Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gaslighting

D'you know the movie? I've seen it a few times.  I tend to think of it as a domestic version of Notorious, the Hitchcock classic, but perhaps that's because in both movies, Ingrid Bergman gets to act terrified and particularly vulnerable.

I've used the movie title as a verb, as well. Usually when both my husband and ex-husband are standing around while I search desperately for my keys or something and I'm starting to think a) I'm losing my mind and then b) no, I'm not, they're gaslighting me.  So I accuse them, and they laugh.  Not a bad result; being Brits and coming from the land of Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, and Douglas Adams, they often don't laugh at my jokes.  I get the deadpan Brit stare, instead.

I was accused of gaslighting someone the other day, and I'm pretty sure she was joking.  I'm also pretty sure she was really mad at me and, although I may never know why, I'm okay with the incident.

See, I think of Romlandia -- which is what I call the corner of the Internet where people think, blog, comment, and tweet about romance novels -- as being like high school.  There are cliques, sets, loners, etc.  One thing that happens in that context is that we're all invited, implicitly, to act like high schoolers if we want to.   I wonder if I disappoint when I don't act like a teenager?

I'm 53 -- gonna be 54 next month -- and I wasn't very good at high school, or at being a teenager, even when I actually was in high school.  In a chart of groups, types and affiliations in my high school, I wouldn't even have shown up.  No lie -- I'm not in my yearbook, not even mentioned.  I was invisible.  (I get it that I'm not invisible in Romlandia High.)

Before I started working full time on trying to be a romance writer, I was a lawyer.  Before that, I worked in public health.  Before that I was an editorial assistant to a statistician.  Before that, I was a philosophy grad student, before that I was premed.  I've been half-assed at all those endeavors; I'm a perennial B+ student and merely average worker.

But before all those things -- even college -- I wanted to write romances.  (I was mediocre at that even then, btw.)  And before I wanted to write romances, I read romances.

I have been reading romances for over 45 years -- which is longer than most of the student body in Romlandia High has been alive.

So, no, I wasn't gaslighting anyone.  I'd apologize, but I think the record is pretty clear that I'm innocent of the charge.  I've heard that I was labeled as "smug" and a "smart aleck" (which Chambers defines as "a would-be clever person or one too clever for their own good").  Hmm, under that definition, I might be a smart aleck -- certainly my intelligence (and yes, I am smart) gets me into trouble.  And I suppose this paragraph establishes that I'm smug.

But what I am -- more than anything else -- is old.  Lots of "been there" and "done that" in my life.  If I'm not reacting in a heated fashion to the antics of mean girls in Romlandia, it's because I've seen worse.  Hypocrisy, double standards, and violations of basic principles such as "you comment on a blog post at the blog that posted it" -- those I'll speak out against.  But not name calling and such on Twitter.  Lord, Twitter is so evanescent that even to blog today about the Tweets of Yesterday is a bit like reminiscing about the snows of yesteryear . . . in high summer.

Gaslighting is a high school prank.  I've got my faults, but I'm reasonably confident (or smug) that I've outgrown high school.

13 comments:

  1. I think some of the discussions get too intense over at some blogs and DA has many of them.

    I've had some posts up on my blog where I assume the discussion would get heated, but was surprised that wasn't the case. 9 times out of 10 every one is respectful at my blog.

    *Shrugs* there are just more important things in life to be concerned about.

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  2. Boy is that ever true -- that there are more important things to be concerned about.

    My blog is blissfully free of contentious comments. I worried at first (they can drive up volume), but now I revel in the peace & quiet!

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  3. "violations of basic principles such as "you comment on a blog post at the blog that posted it".
    ---

    Sorry, but pardon? Where did you pick that up? If we all do it that way, there would be no community. To be honest, all these years I've been online (16 years? 17?), I have never heard of that principle. It doesn't make sense, to be honest.

    In fact-if that principle was true, you're in violation of that principle a few times yourself as you've written blog posts on your blog as responses to other bloggers' posts, have you not? So I don't get it. Clarification, please?

