Cultural coercion and the question of choice

Replied to “American Motherhood Felt Like That: Like a Plan Devised by Men.” by Amanda Montei (Culture Study)
That phrase “she asked for it”—and really just that notion that we make choices and then because we made a choice we can‘t critique the institutions and systems and policies and cultural demands and exploitation we come up against after making those choices—also captures how choice is frequently weaponized against women.

We see the weaponization of choice come up often in conservative rhetoric around better policies for families, like paid leave and affordable childcare, and of course abortion rights. The response is often that women should know better, should make better choices, should close their legs, should control the intake of semen, should shut that whole thing down, should make more money before becoming parents/shouldn’t be poor, with the implication that poverty is a choice, and so on.

But of course that’s all a cover for a cultural and political and economic entitlement to women’s bodies serving male pleasure and power…

A former coworker — mother of a young child — once pulled me aside and told me with surprising urgency, don’t give inDon’t let them talk you into it. Another friend lamented that they were pressured into providing grandkids, then given no support once they did.

One choice becomes a forfeiture of the right to criticise or complain about the outcome — even when you’ve been sold a bill of goods. Because it was “a choice,” the harms you suffer from it are unimportant. (I think of my niece, loaded with debt from a complicated birth.) That was part of the deal, and if you didn’t know that, that’s on you.

This echoes the attitude of, “if you don’t like it here, leave.” A perspective of ownership, judgment, and disdain, devoid of empathy, ripe with entitlement.

As I emphasize in the book, Motherhood is also a set of labors — domestic work, housework, caregiving work, emotional work. We bundle all of that together and call it Motherhood! … By attributing that work and those ways of being and behaving to the feminine condition, it creates a number of pressures felt by all women, but also by men, and by anyone who refuses the gender binary.

I really appreciate this point as someone who is not a mother yet has been socialized towards Mothering behaviors. As a child, I would try to Mother my little sister, and my mom had to remind me she was the mom. In high school, I was the “Band Mom,” doing stuff like learning how to tie a tie so I could help the boys get ready for concerts. In my marriage, I have had to nip impulses to Mother my partner — I don’t want or mean to do it, but still catch the impulse arise sometimes. I also took on a lot of voluntary emotional labor, like sending holiday cards, until I realized I didn’t have to. At my first workplace, I baked and cooked for my coworkers and organized activities that took emotional work and unpaid time to prepare for and do. When I had friends over before COVID, there was always an element of Playing Host, putting everyone else’s experience above my own to be sure their every desire was catered to. My strong socialized impulse towards Mothering is one of the many reasons I’ve chosen not to become a parent; I’m scared I would subsume myself in service.

Tracy Durnell

30 Sep 2023 at 20:40

Weeknotes: Sept. 23-29, 2023

Water splash over top of fountain
Harborside Fountain Park in Bremerton

Stuff I did:

  • 6.75 hours writing
  • Celebrated my 20th anniversary of blogging!
  • Documented my process for writing a long blog post
  • Met up with my folks out in Bremerton for a picnic lunch and wander around town
  • Took the ferry over to Bainbridge Island for the day ⛴️
  • Booked followup appointments — one specialist can’t see me till February 🤨
  • Met up with an old colleague for a walk and scored a break from the rain ☔ Also walked with another friend on a surprise sunny afternoon ☀
  • Updated quote and scope for graphic design proposal


  • Taco Bell crunch wrap supreme
  • Leftover tortellini soup + focaccia
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Toast + creamed tuna with peas
  • Fried egg sandwiches
  • Roasted potatoes + salad from a bag + store-bought pumpkin pie + whipped cream
  • Golden lentil soup (pureed) + flatbread


I passed 2000 books read on Goodreads sometime this month! 📚

  • Added 5 books to my TBR (total = 455) — Annalee Newitz’s Stories Are Weapons sounds like it’ll be rad, and I didn’t realize that Heather Cox Richardson had a new book out this week!
  • DNF’d Ask A North Korean because the library wanted it back and I’m too busy right now

Words I looked up / concepts I learned:

More language things I learned:

  • Only refer to Native Hawaiian peoples as Hawaiian, call people who live there Hawai’i residents (via)
  • Prefer “incarceration,” “imprisonment,” or “detention” to “internment” when speaking about WWII Japanese American mass incarceration (via)
  • Erin Kissane’s introduction to her reporting on Meta’s part in the Myanmar Rohingya genocide is a study in treating names as important 👏 Also I’ve been pronouncing Myanmar wrong.

