Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blogging Angst

This post isn't actually about my blogging angst, for I'm not actually feeling any at the moment. Rather, it's a more general meditation about the cycles that we go through as bloggers, and how the genre forces us periodically to reinvent our writing selves.

I decided to post about this after reading Hilaire's belated blogiversary post. Now, I've written many times about my own struggles with what to blog or how to blog (so many, in fact, that I'm too lazy to find links). There have been times when I've felt like I was being too "raw" or like I was revealing too much, times when I've felt like what I chose to write wasn't really true to who I was or to what I wanted to say, times when I've felt like my blog is a bunch of narcissistic bullshit and was boring, times when I couldn't figure out what it was I really wanted to say. And yet, I found a way to keep blogging. Because I realized it mattered to me.

Now, here's the thing, when I began in the summer of 2004, I really didn't think that four years later I'd still be blogging. I was fucking around when I started that first blog, and I really didn't think that it would stick. But then, well, it sort of snowballed. I became part of a community of bloggers that I really like, and I really like writing for an immediate audience.*** Those two things I apparently can't (or refuse to) give up. But over this stretch of nearly four years (I do believe that this will be my weirdly premature blogiversary post, as I'll be out of the country when the real deal actually happens) I've had my growing pains. I've gotten into spats with strangers, I've moved blogs because I was threatened with being outed, I've wondered what to do about unbloggable things, I've blogged things that I shouldn't have blogged. I've even outed myself a few times accidentally, and then had to stuff myself back in the pseudonymous closet (no easy feat). You'd think I'd have given up blogging, given all of the drama that I've experienced as a result of blogging.

I suppose the reason that I haven't is that this medium has really allowed me to figure out who I am as a writer, and it's allowed me to situate myself as an academic in in a way that scholarly writing doesn't. The blogging has had positive benefits for my scholarly writing, sure. I'm a much more certain writer now, and a much less jargon-laden one. But the fact that this space has been a free one, where I'm not bound to my scholarly voice, has meant that I've been able to figure out who I am as a professor. It's allowed me to think about all of the facets of the job, and how I negotiate them all.

Now, I've kept a diary since I was 12. What I do here isn't a diary, although I suppose it is at times diaristic. The reality is that I've never really written about work in a diary, or when I have it's been utterly self-indulgent crap that I would die if anyone ever saw. The writing that I do here, even when diaristic, is different from when I'm writing only for myself. I really do think about audience in this space, and really, I think to have a blog that is readable one has to do so.

Now, I'm not saying that this blog is some perfect representation of a blog, or of what a blog by an academic "should" be. It's not. It's just my version of this kind of blog. And in my version, there will be whining about work I'm not doing, Important Pontificating about the State of the Profession and Other Issues of the Day, meditations on teaching and research, complaints about service, gratuitous posts in the anthropomorphized voices of my cats, posts about breaking up and making up and all of those in-between spaces in relationships, boring to-do lists, posts about what I'm eating and whether I'm exercising, whatever. And the reason that this is my version is because I remember wishing that I knew what the full life of a professor might look like when I was in grad school. I got only glimpses from my mentors of what this life might be, and I felt totally blind-sided when I ended up on the other side of the fence.

And even what glimpses I did get barely resemble my life now, because my mentors were all Fancy-Pants Scholars at Fancy-Pants Schools. That's not where all professors end up, folks, and so that's where I think "Dr. Crazy" does a service. I'm one version of what this life might look like. Not the only version by any means, but one version.

But the thing is, I've changed over the past four years, and so too has what I've chosen to blog about changed. In the beginning, I felt a lot of anxiety and chafing over things like blogging about stuff that wasn't my usual shtick, or about not blogging for any length of time ("What if people stop reading?!?), or about how certain kinds of posts would be received. Four years in, I can say that I've developed the confidence that if people find me annoying for a bit, they'll either bail or they'll stick around until I've got something interesting to say again. I worry a whole lot less about whether I'm breaking some kind of trust with my readers, because I've learned that people who really read me are cool with whatever I do. Or if they aren't, they still have faith that I'll return to what interests them sooner or later. So yes, this has made me much more comfortable with writing for an audience, because I've learned to trust my audience in ways that I'd never done prior to the blogging experiment.

And yes, this has given me much more confidence in other areas, too. Without blogging, I'm not sure I'd have published as much as I have in the past four years, or that I'd have finished the book, or that I'd feel as confident as I do about how I think and how I write. What's given me that confidence is not that everybody who reads this blog is part of some Dr. Crazy fan club (although if you wanted to start one I'd surely support it ;) ), but rather just that I've seen that even when I suck, people are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. That must mean that something that I do in this space is good. And yes, that translates into teaching and research and into interactions with my colleagues. And that's a good thing.

I've never wanted to blog as a means to enhancing my professional standing or as a means to any sort of material success. That's why this blog doesn't bear my name, and that's why I don't do ads on the blog, although I probably could make some (small change) money if I did. No, I started the blog because I wanted not to write in a vacuum. And so, I blog, and I don't write in a vacuum. And I've met some amazing people, and I have daily conversations with people across disciplines and across institutions. I have a common experience with people whom in "real life" I'd never likely have met. I get ideas from you all, and I get reality checks, and I get support.

