little school and I have so many wonderful memoriesof the place.  This one, for instance:

Last week at the pre-school pick up, I was chatting to my friend Emma in the carpark when a woman came up, strapped her baby in the car next to us and then suddenly shouted ‘My wallet! Somebody stole my wallet!’

She ran past us, stopping to shriek ‘Watch the baby! My wallet’s gone!’ as she headed at full speed back through the gates.

Emma and I looked at each other. ‘That’s so weird,’ I said. ‘No’, said Emma, ‘what’s weird is that she’s just put her baby in my car.’

Yep, their two cars were identical, down to the ubiquitous crumbly mess in the back seat.  This poor harried, underslept mother had strapped her kid into the wrong car and then had a massive hysterical freak out. In a few minutes she sheepishly returned, retrieved her baby, got into the right car and left.

I have not cackled and hooted and wept so hard in weeks. It was such a beautifully absurd moment and I recognised myself in that mother so very much, from the nutty mistake to the dramatic overreaction to the final, sheepish walk of shame. She is Everywoman.

I laugh still remembering that. Glorious.

Then today, Pudding and I hit a conversational wall trying to establish whether she was talking about a water-bottle OR a hot-water-bottle and I remembered this:

Like many small children, our three like to spend the hour after they are put to bed inventing increasingly flimsy and desperate excuses to get up again. They all have FOMO.  Autumn has brought some glorious daytime sunshine and chilly nights (the best) and so some of our cold-weather rituals have begun: porridge for breakfast, hot-water-bottles at bedtime.

They are all sharing one room now and so last night I tucked all three  in with kisses, hot-water-bottles and the usual optimistic/hopeless lecture. Within five minutes,  three year old Pudding was out in the kitchen casually filling a plastic bottle from the water filter.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked her.

‘Yeah, I just take this to bed, Mummy,’ she said.

‘In what parallel universe?’ I spluttered.  There is already at least one wet bed every morning at our place. The washing machine is my constant companion. No way am I letting these kids take half a litre of water to bed!

‘No water bottles in bed! Absolutely not!’ I said sternly.

‘WHAT?’ came dual voices from the bedroom.

‘I’m telling Pudding she can’t take a water bottle to bed!’ I called. ‘Now go to sleep!”

‘But can I keep my water bottle?’ came a worried little voice.

‘And mine?’ piped another.

I was incensed. Were they all stashing bottles of water in their beds? No wonder everybody was pissing themselves! And what else was in there, for gods sake? Mars Bars? Greek salads?

‘No water bottles in the beds!’ I shouted. ‘Bring them out straight away!’

With much indignant muttering, Peanut and T-Bone stomped out to the big room and presented me with their hot water bottles.

‘Oh!’ I said. ‘Oh right! Water bottles. I thought you had water bottles. You can have those water bottles.’

Back to bed they went. Just another arbitrary, confusing moment in the arbitrary, confusing landscape that is childhood.

GOD life is funny. I know it is bizarre to be referencing myself. Like, pathologically so, maybe. Don’t tell me. But life is just funny.

Happy tomorrow!

Orange Is The New Black: Make a Reek That Will Last One Thousand Years!

If you’re not watching Orange Is The New Black because you are curing cancer or writing a manifesto for fourth-wave feminism, that is fine. If you’re not watching it because you don’t know it or think it’s not for you, then you should rethink your damn decision!

There are so few shows like this. Set in a women’s prison, it is all about women – exploring the complex culture behind bars, and using flashbacks to explain the back-stories of the inmates.  It covers life in a way we rarely see onscreen. Basically, it passes the shit out of the Bechdel Test.

It occasionally misses the mark. Sometimes the cheese factor is high. Sometimes I can’t bear watching Piper at all. (You too?)  But that’s fine. That’s balanced out by the moments of utterly hilarious writing. And nobody does a season-finale like OITNB. (Except maybe Larry David.)

For instance, this speech Piper gives (she’s running a clandestine business called Felonious Spunk, which sells women’s worn underwear to perverts.) It is so funny it’s almost unwatchable.

