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the3six5: Come here! Now go there!

Well, hello, friends.You sure have been lovely this week.

You may not know this, but I've really made it big. At the end of last year, I was accepted as a writer for the3six5. And I was going to try to explain it, but they do a far better job:

Every day for 365 days, a different person will write an entry about their experiences that day. The key is that each post somehow relates to what's happening in the world that day and how it relates to them. By doing so from January 1 to December 31, we will have a snapshot of the entire year, told from the perspective of 365 individual voices.

 Volunteers from across the country picked a date of their choice.

We believe everyone has a short story to tell that will help create the experience of living through a year in across the world.

Each author will write a 365-word reflection which will be posted to "lifestreaming" site Posterous. Posterous.com was selected over a typical blog or website because of its simplicity and its ability to syndicate content across major social networks. (You can access this page by simply going to www.the3six5.com.) If all goes well, our dream would be to publish the3six5 as a book. We suppose you could call it a crowdsourced journal of the year 2011.

So… Neat, right? All the people in the world, I'm one of 365 who get to write a post in 2011.

Then, before I even knew what was happening, February was half over and my day had arrived. Today. So I wrote about the only things worthy of such a day: Justin Bieber and Jeppson's Malört. Together.

And here's the story behind the story, a story that can't be told in 365 words because really, there are no words: A game of Dance Dance Revolution was also involved. (But I use the passive voice because I don't want you to know it was me playing it.)

You could go read it if you wanted. This is the one time I will ever be okay with you navigating away from my website. So go. Go now.

And enjoy your Friday.

Reverb 10: Community.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. Today’s prompt: December 7 Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

I went to the grocery store tonight after my workout — my first workout since before I came down with the plague flu. I bought frozen peas, Kraft macaroni and cheese, brownie mix and two kinds of baking chips. (I mixed the butterscotch chips in with the brownie batter. Just what the doctor ordered.)

On my way back into the cold, I spotted the familiar grey peacoat and lightly gelled coif of a former coworker, who happens to live in my neighborhood. I followed him at a safe distance until I knew it was him, then I all but bowled him over in the parking lot. We exchanged awkward pleasantries and small talk, teeth chattering, until he finally moved to unlock his trunk, pack his groceries and head home. The company holiday party — complete with Yankee gift swap and awards ceremony, unless all of upper management were brainwashed between last year and now — is in a few days. Go ahead. Guess how excited he was about that.

I don't miss that forced merriment and camaraderie. I don't miss the winding drive up to the golf club restaurant, the soft drinks watered down with melting ice, the choice of grey steak or fish of mysterious origin. The festering angst that the money spent on those festivities could likely have been put toward hiring another employee to alleviate some stress during the rest of the year.

But I do miss my coworkers. In a way. That community was built around solidarity. We were united against a common foe. Fumbling toward Friday together, every week, for three years. I miss that connection a little. But ultimately? That's not the kind of community I signed on for anyway.

When I signed up for Twitter in June 2008, it's safe to say I didn't get it. I'm not sure anyone did. (Well, I'm sure there are plenty of "gurus" out there now who would love to claim that they've always gotten it.) But two and a half years later, I've written 25,500 tweets. Most of them are worthless crap. I've somehow gathered almost 2,000 followers, three-quarters of which are bots or spammers. I follow an even 1,000 people who live all over the world, most of whom I'll never meet. This is where I live now. This is my community.

I spend most of my time physically alone, but it rarely feels like it. I'm surrounded. By people who have been in my shoes before, as freelancers or entrepreneurs, eager to share vague encouragement or their own success story. By people who can cheer me up when I'm down, with a kind word or a YouTube video. Or a baby animal. By people who are game to meet me for dinner or drinks — or the promise of them, next time they're in town. By people with far too much time on their hands.

My contemptuous corporate community has been replaced with a community of faceless friends. Which…sounds profoundly sad. With a community of friends that I take with me everywhere I go, then. Better? Well, if you don't get it, you probably never will.

2011: Writers.

Reverb 10: Fritter.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. Today's prompt: December 2 Writing. What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing, and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)

How do I put this?

Everything I do takes away from my writing. All my life's tiny, interstitial moments add up to a pretty substantial chunk of time — hours and hours that I seem to choose to waste on other things. Things that are safe. Things that offer instant gratification.

I watch my Twitter stream refresh, two or three posts a second, sailing across my screen. I check my bank balance, half convinced some mysterious benefactor will have deposited a large sum of money since my last visit.

I rearrange my apartment. It's happened three times in as many months.

I zone out listening to NPR, even though I can't discern actual news half the time, beyond the Charlie Brown whomp-whomp-whomp of soothing radio voices, over the roar of my furnace.

