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Crawling for Horrors: Tracing Women’s Public Intimacy Online through Guest Books and Webrings 1995-1999

March 26th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

This weekend for SCMS I am presenting some exploratory work that I'm trying to make sense of in my dissertation as part of a kick-ass panel. Thanks to Fenwick McKelvey for inviting me.

Society for Film and Media Studies 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015 09:00AM-10:45AM (Session N)

N20: “Crawling Horrors” in Contemporary Network Policy Room: 20

Chair: Stephanie Schulte (University of Arkansas)

Kevin Driscoll (Microsoft Research), “Beyond the End-to-End Principle: Lessons from Store-and-Forward Internetworking”

Fenwick McKelvey (Concordia University), “Synchronizing Humans and Machines: Early Computer Networks, ARPANET, and Non-synchronous Communication”

Magdalena Olszanowski (Concordia University), “Crawling for Horrors: Tracing Women’s Public Intimacy Online through Guest Books and Webrings 1995-1999” Respondent: Thomas Streeter (University of Vermont)



Crawling for Horrors: tracing public intimacy online through feminist spaces 1995-1999

A horror is defined, among other things, as a bad or mischievous person. Women have been continually signified as horrors (i.e., witches). As outlined in our proposal, a horror can also be an object, an object that re-inscribes itself, finding ways to continually evade signification/control.  The objects I want to explore in my presentation are the traces left behind of websites maintained in the 1990s. These traces as fragmented links/pages/images have remained attached  to the network, are archived by the WayBack Machine, not written over by Yahoo and/or Geocities, or removed by their owners. The period from 1995 to 1999 is of interest because it comes just before the internet boom of social networking and blogging platforms. Specifically, I look to website guestbooks and webrings of young women who started websites as platforms of enunciation around the horrors of mental illness, violence, and compulsory heterosexuality.  Guestbooks are public spaces built for visitors to leave their contact information and comments to the web-owner or other people commenting in the guestbook. Webrings are self-organized networks of websites, often with a theme, that serve to link users interested in that theme. These communicative networks were a large part of the internet infrastructure in the 1990s, and created conditions for an alternate layer of finding relevant data through human versus algorithmic web crawling. Through content and discourse analysis, I frame these communicative nodes as participating in a feminist intimate public (Berlant 2008). More specifically, how do we deal with traces of public intimacy? (Olszanowski 2014) What are the politics of horrors? These markers of public intimacy are often left out of internet histories. I want to elucidate an alternate genealogy of the ways in which women make use of online technologies to resist control and create spaces for them to exist (Lovnik 2009). When theorizing contemporary public social networks, what can we learn about the precarity of these practices and their concomitant data (Hestres 2013) from the communicative traces of these women?


Lialina, Olia and Espenschied, Dragan. 2014. “One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age: Digging through the Geocities Torrent” http://contemporary-home-computing.org/1tb/ Accessed 28 Aug 2014.

Berlant, Lauren Gail. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hestres, Luis. 2013. “App Neutrality: Apple’s App Store and Freedom of Expression Online.” International Journal of Communication 7: 1265–1280.

Lovink, Geert. 2009. Dynamics of Critical Internet Culture: (1994-2001). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Olszanowski, Magdalena. 2014. “Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing Sensorship.” Visual Communication Quarterly 21, no. 2: 83-95.

bouge, bouge, bouge

May 23rd, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

As a result of the draconian measures during the QUEBEC STUDENT STRIKE — One year ago today I was kettled, arrested and humiliated on a STM bus that served as a makeshift holding cell for the 400+ of us that were kettled on the corner of St-Denis and Sherbrooke, a Montreal corner I have not been able to move past since then. Surely, the kettle of that many people did not just happen because of some thrown rocks or whatever else kind of vandalism the SVPM (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal) made up to justify innocent protestors to get arrested. To kettle that many people takes planning, organization and impeccable timing. It also requires a lot of moles. At this point I had been going to many day and night marches, wore my red square with pride and engaged in many intense debates and negotiations with my university and colleagues on the issue.

