Monday, April 18, 2011

I wanted to say something but...

Lately our numbers have been down, or at least it seems like they have been. We've been getting less comments, and I'll admit that while I can think of many likely reasons--end of term, too much grading, hope of summer--ultimately I find myself fretting about it. I find myself thinking, what's the point if we're/I'm not garnering commentary? And more generally I find that I start turning my concerns onto myself: am I not pulling my weight? Should I bow out? Forge a new writing style? Have more links? Spend more time crafting my posts? Spend less? Am I going to regret publishing a post? Will it come back to haunt me? Worse, will it go unnoticed? These are just a few of the questions that run through my mind on a Sunday afternoon.

Granted, I worry about most everything, and I've worried about letting readers know that I worry about whether or not you're reading. However, I find it reassuring and incredibly interesting that Sina Queyras aka Lemon Hound who, in my opinion is one of the most important women currently blogging, has expressed concerns about taking up public space on the internet. Here's what she wrote in 2005 under the heading "Women blogging women"

Back in September I posted a note that said I was likely going to end my blogging adventure. Clearly I have decided not to. There are a number of reasons why, but the most important one may be--dare I say it--a question of gender. Tired old dialogue that it is, I noticed there are not enough women engaged in the discussion of poetry and poetics. Over and over again the voice seem to be male, shouting about this or that school or lineage...deciding what is important and what not in such confident and reductive tones as to shut out more cautious or considered voices.*

Now Queyras is obviously writing about discussions of poetry and poetics, and she's writing this in 2005. Much has changed, certainly, but I cite her here to underscore some things that haven't. Namely what she calls cautious or considered voices. Are those women's voices? Queyras thinks so. In answer to her own question 'where are all the women?' she writes,
I have my theories. Look to the deletions, the hesitations, the reflective responses... the women are still out there thinking, their voices not quite up for the bombastic and instantaneous responses.

Hm. I'm certainly slow to respond most times, even here on a space I've helped to create. I'm still wondering how to agree and encourage and consider Heather's post about post-term tristesse, or how to respond to Aimée's most recent post about the performance of gender in a male-dominated field. It seemed relevant that my partner, who is a car enthusiast, send me a link to the latest Waterloo gender debacle from one of the car sites he reads, but I wasn't sure how to work it into a pithy consideration of the post. In fact, I remember when Sina invited me to write a post for Lemon Hound; I very nearly backed out because I didn't feel I had put enough work into it. She encouraged me (which I'd say falls into categories of both unpaid emotional work and mentorship), and she also told me to speak up.

Creating a space for dialogue and community is a collaborative act. Here is what poet Emily Kruse Carr has to say about it:

Collaboration is the most sincere form of adaptation.

By which I mean: vulnerable, requiring blind faith, solicitations for admiration, involvement, reciprocity, empathy. It is something like being in love: as a strategic mode of aesthetic presentation & performance.

Social coherence versus coherent self identity. Ok. That’s the problem.

Collaboration holds these tensions in play, rather than wistfully papering them over or simply & improbably wishing them away. It destabilizes the individual into an assemblage that is spatially & temporally contingent.

Collaboration is adaptation as animation: to move mentally, to excite an action at the neurochemical level. A waltz, for example, or a molecular mosh pit. Hypothesis building on the level of synapse.**

Which is to say that comments or no, there is no telling what kind of collaboration is happening here. And that it exciting. Or, to put it another way, perhaps fast feminism sometimes appears to be slow in the way we want the academy to be: considered.

But if you're hesitating to join the conversation because you feel like what you have to say is unimportant, obvious, or passe, let me tell you: we're here, and we want to know what's on your mind.


*You can read this post and more in the beautifully produced Unleashed which was published by BookThug's fantastic Department of Critical Thought.