I clean: fold clothes, wash dishes, consider dusting but never actually do. This place is so small that it's a disaster the second a stray sock finds its way to the floor. (I'm staring right now at a tote bag and a not-so-recent Staples purchase that have fallen from their rightful place in a bin next to my desk, and that third of my apartment now looks like a bomb dropped.)

I stare off into space, looking out the window at the grey sky over the grey concrete patio, tugging at the dry skin on my lips until they're so raw I have to force myself up to fetch my lip balm across the room.

I'll even go out and run before I'll sit down to write.

Because I fear writing. And often, that fear is paralyzing. Writing exhausts me, saps me creatively for the day. Or longer. Sometimes I'll sink two hours into writing a post without even realizing the time has passed. It's easy to spend 15 minutes stuck on one sentence, typing and deleting words until I find the supposedly perfect expression of some half-thought.

I'm a tough first read, my own harshest editor. I rarely publish a post without thinking, "Well, there goes another 800 words of shit out into the ether." Or something to that effect. Self deprecation rarely puts such a fine point on things.

Among my fears, expressed as simply (and rationally) as possible:

  • Will anyone read it?
  • Is there some grievous error I haven't spotted?
  • Will there be angry backlash? (Ahem.)
  • Will I stare at my e-mail all day without receiving a single comment?
  • Is this little blog post taking away words and ideas from the book I'll eventually write?

Fear doesn't hold me back from much. But somehow, it often holds me back from doing what I love most in the world. That time I could be crafting a sentence with the potential to unlock pages of thought, or at least fleshing out some flash of inspiration that strikes me at an odd hour?

I fritter it away.

I can't eliminate these little things I do to keep myself from writing. It's not that they don't need to be done…eventually.

But if I gathered up all the time I waste in the course of a day, I'd have plenty of time to get those 800 words of shit out into the ether every day.

Sticks and stones.

"I hope you live long enough to forget half the stuff they taught you."— Alejandro Escovedo, "Down in the Bowery," a song he wrote for his teenage son

On Monday morning, I was in Lincoln Square, land of the NPR breeders and beautiful babies, camped out at Starbucks. Working. Checking my e-mail and reading Twitter.

A woman brought her two children in and had set up shop in the corner, on a bright-colored plastic picnic table. Her baby boy had the biggest blue eyes I've ever seen. We were flirting. We were in love. Mom and I had a moment, too: I was happy she was there, happy she'd brought her children. If I didn't adore children, I'd hang out somewhere else. Because they're everywhere in Lincoln Square. Seeing is believing. Minutes later, that soul-mate baby had disappeared under a little green coverlet, pressed to his mother's chest; she was feeding him, in the middle of the café.

I'd never seen this before, breastfeeding in public. (Which is odd, given that this neighborhood is practically the epicenter of liberal parenting in Chicago.)

And I was weirded out. Okay? I was weirded out.

I didn't say anything to her. Just cast my eyes downward and tried to focus on my screen. In an attempt to quietly diffuse my own discomfort, I tweeted this: "Really happy we're sharing this moment together, nursing mother FIVE FEET FROM ME. #gross" Oh, mistake of mistakes.

Those 76 characters set off a firestorm of backlash that honestly made me wish I'd never opened a Twitter account in the first place.

And I have become infamous in the past three days among a group of Chicago mothers and their supporters. They wrongfully assume — though possibly rightfully, if based solely on those tweets — that I don't support their right to breastfeed in public. That I'm part of the problem, part of the intolerance that makes their already difficult lives even harder. And that is just not the case.

For my first tweet, I will not apologize. The fact that it made me uncomfortable that a woman was breastfeeding not five feet from me at Starbucks, while I was trying to get my work done, is not something anyone can fault me for. That was a gut reaction. As was my tweet.

There were some hilarious lactating-at-Starbucks jokes — "Venti breast milk chai" entered the arena, for example — but for the most part, it got ugly. And fast.

What I am sorry for: letting that conversation spiral out of control. It turned into a shouting match, with me doing most of the shouting. I ended up looking ridiculous and childish. Most of what I said was, in retrospect — retrospect, meaning three seconds after I hit "send" — mean-spirited and ignorant. None of those are actually words I'd ever use to describe myself.

My instinct when someone attacks me is to fight back. And my responses became more irrational as I went. But after a certain point, I almost felt like I couldn't turn around, couldn't retreat. I regret this. Wholeheartedly.

My biggest gaffe that day: "If it's too tough to walk to a private place or make a bottle before you go for your caffeine fix, maybe you're not cut out for motherhood." Jesus. Did you hear that? That was me snapping. That was my snarky sense of humor rearing its ugly head, completely out of context, completely un…funnily. A response to someone else who refused to hear my side of things. Stupid, stupid, stupid Paige.