I wrote a reflection on the strike “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” and had a photo essay “#Casserolesencours St-Henri” in open wi: journal of mobile media, a special two-issue edition which I co-edited with Kim Sawchuk, Alison Loader, Owen Chapman and Ben Spencer. I also co-edited a special issue of Transmutations journal, in which I have a sound piece collab with Dave Madden called “The nocturnal sound moves of the Quebec Student Strike” that came out of a paper “The Nocturnal Sounds of 2012 Quebec Student Strike: Experiencing Protest as a Plurality of Resistances” I presented at the Sound & Dissent symposium at Concordia 1 February 2013. I’m presenting another version of this paper in Lancaster, UK at the Mobility Futures conference, and hope to publish it following that feedback. I also had a long-form interview on the CBC “As it Happens”, a spot on CTV, CKUT roundtable and Guardian UK interview discussing my arrest. Clearly, the student strike has inscribed my body and my artistic and scholarly practice in endless ways…

The story I wrote regarding my arrest was published in n+1: montreal diaries (all the photos are mine too) and open wi: journal of mobile media is below.

Detention on St-Denis
May 27, 2012

The night I am arrested is a warm spring night, the thirtieth night of continuous protests to be exact. It’s the day after the May 22 rally that inspired over 200,000 people to walk through the streets of Montreal. My friend Paul and I are riding our bikes in the demo. We talk about the people around us, their families, their children; about how happy we are, how incredible it is to be marching here, and how much we love the city. The crowd moves fast. Unlike the other nights we’ve marched, which felt tense and uncomfortable, tonight is jovial and vibrant.

We get off our bikes at Rue St-Denis. Boom! We hear a blast, and a cloud of smoke hovers over the intersection. I’m not sure where we are. People start running toward me.

“Get your fucking bike out of the way!”

I try to run north on St-Denis in the direction of the crowd, but they start to head toward me, pushing me back. I yell for Paul. “Please don’t leave,” I say, as we both try to maneuver our bikes northwest, but there’s no getting them above the high curb and through the throng of bodies. North of us are two rows of Montreal police (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal, or SVPM). We’re turning around to go back down when the tear gas grips the back of my throat. I wrap my shawl around my nose and mouth, scrambling and anxious, wondering what the fuck is going on. I feel like I’m going in a circle. Suddenly the police are charging us, and I try to run the other way, but the bike is unwieldy and I’m nervous I will lose Paul. The cops start shoving from the other side, and every time I turn my head there are more cops with masks and shields lunging toward us, smoke hanging overhead, until there’s no way out. Then it starts again: “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE, MARCHE, MARCHE.” So we move, but more cops on the other side are shouting the same thing from the other direction. I hold onto Paul’s arm, unable to think, dizzy from tear gas and anxiety, my heart pounding through my rib cage. Every time I move one way, I am pushed back the other way. I tighten my shawl for fear of more tear gas and can hardly stand. We ask the cops if we can lock our bikes to a stand. We beg enough that they concede, and then promptly shove us back into the streets. I imagine this may be the last time I see my bicycle.

“What’s happening?” I ask.

“I think we were just kettled,” Paul says.

“What? No, after the G20, they’re not allowed to do that.”

“Oh, I think they just did.”

I don’t believe him.

We stand around for a while. I tweet uncertainties. Everyone is milling about in a circle. People start shouting chants about freedom and civil liberties. Eventually most of us sit down.

I sit in silence, staring at everyone around me. Their faces are at ease, comfortable.

“What do you think is going to happen?”

“I don’t know—they’ll probably arrest us.”

“They can’t arrest us all . . . there’s so many of us.”

“Sure they can,” Paul says, and walks off.

I let him go and stay on the curb, hugging my knees to my chest, waiting. When Paul comes back, I tell him to sit beside me. We watch a makeshift football game with a ball made out of a plastic bottle.

Paul notes that several public buses have arrived.

“Why?” I ask.

“To transport us.”

People start getting up, and I hear a police officer announcing something.

“ . . . anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. . .”

“The cats!” I suddenly remember.


“I left them without food because I’m trying to put them on a diet!”

“Can you call any friends to feed them?”

“I will call my superintendent, but it’s so late, and what will I say? I got arrested, will you please feed my cats?”

“We should line up,” Paul says to me. “Imagine how long it’s going to take to process everyone. If we line up now, we’ll get out earlier.”

