Oh Brave New World That Has Such People in It! A Long-Delayed, and Appreciative, Response to Historiann

October 2, 2011, 7:35 pm

Dear Cow Girl,

I recently got a Burr under my saddle — you know, one of those things that pops up on Google Reader that lets you know that Someone’s Talking.  The Burr reminded me that you are long overdue for a response to your post about the implications of my transition to the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I don’t have much of an excuse for delaying this long except that the beginning of the teevee season, packing my $hitte for the move to a new jobbe, and a course overload seems to be getting in the way of holding up my end of the blogosphere.

At the time, you seemed mostly peeved about the software and the additional requirements it imposed on commenters. But there were other issues too, which the Burr, well known to both of us as moderate and judicious in all things brought up in a recent post that asks: “Why Do People Move Their Blogs to the Chronicle of Higher Ed?” She is “upset” by my move to the dark side because it makes me dull:

I don’t like the format, it’s confusing and annoying. Also, I have a feeling that blogs lose a lot in terms of quality once they move there.

Take Tenured Radical, for example. I disagreed with most of what she wrote but at least her posts were always interesting, controversial, engaging, and fun. After she moved to the Chronicle, everything she writes has become bland, sanitized, and utterly boring. So I stopped following.

But clearly the Burr did not stop following:  ”Read this post on students with autism, for example,” she writes. “There is just no substance to it. I have no idea what the blogger was even trying to say.”  I know, I know.  No one should ever write about autism unless they are actually on the spectrum themselves — this was a point that was made in several of the comments.  Those without ASD should all be mute and await instruction. I remember a similar admonition from feminist collective meetings in the 1970s and 1980s, where no one was supposed to speak except out of their own experience because to do so as oppressive, colonizing, and just plain wrong. But this is not how we at Tenured Radical play the game (see? I’m not as boring as I look) and the fact that we can play the game this way is why we loves us some blogosphere and aren’t off on those prestige-filled conferences every weekend.

But back to the Burr’s question about my motives for moving to the Chron: “Why are people doing this? For prestige? Popularity?” she asks. “Do they put this on their merit review, or something?”

These last questions are easy to answer, and probably not particular to the Burr, but they do bring us to the “insider/outsider” issues that were at the heart of the discussion evolving from your great post, Historiann. The answer to each question is as follows:  I have thrown caution to the winds; no; no; and no.

As people occasionally point out in the comments, often nastily, I have in many ways always been an insider, if an insider who started a blog because her outsider status in a prestigious institution that should have been able to do better was revealed in unhappy and unpleasant ways. Despite that unpleasantness, I have lots of prestige already as a tenured full professor, and that’s how my reputation survives and even thrives in the blogosphere. Recent signs suggest that my merit rating was going through the roof prior to joining the team at the Chron, although my move to the paper All Administrators Read First Thing did unexpectedly gild the lily. I went over to the Chron because I was asked, and blogging in the heart of The Establishment seemed like a new challenge, kind of like Mick Jagger getting knighted.

I also have come to believe in the past five years that change is good, and the kinds of changes that risk something are better. The motto of this blog is “He not busy being born is a-busy dying,” and it seemed like not such a bad idea to remake Tenured Radical before I woke up one day and found that I had lost the heart for it.

I must admit, Historiann, that over and above the fact that I always listen when you holler, the reluctance of commenters to follow me over from Blogger gave me more than a few sleepless nights and puzzled mornings.  As you pointed out, there are software issues with logins, and sometimes people just get locked out of comments for reasons I don’t understand.  I, for example, can’t see comments on my iPhone, which restricts me from monitoring the action during the day.  Every time there is an issue, I hope people will report it:  I kick them over to my Handler, who usually has an answer, can sometimes tweak things that are genuinely glitchy, and sometimes just says some version of:  ”No $hit. That’s interesting.”  I also think things have improved somewhat since the summer:  I was one of the first blogs to be transferred over, and this was done before the network itself went live.  I’m seeing more of you, and a couple other of my old pals have sneaked back in.

