Saturday, March 17, 2012

The best laid plans...

The new packet of biros on my desk includes three bullet point observations on the back, including:
• Writes for over a kilometre
The whole idea seems odd to me. Who would want to write for a kilometre? Then again the purpose of a biro is to produce ink when pressed down hard against the page, whereas the purpose of writing is to produce images and ideas that communicate. To tell stories.

Whenever I sit down to write the thoughts that pop into my mind first are based on my most recent experience, as if my mind is dominated by the here and now.

For instance, this morning my thoughts steer back to late last night when I stayed up in order to collect my daughter from a party. We had agreed I would collect her at one am. I designed my evening around this event.

I set my alarm for half past twelve. I tried to sleep from eleven but it was not easy. I cannot sleep on demand any more than I can write on demand. Even so I drifted into sleep and woke at midnight before the alarm woke me. I made myself a cup of tea in a bid to shake off my drowsiness.

My daughter rang half an hour later just as I was about to leave. She had decided I need not collect her after all. She would stay at her older sister’s house nearby instead. If I could please collect her in the morning.

I protested. She protested. She knows by now how much I hate these sudden changes in plans. I know by now how much she is prone to making them.

It is in the nature of youth, I observe: The best laid plans are cast aside at the last minute and new plans made with gay abandon. People like me, people who prefer a level of certainty in the day to day running of their lives are left reeling.

I sat in my chair gasping after the first phone call, furious with this latest change of plan, after all, had not I organised my night around it? And now I needed to rearrange my thinking and try to sleep on demand all the while worrying about my daughter and what it was that should cause this latest change of plan.

In ten minutes my daughter had changed back to the original plan and I collected her after all.

Last night as I sat with my irritation, I told myself not to write about this. It is too close to the present and too close to those near and dear to me.

As I waited for the alarm I re-read an article about the way in which the Internet never forgets. I’ve written about this before. The way that everything that is marked down in cyberspace will be forever recorded for posterity. It’s one of the reasons why writers write, Margaret Atwood argues: to stave off death by providing a record of events that can go on forever.

But this article on the way the Internet never forgets - Jefrey Rosen's The web Means the end of forgetting - paints a much more sinister picture, one that suggests other people will hold against you forever what you have written or shown about yourself in pictorial form.

When you are older and looking for that plum job, the powers that be, the folks who decide on whether or not you get the job, will be able to trawl through the Internet archives and drag up all sorts of stuff taken out of context that will invariably reflect badly on the person you once were.

They will conclude from this archival footage that the information gathered informs them of the person you are today and they will not therefore give you the job. Or let you into the country, as in the case of the sixty-six-year old psychotherapist from Canada who could not get into America because there was Internet evidence that thirty years earlier he had experimented with LSD and had written papers for his students to that effect.


An image of me in my ill-begotten youth when I'm half ashamed to say I used to smoke cigarettes.

Never fear, there’s this outfit called ‘Reputation Defender’ who will clean up your image on the Internet if need be and for a fee, recast you in a better light.

All this talk about the dreadful things that can happen to a person via the Internet when another person decides to use the things the first person has written about to bring them to account years later. It gags free speech.

And is it true or are we bloggers living in a fool’s world in which it might seem not to matter too much while we record our most intimate thoughts only to then have them held against us in years to come when the thought police get out with their stainless steel knives insisting we wash our mouths out with soap for the things we have said?

Please pardon all the mixed metaphors here. I’m on a roll and fearful of stopping in case I dare never write a word again.

I must keep my slate clean. Leave no tell take signs exist of a life not necessarily as well lived as it might have been.

My biro is nearing the end of its mile.

53 comments:

rosaria said...

I can be more relaxed about this topic because I'm old, will never look for another job, don't care that everyone knows what I write.

I'm thinking that a decade from now, when I'm demented, I can review my blog posts and marvel at how cogent I was once.

