Friday 26 February 2010

Checking in: a rare meta-post.

Hello, the blog. I'm sorry that the past month has mostly been cross-posts and reposts. This has been a particularly hectic week, since after the Cif piece and this Evening Standard Article everyone seems to want a slice of me. Which is very flattering and quite exciting, and I'm trying hard to remember that it won't last, because things like this don't ever last if you're socially awkward, politically unorthodox and a bit personally weird.

Right now, I'm beyond sleep. On top of my regular work for One In Four, I've been so busy and so tired I haven't even had time to get angry about things, which is unnerving. And it's given me some insight into how writers can get carried away with their own self-importance, to the extent that they lose touch, first with the reality of their emotions and then with the rest of the world. As I explained in the 'Penny for your Privilege' rant, even if you're coming from a relatively privileged position it's such a cunting slog to make it as a professional writer these days that by the time you even start to get there, the sense of numbing relief threatens to overwhelm what you were actually trying to do with your writing in the first place.

Despite having some parental financial help, I've been dirt poor for three years, living in filthy tumbledown houseshares, trying to support other people in similar situations through the knock-on effects of disillusionment, low wages, hard work and under-employment. And that inspired a lot of properly angry, impassioned writing, but it also came very close to breaking me entirely. Looking back, I've been sicker and more miserable than I have wanted to acknowledge, and this week, after two higher-profile articles, I've had a giddy sense of what could happen if I just sold out a little bit more. After eating frozen pizza in cold, rat-infested inner-city houses for months on end, the idea of a nice fluffy column, a warm clean flat of my own and enough money to buy new stompy boots is deliciously inviting. And that's how it happens. That's how they get to you. That's how they get you to write what they want rather than what you think, make you write what their advertisers need rather than what needs saying.

I've not yet had any sort of phenomenal crashing success, but it's been enough to distract me briefly from sitting down, thinking properly and writing proper polemic for the sheer joyful process of writing it and engaging with the responses. I've even caught myself wondering if I shouldn't delete some of the stupider old posts so that this blog looks better to people who might pay me money. And that urge to self-censor (not to mention all the great comments that would be lost in the process) is ugly, and it's terrifying, and frankly I'm setting that impulse down here because if I acknowledge it in public I probably won't act on it.

*[I confess that another part of the reason I've been neglecting this blog is that I've been getting a stream of really ugly, abusive comments in my inbox every day. I don't allow all the comments through, but I do read them all, including the trollish ones telling me I'm useless, spoilt, boring, fat, ugly and atrocious, that I can't write, that I don't deserve a job, and worse things, much worse. That hurts, personally and ideologically. Because I believe in the importance of blogging, and I believe that censorship is drastically unhelpful, especially online. And I know I should be a big tough writer and take it on the chin, but when I've been trying to force myself not to kick it in for three years, those sorts of comments are more damaging than I actually like to admit to anyone. Trolls are wily, and they are malicious, and they have a way of figuring out what the part of you that hates you wants you to hear and then aping it moronically in poorly-spelled diatribes that nonetheless manage to hit ever so slightly home. And that hurts. It turns blogging from something that's supposed to keep me honest, something that's meant to make sure I think in structures and form debates in ways that move on from the staid, restrictive, one-sided paradigms of fusty print, into something that makes me anxious and irritable, something that I resent prioritising.]*

I went for a drink recently with a well-known and accomplished lady columnist, who told me that although she'd started out writing diet blogs and gossip columns, which is a perfectly reasonable place to start, I wouldn't be able to. I would resent doing it, and it would show, and others I was working with would resent me for wanting something different. She told me that I would very likely stay poor for quite some time, and that eventually, maybe in my thirties, people would start paying me actual cash to write the things I care about. I think she's right, and I think that's okay. I have no interest in fluff writing and cheeky, packaged misogyny, and - when it comes down to it - I am a mediocre straight reporter at best. In fact, there's no part of my thought and writing that's straight. I've always been rubbish at pretending to be normal, and I refuse to be a mediocre, resentful square. I refuse it, and I will be keeping this post on my desktop to remind me why I refuse it, in the many long grey evenings when the consequences of that refusal come to bite me on the arse.

