Thursday, April 14, 2005

Internet communities I have known and loved

The blogging world is new to me, and as I read the pages I like, (or yes, compulsively, the pages I don't like but must check because I feel threatened by them in a wish-I-were-that-cool or who-the-f*ck-do-they-think-they-are kind of way) I try to trace the relationships--who knows who in real life, who reads whose page regularly, etc. But internet communities are fickle and abstract, and even as I try to break into this world, try to establish connections, try to make friends, I think about the communities I've been a part of over the last decade, how they've defined my adult life.

When I first moved east for grad school, married, straight, just out of BYU, not sure how I was going to keep being a mormon, not sure how I could not be a mormon, my community was a group called LDS Women. I think that's what it was called. There were actually two list-serves--one for just women, one for both women and men. As long as you were uncomfortable with Mormon sexism/homophobia/anti-intellectualism, but not enough so to stop dragging your kids to church or turn down a calling. It seemed though they were willing to explain how frustrated they were with the church and its politics, they weren't going to leave it. Similarly, though they could readily and eloquently critique their upper-middle class straight privilege, but they certainly weren't ready to ditch it all and join a commune, like their prized heroine/most feared cautionary tale figure, Sonia Johnson. (A current incarnation of this list might look like this.) I was one of these women too, and as I sat in the computer lab in my new school their green words flashing from the black screen were familiar, their anger tasted right.

That group morphed into a few incarnations, but the part of the list I hung with finally settled into HAAM: Heretical Agnostic Aetheist Mormons, an invitation-only, strictly vetted list-serve for only the most angry, most educated, most intellectually and/or socially rebellious of us. HAAM was hot for a while there. I think it died when two of the most active voices, a lesbian couple, broke up. At least it never seemed the same to me after that. I still see some of the members at MLA every year. We refer to ourselves as the Mormon Mafia, and joke about how nobody realizes just how many of us there are in academia. (There's probably a Western-raised, inbred Mormon with a long English nose teaching Coleridge in a classroom near you. Beware, beware. . . )

My most beloved list-serve was, some would say is, or rather, still could be, Maude, a list for discussing fashion, tv, gossip, general femmeness, that started out of SUNY Buffalo in the mid-90s. Most, but not all, of the original members were grad students there. (Not me. Margo only wishes she had been at Buffalo.)

We started when e.r. was new and exciting and we cared who Carter went out with. We talked about clothes, about shoes we wanted, lipstick colors we loved (as Clinique's Rum Raisin morphed into MAC's Sheer Plum), apartments we passed through, jobs we quit, or lost. We swapped guilty tv secrets and spoke of our significant others as Harrisons. Sometimes we talked about our dissertations, our exams, our proposals, our hostile grad program assistants, our amnesiac advisors, our freshman comp classes, the shitty jobs we took on the side to stay afloat. We talked a lot about our ambivalence towards academia. Some talked about relationships, some more than others. You never deleted a Maude post, although some senders made you roll your eyes. Some Maudes you sought out in the real world.

I don't know when we stopped talking. For me Maude was kind of over when I had a difficult and bitter break-up with my eight-year partner, who was also on Maude. I couldn't talk about it there, because it was her community too, in a way that could never be triangulated like live and telephone relationships could be. Nor did I feel like I could talk about the rest of my life there, anymore. I still don't. I don't even know if she's still on Maude, but I waited a year after I got cats to mention it there, because I was afraid she'd make fun of me, the inveterate cat hater, or that she'd find a way to hold it against me.

Every once in a while you'd get an extraordinary announcement: "So, I got married, and the shoes I wore? Still not sure about them." Or "well, since my baby is due in three weeks . . ." I don't know when we started editing out the parts our lives that mattered, hiding behind lipstick and sitcoms when I think a lot of us felt a deep intimacy, an irrational love, a no-matter-what loyalty. We just barely got a new home a few months ago, on a fancy new server, years after anyone has lived in Buffalo or has really been affiliated with the school.

I miss Maude a lot, and wish she'd come back, but after ten years, after break-ups within the community, marriages, babies, deaths, moves, dissertations done and not done, I'm not sure we've got anything to talk about except wishing there was something to talk about.

I bet you wish I would talk about my time on, an active site and community organized around love of, you got it, Kerry Weaver, everybody's favorite red-haired lesbian doctor, don't you? But I won't. I won't even explain how I was really there for the Kate Mulgrew Appreciation thread, or how I got tangled up with a crazy stalker woman whom I'm still kind of scared of. And no way am I going to spill the beans about The Cat Site.

The thing that always catches me off-guard about internet communities is how quickly they flare up and how quickly they die, how they go from being a huge part of your life--some days you can't think a thought or have an experience outside of the narrative parameters of your current on-line community--to something you only remember when an errant message shows up in your in box, or when you follow the bookmark for the first time in weeks, just to see if there's anyone there you know anymore.


Blogger Sfrajett said...

Wish I'd had a Maude. Can you start a new group, do you think, or is a Maude-like experience part of a certain moment in time in one's life, now past? Is starting lists part of youth and optimism and new technology? Or can you do it any time? Just wondering.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hated HAAM, which I know upset you since you introduced me to the "hidden kingdom." I couldn't work up the outrage every time the Mormons did another misogynist, homophobic, or generally stupid thing. What's left after you've rejected the core belief? And there was so much posturing; no one really talked about grief, or loss, or longing. I miss HAAM sometimes, though.

MAUDE, I never got. Too girly for my taste, I suppose. My ex-girlfriend did; I wonder if she's still on the site, or whether she's e-mailing your ex directly to avoid prying eyes.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Bess said...

Right on target, as usual, Margo. So true about Maude. Why the aversion to the personal, which is, trite though the saying may be, political after all. And the complicated triangulations -- how silly that we women are not beyond it, educated feminists that we are. Jane Fonda in a radio interview about her new autobiography said that despite all her years of feminism it never really hit home for her until she knew it "somatically." How true for me as well, who ended up held at gunpoint, nearly killed, partially bruised and wounded, and thoroughly f*&^ed up in the head and heart, after a two-year stint in a physically and psychologically abusive relationship. And never talked about it on Maude.

But still the memory of a cherished and nurturing "feminine" community, despite its mere virtuality, carried me, and was a major reason I could regain my sanity and finally walk out the door of that hellish apartment to my safety.

(And you were always an honorary member of the Buffalo community. Memories of your tomato/feta/basil spread helped lift me to wholeness -- it was the first thing I made to eat after I left the crazy ex, and put me on the road to health again. Memories of a happier, more innocent time, and good, kind-hearted women.)

3:53 PM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

Thanks for this, Bess. I'm sorry things got so hellish. Yeah, the non-communication. On this side it was like a really overly-spaced connect the dots. 1. Bess is happy and engaged and moving to Connecticut? 2. Bess is back home and bought her own house. Whaaaat?

I not-so-secretly wished this blog entry would will Maude back into talking. But nothing. Maude is SO stubborn!

I think the makeup talk was often a way of initiating conversation. Once you have people weighing in on lipstick, then you can start talking to them for real. Ditto with the tv talk.

I haven't made that salad in forever. Thanks for reminding me.

9:54 AM  

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