And yet there are so many of you that I miss hearing from. “Come back to Free Blogistan!” Notorious Ph.D. (who is currently running a cool online writing group) implored in a comment on your post.  Well, I can’t — not now.  I’ve committed too much to this gambit as an intellectual and a writer, and anyway my project is to retain my old Treehouse crowd and also woo some Suits.  That could be interesting, dontcha think?  My dream, Historiann, is that you and I develop an annual award called the Toolies, given for the post or series of posts that is a) outrageous and b) draws the most censorious comments; and c) best exhibits the spirit shown at Historiann.

Whaddaya say?  You know what that golden statue will look like.

The other thought I thunk when I was making the decision to migrate is a conversation you, the Typist at Roxie’s World, and I once had about how many bloggers we lose because they wake up one day and are just done with blogging.  Slaves of Academe, with its lusciously written and often dark posts, shut its doors in 2006. Bitch Ph.D., which had become a group blog, folded its tent back in 2010, as did Edge of the American West and  Adjunct Whore who, G-d bless her whorish soul, got a job.  Similarly, Bitch told me when we met at one of those prestige-pig blogging panels at an Ivy League university, that her blogging life had led to a real writing life, and I’ve heard that from other bloggers as well.

So part of the answer to the question is that I wasn’t ready to quit, but I was ready for another challenge that might take me somewhere new before I lost heart.  That I was making an even bigger transition in my life as a historian too may have encouraged me to shut my eyes, step out over the cliff, and see what would happen next.

One thing that did happen in the first months at the Chron site, other than having my own frustrations with a new platform which had to be resolved as I discovered them, was that I was seized with a sense of being alone that I had not experienced since I began Tenured Radical back on October 18 2006.  Wh-wh-wh-where was everybody? I thought as I put up post after post in July and August, with few responses.

As I found out from your post, many of my old pals were not gone but had decided to become lurkers.  One problem, as Perpetua suggested, was the concern that the troll factor would go up, as it often does on blogs that draw more miscellaneous traffic rather than a smaller, dedicated core crowd.  New Kid on the Hallway didn’t think that would be a problem, and did me the favor of explaining DISQUS (I have a chronic inability to explain computer tasks that I can actually perform) but also pointed out that people might be inhibited by the inability to delete their own comments.  I can actually go in and edit mine, which means I can delete them too.

But login and commenting problems were not entirely the issue, even though there were plenty of them. As you and several others got down to it, you came to the question that the Burr — in her inimitable way — also poses:  can you be Radical in the Chronicle?  Isn’t the question of being inside or outside, establishment or not establishment, the real thing at stake here?  As the Typist at Roxie’s World summarized:

I’m fascinated by this discussion, which I think is about something more and other than what appears to be the subject. Historiann gets at what feels like the real issue in her metaphors of the tree house/fort v. the parents’ living room. So many of us started blogging to get away from some of the constraints of our adult professional worlds. I’m genuinely happy to see TR in the Chronicle. It feels like a validation of what all of us have been doing, in our various and quirky corners of the blogosphere, to imagine and bring into being new ways of communicating about the conditions of our work lives and our world. At the same time, as so many here have already said, it still feels different and a little strange to visit TR at the new address. … it does feel a bit like one ought to be on one’s best behavior. Sure, one can say “fucke and stuffe,” but unless one is a troll (or a beloved PhysioProf), one likely won’t, because the whole vibe of the place is more like being at a conference session rather than sitting at the bar with a bunch of pals after the session. I miss some of the informality of the old place and the whole Rebel With Many Causes feel, but I think that in time we’ll get used to it — Or better yet, we’ll make the stuffy living room over into the tree house of our collective dreams!

This is what I hope for, I suppose:  that I will win my readers back, one by one, as commenters; that people will overcome their login issues and stick with it.  Like The Typist, I too felt in the first few weeks that I should be on my best behavior.  I got over it.  One day, I began to say “fucke and stuffe” and I started to relaz again. I think I’m still writing well, if perhaps not as often as I once did, but that will change.   I still feel part of this brave new world, and I think it’s time we took  the tree house to Dunsinane and see what happens.

So let’s hold hands and take that jump together.


Tenured Radical

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