Sunday, April 03, 2005

Meet Blog Betty -- the blogger behind Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man

If you missed the news, a fourth blog was started by a Common Ills community member last week. On Friday, Betty went "live" with Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man. Before you lose your morning breakfast, rest assured Betty's running a humor site.

As Betty prepared for the moment of going "live," she helped us out with many articles. Sometimes that was just reading something to make sure people could follow, sometimes to add input, sometimes just to see how crazy it can be when you fly without a net to make a deadline.
She was also one of the reporters for our article 'At the rallies, we ask, "Why Are You Here?"' which allowed us to cover ten locations in two days (others reporting for that article included Rebecca and C.I.).

We welcome Betty to the blog world and thank her for allowing us to interview her.

Are you nervous?

Very. I thought after the first post was up, I wouldn't be as nervous anymore but I'm still nervous.

You put in a lot of work before that first post ever went up. We found that really interesting how you were working on drafts and trashing them as you searched for your voice.

The Common Ills already covers the main section of The New York Times. But C.I. doesn't cover the op-eds or the editorials. And I thought I should do something instead of just griping about how I heard a lot of voices on the radio and TV but none really seemed to represent what I think and feel. So I thought, "Alright, okay, that's what you can do, cover the op-eds and the editorials." So then I started thinking about how to do that. And originally, as you know, it was just this straightforward version of The Times says this, I disagree because. And although everyone was overly generous with their praise, I knew I had a ways to go.
Then, it was either when my youngest had the flu or was just getting over it, I started looking at various drafts of that and thinking, "I've been cleaning up vomit for the last few hours, rocking my kid, getting her to sleep and I still got to fix dinner and the laundry's waiting as well" and just thinking in terms of one of those "Calgon take me away!" commercials.
I think I was folding the laundry when I thought, "I don't want to be straightforward. I don't want to just say 'I think this.'"

And then you thought about The Color Purple.

One of my favorite novels. And I started thinking about how we meet Celie and how she changes and we change with her. And I'm standing there folding laundry and I think, "I want it to be funny. It should be funny." If I'm going to do this is should be something I would want to read and at the end of the day, I'm wanting something that makes me think and makes me smile or laugh. I'll read Molly Ivins, for example, at the end of the day because after work, the kids, daily life, when I finally get a calm moment alone before going to sleep, I want something that will make me grin.

Let's talk about some of the characters you discarded.

At one point, when I knew I wanted to address Thomas Friedman, I thought about doing it as Thomas Friedman only on acid or revealing what he really thought for some reason. Then I thought I could be Maureen Dowd with an uptown voice and attitude but that didn't work out to my satisfaction. So I was thinking of how I like Bob Herbert's columns and thinking "Well, you could be Mrs. Bob Herbert doing this chatty letter to friends and family and in it you could comment on various op-eds and the writers." But Herbert is one of the few black people with a national presence on the op-ed pages and I didn't want to do anything that might seem to mock him. I kept coming back to Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof, both irritate me, and I was sending e-mails to everyone asking what they thought when, two weeks ago, I just sat down and was goofing off in an e-mail to C.I. about one of Friedman's columns and how a woman he was involved with probably had to go through the ringer to justify the way his mind works. I offered a few examples, sent the e-mail and forgot about it. The next evening, when I check my e-mail, C.I.'s written and says, "I think you found your voice."
I think that's insane and start writing a reply about "What am I suppose to say" and go to give an example of how this wouldn't work and before I knew it, I had four paragraphs.
That's when I thought, "Okay, that is my voice."

Which makes it sound like that was the end of it.

But it wasn't. I did test entries for two weeks. Probably seven in all. I don't know that they always got funnier but I do know that I began to feel like I had a firmer grip on "Bettina Friedman."

Did you feel like you were ready to blog?

No. I didn't. Not at all. I knew I'd have to be forced which is why I asked C.I. to announce that I was going to start a blog long before I was sure what exactly I'd be blogging on and when I'd be doing it. When I finally settled on "Bettina," I could've kept working on it for months if I didn't have a deadline. I decided on Friday and didn't even grasp it was April Fools Day until Rebecca, C.I., Ava and Jim all pointed that out. I also didn't realize it would be on the first day in a year that Unfiltered wasn't on Air America. Which seemed a good time because that was a funny show and here they were taking Chuck D off the air so, in my little way, I was bringing a black voice in at a time when a really important one was being lost.

How much do you think race will influence your blog?

