The internet does weird things to how we are perceived and how we interact socially. Two recent examples:

  1. A New Zealander living in Scotland has contacted me through YouTube (where I have added a few Kiwi music videos to a personal playlist) hoping to meet a fellow Kiwi expat: "i'm from xx, north island, where r u from?" .. Denmark? Maybe I should start adding a couple of Danish tracks to that playlist of mine .. nah.
  2. Facebook sent me a message the other day. "Suggest friends for XYZ!" Today the site sent me another message: "Keep in touch with your friends! Leave a wall message for XYZ!" XYZ, a distant member of my extended family, passed away from cancer a month ago. Needless to say, the messages made me feel extremely uncomfortable. I can only imagine what it must feel like for her close relatives to be sent these messages and pushy 'reminders'.

Following on from that, I have been following a message board thread about personal identity with some interest. The thread started with a newspaper article talking about "late-blooming lesbians". The thread meandered through discussions on bisexuality, marriage and queer politics - but the one post which made me stop in my tracks asked about the idea of "always having known myself". Can we really, really lay claim to having a stable identity throughout our lives? One of my all-time favourite quotes is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses:

I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.

I like to think that our identity is an amalgam of our experiences and a select number of personal traits. I cannot lay claim to "always having known" something about myself, because "always" is a really complicated word. My three-year-old self had a radically different way of perceiving and naming things than my twenty-five year-old self or even thirty-four year old self. I feel at peace with that idea of a fluid sense of Self, a bricolage-like identity, which keeps shifting and moving towards untravelled worlds. I feel significantly less at ease with always having been the same person.

Getting all this from a thread which was basically "u all suck an i'm rite" isn't bad.

While I remember, I'm tentatively planning an escape a holiday to Denmark. I need to recharge my batteries and I miss people. I don't know any dates yet (although it'll probably be late October/early November), but I just thought I'd give a bit of advance notice !

Under the Covers

In the early '00s the blogosphere was very different to what it is today. The number of bloggers was very small and everyone seemed to sort-of-almost know each other. My friendship with Stuart of Feeling Listless goes back to this adamic age and this morning Stuart wrote about another blogger who I had actually forgotten existed: Ms Belle de Jour. Yes, she of the lucrative book deal and the Billie Piper TV series. To recap: Ms Belle de Jour was a high-end prostitute blogging about her work and her life. She was a good writer, was clearly smart and educated. Like most bloggers at the time, she was anonymous, but interestingly she kept her anonymity even when she landed the book deal and the Billie Piper TV series. People tried to guess her identity: Was Belle de Jour a real person? Was she actually Toby Young (the implication being that no female prostitute could possibly write so well)? Or was she some other published writer having a bit of a laugh (again the same implication as before)? It seemed as though everybody was suddenly Belle - I even had emails asking me if I had invented her because, you know, I was reading the same book as her. I never knew that reading Jonathan Coe singled you out as being a potential sex worker.

And now The Times has finally revealed the identity of Belle de Jour. Yes, she is real and she is "a curvy size 8 with a fantastic figure" and, oh, a research scientist.

This unveiling is a twist which feels incredibly dated to me - it goes to show just how blogging and the whole damn blogosphere has changed in the last four or five years.  Blogging has gone democratic: you get personal blogs, corporate blogs, politics blogs, mom blogs, fashion blogs, car blogs, book blogs, gadget blogs, travel blogs etc. Blogging is no longer something you do on the sly - bloggers will link to their Facebook profile, Twitter feed, Skype ID, Ravelry profile, account, Flickr account and LibraryThing profile (and probably a dozen other social networks with which I am currently unfamiliar). Secrecy no longer intrigues; openness appeals.

Tellingly, when Stuart posted the news about Belle de Jour to MetaFilter (itself an online community dating back to the early '00s), the reaction was rather muted. Some had never heard of Belle, others shrugged a bit and most of the attention was given to the way the mainstream media had broken the story. We have become so jaded.

Crossing The Line

Yesterday someone I knew roughly fifteen years ago wrote to me via Facebook. She asked me if I were dying because she had noticed my status updates on Facebook (and quite possibly this blog) and was, I quote, sooo worried about me!!!!!!!!! One thing which absolutely fascinates me about blogging and, by extension, social networking on the web, is the idea that you "know" the blogger or the person you follow on a social website. Where does that idea of "knowledge" comes from?

I don't know about you, but I moderate my online persona and I have done so ever since I first started blogging almost eight years ago. I used to be almost obsessively private about my identity, but when one of my blog readers began stalking me obsessively in my then-hometown, I realised that anybody would be able to find out who I was no matter how hard I tried to mask my identity. It was just a matter of how net-savvy you were. These days I link my real name to this blog and use a somewhat transparent web 'handle'. I continue to be very aware what I share online.

