Thursday, August 06, 2009

Deep Thoughts on Blogging While Academic

I'm due for a post about blogging, what with the fact that I've now been blogging for five years this summer and that I'm edging toward my 1500th post in this space, which does seem like a major milestone. I'd been thinking about things I'd like to say anyway, but also this post couldn't come at a more appropriate moment, what with the really interesting conversation about academic blogging going on over at Gayprof's and Historiann's. Some of what I have to say may be repetitive in that I've written a good deal about blogging on this here blog, but in case there are people who've not waded through the archives and who've come to the party late, I figure a little repetition is ok.

When I started blogging, there really wasn't an "academic blogosphere" per se. I started at about the same time as a bunch of other academics, though, so I suppose in that regard I got into this whole "academic blogging" thing on the ground floor. I didn't start off doing it because I was looking for a community, because there wasn't really a community there. I started doing it as a writing experiment, and as something that I could do "for me" that wasn't about jumping through tenure hoops or putting lines on my cv. I was shocked when I ended up being part of a community out of that, and when I realized I really liked that community. I remain shocked that I'm still blogging after all these years. I thought I'd do it for a couple of weeks and then lose interest.

But so is this blog an "academic blog"? A lot of people would say, without hesitation, no. These people believe that "academic blogs" do the following:
1) They talk directly about one's field of specialization.
2) They are written under one's professional name, for then what one has to say is verifiable and "authentic."
3) They are Serious and Important and contribute to scholarly conversation.

This blog does none of the above. If those are the criteria, then this blog fails miserably at being an academic blog.

But. I'm an academic. I do blog about issues related to academic life, though I also just talk about my life in general. And I've never had any interest in blogging directly about my area of specialization. This either makes me a bad academic blogger or just a bad academic period (for "good" academics think about nothing but their specialization, right?).

I'm also probably just generally a bad blogger. I've never particularly cared about how many hits I'm getting, nor have I ever actively tried to generate traffic. I think that ads would taint this space, and so I've never gotten them, even though I probably could make an extra 20 bucks or something if I did. I comment on other people's blogs when I've got something to say; there's no particular rhyme or reason or calculation to who I include on my blogroll, and I rarely keep it updated. (Note to self: time to update the blog roll!) I don't state a comment policy on the page, and I'm not particularly good about responding thoughtfully to all comments that people offer here. I don't tend to link around a lot in my posts, and I don't draft and edit the things that I post here. In other words, this is a casual space for me, and I don't take a whole lot of interest in managing it, though of course I have been a more active manager of it when it's been necessary (i.e., when the trolls come out to play).

I chose the pseudonym Dr. Crazy because I never thought I'd really be a "blogger" and it was a name that came to mind because "Crazy's" been a nickname that appeared in my personal life in a variety of contexts. And then I was stuck with it. I think it's as good a name as any, ultimately. I've never been great about protecting my real life identity, and I write in this space as if everybody here knows exactly who I am, or could find out with a minimum of research. I do not think that I'm anonymous, nor do I think that I can write anything I please under this pseudonym. In fact, an interesting result of this experiment is that I've realized I'm much freer to write or to say whatever the heck pops into my head under my real name - whereas there are a whole lot of constraints on "Dr. Crazy."

I think the idea that blogging must in some way impede scholarship, or that it is a "distraction" from one's "real work" is crap. Or, perhaps more accurately, the idea that blogging is more of a distraction than any other hobby, interest, or pastime is crap. I spend no more than a couple of hours on a given day on my blog - and most days I spend much less. In my experience, blogging has had little to no relationship to my scholarly ideas or to my productivity. I suspect my cv would look nearly exactly the same had I never become a blogger.

That said, I think I'm a lot happier as a scholar and academic because I blog. Not because I use this space to spew vitriol about the various parts of my job (I actually really try to avoid that, though I don't always succeed) but rather because this space is a free one in which I can work through things that are on my mind related to the job: meeting deadlines for research, teaching issues, stuff related to the profession, service issues. It's a space in which I am forced to think critically about my role as a worker and a thinker, even if I rarely write about the specifics of what I'm actually doing. I'm forced to put myself into a broader context, and I think that is both liberating and good for the sanity. Additionally, in putting myself into that broader context, I get to have conversations with people across disciplines and across positions of hierarchy, and those conversations are the thing that keep me posting. I like being part of the conversation. I like that I make a space where such conversations can happen. (In this regard, blogging attracts me for many of the same reasons that teaching does.)