I think what I'm saying is: please be patient with me. I'm trying to negotiate an untested career path and keep on paying my rent in the process, and this blog is becoming a frantic slalom between my personal life and my professional writing. In return for your patience, I promise that whatever else happens, I will at every instance attempt not to be boring. Being boring should be punishable by network disconnection. Fuck my privilege, or lack of it: that's the baseline. If I'm boring, in this fucking exhilarating new online world, with its new rhetorical structures, its dazzling ephemeral paradigms and its endless pictures of slightly amusing cats, then I don't deserve to be in it.


  1. I hope you get at least as many appreciative comments as trollish hateful ones. Count this as a generic of the first sort.

  2. Keep writing. I don't always agree with you (I'm a Lib Dem PPC, so I'm sure that's not a surprise), but it's a joy to read someone who has thought through her opinions as thoroughly as you have and expresses herself as skilfully and clearly.

  3. As always, this is wonderful, and a courageous and - if I may - inspiring post. Your integrity is a credit to you, and the fact that you sometimes find yourself tempted in other, more profitable directions is both *completely* understandable and makes it more awesome when you resist that temptation.

    As for deleting the horrifying troll-spam - I do not believe that refusing to publish personal abuse directed against you counts even slightly as crushing free speech. *hugs* That what you have to put up with in your inbox hurts so much, though. But added props to you for being honest enough to admit that it does.

    I could not do what you do, Laurie, and I massively admire you because you can, and do. And you are *never* boring. :-)

  4. Keep on keeping on. I wouldn't have found your blog if it wasn't for CiF, but I've read enough to know it would be a tragedy if you ended up shunted off into diet blogs and gossip columns!

  5. *sends you love*

    Cliché as it is to say, I am certain that for most if not all your trolls, bitterness drives their bile-spurting to some extent. How could a young woman like you be more intelligent and accomplished than them?! How could this be allowed to happen? I think they feel like they're making sure you're not 'allowed' to get away with being successful to some extent.

    They're not the boss of you, though! I salute you for the umpteenth time - I am boring (one of those modern young types you talked about in the Cif article!), but I'm glad that you're not, and will always be on hand to provide laudation where necessary. :-D

  6. Well done.

    Don't worry, you'll get through this. In the meantime, you could try reading the most radical book you can get your hands on ;)

  7. Aw, thank you guys.

    KJB, Elly: <3 <3 ladies. You rock.

  8. Much of what I want to say has already been put above, and almost all of the rest you have written yourself. It's a long, very gruelling process and while you aren't making catastrophic or profitable progress, you are making progress. Partly, I think you are feeling a little disillusioned with the blog is that, as your article placements get bigger and better, it might be seeming a bit like a proving ground, or a childish thing.

    This blog is not a childish thing, don't put it away. Whether or not people agree with everything you say, you have a talent for making people examine what they actually think about the things you talk about, as well as for getting your ideas across.

    It's been a wonderful thing to watch over the years, hon.


  9. Great post - I sympathise. I've caught myself self-censoring a few times recently, as I start to unconsciously fit into the stereotype of what 'a politician' should be like. Which is, of course, the very stereotype that I got into politics to destroy...

    These things can be a slippery slope - keep kicking against it! :)

  10. Sure, you're not a straight fact based reporter of the cold hard truth with mathemathical formulas and fancy diagrams that proves you wield the shining light of reason and logic, but then no one else is either. They just pretend to be. The latest news can't be checked too carefully, cause that takes too long. The truth takes longer than lies, so lies will always slip trough.
    And you know what? I like you because you write yourself into the text. You're honest about what you think instead of angling it slightly.
    Depending on what it is of course. A personal blogpost should be personal, or possibly a draft for an article to be.
    I'm a big Swedish guy that wishes he had some of your drive. Thankfully I'm at least mature enough to admit it, instead of trying to act like a bastard on the Internet. Almost none of the people acting that way would dare to do so in person, which goes to show just how pathetic they are.
    /The End

  11. I've been thinking a lot about comment moderation and hate-trolls on feminist blogs recently. A lot of feminist bloggers (Twisty @ IBTP, Sady @ Tiger Beatdown, Harriet @ Fugitivus) have mentioned quite recently that they get all these horrible comments, which I find really upsetting and horrible.

    What occurs to me though - and I may be wrong about this (plus obviously the abuse is not directed at me so what do I know) - is that by moderating the comments and absorbing the abuse in isolation you are suffering in silence (since text=voice on the internet). And that's, well, upsetting and horrible too.