My grandmother wondered about Xrays, worried about radio waves, and thought that people could see through the walls and into her boudoir.

erin said...

i have a book of poetry that i love. i read a poem, love it and mark it. it seems to me that almost every poem is marked. how do i now find the ones that moved me in a certain way on a certain day? if everything is marked, nothing is marked. it seems to me that it is much the same with all of these things we are writing on the internet. we are not staying alive forever, we are drowning in our superfluousness. that said, i'll stop when i'm dead:)

and should we ever behave in a certain way because of some unforeseen future examination - oh, we should flush that fear right alongside all the other shit. we should live, fail, learn and expect the same of those we love.

xo
erin

Andrew said...

Young people need to be very careful about what they say and do on the internet but for someone my age, it doesn't matter so much. Having said that, I much more circumspect about what I write in my blog now compared to when I first stated, especially about family and friends. Funnily my partner and I were just discussing where we ate breakfast in the small northern Japanese town we stayed. Neither of us can remember, so I am now off to my blog to check.

oceangirl said...

I love the way you write Elisabeth, even if it is a mile long, I can go with you. My blog world has become my world and I have real feelings for it and so I guess the more reason I should be careful of what I write.

The internet never forgets, I'll remember that.

Rob-bear said...

Well, considering there are no longer such things as blank slates, a clean one is about the best one can expect.

And since I am no longer in the job-seeking world, I am not particularly concerned about what the thought police are tracking.

Oh, wait. We are living in the world of 1984! Suddenly I have an urgent need to totally re-invent myself!

Mary LA said...

Ah yes, Elisabeth, I too had a pair of blue denim dungarees.

I've been reading reviews of Rachel Cusk's Aftermath, the outrage and dislike people feel towards her because she admits to being irrational, bitter, unreasonable when her husband left her. What it is unseemly for a woman to admit.

And then there is Scandinavian author Karl Ove Knausgård who wrote about his alcoholic father, his senile grandmother and his second wife's mental illness, caused a family rift and controversy.

I feel terribly constrained by my blog censorship -- not that I worry so much about the Internet as much as the curiosity of colleagues, the reactions of friends and those in my village. But the record is if anything too partial and sifted, excludes too much to be a useful record of my daily life or preoccupations.

I do myself and my readers a disservice by not writing more fully and letting in more contradictions, conflict and ambiguity. The gritty stuff. When I reread entries, I remember what was not written and that is so often far more interesting. As it is here, the mother and daughter relations, the tensions around uncertainty and last-minute changes, so close to what I feel when I work with younger writers, their vacillating and impatience, my wanting to slow down and have more continuity, stability.

Alison Sampson said...

Self-censorship - the most effective type. And yet I'm sure we all do it. Myself, I just try to write the truth with love, and hope for the best.

BTW loved the piece on the idiot in the grog shop. Rage is appropriate. It's like the rage I feel every time I ride a tram with a valid ticket, and hear an announcement that offenders will be prosecuted. Makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong when I'm not - it just drives me around the bend!

The Weaver of Grass said...

This did make me smile Elizabeth. Every mother has gone through this kind of experience. The young just do not think along the same lines, do they? Content yourself with knowing thatone day it will be your daughter who is feeling like you do about her offspring!

River said...

I'm careful with what I write, mostly to protect the privacy of my family and also not to write defamatory or ugly things about others. I prefer to be nice.
If you could measure the ink length of words, you could work out how many pens needed to write a novel with xxx pages.

Isabel Doyle said...

Maybe one day, when we are all besmirched by internet finger-prints, all will be Forgiven and Confession and Absolution replaced by some cyber confession blanket of foregiveness. Maybe?

Then a new line will be drawn in the sand to record our sins and shortcomings.

Don't worry Elisabeth,we are who we are. I appreciate for you and your profession these issues are more real - here & now - than for some of us.

Isabel x

Ms. Moon said...

I don't even go back and read my old blog posts so I can't imagine anyone else doing it either. Which gives me a certain freedom.

Rose said...

The point you make is true it is usually taken out of context and used against you. However, I think if someone should stoop to that level to find you unsuitable for employment at their firm I would be happy not to be selected :D
Reputation Defender well what next! some people just have the knack of spotting a money spinner *chuckles*

Kath said...

