Preface: I'm not writing this in promise of a blogwar. There is a good chance the blogger in question won't ever see it. (There's a better chance she will, though.)
This is just a confession, a post I'm writing to get my thoughts together and get all this misery off my chest so I can look forward to the week with a clear head. And maybe--just maybe--it will help me shake this bout of writer's block.
I've no doubt that if you look at the history of this blog and deep enough you'll find more than one letter implying that I'm tired of writing and think I might leave the blogosphere for good. Most bloggers write one eventually. And unless its one of the rare "I'm losing computer access for several years because I lost my job/joined the peace corps/got shipped to Iraq/married into an Amish family" those posters usually come back after they get a few days rest/the commenters shower them with love and attention/someone manages to piss them off.
There's nothing inherently wrong with these posts, although they are tiresome. Personally I feel disgusted with myself whenever I start writing them, but its vital to understand that part of blogging is venting and everyone needs to vent such feelings every once in a while.
Had I told myself that several months ago, I may never have let so much updating time lapse.
In case I've misled you, this isn't one of those posts.
This is a "Why I actually stopped writing" post, and to be honest it has to do with another blogger, one who writes a number of "I might leave because no one appreciates me" posts.
I'm referring, of course, to the aptly named Occasional Superheroine.
And I just broke an unwritten rule of mine by mentioning her.
The tension between Valerie D'Orazio and I is old news. Somehow I'm reluctant to admit that she'd long annoyed me with what struck me as an empty and superficial writing style, but she was initially harmless so I kept from mentioning it. A lot of people annoy me at times, it passes. Some of the people I count as my favorite writers started off annoying me, and some of the people I used to read religiously I can now barely read for WFA links because I find their style so infuriating. It was clashing personality shit, no reason to fuss or fight. That is, no reason until Val went up against a number of the brightest writers in the blogosphere over a little known piece of shit called How to Make Money Like a Porn Star. I was irritated with what seemed to me to be an uneven reviewing standard on Val's part. I posted about this, and within a week Occasional Superheroine was erased from the Internet.
There are moments, behind closed doors and among friends I brag about this. At the time I was horrified. I hadn't wanted her to pack up and leave. I'm not sure what I'd wanted, perhaps for her to back out of the fight and admit she was wrong about at least one of the two books. I was siding with personal friends in the matter and I had pulled out my most devastating attack without really considering the end result. I was also incredibly annoyed that one of my posts now had dead links. The horror and irritation passed, though, because if there is one admirable trait about Valerie D'Orazio it's her resiliency.
She came back--while I was thankfully preoccupied with some work or personal matter--with the infamous Goodbye to Comics series.
And here's the real confession. I was deeply and astoundingly unimpressed with that series.
As I've said before, I find Val's writing style to be empty, superficial, and generally annoying. When I attempted to read "Goodbye to Comics", I found it hadn't improved. There are still a number of posts from that period I've only gotten halfway through. Life was too short and they were already linked on When Fangirls Attack.
That--in itself--is not a personal knock against the writer. No doubt people look at my blog and find me long-winded and pretentious. And I've had more than a few Grammarians reprimand my careless handling of a fragile language. I honestly don't know why some of you read through the crap I spit out.
(I know for a fact that many commenters don't read through the crap I spill onto this blog.)
But still, my delicate pride was always bolstered by the fact that people would actually read, comment, and engage me in conversation.
Some of those same people were now touting the all but unreadable "Goodbye to Comics" as a masterpiece. That was a blow to my pride.
And before long, Valerie D'Orazio--a writer I found untalented and uninteresting and only marginally feminist--was being touted as one of the best feminist writers in the blogosphere.
And I carefully, and with great difficulty read through the posts I was linking. I was unable to see what was so impressive. I strongly suspect she only gathered a fanbase because she said what disgruntled 90s fans already believed to be true about Dan Didio, and her status as a former insider lent credibility to the those beliefs.
This was all irksome for several reasons:
1) As I've already said, people who liked my writing also liked hers. That suggested an uncomfortable similarity. So my faith in my own talent was shaken by my certainly in Val's lack of talent. Either people weren't reading my posts, or I was churning out far shittier thoughts than I previously realized.