I grab his shoulder as he leads me up to the front, where some elderly people are already in line. I am nervous. There’s so much misinformation about where we’re going, where we will be held, what we are getting arrested for, and whether Bill 78 will be enacted. No one seems to know and the cops say something different every time.

I walk up.

“Do you have ID?”

“Yes,” I reply as one of the cops searches my bag.

“What a mess in there,” he mutters in French to his colleague.

They find my ID, search me, grab my shoulders to turn me around, and handcuff my wrists together.

Two policemen walk me to the line by the bus, holding my purse, and wait until it’s my turn to get on. They write down my identification information and give me a wristband with a number to claim my purse later. I sit down and wait. The bus fills up with people younger than me. Then we wait. Eventually, the bus starts moving and we drive, and drive, and drive. Once in northeast Montreal, we wait some more. The buses become holding cells. I feel sick—tear gas, nausea, and my bladder kicking in. Lightheaded, I ask a cop if I can go to the bathroom. She rolls her eyes and tells me to sit down. I ask again. I wait. I ask the other cops. Each insists that everyone on the bus has to urinate and that, like them, I have to wait.

“What if I pee my pants?”

“Then you have to live with it.”

“So then if I pee on the bus I won’t get in trouble?”

“Go away, you won’t do that.”

I return to my seat but the pain is unbearable.

I crouch down in the middle of the bus and a few women stand around me creating a human shield, while I pull down my leggings with my handcuffed hands –— I piss, and I piss, and I keep pissing until the stream of urine rolls around the bus under everyone’s feet.

“You are brave. Be glad you did that. Fuck ’em.”

I smile sheepishly and appreciate the camaraderie, as the rest of the bus erupts in anger at the police.

“How can you let a woman pee on the bus? How can you treat us like animals?”

“Because you are. Shut up and stay put,” the police shout back, which only causes more yelling.

“A woman peed on the bus! A woman peed on the bus! You should be ashamed!” some of them chant in unison, but the police don’t even turn around to look at us. I watch my piss run back and forth. By now, another man is doing the same thing: flooding the bus with urine. Somehow this makes time pass more quickly. An hour later our bus pulls up to the processing table and a smiling policeman hands me a ticket as the morning sun hits my face.

That night over 400 people were arrested at Sherbrooke Avenue and Rue St-Denis. Most of us were given $634 tickets for breaking the newly revised municipal bylaw P-6, which, among other things, does not allow face coverings, such as the shawl I used, and requires that protest organizers submit exact march routes to the police. Free speech is now only free when the police grant us permission.

Toronto Star Classified Ad

January 16th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Summer of 2007 I took out an ad in the weekend edition of the Toronto Star for $299.75.
Before Twitter I was much more verbose. This is the mockup they sent with a fake number.


The Race I bombed

April 28th, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Receiving the unsuccessful doctoral SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) letter in the mail yesterday felt like the first professional 200m race I ran shortly after I joined the track club. The memory came up instantly. I had been a sprinter for years and had placed top 3, if not 1st in almost every race up to that point. I was a star sprinter, and was “discovered” by a coach in grade 9 who insisted I train with him. I wish I could remember whether the excitement was to be distracted from the angst of teenage-hood or if I really cared about being on the track. Maybe both? I spent most of my days either training in Nike cleats or slitting my wrists in my bedroom listening to Hole and ripping my black pantyhose arm sleeves.

Being an alienated teenager doesn’t require much of a learning curve, being a professional athlete does. I had a couple of training sessions with the group before my once-lauded hubris quickly disappeared. The runners were straight-faced and had been trained privately for years. I was the new girl that didn’t fit into their sprinter mold. Although this was probably all in my head because I was used to being the best without much thought. Running came so naturally to me. I didn’t have to fight my body to get ahead, and now my body and its movements didn’t make sense anymore. The first race came upon us really quickly, and I ran my distance – the 200m. This was not a high school track meet, this was a real track meet, with runners who had coaches pouring water into their mouths just like they do on TV. I don’t think I even ran in cleats yet, I was probably one of the few that still ran in running shoes. How embarrassing. Of course, what happened? I came in last. I mean, dead last. Imagine 200 meters is not a lot of distance, and it was noticeable how dead last I stumbled past the finish line. So there I was – a loser. The girl who took her inept relay teams to regional school championships died. Although I did run the 100m and didn’t do too poorly, it didn’t even matter, my distance was the 200m. My coach was ecstatic that my time was so bad, because to him, this meant he had a clean slate to teach me how to be a champion – and as typical as stories go, he did manage quite well. I was ready to learn everything. I think that’s when I started understanding what running was about and what it was doing to me. Very few people know this about me 1 and sometimes I’m teased because I am “so not an athlete type”. It came up in my therapy session two weeks ago and my therapist was pleasantly surprised because she would have never guessed it knowing all she does about me. I don’t really know what that’s supposed to mean, considering I was also a lifeguard and swimming instructor for six years until I bleached my hair and had to give up as to not ruin it.

