Halley Suitt…

Friday, June 28, 2002

Interview with Halley Suitt:

New England Pilgrim Lady Blogger

Halley Suitt writes the blog Halley’s Comment at www.halleyscomment.blogspot.com and appears on Blogsisters on an occasional basis. She is based in Boston, MA and runs Wordmachine, an editing, writing, marketing consultancy.

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Halley,

Would you consider being the next interviewee at the Sandhill Trek blog? Previous victims, ummm… participants… have included Elaine Frankonis, Denise Howell, Jeneane Sessum, and Andrea James. This is an invitation to reveal some of yourself to the six or so readers of Sandhill Trek through the imperfect lens and aperture of the cyber-interview process I’m developing here.

Please say yes.

fp

Let’s do it quick.

H

Quick it is then, and thanks for your willingness! Let’s jump right into the middle of things. What’s your interest in Carol Gilligan and Terrence Real’s work on patriarchy and male depression?

In Gilligan’s new book, The Birth of Pleasure, she suggests that we are witnessing the end of patriarchy. I agree with her, but come at it from a different direction, which is not starting with political rhetoric, but rather noticing the trends in music and art and theatre and books which are pointing the same direction. They are unmistakable and artists always pick up on trends years ahead of the rest of us.

Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues is a landmark on this path towards women being better heard, understood, acknowledged and particularly owning their own sexuality — their cunts, as she would so boldly say. In fact, encouraging women to say the word “cunt” and make it their own word is radical in teaching women that their female sexuality belongs … surprise… to them! Women have gotten in the habit of having men steal their sexual stuff and peddle it at the corner.

In Terrence Real’s book, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, he suggests that the way boys are socialized (circa age 7) is that they are taught to stop having an emotional life, in order to be little soldiers in the world — and later big soldiers in the world and in business. He documents it in a heartbreaking way, showing the personal damage it does to a boy and the covert depression it spawns in many men and especially heartwrenching, the terrible legacy it is for society.

He suggests men’s depression is some how made acceptable when it is expressed as something macho: workaholism (“He’s a real road warrior.”), alcoholism (“That guy can hold his liquor!”), womanizing (“He’s got a way with the ladies.”) drugs (“That’s one wild and crazy guy.”) and this keeps many men from ever being identified as depressed and ever treated. The way out? Learn to really feel your feelings and connect with others instead of playing “one-upsmanship” at work, sports, and worst of all, at home and thereby closing down all feelings and all attempts of others to connect with those feelings.

I have a personal connection to this since my son is 7 years old and I’m watching that very process of him becoming a “little man” and turning away from his emotional life. We’re trying to give him some balance in this area, but everything from tough little league coaches to school gym teachers to the other boys around him taunting him when he occasionally slips and sucks his thumb, or god forbid, cries when he gets hurt, all these things work against it.

But aren’t you setting him…

You might jump in and say we’re setting him up to be slaughtered by the schoolyard bully, but Terence Real speaks to this vociferously stating that our acceptance of schoolyard bullying is completely egregious. He suggests that at some point in the future the fact that we found it acceptable, will be as shameful as the fact that some people found beating slaves an acceptable practice in America pre-Civil War.

uhh-kay, let’s get serious then… What do you think of Britney Spears really? I just got back from my boy’s graduation ceremonies at UCLA and I have to say she’s done wonders for the fashion world and the economy. The way I see it, by exposing all those maidenly midriffs (raising the hems on those fetching skin-tight tops) and dropping the waist-line over the hips on millions of pairs of pants, we’re saving millions of yards of fabric every month. This drops the fixed costs of garment production with no drop in price, hence an increase in net profits and what could be more patriotic really? But what do you think?

Do you hear what you’re saying? You’re actually describing her ability to get all of us to connect with our lower chakras — bare midriff, bare belly, low slung hip hugging pants. And whether intentionally or by accident, you’re describing exactly what she’s the master of, connecting our sexual energy to hers.

Ummm, is this about stroking it?

She’s a radical force — the force of female sexuality coming at us in an unembarrassed, joyous, powerful way. I like Britney Spears very much. She’s doing what Elvis did with his pelvis. She doing what John Lennon did with a throaty voice and a quick wink behind those glasses sliding down his sexy nose. But she’s a woman, so she’s doing it a little differently, which is to say, WATCH OUT, she’s lethal.