2) Over the past few years, I've linked Val alongside some of the most brilliant women I've had the good fortune to read (and, in some cases, meet). Time and time again I see Val linked rather than Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Karen Healey, Avalon's Willow, Rachel Edidin or any number of much, much smarter women than Val. I see points brought up and passed around the blogosphere for days or weeks before they pop up and Val's site, and then I see some random bozo saying they found this out at Occasional Superheroine. When WFA was at its most active, I had people drop by my comments, send me email links, and IM me with links to Val saying "Have you seen this yet" when I myself had posted on that very subject earlier that week.
3) Tying into the point above, Val is the safe feminist. One of the bloggers in my "Must Read" folder had a brilliant post somewhere (that I forgot to bookmark, and can't find now!), on how her writing was too radical to ever get her a job writing for a major venue (like Newsarama, or CBR, or writing an actual comic). Because she pointed out dangerous, uncomfortable things that made the rest of us think about our assumptions, and feel guilty about our place in the world.
See, that's what I consider good writing--brave writing. The stuff that forces the reader out of his/her comfort zone. The stuff that makes them think critically about their place in the world, even if it is ultimately to disagree with the writer. I don't consider an article of mine to be any good unless I am lying awake in my bed the night before it publishes wondering if John's going to kick me off Blog@Newsarama because I finally crossed the line this time.
(Now great writing? That's the stuff that forces the writer out of his/her comfort zone.)
Val's writing doesn't do that. She lets people feel angry at the big faceless corporation but okay about themselves. Okay about what they buy. She won't let a writer or an artist she dislikes get away with sexism.
But I've yet to see her criticize a writer she likes. I've yet to see her take her audience to new territory.
I may be being too hard on her here. People have different degrees of openness to this stuff, and I guess her people aren't ready for the intensive self-examination or the academics. Thing is, I consider myself a training feminist. I softball you guys. I write 101-level stuff, stuff that's open and accessible enough for the crowd at Newsarama. I'm not dealing with the advanced theories and experiences here. I write in simplified ideas and I don't think Val examines social issues in the depth they require.
So its irritating to see women who look at this stuff in real depth--women who really know what the fuck they are talking about--passed over for someone so superficial.
4) She stopped reading my stuff when we had a falling out. She took my links off her blogroll. Whenever that happens, and it has, I get pathetically hurt and surprised. I figure if someone is worth reading for whatever reason, you keep reading whether you personally get along with them or not. It's a personal slight.
(As a side note to this one, I've had a few run-ins with Laura Hudson over at Myriad Issues, and she still links me when I write something she finds worth reading. I appreciate that, and she has my respect for it no matter what we're at odds about.)
5) She just plain offends my sense of justice. I was raised by a conservative woman. I have some conservative values deeply ingrained in my psyche, and one of them is a belief--against all evidence--that we are living in a meritocracy. That rewards are given to who they should be given to. That good writers get acclaim. That bad writers get obscurity. That honorable people are seen as honorable and respected. That manipulative people are seen for their behavior and villified. I know this is not how reality actually works. But when I see evidence of how things are and it contrasts with my view of how things should be I feel an unmistakable sense of rage and disgust.
I'm going to state my personal opinion of Valerie D'Orazio here. I don't like her. I think she's manipulative. The infamous Beatrix Kyle letter from early WFA days? It has been attributed to her. The earliest fight involved her double-standards of review when it came to her friends. Her famous memoir was fictionalized and tailored to match prevailing public opinion perfectly. The final falling out between Occasional Superheroine and When Fangirls Attack involved her playing the victim for her White Knight commenters, casting me as the venomous Wyrm threatening a damsel in distress.
I'm blunt. I'm downright mean at times. And by god, I have a lot of venom in my heart just waiting to be poured out through my keyboard. My best writing is soaked in hatred and rage. I know all of this. But I make a genuinely Herculean effort to put that aside and be fair in my dealings. And because of that effort, and because I know I'm susceptible to being painted as a bully, it bothers me so much when someone manages to make me into the bad guy.
I can forgive a lot. I have gotten angry and forgiven a lot without mentioning it on this blog. I can't forgive being cast as the bully, not when I've made every attempt to be as kind and even-handed as fucking possible to someone. I've never forgiven Val for that. And I've never forgiven her readers for buying into that.
And--coming from a conservative mindset--I've never forgiven the Universe for allowing such behavior to go unpunished.
And the thing about those 5 points is, I'm not alone. I'm not naming names, but there have been anti-Val whispers in the between places for a while. A lot of people just plain dislike her. Feel the same way about her I do. But nobody wants to get into That Fight. (Except Chris Sims, of course. But he lives for this stuff.) And neither did I.