If blogging has any positive impact on my professional life, aside from the conversation and community part of things, it has been that through blogging I've really begun to own my voice as a writer. No, my scholarly stuff does not read the way that my prose on the blog reads. But I think blogging has helped me to think in more concrete ways about writing as a practice, and I think this does translate into stronger writing in my scholarship. I'm much more aware of audience now than I was before blogging, and that is a good thing. I'm also much more aware of how one develops a persona through writing, which bleeds into all sorts of professional writing situations, from writing a syllabus to writing an article to writing an email to my department chair.

Anyway. The big question that's been rattling around for me since earning tenure is whether I should link the blog to my professional identity - whether I should, like, for example, Tenured Radical or Historiann, blog under a pseudonym but yet make it clear who I actually am as I write this blog. This has been something I've thought about a lot pre-tenure, but now, well, the moment is here, right? I toyed with the idea of posting my name at the moment of achieving tenure; I toyed with the idea of changing around my identifying information so that with just a few clicks people would end up at my professional identity. The thing is, I am pretty invested in "Dr. Crazy" as an identity, now, and I can't imagine totally abandoning it to write a blog under my real name. Part of what has made this space special for me is that it's not a professional document. "Dr. Crazy" makes that possible in a lot of ways. On the other hand, I think it's sort of bullshit that I don't feel comfortable writing in the way that I write here under my actual name. And you know, I still don't feel comfortable with that, even though I've got tenure. People would still judge me for the length of the posts here ("she must spend all of her time on her blog and not on The Life of the Mind!") or they'd judge the posts here not on their content but on my cv ("Crazy's article on x is so stupid, or she only works at y institution so her ideas don't matter, or who the hell does she think she is?"). The fact of the matter is, "Dr. Crazy" has a fuck of a lot more authority on her own than she would if my real life name and institutional affiliation were explicitly attached. This in spite of the haters who think that people with pseudonyms can't be trusted. Though, of course, this may reveal more about my own fears about my status in the profession than anything else.

So, I guess what I've come to is that this blog works for me and this space works for me - as is. I tell people in my life about it as it comes up; I reveal my identity to people when the situation arises that it's useful to do so. I assume that people know who Dr. Crazy is when I write, and I stand by what I write in this space. I no longer beat myself up for weeks of lame posts (weeks of lame posts just happen periodically if one keeps a blog longer than a few months) and I no longer think I suck if there are times when I don't write regularly (which I totally did early on). I've made a writing space for myself in which I don't feel like I need to please anybody or do anything in any particular way. That is satisfying, especially when so much of my professional life is about dotting i's and crossing t's and following rules and pleasing people.

So yes. I'm an academic. And I've got a blog. Lots of people read it, for which I'm grateful, because much of my impulse to continue the blog has to do with fact that people read what I write and respond to it. I feel almost completely disconnected from my academic writing once I submit it to the editor, and journaling is good for rambling rants about emotions and things, but what kind of a tool journals about mentoring in higher education, for example? No, this is a special and important space for me. And at least for the immediate future, it will remain that.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

You should know that you're one of the first blogs I "discovered" when I figured out what a Blog actually was.

You and Jo(e) inspired me to start my own -- and I can see many ways in which both of you have influenced my own experience as a blogger.

When you've discussed giving up "Dr. Crazy", I realize that if you decide to do so, I'll miss her.

I think that there is plenty of space for bloggers like us -- who aren't worried about the numbers of hits or using our blogs to make a billion dollars (as if they actually DO... there's only one Doce). Personally, I really don't care if lots of people read my blog, nor would I know if they did... I don't have a stats counter either. The funny thing is that Hubby writes for a political blog concerned about hits etc... and doesn't seem to enjoy blogging nearly as much as I do :).

Thanks for being a blogging role model.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I think you and I are pretty contemporaneous (although I have been blogging since 2002, it turns out). But for me, there was already a little bit of a community via Invisible Adjunct -- and now there are so damned many blogs that I don't manage to keep up with the same ones. But anyway, I think of your blog in the same way I do mine -- as an academic life blog first, and an academic blog second. FWIW.

As for the linking of your name? I think we should always do what feels right to us. I still don't link to my real self anywhere, but I've been a little less careful about identifying what I work on, where I've gone, etc.; people who read the same range of blogs can figure out who I am, but I don't advertise it. I also made a pact with myself to never lie about it, so if someone asks the RL me if I'm ADM, I fess up. It hasn't hurt me, and the Provost at SLAC knew before I got tenure-equivalent -- but he's a medievalist, and he sees blogging as another sign of my adapting new technologies, which he believes medievalists are especially prone to doing.

So that's my little story, which is really kind of tangential, isn't it?

But I'm really glad you've been around as long as you have. I don't comment as much as I used to, but I'm always glad to see that you are still here, and do generally read :-)

gwinne said...

