The web. It's something to get stuck in, tangled, devoured by. Isn't that how the internet feels in 2018? Like we're all puny little flies caught in this sticky, unfriendly place? Spiders lurk around every corner, tempting with one more scroll, one more follow, one more share, one more like. We fall down Instagram holes and take the click bait, but most of all, we're just... stuck. We're just stuck IN the web. We can't get out. We can't see ourselves clearly. We can't even really make out: Who is friend and who is foe?
In 98, the web didn't feel like that. I was 11 years old and I had just started my own ungraceful, rickety website (read: not a blog). Blogs weren't a thing get. Let me take you back. Hotmail was cool. Msn Messenger was new. if someone sent you an email, you read every single word--raptured by the pure novelty of it all. MyBFF's email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. My website was active from the time I was 11 to the time I was around 15. It was a digital imprint that detailed my change from weird kid to weird pre-teen to weird troubled teen punk. I talked about the bands I was getting into, and my frustration with small-town, small-minded thinking. I talked about the annoyances and joys of being a girl, being a brat, and being an agitator only half self-aware and half-baked. I had manifestos to write and jokers to slay!
I also took stock of my world. I posted scans of notices left around the local movie theatre (since torn down) warning that "hooligans" better stop skateboarding around the parking lot. Yes--this was how exciting life could be in a one horse town. I posted my thoughts on pop punk of the day, complete with guitar tabs I had figured out on my own (not hard to do, considering my taste for simple melody at the time). I also collected my own short memoir stories there, and the stories themselves told their own tale of a young girl trying to make sense of what was a hostile, ultra-sexualized world. It was all Britney Spears and MTV Cribs and The Thong Song. We all wore thongs, even as junior high kids, right? It was all freak dancing and belly button rings. The Spice Girls, chemically created in some freaky lab, were the epitome of "girl power." What a strange time to be a young woman in America. I had no idea how to fit in or be a "cool girl."
Thank god for punk rock, which pulled me from that slimy pop landscape and gave me a new torch to carry. Conversely, I blame punk rock for destroying my life in the most glorious way in the years thereafter (more on this can be found throughout these rambling posts). I firmly believe some fizzy combination of No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom and Black Flag's Damaged saved my life, too.
My website at the dawn of Y2k was pretty magical, but not because of my doing. It brought with it a lovely and unexpected kind of family, a view of an alternative universe. On this sleepy rural property, writing in the dark by the light of a lava lamp in my walk-in closet, I made impossibly amazing friends! I made friends from around the world. These were women, mostly; of all ages. They were unknowingly on the frontline of technology, figuring it out for themselves. They wanted to interact, connect. They wanted to write little blurbs for my silly site. They wanted me to contribute too.It was like every girl's diary became public ALL AT ONCE, and we all realized we weren't crazy after all at the exact same time.
I learned to get to know these online personas and admire their work. I recently connected with a mentor I had during this time, a woman older and wiser, who saw a spark in me. I adored her site, and we kept in touch via email. I have been thinking about this period a lot lately...probably because I have found a whole new world online as of late. One that doesn't suck quite so hard.
By the time I finished junior high, my parents were discussing whether they would need to get a lawyer to defend my site, or so this is what my mom has been recalling lately (I don't remember ever feeling scared of anyone infringing on my freedom to rant). There wasn't yet a rule set for young girls wielding a mouse as I did. There was no social media to speak of, but you already knew that (how old are you? I can't tell). A couple of dudes in my class (friends, even) hacked my message board and re-linked it continuously to a new porn site, and that was just NORMAL day-to-day business for me to deal with. I referenced my own teachers and kids in school who pissed me off or delighted me. It was probably too intimate and too raw. I have not changed much.
When my parents divorced and I moved to L.A., the site went away, along with most of my online writing (it was so pulpy and silly and angsty, but I was sad to see it go). My mom recently found the site on the "Way Back Machine," and I lamented the fact that the title of the story I had written: "I Was a Teenage Teenager" only had its title, no content. The links had been broken, but a skeleton remained.