Anyway, this post is for the fans of OITNB.  Some more back story on the fabulous women of Litchfield Penitentiary.

Big Boo is best mates with Mitchell from Modern Family, and speaks with great passion and intelligence about  playing a butch lesbian character on prime time TV.

Laverne Cox is the first trans women to be nominated for an Emmy. 

Morello is Australian and she made that crazy  accent up!

Norma used to front a punk band.

Some inside goss from the woman who was in jail with the REAL Piper.

And a final p.s: the breakout star of season 3, our very own Ruby Rose, is engaged to Phoebe Dahl, Roald Dahl’s grand-daughter. They are the coolest pair in town.

 

Late Night Conversations With Daughters

Last night, tucked up on the couch with my hot-water-bottle and my cup of tea, I watched the amazing documentary Between A Frock And A Hard Place, which explores the making of Stephan Elliot’s seminal film Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. It locates the film in a social time when the AIDS crisis was decimating the gay community, the gay rights movement was really gaining traction and the bravest people in this era of gay hate-crime and general lack of understanding were the drag queens.

I remember coming of age in the late eighties, when the bright and flamboyant land of Oxford Street felt like everything I couldn’t find in my all-girls Catholic high school. I remember RAT parties and epically wild dance floors and drag shows at the Albury Hotel . Beautiful boys and amazing costumes.

After the film there was a superb special edition of Q & A, a panel show here in Australia which pits our brightest minds against each other on questions of the day. Halfway through, my insomniac eight year old pottered out. ‘I can’t sleeeeeep,’ she told me, with the usual nine vowels.

I let her tuck up and watch with me, and there unfolded one of those lovely parenting moments, where Peanut listened to articulate and heartfelt debate about gay rights and marriage equality, trying to make sense of the language and the content. ‘What’s transgender?’ she asked.

I talked with her about what it would be like for her to be exactly as she is now, but told by everyone around her that she was a boy. That she had to play with the boys, and use their toilet, and wear their clothes. That she might go along with it for a long time, but feel unhappy on the inside, and like nobody really understood her. And that maybe at some point she would decide that she couldn’t pretend any more, that she had to dress like a girl, and call herself a girls name, and tell people who she really was.

Then, people might be mean to her about it, because people are often scared of what they don’t understand. And that’s why transgender people have to be so brave, and we should have huge respect for the everyday struggle they have face just to live their lives.

She nodded. She asked a few more questions and I answered them. We shared the hot-water bottle. She told me who she secretly thought was the cutest boy at school (I’ll never tell! But I approve.)

It was a beautiful moment with my biggest girl, and if you have kids interested in the issue, or you’d like a way to open up that conversation, you can find the program here  (non-Australian readers might need a workaround to view this).

I wouldn’t advise watching the documentary Between A Frock And A Hard Place with young kids, because there is a significant exploration of the gay-bashing crimes of the eighties, but you can find it here.

Also, I recently loved this excellent podcast from Rear Window on the history of marriage equality.

Finally, a thoughtful short film about gender fluidity called Break Free by the wonderful Ruby Rose, who’s really having a moment right now. Turning the the straight ladies gay all over the place!

Happy weekending my friends, wherever you are are and whoever you love.

 

Wonderful Things To Watch With The Kids

We really are entering the electric blanket, couch-potato, glad-I-had-three-children-to-use-as-hot-water-bottles season. At the minute, the kids and I are all deeply in love with Horrible Histories. So goddamn funny. Here’s a sample of Historical Masterchef:

Or a soft-rock Viking track:

Honestly, it is so good. Here are a few more great clips to enjoy with the kids. Get under a blanket, cuddle up! Get the kids to work the controls! They are better at it anyway.

Easton LaChapelle is an inspiring seventeen year old robotic engineer. I love this kid.

Pandas on a slippery dip. Because pandas on a slippery dip.

Cool stuff – a tour of the International Space Station:

For specifics, a little tutorial on how to wash your hair in space:

And just because it’s glorious: astronaut Chris Hadfield sings Space oddity. In space.