Pretty stuff I saw:

Trash can with vertical Bremerton illustration across the street from Bremerton Mercantile with old timey typography
I liked both these logos / logo types in downtown Bremerton
Ferry on smooth water under gray sky with a swooping violet cloud
I liked this swoopy cloud
Tracy Durnell

30 Sep 2023 at 04:33

The medicalization of diet

Quoted Gut Feelings by James Greig (Vittles)
ZOE is one example of what academic Joseph Dumit has described as ‘the medicalisation of food’, where our diet is no longer judged solely in terms of taste or nutritional value, nor even as a means of gaining or losing weight, but as a form of preventative treatment – food becomes antidepressant, statin, insulin, and immune-system booster rolled into one. Because we have been besieged by forces trying to deceive us – the fad diets and outdated shibboleths which ZOE has set out to dispel – our intuition has been fatally compromised. Aiming to eat ‘healthily enough’ is no longer sufficient. Within this framework, we are always vulnerable and always at risk, regardless of whether we are currently unwell. According to Dumit, this means that ‘every choice of what to eat intersects with an anxious duty to be healthy’.

Diet adds a meta filter to eating and turns food choices into moral judgments that eschew pleasure over a personal responsibility to health.

This is the supplement perspective, too, the idea that food can be reduced to its components and the “good ones” distilled into pills. Not to condemn dietary supplements where they’re needed — I take vitamin D and iron supplements because my levels were low in the past — but the nutrient perspective can cross a line into an unhealthy essentialism. There are so many other factors that influence what we get out of our food: how we eat, when we eat, who we eat with, how we feel about what we eat, where our food came from, who made it, whether it has cultural or personal significance, how it tastes, how stressed we feel, whether we have reliable access to food or not… Food, and nutrition, cannot be looked at in isolation from the rest of our lives. We cannot ignore the social dimensions of food and health.

As Barbara Ehrenreich writes in Natural Causes, a book about our attitudes towards wellness and death, ‘No matter how much effort we expend, not everything is potentially within our control, not even our own bodies and minds.’

Controlling our diets gives us an illusion of control over our personal health, when much of our health is subject to external social and environmental forces. I’m not saying what we choose to eat is unimportant to our individual health, but I also feel uncomfortable with the blame we level on people for eating what we perceive to be unhealthy, especially if they are fat. Stress influences how our body stores fat and absorbs nutrients, and our society turns the stress dial up to eleven for most people.

We like to ascribe health to individual choices so we can feel good when we care for ourselves and it works… but what about when we care for ourselves and it doesn’t? Personal responsibility for health outcomes is connected to the concept of deserts: people who suffer health problems must have done something to deserve it. As Cat Valente writes about our cultural attitude towards pain, “The world we move through, even if we don’t say it (but lots of people say it) or think it consciously (but lots of people think it consciously) or act on it (but lots of people act on it) or even understand that some old, angry, beaten, fearful part of us assumes it (but..), treats pain as though it must be a punishment…The philosophical version of this is karma, or the rule of three, or the Sermon on the Mount, or whatever semi-organized semi-religious what goes around comes around epistemological scaffolding you want to lay against the horrifying fiery tenement building of human misery. And if you follow that logic, that pain always arises from bad actions on the part of the person in agony…”

Putting the full onus of health on individuals disregards and disavows responsibility for the many, many ways our society makes us unhealthy: environmental pollutants and climate change, restricted access to healthcare dependent on full-time employment, restrictions on our bodily autonomy, food subsidies that make calorie-packed ultra-processed foods more affordable than whole foods, the food industry designing processed foods that prey on our biological instincts, unfettered marketing of processed food and fast food, corporate rejection of work from home flexibility that might allow people more time and energy to cook their own meals, stressful work hours and conditions that leave most people short on sleep, cities designed for cars that makes walking or biking unsafe.

But if our environment really is saturated with poisons, then bespoke services like ZOE are not a scalable solution but a form of private healthcare which will further entrench existing inequalities. If nutrition really is as important as the gut-health gurus claim, it needs to become something other than a niche hobby for the middle classes.


See also:

Small Fires

Rest is Resistance

(Note to self: this is a different James Greig than the designer)

Tracy Durnell

29 Sep 2023 at 17:29

Engendering intimacy through writing on screens

Liked by Colin Walker (
I feel like I connect more with the words by tapping directly on the screen rather than using a keyboard, it seems closer to writing with a pen but even that feels a bit alien after all these years using keyboards and screens.

