There's been something going around the academic blogosphere these past few months, with many long-time bloggers of roughly my generation wondering aloud about the purpose of their blogs now that their professional status is more secure. I've had those questions, too. A lot of us started blogging when we were grad students or were just starting our first full-time academic jobs, when we were growing into our professional identities but still felt pretty marginal. The period of becoming--the story of how one builds a life and fashions a self--is, after all, a traditional subject for narrative.
But now that we're done struggling upward, or have at least hit a significant narrative plateau (and now that we have enough buy-in that we're not going to be writing with complete candor about a specific obnoxious colleague, a gossipy scandal, or a potentially disastrous institutional initiative), then what's the point for those of us whose blogs are mostly life chronicles? Who wants to read about the relatively low-stakes struggles of the tenured?
I don't know the answer to the last question, but I suppose my answer to the first one is that, first of all, the story isn't actually over--and secondly, we were never fully candid and never really that marginal to begin with. Graduate school and the job market may have traumatized us, and we may even have spent a year or two as contingent faculty, but let's face it: those of us who went to fancy Ph.D. programs weren't ever in the belly of the academic beast (though we may have spent some time caught unpleasantly in his esophagus). So if we're more privileged now than we were then, it's only a matter of degree.
My point isn't that only the most marginal deserve our sympathy or have stories worth telling, but the opposite: academia can be brutalizing even for the relatively privileged, and as long as we're not conflating our lot with that of those further down the privilege chain--and as long as we're listening to them, too--writing honestly about our professional lives is a service no matter where we are or how much good fortune seems to outweigh the bad. (That guy we all know who didn't get tenure at Harvard or Yale or Chicago a decade ago, and who retells the story every year at the the conference hotel bar? Yeah, he's annoying as hell. But his story about the profession is a real one too.)
In the comments to my last post, I mentioned that I was striving to write both honestly and ethically: I want to tell the truth, including the emotional truth, of my professional life without being merely emotional and reactive, in a way that maintains the privacy of those who haven't signed up to be blogged about, and also in a way that at least implicitly recognizes my own privilege.
We'll see how it goes. But I'm hopeful that my life post-tenure is still worth writing about, and worth reading.