It doesn't really matter, of course. This outlet, however small and makeshift, served its purpose, and, most of all, taught me that "my people" were out there, if I was only willing to give something of myself and leave it all out there for others to find. My people were funny, kind, and supportive. They were fierce and strong and unwilling to go with the status quo. These were powerful women and girls I looked up to, even if they were older, or different than me, or lived in Europe, or had a different life story, or whatever.
One day, I sort of decided the web that I had loved so much as a young girl was gone. I don't know when it happened---Myspace-aggedon? 2005? 2007? 20011? After the excitement of Facebook had spiked and turned frighteningly frantic (methy is a good word to use)... but before the polished, sadistic angst of #Instagramlife and #blessed had set in?...I am really not sure when the final blow happened. I thought it was all over.
Well--I was wrong. The web is not just a sticky, shitty place full of snark and perfectionism and posturing. OK, it kinda absolutely is, but there's this glimmer. I guess I finally realized that it isn't the internet that is making us bad. It is the internet that is revealing the bad parts of our nature.
Unlike the old days, when the newcomers had the mic, the web is now a very crowded place (it went from a coffee shop open mic night to a DJ rave dance party).. Of course I could not continue to simply expect kind, warm, interesting, strong friendly voices to come TO me in 2017. Of course I would not just stumble upon amazing creatives that I admired--people I wanted to learn from and contribute to. I had to seek them out! I realized I was late on the train.
Weirdly, it was my band, and my instagram account for it, that seemed to attract new, authentic tribeswomen to my world in 2017. I sought out likeminded people who I admired. Not followers. FRIENDS. An artist on the East Coast who created a T-shirt design for me and is a constant source of feminist inspiration (her extremely real commentary Tinder Dads is a lot to handle at 8 a.m., but it needs to be seen, I promise you). Bands who I had never met IRL who welcomed me into their towns while on tour (and blew me away with their talent and passion and DIY drive). A long lost friend and guitar player who now regularly checks in on my projects, and I on hers. A woman in France who--out of nowhere--created a hand-drawn pencil portrait of me and even sent me the original, so I could give it to my mom. A teenage girl who runs a cassette tape label who I mailed some old zines, as she is making her own and casting off the shackles of digital BS (she actually believes kids at concerts should put down their phones and truly enjoy the moment. How novel, right?).
I feel fortunate to have made some real pen pals in 2017, kinda like I had back when I was 12--back when I sent my most coveted Lisa Frank stickers to my chosen tribe and awaited a lengthy reply filled with exclamation marks. I have even dragged my typewriter out (like I used to, years ago) and begun writing these quality people to hear more about their own lives. It's not just about sending a CD with a quick "Thanks," but a real attempt to create the community I want to see thrive on the New Web. I even got back in touch with that old long lost mentor of mine--the one who changed everything by chance.
This year has been a year of reaching out, and believing in the power of real friendship and camaraderie among female creators online. No, the web isn't rickety or deshevled anymore (sadly). Everyone knows how to "brand" and promote their stuff like a slick businesspeople (not saying I'm not one of them. I am a tried and true millennial and I have learned well). But there is one good thing that was better than before. Women and creatives online are now so much more organized now. The numbers are there, and so is the global attention. We have comet support each other in new ways that feel real. The political climate is too horrible not to believe that we are more than the sum of our "likes" or "retweets" (I'm not even on Twitter, forgive me, Millenial Jesus!). One such partnership came when I discovered Play Like a Girl, a rad nonprofit that showcases female musicians in Los Angeles. The leader of this group, Kimi Rector, of the synth band Draemings, is kind, dedicated to the cause, and has totally no ego. After a year of emailing, it felt good to meet her in person and experience exactly what she intends to create on stage, and to BE part of that change and to see others work toward that feeling. It was an example of how an email can turn into a real life moment of action.