I guess what I want to say is that the score I received on my appraisal, which I can’t even mention here or to anyone in hopes of forgetting it, felt like that race. I am a strong student but I was unprepared to take on the race at that point. Even if many say luck has a lot to do with it, because even within the categories you are never really sure how they’re tabulated, there’s still the past you have to learn how to negotiate for the present. It  also doesn’t help that I frequent this obsessive-compulsive graduate student forum in which a disproportionate amount of posters got the SSHRC Grant that, by the way, is either $85,000 or $105,000 over a course of 3/4 years. My supervisor’s terse answer was, “You’ve been lucky enough this year,” which is perhaps akin to the answer my old running coach had. I did at least get passed onto the national competition, whereas some others I know didn’t even pass the university-wide competition, to get carried forward to SSHRC. I was also accepted to the school of my choice with a fellowship despite applying after the deadline, and a guaranteed researcher position on an incredible mobile cinema project.

coda: I didn’t receive SSHRC the following year either. On my third attempt, I managed to get both SSHRC and FQRSC.


  1. Other than strangers who point out the shape of my legs. Legs get sculpted with sport, especially sprinting.

The horizon leans forward

January 30th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

I want to go to there.

I want to explore what it means to be me (how cliché is that?), what it means to be allowed to experience everything. Sitting in front of my laptop playing Solitaire isn’t getting me anywhere, but it’s what I do. I’m stressed out. Solitaire. Finished a part of an application. Solitaire. Being told what to do at work while someone else makes the decisions isn’t working me out. It’s wearing me out. Being in the same city since I was a preteen isn’t conducive to risk. But I’ve never been a risk taker, so what do I do? I have these projects lining up in front of me, but I cower. I take them on, on, on but not with all of me. Never with all of me. Where is the exploration in a desk? I don’t want to be no armchair archeologist. I think I’m starting to grow old because I think about my mortality in a different way. In a way that things are changing, moving so fast that all I have time to do is go through the motions. Sometimes I feel because J is such a dreamer, I have to be the one to induce practicality in our lives. He is the one living out his dreams as an artist. I can’t let myself.

MP3: Neon Heights, 16 Again, A View from the Heights

This song is from my favorite downtempo house album of all time, A View from the Heights. My ex introduced me to them. I don’t even recall how and when. I wish I remember the story of how he came across them. I  found a copy of the album in some small shop on a corner in downtown Paris. I also bought Cassius’ 1999 and Feeling for You for 5 euros each. This was 2002 and the euro was just taking over, all the prices were still in franks too. This lovely blonde woman worked there. She kept talking to me and I pretended to know more French than I truly did. She found it pleasant that such a young girl was backpacking and still had the will to buy vinyl to carry around so she gave me some French house record. I felt so cool. I didn’t feel so cool when I was sweating buckets in June carrying heaps of records from the different cities I visited, but at that age, the struggle feels less. Always.

– Cue Big Band –

January 21st, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

We talked today. Somehow today he appeared on my MSN list. Somehow today I thought I saw him on the subway platform.

I made him laugh when he didn’t want to. Then we tried to out-verbose each other with our observations on the Obama inauguration, rabble.ca, transparency, the spelling of ‘sentence’, how i love beards pon the face, how it’s all gone tits up for him and how typical in my contradictions I am when I recalled that I hated Berlin when I went to visit and my favorite part was dancing (on the Marx & Engels statue) with my homeboys and almost falling over. It’s been over two years since we spoke. I think. Since early summer 2006 I think. Our repartee withholds time because he like me will never change.

