Meta-blogging about talking about blogging

I had the great pleasure today to talk to students in Anne Dalke’s “Emerging Genres” class about what it is I’m doing here at Geeky Mom. I was preceded by my esteemed colleagues, Kate of Syllabub and Tim of Easily Distracted. It’s a tough act to follow since their writing is so much more polished than mine. I tend to literally slap things up here. Even though I do read things over before I hit “post”, I don’t worry too much about how things are phrased or what vocabulary I’ve used. Sometimes I see things that I kind of cringe over and I hit post anyway.

Anyway, I thought Anne’s students asked some really interesting questions about who I think my audience is, what I write about and why. It’s interesting because a lot of what’s going on with the blog has a lot to do with my identity, both in the virtual and real world. We talked about, for instance, the way I may write about things that have to do with my job and whether those things get aired face-to-face in meetings or with my supervisors. They do, often, fyi. I said that sometimes I’m working out what I think so that when I get to the moment when I can present my ideas in person, I have put some thought into it. But sometimes, maybe, there isn’t another forum for what I think except here. I don’t know. The conversation gave me something to think about. I might, indeed, be hiding behind the blog sometimes.

People asked me if I’ve ever regretted anything I’ve written and I don’t think I have, though I’m sure if I dug through here long enough, I’d find something that I wasn’t too thrilled with. Someone also asked me about the time when I said I was going to step away from the blog for a while. I had forgotten about that. Those of us that have been blogging for awhile have doubts every once in a while. But it made me think about the balance between my online life and my “real” life that I have to maintain. I know many of you (I think) in real life, but I don’t communicate with all my friends and family through the blog, so I need to make sure I’m maintaining those relationships as well. I actually consider some of what I do here–maybe most–work, so really that’s about balancing work and family as much as anything.

One of the things that I think blogging gets us to think about, and here some theoretical apparatus might help, is the relationship between self and authorship, public and private as well as what a blog is as a genre or form of writing. At any rate, I’m grateful to Anne’s students for the conversation and I hope it continues here and elsewhere.

Whither Geeky Mom?

Sorry to have disappeared like that. We’re digging out from under the chaos that was created during the great flu epidemic. I had to do things like laundry and grocery shopping–whee! Plus, I spent time playing games and watching tv instead of blogging. It happens. Something about illness in the house makes your brain go to mush. I never got the full blown flu, though off and on throughout the whole event, I felt draggy, sniffly, etc. Just never for more than a day. That’s some immune system I’ve got.

The synapses are starting to fire again, so you may see something worthwhile here soon. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves and/or suggest topics for discussion in the comments. Grab a beer from the fridge. Make yourself at home.

Victim of Sucess, or Meta (to the power of x) Blogging

Kathleen had a post a couple of days ago that resonated with me. I, too, have been thinking about what blogging here is doing for me. Like Kathleen, I do think it’s still important to me, but currently misguided. She says this of her own blogging:

When I started, it was all about a need for immediate communication: I
had all these small thoughts leftover from having just completed the
book manuscript, and needed to get myself back into active conversation
with other scholars after the isolation of grinding through such a long
project. Lately, however, it seems like what I’ve been communicating
has devolved into little more than rants and P.R., either complaining
about being too busy or announcing the results of what I’ve been busy
doing. And this dynamic doesn’t feel like it’s working anymore.

I, too, started blogging because I felt isolated. I craved connection to the more scholarly side of my academic world, a connection that was missing in my interactions with people at my institution where I was viewed primarily as “the help.” I found that connection and more. From a personal perspective, I’ve met many, many wonderful people, some of whom I’ve had the great pleasure to meet in person. They’ve added a richness to my life that I never expected. From a professional standpoint, this blog has done more for me than I ever could have imagined. It lead to a renewed interest in writing pedagogy which lead to a dissertation and Ph.D. I’ve done numerous presentations and talks, written articles, and have been consulted for advice at many institutions. Among some people, I’m actually considered an expert on social software. That boggles my mind and humbles me, since I am connected to and know so many people, primarily through this blog, who know so much more and do so much more to forward scholarship in this area.

Like Kathleen, I’ve watched my readership first plateau and then start to decline. Blogging never was completely about the audience, but it always was a little about the audience. At the very least, it’s a good indicator that your writing is losing its appeal. What Kathleen said about making her blogging serve a bigger project, about the need “to make the blog part of the process, rather than something that’s working against the work I need to do” really struck home with me. As the school year started, I had been thinking about this, about trying to focus the blog a little more, to use it as a space to think about what I’ve read, to try to make connections between ideas. Basically, I want to step it up a notch. I really think I can do that and still keep within the general parameters of the blog. After all, I still think of this blog as a place to put stuff that has no other place, but I think I want that stuff to be a little more thoughtful and I want some of that stuff to have the potential to develop into bigger and better stuff. After all, that’s how I gained my original success. I expanded on what I’d done here. At some point, I quit expanding and thinking expansively and just went through the motions. The thing is, having just come off of writing two articles about blogging, I still love blogging and social networking and whatever else this crazy Internet is going to throw at us in the future. I’m not tired of it yet. I still have more to say and much, much more to read and think about. So watch this space. It could get interesting around here.