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  4. Maili -- I don't have a problem with someone posting on a topic -- even in direct response to a topic -- that appeared on my blog. You are absolutely right; I've done that myself.

    But that's not what we're talking about in this situation. What I believe happened here is this: Dear Author posted an op-ed involving sexuality, biology and morality as it pertains to the protagonists, and particularly heroines, in romance novels.

    I commented, and in my comment I wrote something to the effect that perhaps this was the result of market forces. Robin/Janet picked up on this point, which she spent a lot of time and peanut butter dismissing. In my response to her dismissal, I wrote that I had posted over here on market research in the romance industry. And yes, I linked to Promantica.

    You've said elsewhere, in effect, "X's blog, X's rules." Absolutely agree with that. As I understand the rules over at DA, one big one is to keep the comment thread on topic. Robin/Janet's topic had nothing to do with market research. I was trying to respect the "keep on topic" rule by referencing my post rather than a) restate my post even in part in a comment thread dealing with a different issue, or b) engage in a new debate with Robin/Janet that would be parallel to any discussion that might arise on my blog.

    So now we have DA with an op-ed piece on how women are portrayed in romance fiction -- a diverse topic with a lot of great points to discuss -- and a post over here on a more nuts-and-bolts issue of how, if at all, publishers learn of readers' preferences, one of which may be for more sexually experienced heroines in their books.

    The next day, I got some information and opinion from Michael Norris, the Senior Analyst of the Trade Books Group at Simba Information, a leading market research firm in the publishing industry. I quoted him with permission in a new blog post here. Nothing he said was germane to Robin/Janet's original op-ed. In fact, the only reason I mentioned Promantica again in the comment thread on DA was because his comments were germane to a point that was being debated only by a couple people in a otherwise rich & diverse comment thread much more relevant to Robin/Janet's essay.

    Again -- that's DA's rule about don't hijack the comments.

    As I understand it, Jane came here, read Michael Norris's quotes, then went back to the comment thread at DA and responded, not to anything I'd said in that comment thread, but specifically to Norris's remarks over here.

    In other words, she commented on my blog post -- and only on my blog post -- in a lengthy comment. But she didn't comment here, she commented over at DA in a comment thread where I'd already been criticized for supposedly reducing Robin/Janet's lengthy essay to one trivial issue.

    Now, I don't think that's good blogging etiquette. She was hijacking Robin/Janet's comment thread. She was discussing Michael Norris's quotes without linking back here so that others could tell what she was talking about. And she was violating a rule she has enforced personally against others: stay on topic.

    I invited her to come here to discuss the issues related to the publishing industry. She declined.

    {continued in next comment}

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  5. Maili -- I'll be honest with you. I don't understand any of their outrage. I stand by my comments. If it's rude to pimp out one's own blog in someone else's comment thread, then I'm guilty of that. But, in context, it's clear my efforts to do so were not gratuitous but specifically designed to keep the rather dry topic of market forces in the publishing industry away from the much more interesting topics raised by Robin/Janet's original essay.

    I suspect Jane's desire to tell me that Michael Norris and I were wrong won out over her desire not to acknowledge that this blog even exits. For that reason, she violated her own rule at DA.

    As you say -- her blog, her rules. But if her rule is "Only Jane may hijack a comment thread" she should make that clearer when she's getting stoppy with other commenters at DA.

    And I'll stand by the principle -- and I do think it's a principle -- that you comment on a blog post at that blog. You can raise the very same issues elsewhere, you can post about them at your own blog (as we both have done), but a comment on a blog post should be in the thread generated by that blog post, not in a thread on an unrelated post on another blog.

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  6. I think there's an unspoken "rule" in Blogland not to link to your post on someone else's blog unless it's relevant. Could your intention in linking to your post at Promantica have been misunderstood? I'll have to go back and re-read your posts and Jane's comments.

    It's a minefield. I agree with you that it's generally a good thing to comment at a blog directly even if you ultimately write your own post on an issue. But there have been times that my comment on someone else's piece has gotten so long that I've used it as a post on my own blog. If I do this, I try to link to the piece which inspired my own. Discussions frequently end up spread out over a couple of blogs and I'm OK with that.