I think Colin’s onto something with the feeling of writing from a phone being different than writing at a desktop keyboard; our tools influence our thinking. I’m curious how much is from, as he notes, the physicality of engaging directly with the screen, and how much from socialized factors like phones being many people’s means of directly connecting with friends and family through texting and social media.

Also makes me think of: Tricking your brain into writing the way you want

Tracy Durnell

29 Sep 2023 at 15:49

How I approach crafting a blog post

 Over the years, I’ve seen lots of blog posts discussing what people could blog about (anything!), exploring philosophies of blogging, and explaining how to set up a blog on a variety of content management systems. I don’t think I’ve seen someone walk through their process for writing a blog post, though.

Most people’s experience with writing for others comes from the five-paragraph essay, business materials and communications, and social media. While some applied skills overlap all types of writing, blogging is its own medium that may warrant changes. Reading other people’s blogs helps us develop our taste for style, but putting that into practice ourselves can be tough.

It’s quite a transition from social media, with its social and stylistic conventions and forced brevity, to blogging, with its unlimited length and boundless options. Even though writing on social media is a form of self-publishing, graduating to self-publishing on your own blog feels like a bigger commitment: your writing stands on its own, not commingled in a stream with others’.

Sure, you can follow a tutorial to create a new blog, embrace the philosophy of blogging about whatever interests you, emotionally prepare for self-publishing… and still hit a wall when facing the empty field of your content management system. Where to start? How does one pull a tangible idea from the inchoate swirl of our unconsciousness?

My writing process for long blog posts

I can’t promise that I have an especially good process for blogging — it’s certainly not efficient — but I am willing to share it anyway 😉 It’s been effective for me in writing and publishing several short articles a week, and often one longer piece. I’m surely breaking best practices, and I’m coming up against the boundaries of its efficacy in going beyond that volume, so I hope to refine it — but this is how I’m crafting blog posts now, and have been for the past couple years.

This article describes how I write a long blog post with lots of references. Short blog posts are also great! Not all posts need to be long, or original! I do not follow this full process for short posts — please don’t think this is a usual amount of work for every post. But longer blog posts are more challenging to write than shorter ones, so I hope that sharing my approach for the most complicated type of article will be more useful to folks who want to write long but aren’t sure where to push the shovel in.

Fair warning! This post is over 3000 words long. Sorry! 😅

How I decide what to blog about

I write two types of posts on this website: in response to one or more specific articles I’ve read, and original articles.

Blogging in response to an article

When I encounter an intriguing article or quote, I note that I’ve connected to it emotionally and dig a little deeper as I consider responding to it:

  • am I likely to want to reference it or the ideas in it?
  • do I have anything to say about it? I don’t need a full “thesis” or anything unique, just some starting point. This could be as simple as a personal anecdote.
  • does it connect with other ideas I’ve recently encountered or that I’ve been pondering lately?
  • am I simply having an emotional reaction to it? is my reaction solely anger or cynicism? how warranted is my reaction? is it worth sharing this reaction? if the government goes full fascist, will it get me black bagged? (only kind of joking)

Twice this week I’ve gone through the post setup step and decided that I didn’t actually have anything to say, or I’d misunderstood what the quote was actually saying once I turned my full attention to it.

If the article’s on a website that I haven’t visited before, often I’ll check the about page and skim a list of recent blog titles. If I spot any red flags, I reconsider whether I’d like to reference this site or not.

Finding my own “unprompted” ideas for blog posts

Nothing is really unprompted in the sense that the idea came from somewhere, but some ideas are less directly in response to one particular piece or quote.

Some of the ways I gather ideas for original articles (like this) include:

  • Jot down ideas as I chat with a friend, even if they don’t yet coalesce into something bigger — as I’ve written more, I’ve developed a sense for when an idea has not been tapped out yet, when I likely have something more to say
  • Throw in simple ideas as headlines or notes as draft blog posts and periodically go look at my drafts folder to see if anything jumps out at me for elaborating on
  • Recognize a zeitgeist or vibe when a bunch of articles overlap and I feel they’re connected but am not entirely sure how yet
  • Think about how I do things and what I might like to document
  • Note a style or structure of article I’ve appreciated someone else write, and consider how it could apply to my own ideas (for example, my article My Reading Philosophy in 17 Guidelines was inspired by a similarly structured article at, in turn inspired by a newspaper column)

This article was prompted by a few things in combination: Colin asked about my process for writing weeknotes, I had a fruitful discussion with a friend about our fiction writing processes after struggling with non-craft writing choices, I encountered an interesting article about how tacit knowledge can apply to knowledge work as well as physical skills, and lately I’ve been reading a bunch of other bloggers’ posts about blogging 💪

How I set up new posts

My blogging setup

I use a install (not with the IndieWeb plugin, which enables a broader array of post kinds than a standard WordPress install. I write directly in my content management system, which is probably not the best idea, but I prefer it to writing elsewhere. Writing in the browser, I think, reminds me where I am writing and where I will publish — it’s a cue to my writing mind of what type of writing I’m doing. When writing in browser, save early and often!

