Saturday, August 27, 2016

An obsession in search of a medium

Downloading my blog is irksome, fascinating, and monotonous all at once: I've already hit 700 pages and am just at the halfway point.

It's an extraordinary thing, reading hundreds of thousands of your own more-or-less polished, more-or-less public words, all ruminating on basically the same set of topics over the years. As with my journals, I'm surprised both by how much I haven't changed--so many posts I'd forgotten about could have been written last week--and by how much I have.

But let's be honest: most of what's changed has to do with specific, discrete skills I've learned (I no longer fret over how to teach a certain kind of class or am puzzled by a particular professional conundrum) or with my having aged into different roles with students and colleagues alike. The existential stuff, the habits of thought, the kinds of things I'm interested in and worry about--those are all pretty consistent.

In some ways that's comforting: it's proof that I have a core self, an identity, or at least a set of obsessions that pass for a personality. But there are some continuities that are less comfortable, some obsessions I'm surprised to discover I haven't outgrown. Whatever narratives I may tell about myself these days, there are still some tattered personal myths I haven't fully replaced, whose ghostly presence is my only explanation for the disproportionate emotional reactions that certain tasks, conflicts, or ambitions elicit.

But the more interesting thoughts this process has stimulated aren't to do with me as a person, but rather with the kind of writing that this blog represents. Most of my older and original reasons for blogging no longer obtain--or the the needs they represent are ones now better met in other spaces. Facebook has absorbed probably 50% of what I used to blog about.

But I'm still blogging, even though most of my favorite bloggers and blog-readers have moved on to other media. Some are their hilarious, thoughtful, or political selves exclusively on Facebook and Twitter. Others occasionally write first-person essays or advice pieces for the Chronicle or IHE. Others do public writing for the LARB, The Atlantic online, institutional blogs, or print publications. Sometimes I think that if I were serious about writing nonacademic prose, that's what I'd be doing, too.

And yet, none of those seems the right fit for the writing I still feel compelled to do here. This blog isn't confessional, or a record of my daily minutiae. It isn't advice-oriented and doesn't (usually) pretend to great knowledge. I rarely talk about the details of my research or try to use my disciplinary training to talk about contemporary events or bring a neglected historical or literary artifact to public attention.

Rather, what continues to fascinate me, the kind of writing for which I've found no other outlet, is the project of understanding and describing the emotional and psychological realities of the profession as I experience it. What does it mean to be an academic at this cultural moment? Who are we? And what does it feel like to write, to experience rejection, to change jobs, to cathect onto particular mentors, colleagues, students?

I don't know for how long I'll continue to blog; it's melancholy being part of a dying or superseded medium when most of the party is happening elsewhere. But since there's no evidence to suggest that I outgrow my obsessions, I'm unlikely to stop until I find a better space in which to pursue them.


xykademiqz said...

Hi Flavia, sorry, I only occasionally read the blog, but I read about you downloading the blog and it sounded exactly like what I had done last summer in prep for my blog-based book that came out this year... So are you writing a book based on the blog? Or reflecting on all the work you've done? Congrats either way!

As for blogs being an outdated medium, people keep saying it, but I don't buy it. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., all have different purposes. John Scalzi of "Whatever" said he would never stop blogging, because blogging would always have its own specific purpose, as the best medium for people who want to share longer pieces with the world. I completely agree. The fact that so many people prefer Twitter or Facebook etc. and have migrated simply means that for most people writing longer pieces is not something that's feasible long term. There are still plenty of vital blogs out there. They cannot be beat as a medium to experiment with one's writing (especially for those of us who are not trained in a corresponding field).

Anyway, hoping for many more years of Ferule & Fescule!

Sapience said...

I'm glad you're still blogging! Even though I'm not keeping up with writing a blog, I am still *reading* blogs pretty regularly.

Susan said...

I have realized recently that there are new blogs I need to be reading- -I think some people have stopped blogging, but others are taking it up. So I'm glad you are keeping going.

Flavia said...

Thanks, all!

Xyk, I'm mostly just archiving. But I'm also using the process to think through what my strengths and interests are as a writer, and what other opportunities I might want to pursue.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

My feed reader offers abundant testimony that blogs are still going strong! The nice thing about using a reader (I use Feedly) is that it notifies me when someone adds a post, even if it's an infrequently updated blog. I don't feel as if bloggers necessarily have to post often, so long as what they post is worth reading. I follow some bloggers who post daily, sometimes more than once; others who post a few times a week; and still others who might post once a month or even less often. The reader keeps me up to date on all of them, and it also lets me search my when I can't remember exactly where I read something!

Belle said...

I've discovered that since retirement (yay!), I read fewer and fewer academic blogs. My everyday concerns have shifted as my primary identity shifted. It's been liberating, to say the least, to be out of the trenches of academic politics. But I do miss the people behind the blogs that have gone quiet. Mine too has gone quiet, as I'm not really sure who would be bothered to follow my new life. And I'd hate to lose those blog-friends I made. By going quiet, I've already lost them I guess. But I'm glad you're still here! Keep on keepin' on!

Renaissance Girl said...

I continue to read and savor your blog posts, albeit sometimes belatedly. So glad you're still out there.

Susan said...

Belle, just wanted to say I miss your writing, but I hope you and your critters are doing well!

Flavia said...


What Susan said! There are so many ex-bloggers whom I don't know IRL, who just disappear (and whose lives I sometimes worry & wonder about). So it's nice to get a wave now and then.