Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Proper names

Someone asked me on Twitter why I blog under my own name. (Hi Jane!) It's a good question. The short answer is "a lot of reasons."

First the caveat:  I don't always blog under my own name. I have a pseudonymous mommy blog, now on hiatus, to which I posted for four years, usually more than once a week, and developed a daily readership in the dozens, mostly bloggers I read, who wrote under pseudonyms, but whom I came to know personally, often in the flesh. I used a pseudonym there for a couple of reasons. One is that I wanted to keep my private life private, in the sense that someone googling me wouldn't have the gory but hilarious story of my daughter's birth come up as the first hit. Another reason is that I was writing about another human being, my daughter, and she never asked to be a public figure. So I made a silo, where I could hang out with other moms, talking about bodily functions and swapping martini recipes, while maintaining a public face that held to a different standard of decorum.

Note I've said "pseudonymous," rather than anonymous. I have never ever written anything on that blog that would rain misery down upon my world if I was somehow outed from that space. The internet is never really anonymous--someone can always figure out who you are, and in fact, someone from my past who knew me IRL totally figured me out when she happened upon my blog.

So I've always considered blogging a public act. On this blog, "Aimée Morrison" is really me, in the sense that I write all the posts, and fully hew to the opinions I share here, really want to know the answers to the questions that I ask, really have the experiences I relate. I am, also, a natural shit disturber with few boundaries on information sharing, so it doesn't feel particularly out of character to make public statements about the shell game that is grad school, about how my students need to suck it up and read the textbook, to share pictures of myself looking like death warmed over. To hide that stuff behind a pseudonym, I feel, would be like saying I'm ashamed of those ideas (or pictures) or that there is something taboo or illicit about them. I don't think so. I think the academy would really benefit from more people telling it how they actually see it, that we would all become stronger for sharing our weaknesses and finding them common.

I think blogging is valuable. And part of the way I put my money where my mouth is is by signing my name to it, and putting it on my CV, my bio.

Are there people who think that blogging is a waste of time and that blogging makes me less of a scholar simply by dint of my participation in this sphere? Yup. Are there people who find the opinions I express here annoying, and think less of me for sharing them? Probably. Oh well. People used to think that writing stuff down rather than memorizing it was the end of the world, too. But all the major higher ed news sources feature blogs now. In digital humanities, some of the best scholarship, networking, and pedagogy happens through blogs. More and more people are signing their names to their blogs--including our wonderful guest contributors here--and finding that good things follow.

I have tenure, and I work in new media. Both of these factors make it both easier and more attractive to use my real name to blog. And of course, there are things I don't say, stuff that I save for after-work drinks with my meat-space network, a much tighter, more discreet, and un-archived discussion space. Some of these things I don't say because, like writing about my daughter, they expose an individual person to a kind of publicity they didn't ask for. And because my version of events might not be theirs. Some of these things I don't say because they have to do with issues in my employment that are confidential, or that have a process associated with them that is not helped by internet publication. Some things I don't say, frankly, because they reflect so poorly on me that I'd prefer you not know. The trick I aim to perform is always to be specific enough to say something that is actually true and ponderable at the level of engaged conversation, without endangering anyone's privacy or process or turning this space into a bully pulpit where I get to shout louder than the people I might disagree with.

So if you want to blog, think about using your own name. You will never be anonymous, no matter how hard you try, and it's foolhardy to write as though you are. Good things might flow into your life from signing your name to your writing online. Oh -- and use a real photo of yourself as your avatar, so I can recognize you when I see you across the crowded beer tent at Congress.

My name is Aimée Morrison and my giant thumb approves this message.

5 comments:

  1. When you asked me to write a guest post, I can honestly say it never occurred to me NOT to write it over my real name until you asked me to confirm that it was OK to publish it that way. Am I just ridiculously critically unsophisticated around online media?

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  2. No, Dorothy, you are not ridiculously critically unsophisticated: think rather "I have a native instinct for cutting edge practice"

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  3. Aimée: thank you so much for this really thoughtful response to my question. I really appreciate it. I have a research blog in my own name, and a photo-hobby blog in my own name, but I’ve long hankered after a more multi-purpose academic blog that allows me to talk about teaching, the university, and to engage with other great academic blogs out there (like, say, Hook & Eye!). How many blogs does a girl need? Is it like shoes or apps? Blog greed—there are probably meds for that. I think I thought that using a pseudonym might be freeing, but after much consideration, I imagine I would just find it frustrating, and, in the end rather constricting. I’ve never been much good at secrets, and I love blogs with photos (especially of profs in their writing habits—you could do a whole photo essay on the sheer variety—tho, probably, we all wear pretty much the same comfy things!)—and a pseudonymous blog would make it hard to use pictures. Plus, there’s my rather 18th-c addiction to the dash—anyone who reads anything else I write will automatically recognize me by the litter of dashes—I can’t write without them. I’ve also thought it might be interesting to try using blogs as a kind of meta-teaching device—writing about a class that I think went well or horribly and asking students to add their own perspectives and thoughts—allowing us all to use the space to reflect, now and again. I do have a blog name that I really like, and a cool header picture for it (what other justification does one need for starting YET ANOTHER blog?—I see it sort of like buying the perfect defense outfit before the damned dissertation is finished…). I’ll let you know when and if I get up and running—and although I use an avatar, I actually look like it: yep, that’s me, a strange cartoon running around in the real world☺ (and that dah1023 has ALWAYS been brave and cutting edge and straight-up☺)

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    1. I started out pseudonymous and sometimes wish I had stayed that way, but I find the constant self-censorship and anxiety over what other people think of me far too exhausting. If people hate me and what I have to say, then so be it, I'll do something other than be an academic. I don't think there is anything wrong with you having numerous blogs, I think it's smart :) The meta-teaching blog sounds like an excellent idea btw.

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  4. Aimee: Thank you so much for addressing the issue of blogging under your own name. I have to admit that it has been difficult for me at times to reconcile blogging about professional and occasionally personal (particularly the intersections) in my blog, and I have had doubts about whether it was the best choice for me as a Graduate Student who wants to be taken seriously. I do not regret what I write, but I only occasionally wonder if my blog precedes me--I guess this is one instance in which having no one read your work may not be a devastating career blow lol. I agree wholeheartedly with your assertion that we need to be more open about failures, concerns, and struggles. Being an academic, like much of anything else, can be lonely, depressing, and confusing--if all we, especially as graduate students (like me) see are the successes without an explanation of the process, or without honest discussions of the difficulties inherent in choosing an academic path, how can we become the best scholars and educators we can be?

    Sorry to write so much, but I'm on my last day at a conference in Boston so my brain is working overtime--short point is I appreciate your honesty and integrity and hope to include my voice out there among other women bloggers who are brave enough to blog while female while using their real names ;)

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