Unfortunately, I do most of my blogging from my phone browser because that’s where I read for pleasure and find articles I want to reply to. Writing in the browser window really sucks, especially on a small phone, where the keyboard covers half the screen. I’m a slow phone typist, and the phone ain’t ergonomic in the slightest.

This is the worst part of my process, and I don’t recommend it… but I also haven’t been able to change it for myself 😂 Accessing the looseness of the blogging headspace is important for me, and being away from my desktop helps with that. My compromise with myself is that after drafting to a stopping point, I try to do revisions on my desktop so I have access to keyboard shortcuts and a bigger screen.


Once I’ve decided to blog about something, my first decision point is what kind of blog post it is. I use “likes” and “replies” a bit differently than most of the IndieWeb community — not as interactions but as a mental classification for the depth and tenor of my response. Most long posts like I’m describing here I create as either a “reply” or “article.” This wouldn’t work out if more people used IndieWeb tools.

If I’m writing in response to another article, I plug the URL into the IndieWeb “response properties” sidebar. It auto-populates the fields, but I verify that the title, author, and detail fields represent the piece correctly. Typically, I replace whatever is auto-populated in the detail field with the key quote I’m responding to.

I’m big on classification, so I use an extensive compendium of categories and tags to make posts findable. Then I write an initial headline that expresses what I expect the main point of my response will be.

Crafting the draft

If I have a bunch of ideas upfront, I’ll dump bullet points at the top of the document. I don’t want to forget anything by the time I finish writing my first idea in prose! For example, when I started this article I had a very clear idea of what ground I wanted to cover. I first wrote my headline and my H2 headings, then populated bullet points under each heading, and finally organized those with H3 headings. I then snowflake those bullet points out into full sentences that eventually grow into paragraphs.

But usually I’m just reacting to what I’ve read and thinking through in real time — the writing is the thinking. So I’ll first pull in all the quotes I like from the original article. When I’m writing an original piece that references a bunch of different articles, I’ll often spread the accretion process of gathering like sources over multiple days. (I’ve got a good one in the works right now 🦾)

To kickstart my writing, I start responding to each quote. Usually, one will send me on a longer train of thought. When I feel myself get into the zone, I roll with it. Essentially, the first draft is freewriting.

Once I’ve gotten going, I keep writing, applying the “save draft” button frequently. I prefer to compose a first draft in one sitting, though often that initial draft will be two or three chunks of ideas that need to be smoothed into a single article during the revision process.

I write until I reach what feels like a conclusion, run out of steam, notice I’ve wandered onto another tangent that doesn’t belong, or realize my point has changed dramatically, at which point I’ll hop into some revision stages.

Revising and refining

Gut check

Before starting the revision process, I pause for a gut check. If I’ve written something personal, I reflect on whether it’s a story I really want to share, and make sure I haven’t said too much about other people. If I’ve written something political or critical, I reflect on whether it’s helpful to publish this or I just needed to get it out of my system. Sometimes I’ll sit on a piece and come back to it the next day, particularly if it’s something controversial or where I’m revealing personal information.

Pinpoint my argument

In preview mode, I read through the initial draft and figure out what’s the true point of my article. Because of my freewriting approach to drafting, I often need a good bit of revision to bring a piece together. Frequently, I’ll start my first draft with one thread before stumbling into a much more interesting strain of thought. I don’t consider this unused writing a waste; the thinking I did there helped me unlock the other idea, which I might not have gotten to without clearing aside my initial impressions and responses. In the fiction world, people suggest brainstorming a list of ideas and throwing out your top ten because they’re probably generic; I don’t agree in toto, but there’s a kernel there.

Once I’ve gotten a better feel for what I’m actually talking about, I rewrite my headline and adjust my metadata to reflect the refined focus.

