Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Why not blog?

Why do I have a blog? Why do I read blogs? Someone or other was passing this around as a meme, and I wasn’t tagged, but that doesn’t ever stop me anyway. To understand why I blog and read blogs, we must reach far, far back into the distant past of last fall, when I was going slowly insane. Evidently the job search process brings out levels of insecurity and neuroticism even in people, like me, who don’t usually seem to be susceptible. My usual style, even in grad school, even in situations where I know I should try to temper myself, is a blunt, “pile-driver” approach to everything, along with a tendency to blurt out whatever thoughts percolate up to the top of my head ---- evidently I am funny, but this is almost always unintentionally; more often I am devastatingly cruel or cutting, and both come from speaking whatever I’m thinking without evaluating how it will be taken, or even whether it makes sense.

But going on the job market for the first time changed all that. Or I overcompensated for my naturally abrasive personality. In any case, I became a quivering puddle of doubt and uncertainty and second-guessed myself on every speck of the job application. I turned, naturally, to the internets for guidance, models, advice, secret magic formulas that would guarantee me a job, etc. I became a addict hanging around the Chronicle of Higher Education forums like a junkie looking for a fix (and then, two days after MLA was over and no job prospects were in play and I was irrevocably back “off the market,” I lost all desire to post there and haven’t been back since. Strange.). But the blogs were the best source of information --- official web sites? The Chronicle? Book reviews of “how to get an academic job” books? They will give you the official rules and concrete plans of action, useful advice. But they do not whine, bitch and moan about how frustrating and annoying the process is, expose other peoples’ fears as similar to your own, or lay out the unwritten rules ---- how to interpret the official rules, how much you should really follow them vs. pay lip service to them. Blogs do.

And as I searched ‘round about the Blogosphere for academics writing about getting their jobs and living their lives (I can’t really stand academic blogs, partially for the tone, partially because they won’t cover the aforementioned points, and mostly because I won’t be interested or able to really follow them unless they are in my field ---- blogging the academic life and all its petty frustrations and triumphs produces much more universal and accessible writing despite being “merely personal”), reading the trials and tribulations of new professors just starting where I wanted to be, grappling with the new experience of being on the tenure track, I discovered that the story does not stop with “and she got a tenure-track job and lived happily ever after. The end.” It goes on, and these people were trying to figure out what came next and how to live their lives and they still had the same fears and hopes and worries and snarky comments and needed to remind themselves not to mock their students but to find another teacher to blow off some complaint steam with. This was great, especially when I found a new (to me) blog that had a very personable or funny voice and I could read the entire archives from back to front like a trashy yet enjoyable academic novel (“Disaffected yet spunky grad student goes on market, finishes dissertation, gets job and then has to adjust to a completely different department and part of the country! Now with more sarcasm and shoe pictures!”). This was great reading for that last hour before bed when I didn’t really want to think or read all the Deep and Serious Literature, the novels I conscientiously buy and then leave piled up on my nightstand. And so, I fell in love.

For perhaps the best thing about these academic blogs is that they are written by real people, people who I think I have a lot in common with and who are actually alive to comment back and forth with this very day (Coleridge, what have you done for me lately?). Once I started reading them, I wanted to talk back to them, to respond to them, to hold conversations with them, and here we are (you people who require a google/blogger account to comment on your blogs know who you are, you bastards!). So, for me, what started out as an aspect of professionalization (uh, and procrastination, I’ll cop to that) became a source of community ---- and really, lit. scholars are such hyperliterate, overarticulate, hyperselfanalytical people already that it should come as no surprise that so many of us would have blogs ---- instead of freaking out about blogs, the people who Ivan Tribble speaks for should be demanding that each and every one of us have a blog, though that would open a whole ‘nuther can of worms. Can you imagine what it would be like for each department web site to have faculty pages and faculty blogs for their members? Yes, yes, I can see a whole slew of problems, but no one thinks about other ways to order blog-ness than repression and anonymity ---- perhaps if we dream up some alternatives, even utopian ones, we can find something useful.

On the other hand, I resisted starting a blog for at least a year. I wanted to really bad, but kept telling myself that it would be giving in to procrastination, that it would suck away from my productivity, that, even though it was anonymous, I would somehow bring my academic career to a spectacularly catastrophic and embarrassing end (there’s still time for this last one). But, deep down, month after month, I still wanted one. And my family has a tradition that, if you keep thinking about something and still want it after a year, you really do want it and you should get it (what can I say, we’re tightwads). So, I bit the bullet and blogified. All I can say is you’re lucky I haven’t found some way to tape record myself while walking to the bus or swimming my laps, because that is where I talk to myself constantly and unendingly, and compose encyclopedic blog posts that would make my current ones seem like haiku. As it is, I probably get four ideas and rough them out in my head for every one I actually muster up the energy to draft and post. All of which is to say, having a blog isn’t exactly what I expected it to be --- just like all these professor blogs keep explaining; what a surprise.

Oh, and the other reason for thinking about “why blog?” these days? I found out some disturbing stuff about my department relating to the internet, privacy, gossip, etc. This post has gotten long, though, so I’ll continue this thought tomorrow.


medieval woman said...

It sounds like you began blogging for largely the same reasons I did - I'm also glad you're okay from the fire!!!

Flavia said...

This is such a good description of what the academic blogosphere does--and of the ways I got sucked into it myself!

I've said it before but I'll say it again: I've learned more about this profession--and received more professional help and support--through the blogosphere than I have anywhere else. Which isn't a knock on my grad program or my jobs; it's just a comment on how limited the perspective is from any one institution, or any one stage in one's career.

gwoertendyke said...

ditto, a lovely surprise the blog world (i think in yoda lately)--for community, for the dirt, for role models for that first job, for understanding just how insecure the profession makes us all feel, despite the clear integrity, intellect, and fabulous senses of humor that abound. thanks for sharing this meme, you've explained my own reasons quite well.

Sisyphus said...

Thanks everyone! May information be shared freely across the internets! I can't see how that would be other than good. Except the feelings of overwhelm-ment when one has to read it all, of course. But that happens when one does a dissertation as well.