On sad girls and the over share

Trapped in the Phoenix Airport for two days while flying back from a conference. Pretty desperate to get home at this point. ©2017.

Last week I got a message from a male acquaintance who lives in a different city. We chat on FB every few months, but I’ve only met him and his soon-to-be spouse in person a few times. I am pretty fond of them both: they’re smart, funny, competent, beautiful people. His and my conversations typically oscillate between intellectual banter and nervous pigtail pulling. This particular exchange started with an inquiry into my mental health. It was an unusual start to our conversation, and one that likely stemmed from a comment I made on FB a few days earlier, talking about my brain weasels going into overdrive (credit to Gray Miller). I never know what to say in these situations. I’m not looking for expressions of love or concern, and the few times when I have, I’ve asked directly. And I am definitely not interested in the emotional labour involved in reassuring someone that I am in fact reasonably fine (whatever that means).

So, what do I want?

I have three Instagram accounts. My personal account has almost 5k posts. About a third of those are selfies. I am pretty prolific on FB, with a mix of personal posts and activist-esque content sharing. My FB friend list has grown over the years, and now includes colleagues and acquaintances, but no students. My twitter feed is more open. As you can see, I also write on Medium, with about half of the writing based on personal experiences, and the other half driven by scholarship and teaching in design and HCI. By certain standards, I am definitely an over sharer; by others, I am also a “sad girl”.

The Selfies

My mother and I left Poland when I was ten with four suitcases full of cameras and crystal. There was no room for personal effects since we needed items to sell once we disembarked in the Athens airport. I also suspect that neither one of us thought we wouldn’t return — an adventure into the West and back again. We also didn’t expect my step father to die in a freak fist fight with a Ukrainian while we were away, dispatching all our keepsakes and memories to the garbage heap.

I have one photo of my mother when she was pregnant with me, and I can now see the apartment I was born in on Google Maps. I have no photos of what it use to look like on the inside.

Some of the trauma I experienced makes it difficult for me to recall personal events with consistent precision. This sucks.

My iPhone and Instagram were techno-heaven sent. I photograph everything. I post to remember. I make my face visible to others, so that its existence (and my experience of this world) is undeniable.

The Cock Articles

If you have a few spare minutes, take a listen to Canadaland’s Episode 143, where writer, author, and standup comedian Monica Heisey (of Baroness Von Sketch, CBC’s new sketch show) talks about young women writers, and the downsides of sad girl journalism. Hierarchy is a douche-nozzle (this isn’t news to anyone). Women are paid to write about sex and sadness; then are criticized for writing about sex and sadness. But Heisey isn’t wrong. The article that I wrote that’s garnered the most attention on Medium had the word cock in the title and shared my sad experience of being harassed in a tech workplace.

Do I sad-write to get noticed, or do I get noticed because I sad-write? For my distance friend mentioned above, it seems to be the former, though he’s incorrect about my reasons — feminism-driven principles of transparency and accountability, and an acknowledgement of my own, privileged position.

Dust Specs or Grains of Sand

Of course we all get to choose how much of ourselves we share with the world, and the Internets are full of warnings to not over do it: you’ll risk getting/keeping that job/spouse/degree/friend/political appointment. Different rules for different people, as we’ve sadly learned since November.

Yes, I write when I’m sad. I write when I’m struggling with depression or with anxiety, when I have nightmares, when I’m frustrated with my kid, and devastated by the world. I write during moments of severe impostor syndrome, and to avoid doing work that scares me. I do this so that women, moms, and immigrant women know they aren’t alone in their experiences — we all have brain weasels, and we all fight the fight in our own ways.

I also write about my credentials, my experiences writing and travelling to present at conferences, and about celebrating my accomplishments so that an immigrant woman academic is seen doing those things. And, as much as I resent this, that a mother is seen doing those things.

Sometimes, I write about sex and relationships. I do this because I don’t consider these things shameful. Because I believe women’s sexuality is stigmatized. Because I think the madonna-whore complex is prevalent, misogynist bullshit. Because I have friends who are viciously bullied for the same.

I write for myself.

By putting my words into the world I open them up to observation, analysis, and critique with the hope of, eventually, becoming a writer worth reading. Every time I post, I send the link to a tiny network and they know to tell me all the ways my thoughts could be made stronger or clearer. I also write to make my experiences tangible, so I can remember the complex tapestry that is me in moments when all I see is inadequacy and failure. I write for the potential (illusion) that this all will somehow matter. And I write so that, someday, I will be ready to write the things that — to me — are sad but need saying.

Yes, that’s booze behind me, and my partner’s kid picture, and me as a sad nine-year-old. ©2017.

Still Curious?

I teach, design, and research as a feminist scholar, usually located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. You can see some of my work, or find out more about me, at http://milenaradzikowska.com. I am on twitter as @candesignlove.

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