I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want this blog to be. None of us is not multi-faceted, and to represent myself in an official sense in the realm of public discourse I don’t want to reduce myself to a single set of interests. I am passionate about a lot of things in this world, some of them trivial (the guilty pleasure that is ANTM, or my distaste for dogs under 10 pounds), some of them deadly important. But I also have other spaces to write about other things, and I’m debating how best to use my time and energy here. It’s not a decision I’m going to make right away, but I’m going to be keeping an eye on the quality of my work even as I try to improve it across the board, and if over time there seem to be threads that do not lend themselves to good writing, they will most likely be abandoned.
But, I’ve also been thinking about why I’m able to write well about certain topics and not others, even when I’m equally passionate about them. Ideally, that why can inform my work on the “other stuff,” because I’m all about the problem solving.
I used to be an academic, you see. I read and wrote all the time, because it was my job. That part I was pretty good at, and there were other reasons I chose not to finish my Ph.D., but that’s the part I loved the most, and miss the most: the constant ongoing conversation among other scholars, students, the public, high and pop culture sources, emerging and canonical works, who all touched on issues and ideas in different and interesting ways. They were all useful fodder for the continual discussions and debates that went on in my life on a daily basis, and no discussion was without its point of inspiration (“yesterday I read…”, “my friend thinks…”) or piece of up-to-the-minute evidence or other reference to back up whatever claims were made.
And then I quit graduate school, not without some bitterness and animosity. And as a celebration of my freedom, I stopped reading, because I didn’t have to anymore. And I stopped writing, because there was nobody to grade or review my work, and I didn’t have to. And then I lived without television or internet, this time because I had to, because I was poor and unemployed. I cooked. I went running and learned tricks on the trapeze. I reveled in novels, a long-postponed pastime, and avoided works that touched too closely to the social, political, or academic issues I had paid such close attention to for the previous decade. I lived in an apolitical world, or as close as I could get.
This from someone who chose a doctoral program based on the notion that it is fundamentally dishonest and unjust to speak about inequalities in value-neutral language, whose entire academic mission was about exploring and exposing the day-to-day political machinery that maintained inequality and oppression, by the use of purportedly apolitical discourse. But that was another life, another person, and I was not that girl anymore, I argued.
Some of the issues never quite left me, and I couldn’t depoliticize everything. I may not have been reading, but I wasn’t going to disavow feminism, or my right to sexual satisfaction, or ignore the disturbing evidences of racism and homophobia and political asshattery that I saw around me regularly. But somewhere in the last few years, I lost touch with the rest of the discourse around those topics. I knew what I thought, and I had some sense of historical underpinnings and the major theories around them, and I know how to analyze a situation and offer my own take, but I lost the conversational aspect of that critique. I was thinking things out for myself, to myself, with little to no feedback, and with all my books and articles gone or in boxes, it wasn’t necessary to portray myself and my views as part of a larger conversation.
Again, another betrayal of my academic purpose, where I argued that the only successful theories and scholars were always already engaged in a conversation with the big-D Discourse that went beyond their immediate circles and audiences. But I left that community; I don’t do that anymore, right?
So then I got lonely and wanted my community back, and as a person alone in a new city, without funds or resources to get set up with a group of smart, interesting people for regularly-scheduled fun times, I figured the internet would be a source, the way it was in the late 90s when I was a part of something that was truly special and life-changing (for me, at least). But a lot changes in a decade, and the discourse doesn’t look the same or work the same. Hence the blog, which I had only marginal interest in doing back then, and now seems the best vehicle for my multiple purposes.
But I’ve forgotten how to write, at least the way I used to do. Hell, I’ve forgotten how to think that way, in a lot of senses. So I try to figure out what to eat, or show off a recipe, or work out what my workout means to me, but it’s not as easy for me anymore to connect that to the rest of the world, because I was cut off from the world for too long.
Part of me wants to turn to academia for that community, that conversation. It’s what I know, and I know they’re talking about it. But I don’t want to go back to graduate school, or be a professor, and if I want to be who I am having these ideas I want the conversation to include more people like me, who know their shit and don’t need the weight of a degree to endorse their assertions or their relevance. How very women’s studies of me, to argue that “real women in the streets” might have as much — or more — to say about the issues that affect them than a group of scholars who get paid to talk about such things.
And yes, I’m well aware of the delicious irony of positioning my over-educated self as some sort of counter to members of the academic community. If I lack their blessing, I still have their training.
The things I write about sex and feminism still hew the most closely to that old style of writing, still allude to a broader community and a conversation outside of each individual essay, because I was so immersed in that community and conversation for so long, and it’s the one I kept active after leaving the academy, after I found myself without anything to say in most of the other conversations. And feminist academic discourse always had some bleed-over into non-academic circles, just as personal, confessional writing always had its place in feminist academic discourse, so it’s no surprise that these would be some of the most well-developed pieces I’ve produced in the time since I left school. But to me, that’s a reason to keep writing about other topics, because I made a commitment to be somebody else when I left my Ph.D.; because if I only write about the stuff I would have done as a scholar, then one might argue that I’m just a scholar who failed, and I want to be more than that.
So I’m going to keep working on the less-successful topics. Academic rigor is only one way to produce strong writing. I also want to cultivate my sense of humor on the page, and find the other conversations of which my writing is a part, and find the communities to whom my ideas speak. Because in a broader sense, this isn’t about the identity of my blog, it’s about my identity. That’s the story I want to write, and one I want to write in such a way that it shows the full range of who I am, not just the parts that academia prepared me to be. And I’m going to find other people who can also write intelligent things about the stuff I like, and I’m going to write things about what they think, and how what I think relates to that as well as some other stuff, because that’s how this community-building game gets played.
More irony: my academic work had everything to do with the notion of discourse communities. Even as I reject it, I find new ways to stick with that old life.