Do you know me if you read this blog? Of course not, although you will have a good idea of what to expect if we were to have a conversation offline. Can you deduce anything significant from my Facebook-updates? Quite apart from my having a semi-severe PathWords obsession, no.

I'm slightly amazed that anybody would consider asking me about dying via a casual Facebook message or think I would disclose terminal illness via one-sentence updates on a silly social networking site. I think this proves the divide between illusory 'knowledge' generated by virtual interaction and actual knowledge of the person writing all of this.

Is It Only Tuesday?

You know what I abhor? The phrase "one of them". I was told Saturday that all foreigners should leave Scotland and when the speaker learned I was foreign, he qualified his words with a "but you're not one of them" excuse. If I had a penny for every time I have heard people use that phrase, I'd be knitting cashmere sweaters. It's a lousy, cheap way of trying to seem less xenophobic and more inclusive, but the phrase only makes the speaker appear more racist and exclusive. Anyway. Sorry for that mini-rant. It has been a long week even if it is only Tuesday. My head is pounding and I still haven't had dinner (because cake does not count). Let's go for some delightful links.

+ Viktor & Rolf's Barbican Exhibition. Side-by-side comparisons of runway models and quite creepy dolls. Interestingly, it took longer to recreate V&R's clothes in doll-size than it took to create the original runway look. + Interesting Bookcases and Bookcase Designs. I used to know someone who lived in a 17thC Copenhagen townhouse and who'd use the rafters as her bookshelves. It was awesome. I really like the children's bookcase-bedroom, actually. Wonder if it would be possible to recreate that in an adult size? + The Word Clock. What it says on the tin. + Czech uranium glass buttons. Uranium?! I came across these listings on eBay and I still don't know what to make of them. + I'm not a huge fan of cupcakes but this shark attack cupcake mountain is fantastic.

Finally, Charles Bernstein on the current global crisis:

Let there be no mistake: the fundamentals of our poetry are sound. The problem is not poetry but poems. The crisis has been precipitated by the escalation of poetry debt—poems that circulate in the market at an economic loss due to their difficulty, incompetence, or irrelevance. Illiquid poetry assets are choking off the flow of imagination that is so vital to our literature.


It is odd how smells affect the human brain. Example: the leaking water pipe in our kitchen has finally been fixed but there is an odd damp smell in the air. If I close my eyes I'm immediately transported to my great-grandmother's pantry/scullery in rural Denmark circa 1981. My great-grandmother lived in a damp old house in a small village. She had a huge garden which supplied her (and her two sons who remained with her) with fresh produce virtually all year round. The house was always in constant need of repair, the loo was outside and there was no hot water - but I had my tree house in an apple tree, the attic was filled with relics pre-WWII and I'd do little archaeological digs at the back of the house (next to the caravan where my mother slept as a teenager, behind the makeshift football pitch/outdoors badminton court and right by the cherry trees). At Christmas time, the house would fill with her eleven children, their spouses and own offspring. Her sons would sit around the big table with their playing cards, their cigarettes and beer bottles. Her daughters would be in the kitchen cooking the Christmas food, opening the mysterious jars on the top shelves of the pantry and cursing the lazy men.

My great-grandmother (and her two sons) moved into our little rural town some fifteen years later. Her house had become too cold and too damp for an old lady. She finally got hot running water, a real bathroom and a shop across the street. But she had her sons build her a pantry and she turned most of the new garden into a vegetable patch.

She passed away some six years ago. And here I am, her quiet great-grand-daughter, in a Glasgow tenement flat on an overcast Saturday afternoon and I'm looking forward to picking brambles later this year and making bramble jam - just like Nan would've expected of me.

It Is Not Entirely My Own Fault

Following on from yesterday's Chomsky snippet, here is an article asking Can You Teach Your Kid To Have Taste? The premise is that a classical music reviewer has been dragging his ten-year-old son along to work and has begun wondering how that influences his son's taste in music/art/literature. The kid likes Tolkien, Russell Crowe westerns and visiting museums - maybe not the most average boy - but has that to do with his parents' (evidently highbrow) taste or is it something inert?

Unsurprisingly the writer does not come up with an answer, but the article made me reflect upon my own taste. I can pinpoint why I like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter. I can also tell you why I enjoy reading Georgette Heyer and watch the Eurovision Song Contest religiously. But I come up short when I reflect upon my weakness for films like Roeg/Cammell's Performance and Todd Haynes' entire oeuvre. And what about my love of modernist poetry and early twentieth century abstract art? Not to mention my love of very, very bad sci-fi films? What has caused this odd pick-and-mix of things I grew up loving and things I have encountered later in life?

Can you trace how your own taste was formed?