Her artistry is playing this delicious line between innocence and blatant sexual power. She is all about this paradox of being both the innocent virgin and a very hot sexual woman. Listen to her songs — “Oops! ..I Did It Again” — an anthem about her getting the boys a little too excited; Try “Sometimes” about her shyness and the lyrics that say, “Sometimes I run, sometimes I hide, sometimes I’m scared of you, but all I really want is to hold you tight, treat you right, be with you day and night … all I really need is time,” a very provocative stance — call it “the reluctant virgin” — it gets them everytime. And the more recent song about not being a girl anymore but not yet a woman — extremely disingenuous, but very seductive because she’s 100% virgin girl and obviously 100% sexual woman.

You probably noticed what I wrote about Britney and Osama bin Laden in my blog right? Around the time of September 11th she put out a video called “I’m A Slave 4 U” where she dances the most sexy sweaty hot slavegirl number — looks as if it takes place in a harem. But Brit is nobody’s slave. This sheer female sexual power revealed in half naked rawness truly is a lethal force when you think that women were being forced to wear the burqua. It was the ultimate burqua-buster. The video seemed to be saying “this is what’s under the burqua — female sexuality and it’s coming at you, Osama, watch out.”

I also wrote about The November cover of Vogue Magazine that featured Brittney laying back in the grass arching her back in a flimsy sheer white blouse, a “take me, I’m yours” summer picnic posture — but she wasn’t in the grass, she was laying on an American flag. This too was the quintessential American Bombshell. And I’m talking Girl and Weapon here. Her American branded sexuality (very reminescent of Marilyn Monroe of course) is a lethal weapon.

Both visual images were powerful cultural iconography — messages to the world that women are a force to be reckoned with. I think this is part of a much larger wave she’s riding, along with Madonna, Destiny’s Child, Eve Ensler, Oprah, Carol Gilligan and Eminem to name just a few — all are describing a very large challenge to partriarchy.

They are sounding the opening chords to a new way for men and women to be in the world. I call it “neo-humanism” because it’s way past feminism and it will take off and be driven in large part by men who are getting so sick of the narrow and constricted roles they’ve been forced to play in our world — i.e., closing down their emotional side to be big tough strong guys.

One of the most radical women to start this phenomenon of Taking Back Her Cunt (a la, Take Back The Night), of course, was Madonna. Her name alone suggests she’s a Madonna and a Whore. She flaunts her sexuality and the most shocking thing about it is the way she OWNS it and MERCHANDISES it herself. I’ve always thought this is the fundamental thing people found shocking about her in the beginning — not her blatant sexuality, but the fact that she’s the sex peddlar of her own stuff. She’s not just some sexy babe some man is selling — which we’ve all grown accustomed to and think it’s some how okay. She’s some sexy babe who’s selling her own sexuality. She’s her own pimp — which we find strange, but should find more normal, with male pimping the less normal.

Of course, women’s sexuality is enormously powerful and very frightening to many men. When more and more women claim it as their own — all hell will break loose. I happen to think this is what’s happening in many blogs and especially as you know, on Blogsisters.

Having watched Eve Ensler and Madonna do their thing, I noticed the lyrics of songs from people like Destiny’s Child (soundtrack for Charlies Angels), Eminem and others. They too were pointing towards a new way for men and women to live. As women tell the truth about their lives and their sexuality, it transforms who we are and how we will relate. Listen to the lyrics of Destiny’s Child “Independent Woman” sometime. They are extremely provocative and suggest women need real financial and sexual independence.

There’s so much music now that talks about this. Madonna’s “What it feels like for a girl” and Destiny’s Child “Survivor/Independent Women” Or check out two cuts on Eminem’s new CD. First try “Superman” about not wanting to be burdened with being the big strong guy who rescues a woman and plays Prince Charming — he has no interest in being forced into these old outmoded ways of connecting to women. This song is followed by the surprisingly poignant ballad “Haile’s Song” to his daughter, where he’s talking so candidly about how dealing with his wife is such a painful thing, but also how much he loves and wishes the best for his daughter. This is a helluva new way to be a patriarch - or a daddy as he says. I never thought I would like anything Eminem did much, but this album is more than music, it’s culturally historic. We’re all ready to cast off the conventional limited roles we’ve been stuck in. Women are taking back their own powerful raw sexuality, which in many ways was stolen by men, then commercialized and exploited by them. Men are taking back their female side and trying to be real whole people instead of unemotional supermen which women have often demanded of them. We all just want to get back to being humans, or “neo-humans” if you like, which means having both the yin and yang of it all, hopefully in better balance.

Speaking of cultural iconography and powerful raw female sexuality — Rupaul is a blogger. What do you think about that!

Rupaul is insanely cool as a person. But I can’t comment because I haven’t been reading this blog. Can I get back to you on this? I never write about stuff I haven’t read. Wait, there was that book report I did in 5th grade … don’t tell Mrs. Wolven!

Alex Golub blogged last month, “There is something … important about the way that people are interacting with themselves via technology…. Unfortunately, groking what’s going on is not so simple. Good writing about people and the internet requires three different skills that are not easy to come by: knowing about people, knowing about the internet, and writing good. … Very few people really seem up to the challenge. The outstanding exception is Lawrence Lessig who … combines a decent knowledge of IT with a practical grounding in industry and law, an ass-kicking understanding of theory (legal and otherwise), and an ability to write something more than microcontent. … After reading Small Pieces Loosely Joined, I think I am about ready to add David Weinberger to my short-list of intellectuals who chose to take the red pill. If Lessig is general counsel for all that is Good and Right on the net, Weinberger is the expert witness called to testify about what we can know and do and feel in our new virtual world.”

Who is on your “short list of intellectuals [and others] who chose to take the red pill” Halley? And why? Whose web work do you read regularly?

Of course, I don’t like to miss my Daily Miniumum Requirements of Vitamin C (Chris Locke), Vitamin D (Doc Searls) and Vitamin W (David Weinberger). Can’t live without Blogsisters or Jeneane’s other blog Allied. No good day starts without a visit to Kalilily (currently new and improved). I try to read everyone listed on my blogroll (go see at http://www.halleyscomment.blogspot.com). I also like to wander blogs and just link and link and link to stuff I don’t usually read. I love to read Gaspar’s blog in Italian — of which I know NONE, but I make it up as I read. I like to read French blogs, of which I know some, starting with Jean-Yves Stervinou’s and then wander about from there.

Gao Xingjian, the Nobel Laureate (2000) Chinese expatriate (now a citizen of France) said, “It can be said that talking to oneself is the starting point of literature and that using language to communicate is secondary. A person pours his feelings and thoughts into language that, written as words, becomes literature. At the time there is no thought of utility or that some day it might be published yet there is the compulsion to write because there is recompense and consolation in the pleasure of writing.” What do you think about this? How does the emergence of the blog-o-sphere affect Gao’s observation? Do you, Halley Suitt, have a compelling need to write?

So was Gao another secret author of Cluetrain Manifesto? He certainly is in alignment with many of the things Chris Locke, David Weinberger and Doc Searls said in that book and are saying in blogs. I don’t know if they said “talking to oneself” was the best method, but surely their insistence on VOICE being a place for radical truth to start and David’s thought from his new book (“Small Pieces Loosely Joined“) that “we’re writing ourselves into existence” are all on the same page.

And yes, I agree with all of them and that’s exactly what so many of us are doing in blogs. Again, Chris Locke spoke to this eloquently in a radio interview recently. Here’s an audio link:

http://www.marketplace.org/morning_report/rafiles/020516locke.ram

Do I feel compelled to write — most decidedly. I’ve actually kept a paper journal since I was in my teens. As you know, recently I took my blog “dark” — stopped writing Halley’s Comment on a daily basis and just “retroblogged”, posting old greatest hits and commenting on them. I’ve got a lot going on now in my life and I wanted to take a bit of a break, but I found after a month I missed it so much, I had to come back.

What do you think about the technology market condition today? There is a conventional wisdom that the NASDAQ tells the tale, and there is a contrarian perspective. The contrarians say that the dot-com boom market of 2000 and prior was largely speculative foam churned up by venture capitalists. They think the Bush recession of 2001 and the depressing effects of the September terrorist attacks that followed have left us with a flat market that more truly reflects conditions than did the foamy optimism at the end of the Clinton era of expansion and prosperity. Where do you think we go from here, now a year and a half since the oil men assumed office?

I distinctly remembering standing in front of the TV when Bush was inaugurated, a cold day in hell, I mean … in January … muttering that damning expletive under my breath, “Hoover.” And I’m not referring to a vacuum cleaner salesman, but rather the inept president who presided over The Great Depression.

We’ll pull this baby out of a death spiral just before it slams into the ground by electing Oprah as President and Tina Turner as VP. As soon as the USA is run by black women, all will be well.

Seen any good movies lately?

Recently I watched the DVD of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg — a French movie from the 1960′s w/Catherine Deneuve, very young, very beautiful, in a heartbreaking love story — the entire script is SUNG like modern opera and it was terrific. Very odd movie. I don’t recommend it to everyone, but I liked it.

For some reason whenever I think of the Umbrellas of Cherbourg I think of Gustav Klimt (especially his “Danae” and “Water Serpents“). I didn’t recall that the star was Deneuve, but that could explain the linkage! Thanks!

Well, speaking of art… Where do you stand on piercings and body art? How will you direct your son when he asks for his first tattoo?

Not my thing — I’m a straight-laced New England Pilgrim Lady Blogger. I must say though I was seriously intrigued when Janet Jackson on Oprah last year went into a long detailed description of how pleasurable a nipple ring is … with Ms. Winfrey in the opposite seat truly blushing and at a loss for words. I do have pierced ears — something I did as a Connecticut mall rat one weekend in junior high school when I couldn’t think of anything else to do with myself. I have a lot more imagination now….

You know people like Bob Metcalfe and John Perry Barlow. Where did you find entree into these rarefied circles? I remember a time when I could impute a personal connection to Walt Whitman because my lover had a bi-sexual lover who… well, you get my drift… it was a simpler time and less dangerous. But a quick perusal of the Halley’s Comment archives turns up some remarkable (professional) relationships. Please expound…

Wow! You know Walt Whitman — now that’s hot. How do I know Bob Metcalfe and John Perry Barlow? Well, they are actually the same person … you didn’t know that did you? But here’s the kicker, they’re the same person AND they are actually Thomas Pynchon!

Just kidding … It all started with a plain old salaried job I got (through a headhunter) working for TTI Vanguard (www.ttivanguard.com), a high-tech conference series run by Leonard Kleinrock, one of the “fathers of the Internet” which boasts a celebrated Board of Advisors including Nicholas Negroponte, Bob Lucky, Larry Smarr, Alan Kay, Doug Lenat, Peter Cochrane and John Perry Barlow among others. Working with these guys was like getting paid to go to grad school in Computer Science, Physics, Artificial Intelligence, International Affairs and Networking.

More than anything else, what I learned by working with them was how to be your SELF. I got a chance to watch them up close and see how they thought, worked, lived, imagined, envisioned, wrote, spoke, created and influenced the world — it was amazing. They all lived in very unique and unconventional ways. They managed to use the principals of innovation in their lives — and this was very inspiring. They taught me to insist on being my SELF and there was no going back.

They pushed me to start my own company, Wordmachine, in 1999 and to do what I did best — write and edit. In the beginning I knew I was a good interpreter of technical information, having often been in the middle of techies and lay people. I started by helping high-tech authors write and edit books, I also wrote white papers on business strategy and other internet stuff. I wrote business plans for start-up companies and went to pitch meetings with VC’s and begged for money. I wrote web site text and help text and just about anything anyone threw my way.

I was doing a lot of different writing projects and then six months into starting my business, I realized I was swamped and had better change course. I remember being in a hotel in San Jose staying up late the night before a VC presentation. I was reading a Tom Peters’ book and it said something like “Fire All Your Clients” and I stopped dead in my tracks. Yes, I thought, he’s so right. I’m doing too much the wrong sfuff and not enough of the RIGHT stuff. I let a lot of my contracts end. I always wrote very short contracts, especially since in 1999 there was so much opportunity and so much money flowing, I wanted to be open to taking on new projects that paid more money.

By August of that year, I had no business, after having had way too much. I knew that if you make a hole in the universe something always comes to fill it up. That’s when a friend of a friend told me Bob Metcalfe needed an editor and his PR agency was screening people to work with him. He was in his summer house in Maine and was sent the names of a few potential editors to peruse. He emailed us all and asked me why I thought I could do the job. I knew it was a “beauty contest” type of question he was asking all the other editors and I had learned from my mentors at Vanguard (and my dad) to never let yourself be compared to others — be unique and “think different”. I replied to Bob that I was going to be in Maine the next week and I wanted to meet him in person and answer his questions. He agreed.

Of course, I wasn’t going to be in Maine, that was a complete fiction, but one I could make fact if I needed to — I was living in Los Angeles then — but I packed me and my 4-year-old son Jackson up and flew to Boston, stayed with my sister and brother-in-law and drove to Maine to meet Bob. I’d done a lot of research on him and I knew besides being a brilliant engineer that had invented ethernet, he was a salesman. He had written that the most important thing about inventing things is learning to sell them. He learned this founding 3Com. I knew he’d respect my “sales” attitude and respond to me appearing on his doorstep — which he did.