So I let these feelings--some of which were pre-existing but were triggered by this woman, some of which were brought on entirely by her--fester at the bottom of my heart everytime I read Occasional Superheroine. And of course--being me--I read the damned blog everyday. Because--being me--if I didn't people were going to link me. And--being me--I couldn't stand missing the potential links. I'm a completist with WFA just like I am with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. (All those times I dropped Green Lantern? I hunted down back issues, oh yes.) It's stupid, but it's a comic book fan thing.
And once bitten, twice shy I avoided confronting her. I'm susceptible to being painted as the bully and she's managed to get me with that brush before. (She and a number of other bloggers had a little Ragnell hatefest over it when she dropped WFA from her blogroll). I'm no damsel in distress, I'm a dragon and the white knights who read Val know it. Calling her out wasn't worth the headache of dealing with them.
But the more I read Val, and the more I see her linked and referenced as a serious stop when it comes to feminist comics commentary, the more I lose faith in my own writing.
Because if that's the standard I'm meeting when I get praised, and if the truly good writers are being ignored--then what's the point? What's the point of writing?
So instead of writing or even collecting for WFA I plunge myself with wild abandon into things that are not writing. I keep rereading Captain America, and Starman because it is made of joy and goodness. And I've finally found Simonson's Thor. I'm really up to date on the Presidential Election, and I've been twittering my brains out on politics.
But I haven't written anything that I'd consider good in a while. Nothing that keeps me up at night. I've written a million earthshattering posts in my head, but when I sit down to write the words flutter away.
And I've been chatting, and reading your blogs, and talking in newsgroups. And all the time I keep wondering why no one ever says this stuff about Val.
I enjoyed watching her fight with the race bloggers, of course. But I didn't participate. And they fought on their home ground They didn't go to her place of power. They didn't say anything to her they couldn't say to me. No one pointed out during those fights was that her area of supposed expertise--white women's issues--was not any place where she was strong either. She was just repeating smarter women in a softer safer tone. She was pandering to disgruntled DC fans. She wasn't even a good writer to begin with! She was a privileged white woman writing about something she knew nothing about there, nothing different from the other privileged white female bloggers in the community--except that there are much better bloggers than her making less mistakes when covering race.
And maybe it's racism on my part that I was waiting on a member of the white female blogosphere to call out Val rather than counting the utter lack of legitimacy she has among FOCs as calling her out.
Either way--even with the idiocy on race issues--she still gets cited by people in the industry. She still gets to write Tyrone in Cloak and Dagger (which I'm sure will be a horror to behold).
Then came Val's most recent open letter demanding the love and attention of her commenters. She thinks she's a serious writer. She really thinks she's a serious writer. And to that end, she's denigrating people who are inherently fun writers, joyful writers. And she's denigrating the serious bloggers who are willing to be fun and joyful.
And I suspect she's taking potshots at Melissa again.
And it was seeing Sally be the one to stop and call her on it that really pushed me over the edge. I adore Sally, but she's not the one you expect to call out someone like Val. She's not supposed to be the one who tells off people like Val.
And then it occurs to me, maybe I'm supposed to be the one who tells off people like Val.
Maybe I'm supposed the Villainess here. Maybe I'm the Big Bad Wolf. The Dragon of the Blogosphere who torches the White Knights. I'm the one who's supposed to look at someone like "Goodbye to Comics" and exclaim "Buy your Empress some damned clothes!!"
Why the hell am I waiting for David and Pedro and Willow to pounce on her where she's weak when I've got her where she lives? Why do I have this idiotic policy that Val's off limits whenever she says something stupid? Why am I not pointing out when she's being a fucking idiot?
Maybe it's not the widespread legitimacy she has that drives me crazy, but rather my own silence on the matter. Maybe her being mentioned in Comic Foundry would bother me less if I'd said publicly that I thought she was vapid and useless beforehand.
Maybe there's a reason I'm me, a reason I'm mean, and I'm just not able to write when I hold it in. Maybe holding it in just makes things so much worse. Maybe I should just embrace my inner bully and go ahead and be the bad guy every now and then. You all might hate me for it, but I'll be more comfortable.
We all have our parts to play. If Val's the damsel, and Sims is the jester, then I'm the dragon. I'll be better off facing it.
Now, I can't promise this realization means I'll be writing more often. (Or that any of my feminists readers will read me after I called Val an idiot.) Maybe I'm wrong and the block came from something else.