First of all, thank you thank you thank you to those of you who commented on that last tantrum-y post. When I wrote it I really hadn’t intended on a fishing expedition to get you guys to tell me how much you like reading my blog, and while of course that’s nice to hear (flattery will get you everywhere with me – it is my Achilles heel, in fact – just as insulting me is a sure way to get me to refuse to do anything you want), I actually found the comments useful in helping me think through what my freaking problem is. Because clearly if I’m throwing bloggy tantrums in which I aggressively challenge readers to explain why they read me, then I’ve got a problem. Mainly because that’s not exactly an audience-friendly way to post on a blog :) But so let me take this opportunity to tell you what I’ve been thinking about over the past couple of days, and to respond, if not directly to each comment, at least in general, to what you all had to say.
But before I do that, let me back up for a minute and talk about where I am professionally these days.
One of my big fears when I went up for tenure was that I would become afflicted with the notorious post-tenure slump. That immediately upon achieving that milestone I would fall into an existential crisis, in which I would realize that everything for which I had worked throughout my entire academic life had no meaning, and that the years that stretched before me would look like a vast wasteland in which nothing I would do would have any purpose or any positive result. The good news is that this did not happen to me. In fact, getting tenure was delightful, and I have thoroughly enjoyed having it. Basically, once I submitted my tenure binder, I was in a very real sense free from the bondage of the tenure track, and so I was able to do a lot of crap from which I had been “protected” pre-tenure, i.e., all the stuff that really means anything to making a university run. And yes, that meant more work, but it also meant that the work that I was doing wasn’t just filling time, filling in lines on the cv, which I hated. And as I’m a person who’d rather do more work that means more than less work that means nothing, that was a good thing. And I bought my house, and I finished a dead-end relationship, and I had my sabbatical. In other words, I didn’t experience a slump – I in many ways experienced a rebirth with tenure.
But what I hadn’t anticipated – and what I feel sort of dumb for not anticipating – is that the initial excitement of earning tenure, and of all of the stuff that I was doing once I had earned it, would not last forever. I embraced redefining myself once I earned tenure, but I hadn’t fully or consciously realized that I would for the rest of my career need to redefine myself over and over again without such explicit reasons for doing so, without such explicit milestones or markers for the passage of time. Or maybe I realized that intellectually, but I didn’t really get what that would feel like. So now I’m about three-and-a-half years out from having submitted my tenure binder, and I will have been at my job for 9 years this fall. This fall also marks the 10th anniversary of my one and only major run at the academic job market. (Long-time readers will recall that I did apply for things selectively pre-tenure, but I never really did the full-on mad market run other than that first lucky time – when I was ABD and seriously, a freaking baby, looking back on it now.) And yes, I have my application for promotion to full professor to which to look forward (I guess), but that doesn’t have the same sense of urgency, and it’s not going to constitute a major life change in the same way that getting tenure and moving to associate did. (Well, other than that I will sayeven more of the things in my head without thinking about consequences!!!!!, which I think will surprise people because I think that they believe I say everything in my head now. Mwahahahaha!!!!)
But so what does this have to do with blogging, you might ask? Well, it turns out, a lot. First of all, blogging years are a hell of a lot like dog years. It’ll be eight years this summer that I’ve been blogging as Dr. Crazy, and that is a long-ass time to be writing online in the way that I write. Just as working at a place for nearly 9 years is a long time to work at a place. And while I have switched gears in pretty major ways with the blog a couple of times (marked by changes of location), it is also the case that I’ve never been a blogger who is terribly interested in cultivating a formal niche as a “public intellectual.” What this means is that I just sort of write what pops into my head. Even when I’m writing about “issues of the day,” I mainly just spout off – I don’t provide lots of linky context, and I don’t fully flesh out “arguments” per se. I don’t see myself as writing essays. And I don’t see what I do here as a professional activity, and I have never had any interest – any interest at all – in my activities as a person who blogs while academic becoming “academic blogging.”