    You mentioned a comment Maili made about each blogger having their own set of "rules" for their blog. I agree with her that each blogger has the right to dictate how things go down on their blog, BUT if a blogger has specific expectations of their visitors, they need to spell it out in a disclaimer, and/or moderate their comments. For example, a blogger can't flip out about people disagreeing with their piece if they have unmoderated comments. Indeed, if a blogger doesn't want their piece to be disagreed with, they shouldn't facilitate a discussion at all. In other words, they should not allow any comments on their blog.

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  7. Sarah -- Okay, so I did bad by linking to Promantica -- and I did it three times, so very very very bad. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. (Is ignorance of the rules a defense?)

    But I'd have done bad if I'd nattered on about market research -- something completely off topic to the comment thread. And that was a DA rule I was aware of, having seen it enforced pretty strongly on one occasion. (I believe someone was threatened with expulsion...)

    Again -- taking a topic back to another blog in the form of a separate post: I'm cool with that. As Maili did with your blog, sometimes a "comment" is just not the right format for what one has to say, and a freestanding post (by definition on one's own blog) is the better option.

    But we're talking here about remarks Jane *was* comfortable putting in a comment. We know that because that's what she did -- she commented. She commented on what I'd blogged about. (Still okay.) But she chose to insert that comment -- without any link back here -- in a comment thread for an op-ed piece on a (at that point) completely different topic.

    Hey, if I'm the only person who sees a problem with that, then I'm the only person. My blog, my rules. And my rules are these:

    People are free to comment here. They are free to disagree with me. They are free to decide they want to post, back on their blog, whatever they like about a topic raised here.

    And of course they can comment on a post published here, and disagree with me, and attach that comment to another post on another topic back on their own blog. But under my rules, I get to say what I think of that last action.

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  8. OK. Thanks, Sarah and Magdalen, for sharing your views. I understand now. I still don't see what's the actual problem, since you were the one who posted the link at her blog that has Jane choosing to respond accordingly on her blog instead of yours.

    You obviously feel she should restrict her comments to this blog. That's the way you feel, and no one can take that away. :)

    @Sarah
    That bit about needing to lay out a disclaimer - I don't agree, actually.

    There is a long-standing "rule" that when you visit a new blog, newsgroup or message board, you should spend some time lurking to familiarise yourself with the place BEFORE you make your first response. When you lurk, you should use this time to learn the blog owner's preferences and rules.

    When a newbie posted something that they shouldn't - such as pimping their blog or book, flaming a poster, using foul language, criticising the blog owner's post or whatnot, the "I didn't know! I'm new!" excuse is not acceptable.

    It's not that dissimilar to being at a party. You hold back to read the mood and watch people to figure out what's fine and what isn't. Is it OK to talk shop? Would be all right to be loud? Help yourself to the buffet when no one seems to touching the buffet? Is it rude to smoke? Is it wrong to refuse to take shoes off when everyone left theirs at the door?

    It's like that with a blog. It's an easy assumption that there are standard rules for ALL blogs: no racist crap, be civil, etc. but it's also common sense to assume that all blogs have their own preferences as well. Some blogs actively encourage commenters to be as outrageous as possible with racist/sexist jokes, foul language, and all other traits of being at a frat party. And some blogs don't approve this. Also some blogs don't mind non-related blog pimpage.

    You can only learn a blog's preferences by hanging out and observing others' actions on said blog and the blog owner's reactions. Hope this makes sense.

    (Why this comment system doesn't allow 'cut-and-paste' fuction to work?)

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  9. Interesting post Magdalen. I've commented about this before on other posts but I'll say it again: personally, I don't hold with the My Blog My Rules stuff. If you have a blog and post stuff publicly on the internet that anyone can respond to, then you cannot seriously expect commenters to adhere to your own little private legal system. It drives me completely nuts when bloggers start weighing in with lists of dos and don'ts like there is an objective set of rules we should all be observing. There's not. Blogging is generally done in a totally public forum and yet bloggers are completely obsessed with their proprietorial feelings about what is just a bunch of ephemeral code of passing interest to a tiny proportion of others. Obviously I shouldn't trangress the law in my commments on others' blogs but other than that, I believe I can do as I please. And the fact that someone has a bigger blog or has been blogging longer than me doesn't give them the right to lay down the law about what or how I may comment.