Finally if,  like me, you have a Harry Potter fan in your house, they might like this clip of Daniel Radcliffe rapping. It is SO impressive!

Happy wintering. Stay warm out there.

Chronic Illness, Family Life and Extreme Sexiness

I’ve been a bit under the weather the last week or so.

This fun and cheerful chronic sinusitis problem I’ve been juggling for a couple of years now is an up-down adventure. It’s a lot better since having surgery a year ago, but the underlying problem – a chronic inflammatory response in my sinuses – remains. So my sinuses swell for some mysterious reason, and then the bacteria that is easily flushed through a normal system is more easily trapped, so I’m prone to infection,…after infection… after infection. When infection starts, my immune response kicks in and makes more mucus. Yummy, yummy. Mucus for everybody!

Before my surgery I spent about 100 days on anti-biotics. Post-surgery, I’m still getting sinus infections, and am trying my best to fight them without anti-biotics (sometimes successful, sometimes not.) My sense of smell is gone (good for poo-splosion situations, bad for cooking and everything else). I’m really hoping that’s not permanent, but nobody can say for sure. Next step is to see an immunologist (Sydney or Wollongong suggestions welcomed) to see if there is an underlying immne system disease or dysfunction.

I’ve tried lots of stuff – giving up gluten, dairy, sinus osteopathy, sacrificing virgin goats at sunrise. I flush out my sinuses at least once a day with salted water and steroids. I’m taking Vitamin C and multi’s and olive leaf. Broth. Lots of water. Blah blah blah. It’s time consuming and boring.

This week I’ve been trying a new thing where you take cough mixture at intervals throughout the day. It’s active ingredient ‘guaifenesin’ has a mucus-thinning effect, so it can help to avoid infection. It’s disgusting though – and drinking cough mixture is habit forming, so local mums, if you see me at the school run with a Slushy cup full of Red Bull and Robotussin (I think Lil Wayne calls it ‘crank’), stage an intervention.

Ah, such fun.

But wait!

There’s more!

I’ve had a spine full of hardware for twenty years, and it has occasional weird moments. One of its party tricks is to pop out of place (nobody can explain exactly why) so that a golf-ball sized knob sticks out the back. Whut? The hells thut? I think of it as Golfie. If I catch things when Golfie is just threatening – that part of my back starts to feel really unstable and weak, and it all starts aching a lot – I know to take anti-inflammatories and lie flat until its weird tantrum subsides. I can usually prevent Golfie popping fully out these days, but it is a massive pain in the arse.

Frankly, if I was a horse, I’d be having nightmares about the glue factory.

Having a chronic illness or injury is actually a lot like having a really shitty part-time job; one where your cranky boss can suddenly call you in with no notice and refuse to tell you when your shift ends. You have to just take a breath and push through. The family system just has to adjust and fall in around it.

But the physical management of pain or illness is not the hardest thing, and nor are the modifications of how to manage work and life. The hardest part is managing the emotional stress of it all.

As a mum and the primary care-giving hausfrau with three small kids, I’m the emotional barometer of the family. Everything is thirty percent harder when one is in pain, and little kids are incredibly finely-tuned to their parents emotional state. When I am impatient and irritable, the kids act up. It’s really hard. Everything, everything is on the floor. It hurts my back to bend, and when I get my head down, my sinuses give me a kick.

I try hard to be be patient, loving and present, and to keep the atmosphere light and joyous. When I’m in pain, ‘present’ sucks. ‘Far, far away’ – in mind, if not in body – is much preferable.

Energy must be saved for the essentials, like driving kids about, getting the shopping done, the dinner on the table, the washing on the line. But the second-level of living gets neglected. Properly cleaning some filthy corner of the hovel. Getting down on the floor for Lego and craft and cuddles.  After a while, the stuff I’m not getting to really starts to weigh on me. When all you’re managing is the mundane basics, you don’t get any of the joy from the fun stuff.

It can start to feel a bit bleak.