    I'd be interested to see what happened if we, say, declared Unmoderated Day: how many of the more hateful trolls would self-censor, no longer safe in the knowledge that they are shouting their bile into a void? How many would get their asses handed to them, thereby discouraging immitators?

    I'd also kind of like to have something to link to when all those supercilious assholes on Liberal Conspiracy or whatever come over all "well, women bloggers get less exposure/links because of that famous phenomenon, Not Sexism But Something Else Which I Shall Not Elaborate Upon". I don't think they've got the firstest smidgeon of a clue what it's really like, and I wouldn't mind being able to rub their noses in that fact. By which I mean, nobody has to like sacrificially eviscerate their own readership community for my point scoring pleasure. Natch. But it would be nice.

  12. "eventually, maybe in my thirties, people would start paying me actual cash to write the things I care about"
    I dimly recall Marshall McLuhan saying something to the effect that most people don't like to try new cereals for breakfast.They stick with the ones they know. The flavour of Penny Red is complex and challenging. It's crunch is insightful though often unsettling. Stick with it however and the finish is infinitely more satisfying.

    There's enough Cheerios out there already. By the the time you're thirty, I've no doubt a lot more people will have acquired the Penny Red taste and society will be all the better for it.

  13. Sorry, ignore that "gg", clicked the wrong button.

    If you're serious about not wanting to get trolled, just ignore them completely. Don't reply. Don't post about how much you're hurt by them. That is what they want. They will be reading this post and smiling with glee. Ignore them and they'll get bored... eventually.

  14. hey penny

    just to add my voices to the ones above and say that your words are inspiring, your critiques much needed, and your activism the sum of all your verve and ability to put yourself out in the world. In terms of the idiotic trolls, fuck em. It's not free speech to be hating so mindlessly on people, with the express desire to wear them down. kick them out. dont read them. why bother? its what we know to be the very reason that we're fighting this bullshit, so protect yourself. your energy, sanity and ability to sustain is more important than extending yourself to idiots (this being an entirely different matter if someone comes with critique which can be engaged with of course).

    with the privilege thing- my attitude has always been to try and get somewhere so I can help other activists get somewhere too. (speaking as someone not at all on the mainstream radar- but trying to work with institutions to help the grassroots, as contradictory and problematic as these paths can be).

    keep on writing, fighting, and all of that. I look forward to the day you get a publishing deal so I can read all your thoughts in book form. I would love to hear you do speaking engagements at feminist events too, if ever that were to interest you. There#s a certain amount of cultural capital which comes with being a *name* and I hope you can find ways to ride this creatively, collaboratively, and, at the end of the day, in ways which pay the bills. You have a lot of gifts in terms of your writing talent and I hope this can sustain you - emotionally and financially.

    all the best, xxx

  15. Also,
    you can`t expect to receive both respect and pity.
    Poverty may well be the price of your pride.
    Most people have to make concessions to make money - if you`re not prepared to do so, that's your choice and not necessarily an indication of some terrible systematic failure.

  16. Personally I would plump for an interesting rather than an enviable life, but that's just me. Why do you care what Troll-spawn think? Only people you esteem should have the power to proffer opinions capable of influencing your state of emotion and of mind.

    If you take a position on anything and make a stand diverse people will challenge you worthily or underhandedly. Unless you take it to heart such cowardly abuse remains as insubstantial as froth and bubble in a bath.

    Here's the truth: You're over tired - exhausted.

    Get some rest.

  17. I predicted you'd end up on CiF in August 2008.

    Re 'selling out', don't do a George Lansbury and cart your conscience around from article to article.

  18. Most people described as an "overnight success" spent years working in obscurity before they achieving recognition. For example, William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies was rejected by twenty publishing houses before being finally accepted by Faber & Faber and making it into print. One rejection slip Golding received read: "…an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull." The obstacles Golding faced early on in his career didn't stop him from winning the 1980 Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize For Literature in 1983.

    You are a good writer, Penny Red.

    Keep going.

  19. You are an excellent writer. But I find your periodical complaints about how difficult everything is increasingly hard to tolerate. Yes, life is really hard these days. But it's hard for everyone - if you stopped being a writer and did something else, you would probably still be poor (possibly even unemployed) and working a precarious job, and then you wouldn't even have the satisfaction of knowing you were doing something you're good at and for which your talent is recognised. Perhaps I misread you, but your personal posts always seem to focus on how uniquely difficult life is for you.

