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August 7, 2004

My Singular Contribution to the Domestic Blog Meme

Laura at 11D (formerly Apt. 11D) taps into an issue I've been thinking about a lot lately: the question of "political" versus "personal" blogs, and while I think that Laura's question implies the necessary blurring of that boundary (i.e, the personal is political), like her I've found that female bloggers often seem more comfortable talking about personal experiences than male bloggers. I've also discovered that because I currently do not have access to the Internet at home, I'm learning a lot about which blogs I prefer most, a question that I think this post may implicitly answer.

I know that I've appreciated the recent efforts by several bloggers to reflect on the relationship between the academy and everyday life (and, yes, I know these terms are not entirely distinct), but for the most part, the people who are thinking about these issues are female (I know there are some exceptions, as Miriam notes; feel free to point out others). Jimbo's comments to Laura's entry offer one explanation for this divide:

I keep thinking I want to talk about living in the suburbs, what that means for me and my family, how it structures who I am, my alienation as an academic from suburbia, yadda, yadda, yadda; and I do manage to get in a few comments about living the burbs. But I find most of my posts drifting back toward things academic and political rants. Part of that is where I am in my life: going through tenure; part of that is the season: we seem in the midst of an incredibly important election. [...]

One thing about men and the personal: I think it is very hard for men to write about sex and sexuality in a blog and not come off as boasting and sounding like a cad.

As Jimbo's comment might suggest (check out his blog), I sometimes find it difficult to talk about my personal life, often for reasons similar to the ones he describes (this entry has been very difficult to write--I've revised it several times). At the same time, I'm also aware that because I'm on the job market and because I'm working on articles, I'm almost always thinking about those topics rather than something more explicitly personal.

I've contemplated describing trips up to Roswell to visit my parents for dinner, for example, but I usually resist doing so simply because I know that my caricature of suburban sprawl likely would be terribly incomplete and unfair (it's very hard to resist characterizing my travels to Atlanta's northern suburb as a trip into Stepford). And most of my trips to the coffee shop or to see live music seem rather unexceptional. At the same time, the emphasis on the "domestic" in this discussion seems crucial. Because I'm single and live alone, I write from a much different perspective than many of the people who have been contributing to this discussion. Life in my apartment is usually uneventful, aside from the occasional appliance catastrophe.

I also find certain personal experiences dificult to represent narratively in the space of a single blog entry. I'm concerned that I will end up sounding like the treacly Daniel Stern voice-over from the TV show, The Wonder Years, rather than being able to offer the meaningful or humorous observations that I find in other people's discussions of their personal life. Instead, I usually find that my discussion of personal experience is usally mediated by whatever popular culture text I happen to be reading or reviewing at any given time, as my recent discussion of Craig Thompson's Blankets might illustrate. In that sense, I think my blog occasionally does enter into personal experience even though I may not talk about whether I'm dating or what parties I'm attending. And, although I generally discuss my academic life here, like Miriam (same link as above), I don't believe that my blog falls easily into any category. It is, as the title suggests, an experiment, one that is on-going, one whose focus changes as quickly as my attention span.

See also Brayden's post on this topic.

Posted by chuck at August 7, 2004 3:07 PM

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1) Characterizing the Atlanta burbs as a trip into Stepford isn't an exaggeration. It blows here.

2) I have a soft spot for the Wonder Years, even though I have an irrational desire to punch Fred Savage.

But, yeah, there's a definite double standard when it comes to personal writing. Most any effort by a male to write about his dating/sex life comes off as locker room boasting, while females get the Sex in the City treatment. Maybe if I just had a sex life to write about I could shift the paradigm.

Posted by: Rusty at August 7, 2004 4:59 PM

To be honest, I don't dislike "The Wonder Years," but the voice-over summary stuff always seemed overdone to me.

I'm still convinced there are tiny pockets of Atlanta's suburbs that aren't yet Stepfordized, even if I personally can't find them. I wonder if what I was really thinking about (but didn't say) was how I experience my life in Decatur to be "natural," how I'm rarely conscious of the fact that there are several nearby coffeehouses, restaurants, MoveOn house parties, etc, for me to choose from.

In terms of writing about my dating life: my blog is still very much tied to my professional identity, so I feel compelled not to discuss those things here, but the basic point (about gender) seems true, although I would want to be very careful about discussing the implications for that divide (something I'm too lazy to do right now).

Posted by: chuck at August 7, 2004 5:59 PM

One's personal signature and style, one's deeply erotic connection to the world, need not be expressed in the discourse of confession (obverse of bragging).

Consider what Jill at jill/txt and Elouise at Weezblog do with images (and what some of their readers do with their images). Search Weezblog for Rosario and jill/txt for "grass revamped" and "grass, silhouetted".

Likewise look at how Anne Galloway conveys some very personal atmospherics by projecting on a rotating basis images of urban landscapes as backdrops to her blog entries.

Now I am not suggesting that the iconoclassitic look of the Chutry Experiment disappear. Indeed that style is what makes it so personal -- it is like being invited into a private screening room. Quite appropriate to the filmic and cinematic concerns that are thematized throughout the blog.

What I do suggest if you want to introduce a note akin to putting the self on the line is to devote say a weekly entry to reading one of your own entries from the archives. Not as self indulgent as it sounds... June 2003 -- treehouses -- last night of mobility -- a simple moral narrative about gambling. Screen memories at work?

The gender question is moot. The publishing question is not. Take a gamble on the mobile treehouse.