**This is an unpublished excerpt of a collaborative project Emily and I are working on entitled The Sonnets Project.

14 comments:

  1. You'll know from my recent comments that I'm still around and reading, but I want to second your suspicions about why we might be here but not commenting. There are many times when I'm too tired or overwhelmed in my work or life to thoughtfully compose a response, and many other times when I don't have anything more than a non-verbal response because I'm still processing the new ideas and persepectives youse bring forward. But I'm still here and reading. The posts help me to think and talk about feminist issues with my friends, colleagues and students, and I recommend the blog to every academic woman I meet, many of whom express enthusiasm. Just knowing the blog exists, reading it whenever I get the chance to breathe, makes me feel like I'm part of something bigger, a community of female, Canadian academics for whom your blog provides a voice. You are doing important work here, and I hope you keep going, even if sometimes we're too tired to do more than nod.

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  2. Hi SC!

    Oh I know you're here and many others besides, for which I (and I'm certain I speak for the collective here) am very grateful. I wanted to think through some of the reasons why a) I fret over a drop in commentary and b) imagine why others may be hesitant to comment if they feel they would like to.

    Thanks for your words as well! Good luck with the piles of stuff April brings!

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  3. Hi Erin --

    Very interesting post. It has been my experience (and my reserach) that different kinds of blogs draw different kinds of engagements from their readers. Generally, blogs that engage intelletually draw more readers, but fewer commenters, than more personal blogs. For example, my personal (pseudonymous, never promoted) blog regularly drew between 5 and 20 comments on every post--with only 1/3 the daily readership of Hook and Eye. Then again, I also commented on 10-20 blogs every day, as all my regular readers were also bloggers.

    For me, I'm always glad of comments, particularly when I'm trying to crowd-source my thinking, as in Friday's post: I need some help sorting that particular issue out. Otherwise, for myself, I'm much more concerned with interrogating the number of site visits and other indications that people are *reading*. And they are, in actually not that much smaller a number than earlier in the year.

    I hadn't thought of some of the issues you raise here, about what motivates starting or stopping to write in a public blog, probably since I've been blogging for donkey years and spend half my life writing about writing blogs (paradoxically ...). Hm. Lots to think about.

    And thank you, SC, for the emotional labour you expend here to keep us motivated!

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  5. I know of many undergraduates who read this blog, and maybe they are (like me) terribly intimidated/feeling under qualified to contribute to the conversation. Or maybe they just enjoy listening and not talking, I suppose I shouldn't make generalizations about their choices.

    Just wanted to assure you that you do have a silent but present audience, especially as exams and papers ambush us and we look for any means of procrastination.

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  6. I had a long and well-thought-out comment to post, and then a Blogger error message ate it. Perhaps that's one reason for low comment numbers!

    Personally, I think the above observations are pretty spot-on about many readers: I've been following this blog and reading nearly every post since Kaarina recommended it to me a few months ago, but I rarely comment because a) often I don't feel my thoughts are organized enough, and/or b) the topic at hand is so different from my own just-beginning experience in academia that I feel more at home just absorbing and listening.

    That said, while readers may not always comment immediately or on any one particular post, I think that the consistent presence of women's voices and ideas (even on the intertubes) creates more space for your readers to comment in general. It's much easier to speak when you don't feel you're in a vacuum. In my own life, I've noticed that I've started discussing feminism and feminist issues with many more people (friends, family, acquaintances) since the start of 2011 than I had for most of my life, and I think that's hugely influenced by reading books and blogs like this one. So while "0 comments" may be pretty demoralizing at times, I have a lot of faith that this blog is doing some very useful and wonderful things.

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  7. End-of-term craziness is definitely a factor in commenting less frequently, and those of us stuck south of the border typically go an extra 3-4 weeks later than you so I'm still smack-dab in the rush of the final few weeks (last grad class prep today--thank goodness!). But, I still read every M-W-F like clockwork thanks to the blog's RSS feed, so you show up along with my daily news and I get to enjoy reading you with my morning cup of tea.

