finding a voice

In the summer of 1989, I volunteered as a d.j. on a college radio station in Nashville. For three hours of a morning shift once a week, I had my own show playing the kind of music college radio stations were playing in the 1980s, music that for the most part was not getting played by commercial radio. {This changed within just a couple of years as “alternative” music became commercially viable, but that’s another story.}

One thing I remember well was a feeling of breathlessness I had when talking into the microphone. I don’t exactly know what I was doing with my lungs, but without doing it on purpose I was somehow holding back, hesitant perhaps to say the wrong thing or to let too much out at once. Eventually I learned to relax, to breathe normally, to not think so much about what I was doing, and instead to just speak.

I’ve been thinking about this experience lately in part in relationshp to blogging, and in part in relationship to my job as a scholar and teacher.

I was talking on IM with a blogging friend:

friend: “have you ever wondered, incidently, the impact a blog has on your potential career? i’m tempted to be flippant, obtuse, even bizarre. (b/c that’s my norm)”

me: “yeah, i’m very aware of that. i’m trying to figure out the appropriate voice. i want to be interesting w/o being ‘unprofessional'”

friend: “yeah. whatever that means”

me: “i was even thinking of writing something in my blog about it — it’s similar to a ‘dilemma’ i face when i’m teaching — should i be the person that i feel like i really am, or do i try to take on my idea of the professional persona? in the blog, it’s the same sort of decision. with teaching, i try to go for being the person that i feel i really am, instead of trying to ‘behave’ a particular way”

When I was a graduate student, I thought that having a Ph.D. would free me to say whatever I wanted. Instead, as a new assistant professor I find myself even more inclined to self-censorship: as during my stint as a d.j., without doing it on purpose I am somehow holding back. Of course, issues of identity are more complex than the phrase “the person I really am” implies; real or imagined institutional pressures influence how we speak, what we write. But I want to avoid letting these pressures ‘overwrite’ my sense of myself.

I suppose that by writing about these pressures, I am trying to take away some of their power over my expression. Some of that power will not go away; I am subject to certain expectations regarding my teaching and research. However, I’d like to lose this sense of breathlessness, this worry about saying the wrong thing, or saying too much.

Obviously, I’ve only just started blogging {it was one of my goals for spring break}, but my plans are to write about issues related to my work, primarily. As Liz Lawley writes as an aside to one of her recent entries, her blog is “valuable to me as a place to work out my ideas and thoughts.” Matt Kirschenbaum writes something similar in announcing his publishing agreement with MIT Press: “I plan to use this space as an occasional sounding board for ideas related to the project”.

I have found listservs to be a valuable environment in which to share ideas, to solicit and share advice. My hope is for my blog to serve largely the same purpose.

Oh, and for the “professional” record:

  • I set this blog up in a couple of hours one afternoon last week.
  • Each entry takes me about 15 minutes {although this one is taking me longer}.
  • My time on the blog is about equal to the time I spend on the professional listservs to which I subscribe.
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4 thoughts on “finding a voice

  1. Thanks for the ping. :-)
    While my blog is mostly work-related, I find it impossible to keep the rest of my life from leaking into it.
    I think that when you do allow various sides of yourself to show in your blog, it results in a stronger connection with your readers. They have a sense of you as a person, not just as a processor of ideas.
    When I started blogging last fall, I read several references to blogs as “outboard motors” for the brain. I liked that reference then–and still do now.
    At any rate, welcome…and do have fun!

  2. Thanks for the welcome, Liz. I do believe that the boundaries between our professional lives and the rest of our lives are largely artificial, so I expect to write about things outside of work.
    I’ll go wherever my outboard motor takes me!

  3. Hey George,
    I’ve been thinking about these questions for a few days now, but you’ve put them very eloquently. I still see myself trying to find a “voice” for my blog, too [i’ve also only been blogging for about a week, and of course I was inspired to blog based on your experices with it].
    My blog still has a liminal feeling for me. i don’t have a link from my website to my blog, and i’m not sure how it fits that part of my life, and yet, i mostly talk about stuff that pertains to my research or career, however loosely. i’m not sure that I have much to add, other than that I’m really beginning to realize some of the unexpected challenges of blogging. When you described your radio station experience for example, it reminded me that I’m constantly going back and hitting the delete key, almost crafting my writing because of my consciousness that other people might read it.

  4. Yes, I do that, too: constantly editing myself even post-“publication.”
    I meant to talk as much about how I feel in my relatively new job as much as I did about blogging, but reading over it, my entry does come across as more about blogging.
    I guess I can’t go back and edit it, now! ;)

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