Nah, forget about keeping the slate clean. You're a writer - a very, very, very good one - a clean slate would be the death of you!

Jim Murdoch said...

Is that so different from the real world? There are loads of things I wish I could undo and which I wish people could unremember but that’s never going to happen. And the worst of those things we will never forget, not until all the injured parties have died or become insensible. Even then for some there will be written records: registry entries, school yearbooks, books, diaries, letters, newspaper reports and, God forbid, transcripts of trials. I imagine Oscar Wilde will have at least one entry under each category. And there will be others, many others that history has kept an eye on but that’s not remembering; the Internet does not remember even if it never forgets. There is a lot of buried treasure waiting to be dug up in this world but there has been far more rubbish buried. The average American family alone chucks out more that a ton of paper every year and I see the Internet as one ginormous virtual landfill. Oh, yes, there are some treasures to be found there but even they get buried quickly and unless you have the right tools and know where to look you’ll never find them. It’s like then Google tells you there are about 4,730,000 pages containing the word ‘ginormous’ and then only provides you with 71 pages of links, less than 1000 sites, and, let’s face it, how many of us are willing to wade through more than a half dozen pages, if that?

I’m not so keen about Reputation Defender. If I found someone there it would incite me to dig all the deeper were I that kind of person: That’s what they say they’re being wrongly accused of, now what are they really hiding? I’m a born cynic through and from the very start I have been careful what I have shared online. I know a lot of people never even name their spouses but wherever I’ve worked people have always known my wife’s name because I—apparently—never shut up about her. Thinking back on the last place I worked I could only give you the name of one person’s husband and that was because she was his wife was my best friend there are we even met socially a few times. No one else. But when people met Carrie she was treated like an old friend almost, people felt they knew her that well. And, to be honest, that I did that, and continue to reference her online, makes her feel good so I see no reason not to continue but I am still wary as to just how much I might share because there are crazy people out there.

One of the ways I avoid putting my foot in my mouth is by having Carrie edit—not simply proofread—every post and there have been a number of times she’s reworded things pointing out to me that I can be too trusting; I never even check her changes anymore—she has the power of veto. She doesn’t check comments like these though where I do tend to open up a bit more but having tried to find something I said in an old comment I am well aware how hard they are to search for. But I’m still careful.

The younger folk are getting wiser through, some of them. My daughter, for example, conducts her entire life online under a pseudonym and, like a superhero, her true identity is only known to a trusted few. More fool her if she ever told a prospective employer what that pseudonym was (not that she’s ever done anything to be ashamed of) and, wisely, it does not form a part of her e-mail address. Trust should be earned. My son-in-law is a very different case and has a very active (and public) online life but he’s the kind of person who is completely open and I’m sure wouldn’t want to work for any kind of company who would frown at his online antics. It’s who he is.

As for people changing plans at the last minute. I’m with you. Totally. Hate it. But then order is a big thing with me. I’m not a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy. But I’m sure you would have guessed that.

Kirk said...

I guess you have to compare your life to before and after the Internet. Before the 'net, were a lot of doors opening up that has since slammed shut? If so, give up blogging and only use the Internet when absolutely necessary. However, if it's same quantity and same quantity of doors shut now as before, might as well keep blogging.

Kind of a cynical answer, I know, but it's the best I can do.

who said...

The world that exists online, is legally a lot like the West was after wagon trails were established and ever since there’s been a steady influx. A lot countries it seems are gearing up for some fairly serious e-wars and preparing for anything although I seriously doubt old and well established alliances will be broken. It’s going to be a whole new ballgame as laws and enforcement are kind of hard to establish. If someone could establish specific laws that were enforceable, they’d already be doing it. It really is a whole new peculiar can of worms that’s been opened up. So much is possible and so much not. And while governments and industries work so hard and steadfastly, they’d be much wiser to know what can and can’t be done. The music industry was the first to learn the hard lesson. Had they known, they could have steered more of the swift rivers of cash flow into their lakes instead of trying to damn up what they couldn’t stop. And should a country begin implementing laws like sopa and such, they had better be laws that are feasible. The United States tends to never look back once they set precedence and we have a hard time admitting we are human and make mistakes. I think the US Government is fairly lucky that laws don’t stick as easy in the e-world as they do in the world. The Supreme Authorities of any LAW of the electronic are going to have shoes that grow too big too fast, to fill for human feet.

who said...