But so I hope you can see where I’m going with this. I have two (related) issues.
The first is that because I’ve always written a “personal” blog (for lack of a better way of putting it, because just as my colleagues think I say everything in my head to them, but really I don’t, I think it comes off that I say everything that comes into my head in this space, which is also not true), the issues that I’m having with redefinition in my “personal” professional life are making me chafe a bit at the constraints of my “public” personal blogging persona. Ultimately, I’m not all that worried about this first issue. The kinks will get worked out with that in time, as they always have done, if I continue writing here.
The second is trickier, and it has to do with some of my angst professionally right now – what is my fucking point? When I started blogging, my point was very clear: I felt alienated. I was in a new town, at a new job, and I felt like I had stuff I wanted to say that I couldn’t say to anybody I knew. In retrospect, I think I felt like I wasn’t really prepared for what it would be like to be in a tenure-track job by grad school, and so I think a lot of that initial foray into the blogosphere was about righteous indignation and telling “the truth” about what it was “really like.” (I look back on that now and realize I was actually trying to figure out what “the truth” was by writing.) And also, that was the moment when “everybody” was starting academic blogs. (And here I must give a shout-out to New Kid and Profgrrrrl, who along with me are I think the last ones standing from the heady earliest days.) After that rough beginning, I moved house and my point was that I wanted to really explore finding an “authentic” writing voice, and I thought that blogging would help me to do that (and it has). I became more interested in blogging about bigger issues in academic jobs beyond just my own bitching (though of course bitching has been and probably always will be an important part of blogging for me), and I wanted to think about blogging as something productive, as opposed to just being something about venting. And it was also about navigating those pre-tenure years, figuring out how to “do” the tenure-track. And then the latest move was about making the transition from tenure-track to tenured. About finding my sea legs as I bought my house, started on a second book, started really to settle into my life for the first time in my adult life. And that’s been fine.
But when you blog about all this crap from a personal perspective – and not a public one, so much – after eight long years it can begin to feel like you’ve said it all, or that there’s something intrinsically self-indulgent and, well, kind of useless about it all. (Much like how I’ve been feeling about professional stuff a few years out from going up for tenure, frankly.) I mean, I can post here, or I can serve on that committee, or I can write that article, or I can… not. What the fuck is the point, anyway? At the end of the day, nothing really changes, nothing really matters all that much. There aren’t that many Major Events, and personal blogging tends to get its energy from Major Events (such as they are). But everything feeling less major is actually a good thing, for the most part. It’s nice to feel settled, and it’s nice not to take every single thing as Big and Important and POTENTIALLY LIFE-CHANGING OR CAREER-ENDING!!!!! ZOMG!!!!! ELEVENTY1!1!!11! But on the other hand, not feeling that sense of urgency also makes you wonder what it is you’re writing about or why you’re writing about anything at all. Or what you’re doing or why you’re doing anything at all.
And so that’s where your comments on that last post really helped to clarify something for me. You guys don’t actually come to this blog for what I write about. I mean, sure, if I were writing about totally bogus shit you wouldn’t keep coming back, but the what isn’t “the point” for you all. The point is the writing itself – that this persona (called Dr. Crazy, which I swear to god, I wish I could change just because it’s so freaking irritating that I saddled myself with that stupid pseudonym when I no longer actually feel so crazy, although I suppose the ironic thing is good, but whatever, it’s who I am in the bloggy universe and I suppose I have to get used to it, just like children named “Banjo” will have to get used to that) offers a window on what academic life is like (just one academic life, but that’s true of any writing that is personal and non-fiction-y) that you all find entertaining, or interesting, or comforting, or useful, or even productively irritating in some way. You guys get it that sometimes I have a hard semester, and so all I do is bitch and moan. And you get it that sometimes I’ve got nothing of any note to report, or that sometimes I can’t report the things that are really taking up my mental space. And you come back anyway. And I shouldn’t look that particular gift-horse in the mouth.