I really love this little homestead of ours. We play games, we make music, we cook together, and Keith and both put effort into building a family life that we love. But it all takes energy, sometimes more than I have. When I’m struggling with my back, Keith comes up for lunch and then he’ll play with little Pudding while I rest. At six, he finishes work for the day, we’ll all have dinner and then I’ll exit. I have to go lie flat while my angry back slowly calms. I have to do that so that I can get up again and do the mother marathon the next day.

I don’t want to overstate the case here (she says, descending fom the ceiling on a half-moon while playing a tiny violin…) I’m actually good. I think I’m beating this recent sinus infection (that crank is some real good shit), and my back is feeling a lot better – little Golfie  has stayed put this time. Apart from activating a little of the Fear, it’s been a minor episode.  It’s been a whole heap worse than this before, and chances are (sadly) it will be a whole lot worse sometime in the future.

But it takes work, this shitty part-time job of chronic pain. My kids and Keith are so good and kind, but they don’t like Mum’s shitty part time job either. And if any of you out there have that job – bad boss, no benefits, lifetime contract – then I send you my best. If you’re anything like me, your chronic pain probably stops you from being quite the Mum and partner you would like to be.

I think can hold certain gifts,  however: compassion and understanding for others, perhaps; a knowledge that the surface picture might not reflect the reality of another persons life; and  a commitment to enjoying the small and beautiful details of the mundane everyday. Holding some worries and fears about the future is a damn great incentive to enjoy your life as it stands right now.

And I do, I do. I love my life, shitty part-time job and all.

Finally, my apologies but the bit in the  title about Extreme Sexiness is a lie. I said it because I came across this cartoon and it made me laugh.

I do feel bad about not putting out for you though. You want sexy, here’s Rod Stewart. Don’t say I never gave you nothing.

 

Sex After Parenthood

Birth injuries, lost libido and extreme exhaustion:  just a few of the many factors that can affect a couple’s sex life after they have children. It can be hard to access specific and practical advice on managing this stuff. It’s loaded and emotional. Life has changed utterly, both practically and emotionally, and sex can be one of the hardest things for couples to talk about easily. For months after having  a baby, women are hormonal casseroles; bodies awash with post-pregnancy and (often) breastfeeding hormones. Many women have birth injuries with intense emotional as well as physical consequences. Add psychotic sleeplessness to the mix, and it can be a minefield.

For partners, it’s tricky.  Even really understanding partners can find it hard to know where the line is. Should you let a new mum feel like she’s still a babe, still desirable to you? Or if you emerge from the ensuite in your comedy elephant trunk underpants (they used to drive her wild!), will she lay upon you the gaze of death?

When your doctor says ‘You’re good to go!’ after your six-week check-up, are you allowed to demand a  second opinion? How long is it OK to wait? How much pain is normal? How erotic is weeping during sex on a scale of 1 to 10? And critically, how do you talk about this stuff with your partner?

The Longest Shortest Time podcast and website is a new discovery of mine. Their podcast “The Parents Guide To Doing It‘ is a fantastic listen.

With guest Dan Savage (a favourite of mine, I adore him) a panel of experts break down all the common issues that face couples in bed after becoming parents, and dish out practical and specific hints on how to navigate that life-stage together.

Good luck out there, mums and dads. Be happy!

Also: Dan Savage on how to have a wonderful long-term relationship. 

Also: Longest Shortest Time deals specifically with pelvic pain and birth injuries.

Happy Mondays!

Good morning, comrades!

I hope Monday embraces you like a giant seal.

May the road rise to meet you, the wind be at your back, the sunshine warm upon you and the fish in your lunch bucket fresh and delicious.

Hair Bears

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, April 2015

(image source)

My husband Keith and I both have luxuriant manes of hair. In this and many other ways, we are like a pair of beautiful wild stallions. Thick and full, our hair is both straight and curly, with cowlicks, knots and the occasional mystery dreadlock. All three of our children have inherited our unruly locks (sorry kids!) and this means that in this house, there is a lot of mane to manage.