    If you can sell out and choose not to, to a certain extent you then have to put up and shut up. Millions of others neither get the chance to express themselves as you do OR to sell out and have the nice salary and new boots. And I'm not saying you ignore these people - you pften speak for them. But your passion sometimes seems to slip over into narcissism, your awareness of the structural difficulties of this society turn into self-pity.

  20. Mark: I don't think that Laurie is asking for pity at all - that's a very loaded word. I think she is inviting, from those who feel inclined to give it, compassion and sympathy. And those, to my mind, are *far* from being mutually incompatible with respect. Laurie's willingness to make herself vulnerable is in fact something I strongly respect about her and about her writing. Nor, given many of the comments above, am I the only one.

    I have less than no interest in reading political writing from people who place a value in appearing to be made of rock!

  21. Hey, I only comment sometimes here, don't always agree with the left politics, mostly read via RSS... but I keep coming back, because your stuff is 100% interesting and fresh. Not all loyal fans are vocal, hmm? Imagine the supporters you know as just the tip of the iceberg.

    As to poverty - are you 100% plugged into the local no-cost economy? By which I mean things like freecycle and trading favours-in-kind. If nothing like a local anarchist mutual help scheme exists, maybe you could use your connections to build one? (I hope I'm not "teaching Granny to suck eggs" here. If I am, please take it as well meant.)

  22. I agree with Neuroskeptic 100%. Trolls are abusers, pure and simple. They feed off attention. Any attention they receive plays into their hands.

    Which is why Laurie, I have to ask: why do you read the troll attacks? What do you possibly have to gain from subjecting yourself to them? Unless your experience of trolls is very different from mine- limited admittedly (and thankfully), this stuff just works its insidious way into your mind and whirls around and around tormenting you.

    I suggest therefore that you don't read them at all. You can use email filtering and IP blocking to ensure that proven trolls cannot get through to you in future. And I'm sure you already have the knack of spotting a troll in their first sentence? Protect yourself.

    Hope this helps. ;)

  23. Laurie

    Just wanted to add my words of support to say that I came across your blog from another site a few months ago and have always found it interesting, thought provoking and emotive. Yours is a voice that I always seek out, I particularly remember your article on the 'female viagra' as one of those occassions where I sat in front of the screen going yes, here is someone who is articulating what i am thinking.

    Comment is Free is full of people who comment nonsense on everything and seem to delight in making people feel miserable. This is particularly true of female columninsts such as Tanya Gold - who although I don't always agree with her is given outright unjustified abuse. You will too because you are often advocating things that out there politically but keep going you are smarter and have a better writing style than most of your contemporaries.

    One small final point, I realise that you are getting more paid work (hooray) but if you've got the time it would be good to have more articles orginal to the blog and please don't delete your old articles many of them were excellent.

  24. Keeping honest and staying true to our ideals is difficult, whether that be in our personal or professional lives there will always be times when we're tempted to take the easy path. Not doing so, even being aware that you might seem like a big deal to me. Sharing that struggle is brave, it's inspirational and in a weird way it's reassuring. Reassuring because we all face those struggles, every day and being reminded that we are not alone in that is useful, being told that someone else finds it hard too but still carries on trying to fight the good fight helps us all to do so. So thank you for sharing this, thank you for having the courage to acknowledge that like all of us, you too can find it painful, hurtful and difficult to keep going. Just remember that you aren't alone either and that for all the trolls and the haters, there are a whole host of people who read your blog and find their lives changed by it, whether they agree with what you have written or not because it makes them think.

  25. Evening Standard story was really good. You're saying something that needs to be said. I don't know about the thirties comment, but if you enjoy what you're doing and you feel you are good at it -- and more importantly that you are getting better at it -- then it's worth finding out if time is all it takes. If you have real doubts, indulge some of your hunger for adventure and do something women don't do. I mean do a job women don't do -- like police work, or the military -- it will fascinate and anger you. And you seem good at taking curiosity and rage and making it into something you want to write, and others want to read. This is advice I wish someone had given me, so I hope it's thought provoking.

  26. Great stuff Laurie

    I had wondered whether being so open and honest, and creatively angry, might be a strain on you.

    You need to know that you are appreciated very much, and a lot of the trolling is just inspired by the jeaslousy of inadequates.

