Like politicking or not politicking, like speaking out or not speaking out, the question of whether or not to blog has been with me ever since I started doing so six months ago. It’s been an interesting experiment for me, and, for those who contemplate or are already embroiled in the practice, here are a few thoughts on its evolution.
One of the most salient issues for me has been the lack of respect for the genre of blogging. Often, of course, some derision is well deserved: the blogosphere is open to people of all stripes and all levels of quality in their writing. For this reason, in my profession blogging counts for nothing in terms of “research productivity,” and so I often wonder if it’s worth the time and energy it takes for me to do it. In academia, often the attitude is that one should be spending any writing time on more professional pursuits.
My department chair, in a moment of encouragement for my efforts, noted that it would amount to something if I ended up teaching a course about blogging, which he’s suggested to me several times that we should do as a department. After all, it’s an up and coming arena in the fields we are supposedly experts in. Still, as far as I know I’m the first one in my department to keep a regular blog for any period of time, probably because it is not “publication material.” Yet I have to view it with humor and irony that I could teach a course in something that as of yet is given no credence in terms of my own writing and research.
There are reasons for this, of course, and the main one is that no one but me judges what I write before it is “published.” I am responsible for all the choices and for the mistakes I make. There is no one of greater power and respect placing a mantle of approval on my work, and without that it’s hard to know what something is worth.
In fact, this is one of the challenges of keeping a blog, period. Because a blog has a relentless production schedule and because there’s not a staff of fact-checkers or copy editors, there’s a constant issue of accuracy and of writing quality. There’s no time to “workshop” it, formally or informally. There’s no time to even get your husband or friend to glance over it. When I taught a graduate creative writing workshop course last summer, I added the assignment of creating or updating an existing blog to my students’ usual assignments, and my students commented that the relationship between posting what were essentially rough drafts and at the same time being on public display was the scariest thing about it. I, too, have become familiar with the uneasiness of this, even in as small an issue as the typos that somehow find their way into the original posting and that I then scurry to fix. It often has a bare-butt feel.
Another striking aspect, which I find a mixed bag, is the sense of community inherent in blogging. On one hand, I have found learning about the blogosphere and trying to be a member of the outside community a real time-sink and struggle. I find it overwhelming. Occasionally I come across a blog that I admire and try to keep track of, but there are a lot of them, too many for me–at least so far–to comprehend fully. I need to do better at this, as I consider that side of the exchange just as vital as putting my ideas out there for others to see.
On the other hand, I do feel already more a part of a wider community of those sharing ideas than I have felt in several post-graduate school years. Some of this is small—my friends who read the blog, my brother’s long-term blog that I now actually read sometimes, those from whom I ask permission to borrow a photograph, a few strangers who respond to my blog (even some in disagreement). Some of this is in the numerous great conversations I have had with friends in person, via phone, and over email. I even have one friend who, leery of too-public a world, has started a great monthly email newsletter for her friends. Those things are valuable, and sometimes it does go beyond the merely personal connection. One entry that I cross-posted to Daily Kos reached 200 comments and was picked up by the AAUP’s blog editor. I have reached the point where the blog gets about 2,000 hits a month.
The fact is that I have had more feedback and more intellectual and narrative exchange because of this blog than I ever have had from publishing short work in “legitimate” publications. I virtually never hear from anyone when I publish in a literary magazine, other than its editor (god love ‘em). Even when I published in Harper’s, I heard from maybe two readers. The book I published was another story, and even now, ten years later, I still occasionally get an email or letter about that.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to see your work in print, and book or magazine publication is still the ultimate end. That more polished work has distinct purposes that are also, of course, desirable and important. But there is something refreshing about the blog. There is not the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of professional career building of literary venues, or the highly uneven relationship with a “fan base.” Even though I desire readers, it feels more … well, based on genuine interest and a cohort of peers.
The best aspect of it for me, though, is the great discipline it has been for me as a writer. There is no putting it off and there is no perfectionism that prevents me from calling something ready. What that means is that as of this date, I have produced close to 200 pages or 50,000 words for the blog (including notes for forthcoming posts). If you’ve read it, you know that it’s been a process of sorting out ideas. Some of it has been better written and more interesting than other parts. It has been an evolving creature, and the skin it sloughs is invariably part of the deal.
I started the blog with the idea that these days, sorrow and crying are the emotional states we most often deny to ourselves. I started with “crying,” but have moved on through other kinds of grief and anger, as well as the occasional celebratory impulse. Various themes have emerged or been clarified for me. I’ve always had an interest in the genuine more generally, and the blog has transitioned through various emotions and prepares to examine more different ones and the notion of the genuine itself.
I never meant for the blog to be particularly political, though I knew that some people would be dismayed at a negative take on positive psychology. What I’ve found is a larger and larger connection to some political aspects of dominant positivity. I still think there is room for many different interpretations of the world aside from delusion, but I have discovered that for me the political implications of blaming people for their own unhappiness are huge.
For a while I thought I would run out of things to blog about. I haven’t yet. As my friend G said, “Oh, the world will provide you with plenty on a daily basis.” And so it does. It is like being on a journey, and I am looking forward to where it takes me next. I don’t travel a lot on a physical basis, so maybe I need this kind of adventure.
Thanks for coming along sometimes!