Saturday, December 31, 2005

Why do I blog?

In my life I make few conscious decisions. Sad, but true. I kind of just end up where I am and what I'm doing and somehow it usually works out for me. I didn't plan on being a professor; as an adolescent I wanted to be a zoologist and zoo curator and there's still something appealing to me about a job that combines research science, animal care and conservation, showmanship, marketing, and non-profit management acumen -- what a renaissance person a zoo curator has to be! But I got bored with college level science, so I switched to my other love, literature. I liked English because it encompassed so much (especially since I began my studies in the early heydays of the New Historicism and cultural studies) and I learned a little about a lot of things through it. So in that choice of majors I was actually kind of avoiding making a choice. And I had no idea what I wanted to do after college, but I figured I'd find something I liked. I had vague thoughts about law and guessed it also encompassed a lot of kinds of thinking. But after some time, when I realized law would make me unhappy, I remembered all my former professors who said I'd love the life of academia and so I thought, "OK, I'll give that a try." Not exactly the best reason to go to graduate school -- and people like me usually leave because of that -- but here I am. I live one of those infuriatingly charmed lives and because of that I keep waiting for the shit to hit the fan in some catastrophic way because I am so overdue for it. But maybe it never will. One of my friends once wrote the following in a Friendster profile about me:

Things just seem to happen around her; important things. Even in college there was this aura of inevitability she carried with her. It's not just that when in her presence you get the feeling of greatness (although that is there too), but it's also a hopeful optimistic greatness. You just know that as long as you're with [Dr. V] everything will somehow work out in the end.
OK, well maybe that's a bit much. Certainly it's the kind of praise that could give a Virago a big head. (There was a also a bit about my being a Hegelian world historical figure!) But notice that part about "things just seem to happen around her." See, even my friends notice that I'm not really making things happen consciously; they happen around me. And apparently, according to this friend, it's all good. But honestly, isn't it about time I start making decisions and choices myself and guide my own life a little bit?

All of that is a preamble to what I'm about to say: I have no idea why I'm blogging. I just ended up here. Really. The real reason why I ended up with a blog is that I wanted to comment on another blog that would only allow people with Blogger accounts to comment. (I think it was Got Medieval. Damn that Carl. :) ) So I signed up for an account, hastily picked a blog name, and then later decided that "Quod She" was too good a name for a medievalist's blog to waste and that I should use it for something for pete's sake. And so then I wrote this mission statment; go ahead and read it again and see if I'm doing anything remotely like what I thought I'd do.

So what the hell am I doing? Although I think this blog, like my life, has had its moments so far, it has no mission, no consistent raison d'etre, no consistent theme or subject matter, except insofar as I, Dr. Virago (no, that's not my real name), am a single person. (Although, am I? Am I a Romantic subject -- unified and whole -- or a fragmented, polyvocal postmodern subject? Who's to say? Not I.) There's a reason my masthead has no description of the blog contents, but rather winks and nods to what the blog name and my belatedly-picked pseudonym mean. And having never set a firm subject, this blog has been all over the place. But fear not, my mostly new, mostly anonymous blogospheric friends (and the friends and family who read and do or don't comment), I'm not about to give up the life blog-tastic. I do want to make some conscious choices for once in my haphazard life, however, and I've decided to start small (so as not to rock the boat in what has largely been smooth and happy sailing) and make them about this blog. Given that today is December 31st, I thought it was a perfect day to make such choices and small changes to the mission of the blog.

Yesterday, I was rereading one of the two posts I've written for Catching Flies (yes, only two -- I'm a lame group blogger), called "What Does a Professor Do All Day?" -- written under my old boring initials -- and I decided, in retrospect, that that's what this blog is about, the life of a junior prof and what she does all day. Originally it was meant to be personal first, professional second, but I think maybe it should be a bit the other way around, though with more narrative of daily life. Now that I'm gearing up to get back into teaching, I should have more concrete stories to tell, as well. (Though I still will refrained from saying anything I wouldn't say to my students, just in case one of them discovers this blog.) But I also want the people out there who aren't academics -- including the ones who stumble upon this blog accidentally -- to know how we spend our time. Recently, the blogger Tabitha, at Tabitha Writes Back, wrote about having to explain to her family that the time between semesters wasn't a vacation, and in that Catching Flies post I wrote, I described what I did on my "unpaid summer non-vacation." We write these things because so many people, even those who went to college, think when we're not teaching we're not working, and that's just one of the widespread misconceptions of professorial life.

So I want this blog to describe more of my life, for the benefit of those who are considering it, who are already in grad school or thinking about it, and also for the benefit of the profession as a whole, since I think more transparency about what we do and how we do it, and about the different kinds of institutions at which we work, would be good public relations. I don't think this will make my blog much different from other academic blogs, but it will give my blog more of a focus. There will still be personal stories, because in choosing careers and occupations (or happening into them, as I claim I did) we also choose ways of living, which for academics includes moving to places they might not have ever considered before and possibly living in communities very different from the ones they grew up in or went to school in. So some of what I wrote in that original mission statment, then, still holds. And since this is, in the end, a chronicle of only one professor's life -- a particular kind of institution, a particular discipline, a particular individual, a particular community -- this blog will continue to be idiosyncratic and still a way to keep up, for people who know me in real life, with what I, personally, am up to. It will not and cannot stand in for the profession as a whole (although as we bloggers have discovered, sometimes we lead shockingly parallel lives).

That said, expect fewer quizzes and pictures of interspecies love, more narratives about teaching, research, and service (where I'm not in danger of revealing confidential information, of course), and continued stories of how I fit the rest of my life in -- including running, my social life, family responsibilities, etc. There might be fewer declarations of love for A.O. Scott, however. I may still write about television, though, because people should know that there are ridiculously scholarly medievalists who nevertheless can't stop watching The Gilmore Girls.