Writing in public

We bloggers like to think of ourselves as “public writers,” as doing our writing and our thinking out loud as it were. However, a lot of us do other kinds of writing that we may or may not want to be public. I posted my dissertation notes and drafts online because I was writing about the benefits of students writing in public, so I felt it was important that I write in public. Despite my years of blogging before that, I still felt a little uneasy about posting my early material online. I was nervous for the reason that my faculty colleagues say they’re nervous about posting online–getting scooped–but because there’s a certain vulnerability I feel when I’m putting an idea I really, really care about out there. When that idea is still in its infancy, when the words I’m using to express it are still a jumbled mess, I feel even more vulnerable, especially because I know that at some point the idea will grow up and I’ll find the words to describe it appropriately. Why put it out there before then? Well, a few reasons. One, I found it a valuable experience to hear what other people thought about my ideas as they developed. Two, I think it kept me honest in a way. I consciously thought about an audience at a stage where I might not, and for me, that was helpful. And three, it demystifies the writing process to some extent. And that brings me to what inspired this post, a post from Kathleen on a writing in public project from the Institute for the Future of the the Book.

Siva Vaidhyanathan is writing The Googlization of Everything in public. There have been similar projects on both an article and book scale and I think it’s worth paying a lot of attention to, especially those of us who teach writing. These may indeed do a lot to demystify writing for our students. It’s just interesting to see, too, people interacting with the ideas in a book. You don’t get to see that very often. I’m also interested in Google, so I’m looking forward to contributing something or just watching.

The Internet is a beautiful place

So many people, Andrew Keen, the mainstream media, etc., want to focus on the idea that the Internet is a scary place. Well, the Internet’s no scarier than the “real world.”

Today, I read at least two posts from two bloggers who regularly make me remember how wonderful the Internet can be. I feel lucky to know people like them. Their commenters, too, show how much compassion there really is in the world.

Of course, these two are just two examples of the kind of thing I run into every day out there in the “scary” Internet.

I Rock!

Trillwing nominated me as a Rockin’ Girl Blogger. I’m so thrilled. She nominated some good people. Check them out. Here are some people I think rock:

Aspazia at Mad Melancholic Feminista, who just–as in yesterday–had a baby and blogged it. If you’re not reading her, you should.

Ianqui. I’ve been reading ianqui’s blog for years. She’s always smart and insightful.

Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science. I love reading her posts on the industry of science.

Barbara at bgblogging. A self-styled slow blogger, her posts are always thoughtful and inspiring.

And finally, What Now? Her posts examining teaching and her transition to secondary education are always interesting.

There are so many girl bloggers who rock. Who do you think rocks?

Blogging, accountability, transparency, and other sticky issues

Over the last week, I’ve been reading the comments on my last post and a couple of other posts related to mine. It’s heartening to hear that people want me to continue writing. I know that many of the people who say so also understand the difficulties of writing openly. I have said to myself over the last few days that I will write, but I will write without fear. That doesn’t mean that I don’t expect to be held accountable for what I say. I do. Which is why I will write carefully still. Confused, yet?

Let’s go back to the Amanda/Melissa issue for a minute. I read their blogs on occasion. As Tim said, much of the time I enjoy them. But let’s be honest, they often write in a way that turns the more sensitive among us off. When I read what had led to Amanda’s ultimate resignation from the Edwards’ campaign, my first reaction was that of course it caused problems. The key posts in question were point for point rebuttals of a FAQ from a Catholic premarital class. While the arguments Amanda makes seem reasonable, it’s often the language she uses when she makes them that is problematic. For example, she calls one item a “pile of nonsense” and the second in the series begins with an image of Mary and God that is extremely sexualized. Now, I’m an atheist, so I am not going to be offended by these things, but I could easily see that many people, even those who might agree with her, would be turned off. Neither deserved the attacks they received, but I could see how someone might have been angered by what she wrote. Collin wrote a little about such methods of arguing, labeling them polemic. It’s something I see far too much of on both sides of the political blogosphere. And while it may get the extremists on either end fired up, it doesn’t do much for people looking for real solutions.

The issue, of course, as both Collin and Tim, point out is that if what we say here matters, then we are accountable for it. Tim says that we can’t be surprised when people outside of our normal realm of blog readers (i.e. the mainstream) are upset with what we’ve written. He goes on:

Blogs are not greasy kid’s stuff. They’re informal, they’re spontaneous, they’re freer in some ways than the mainstream media, not just because of the genre’s evolving expectations but because of their technological and economic character. But they matter, and they should. We can’t suddenly ask that they be dismissed as mere prologue to whatever else we want to do with our voices, our thought, our politics, when the day before we were trying to do something that mattered.

