Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ambivalence

(I've been playing with this post for a day or so now, and waited until the link to me fell off the main page at IHE. I assume we're pretty much back to the usual crowd today.)

I blog. So it's logical to assume I want people to read what I have to say, right? If I didn't, I'd just put it all in drafts, and no one would be the wiser, or I'd just keep some journal or whatever. But the fun in blogging is in communicating, and especially in having people communicate back.

Thus, getting a nod from a carnival, IHE, or whatever should bring great pleasure. It certainly does bring pleasure. A lot of the pleasure is that someone thought you were interesting enough to link to, and there's an implicit approval there, a "hey, Bardiac said something cool." And I've always wanted to be a cool kid.

But since I've been blogging now a couple of months, and before that started reading blogs for about a month or so, I've gotten a sense of blogging communities. There are people I read regularly, mostly because I find them engaging and interesting; I'll often respond to them. Some people I feel a bit inadequate to respond to, as if my response is going to be read as being from fangirlBardiac or something (because we've read those, right?). I'm not saying I'm logical about this.

A couple of people I find really provocative because I sometimes disagree with them; but I only respond to those if I like the blog a lot, if I think the blogger is worth disagreeing with. Because I don't see a point to being just disagreeable, but good disagreement is helpful because it makes me (or someone else) think or rethink issues.

I read a couple blogs just because they hold the macabre fascination of a train wreck for me; I don't respond to them because the logical train wreck in progress is just fascinating, and because I don't see the point in going to someone else's turf and being nasty, especially when it's not likely to provoke rethinking or a fun discussion.

(Yes, I realize that some people who read here must think of my blog as a train wreck in progress, just waiting to see what stupid nonsense comes off my keyboard next. )

Sometimes I respond here linking to posts I've read elsewhere; sometimes it's because I disagree with those posts, or don't understand something. Other times, it's just outright admiration. Usually it's some combination. I try to characterize those posts fairly.

So, the ambivalence thing:

I've confessed before to my infatuation with sitemeter. One of the things that's fascinating about the sitemeter is that you can see where referrals come from. Recently, IHE linked me, and pretty much every referral was from there, with a few regulars, mostly people I regularly read. And then there were a couple referrals from sites I hadn't seen before, so I looked at those.*

I'm not quite sure how to read the commentary on one of the linking sites. I think s/he was being very mildly snarky, but I'm not even sure. Mostly s/he was taking issue with something said in the comments, but even there I wasn't sure what the blogger's take on the comment was, in agreement or not.

The final comment seemed again, mildly snarky, about my being anonymous along with the commenters. That's a legitimate issue. I respect folks like PZ Myers and Michael Berube for using their real names, but I've chosen not to.

There's the unpleasure of feeling uncertain that I quite understand what's being said about me, but mostly there's the unpleasure of feeling that I'm being taken to task for saying things I didn't say because both sites I noticed (I think) mischaracterized my words, implying that I'd said my students who didn't get into grad school were applying in lit or top lit programs. (And both used quotation marks, as if they were quoting, though they weren't.)

Reading them, I thought, "Gosh, Bardiac, did you really say 'lit' or 'top lit' programs?" So I checked, and no I didn't. (And yes, I do actually say "gosh" and stuff, because I'm just such an effing sophisticate.)

It makes sense that I didn't because several of the students I was thinking about are specifically aiming for composition or sci/tech writing programs; I respect the students' interests in these areas of study. Indeed, I encourage students to look into those areas both because they're incredibly interesting AND because there just may be future jobs in those areas, so I don't feel like ethical scum and have to give them the "the job outlook sucks in lit" talk.

Social class-wise, my students rarely try to get into top tier graduate programs. I have a vague sense that most top tier programs don't favor students from places like Northwoods U. I don't know if some people really realize how classist their programs are (it's the unpacking the backpack thing, in a way).

So, after reading these blogs, I feel like I've been set up as a straw-Bardiac for things I didn't actually say. I know I say plenty of stupid things, so to be mocked for stupid stuff I didn't say feels weird.