If you take away one thing from my process, I’d suggest the value of rewriting your headline. Multiple times, probably. Especially when you’re not trying to SEO-game, but write actually useful or interesting headlines, it’s an incredibly helpful tool. The headline serves as framing for your piece to guide your decision-making in what belongs and how to structure it. My end goal is a title that showcases the piece’s main topic or argument in short, hints at the tone, and uses keywords or phrasing that I’ll be able to find when I want to reference the piece in the future.

Next, I reorganize to support the updated headline. I rearrange paragraph order — while working, I cache ‘spare’ paragraphs at the bottom of the document until I decide where they fit — and remove paragraphs that don’t support the main point (I’ll throw them into a new draft blog post).

Source check

Based on the refined focus, I pull in other external articles and sources from tabs I have open. I also cross-reference internal articles for further ideas and elaborations. Sometimes I have a few previous blog posts in mind, but other times I search my site to refresh myself.

I do this by adding a link in the post and typing keywords into the link searchbar, which IMO has significantly better search capabilities than the main site search. If I’m not finding much, I might pull up my site index and check a couple promising tags. When I’m looking for a particular article that isn’t coming up, I’ll open WordPress in another tab and search “All Posts”.

I write more to connect and integrate these added sources into the piece. I prefer to integrate links directly into the text where possible — I try to do a quick skim of my own previous posts to make sure they’re saying what I think / match the text I’ve hyperlinked — but otherwise will add as a “see also” at the bottom of the section or article. Adding references usually means I need to do more reorganization.

I fact check anything that sets my spidey senses tingling, that my argument rests upon, or that sounds too good to be true. I’ll look for reputable sources for anything I feel needs a reference. Sometimes it’ll turn out that what I thought was a fact is squishier or complicated, so if I don’t have time to dig into it, I’ll cut that thread out of the piece. I feel comfortable rejecting some interpretations because there’ll never be universal agreement on anything — some people legitimately believe the planet is flat 😭 — but I also don’t want to cherry-pick evidence that supports my argument when that doesn’t accurately reflect reality.

By fact check, I usually mean that I do a quick DuckDuckGo and/or Wikipedia search. Depending on the topic, I might dip my toe into Reddit to get pointed to sources other folks have found. On DDG, I look for articles from reputable sources — preferably a newspaper or organization I’ve heard of. Lots of sneaky think-tanks have innocuous or helpful sounding names, then when I check their “about us” I hiss in horror. If anything seems off from an initial trustworthy source, I’ll dig deeper, but often I do a single level of verification to feel I’m not being unreasonable in making a claim. Sometimes, fact checking simply involves skimming the original pdf an article is referencing; I recently uncovered a couple misrepresentations by simply reading the original document.

I want to be respectful to other writers, so when the piece is getting close, I put myself in their shoes. If they see my article, how will they feel about what I’ve added to their work: have I quoted too much material? if so, can I remove any pull quotes or trim any down? do the quotes actually add to my argument?

Readability check

As the piece shapes up, I turn a closer eye to the sentence level. I refine the language to clarify meaning and eliminate wiggle words that convey uncertainty I don’t mean or isn’t valuable. Completing a science major instilled the importance of precision, but caging about edge cases isn’t helpful in informal writing. As a woman, I’ve also absorbed social norms about not being too provoking, so my initial instinct is to couch my points in softening language that undermines my conviction.

I copyedit for typos, awkward phrasing, missing or extraneous words, repeated words, unintentionally incorrect grammar, mixed metaphors (constantly! 🤦‍♀️), unintended alliteration, and excessive exclamation points and emojis — things I tend to have trouble with. Sometimes I remove cliched phrases, but sometimes they feel appropriate to use as a colloquialism. I double-check the definition of any words I’m not 100% sure on usage. Every writer develops their own collection of things to check, learned through practice.

In preview mode, I skim through the look of the article to get a feel for the white space. This helps me break up long paragraphs and decide if / where I should add headings. I also bold selected phrases and key points for skimmability. Finally, I tweak metadata and rewrite my headline again.

Quality control

When I’m feeling like it’s getting close, I re-read in full using preview mode, so it looks like it’ll look on my site. I try to read it like a reader: am I being fair? does it make sense? am I missing connective points? do I feel comfortable with what I’m saying and sharing? is my voice off anywhere? does the ending work?

“Voice” is an intangible quality, unique to each person, that develops through practice and varies with context. For blogging, I think of my voice as what sounds natural to me. My prose trends wordy, while my paragraphs are often short. I’m comfortable breaking grammar rules and employing enough em-dashes to circle the globe, but others might not be. Another aspect is word choice; there’s a subset of words and phrases that feel like me, so even if I’ve picked up a new word from someone else, sometimes it doesn’t fit my sensibility and I’ll leave it for others to play with.

I cull paragraphs and points that aren’t adding to the gestalt — these may be deleted or moved into a separate draft blog post for future expansion.

I revise as needed till I’m satisfied with the answers above.


Especially with a long piece I’ve put a lot of work into, I feel anxiety around hitting publish and calling it done, but I’ve learned that’s part of my process. (Plus, let’s be real, I do another read-through after hitting publish and always find something I missed 😂 Working in print, I’ve come to accept that there’s almost always something missed in the final, but as long as it’s not your phone number, email, or URL it’s fine 😉)

I’ve described the writing of a longer article, which gets much more attention than a quick piece. I might blast off a couple paragraph response in minutes, whereas a longer article could take me two, three, five or more hours. I started writing this blog post last night and spent a couple hours on it, then today spent a bit over three — so five-ish hours, and this post didn’t require any fact-checking since it’s documenting my own process.

This process probably looks outrageously long, but organically it doesn’t feel arduous. It works for me because I have uninterrupted chunks of time I can dedicate to writing and editing — I know this isn’t the case for many people. While I’ve divided it into clear steps, in practice it’s more based on feel — what does this piece need? Blogging is a skill like any other, so the best way to get better is simply to do it.


Also posted on IndieNews

Tracy Durnell

27 Sep 2023 at 21:44

Packaging people for corporate consumption

Quoted Finally, I Closed My LinkedIn (P.C. Maffey)
When people long for the days of the early web, the glorious idiosyncracies of personal sites and forums, they are really longing for a time and a space where people were free to communicate their own values. Now that space is owned and rented to the highest bidder. A site like LinkedIn wraps you up into a tiny, uniform package, sets you in an enormous data warehouse next to millions of other tiny people just like you, and sells the lot of you.

For many years, was my portfolio website, and I felt bound to keep it that way “in case.” As a self-trained designer who’d only worked in-house, I felt a lot of imposter syndrome. “Real” designers all had portfolio sites, so I needed to too.

I’d built the site by hand in HTML and it was a pain to update, so I never did. I started getting nagmails from Google that my site wasn’t mobile optimized so it would downrank me in search, but I couldn’t bring myself to invest the time in building a new, responsive portfolio site. The domain became a weight, something to avoid thinking about, which made me feel guilty when I did.

Finally, I decided it was more important to do what made sense for me, not what I felt obliged to do for the sake of my career. I installed WordPress and named it my mind garden, and fell in love instantly. Now this site is a joy that I visit nearly every day, and which I use as a tool for many different parts of my life.

Over the past year, I faced another wave of doubts about openly broadcasting my personality and interests as I left my employer and started my own business. I hemmed and hawed over what potential clients would do if they found my opinionated website where I shout about leftist politics from the soapbox and openly read romance novels, potentially signaling that I’m difficult or unserious. At last, I decided that I didn’t want to work with anyone who’d judge me for reading romance or fault me for being political, and part of the point of leaving was to value myself 🤷‍♀️ So I plonked a link to my consulting website on the about page and carried on.

I recently stumbled across this little anecdote from Roy Tang:

Recently a friend who is a very serious figure in certain business circles started tweeting about one of her fandom “ships”. Later on she mentioned that some people had suggested she set up an “alt” account for her fandom stuff because it “detracts from her image”. Her response: “Thanks but I don’t think any of my fandoms detract anything from my accomplishments. Normalize being true to your geeky fanfic reading die hard shipper self AND kicking ass.”

I don’t want to contort or disguise myself because someone might think less of me: a) they need to get over their stereotypes, b) I’ve put others’ priorities above my own for too long, and c) this is fear of a possible future outcome that may never take place, and I’d rather not make my decisions out of fear or an obligation towards compliance. Corporations may want us to be interchangeable cogs, but I reject that premise: my skills and judgment come out of my broad interests. My professional abilities don’t stand apart from my hobbies and interests — they inform the way I think, the connections I make, and the values and sensibilities I have. I’m not me without them, and that includes my professional capabilities. I want clients to work with me because of, not in spite of, my personality.

Tracy Durnell

27 Sep 2023 at 17:40

Obsession with scent

Quoted Olivia Sokolowski on Comet Powder, Campfire Smoke, Fresh Bread (
Our national obsession with certain smells is returning alongside autumn. Campfire smoke, cinnamon brooms and wet leaves, apple and nutmeg and anything crumble … you know what I mean.