And the cool thing about the internet (besides it being on computers now)is that there is more than likely a place for everyone. But for people that tow the line and toe it, there are bound to be both feet across it at times. It's just what happens, as we are not perfect nor are we machines. And that is exactly why they don't tell pilots not to fly into the trees, and instead say don't fly within five thousand feet of the trees. Because most hearts begin to harden in everyday there are near misses, because even your soul can be conditioned and it eventually will stop clutching your heart with every near miss (which isn't a good thing unless flying just over the tree tops is the only way to get from A to B without getting shot down)

That pilot may never be hired by Southwest but a cartel may be actively recruiting like the Boyce scouts are still looking for Jesus.

And then there's the multitude of situations wherein at least two factions exist and interactions happen with it be business, religion, politics or even entertainment and they often need a whole aray of personalities to remain competitive. So say you could for lack of a better term, mop the floor with a preacher, democrat, republican, atheist, scientist or just had a good sense of pinpointing the bullship then he'd probably already found a job and didn't write these messages until he was throughly underground because that's the type of person who can bring anything to a screeching halt and some organizations will cuff him and coincidentally unquestionable evidence of whatever charge they want a conviction of mysteriously shows and he doesn't like guilty convictions of crimes he is innocent of. It's not prison itself that is so bad, it's the people your forced to associate with.

aguja said...

Ah! Perhaps that is why I use a pencil! BUT I have to laugh at some of today's descriptions - especially such as ' an intelligent washing machine' or other such devise. I have tried conversing with them and find that they are lacking this elusive intelligence with which they are accredited.

And to the 'daughters' ....mmm yes, well, all I can say is the Spanish 'igualmente' which sums it up.

On to the final part, in which I have to say that life is too short to give time and energy to any destructive person or forces unknown ... so I just brush it all aside and think 'so what'.

Elisabeth said...

You're right here, Rosaria. When we are old we can look back on our posts and marvel at the clarity of our thoughts, our words our visions, and in the meantime, we can off our critics by not taking them too seriously,unless perhaps it's warranted.

Thanks, Rosaria.

Elisabeth said...

As you say, erin, 'if everything is marked, nothing is marked', hence the ease of drowning under the weight of all that information, and the blogosphere carries so much of it.

I imagine, the best we can do is sharpen our memories against their inevitable decline by trying to work with the moment and all its treasures, even as we struggle to remember the past.

Thanks, erin.

Elisabeth said...

There you have it Andrew: your blog as a wonderful record of travels gone by, even if you need also to be somewhat circumspect in considering exactly what to write.

Thanks, Andrew.

Elisabeth said...

You must have written more than a mile, too, Fazlisa. Your blog like mine has become such a personal treasure.

Thanks for the kind words.

Elisabeth said...

You'd have been concerned about the state of your slate in 1984, Rob-Bear?

I expect I would have ,too. It takes till we hit around fifty I reckon to worry less, and even then some residual concern hangs on.

Thanks Rob-Bear.

Elisabeth said...

Ah, Mary, so much of what you write here esonates for me.

I heard Rachel Cusk speak at a conference two years ago in England. She was beautiful and all fire and so ready to be attacked, as you suggest, for obvious reasons, that she offends people with her brute honesty. Also that she writes about the things so many of us dare not say, and writes it so well.

Writing will always be a dangerous occupation, Mary, if we take ourselves seriously. There's no place for the timid, however timid we may feel.

Thanks, Mary.

Elisabeth said...

Self censorship is such a powerful deterrent, Alison and much of it borne out of other's censorship I reckon. that which we first imbibe with our mother's milk.