It's not like I'm injured or outraged. It's more like being a kid and having people laugh at me, but not really being sure why, except that it's at me, and not with me, and it feels sort of bad (until my inner Robin Williams kicks in and wants to go all out for whatever laughs I can get).

And then there's the realization that surrounding my post (the one about grad school questions that other blogs were linking) were silly entries about my athletic team, break plans, and such. Or posts like this one, just thinking out loud, because there's no way to communicate to the usual friendly readers/bloggers who help me think things through and make useful suggestions without also exposing myself to the train-wreck-watchers. I feel all sorts of ambivalence about "strangers" reading about my new rack. (I hope regular readers found it somewhat amusing.)

So, this is for the train-wreck-watchers: I profess literature, but I teach in an English department. My department includes lit folks, comp/rhet folks, sci/tech folks, linguistics folks, creative writing folks, ed folks, and film folks. It's become clear to me as I talk to, say, linguistics folks, that they sometimes feel like outsiders because lit folks dominate and don't realize how much we dominate. That's a problem and I'm learning about it.

I unabashedly and unashamedly love teaching Shakespeare, Chaucer, drama, early modern lit, poetry... and I struggle and work hard to teach theory. If loving what I do for a living seems stupid, well, then, I'm pretty darned stupid.

I teach composition pretty much every term. It's the most difficult class I teach, and not my favorite (though I prefer it infinitely to having to teach Whitman), but I take my responsibility to teach it seriously, and I work hard to try to teach it well. I learn from my colleagues (and researchers I read, etc) and try to use their ideas and methods to do better.

If you see me disparage people for studying in any academic field, then for sure, take me to task. But the straw Bardiac thing? Naw, too easy, don't you think?

One of the other things I learn from looking at my sitemeter stuff is that most people who get here by searches get here by searching for information on paragraph organization, help with letters of recommendation (or this one), and stuff about the St. Crispin's Day speech. For an elitist Shakespearean, I suck at this blogging about Shakespeare thing.


*I thought about whether I should link these two posts, but decided not to. If anyone's really curious, I'm sure you can find both with a quick search of blogs, or you could email me. PS. I won't be on for the next couple days since I have a visitor coming into flyover country from out of town!

11 comments:

  1. fwiw, I don't think that most people who come from IHE ever become regular readers. People who read the Around the Web section are just casually interested in blogs, and will read a post or two, but don't stick around. You can take that as you wish. If you wanted to gain more readers, well, sorry. But on the other hand, you don't have to worry about how the rest of your posts seem to people who don't regularly read your blog.

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  2. I'm with Ianqui. And as someone who's also been linked to by a random blog, along with a comment to the effect of, "what a terrible and cynical teacher! my respect for the profession has just plummetted!"--well, I feel your pain.

    You know, when I saw that your post on grad school applications had been linked to by IHE, I very nearly went back and deleted my comment because I was worried that it sounded like I was endorsing the admission policies of my grad program (and also because I realized, belatedly, that I wasn't really answering your question in a helpful way). However, I thought it was an interesting discussion overall, and one that I definitely enjoyed.

    But for the record: a) I don't share the admissions policies and assumptions of my grad program, and b) I don't, I hope, have an exaggerated sense of self-importance on the basis of that program. God knows that I was probably among the weaker candidates admitted my year, and I probably only got in because I went to the same school as an undergrad. (And I probably only got in as an undergrad because, at the time, I was a public school kid from a very underrepresented western state.)

    Just wanted to get that out there. . .

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  3. I was ambivalent about an IHE link recently, not because I was being misread, but because it was hardly the most charitable thing I'd ever written. In fact, it was among the least charitable things I'd ever posted to the blog.

    And sure enough, it got me more readers than ever. And few of 'em stuck around.

    And as for the anonymous thing, I find it all odd that at one level many people who critique anonymous bloggers and commenters are doing so with a sort of pissy snark that they would never use in a face to face conversation. So not only are they relying on your anonymity to be bitchy (She's not real, so I can say whatever I want), but they're also relying on something akin to this--the virtual meaninglessness of their name if they're not part of your blogging community--to get away with it.

