Five years of writing in public


Students and colleagues will tell you that I am deeply ambivalent about this site. Politically and intellectually, I am pushed and pulled here, laying the groundworks for my own erasure and snapping myself into sharper focus to get that job started.

So, for now, I guess I’m stuck with it.

I started the blog in the fall of 2012, when I moved to a new town for a new job. It wasn’t my first effort (there was at least one anonymous and, in the end, very effective blog parodying a terrible dean) but it is certainly the most public. It began on Blogger as “MPG734” and, when I decided to build a personal website two years later, I migrated almost the whole archive over here to WordPress and gave it a straightforward name. I left the boring pieces behind but kept the older site alive.

Since it started, the site has averaged about 20,000-30,000 visitors a year, which I imagine isn’t all that much. I have 86 followers, which seems like a tiny number. I don’t aim for anything here, and in these dark days, I am grateful to everyone who reads this site – or any site.

Looking back and looking forward, I’ve noticed some trends. In the years where I publish more, there is an uptick in the number of views. But it also true that in those same years I tend to write on many different sorts of things – there are more from-the-hip potshots at David Brooks or Jonathan Franzen, for instance.

I’m in a reflective mood, and there are a few particular pieces here that I care about. Pieces that I want to recirculate, in a way:

Written during my most difficult teaching semester, “What to Love” is still hard to read. It aches with a desire to keep going. To walk just one more step. This other piece – on “weaponizing free speech” – was written just a month later, and it, too captures, some of the extraordinary, affective tumult of the fall of 2015. The site went dormant for months afterwards.

I note that much of the blog seems to be about writing and process and graduate school. “The Academic Writing Thing,” for instance, was written against the pathetic trope of the ivory-tower-elitist-who-cannot-be-bothered-to-write-for-the-masses. I still believe in this listicle on “Writing Advice.” Or in this other, longer listicle full of “General Advice,”  which began after an awful experience teaching a graduate class in 2005, was written with friends, and was shared as an Word document for years until the website existed. At one point, I had a version of it taped onto my office door. “Writing Josephine” was a brisk summary of the half-life of the summer of 2013, when I locked myself in the attic to finish a book – a practice I can’t recommend but which proved, in the end, quite successful. I’ve often invoked that experience to remind students that they don’t know how quickly they can write something interesting until they’ve tried.

A good many of the bits on this site are about chairing a department. Like this piece on contingent faculty, which got me called out on Twitter by a noted writer for suggesting that, over time, adjunct faculty would have a tougher time getting a tenure-stream job. Or this passive aggressive piece which, elliptically, is about managing debate and dissent. The stress that comes with the job of chairing bleeds out here and there, but most especially in this little marshmallow.

There are some deeply personal things in here. Some too personal to link. They don’t get a lot of traffic or comment and I’ve left them buried in the index. This piece, though, on “How Twitter Works,” is perhaps the angriest thing I have ever written. I was mad because a friend – at the time a contingent faculty member and new media journalist – was chastised quite publicly for her tone. That wasn’t right and I felt like I had to say something. And this eulogy for a much beloved woman, to be honest, still hurts. I wish you could have all known Ruth Ann Stewart. She was amazing.

I have no clue what comes next. I have closed down the blog three times only to have some reason to open it back up. And here we are, repeating and repeating and repeating debates about the causes of the Civil War. So maybe there is still more to write.



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