Maggie May has had two great posts about her concerns about blogging as an academic under a pseudonym lately, and I thought I'd respond at more length here, even though I've left some comments over at her blog. To summarize briefly, Maggie May asks readers to weigh in because she's starting to feel a bit uncomfortable about her level of exposure in the blogosphere, wondering whether she should change the content of the blog, go password protected, or use some other strategy in order to limit potential or current feelings of paranoia about discovery. A primary issue for MM is the way that she writes about the personal as well as the professional on her blog.
Now, these issues are ones that are not foreign to Dr. Crazy. When I started blogging, I never really believed anybody would actually read my blog.
(Aside: what's funny about this is that at a conference recently I met up with a colleague whom I'd met a few years before. Over beers, the conversation somehow found its way to blogs, and I decided to reveal that I had one. What was hilarious, when I revealed that I was "Dr. Crazy" was that he'd been reading me for years, and he was all, "but your blog is really big! I can't believe that's you!" and he generally thought it was totally awesome. I'd actually known him pre-blog, and so it was weird, but also really cool. It was like he was caught up with all of my stuff even though we'd not talked in years. By the way, if you're out there Colleague-who-has-read-the-blog, has DC entered the world? If so, congratulations!!!!! If not, congratulations in advance!!!!)
But so anyway, "Dr. Crazy" blew up as a persona before I'd ever really thought about the possibility of such a thing happening. And that freaked me out, especially because I'd never really imagined a readership when I began. And it freaked me out because some evil person threatened to out me, and the voice that I had cultivated in my first space was pretty divorced from a voice that I'd intentionally cultivate for those who might know my identity. I was both too personal and not personal enough, if that makes sense. And it was much harsher than I am in life. There was this projected identity, but one over which I had little control.
So I thought about stopping blogging, but then I felt like that wasn't really the answer for me. And then I decided that the best option for me was to move spaces, to take down the archives at the old space, and to stay Dr. Crazy but in a new register. Why did I choose this? Well, part of it was that I didn't want to stop blogging. Blogging gave me a community that I didn't have in my new-ish job, in my new-ish city. Blogging also gave me the ability to write daily, in a way that wasn't entirely solipsistic. Blogging was something that ultimately added to my life rather than detracted from it, and I refused to stop something that felt so positive out of fear. Part of it, too, though, was that I felt very confined by the initial voice that I'd chosen, without having really considered what that choice of voice would mean to me (both personally and professionally). So, for me, moving to another space allowed me to construct the voice I wanted out there publicly much more consciously, and it allowed me to grow as a blogger, to move beyond my first initial attempt. That was entirely positive.
But so, the question may be, why blog? Why blog as an academic, if one wants to write about personal-ish things?
1. I blog because it keeps me writing regularly and it keeps me writing for an audience in ways that just keeping a journal doesn't.
2. I blog because I with that I had more insight into this profession when I was a graduate student, and even as an undergraduate considering graduate school. I want to make this profession less mystified and mystifying and more transparent.
3. I blog because I think that it's important that all "academic blogs" are not just about academic pursuits. I think it's important that we recognize that academics have lives outside their research. I think it's an important feminist project to talk about how women negotiate their jobs with personal life considerations, even when those personal life considerations don't have (yet?) to do with children and being mothers.
4. I blog because I love the people I've "met" through blogging, whether in person or just online, and I want to continue to have conversations with them.
5. I blog because it's worth talking about this profession in ways that are just not possible to do in traditional forms of publication.
One of the things I've thought a lot about is what I'll do when I get tenure, with the blog. Will I
"come out" and reveal my "real" identity? Will I stay "Dr. Crazy"? This is a harder question than it may seem. On the one hand, I hate that I can't think of a single female blogger who reveals her "true" identity that writes freely, that is "known" (for example, as Michael Berube did on his blog). On the other hand, were I to reveal my identity, I wouldn't want to just blog as "me" - I like being Dr. Crazy online, and I think it serves a valuable purpose. I don't like the ways in which I can anticipate my voice changing were I not "Dr. Crazy." For me, the question is not how to retain my pseudonymity or anonymity. It's more a question of how to "go public" without it changing the mission of what I'm doing here.
Ultimately, the great thing about blogging as a genre is that it allows one to create a voice over time. Because it's a relatively new genre, it is flexible, and it allows for modes of expression and representation that aren't available in more entrenched genres (fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction, etc.). One defines one's own space (through the graphic design of the blog, through the blog's voice) in ways in which it is not possible to do in other media (like traditional publication). A pseudonymous blog can be particularly liberating, because one can write outside of one's "public" identity, in ways that can be really productive and useful, not only to oneself but to others. But ultimately, one does need to think about the potential repercussions of that mode of expression. One needs to think about what one's blog means in a larger context. Does one want as many readers as possible, or does one want only a select few? Does one feel comfortable thinking about one's blog as a professional document, or would one rather think of one's blog as something that is public-private? These are questions that individual bloggers can only answer for themselves. That said, I'm attracted by the idea of coming out after tenure. Of staying Dr. Crazy, but also of claiming "Dr. Crazy" as mine. Why? Because for me, ultimately, I think it would be great to claim what I've done here. I'm not saying that what I've done in this space is super-great or anything, but it would be nice to own it in a way that I can't (or don't feel I can) do now.