Wednesday, August 5, 2015

why selfies?

In the midst of attempting to complete my book, review a film for publication, produce 2 new documentaries, apply for a prestigious award, prep my syllabi for the upcoming academic semester, and host a visit from my in-laws, I have been keeping pace with my selfie practices and even recently bought an inexpensive selfie stick in the small-bin kid's toy section at the local superstore (!). i'm still okay with selfies, still love them. I also love myself and even sometimes my image, my self(ies). 

I have been taking selfies for some time now. I share them, as well, usually on FacebookInstagram, occasionally @ Twitter. I find the practice empowering and not at all silly; or, if silly, silly for rhetorically strategic purposes (even if only to cheer myself or others). 

For me (and many others), selfies are serious business. The practice is both indulgent and bold, a kind of feminist reclamation of agency and a tool for reshaping our sense of self through our framings, alterations (filtrz!), and captioning. And then, art. Think Cindy Sherman (for a sense of the long history of selfies as feminist practice). Increasingly, we see digital feminist practices that argue for reclaiming the body through the (re)presentations that selfies enable (for an overview, see this ArtSlant piece by Char Jansen). 

Selfies take hits from many directions, and while I understand many of the critiques for their intellectual and especially psychological merits, I continue. Why? Okay, something happened last night (not at all for the first time) that inspired me to begin my selfie research in earnest. I was at a dinner with family, and someone took a photo of me. I had posed, but apparently I hadn't arranged myself just so, and wow. There it was, instantly, in the moment. I had been feeling lovely, but there it was, a flatly terrible photo of me, taken* by another (so, not a selfie). It was mortifying in its unflattering angles, revealing many truths of which I am not unaware but which I tend to de-emphasize in my own selfie practices. The slippage between the revelations of the other-directed photo and my own is important. I want to imagine it's not even there, that my own imagistic declarations obtain as the primary frames for [contemplating] m'visage, m'self. But the experience reminds me that this is not so, and I need to think about that fact. (Revising this post, I read that last line and see that even the writing is a reframing that firms up my sense of selfies as simply one -- very, if not the most powerful -- form of self-fashioning that has a long and quite obvious history of doing good things for those who take up reflective practice). 



I am writing to declare my intention to begin to engage more rigorously with selfie research. In many ways, the theoretical works I've long admired on the nature of the self, writing the personal, and the power of reflection have always resonated with my selfie practices. More obviously and recently, I've joined a Facebook selfies group, and I've begun reading Jill Walker Rettberg's work on selfies (in my awareness, hers is one of the first full-length, single-authored works on the matter). Her book's title suggests a desire to explore the liminal spaces between our self image as determined and maintained by our selfies, our selves and alternative versions of our projected self-images. Walker-Rettberg's Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves may help me navigate my personal disappointments even as it encourages a more clearly rational approach to self-knowledge and awareness of what I am taking, and what I am projecting. This awareness seems critical, for it seems true that we may function with a slightly delusional sense of self when we imagine or contemplate our lives through our filtered and overly edited images of our faces, bodies, body parts, etc. And while I have stubbornly clung to a belief in a sort of feminist power, here -- we are now afforded a professional crew for managing our images, just as are the famously beautiful people against whom we have historically judged our own imagistic value, the contours of our faces, the body shapes that don't always seem to fit normative ideals -- I'm aware that the delusion is problematic, to say the least.

Finally, I will admit that I am a woman who has suffered her fair share of tragically disordered body-shaming practices. This, too, compels my desire to think more rigorously about my selfie practice. I am inspired to push on by scholars in my field of Rhetoric & Composition, particularly those working in the Computers & Writing area and Digital Rhetorics, scholars like Kristin Arola, Angela Haas, Michelle F. Eble, Kate Manthey, and others who are openly exploring rhetorics of the body in promising and clearly productive ways. 

Wish me luck. This isn't easy. 

rhetorics of capturation profoundly shape my thinking about the feminist value of selfies.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

status updates r good for writers & readers (even academics!)

image source
Inspired by an update i read this morning, one that reverbs familiar advice about how to write (as an academic), i have been reading about a FB recall study that's linked to the relevance and persistence of status updates. It's Dr. Laura Mickes, et al (2013) but new to me. i was inspired to read it after reading a claim suggesting that, in part, FB updating too frequently could be damaging our abilities as (academic writers), or at least our daily productivity. i almost always resist such advice because my experience has been that without FB i may have left academia altogether. More conceptually, i think about how in an attention economy, being read and remembered seems nearly as important as that project you've been developing with care over time. Maybe *too* much, by some writers' standards, but perhaps it's simply *in time*; and, given the social connectedness emerging from FB participation -- a gift difficult to generate in some life situations -- the timeline is less relevant than the balance of sociality and productivity. In many ways, i'm relieved by the study for how it frames my understanding of the value of FB and spending time here, especially because, as the FB memory study reveals, according to Mickes, "The gaps in performance between Facebook recall and literature recall are on a scale similar to the difference between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory." To me, this does not suggest that updating is superfluous, silly, or irrelevant to my development as a writer, academic or otherwise. It validates updating as a potentially valuable aspect of our writerly lives. In earlier parlance, we might have called it "invention," posthumanist thinking might consider our updates as representations of lived experience that interface importantly with our teaching and scholarship (Hendry, 2011, ctd in Snaza & Weaver, 2014), and digital media scholars might suggest an "interface effect" (Galloway 2014) that reveals interfaces as neither simplistically good or evil but instead as *what is*, as thresholds, doors, and apertures that invite these very sorts of critiques. Finally, to be clear, the update that started me on this path was *fine* ... very pragmatic advice from a very prolific academic writer whom i admire. The interface experience this morning encouraged me to dig in to the feeling of shame (i doubt was an intended effect of the original update) i associated with the familiar admonition. I am relieved of shame, I'm writing, and I've discovered a few new texts that aid my thinking about social media, writing, and acceptance.

Note: The Mickes quote above is from a Fast Company​ article by Jennifer Miller. The piece contains a link to the study, as well.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

trauma dot com

"memory" by Stanley Yuu
A friend's FB post prompted me to look up some old posts I'd shared about "the boatwreck." I have enjoyed reading them again, though their content is always somewhat provocative, releasing additional forms of trauma that attach to my current situation, about which I won't be writing publicly for some time but which involves my mother's still fairly recent passing and my father's relocation to a facility very near my new condo in "my new life."

So but the recollections seem to want to inspire additional writing and reflection. I had been in therapy with the brilliant Salt Lake City professional, LaDonna Moore. I owe her letters of gratitude on unicorn fur-spun pages for helping me get past not only the immediate trauma attached to Mom's death but also years of pretty ridiculous thinking, ironically the very thinking that helped me survive my upbringing's troubles.

Since Mom's passing, and when the situation evolved here in "my new life," I had to go find a new therapist. Thankfully, her office is only a 5 minute drive (!). She too is helping, in similar ways with very different approaches. I don't want to say much more about it (see how that worked out for me at end of paragraph 1?!).

I'm grateful for how social media enables me to find the traces we share, the interests that motivate us, and the frail tissues of affective memory that linger, fade, and reilluminate our lives. But today, I've got many other forms of writing to take on. My book *does* deal in affect, and so maybs this detour into a state of solemn and potentially embarrassing affect will be inspiring. Either way, I am motivated to find that old article that nearly-made-it-but-didn't-quite publication. It may be time to reanimate and try again, as with all things