Tuesday, July 19, 2011

All My Faces . . .

 Lisa at AmidPrivilege wrote a probing, thoughtful post last Saturday on on-line personae and authentic selves.  Of course, we in the post-structuralist, postmodern Humanities no longer believe in authenticity of the self anyway. But most of us are old-school liberal humanist and cling hopefully to the notion of some persistence under all that performativity and contingency. Certainly, when I began this blog I was hoping to have a place where I could see what kind of "cohesiveness" began to emerge from its "random abundance," to again cite Kim Stafford (full quotation in the column on the right). After years of preparing for my dissertation, writing academically, working in a world that tends not to value our other-life activities, I wanted to speak them out, the family, the garden, the knitting, the cooking, and, yes, the shoes.
 And I think I've done a decent job of that. I look at the life I've recorded over the past four years on this blog (yes, it's been that long -- my 4-year anniversary was this month), and I see a rich, full, fairly balanced life, vicissitudes and rewards, blessings and anxieties, all mixed together in their quotidian glory. And I don't think that last is necessarily an oxymoron. I think the quotidian can be glorious, depending how it's experienced. It's a lesson I learned from my Dad through his several last years, wasted and in pain from cancer, yet still pointing out a sparrow on his windowsill, still pleased at the fragrance of the flowers Mom brought in from the garden (Oh, he was a lovely man!).
 But in attending so much to the quotidian and the domestic, I've been realizing over the last while that I've tilted my on-line representation to a near-exclusion of my academic self. And she's a big part of me. I began thinking about this in the face of my reluctance to comment on a Canadian feminist academic blog that I very much admire, a reluctance, that is, not so much to comment as to comment under the name I've assumed for this blog, Materfamilias. I felt very uncomfortable having this version of myself exposed to all those curious comment-clickers, and I wondered what I'd achieved if, in trying to express the non-academic side of my life, I'd nonetheless kept it out of the academic gaze.
 Coincidentally, just as Lisa was publishing her articulate post, I was writing a possible contribution to the academic feminist blog, a response to a call for guest posts. If it gets published (which would not likely be for several weeks, as it's currently on a weekly summer schedule), I'll give you the link; if not, I'll post the piece here. But as I responded to Lisa and followed the ensuing discussion, and as I sent off my potential guest post, I started thinking about another aspect of Lisa's question: she focuses on the various software platforms -- the personality-shaping differences of the various media genres, the self you might be on MS Office as distinct from you on Google or Polyvore or Facebook. I would like to add a consideration of the audience that shapes our selves differently in each of these. While this is implicit in Lisa's post, I want to attend more closely to the issue of audience, because I know it's hugely instrumental in how I've come to represent myself in this space.
 Bit by bit, over the past four years, I admit to being shaped by factors such as my Statcounter numbers and by the number and the quality of comments to write more about certain elements of my life and less about others. Part of this shaping came from the time and energy available for blogging and the desire, after an academic day, for something completely different. But having once assembled a (fairly) modest audience, I found myself uncomfortable talking books or theory or work frustrations with readers who were probably coming here for granddaughter photos or the latest news on my roses or an update of my Paris travel plans.
And the circle got tighter.
I hesitate to assure you how much I appreciate my readers. As well, you should know that I love talking shoes and whether or not to go grey with you. Our conversations about life here in the middle and beyond sustain me as much as I hope they might engage you. I treasure the community we've built together. But if there is such a thing as an "authentic self," I'm increasingly aware that I'm withholding mine in this space. This space where I'd hoped to aim for something a bit richer.

I'm going to be pondering this in the next few weeks, and maybe writing more about it here. Meanwhile, there will also be weekend activity reports (a  welcome deluge of house guests arrive this weekend), some What I Wore (sadly neglected lately, I agree), some shopping thoughts, a few belated Paris posts, a granddaughter photo or two, and, finally, the promised MOTB dress.

As always, I hope for your comments as I think through this aspect of my digital representation. And, in case you're wondering, the photos in this post were taken in Paris (the top five) and in Bordeaux. I thought the many different faces were a fitting accompaniment to the discussion of my on-line persona(e).

18 comments:

  1. Fascinating post, mater. I would welcome reading whatever you want to write about. I'm quite looking forward to reading your academic feminist piece!

    Love the faces. That was one of the first things I noticed about the buildings in Paris...yes, even the quotidien can be marvelous and beautiful.

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  2. I for one am also an academic and a feminist and would welcome your other face! Feminism especially should be inclusive for all. Looking forward to more of your thoughts.