And you? I hope that you get something, too, and you must or you wouldn't read. I'm under no illusions that this is an Important Blog That Does Important Things. It's not. Sometimes it's insightful, sometimes it's entertaining, sometimes it's just crap. But whatever it is, I do feel like it does good stuff, for me, and I hope for you. Even if it's just you getting the pleasure of finding me irritating sometimes :)

I've thought a lot about shedding the pseudonym with tenure, and I really don't think I will - not really and truly. I've been toying with the idea of doing a "poof" post when the tenure deal is done in which I tell my actual name, but then, of course, poofing it. Why would I not want to come out? Well, it's because I really like being Dr. Crazy. I like the persona, and I like that people have gravitated to this blog based on what I write rather than where I work or what I've published (or not published). I like that this space can grow and change with me, and that it doesn't necessarily have to represent a person who I want you to think that I am.

So, I suppose this is a long way of saying that we all have angst related to blogging, and that has to do with growing pains that we feel both as writers and as people. But a blog really can grow with a person. There's no reason that one must stop blogging because of the chafing that one feels when one seems to have grown out of one's blogging skin. People stick around, and they're interested in the transformations. At least I am, and I think most of my readers, given that they've kept reading, are, too. And that's why I'll probably be doing this blogging thing until I'm dead (unless, of course, people stop reading). There's something about writing daily-ish missives to real people that is awesome. And there's something awesome about the conversations that one can have and the people that one can meet when one makes a commitment to doing so.

Now, blogging isn't for everyone. I'm not saying it is. And even for people who gravitate to the genre, well, they may decide at a certain point that they're done. And that's ok. The point is that this is one of the few genres of writing in which one can totally decide on one's persona, on one's level of commitment, on one's modus operandi. One of the few genres that allows for a kind of writerly flexibility. Will it always be this? I certainly hope so. The minute I have to start being totally consistently one identity forever in this space, I'll hang up my blogging hat. The thing that I love about this space is that I can grow here. And I don't have to calculate that growth. And that's awesome.

***Note: I read recently on a grad student's blog that she feels insecure about joining the conversation on academic blogs by professor-types, and this is something I've heard from other grad students periodically. Here's the thing: being a grad student is a fraught subject position, and there's a lot of insecurity. And yes, there are still hierarchies in the blogosphere. BUT I would also say that the academic blogosphere is a lot more willing to let grad students in than many other academic communities, and it just takes doing your time in the community and then you will feel like you're on fair ground. I've got a ton of readers who are grad students, some of whom I've actually read chapters and articles for, and I certainly don't think less of those readers because they're grad students. I think that grad students are colleagues. Period. And I think that's how a lot of other professor-types who blog feel as well. I only get disgruntled when a grad student I don't know is a dick, because yes, I do feel that I'm beyond having to deal with that dickishness - I did my own time with that in grad school. So be a colleague and I'll treat you like one. And if I've got any power to do so, I'll be a mentor to you. Don't come in with a chip on your shoulder, and you'll be cool in my space and in most others. You're welcome and we like you here - as long as you're not an asshole. If you're an asshole, I'll treat you like an asshole colleague, and nobody wants that :)


Sisyphus said...

Let me chime in with a testimonial that yes, indeed, Dr. Crazy will read and comment helpfully on a grad student's stuff. And give advice and mentoring. And even show where to get free wine at the MLA!

Will the fan club have t-shirts? I'm ready.

Hilaire said...

What a fabulous manifesto that totally makes me re-commit to this thing. (Even though I almost took down the post I wrote tonight - ha. Just going through a paranoid phase.)

Anonymous said...


Dr. Crazy said...

Gosh, you guys, I don't know what to say. Now I'm feeling all paranoid that this post was all fishing-for-compliments-y! I suppose, however, that this is ok. Mr. Stripey fishes for compliments all day long and it doesn't seem to bother him.

Anastasia, you make me feel all bashful :) And also that is hilarious, too.

Anonymous said...

just trying to make you laugh. :)

Psych Post Doc said...

Great post!

I wanted to add that one thing I like about blogging is the opportunity to share experiences and opinions with people who understand where I'm coming form but I don't have to face everyday.

Sometimes when we're stressed, or feel uncertain we want to let it out but don't necessarily want everyone around us to see our crazy insecure side.

Flavia said...

I don't know that I've ever told you this, but although your blog wasn't the first academic blog I read, it was the first that I loved. I had just filed my dissertation and was starting my first full-time teaching job, and your blog made me excited about both blogging and the profession--about the possibility of having an intense, fun academic life that was about more than just the academy.

Belle said...

Yours was one of the first blogs I read too, and your blog list gave me a push to find flavia, anastaia, medusa - lots of others. And once again, you've articulated my own experience!

I think the fan club t-shirts should feature MK and Stripey!