I'm glad you enjoyed my grog shop tirade. It hangs about with me still. Every time I go into Dan Murphy's I look out for the young man, though strangely I've not seen him or his manager since.

Thanks, Alison.

Elisabeth said...

I suppose it evokes memories of battles with our adolescent children, Pat, as you suggest. The old generational divide is alive and well.

The closer our children come to adulthood the harder it becomes it seems, because we no longer have the authority we held when they were little.

Therefore it seems to me, we must develop different ways of relating in order to stay relevant and connected. But it's not easy. It never really is, when it comes to parenting, regardless of age.

Thanks, Pat.

Elisabeth said...

I imagine there'd be many pens involved in the writing of a novel, River, what with all the drafting and redrafting as well.

As for staying 'nice' within the blogosphere, I try to do that as well, but I'm not sure I always succeed.

Thanks, River.

Elisabeth said...

It's true, Isabel, in years to come if there were ever a reckoning taken, we might all be found liable or innocent, or be overlooked altogether.

As you suggest, we can only do our best and hope for the best, but sometimes and maybe as you say, more so for me because of my circumstances, these issues feel potent, and poignant and downright impossible at times.

Thanks, Isabel.

Elisabeth said...

I read back over my old blog posts from time to time, Ms Moon. I like to see how I've travelled, but like you, I can imagine not going back to them as well. They can be described as certain newspaper accounts are described, as 'disposable literature'. There's room for it all.

Thanks, Ms Moon.

Elisabeth said...

The dreaded reputation defender, Rose, as you say, what next? We'll all have to wash out ,our proverbial mouths with soap and water, simply to survive.

Thanks, Rose.

Elisabeth said...

A clean slate for a writer does sound deadly , Kath. Thanks for your encouragement.

cheshire wife said...

There is no hope for me as I have quite a common name.

I can understand your irritation with the change of plan and sleep issue as I would have felt just the same. I think that your daughter will have more of aproblem with you blogging about it than you will. She was the one that changed her mind.

icyhighs said...

Gotta say, if you're determined to use the freedom of free press (be it crappy pictures of your cat on facebook, or political activism), you should probably get used to the fact that the info you put out there can be used against you. We do it all the time to politicians/celebs/public personalities without a second thought.

Elisabeth said...

I toy with travelling under a pseudonym, Jim, but every time I think this way I disregard the idea, mostly because it has a ring of dishonesty to it. Or of the fake and artificial. Besides what would I do with sixthinline. leave her hanging, a loose thread. So i must wear the consequences of whatever the future holds. Hopefully it won't be any more ghastly than the journey so far.

I'm inclined to agree with you, Jim. There is much about this notion that the internet never forgets that's akin to life in general. And as for the reams of information available out there online, who in their right mind would want to or even be able to trawl through it all.

To my mind there must be a reason why some things rise to the surface and others not. Something essential that we may never understand.

It's not hard to find out about obvious details online, if you want the information, but equally why would we bother?

I often wonder about those blogs in which people write reams about their children as they grow up. How will those same children feel entering adulthood?

Maybe it's like those photos that some people find embarrassing: the naked toddler in the bath. Fine when you're a toddler, but less fine when you're grown up.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

I think you have a point here, Kirk. I prefer life after the arrival of the Internet.

The Internet has offered me a great deal more than I could enjoy before it arrived.
So I ought to stop complaining about the potential negative side effects, right?

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

The funny thing about the Internet, Who, is that we associate with all sorts online, and often we don't know who it is we are mixing with, though we probably have a fair idea in most instances.

I like the analogy to the wild west and I agree with you that in time there will be more efforts made to restrict things further and to find ways of imposing greater costs.

Still for the time being, the Internet is fairly democratic as long as you can afford a computer and the service.

Thanks, Dusty Who.

Elisabeth said...

A pencil is an excellent implement, Aguja. At least you can usually rub out its markings. As for talking about your computer and other machines, I'm like you unconvinced as to their human qualities and intellect. It's what you put into them that counts.

Thanks, Aguja.

Elisabeth said...