    But people DO adhere to certain cultural 'rules' so what is going on? Well, if you want to be part of a community that recognises certain 'rules', then you may have to abide by those rules in order to be accepted. And if you want to be part of a particular circle in that community, then you may have to do more than that! But that doesn't make recognition of those accepted behaviours 'rules' in the real sense of that word, that's just herd behaviour.

    Me personally? I like to get on with people. I keep it pretty civil. And I try to show the same good manners in blogland as I do in RL. That may mean that I adhere to various supposed 'rules'. But that's not because I accept there ARE rules about this type of thing, it's just how I interact with people anyway.

    So personally, I don't think you need to apologise for linking to your own blog on DA - though I wouldn't have done it myself because I have a thing about not pimping my own blog on big blogs - I only link to my own posts if they're directly in point on a smaller blog where it won't be seen as self-promotion. Equally, I don't think there's anything wrong with Jane responding to you on her blog. But again, I wouldn't have done what she did, again, because of the way she comes across in doing that.

    All of this raises fascinating questions for me about what rules are. Some will take the view that rules are rules if they have consequences (even merely social consequences e.g. effective exclusion from the group etc.) But I only see things as rules if they're enforceable in some real-life way i.e. if rulebreakers can be forced to comply.

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  10. What tumperkin said!! And by the way, I'm not a blogger (altho I'ma getting so tempted ... and I know I'm sending you a guest one soon, sooner, soonest!) but if I was a blogger and Keira had sent me the list of 5 most influential blogs in MY life, yours would be on it.

    What I like best about this entire discussion -- ranging across the blogisphere -- is that is almost entirely being held out in the open. So we can all ponder and weigh in and think about how we feel about these, let's be honest, fairly emphemeral rules :) That's great!

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  11. Me again, of course yours Magdalen would be on my list but tumps and sarahs and DAs and so many more. Five is pitifully small :(

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  12. Maili, Tumperkin, Sarah, & Janet -- I admit it: you're all getting me to think hard about this, and I appreciate that. Janet's right -- this is a good exercise. I don't feel like I'm being taught a lesson, but I do feel much better educated as a result of the discussion!

    Leaving aside specific occurences on DA (the ethics of which reasonable minds can parse ad nauseum), there is a larger question here of how best to fit in. Blogs should provide interesting content, not be a carnival attraction with a barker at the door. Some blogs are personal, others more diversified with multiple contributors. Some blogs have ads, others don't. Bloggers need to fit in both as hosts of their own blogs and as guests elsewhere.

    In real life, a host's job is to make his/her guests feel comfortable. All the guests. So if one guest is disruptive, the other guests are uncomfortable and thus the disruptive guest is removed or told to shut up. That just makes sense.

    This gets me mulling over my own behavior -- both as the host here and as a guest (in this context, a commenter) on other blogs. I can definitely see ways in which I could have behaved better; that's useful information going forward.

    At the same time, I want my contributions here and elsewhere to reflect who I am. If I needed people to like me, I would probably make different choices, try to fit in more and so forth. I want to believe that I continue to behave with dignity and respect, but I have no control over how others perceive me. That leaves me relying on my internal code of conduct, which is never going to be perfect but which can always be refined.

    So I end up concluding that this is actually pretty complicated and subtle stuff: An amalgam, if you will, of sharing my thoughts and my respect for the thoughts of others.

    Appreciation has two distinct meanings: "I appreciate" can mean "I acknowledge" but it obviously also means "I am grateful." Here it means the latter -- I appreciate this discussion because it's helpful.

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  13. Maili -- Yes, the comment function here is utter pants. You *can* do cut & paste, but according to my IT guy, it would take longer to explain how to do it than it will for us to move to WordPress.

    I knew weeks ago that I had to move this blog to WordPress, but I can't do it until the domain is two months old. I believe we've just reached that important milestone, so getting a better comment function is now on "project status."

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