Writing for the world (or that tiny part of it that cares/is tuned in) to see

I’m still gathering notes and digesting a selection from L. Winner’s book The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for limits in an Age of High Technology (1986), and I plan to blog about it soon, but I need a break, and as I perused some of the blogs from my 516 classmates, I was drawn into some of the ideas Jessica Winck contemplated here.

What struck about the writing is something I’d thought about since our reading of Mueller and Kennedy’s forthcoming chapter discussing the nature of blogging and public writing as a graduate student. Like Jessica, I’ somewhat reticent to lay it all out, so to say, either in a blog or in a classroom or even at a cocktail party for fear of my own naiveté or my susceptibility to sticking-foot-firmly-in-mouth disease.

In addition to the insights Jessica shared, I also thought about the other, non-academic kinds of public writing that I do. In the past, I wrote template-driven sports articles on subscription-based websites. I did a fair amount of writing for a college newspaper, too.

But it’s my writing as a food critic that has gotten me thinking more and more about how my public writing might follow me as I grow as an academic professional. I recently wrote a pretty unflattering review (not the first) of a restaurant that has been in business since the 1920’s, and it was not well received in some quarters. My writing (or was it me?) has been described as crass and ruthless. On the other hand, I’ve been commended for the writing as well. Either way, I sometimes wonder how such writing will look to myself and to colleagues 10, 15, or 20 years from now.

At the end of the day, when I write publically for a newspaper, regardless of the voice I use or, I work to apply journalistic principles. The writing may come off the page as crass to someone, but I hope it is never described as unprofessional.

So I suppose that’s how I’m coming to view this whole blogging thing. I may be naieve about a subject, or I may get some things totally wrong, but as long as I rigorously maintain a professional identity/demeanor (which isn’t to say I can’t have fun or talk about less discipline-specific issues), I’m not so sure I care much how other people see me. Sounds glib when I read that sentence a second time, but I have a lot of respect for people who are not afraid to fail.

I think Oscar Wilde said something relevant to my thoughts above, so, through the power of Google, I just now searched for that quote, but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I found this one, apparently from The Importance of Being Earnest: “Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow. If it wasn’t so, life wouldn’t be worth living.”

Also, self-published public writing like this also carries the danger of embarrassing grammatical or other, less technical typos like accidentally adding an extra, profanity-producing letter to an otherwise innocent word. Not cool.

3 thoughts on “Writing for the world (or that tiny part of it that cares/is tuned in) to see

  1. Joe – I feel your reservations because I have been struggling with the same ones myself. I tend to have a love/hate relationship with social media because for as much as there is a lot of creativity within this genre, there are also elements of “Who really needs to THAT about you?” Yet I have been trying to branch out and overcome some of my own insecurities about sharing my writing. I guess we’re taking this leap together. Meet you when we land, I guess!

  2. Re: the unflattering restaurant review. Link please! 😉

    I empathize with your cautiousness, Joe, and I felt reservations about writing so openly at times while I was a graduate student. I began to realize that each entry was relatively short-lived. People might stumble upon or even search stronger entries, especially when I made notes on readings, but they don’t often use the raw, silly, or exploratory writing to judge me as intellectually sloppy (or reckless in any other way, as far as I know). Blogging is, for me, very much about writing openly as a function of becoming. Approaching it with humility, I have gotten used to the idea that I don’t know it all, that my positions on some things change and change and change, and that all of this reading and writing and thinking is enriched when it is done in the company of others.

    Your comment about “Who really needs to know that?” reminds me of the key distinction between phatic and informational communication. Phatic communication provides a gesture of “I’m here with you.” From an informational standpoint, there’s not much to it. Hellos and goodbyes, small talk, and so on all count as phatic communication. Likewise, we don’t find much informational value, perhaps, in someone writing about what they had for breakfast, but there nevertheless might be a faint human touch in such a tidbit as this. It is a demonstration of presence, of life, and of being in the world with others.

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