Saturday, July 15, 2006

Contradiction and Randomness

I really identified with lil’rumpus’ description of her “blog block”. She describes nicely some of the anxieties involved in this game, especially for one who is new at it.

What I am finding is that I worry about what to make of the blog. So far I have mostly stuck to more focused, topical posts, because I feel that blogging about the ins and outs of my daily life would be boring – I don’t have the wit to pull that off the way some people so successfully do. So I have been writing relatively ponderously. When I write something off-the-cuff, I am afraid that off-the-cuffness lends the writing a somehow “wrong” quality…that misunderstandings can ensue. The big, classic fear about hastily constructed, electronically transmitted prose somehow misrepresenting who we ‘really’ are. (This reminds me a bit of Flavia's post detailing her anxious dream about being confronted by other bloggers' misconceptions of her.) And then I worry, like about whether I seemed an arrogant, selfish ass in the other day’s post about my ridiculously premature career hysteria, and the award I won. And that’s bad.

Immediately after posting, I had to fight with myself not to delete my off-the-cuffness with this one. Because the fact is, I am self-contradictory, as are we all. I may have been lamenting academic opportunism lately, but I must admit that I was happy to win an award that a) recognizes and fits my dissertation into a larger, communal context, and b) may boost my chances of getting a tenure-track job. The jury’s out on whether all those concerns contradict each other.

I shouldn’t worry so much, though, about how this appears in print on this site. For if I spend my posting time trying to construct a perfectly coherent, pristine persona, what’s the point of this forum? That sure isn’t me, that slice of coherent purity. If I do this, as it seems many do, in part for quasi-therapeutic reasons, then putting out a pretty “me”, one who couldn’t give a fig about jobs or recognition, seems entirely self-defeating.

A couple of other random things:

...I just read Alison Bechdel’s new graphic novel/memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Oh my. What an astonishing piece of writing. I’ve admired the cleverness of Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out for, but I’ve never been a huge fan. This memoir, which traces her relationship to her closeted gay father, is simply beautiful. And witty and learned and troubling and all that good stuff. Best of all, she perfectly and unapologetically renders the complexity and contradictions of people (per above) and their relationships to each other, their loves and hatreds. It is such a frank opening of the self, it more honestly admits vulnerability and longing than almost anything I’ve read. Such a treasure.

...I have been out of the teaching loop for the last six weeks. But last night I watched some young women breakdancing – it was part of an eclectic outdoor dance performance thingy – and was reminded of one of the things that I love most about teaching. These five women’s energy and talent and fierceness drew me back to the way all those qualities play themselves out in some students…I love being around that energy in young people, which is so often manifest as a hunger to make change. I remember it in myself, and feel the ways some of it is lost in me, and being around it in my job is a privilege. Watching these young women’s performance was a lovely mid-summer bit of excitement about what September is going to bring, when I move over to this new university, which has a surfeit of this kind of energy. I can’t wait.


Texter said...

ooo, ooh, ooh, I want to read Bechdel's book! I have been putting off buying it for lack of funds, but I will as soon as I can. I never really followed the comic strip, but what I've heard of this book sounds nothing less than marvelous (and it touches on some personal issues, so I'm curious how she treats the relationship and its reverberations).
I think it is impossible not to think about "blog voice" but at moment I'm too wrapped up in completing the diss, so that forum is getting shunted aside.
Congrats, too, on your award.

Hilaire said...

Texter: Maybe - if this kind of thing works for you - use Bechdel's book as a reward for dissertation completion? It kind of seems perfect. Good luck!

MaggieMay said...

Actually, the blogs I like best are the ones where people let their contradictions hang out for all to see, struggle with them, come to temporary resting places rather than "resolutions." I identify with those blogs-- and I appreciate those bloggers' honesty, b/c I think in Real Life we have to look Focused and Together too much of the time.

Anyway, I love your blog voice! Keep writing and thinking-- you always give me so much to think about.

Hilaire said...

MaggieMay, so you know - *you* have that kind of voice that you love. What I so enjoy about your blog is exactly what you describe. Your willingness to document ambivalence is really important and has taught me a thing or two.


Texter said...

Hm, I'm not sure that delaying gratification will work for me... But I'll keep it in mind. I have enough to go, though, that I would have to wait until Dec to read it. Not sure I will / can wait.

Hey, what did you do or give yourself when you finished? Any stories of incentives you used to push along the work?

Hilaire said...

Maybe use the book as a reward for finishing a chapter or a section. Since, yes, waiting till December is too long!

I was lucky, in a way - I had external incentive to finish my dissertation. In April of 2005, I got the full-time contract that I had last year. I was appointed as Lecturer because I wasn't a PhD - but my contract specified that if I completed my PhD by December 31, my appointment would be *retroactively* converted to Assistant Professor. Pretty sweet. This acted as a powerful incentive, particularly because it was a sizable raise and I was in a financial pinch - having run out of my external funding and left most paid work to focus on finishing. I defended on December 2.

This is not, of course, the case for most people. But it says something about extrinsic motivation. I don't think it's that hard to create it - I am intermittently successful in declaring that I will reward myself with x if I finish y. Not that I'm post-diss, I found that posting my goals on *here* for this summer acted as very powerful motivation, for whatever reason. Is there someone to whom you could articulate deadlines, and who would hold you to them? I'd even do it by email...Although, who knows if this would work for you. We each have such individual ways of responding.