We signed a contract a few days later and I started working on shaping and editing his book Internet Collapses And Other InfoWorld Punditry by Bob Metcalfe. It was a complilation of ten years worth of his columns from InfoWorld. I needed to get industry luminaries to comment on Bob’s work. This part of the project was really tough and really fun. I had to meet (by email) and beg people like Esther Dyson, Eric Raymond, Vint Cerf, Sky Dayton and others to write two-page rebuttals to Bob’s scathing commentaries which often took these very people to task. Bob called Linux the “open sores” movement and I got to be the lucky girl to ask Eric Raymond to respond to this. Which he did and wonderfully.

From that project I learned to only work with people I really respected and who were really interesting and unique. I liked learning about technology from them, but I was more interested in learning how they created a life that was original, fresh, innovative and alive. Am I a fame whore? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think the people I like to meet and learn from live in these unique ways and many become or are famous or influential. But given the choice between fame and influence, I’m much more interested in unique thinkers who influence others with their radical thought. Fame is a terrible boring burden where you let others define you and use you for their purpoes. Influence is world-changing and you can do it with words, simply sitting at the keyboard of your computer.

I met David Weinberger at a conference in Maine which Bob Metcalfe is involved with called PopTech! Actually, I didn’t meet him there, but heard him speak there and he was such an interesting speaker, I later sent him an email to introduce myself. I actually was busy doing some other work at that conference — chasing after John Perry Barlow to get him to write something for me — and never met David in person then. I worked with David on his book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined. David was the one who pushed me to start blogging. Thus, Halley’s Comment was born.

I guess you’ve figured out I’m not too shy about chasing after these people. Actually I’m kindof shy sometimes, but rev up my courage and act boldly because I don’t want to miss the chance to learn from these guys. My dad really raised me as a son in many ways especially in terms of business, while my mom was busy working on the daughter part. My dad taught me never to be intimidated by anyone — just imagine them with pigeon poop on their heads or without their pants on — they’re all the same! Whoops, sorry guys. Don’t get the wrong idea. I never imagine such things! I’m not like Brittney Spears! I’m not after that kind of stuff. I’m after your brains. That’s what turns me on.

How technical are you… on a scale from one to geek, where do you fall?

I’m not technical by nature — I have the furthest thing from an engineer’s sensibility, I’m not even sure which end of the screwdriver to hold — but I’m fascinated by technical people and technical innovation and keen on sharing my excitement by writing about these things for a lay audience. I’ve worked as a technical writer and technical translator (French-English) and find being in this “in-between” place with an engineer on one side and your average reader on the other is the right place for me.

I distinctly remember the first time I understood the idea, that someone brilliant, a long time ago figured out that binary math and electrical current were both expressions of ON OFF, one in mathematical terms and one in the physical world and the implications of this for computing. This was where computing started. This was insanely exciting to me.

When I work with engineers I have no shame about admitting I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and I insist they use simple terms and metaphors to explain things to me. I figure if someone can explain something technical to me, I an explain it to anyone.

Do I love cruising the aisles of Fry’s Electronics? Yes, yes! Do I love getting new shiny silver hardware in my house? You betcha. Do I go anywhere without my Handspring Visor? Never. Do I hope Santa brings me a Treo? Absolutely. Am I longing for the day I get a Lady’s Linux WiFi handheld powder, compact, lipstick and computing compact with backlit screen which flips to a vanity mirror? You know it. Am I a geek? You decide.

Tell me about your hardware. (I need my Groucho glasses, fake moustache, and cigar for that question hehehe). But seriously, what kind of equipment do you use? I mean… you know what I mean.

My hardware — extremely high heels, blond hair with killer apps of hairspray in 1960′s Angie Dickinson do, Toyota Camry, Handspring Visor, Samsung cell phone (both soon to converge into a Treo, which I’m holding back on now not because of price, but I just don’t have time for the learning curve), K2 Rollerblades, Xooter scooter, new bike, broken Windows Toshiba laptop, currently using the iMac stolen from my

7-year-old son’s room since the Toshiba crashed a month back, Comet Rice Cooker, George Foreman Grill, Sony TV, Sony DVD, Sony AM/FM Radio and Coach purse.

Before we end, I want to give you a chance to talk about male and female roles, challenges of feminism, and maybe the psychological/political challenge of effecting changes in male culture in general. Where does this work start?

Stay tuned to Halley’s Comment and Blogsisters for more on that subject, Frank. It’s a big one and we’re just getting rev’d up — I don’t want to drag my soapbox over here to Sandhill Trek and bore all your readers.

All two?

Frank, don’t be that way.

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