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  3. I read Lisa's post on Sat. and now yours, and they really got me thinking. I wear so many different hats, professionally, artistically, as a mother, grandmother, wife, very frequent traveller, avid reader, etc. All of these roles contribute to the ever-changing (I hope in a good way) person that is me. If one of the parts of me was not there, the whole would not be the same, even for those who were not privy to that part of my life. I guess what I'm stumbling around trying to say is that who you are as an academic and feminist reflects in all your writing even when the subject matter is more mundane. Your discussions about shoes originate in the same mind that produces your academic writing. I think more is revealed than you realize. I know I enjoy it all! Thanks.

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  4. Well, now, Vivian went and said what I was hoping to say, only better than I would have done. So I will only echo - I believe your writing does reflect more of who you are than the ostensible topic of the day might indicate, and I enjoy that very much and look forward to seeing where your thoughts and inclinations take you.

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  5. I would agree with Vivian - 'your discussions about shoes originate in the same mind that produces your academic writing.' Even though your topics may sometimes be what some (not me!) might call frivolous, you attend to them in such a way that it's clear that you are not a frivolous person. However, I can understand your reluctance to engage in comments on an academic blog using this name - I guess you don't want others to link back here and see your topics and perhaps judge you and not give you your due as a serious writer. P.

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  6. I the photographs of the faces from Paris and Bordeaux.

    You couldn't possibly be too academic for me! I see what you mean though. I meant to write a more intellectual blog myself, but those posts, which take hours of research and writing time, are never as popular as the posts dealing with style.

    I did mean to comment on your wonderful review of Dionne Brand's Ossuaries, but didn't in part because though it sounds intriguing I doubt I'd take on a difficult text like that for pleasure reading.

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  7. Great post! I love how Lisa's piece has influenced your view of your own (web) persona. As you know, I write about whatever comes into my mind at any moment. It's (scarily) true to my "real" self. This makes me seem like a dilettante at times, I'm sure. But it shows me how my inner nature expresses itself, as it must, in every environment. I try never to feel limited to say what I will. Isn't that the intellectual freedom that feminism affords?

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  8. Pseu: I actually made a little collection of these faces, although there are more that I only collected in my head -- a whole series on the underneath of one of the bridges.
    Anon: Thanks! I agree with you that I should be able to meld both -- just have to push myself a bit more. . .
    Vivian: Your comment really gives me hope -- I love to think that there is an integrity that my readers detect even if I'm not always aware of it. Thank you for this!
    Marsha: Thank you! Vivian did say it well, didn't she, and I think you do more than echo -- I appreciate the comment more than you could know.
    Patricia: Exactly! I suppose it's my own insecurities that let me worry about how I might be judged -- I'm working to overcome those, but a lifetime's habits, right? As well, I'd sometimes like to write more here about my academic life, but feel almost as if that would be breaking a contract with readers who aren't here for that. Again, I think it will be up to me to push the boundaries a bit.
    Susan: Yes! You know just what I mean. It can be disappointing to put considerable effort into a post that seems to draw fewer readers than a photo of me in whatever I wore that day. I wish there were more room for both, but I suspect those are two different, if slightly overlapping, audiences.
    Kristen: I do write about what's in my mind at the moment, but I find there are usually enough different interests rattling around up there that I can choose. And I do find that my choice is influenced by the likelihood of something getting attention, engaging readers. I do keep up my reading blog -- considerable work! -- even though it draws much fewer readers, but I have a very clear personal motivation for that, wanting a record of books read.

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  9. Your eye has been caught by the same wonders as mine... The Paris sculpture that many don't see... they run by too quickly!

    Hugs from... there... Paris that is!

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  10. I encourage you to share whatever aspects of your self are alive in you. I urge you to not pay attention to statcounts and comment volume- because then blogging is just a form of pleasing, and we know where that gets women.

    I fondly encourage you to keep posting the granddughter photos. I have thought about your comment re her privacy. Since it is only a matter of a decade or less till she creates her first Facebook page, perhaps this is not such an issue, as long as the photos show her with propreity, as I am sure they will.

    Besides, I want those!

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  11. Just wanted to say thanks for delurking on my blog!

    And very interesting post. I for one don't want my blog to show "all" of me. It's authentic in terms of what it does reveal but it omits other things that I don't wish to share with the world. I assume the same of other blogs. Something for public consumption isn't the same as the hard-cover diary one locks in the desk drawer. I know some people write as if it is the same, but I guess that many don't, and I think the latter is better in terms of one's sanity when you consider what kinds of trolls you can encounter online.

