Joan Didion once wrote, concerning the time in her life when her burgeoning journalistic renown sharpened her own equally growing state of personal disconnection, “Once in a while I even answered letters addressed to me, not exactly upon receipt but eventually […] ‘During my absence from the country these past eighteen months,’ such replies would begin.” Her epistolary dodge seems apropos to me now, after a 4-year unplanned blogging hiatus in an era when there are no longer any legitimate excuses for being out of touch. The heroic, pathological motto of our age is technological connectivity. But the relation of connectivity to actual connection is more intangible. As it turns out, walking away from one’s blog was relatively easy, given the surplus of competing screens.
If it weren’t for some strategically placed security questions, set randomly in the distant past, this post would have remained a glimmer of private thought, given that the passwords for my pseudonymous accounts were long forgotten, washed away in the wave of other passwords, login names, and profile pages of “the real me.” That said, this really isn’t a post-mortem, although I am not convinced, do not yet know, that it composes a return either. Perhaps more descriptively, this is a return to a treasured, forgotten place. It is reassuring to see that the electronic matrix of the interwebs has kept everything here (barring spam comments) neat and tidy, just as I left it, as if I had quickly stepped out for a coffee or a pack of cigarettes and not, as indeed what did happen, that I became distracted by other things, some important but many inconsequential (viz. Facebook).
In returning to the blog, and thinking through what blogging meant to me in a particular space and time in the second half of the aughts, I recognize a fleeting, fragile, yet tangible electronic community in extremis. This contingent society enabled me to think through the then-recent calamitous events in my professional life as I began what I once sardonically called my second (professional) marriage, connecting me to a pixilated group of like-minded scholars and writers whose own reflections (on their blogs and in their commentary) complemented my own disparate thoughts in productive and fruitful ways (something I share with others). Returning after so long to this place, I also see that the blog provided a forum for some pretty good writing (here, here, here, here, and here), as well as the context for a rigorous and regular writing practice on a wide range of topics: professional development, teaching, academic social norms, pop culture, cultural politics, and deeply personal reflection, in particular several meditations on place.
A compelling aspect of this anthology over the course of three active years is the change in my narrative voice, from sassy, campy, and wise-cracking to sober and introspective, with a seriousness that towards the end bordered on brooding. Part of this shift was the growing awareness of a committed readership, including readers who knew my real identity. But I also find that the blog’s writing mirrored my own deeper movement into the profession, from acolyte to priestess. And it is this movement deeper into the structure of the professoriate that continues to challenge me. One attains the ostensible markers of professional accomplishment, even as the profession itself mutates into different creatures and forms. The total effect is really to keep one guessing, constantly questioning the parameters of success, performance, and accomplishment.
To wit, my tenure and promotion did not bring with it the anticipated rush of relief, although obviously I was happy to achieve it. Many of my thoughts on this entrance into the true mysteries of the profession are captured in this recent piece on Reassigned Time 2.0. I would add that, for myself, tenure and promotion did not lesson my general professional anxiety and deep distrust of institutions. If anything it heightened it, in ways I am still dissecting. Constructing a convincing narrative of one’s evolution is always a tricky process, although we keep to the shibboleths we have learned in our training, repeating them like a mantra in the face of a world increasingly marked by chaos. This blog forms a personal archive of my years of struggle and wonderment as an assistant professor: one possible index to a once and future self.
But for the moment, back in this beloved and abandoned place, I savor most the memory of friendship and camaraderie that came together here evanescently, for a brief while.