It strikes me that dealing with all this hair has taken up a lot of my life over the past few years. It’s so exciting when your baby first starts sprouting. Like the gradual shadowing in of a Polaroid picture, your little one starts to reveal themselves – taking shape, layer by magical layer, before your very eyes.

First they grow this sort of thin, wispy comb-over, like a middle-aged British tax accountant. Then the adorable baby-mullet appears. Before too long you are able to give toddlers their sweet first haircut. A fleeting power, though. Very soon after gaining the skill of speech,  mine all stopped letting me treat them like real-life Cabbage Patch Kids and started demanding the right to choose their own do’s.

Currently, all three – including my son – are in a ‘long-hair’ phase. Three year old Pudding is the hardest to manage around this, because logic is not her friend. She‘ll happily submit to a hair-wash because then she can admire how far her hair reaches when it’s wet. Her anguish as her hair dries is hard to watch.

Sometimes I follow a trail of water through the house to find Pudding in a soaking outfit, happily playing Lego with the ‘long hair’ she’s given herself by pouring a bucket of water over her head. Her dream hair is long, sparkly and purple.

Boy hair is a whole other story. I’ve cut six-year old T-Bones hair lots of times. Always a disaster. No matter how many YouTube clips I find or how much care I take, there are only two haircuts I ever manage to give him. One is the Kevin Rudd pudding-bowl, and the other looks like I’ve done the job with the wildly shaking hands of a chronic alcoholic.

Now, like his sisters, T-Bone wants it long, so I’m off the hairdressing hook for the moment. But his golden, thick hair has a bit of a Beatles/Bieber/Rod-Stewart-in-74 vibe. In fact T-Bone has the kind of sweeping, glossy locks that women pay hundreds for in a salon, although perhaps they might decline the Weet Bix crust.

As for my biggest, she likes to do her own hair, and it has all the fabulousness you might imagine from a creative 8 year old who gets her fashion inspo from Harry Potter and Backyard Science. She’s not beyond the disco ponytail or the triple-plait, and lately, she’s been teaming her loom-band choker with a feather stuck in her hair. Janis Joplin lives again, I think proudly to myself as she trots through the school gates.

There they all go, my three, crazy manes blowing in the breeze. One is dreaming of purple sparkly hair, one is be-jewelled and be-feathered and the Hugh Grant flicks of the third are tipped with Vegemite. They may look like unkempt ponies, but they are  intent on flying their own flags,  and I wouldn’t want to stop them.

The Empty Thrill Of Snark

Amelita Galli-Curci seated at desk , photo source unknown.

I’ve been thinking about snark lately, about creativity- poisoning, and the meanness and ugliness of it all.

There’s a real high-school thing happening out there where the online mean-girl gang gather to speculate about blogs they love to hate. Poison pens hovering, they wait for bloggers to write something stupid, outrageous or thoughtless. How very dare you! cry the commenters on these snark threads, as they idly rip apart every aspect of a persons life and crow over the remains.

Bloody hell, who would be a blogger these days? Nobody gets out alive.

Way back in ye olde blogging machine, bloggers would comment on each others sites, because it was the only contact we had with each other. People would write to say hello, I’ve had that experience you talked about, nice hat, etc. People didn’t bother to write mean stuff, usually, and if they did it was the aggressive act of an anonymous weirdo  and other readers jumped in to defend you. If  there was a blogger who you couldn’t stand you either clicked away or you quietly texted your sister to have a laugh.

Times have changed.

Blogging is different now in lots of ways, good and bad. The existence of anonymous snark websites changes the atmosphere profoundly from a largely supportive and warm community space to one where you need a very thick skin to express yourself with vulnerability and truth. I think it’s  a sad development.

Ira Glass from This American Life  has a wonderful theory on the development of creativity: that it takes time to hone a craft. If you’re going to get good, you have to be really crappy for a while first.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

The problem with writing online is that the development process is public. Every half-arsed idea you float could possibly be captured and examined in all its shameful amateurism by this court of self-appointed, nameless meanies, these arbiters of taste and intelligence.