Posted by: Francois Lachance at August 8, 2004 2:11 PM

Interesting...I go back to that entry a lot mentally, even if I never mention it here. Perhaps it's privileged in my memory simply because it was one of my first entries in this blog. Perhaps the brief freedom of having the rental car, the events of that weekend, make it more memorable.

The lack of images here (I assume that's what you mean by my iconoclasm?) has more to do with laziness and lack of access to a digital camera, but I think it may have also become an unintentional signature as well. I really like what Anne does with the images of urban architecture, for example, and if I were a little more web savvy, I might do something similar.

I've also been thinking about the role that archives serve for blogs, in part because of the blog spam that randomly hits older entries, bringing them back into memory. I do wonder if the terms "personal" and "political" aren't precise enough (especially now that I've written over 500 entries here), which might explain my dissatisfaction with this entry.

Part of what's implicit in this entry may be my own "liberal outrage fatigue" (as a recent Onion article described it) and my sudden boredom with highly visible "broadcast-mode" style blogs.

Posted by: chuck at August 8, 2004 3:15 PM

Chuck, That is what I meant by iconoclastic style -- no pictures. I like it. Lack of a digital camera or even the lack of a scanner to digitalize hand sketches you might produce, however is not, in my opinion, a barrier. Resources are distributed. In the jill/txt example I alluded to earlier, Jill Walker expressed the view that the mountain in the image was in the way of appreciating the sunset (or some such thing, I'm paraphrasing from memory and my memory is very weak). The blog fairies produced a version for her. Likewise, consider the ekphrasis experiments reported by Kari Kraus at accidents and substantials. Blog authors can invite the sort of activity. [I once thought of a series of comments incorporating URLs to pictures housed on jill/txt to illustrate the entries of Weez's "date week".] And as we know the games are not limited to cross-modal transformation (verbal descriptions to images or vice versa). They also can be of the composition class nature: e.g. inviting readers to contribute three
adverbs to modify "personal" and three to modify "political" ...

Formalism is a wonderful antidote to burnout or what you refer to as fatigue.

Your personal story has made me want to search blog entries for references to car rentals and signs of the everyday experience of mobility -- very very political questions.

Got a question for your composition class (or your blog) : Just how would one translate Fahrenheit 9/11 into Celsius?

Posted by: Francois Lachance at August 8, 2004 9:49 PM

Oh, just jump in. After all, if we can risk sounding like whores, you can surely risk sounding caddish or treacly ;)

Seriously, though, I find this a very interesting post. It simply hadn't occured to me to think that men might find it difficult to make domestic or daily life interesting to talk about. Women have all this feminist theory and all these feminist writers who've gotten us used to the idea that damnit! domesticity is a valid and interesting subject! But of course, if you look back at early feminist fiction there's a lot of worry there that, as you're saying, daily life will seem "unexceptional" and the personal hard to represent in a short space. Then again, blogs are sequential. I worry terribly sometimes that a single post will misrepresent something--I can often see things that seem ripe for misconstrual as I write them--but trust that over time a broader picture will emerge.

And of course, job market shit is totally personal, and so are articles. IMHO.

Posted by: bitchphd at August 9, 2004 12:32 AM

You know, I have that same concern about specific entries, especially during high stress times, but for teh most part, I'm comfortable with the sequentiality, especially now that some people have been reading my blog for over a year.

Your connection to early feminist fiction makes a lot of sense. Part of my reticence in discussing "personal stuff" probably grows out of the fact that I'm simply not aware of some of the political aspects of my everyday life, although as Francois points out, "mobility" is one that comes up often here.

Because my computer is broken, I've been driving in (about ten miles) to my office here at Georgia Tech to get access to the Internet and some Word files. Being forced to drive in every day and being separated from the Internet after 10 PM (not to mention having a broken DVD player) has very much changed my world over the last few days--lots of boredom at home (imagine choosing between "Elimidate" and "Just Shoot Me" re-runs), also the frustration of dealing with Atlanta's wretched traffic. I'd rather use public transportation (and I usually do), but it's a little cheaper to drive and park. All of those experiences have made me more conscious of my habits and routines and how they've been interrupted lately, but for whatever reason, I probably wouldn't mention them here unless this topic came up in other people's blogs.

Posted by: chuck at August 9, 2004 1:30 PM

Francois, I'm not sure how F911 would translate into Celsius. The film has been well-received in the rest of the world (where Celsius is more commonly used), and the Bush presidency has been poorly received, to say the least.

Glad I read the "iconoclasm" comment correctly--I thought of a much different interpretation later last night when I was at home, away from the 'net. If I ever do start wanting to include images, I'd probably put them in a separate photoblog. They would seem pretty disruptive here, especially after a year without them.

BTW, I'm always amazed at what you can find in my archives....

Posted by: chuck at August 9, 2004 1:36 PM

I would totally choose "Elimidate." I find those dating shows absolutely fascinating. And David Spade irritates the crap out of me. I hate him.

Posted by: bitchphd at August 9, 2004 10:45 PM

Actually that would have been an easy choice for me, too. I'm fascinated by Elimidate, The 5th Wheel, Cheaters, Blind Date and all the other reality-dating shows (especially the low-budget ones). I've come very close to writing a blog entry or two about my favorite TV guilty pleasure....

And David Spade is very annoying. Laura San Giacomo and George Segal should have fired their agents.

Posted by: chuck at August 10, 2004 11:57 AM

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