    Speaking of daily news, perhaps a post on how the election could impact women in Canadian universities, or simply women in Canada more broadly? We already know that Harper made drastic cuts to women's organizations (when he still only had a minority!), but do we dare to speculate what might come our way if we fail to oust him this time? Or are any of you blogging from swing ridings where voting strategically for a particular candidate rather than voting your conscience (Liberal rather than NDP or Green, or vice-versa) could help prevent the kind of vote-splitting that keeps putting Harper back in office? Or do any of you have thoughts on Elizabeth May who is the only female party leader (yay!), yet whose party's very existence is responsible for yet more vote-splitting that allowed several Tory candidates to beat out the Liberals or NDP in progressive ridings (particularly in southern Ontario) last time, making her very presence partly responsible for Harper's ongoing reign (boo!).

    Just a suggestion, since besides the stack of grading next to my desk the election is the main thing that's consuming all my attention these days...

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  8. I also meant to say that in the past few months I remember saying at least a few times to friends or colleagues, "Oh, yeah, and did you see the post on Hook&Eye about that topic?". So do know that your readers are commenting on the pertinence of your posts not just on the web but in real life!

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  9. Blogger ate my initial comment too! But it basically said you're doing great work, don't take it personally, as commenting always ebbs and flows and readership (in my admittedly very low-profile experience) always declines April-August, and on weekends!

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  10. Erin: you definitely speak for me, too, so thanks. Everybody else: really good to hear from you. I hope this comment demonstrates that you don't always have to spend time to be well thought through to comment ;-)

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  11. I've noticed the same phenomenon on my own blog (just wrote about it, too, asking for feedback; the readers here have been much more forthcoming!). I wonder sometimes if we're not just burnt out at this time of the year. I also wondered if my...exhaustion is coming though in my writing, thus turning readers off.

    You are in my google reader feed, and when I post goes up, I am right here, reading. I tweet them and comment when I think I have something to add. And I think that might be another issue; as a blog for and about academics, specifically women, we are trained to measure very carefully what we say and when we say it because we "know" through either lived or observed experience that it can come back to haunt us more so than an older male colleague. I want to make sure that what I write, under my own name, is thoughtful, careful, informed, and adds to the discussion in a really meaningful way.

    As female academics, we have developed many strategies to try and ensure our survival in academia. Maybe those strategies aren't conducive to this kind of collaborative environment. I'm not saying that that's a good thing, but it might be a think worth examining and thinking about.

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  12. I marked 900+ pp. for one assignment for one class (but it was great marking -- best reading journals I've ever seen from a 200-level class: nearly flawless and rich in insight) in the past couple of weeks, and then another 200 pp. for that same class (manifestoes), until in fact my eyes were spurting liquid. I'm still checking in when I can though I don't often feel I have time to compose a response.

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  13. Dear All: Following Aimee's wording, thank you for the emotional labour you do.
    @ Kaarina and Jacquline: Knowing you're out there reading, thinking and talking makes me have hope for the world in general.

    @ Pantagruelle: GREAT suggestion, thank you. I am slated to post Monday the 2nd (Canada's election day, for out international readers). You can be sure I'll take up your suggestion. Feel free (or not) to send any issues you'd like me to discuss. We MUST make a governmental change (&eradicate the image of Canadian voters as apathetic)! Also, in regards to the marking: courage!

    @Rohan: I've said it once & I'll say it again, blogs like yours (& bloggers like you) are my total inspiration. Thanks for your seasoned insight.

    @Heather: <3

    @Lee: Thanks for your comments. I'm really interested in discussing the strategies you mention. I suspect you may well be right in thinking that the strategies we've (I've) developed to survive/thrive in academia consistently bump up against my commitment to collaborative work. I'd love to brainstorm strategies for changing that.

    @Pam: Ooch! But if I know you/your teaching I am willing to bet that those pages (&pages) of assignments were life altering for your students. Manifestos?! Amazing.

    @Blogger: WHY ARE YOU EATING OUR COMMENTS?!

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  14. @Erin: I'm @readywriting on Twitter. I'm starting to think myself why I do or do not comment on sites, stories, etc. I think there is a great deal of self-preservation involved, but there is still a lingering echo of the advice not to blog or participate online because it "doesn't count" or is "frivolous" according to old-school standards.

    I guess those two things are the same. Look me up on Twitter, because I would be interested in continuing to think this through as well.

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