(Post 3 in a series on the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo)
In reading around the blogs of other people who were at our little K’zoo blogger meet-up, I was glad to see that everyone seemed to have a good time. (Not everyone I linked mentioned the get-together specifically, but I thought I’d like you anyway – if I forgot someone, mea culpa). We had a long table and we tended to stay put in our seats, so I didn’t get to talk to everyone that much, especially since I was at one end of the table, so I was actually a little nervous that people were feeling weird or uncomfortable. I’m probably always going to go to K’zoo, even when I’m not presenting, so if people liked the event, I’m happy to continue arranging similar such gatherings in the future – and this time maybe I’ll make the reservation myself, so Elisabeth Carnell, who already has way too much to do for the conference, doesn’t have to do it.
Anyway, I also noticed that no one wrote in much detail about the meet-up, which is perhaps for the best. I mean, I’d be pretty bummed out if New Kid wrote “Dr. Virago only wishes she looks like Lorelei on The Gilmore Girls.” (Te-hee – as if New Kid would ever write something so mean! And as if I really believe I look just like Lauren Graham!) But the meet-up got me thinking about blogging and its uses and I want to use the meet-up to discuss those ideas a bit. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the panel on that subject because it conflicted with a good friend’s panel (which gave me new ideas for teaching Pearl – something I desperately needed as I floundered through it this semester – so thank god for that!) so I’ll air my thoughts here. Since it seems from what I’ve heard that the audience for the blogging panel was mostly other bloggers, anyway, I suppose this post is a half-sibling to that panel.
It will probably come as no surprise to people that bloggers’ writing voices and their in-person demeanors are not always the same. Some bloggers consciously create voices and personalities that are only one part of or an exaggeration of who they are in real life – Dr. Crazy and Bitch Ph.D. come to mind here. And I know I have often been told I write and speak very differently (this I know from the whole online dating thing back when I was in graduate school). But one particular difference struck me at that meet-up, and it’s that some bloggers who use their blogs to voice their anxieties and insecurities seem much more confident, polished, and even potentially intimidating in real life. And therein lies one of the great useful aspects of blogging, especially anonymous blogging. Anonymous blogs allow us to express feelings that might otherwise seem “unprofessional” to our colleagues, that would make us seem like we weren’t “handling” things, or that would generally make us seem needy or not together. We can also talk about the ‘imposter complex’ in general, or specific anxieties about skills we think we should have but feel inadequately trained in; we can ask directly for help in teaching or researching something without exposing ourselves to feelings of inadequacies in front of those who review us; and for those of who are the only medievalist in our department (me!) we can ask a question on our blog and have an answer from other medievalists in cyberspace within hours, sometimes minutes. (A benefit I haven’t exploited as much as I should, but I like that it’s there.) And again, because we’re anonymous, we don’t have to feel like such a fool. Some might say you can do those things – especially requesting information – on listservs, but listservs generally require some identification (I doubt very much the listservs I know would very welcoming to people with funny pseudonyms) and often are populated by at least a few judgmental people. Blogs have a different audience (for one thing, greater numbers of us are assistant profs and grad students), and the combination of anonymity and content-control that an individual blogger has frames the conversation differently. I, for one, don’t feel like the dunce raising her hand in the back of the class when I’m posting on my own blog, and I would definitely feel like that on a listserv.
Anyway, all these thoughts occurred to me at and after the blogger-meet up, and I think meeting the people behind the blogs really crystallized these particular benefits of blogging for me. Blogging allows us to be the “Virago,” “New Kid” or “Wiseass” that social and professional conventions of real life don’t quite allow fully – especially for women (it’s no accident that Karl the Grouchy Medievalist was the only guy at the meet-up, I don’t think) but also for grad students and assistant profs, those of us in the most tenuous positions in the academic hierarchy.
And here’s something else blogging has done for me, personally. I would probably have never met any of the bloggers who came to the meet-up, except through their blogs. And yet, it turns out, a few of them work in areas adjacent or overlapping with work I’m doing, so now I have a few new acquaintances who might be able to point me in the right direction towards resources I don’t know or don’t know how to navigate, and vice versa. I also went to one blogger’s panel and learned things about texts I teach, and I might not have done otherwise, since I usually attend panels and papers either directly related to my own work or given by people I know – and I wouldn’t have known this person if it hadn’t been for blogging. In other words, blogging has served as another means of networking, one with lower stakes and anxieties than most forms, especially since we were brought together by a common interest that is somewhat extra-curricular (though, of course, we use our blogs in ways that benefit our curricular and research interests, too). And though everyone at this particular meet-up was an assistant prof or grad student, blogging has the potential to cut across status and position. So even if we still have to put up with the hierarchical rituals of the tag-glance, blogging can potentially help dissolve some of those differences or at least help us cross the boundaries of affiliation.*
*This is only partially related to a K’zoo post, so I’m putting it in a footnote, but I’d also like to add that just reading blogs has kept me abreast of what people are up to in other fields – either in other disciplines or other historical periods of literature. I definitely wouldn’t sign up for the listservs of these fields and disciplines, and the Chronicle only covers so much, so the academic blogs that address research more specifically – usually the non-anonymous ones – have been really good in keeping me from being too susceptible to the tunnel-vision that specialization can cause.
Friday, May 19, 2006
(Post 3 in a series on the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo)