Thursday, July 20, 2006

Two Years Blogging: A Retrospective

I started blogging on July 22, 2004 - not on this blog, but under this name - and it strikes me that it's about time for me to do some reflecting on this blogging thing and on what's kept me going over the past couple of years. I've done a lot - too much - blogging about using a pseudonym, so that isn't what this is about. What I want to consider is what the benefits of blogging are for me, personally but also as an academic.

On Being an Academic Blogger

We've all read about what a foolish enterprise it is for an academic person - especially an untenured academic person - to blog. Even pseudonyms don't offer a great deal of protection. Bloggers can be outed, and in fact one of the more interesting parts of the blogging phenomenon is the media's gleeful embrace of stories about the latest and greatest outed bloggers, in which the bloggers are held up for public scrutiny and villification (Look how stupid he was! He got fired from his job!) as well as praise (But now she makes her living as a blogger! She doesn't have to work at a crappy job anymore! How awesome!).

I suppose what I see, having done this for two years, is that blogging has been good for me as an academic. When I began, I didn't really know what I was doing. It just seemed like a fun experiment, a medium through which to analyze my experiences and to put them into a broader context. But I made mistakes. The voice that I developed often felt alien to me, or at the very least I couldn't sustain it without deep ambivalence, and I felt very wary of talking about my work in a substantive way. I was an academic blogger who couldn't really talk about her academic life - the good as well as the bad of it - and there were many times when I thought I might just give up blogging. But instead of doing that, I moved to Reassigned Time. I retained my persona, but I fleshed it out. I worked through a problem with my writing voice, and I stuck it out even though it wasn't exactly a "fun" thing to do. And I was entirely conscious of that and of the process that I had to go through to get to a voice that felt more comfortable, and that, I think, has been an incredibly important experience for me as an academic. Blogging has made me much more conscious of voice and tone; it has made me much more conscious of writing for an audience, even in the writing that I do for my work. Moreover, blogging more than any of my other academic pursuits, has made me trust my voice, in that clearly lots of you read me and don't think I'm an idiot, so I must have some good ideas rattling around in my head, right?

I also think that blogging as an academic, and an untenured one at that, while it may be dangerous in some ways, is ultimately a really important thing to do. Well, maybe not "really important" in the way that finding a cure for cancer would be important, but "really important" in the sense that I think it's positive to give a public voice to the concerns of people who are often advised to keep their mouths shut until such time as tenure is bestowed upon them. I think it's good for graduate students to be able to read about the experiences of those just a little further along the academic track, and I think it's good for those who've moved beyond tenure to get some kind of insight into the way that their junior colleagues think. And I think that the medium of blogging creates conversations between people of different ranks and disciplines, and that can only be a positive thing. (Though I will say that it's interesting that this happens only virtually in my experience, and that in real life I don't think I've ever spoken to a person in, say, the history department at my university. Oh wait, there is that one guy who's on a committee with me. But you see what I'm saying.)

And this brings me to the whole "blogging for community" thing. The truth of the matter is that when I began blogging this was not what I was after, or at least not in a conscious and calculated way. I like the idea of conversation, and I like the idea of getting to know people through a conversation, but to characterize that as "seeking community" seems to me a different thing altogether. I think perhaps that one of the mistakes people make as they evaluate blogs/bloggers is that they assume that people who blog don't have rich, full lives, friends, interests. At least in my experience, blogging becomes just one more thing that people who blog do, and it's not an indication that they're spending their days and nights in isolation with only a computer for connection to the outside world. That said, while I didn't get into this seeking a community, I did end up with one. It's infinitely interesting to watch how that community grows and changes. The diversity of that community is fantastic. And I feel happy to "know" the people whom I've met in the context of that community. (Ok, so this is cheesy, but I can't help it. I had to say something about you all, my readers, as without you, I totally would not still blog. I mean, hell, it takes a lot of time and effort!)

On Being a Person who Blogs

While it is true that academics are people, I make this division because I think that the benefits I see for me as a person who blogs are different from the academic benefits. Or maybe they're related, but I don't know. One thing a blog offers me personally is a record of my life over a particular span of time. It's not a journal - I keep a journal separately, thank you very much, and I don't yammer on in it about the state of higher education or about things like cleaning out my office - but it does show a lot of parts of my life that don't make their way into my actual journal. By looking at the blog alongside the journal, I think it's easier to get an approximation of what's "really" going on with me at a given time. As I look back over the past two years of blogging, I realize that with my change to the Reassigned Time address I also saw a change in how I was feeling about my life. When I started my first blog, I was in a really crazy place. I had been in my job for a year, and that first year kicked my ass. I was beginning a non-relationship with a guy who was never that into me and whom I was never particularly into, either, now that I think about it. I felt really ambivalent about everything. And I was, thus, a little nutso. But now, well, I am much more under control than I was at that time. Sure, I'm a little bit bored. I feel like I've mastered the job (not that there aren't still challenges, but I feel much more at home in the job now), I feel like the personal life I've got is mediocre but at least it's not insane, and I'm taking much better care of myself. That's not because I blog, but the blog shows me that this is true, and I think that's a good thing.

So what will the blog show in the coming year? Impossible to tell, obviously. But a few months ago I was talking to my mom on the phone, and I told her (I have no recollection of the context for this comment), "I feel like I'm changing again." I remember when I said it I felt surprised, like I'd thought I was done with the whole changing nonsense when I got out of grad school and my 20s. (Incidentally, my mom claims that the changing does slow up when you hit your late 40s, but never stops completely. Good to know. Especially as my whole life I've always hated all change - in myself, in others, whatever. Change, for me, is something I fight with my whole being until I finally reach a kind of defeated acceptance.) And I've also been feeling like whatever changing is happening in me is a kind of weird gearing up for a real change. It's sort of like how you can smell a thunderstorm in the air before it arrives - I smell a change on the horizon for me. And I don't have a real sense of what it will be. Will it be a new job? A relationship? Both? Something else? I suppose I'll have to wait and see.... And you'll all have to keep reading.

(But watch NOTHING changes, and I look at this blog post a year from now and I'm MORTIFIED. How embarassing.)


Piss Poor Prof said...

Congratulations, Dr. Crazy. Two years on any project is worth noting.

I too have some of the same motivations to blog: exploring a writing voice, obtaining some sense of community, logging where I am at a given moment.

Mine, though, is only a babe by comparison, some--looing back in another browser window--6 months old.

You have a wise voice. I can only hope mine will progress to that state.

Happy two years!

Derrick said...

Your post has me wondering why people read your blog and if those reasons a similar to or much different than your reasons for writing.

I read for two reasons. First, I made my own doctoral journey several years ago. A divorce brought it all to a disastrous end. I miss those colleagues and those issues. I reconnect with a lot of that here.

I also read because I find myself cheering you on. I am pulling for you. That could only happen because I hear your voice as authentic. I happen to think finding one's own voice is THE pivotal academic and personal achievement.

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. After I posted I realized that it was really quite a lengthy one - so thanks for making it all the way to the end!

kfluff said...

Dr. C---delurking here to say happy birthday to your blog, but also to reinforce the "really important" work that you do as an female, untenured, academic blogger. Reading you and a number of people in this community have helped me to see that some of my own situations/feelings/experiences are not simply my own, but are often products of the institutions and careers we've chosen. And for some reason, that makes dealing with them a bit easier.

Cheers to you, and many happy returns!

Dr. Crazy said...

Kfluff! Thanks for de-lurking, and I'm so glad that you get something out of the blog. I'll have to add you to my blogroll!