I want to go on my birthright trip before it is too late. I think it’s already too late.

Summer Bark (on my hands)

October 1st, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

I’m running a festival, all by myself and I’m anxious that the participants aren’t rolling in like the previous years. I’m anxious that the early-called election is taking full view.

I’m desperate for sharp conversation, but when it’s right there I in all my social awkwardness take over and mumble about something or other. Food politics! Down with Harper! Cocaine! Wobble basslines! The city’s arts scene! Everyone is dancing the same!

I wait days and then you have to take it away prematurely. But isn’t any time before forever premature?

I don’t write anymore. There’s no fiction in my words, there’s just running around selling my ideas, helping on projects, reaching out to everyone and anyone for grad school, for community politics, for my documentary. Everything is external of me. I enjoy the way it masks my depth by pronouncing my knowledge of current events. That seems like a contradiction but really it makes sense to me. By involving myself with everything around me and facilitating ideas that involve many, I don’t have to think about the hurricane that is subsiding at the slowest rate possible inside me. By being involved I can seperate myself from my grief, from the memories, from the reminders. But they are there, they were there when I ate the Dr. Oateker pizza yesterday, or when I think about getting my driver’s licence. Smell is supposed to be the most intense sense in memory recollection, but intensity of experience scraps smell and instead lingers on every sense.

The writing class I wanted to take was full by the time I was ready to register. I didn’t have to loaf, but instead I was too intimidated to let myself inside my own writing. It’s so easy to feel anxiety and cry about not being able to do what you want to, it’s way fucking easier than giving in and doing it. So instead of using the grief to write and write, I’m just letting it go away, even if it doesn’t seem to want to.

She pulled at the seaweed covered branch stuck between the rocks, trying to lift it up just enough to throw it over the stone’s edge.
“Come here!” She yelled after him, as he disappeared into the dark.
“Leave it alone.”
She managed to slide the long thick branch over the stones, just near enough to touch him with it at the other end, “You’re it.”
“You’re it,” he jumped over it and pummelled her onto the stones, catching the back of her head with his hands.
“You’re it.”
“You’re it,” he grinned looking at her so close, he could no longer focus.
“Always catch me. Ok?”
“Yes… Yes.”

The Last of the Summer Days

September 22nd, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

Today is the first day of autumn. A while back I thought this autumn would be full of sentimentality and miserable nostalgia, but instead this weekend proved its future otherwise.

We went to the beach, for possibly the last time this year, and here I am.

We tried to make love in the woods and ended up getting bitten by mosquitoes. The day before we ended up at a house birthday party. J was DJ’ing. I was sorting out the vibes. But instead, I ended up getting kicked out by the woman-hating prima donna, John Farah for no good reason at all, other than not letting some asshole get up in my face about something that was none of his business. It’s always on me to make a scene. In the city.

Erica Jong is releasing a new book of poetry in January. I have already started by Jong countdown calendar. I countdown to new episodes of Mad Men, to when I will get to simmer in cum, to new dubstep in Dropbox, to RINSE.FM, a week without yelling, loud amens, grad school, next summer, being woken up by my cats, the Farmer’s Market, Bang Face Weekender, living in Europe, to you wanting me with all of you.

Counting down to is better than counting backwards.
Owning AFX – Hangable Auto Bulb EP2 is even better. Maybe one day I can. Maybe.

Where is summer?

July 4th, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

Where is the summer? When is it coming?

Riding around late nights with the heat on my back. Racing down streets, tipsy and stoned, laughing, pretending to be falling all over the place. Falling all over myself. All this year has given me is rain and cool weather. How can I go meet my friends at 1 in the morning when it’s so cold and dark. I have memories of waking up in the morning after being out til 5am and taking tokes from my pipe to start the day. Riding down the hill to work only to finish by the afternoon to do it all again. The sunshine made it all possible, made the energy appear in places you’d least expect it. We’d search for empty courts and play basketball and pass out with our sweat sticking to the grass. There was no worries, there was just proof of youth.

I’ll be waiting inside listening to Ohbijou.

Where Am I?

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