Snark culture has a particular language and behavior.  Writers call each other ‘hams’ and are saccharine sweet, ham to ham, in the manner of adolescent girl-gangs wanting to prove that they are not the bitches they appear. ‘You hams are the best,’ they say, and ‘this is the funniest thread on the internet,’ all the while inserting the salty blade into strangers relationships with their children. In this language, children are ‘kittens’ and to defend a blogger is to WK, or white-knight them, and this is usually done apologetically, as in  ’can’t believe  I’m WK’ing for….’ The given wisdom seems to be that the bloggers they dissect are utterly craven, and deserve every ugly slur hurled their way. While many writers are measured,  there is a significant percentage who  seem deeply and inexplicably invested in the lives of the strangers whose blogs they read.

There are some nutball narcissists out there writing blogs, no doubt.  But it’s a pretty hard to defend a website that has a thread with over 1000 pages dedicated to parsing and mocking every word written by a Mormon mother of five who writes about life after surviving a plane crash that burned almost all of her body.

The argument for snark says that it is a useful counterpoint to the over-familiar, fan-girly commentary that can appear on blogs. That stuff is skin-crawly, to be sure.  Guardian writer Sady Doyle says it’s useful and necessary. ‘Snark is the kids at the back of the class,’ Doyle says, ‘heckling the substitute teacher; it’s the voice of people who feel stifled, talked down to, or left out; the tool of people who have discovered that honing in on the weaknesses of those in power, exposing them publicly (if only to their own circle of friends), and reducing them to figures of fun (if only in their own minds), makes them feel a little less helpless.’

I think the problem lies in the combination of anonymity and groupthink.  We get encouraged  into a kind of  folie à plusieurs, or ‘madness of many’ – where an idea gains credence by being held by lots of people, no matter how batshit crazy it might be.  Soon we are inhabiting this awful, ugly landscape where people speculate on the mental health, marriage status and pants size of lady-writers  (the bloggers, like the snarkers, are overwhelmingly female).  This mother doesn’t love her child. This child has a developmental delay. This woman needs medication. This one needs cosmetic surgery. The pearl-clutching, body-shaming and moralising goes on and on.

Who are these people?

Who would bother to write these things?

It’s all such a buzzkill.

Reading blog snark sites, when you are a blogger,  is like a secret, guilty pleasure. Some of the gifs are superb, and many of the writers are intelligent and funny. But it doesn’t take long before the sweetness starts to pool in a sour puddle, like reading ‘celebrities without makeup’ or watching Dance Moms. It’s not the behaviour of a useful person, to insert this kind of information into your brain.

Here’s how Caitlin Moran puts it in her book ‘How To Build A Girl’:

Because I am still learning to walk and talk, and it is a million times easier to be cynical, and to wield a sword, than it is to be open-hearted, and stand there, holding a balloon and a birthday cake, with the infinite potential to look foolish. Because I still don’t know what I really think or feel, and I’m throwing grenades and filling the air with smoke while I desperately, desperately try to get off the ground: to get elevation. Because I haven’t yet learned the simplest and most important thing of all: the world is difficult, and we are all breakable. So just be kind.

Creating content is really hard when out there is a living embodiment of your inner critic, hovering over the keyboard waiting to mock your your thoughts. Me, I like to imagine the snarkers like my friend Anthony describes, tapping away in front of a mirror, with a Casio keyboard by their side, set permanently on the Applause button. I wish they would turn their talents to making something instead of tearing at things others have made.

Lets create, not spectate. Let’s allow each other to be nobby, idiotic and dim sometimes. Let’s leave a little wiggle room so that those amongst us with thinner skins are not afraid to speak their truth, make their offerings, and let their freak flags fly.

It’s how Leonard Cohen tells it: ’Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’

PS – I enjoyed writing a post on my old blog called The Best of The Angry Shriekers That Hate Me.  It was therapeutic.

PPS – Cooker and A Lookers video of bloggers reading mean comments.