One of the most interesting things you say here is that you feel like you have more freedom as Dr. Real Name than as Dr. Crazy. Say more about that?

Belle said...

Dr Crazy was certainly one of the first I stumbled onto, and it is always a pleasure when my RSS notes that you've a new post up. You're certainly a model, and a leader in the community, and I'm pickled tink when you leave a comment on my humble blog.

Thanks, Crazy.

Dr. Crazy said...

Aw, you guys! Seriously: thanks for reading and for continuing to come back.

Actually, that gets to Gwinne's question in a way - or at least gestures toward it. As RL Name, I suppose I feel less pressure to be careful about what I say or don't. This isn't because I might not say the wrong thing - that's certainly been known to happen - but 1) I'm less of a "public figure" in my real life and 2) if I make a mistake in real life, I've got my real life identity to make up for that, if that makes sense. So, for example, let's say I said something that pissed people off in an article. Those people will likely read other articles by me, will see me at a conference, or know me through other people they know. That helps to ease a difficult situation. In contrast, if people get pissed off by Crazy, 1) they decide a whole range of things about who I am based on the thing that pissed them off, 2) they can tend to be threatening, abusive, and downright awful, either on their own blogs, in personal emails to my Crazy email account, or in comments. The fact that i'm fun to talk to at a cocktail party doesn't do anything to make up for the things I say on the blog, where in real life it can.

So the result is that I need to take a greater amount of care with what I write as Dr. Crazy because I want to make sure that this remains a space that is comfortable for the people who read and one that is comfortable for me to maintain. If I don't construct my persona here and the content here with care, I end up in situations that leave me angry, stressed out, and demoralized.

Shane in Utah said...

I like ADM's distinction between "academic life" blogging and "academic" blogging. We might add a third category for "academic politics" blogging. Some blogs by academics specialize intensely in one of the three categories: so Marc Bousquet's blog focuses mostly on academic politics, and Crooked Timber mostly on scholarship. But most blogs, it seems to me, indulge in some combination of all three, and those are the ones I read most frequently. After all, people writing esoterically about their areas of specialization is generally deeply engaging only to those in the same or allied specializations.

Anyway, ReassignedTime is one of my few truly daily reads. I'm glad you've decided to stick with it.

My captcha word is "codly." As in, "the restaurant called it halibut, but it sure tasted codly to me"?

Nik said...

By blogging with a pseudonym, you seem to be able to blog about your personal life and your academic life. I fear linking to your "real name" would curtail the personal posts, which add a great dimension to your blog.

The History Enthusiast said...

You are one of the first academic blogs I began to follow three years ago. Your posts are always thought-provoking (even though I don't comment as much as I should).

I agree with the above comments that there is a great distinction between academic blogging and blogging about "academic life."

Doctor Pion said...

Yours was not the first blog I read (that honor goes to ProfGrrrrl), but your blog WAS the reason I finally got around to getting a Google Account - so I could comment on your blog!

My own blog followed soon thereafter, and I view much as you do except that mine digresses into too much politics because of the last year or so. I've got to get back into the academic side (like what you taught me about how I might implement "close reading" in my physics class) this coming year.

BTW, value comes from the content, not the "name" of the author.

helenesch said...

As I think I've noted here before, yours was one of the first blogs I read--along with Profgrrrl, Bitch PhD, and New Kid (I was friends with a woman who blogged at Sappho's Breathing, and I think she must have linked to you all).

It's interesting that you think you'd have to do a lot in real life to piss people off (since they know you've written other articles, see you at conferences, etc). But I think you'd have to really mess up here, too, to make me stop reading your blog! It's been interesting to me to take part in this community (in the odd way that I do, by reading and occasionally commenting under my own pseudonym, helenesch). Even though I don't have my own blog, blogs like yours have been important to my sense of place in the profession. And it's been so interesting to see the various changes in people's lives and careers over the years.

I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying that I continue to enjoy reading this--thanks for keeping it up for so long!

Maude Lebowski said...

Crazy, as you know, I love hanging out over here. I like how you think about your blog--and I like how someone up above (sorry, I'm too lazy this a.m. to scroll up) makes the distinction between "academic blogging," "academic life blogging," and "academic political blogging." I LOVE the idea of "academic life blogging" because it perhaps illustrates that academics are like actual people, you know, not just weirdos in tweed who are incapable of discussing anything other than their fields. Great post and great comments Crazy!

Terminal Degree said...

"Academic Life Blogger" -- I love the category. It makes sense to me--we're not just academics 24/7, but real people with real lives, too. The blogs I enjoy most combine those things. Your blog hits home a lot for me, and it's one of the first ones I read. Thank you.