And also, I shouldn’t need you all to tell me that, because for those of you who blog, that’s exactly why I go to your blogs. I don’t care about what you write – although you write about smart, funny, awesome, serious, cool things – but I care about the way that you write about whatever you choose. And for those of you who don’t blog – all you “anons” or others who lurk, who commented for the first time on that last post – it’s so nice to know that you’re out there! And for those of you like PowerProf (whom I’ve MISSED!) who apparently still show up here – that means so much, too! Because the truth of the matter is that another thing I’ve been worrying about for some time is my relevance to people who haven’t been following along for these eight long years, or my relevance to people who used to be around but who have themselves stopped blogging. In some ways, although one does get comments from some regulars pretty frequently, writing blog posts is like sending messages off in bottles. This is even more true in the age of RSS readers. (And also true for me because I never look at my stats – I stopped being obsessed with that right around the time when I just decided that I would tell people who Dr. Crazy is and so I no longer felt afraid about being “outed,” and since I never cared about getting more and more and more readers, well, I just don’t pay any attention to stats or to who is visiting and who is “following” me, or whatever.)
But so here’s the thing. I’ve done a lot of thinking, over the past couple of days especially but really for the past few weeks, about what I want out of blogging, and what the point of it is. And your comments helped me to clarify what had previously been some incoherent and chaotic and contradictory thoughts:
- I need to keep blogging as Dr. Crazy, and I don’t need to change to a new blog space and I don’t need to switch gears again. Part of what it is to be in this profession for the long haul is to find ways to reinvent oneself within constraints. I want to experiment with that in this space. I don’t want to blog under my professional name anymore now than I did when I started blogging.
- I need to cut myself some slack. Sometimes I’m going to feel tapped out and I won’t post that much. That’s ok.
- I don’t actually believe that other forms of social media take the place of blogging or make it irrelevant. Yes, I’m on Fb, but that’s a different thing from what I do here – and it’s different from what I’ve ever really done with the blog. I don’t do twitter because, in all seriousness, I do not see the point. I seriously feel like the pace of twitter stresses me out. It’s worth noting that I’m a person who specializes in novels – LONG novels – for a living, so this should come as no surprise. I like to read big long posts and I like to write them. I like a seven-course meal – not a snack.
- I need to remember the stuff I’m working on in my scholarship – which in the most general way is focused on finding a way to theorize the ways in which authors write female identity without resorting to the binary between public and private or equating the public and the private in some sort of “the personal is political” simplistic way – and realize that in part that is what I’m trying to work out in this space.
- I need to consider – just consider, but still – the idea that perhaps writing a blog under my professional name is not something I should dismiss as some kind of an unbreakable rule. There is no reason why blogging as Dr. Crazy must mean that I can’t write a blog under my “real” name that would deal with other sorts of issues, explore another sort of writing voice. I still don’t know that this would be something I’d want to do at all – right now I feel like it’s not – but maybe making that a rule for myself, that this is an “either/or,” is unnecessarily limiting. And I don’t believe that such a “professional” blog would be without a point or that it would, by definition, “reinforce the reigning orthodoxy of the academy.” In fact, if I were to do such a thing, I would be very clear about the fact that my purpose would be the opposite. Choosing a moniker other than Dr. Crazy, even my real-life legal name, doesn’t mean that I have to become a yes-man. If I believe that, I’d also have to believe the corollary, that by writing as Dr. Crazy I’m some sort of revolutionary. And we all know that isn’t true.
So I don’t know what comes next. But that’s ok. It’s just nice to know that even though I’m feeling a bit burnt out, a bit like nothing makes a difference, that you all don’t feel like that about what I do in this space. And knowing that, really, makes me feel sort of excited to see what I might write in the coming months.
So back to your regularly scheduled blog reading. Dr. Crazy ain’t going anywhere :)