Of course, four months from now, expect to find me blogging again about how my blog has become something I didn't quite intend!


Ancrene Wiseass said...

I'd said, some months ago, that I was in the process of re-thinking my own blog and planning to post on that. And I haven't. Maybe I will manage it sometime between today and tomorrow, and maybe not.

At any rate, what you've said here, retooled slightly to fit graduate students as opposed to junior profs, is pretty much what I was thinking of posting myself.

I think one of the best public services of the academic blogosphere is countering the popular conception of academic life as including 3 months and change to do absolutely nothing, lots of sitting around reading novels, and corrupting the nation's youth. And with grad students, the popular imagination also includes all sorts of legends about people who weren't willing to work in "the real world" and just decided to stay students, immersed in some perpetual adolescence.

Let's face it: the life of the academic really isn't all that sexy. It's unlikely that the mainstream media (or even the alternative media) is going to start including pieces which give the public an accurate view of what we do every day, precisely because it wouldn't sell any papers or get good ratings. So it's good to have a different narrative available to people.

Dr. Lisa said...

My blog is pretty much just much about my life as a junior prof and my writing and research. Occasional rants, not many. I don't get that many visitors or comments on the blog, because in general I think my blog is dull because my life is pretty....dull. But once in awhile I have students who say that they appreciate my blog because they see that a) reviewers are mean to me, too; b) you win some grants, you lose some grants, and c) I struggle with my writing schedule, too. I'm ok with the low traffic and low-key nature of it.

This way, I figure it would be hard for me to get in trouble with my department or discipline (if i had a high-profile blog where I talked about public issues, for example, it would be easier for senior faculty or possible external reviewers to take issue). And as ancrene w says, it's good for people to see behind the curtain of academic life a little bit.

Good luck with your blog!

Dr. Virago said...

Thanks for visiting, Lisa, and, in doing so, letting me know about your blog, which I hadn't yet discovered.

You also (unintentionally) made me think about going onymous instead of pseudonymous (though I do love my "Dr. Virago" persona!) and maybe thinking more of my blog as a kind of "outreach and engagment," which my university is very keen on. What you said about how your students appreciate your blog is particularly instructive. But still, I'm worried about that one time I say something I find harmless about students, teaching, my institution, or whatever, but which rubs someone (especially a student) the wrong way and provokes official complaint. Hmm.

I think maybe, as AW generally points out, that pseudonmymous blogs can still be instructive in their narratives of academic life, so maybe I'll stick to being Dr. V. for now.

And AW, thanks for the long, thoughtful comment as well. I remember you saying something about rethinking your blog, and I know, too, what some of your worries are from other conversations we have had. Although I think the asst. prof. blogs might outnumber the grad student blogs, there are a growing number of the latter, and I think you all help each other see that it's not just you or your institution, that the grad student life is a hard row to hoe across the board. And I think that's an important service to other grad students, but also to the blogging profs, who, as we get older and farther from our own grad school years, might forget a little bit just how much it can suck. You make us better advisors and mentors with your stories of what goes wrong and what doesn't work. (God, I didn't mean to sound like some old fogey decades out of grad school! I was thinking more generally of all the blogging profs out there, not just little ol' me!)

Of course, I hope for you personally, that 2006 is so damn good for you that your blog becomes deadly dull from all the good experiences!! :) And Lisa, I hope that's why your life and blog are "dull" as well. Sometimes I worry about the dullness of my own blog coming from the satisfaction of my current life -- in contrast to my dramatically interesting but personally dissatisfying grad student life -- though perhaps there's a need in the blogosphere for cheerful stories of academia, as well.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Well, I'll be coming round whatever. But I have to say that I am so grateful for the kind of conversations we all have about academic life. They keep me going.

Dr. Lisa said...

I do understand the desire to stay anony. I never really talk about students in mine, except in passing, and I don't talk about departmental politics for this reason. For instance, I rant about sports once in a blue moon--very little else. Being "me" limits the content, that's for sure.

However, it's really not my style to talk about politics or students or departmental issues anyway--I mean, there is simply no way I'd be funnier or more insightful than people like the Prrfgrls or Dr. Crazy or Bitch, Phds of the blogosphere anyway. I just don't have that natural insight or that much time to devote to thinking of something. I love jo(e)'s blog, but I'm probably just not that deep, or what creativity I have I try to funnel into my research.

Thus....I have kind of boring blog. But it works to keep me reporting on my progress, which was the goal. Having students see the struggle is a side benefit.

Dr. Virago said...

Lisa, I hear you. I know many bloggers feel their blogs have been a tremendous benefit to them personally, regardless of whether anyone's paying attention. Mine hasn't quite worked that way - and thus I'm still figuring out what it's for! :)

And ADM, glad to have you around as always!! :)

Dr. Virago said...

Oops -- didn't mean to sound like I haven't gotten anything out of my blog! I'm extremely touched and tickled and delighted constantly, in fact, by how warm and inviting the blogging community has been, almost immediately upon my starting this blog, and I've been especially touched by how people have come by to send their good wishes my mother's way in recent posts. What I meant, rather, was that the writing alone, in and of itself, has been a little lacking in direction or clear purpose for me. Still trying to figure that part out.

peter telford said...

Dr. Virago
I think my brother Roger would like you.
He's getting divorced.

P.S. How do you make those word verification pop ups appear?

Peter Telford

Dr. Virago said...


Sorry, but I'm in a very happy relationship!

Dr. V