I think it will influence it. How much, I'm not sure. Obviously, it influenced it in terms of my decision not to be "Mrs. Bob Herbert" because I didn't want anyone to miss the point and think "Oh, she's making fun of Herbert!" A lot of time, there's a tendency to pile on if there's an attitude that "blacks" don't like one of their own. It just takes one person saying something and suddenly the attitude is there. The Bully Boy is really good at playing that trick. The administration will trot out some Alan Keyes-like-person who'll say something about Julian Bond or the NAACP and suddenly the "conventional wisdom" kicks in that the entire race has turned against someone or something.
That's partly because the mainstream recognizes so few voices of color. So when they cover one voice finally, the impression can be that an entire race has just declared war on someone.
I'm sure race influences the way I see somethings. I'm sure that having children will influence the way I see things. Being a woman, and a feminist, will influence my view. I'm sure a number of factors will influence the way I see things. But no one should see me as "the black voice." I'm not. I'm "a voice" and some people, of all races, will agree with me and some people, of all races, won't.
I'm one more voice in the mix and I think I'm an unheard voice for a number of reasons. First of all, you've got the fact that most women who are working and have kids aren't all over the TV. Now if they have help or if their kids are older, that's different. But if they're like me trying to get the kids off to daycare, or in my case to an aunt, and school, then head off to work, using their lunch hour to do errands, rushing after work to pick up the kids, get them home, get them fed, get them to bed, by the time you do all that, there's not a great deal of time to do a sit down with some news program. So we aren't often heard on TV or radio.
When you add color to the mix, you're dealing with statistics that demonstrate we're offered a very small slice of airtime and that tiny slice is supposed to cover all people of color who aren't white because white is a color. But we're all supposed to compete for that tiny slice of the pie because that's all we're being offered.
And when you think about how the internet is emerging as an important media form, it really seemed important to me that when my kids are older, if things weren't different, that I wasn't just saying, "Well that's the way it is, the way it always was." See, that's an example of how you're seeing race, feminism, being a mother, being working class all converge because all those things are reasons I felt I needed to be able to say in the future that no matter how the net ended up, I was in there bringing one more voice.
I mean, thirty years on down the line, my daughter comes to me and complains about how blacks or women or working class or working mothers are shut out of the discussion, was I just going to nod and say, "I know, honey." Or was I going to be able to say, "You fight it. You fight it like I did. Maybe you win, maybe you lose, but you fight?" I wanted to be able to say that you fight. I mean, as a mother, as a person of color, as someone working class and as a feminist, I felt I had to weigh in somehow. So I think, for me, they all converge and one may be more important with regard to some issue, but one may dominate on another; however, I really think they'll all pretty much coexist equally in the long run.

You're using Betty but, for you last name publicly, you're using "Friedman?"

I wanted a little privacy. Partly due to my kids and I'm sure due to my job. I think in the "about me" section, there's enough information for people to get a handle on me if that's what they're looking for but obviously "Bettina" is a fictional character and, since I don't know Friedman, obviously my thoughts on him or any other op-ed writer or person that pops into the blog is fictional.

You told us to ask you about the movies.

I wanted to put in there that I'm a big fan of Shaft, the remake. Sameul L. Jackson is probably my dream guy. I know a lot of women would say Denzel [Washington] and he's nice and all but my heart's belonged to Samuel since I first saw Mo' Better Blues. It was like, "Forget Denzel, who's that man?" The first Shaft's fine, but the remake with Samuel is the one I love and I was trying to figure out how do I get that across and couldn't find a way in the profile which is why I asked you to bring up the movies.

On music, you listed a number of people who could be seen as "quiet storm."

Sure. Otis [Redding] and Nina [Simone] obviously predate that but Anita defined it. I have listened to other kinds of music. I will always be a huge fan of Prince, for instance. But with kids, when I put on something that's not Barney or Winne the Pooh or whatever, something I want to listen to, if they're awake, I'm not looking for them to be climbing the walls and if they're asleep, I'm not looking for something that's going to wake them up. But I've always enjoyed the slow groove even when I listened to other forms of music.

Anything we haven't covered?

I will be blogging. I have promised myself at least twice a week. I'd love to do more but I'm committed to twice a week. Which is what the op-ed writers at The Times do so that works out fine. If possible, I'd like to do more but it will mean juggling to get up two posts a week so I'm trying to be realistic about what is possible and what isn't.
And I'd like to thank everyone for being so warm and so welcoming. And for plugging the blog. You guys, C.I., Rebecca, Ron of Why Are We Back In Iraq? and anyone that I'm not aware of.
I'd also like to thank Luke of wotisitgood4 for the warm and encouraging note he dropped me which was the first e-mail to come in. It really meant a lot to me and it was very kind of him.
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