Recently, Women That Rock came into my sphere; I saw that they performing similar (much needed) work in New York City. I quickly struck up an email correspondance with the founder, Andie Aronow, who is sunny, bright, savvy, optimistic, and exactly the cheerleader so many female independent musicians need in what is still very much a dude's backstage-only. I get to live vicariously through this lady. I get to go to her concerts and hear about Brooklyn and what the weather's like and experience an "un-glamerous," "normal" New Year's Eve, having a drink at a rooftop bar (Meanwhile, I happily watched Pee Wee movies while my husband snored next to me).
Andie's been working in the music industry for 15+ years now (as a musician as well as booking and creative services), and she said she started Women That Rock on a whim. I can relate to this. It just seems like the natural thing to do: Lifting up other women, helping them out and trying to create a better space. Or is that simply what natural born leaders do and not all people???
"Everyone was so excited and grateful for me creating a space for female musicians to be specifically celebrated, and once I saw how the ladies were responding, I knew I was onto something," she said. "I knew I had to make it something bigger."
Through Andie, I was incredibly stoked to learn about Ohio-based Harness Magazine, who was kind enough to feature my band as their January artist feature (Thank you Thank you Thank you!). These women remind me of the beginning of it all, and that we can still take matters into own hands and rule our own media worlds. Just with way better "branding" and a far more ...ahem.."elegant" interface. I.E. No dancing animations of pixelated animals or flashing yellow typeface. I do miss the intense power clashing that went on before the internet became so sleek and pretty.
I asked them both: What was the moment they decided that they'd had enough? At what point did they decide that they needed to DO something to overturn the negativity and sludge that is the web, and especially the media-driven sexist slop we're fed?
Ashley Drellishack has just debuted the first physical, paper issue of Harness Magazine (her online home is full of poignant, REAL stories, too). At first, I thought "Harness" and couldn't stop thinking of a harness for an horse or something. Then I realized it meant "Harnessing your power." Duh. The definition she actually gave me via an Instagram chat is epic: "It means make use of control to produce energy." I love that.
Ashley started the site because she just wasn't hearing real stories from women online (where, for some reason, we are all supposed to be fashion bloggers, perfectly coiffed influencer-moms, and super hot yoga instructors with oodles of succulents and elegantly mismatched boho jewelry). Instead of real life vulnerability surrounding heartbreak, insecurity, or loss, there was instead a glossy ideal of perfectionism, just like you see in every cosmetics ad. Like me, she noticed something super annoying at the check-out stand, too.
"The media just seemed the focus in magazines included the latest makeup or best sex tricks or fashion of the month. "I created Harness not knowing if anyone would contribute...or if it resonated with anyone but me and my friends," she said.
Like so many of us, doubt came rushing in before the great idea took root. All creatives know this feeling. This blog, for instance, is a place I promote my creative work but also a public pit where I spill my beans pretty regularly. My podcast, too. I don't get hard and fast responses to these things. I never know who really consumes them or who cares. That is not why I show up. I just have faith that if I can reach one person, it's worth it. I want to share my guts so that others can share there's, too.
I asked Ashley if anything surprises her about the community she's created. She answered: "I have surprises everyday. I remember one woman, early on, wrote about giving her child up for adoption and wanted tor remain anonymous. I realized how powerful this storytelling really could be."
She said it's a sacred thing, being the FIRST person to read about an anonymous strangers' struggles: rape, addiction, abuse. Even just an intimate story admitting fault or a small dose of true vulnerability can cause any women to curl up and resolve to live small. My two cents: What we don't realize is, that if we only aim to "protect" our hearts and project a "perfect" image, we lose in the long run. We basically just become projections of what others want us to be, forever reflecting back society's expectations, regurgitating the same old crap.
"It amazes me," Ashley added. "I realized that, more than ever, we are all just trying to figure it out."
This is the truth that was revealed to me in that walk-in closet so many years ago as a kid, tapping on my computer and holding my breath as I clicked "publish."
In the spirit of this revelation--which we must realize, again and again throughout our lives forever and amen--I give you all of my support and gratitude.
And another shoestring podcast, made in my bedroom, perfectly imperfect.
To any new friends out there, wherever you are: If you're out there, keep making and sharing. Keep dreaming and screaming. I can't wait to meet you for real. Please, don't follow me. Send me an email instead.