The first woman to unfollow me on Twitter was a woman named Claire, who I hadn't interacted with much at all until she got angry enough to delete me (without attempting to educate me where the debate was taking place), then wrote a blog entry on her site that called me out publicly. Linked to my site and quoted my tweets. I actually really appreciated what she said in that entry, even though she made a point of making me look like an asshole in the process, so I'll link to it here. (Please, if you go there and feel compelled to comment, be constructive. As I wrote this, she e-mailed me to let me know she'd removed all the links to my tweets and blog, but the damage had already been done. I have a lot of respect for her, even more so now than I did when I began writing this.)

Reading the comments there make me want to cry. Maybe I deserve it. But the person vilified in all those comments is not me. I know this, but it still hurts to read. (And for the record, my remorse began about five minutes after that Twitter dialogue ended. I've been embarrassed for three days now.) I'm afraid to log into my Twitter account for fear of more of the same. I wrote those things a few days ago. Off-handedly. In the heat of the moment. And I'm sorry.

What I wrote hurt a lot of people — I had no idea it would — and apparently now it's my turn to be hurt. On purpose. By a lot of people who, if they took the time to read through other things I've said, would understand that's not who I am. After reading Claire's post, one woman took it upon herself to find my e-mail through my site and put me in my place.

Anonymously.

"We are a nation that is so intolerant of public breastfeeding that it's imperative we educate, encourage and support each other," wrote that "Proud Breastfeeding Momma." "Are you proud of shaming women? For making us feel bad about feeding our children when people are around? You and others like yourself only continue this unwarranted response. It is very mean and very wrong!"

I didn't understand what I was saying that morning. I have no idea what it's like to be a mom. And maybe one person actually attempted to educate me as it happened. Everyone else had a pretty similar knee-jerk reaction to mine, albeit in the other direction. Anger fed anger, and shit got out of control.

Out. Of. Control.

So these proud breastfeeding mommas, instead of taking the time to educate a single woman with 1,700 Twitter followers and a pretty healthy blog following herself — a hopeful future mother, who could be a wonderful ally if she were properly educated in a sympathetic, nurturing manner — chose to alienate and further polarize me. Unfollow me instead of engaging me. Call me out in public instead of reaching out to me in private. Shame me for shaming them. We live in a first-world country; "eye for an eye" isn't really the way we do things here, is it?

Is this how you're going to raise your children?

To be combative and hyper-defensive, racing to judgment on anyone whose opinion differs from yours? All that healthy breast milk, suckled defiantly in public for all the world to see, won't do a lick of good (so to speak) if you poison them with the negativity I've seen in the past few days.

I'm a proud feminist. I've written about it on several occasions: here and here, for example.

And I'm very supportive of mothers. I hold doors. I pick up dropped binkies and cast-off blankets and run after a fast-departing Maclaren. I understand babies cry. I understand little girls are going to play their tiny pink harmonicas and little boys are going to get uncomfortably close to me with food all over their faces. And I understand that most parents don't feel the need to apologize for that, because their children are perfect in their eyes; after all, kids will be kids.

And I think they should be able to feed their children.

I may not have understood where feminism applied to breastfeeding on Monday, but I do now. I'm all for public breastfeeding. If it makes me uncomfortable the next few times I see it happen, maybe I'll just keep quiet about it. I'm going to be in this position myself at some point. I want to have children, and they will need to be fed. Possibly at Starbucks. I don't know what choices I'll make at that juncture (though I can say I'm already looking forward to a big, fat epidural, and I won't apologize for that either). These women have given me an inkling of the challenges I could face — though, who knows what the climate will be like in 10 years, or whenever I finally grow up enough to be able to take care of a puppy, let alone a child — but I hope I choose kindness and tolerance, education and support, when confronted with people who challenge me. And I hope I can remember how I felt as a single woman who was a total outsider to the difficulties of motherhood. Because that's important, too.

Mothers, don't forget what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. You have your rights, yes, but a little patience with people who don't understand where you're coming from wouldn't hurt. Self-righteousness doesn't look good on anyone. Not me and not you.

Nothing happens in a vacuum these days. In a world where we live out huge parts of our existences online — and some people choose to hide anonymously behind their computer screens and smart phones — words become our sticks and stones, and they do hurt. A lot. And they're frozen in time to haunt us for as long as we'll let them.

Will anyone who read Claire's post read this and try to understand me as a person? As JQ, the Proud Lactating Momma, wrote, I won't hold my breath. But it's not like me to back down from something like this without saying my piece, and I'll end that piece by saying I hope I can approach situations like these with a bit more empathy — and maybe fewer tweets — in the future.

Maybe you will, too.