I hadn’t considered the scents of seasons much — fall has the strongest scent associations for me. Winter carries an overlap with autumn: hearty warming foods and drinks. Spring has earthy petrichor and fragrant, ephemeral daphne and hyacinth. I suppose summer has zesty lawn clippings, the nose-burning intensity of fresh mulch 😵‍💫, and barbecue, except now when I smell smoke I just assume the forest is on fire somewhere. Fall has, in my mind, the most pleasant scents: bring on the apple and cinnamon 👏

I began to love the dual transportive effect of smell: some scents yank us backward into the perfumed past, while others propel us into unfamiliar dimensions, forcing the imagination to build a new ecosystem populated with those notes. And all this from such miniscule, invisible particles of information!

I am more likely to be offput by scents than enjoy them. I hate cleaning chemicals and avoid exposure to them, so I dislike things other people think smell clean — (fake) lemon, bleach, Clorox, air fresheners all make me gag. I see a candle or incense and think bad air quality, not ooh this smells nice. Other intense smells like eucalyptus, sage and lavender overwhelm me. The tiniest whiff of anything foul makes me suspicious. A few years ago I tried to embrace fragrances and bought some bougie candles, but I burned one once for half an hour and just thought of how I was polluting my air quality 😂

I seem to have a different sense of smell than most people, smelling things that they think I’ve invented. But I did tell my husband it smelled like wet wood on the day our hot water heater pipe ruptured, so I know I nailed that one 💪 Sometimes I wonder whether I have sensory sensitivity because I also was the only one to notice (and be driven off the wall by) an unseated, faintly rattling light fixture at my old office, I had to move a new phone charger out of my bedroom because its whine was keeping me awake, and I wrote such a scathing review of the Kindle Paperwhite that someone from Amazon called me to figure out what was going on — it turned out the page refresh that everyone else ignores set me off. But then sometimes my husband will smell something I don’t 🤷‍♀️

I’ve also had weird scent / taste triggers in the past. Once I got “pine mouth,” where eating pine nuts made everything taste and smell off for a week — I almost threw out half a homemade pie because I thought it had gone bad! A couple years later, I made a vegan raw beet salad that like blew out my vinegar receptors and anything with vinegar in it (like mustard) was inedible for days.

Like the soundscape, the scentscape is something we largely cannot control and are subjected to others’ choices. Excessive cologne, noxious air fresheners, smothering patchouli — people are so determined to drown out any potential unpleasant odors, they overapply “good” scents to the point of oppression. I’m lucky that oversaturated fragrances just make me wince — I have a friend for whom strong scents trigger migraines.

Tracy Durnell

27 Sep 2023 at 02:05

Generative AI is intellectual sharecropping

Replied to Digital sharecropping by Nicholas Carr (
One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few. It’s a sharecropping system, but the sharecroppers are generally happy because their interest lies in self-expression or socializing, not in making money, and, besides, the economic value of each of their individual contributions is trivial. It’s only by aggregating those contributions on a massive scale – on a web scale – that the business becomes lucrative. To put it a different way, the sharecroppers operate happily in an attention economy while their overseers operate happily in a cash economy.

I encountered this (old) analogy for social media platforms as digital sharecropping and thought it also fit generative AI. Generative AI companies steal our intellectual property then license it back to us. We can’t be compensated reasonably for our individual contributions to the model because they’ve stolen from so many of us and each individual’s work represents a miniscule portion of the entire model. Whatever we generate with their models can’t be copyrighted and used to make money for *us* without significant human contributions — but generated works are in direct competition with the creators whose works built the model. These powerful, well-funded companies want businesses to fire their employees and pay them instead, making businesses reliant on an opaque, unpredictable service that demands vast amounts of natural resources that may be in short — and shortening — supply.

But unlike social media, which rewards users emotionally rather than financially for their labor, creators aren’t getting anything out of having our work used to train generative AI models. And so we’re fighting back earlier in the cycle than with social media — maybe before it can become entrenched. AI evangelists speak as if the technology’s supremacy is inevitable, but that’s propaganda to get us to shut up and hand over our creations and our jobs.

Recent AI shenanigans in the news:

ChatGPT caught giving horrible advice to cancer patients by Sharon Adarlo (Neoscope)

Why Silicon Valley’s biggest AI developers are hiring poets by Andrew Deck (rest of world)

Iowa Is Using ChatGPT to Take Out Banned Books by Alejandra Gularte (Vulture)

Generative AI at work

Tracy Durnell

26 Sep 2023 at 07:20

Apathy at work

Liked Meh by Robin Rendle (
What I struggle with most is sharing stuff in a room full of people who don’t care, who aren’t moved, who are simply...indifferent.