    So foo on them.

    And for the record, this blog is hardly a trainwreck, and if it is, then virtually every blog I read and love is too...

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  4. I hear you about this ambivalence, Bardiac, and I've experienced it myself. I tend not to pay attention to sitemeter at all anymore, and I rarely know when IHE has linked me unless some new folks stop by and actually comment. I suppose not paying attention is the equivalent of trying not to pay attention to student evaluations, you know?

    At any rate, don't let the haters get you down. There are lots of us out here who would never dream of making a straw bardiac out of you :)

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  5. Me too. Both to what you said & what your commenters said. It's incredibly annoying (to put it mildly) when someone attacks you for something you didn't say.
    However, in defense of your visitors, they may have been trying to work out their own feelings in response to something you wrote. I wrote a response-entry to something I had read on another blog; apparently it was taken as an attack on the other blog, but I didn't mean that at all. I was trying to work out my own issues her entry had tangentially brought up.
    Anyway, I really like this entry. You said all the things I wish that I could.

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  6. I hear ya. I'm constantly surprised at the assumptions people will bring when they read (what seems to me) a fairly straightforward piece. It's not fun, but it's the price of admission to the public sphere.

    (The last time I wrote something for IHE, people responded as if I'd run over their dogs and cackled about it. And yes, they take anonymity as license for ad hominem attacks, as odd as that is.)

    Keep blogging. You're one of my favorite reads, and not a train wreck at all.

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  7. Hello, my friend Bardiac:

    Sadly, I've not been about the blogs recently (nor about Chaucer, much to my chagrin....). I have been far too preoccupied with the baking baby, house prep...grading. You know.

    I'm sorry about the ambivalence. Please don't question the value of your blog; just train youreself to dismiss those who would rather stage an argument with a position they'd hope to hear uttered rather than what they should have heard.

    I certainly hope we'll be able to keep up our correspondence in the years to come.

    BTW...STILL waiting for the Norton Chaucer...sounds like time for a ring up doesn't it?

    Peter

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  8. i enjoyed your thoughts, and could indentify with many of them. regarding one of your last points, i maintain a page in my blog for some of the more bizarre search terms that people use to find my site.

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  9. As someone else who had a weird link from IHE that made me very nervous (to post in which I dithered about what it meant that the prof I taught for was hearing lots of compliments about my teaching, but almost exclusively from male students), I hear ya.

    One of the wonderful things about the blogoverse is its inclusiveness and accessibility. But that's also one of the riskiest and most terrifying things about it. We can't do a damn thing about how random people choose to read or interpret what we say. In my case, I got the strong sense that both IHE and a number of readers thought I was either fishing for compliments or obliquely describing an inappropriately charged classroom atmosphere. And then they went away again, with that impression of me fully implanted.

    And yeah, the constant bitching about those of us who choose to remain anonymous being "cowards" really sticks in my craw. It's a stupid generalization. There's more than one way to be brave, after all, and responsible people will not abuse anonymity for the purpose of saying irresponsible things.

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  10. Boy do I know how you feel. I got linked last week by some site called Gawker.com, with some stupid tag lione, for that post I did about the hooking college student. Within 2 days I racked up over 4000 hits, and I felt really wierd and like I was on display or something. Then I got linked to by a website for hookers and their johns, which REALLY freaked me out. Then some site where they started dissing me.

    Nothing made me happier than when today, my hits dropped back to the usual crowd. Because they are the ones I blog for. Not the strangers, not the gossipers, not the cutesy girl sites that diss other bloggers

    When I tried to explain this to my brother, his comment was something like "Well what do you blog for if you don't want people to read it?" And I tried to explain that I was ambivalent, that I didn't want EVERYONE to read me, just a few good friends.

    Anyway, thanks for another great read. Have a great vacation. I assuem you are biking with that new rack, can't wait to hear about the trip.

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  11. Thanks for all the supportive comments, folks.

    Back to your regularly scheduled blogging soon!

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