I’ve come to realize that to some extent, I had wanted to write anonymously because I wanted to rail about some things that I felt strongly about. I wanted a place to vent. But then, I began to realize that venting wasn’t the answer. I didn’t want to write polemic, even though it might momentarily feel good. I wanted to frame my arguments in a way that would reach beyond the people who might agree with the polemic version of the argument. Lately, however, I felt constrained against doing even that. I felt I’d lost a place to argue from because I feared retribution of some kind. In part, that was just me being paranoid. In part, though, it’s realistic. I recognize the weight that words can carry. My words here paint a certain picture of who I am and what I believe in. Some people might take that to be the whole picture. However, I think I can support everything I’ve written here. And I think I can continue to support it.

When I think about the people whose blogs I read regularly who write anonymously, I think most of them write as if they are writing under their own names. They write thoughtfully and carefully. They make reasoned arguments. And while they may vent from time to time about students or their families, that might be the only posts they’d have to excise before going public, and they are few and far between. I have often wished some of these people felt comfortable enough to write publicly, but when you’re trying to hide a part of yourself, it’s impossible. Some people are hiding their personal self from their professional colleagues. Others are hiding their fuller selves from family or friends. Certainly, my blog isn’t a direct transcription of my life. Despite how open I tend to be here, I’m not fully transparent, but I think that’s the impression many people get of blogs (something I know Bitch, Ph.D. has talked about a lot). People think that if you’re writing in a way that seems honest (which is kind of a generic feature of blogs as opposed to essays and other forms of writing) that they know you, they know what you’re like. And I’ve wondered, for the people who know me, if what I write here reveals something different about me, something they wouldn’t expect of me, and if that’s a good or bad thing.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that I will continue blogging. A lot of you said things in the comments that hit home with me. I appreciate the reality check. Interestingly, over the last week, I managed to blog every day on the professional blog. Obviously, I need an outlet. I still have things to say.

Why am I blogging?

For the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about shutting the blog down. I started blogging because I like to write and I felt I had something to say. I still feel like I have something to say, but I feel I have less freedom to say it. As I’ve told more and more people about my blog, I find I feel less comfortable expressing myself. Not only do I feel like there are certain topics I can’t cover, but I feel I must be careful when I write about “appropriate” topics. That makes the blog not so much fun. I have pretty strong feelings about a lot of things, and I worry about writing about them because someone might be turned off by it and that might mean I miss out on an opportunity because someone thinks I’m too outspoken. When you Google my name, this blog is the first thing that comes up. My feelings about the public nature of my blog are pretty complicated. On the one hand, I want to say, “Well, this is who I am. Take it or leave it.” On the other hand, I’m aware of having to present a public persona that differs from the real person. I want the two to be the same as possible, but that may not be realistic.

I also feel myself to be in a state of transition. In just over a month, I’ll defend my Ph.D. I’ve been thinking about what that means for my career. I care a lot about what I do. I’ve set myself up as someone who doesn’t simply answer technical questions about Blackboard, but who pushes people to rethink their teaching. I’ve helped people explore podcasting, screencasting, blogging, wikis, and tablet pcs. In doing so, they often change something about the way they teach. I really do feel that technology belongs in a liberal arts college and that using technology can transform teaching and learning when it’s used thoughtfully and appropriately. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me. Fighting that fight day in and day out gets tiresome. It gets even more tiresome when you feel like you’re the lone fighter. I feel I’m embedded in a system that doesn’t want to change and I’m not in a position to make any kind of change happen. I want to be in that position and so I’ve been looking for those opportunities. Staying in my current position is but one among many options I see for the future. Many of the other options, however, involve possible changes for me and my family. It might mean a long commute or even living apart. It might at some point mean even more change. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

If I continue blogging here, I’d like to blog more fearlessly, but already I fear I’ve said too much. My rule has been that I won’t say anything here that I wouldn’t say in public. Recently, however, there’s been a lot that I have kept to myself even though I felt like this would be a good forum to say what I’m thinking out loud. But too many people from work read this. Too many potential employers read this. What I’ve gotten from blogging has been both about having a platform to express and organize my thoughts, and also about connecting with people who have great insight and push me to think differently. I would hate to let that go, but if I can’t express myself openly, then maybe it isn’t worth continuing.

In an odd kind of way, I think I began thinking about this when all the brew-ha-ha over Amanda and Melissa and the Edwards’ campaign began swirling around the blogosphere. I think David had one of the best posts I’d seen on the topic. At the end he said this:

However, right now I don’t so much feel reassured about this “project” of voicing our ideas and beliefs. Right now, I’m sad and scared about where we’re headed, and most of all just angry.

I think I agree with him, unfortunately. And in some ways, I feel I’m in a microcosm of the greater public discourse. My voice just isn’t loud enough or strong enough. Like David, that makes me sad, scared, and angry.

So, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m thinking about it.