I don’t get apathy at work because I care way too much about pretty much everything. This isn’t necessarily a good thing in an office job. I was chatting with a friend about how caring can become a maladaptive trait at work, when you’re asked to do something that really doesn’t matter and no one cares about, but you just can’t bring yourself to do mediocre work. This is part of why I think consulting will be a better fit for me, because presumably clients will care about what they’re spending money on 🤷‍♀️

I think apathy serves as a cover like cynicism. When people have been burned by caring too much in the past, they adapt a self-defensive attitude of detachment. It’s a refusal to connect or engage, an anti-vulnerable position. A way to make themselves unassailable because there’s nothing to latch onto. I can’t necessarily blame people in bad jobs for refusing to sell their emotional investment, but man are they unpleasant to work with. Their lack of caring is caustic to projects, slowing down forward momentum like Burning Man mud.

The kind of meeting Robin is describing reminds me of baking: if your leavener is dead, your end product will be too. When you present an idea and expect a chemical reaction like when you combine your liquids and solids to form your batter, but nothing happens, it makes you second guess yourself. Did you do something wrong? Is something happening that’ll appear with enough patience? Or have your ingredients failed you?

Tracy Durnell

26 Sep 2023 at 05:40

What a patronage service needs

Bookmarked Siderea, Sibylla Bostoniensis ( (Universeodon Social Media)
Because I want there to be Patreon competitors, I will explain what Patreon actually does, so if somebody would like to actually compete with Patreon they will know what they have to actually accomplish. Brace yourself. Some of this is a little complicated to explain. And before explaining it, allow me to observe: these are the sorts of features you get when somebody who actually really understands the usage case designs the platform. Patreon was founded by and designed by an actual goddamn artist, a musician and music video maker, who understood what artists and other creators actually need out of a platform.

Thread covers affordances a patronage service for artists really needs to offer (which Patreon is failing at):

  1. Pseudonym support
  2. By-works funding model support
  3. Non quid pro quo patronage
  4. An audience relationship management system + API
  5. Charge bundling

On the importance of straight up patronage as option:

There is an entire little universe of people using Patreon to be funded to do good works in the world. These may be open source contributors. They may be activists. They may be journalists or bloggers. They do not make things that they exchange for money with the people who pledge them on Patreon.

Their patrons do not pay these creators to give things *to them*. Their patrons pay these creators to give things *to the world*: to release code for anyone to use, to engage in activism that changes the world for the better, or to write things that anyone can read.

Siderea, Sibylla Bostoniensis

Sep 24, 2023, 18:13

Cooperative patronage platform under development: Comradery

Tracy Durnell

26 Sep 2023 at 05:19

Black people get audited 3-5x more than everyone else

Bookmarked Intuit Pushing Claim That Free Tax-Filing Program Would Harm Black Taxpayers by an author (
Articles published around the country repeat Intuit’s assertion — sometimes almost word for word — that the upcoming IRS pilot program would hurt Black Americans. A researcher whose work is cited by Intuit says the company is misstating her findings.

Earlier this year, a study by a team of academic and government researchers found that the IRS audited Black taxpayers between three and five times the rate of other taxpayers.





The authors pinpointed audits of people who claim the earned income tax credit as the driver of the racial disparity. The EITC is one of the main anti-poverty programs in the U.S. and is aimed primarily at low-income, working parents: Most recipients earn under $20,000 a year. For decades, the IRS has disproportionately audited EITC claimants because of pressure from Republicans in Congress as well as laws that require a special focus on “improper payments.”

Together with the gutting of the IRS’ budget, which caused audits of the rich to tank, the focus on the EITC meant the agency audited those who claimed the credit at about the same rate as the top 1% of taxpayers by income.

Aaaand it becomes clear 🙄

But at least the IRS is trying to do something about it 👏

Last week, in response to the study’s findings, the IRS announced major changes to how it audits EITC claims.

Except that Intuit is waging a corporate propaganda campaign targeting the people it would most help 🤦‍♀️

Internal Intuit documents from last decade, previously divulged by ProPublica, made clear that “pushing back through op-eds” was part of the company’s strategy against what it called government “encroachment.” One specific goal: “Buy ads for op-eds/editorials/stories in African American and Latino media.”


Tracy Durnell

26 Sep 2023 at 04:49

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