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  12. What a thoughtful and beautiful post. I can understand about your reluctance to comment on the other blog using this persona, although I don't think you come across as particularly frivolous. I grew up in an academic environment though, literally lived on campus, which is one of the reasons I did not pursue an academic career, and I can understand the reluctance.

    As to the many faces, and what is included and what is left out, I constantly fret over these things. I suppose this is not surprising as I started with several blogs, each focusing on small pieces of me, and then combined them but found that is not as easy as I might like. I still fret, even when I am not blogging regularly enough.

    Whatever I write about tends to be what has caught my fancy at that moment, and I am happy with that, but blogging will always just be a part of the picture, as, I suppose, is almost every encounter we have with other people.

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  13. I would look forward to getting to know the more academic and scholarly Mater. I know when I first began my blog that I really imagined doing think pieces--but the amount of time that goes into such a piece is counterproductive to also building the audience one "wants" to read it. I know in visiting some blogs, that I often crave something deeper. I do believe that there is a space between the quotidian and the high academic where we can argue and wonder and so forth.

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  14. Oh! I can't believe this! I just painstakingly answered each of the last 5 posts and my comment has been lost. AAARgh!
    Quick sum-up, thanks to Susu and Wendy for stopping by -- I admire both your blogs v. much.
    Duchesse: I'll keep a few Nola photos coming for now, but the days are numbered. . . her FB posting would involve choice, something she can't exactly exercise here yet, can she?
    Mardel: You get what I'm talking about -- and I've seen you grapple with it over the past few years, back and forth between your various blogs. We try to show our faces to the world even as we're aware that we make them up . . .
    Terri: Exactly. That line the amount of time that goes into such a piece is counterproductive to also building the audience one "wants" to read it reflects exactly what I mean. Without an audience to read my posts, the effort to write such pieces would better be expended on journal publications, building the CV . . .
    Now to click on "Publish" and hope for the best. Please, Google gods. .

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  15. I've been thinking about this for a while. I read an article in the Guardian about (and I'm definitely dumbing it down) how using the internet, particularly search engines, in fact limits us because it provides reinforcement based on what we are already interested in. In a sense I think that what you're talking about is the flipside. We show the selves that we think others want us to see in any particular context - and, as you say, the circle tightens. And of course we do it everywhere - I am a different (side of the same) person when I am teaching primary school children to when I am editing a thesis on concepts of evil in criminal law or writing about exchange rates or running the baseball canteen. What is authentic? All of it; but perhaps the question is whether you compromise yourself when you limit what you express solely because of outside factors rather than because you choose to (if that makes any sense) ...

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  16. Well the faces I think are you having a bit of a Becher moment! I love it when something like that wheedles its way into our psyche so we end up with quite a rich narrative.
    As for the text, I have a confession to make, I accidently clicked on my stats counter and it terrified me I had really not expected that at all, where the hell do they all come from? And yes of course I started to think; well do I put more clothing posts on? Do I focus on art and photography? Or do I just try and write little rants about life as a much stressed mother.
    I never write about work because we are not allowed and to be brutal it’s something I see as a necessary evil rather than a joy. My art work may just poke its head above the parapet this summer simply to just air it a little but the main stress is I now feel obliged to write more over the summer break that or just run and leave blogging, neither will happen I am sure but it is a difficult conundrum. What I am sure of is it is a hobby and it does give me a stress relief valve and I am glad I am not part of the ‘lets make money’ circus that many subscribe to.

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  17. I came back to say hello and realized my comment never posted here. Boo! I said what others have said, I feel your academic voice comes through, if not directly, in your thoughtfulness. I am sure I also said thank you. Blogger is in my doghouse. Now let me read these other wonderful comments here and enjoy the discussion, having vented away my annoyance:).

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  18. Tiffany: It absolutely does make sense. There are so many aspects to whatever we call "me," but sometimes there's just not room a particular venue for some aspect or other to show forth. And then with the surfeit of information always surrounding us, the whole "niche" thing begins a self-censorship that might be efficient but is somehow limiting.
    Alison: Tell me about Becher, please. You're always adding to my photographer/artist education!
    Again, you do get what I'm talking about -- there is a feedback loop that helps us choose about the possibilities when we write. And while that's useful, it can also be constraining. Like you, though, I like that this is a hobby for me, and I do have the freedom to re-think my approach -- and have fun, above all.
    Lisa: I've had similar problems with Blogger lately -- as I screeched above, it swallowed a large comment of mine. Thanks for coming back to join in -- I'm so pleased with the thoughtful and encouraging voices here.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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