  27. As I've said before, I disagree with you on any number of political points, but you are a very gifted writer. Don't let anyone tell you different.

    Despite initially being introduced to your writing via a post which made me all but literally foam with Tory rage (dropped crumpets in Tonbridge Wells and everything), I realised that the reason the post got to me was because it was well written; I've been an avid follower ever since, and you know what? I like having my views challenged.

    Firstly, I just want to say, as a fellow cub journalist who started a few years back, keep at it. I made my first couple of documentaries for the BBC last year, after years of floundering at the shallow end of the writing-for-a-living pool.

    The post you just put up is absolutely true; no glamour unless you sell out, take the easy decisions. You'll kick yourself every time you see someone less talented than you with the big car, the easy job, the perks. Still, I say, keep fighting the good fight, Ms.L; the road less travelled by has the better sights anyway.

    Secondly, much as I like the notion of citizen journalism, I've just stopped reading comments on the bottom of articles I've written. It just started to get to me and upset me too much.

    Now, I realise that in this age of web 2.0 and so on, we should all care about what every "citizen journalist" has to say.

    This is, with due consideration, total bollocks.

    After making a documentary about the Madoff affair, I'd say about 25-30% of any comments on my articles are basic lunatic anti-semitism; I'm sure it's similar to the sort of horrid trolling you get.

    About 60% of the rest come from people who spell so badly I can only assume they are writing their comment on a submarine in a fatal death dive, in the dark, while being savaged by a left-wing octopus or reveal themselves to be fools in other crucial ways, like leading off a sentence with "As I said while voting Bush in '04..."

    Admittedly, some of the other 10-15% are sensible and interesting, but some are so infuriating they will eat up literally days of your time with depression and rage at the kinds of things you are accused of.

    Yes, journalists have feelings too... In short, if you feel you must read them, try to bear in mind the positive comments while not letting them go to your head, and just make it clear that everyone else can fuck right off.

    Good Luck & stay sharp:)

    PS:- I am aware of the irony of advising you to ignore blog a blog comment:)

  28. People can say very spiteful and unfair things on the internet. I have spent too long trying to deal with such people. Please accept a cyber-hug.

  29. Just one more voice to say that I think you are an excellent writer and, you lucky thing, have all the time in the world to get even better! If that sounds patronising, it's not meant to be; you're certainly a better writer than I am.

    Internet trolls ARE upsetting; anyone who says things like 'I don't know why you let them get to you' is simply failing to empathise. You'd have to be made of stone not to care at all what others think, and as you say, when they find your weak spots it's impossible not to be affected.

    The only solution I can think of is to perhaps get someone to read the comments first and delete (or move to another space) the trolling ones? Then you could either ignore them completely or deal with them when you're in a 'fuck you' mood.

    I suppose this is unworkable, as its hardly brilliantly original, but if so, all I can do is send my sincere sympathy and fervent support for your work. The world - online and off - needs people like you. Don't give up.


  30. sinister agent6 March 2010 at 02:44


    I'm a bit late to the party as I am lazy and only check back on most of my bookmarks every other week. But I thought I should say something here. A few things, really. Firstly, I think I understand where you're coming from when you say that there's nothing wrong with, say, writing for a gossip column, you still know you wouldn't be able to do it and really live with yourself. It's a pain in the arse, but it's ultimately a good thing to have that.

    Secondly, be patient with yourself. You're more important than your audience in a medium like this one, and besides that, you're doing bloody well. I've been hungry and penniless and close to going utterly crazy before (ten days on nothing but plain pasta, stolen biscuits and recycled teabags will do that to anyone), and the temptation to, for lack of a better phrase, 'sell out', is enormous. I'd argue that it's all but impossible to never compromise on some principles in order to get by - they can be a luxury in hard times. That you've had the courage to hang on to them speaks well about your character.

    The last thing kind of ties in with that. I like your writing a lot, even when I don't agree with it, or as is more frequent, simply don't know enough about the subject at hand to say that I agree or disagree. Reading your blog actually galvanised me to finally start the one I've been banging on about starting for ages now, and it's added conviction to my recent start on writing that novel after far too long spent simply thinking about it.

    You're doing a hell of a lot better than I was (and I will punch myself in the head for using the following phrase, so you don't have to) at your age - those were my pasta days, and I don't think I even wrote so much as a poem that whole year. You're doing very well, and I look forward to reading more.

    Oh, and thank you.


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