Heather Armstrong talks Dooce, mommy blogs and Marissa Mayer
You may know her as Heather Armstrong, others call her Dooce — but we call her pretty darn cool. We chatted with Dooce.com’s founder about everything from her new endeavor with Quarterly, her life as the crowned “original mommy blogger” and her thoughts on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's work-from-home ban.
If you Google Heather Armstrong’s name you will find her website, Dooce, articles crediting her as the “original mommy blogger," something about her divorce, her feelings about the Mormon religion, her struggles with depression and her two adorable daughters, 8-year-old Leta Elise and 3-year-old Marlo Iris. That is exactly why so many women love Armstrong — because she deals with the same issues many of us deal with and she talks about them. We also love the fact that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. After all, her twitter profile reads, “I exploit my children for millions and millions of dollars on my mommy blog. “
Armstrong started her website Dooce (rhymes with "moose") in 2001, the name arising from a typo of the word "dude" or "doooode!" during IM chats with co-workers. She famously got fired from her job after writing about her bosses and co-workers on her website. That, however, turned out to be the best thing that happened to her because she turned that website into one of Time’s Best Blogs of 2011 and she was recently named by Forbes as one of the 30 most influential women in media.
Armstrong, who is the author of the bestselling book, It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita, is now embarking on a new project with Quarterly, a subscription service in which you receive a fun package in the mail put together from one of your favorite cultural icons, including Armstrong herself.
Interview with Heather Armstrong
SheKnows: What keeps you sane when working at home with two young kids pulling you in a thousand different directions?
Heather Armstrong: I work out every day — it is truly the only thing that keeps me sane. I definitely feel a noticeable difference on the days I don't do it. I tend to drop my kids off at school and then head to the gym right after that.
SK: What are your thoughts on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's (pictured, right) decision to ban working from home for her company?
HA: I think it's a terrible decision. Having run my own business now for about eight years, I can definitively say that working from home gives me so much more flexibility, especially as a parent. Not having the option to work from home is a death knell for parents.
SK: Tell me about being a contributor with Quarterly. What drew you to this endeavor?
HA: My friend and fellow blogger, Jason Kottke, was already a Quarterly contributor and introduced me to the guys running it. I really loved what they were doing — they have this amazing group of contributors that I could only hope my name would be associated with.
I like that it's a new project to work on and something that gets my creativity working in a different way than sitting in front of a computer and writing. The idea of gathering a group of products together really excites me, and Quarterly gives me a very unique way to offer my readers something extra beyond the website. Subscribers to my mailings will receive a package to their doorsteps every three months, along with a letter that explains how the items fit into my life.
SK: What kind of things can subscribers expect from you if they subscribe?
HA: In every package there will be something from an independent artist that I want to promote. I have a section on my website called Daily Style where I feature a lot of lesser-known artists and jewelry makers. I really enjoy giving exposure to people who are trying to make it on their own, so be on the lookout for items in that vein. I will also be curating several other items for the mailings, so you get a great value and an inside look into what fascinates me.
SK: What actress would you like to play you in a movie about your life?
HA: I'd have to go with who people say I look like. Lately, I've been getting some Netflix comparisons — I get Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) a lot [pictured, right], and Robin Wright (House of Cards). People also always tell me I look like Madonna. Another one is Cameron Diaz, although I don't see the resemblance with that one.
SK: I hope you know how cool I think you are that a phrase you coined, "getting dooced" is in the Urban Dictionary. What advice would you give someone to avoid "getting dooced" when writing their own personal blog?
HA: Every time someone gets fired for writing about their job online, I just think, "Have I taught you nothing?" This is becoming such an issue now that legislatures at the state and federal levels are having to consider what is protected speech when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.
However, until there's a law decreeing that you can't be fired for this, be very, very cautious that you don't publish anything about your boss, employer or co-workers online.
SK: You have written about so many personal things in your life, from postpartum depression to divorce. What has been the most difficult topic to write about?
HA: The most difficult one was depression. I was terrified people were going to label me as crazy. You have to remember that 10 years ago this wasn't something that people readily shared with anyone. Of course, it's a much easier topic to bring up now. People are much more forthcoming and will tell you they're on Zoloft or Prozac without blinking an eye.
But back then, it was embarrassing if anybody knew I was on medication. I was very scared to talk about it, but surprisingly it has become the most rewarding thing I've ever written about. I've gotten a lot of emails from people who suffer from depression, but what has really been gratifying are the emails from the brothers, sisters, moms, dads, husbands, wives, etc. of people who had depression. They didn't realize what their loved ones were going through, and after reading what I wrote they were able to understand it was in fact a real thing.
SK: You have been given the title as the first official "mommy blogger." How does it feel being the voice of an entire generation of moms?
HA: I'm sure that I wasn't the first person to write about motherhood on a blog — I was just the first person to get a lot of attention for it. I actually thought I was going to give up blogging when I had a baby because I thought I wouldn't have time, but I later realized that blogging was the only thing keeping me sane.
It's been really fascinating to watch this whole medium grow and explode in a way. I love that women now have the ability to share their stories with people like them and that anyone can tap into that connection. When I had my baby, I had no real-life friends with kids, but I had all these friends online that I would connect with. Without them, I would have been very lonely. We have all these platforms now to connect and make each other feel less alone, and I feel so very flattered to be a part of it in any way.
SK: What advice would you give other bloggers on dealing with the haters and negative comments that always go along with having a successful blog? Do you read the negative comments?
HA: Ignore them completely. They provide no service or insight for you. They exist because someone out there is hurting themselves and they want to hurt you. It's very hard to ignore at times, but it's the best advice I could give anyone.
I finally took my own advice about eighteen months ago, and have been so much happier since then. I would absolutely recommend moderating comments — your website is basically your living room. Like I've said before, you don't get to come in and poop on my living room floor!
SK: What will you tell your daughters when the day comes that they want to start their own blog?
HA: Be nice to Mom! My older daughter is interested in writing, and it excites me. I know the day will come when they Google their names and read what I've written about them. I've had all these conversations with myself about how to handle that, but I definitely know I will sit down with them and show them how to make a blog work.