It's hard to hide these days, Cheshire Wife, for any of us. As long as we do the best we can to live reasonably decently I imagine we'll get by. Though that thought might be a tad too optimistic.

Thanks, Cheshire Wife.

Elisabeth said...

You're right icyhighs, I'd better get used to the possibility that information I make available about myself 'might' be used against me.

It could make it hard to sleep at night, though I try hard not to worry too much, otherwise I'd never keep a blog.

Would you?

Thanks, icyhighs. It's good to see you here.

Laoch of Chicago said...

In one of his books from the 1970s the writer Trevanian opined that the problem for governments and other oppressors in the future would not be not having enough information but in fact having too much information.

Phoenix said...

It's a difficult minefield to navigate, Elisabeth, that delicate balance between expressing our authentic emotions and lives vs putting our best foot forward. I will admit to being more vulnerable in my blog than I am on Facebook; and to being more political on Facebook than I ever am in my blog, as my Facebook is private and cannot be viewed by total strangers.

At the end of the day, one would hope that prospective employers would have the grace to ask for context regarding damning posts and pictures. There is only so much of ourselves we can sacrifice in the fear that others are judging our every action before life becomes unworthy of living.

Elisabeth said...

Too much information is a real possibility, Laoch. I can feel it already. Such an avalanche of ideas the minute we try to explore anything on google. Soon we will have little room to move.

Thanks, Laoch.

Elisabeth said...

I'm also intrigued by the difference between Face Book and the blog world, Tracy. As you say, you can be more intimate on your blog, but more adventurous politically on Face Book, where your followers tend to be those you know and love.

I used to have a link between the two, FB and my blog, but I took it away after my daughters suggested to me that my blog was not appropriate fodder for all those I know.

It seems a strange contradiction and yet it makes sense to me. The relative anonymity of blogging allows for greater depths of expression and yet it's still a minefield.

Thanks, Tracy-at Phoenix.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a biro writing a kilometre - even more - I like the idea of the person who put that claim on the pack actually having tested it!

The whole words coming back to bite you, I know exactly what you mean - almost revealed my secret blogging life at work today, but pulled back at the last minute... it's funny how I don't mind people I don't know seeing it, but people I know need to be protected/ or I need protection from them maybe. great post as always.

Elisabeth said...

That's the strange point of it, anon. You're happy to have complete strangers visit but those you know well, you'd rather not know your blog address.

I wonder whether that claim on the biro pack was in fact checked for accuracy. They expect it for non-fiction but do they expect it in the retail world. Probably.

Thanks, Anon.

juliet said...

It's a whole new way of thinking, isn't it? I'm glad I'm not 18 and getting carried away on Facebook. When I think of all the silly stuff we used to write on notes - but they have curled up, faded or been discarded. The permanence is a bit scary.
As for those teenage years and changes of plan, I'd feel the same. It's a self-absorbed age, and they don't realise the effects of their actions on others, so need all the feedback they can get. Hope you are having some good nights' sleep now.

Elisabeth said...

So-called permanence is a bit scary, as you say, Juliet, but I suspect the overload of information will protect most of us from the worst.

I, too, am glad to be past that youthful age of adolescence and early twenties, but when I was that age I can remember dreading my old age, anything past sixty as I recall.

It's funny how the perspective changes as we age.

thanks, Juliet.

jabblog said...

If we worried about every keystroke we'd never write anything. There are certain key words or phrases by which the 'powers that be' are alerted. Most of us need have no fear.

However, the silliness that is bandied about on social networking sites is a different matter. It really is no business of any future employer to look into the mindless prattlings of youngsters learning to grow up - it would be like looking at school reports for five-year-olds and making a judgment based on them. The truly mischievous with ill intent will surely be found out through more than their Facebook jottings.

Elisabeth said...

A belated response here, Janice. I agree with you: the idea that the idle prattling of youngsters on their face book pages will bring then undone is ill-conceived.

And yes, if we get too bogged down with all of this angst over social media, we'd never write a word.

Thanks, Janice.

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