Adding to the Cacophany
Having revised and updated my website, I revisited my purpose for maintaining this digital space. I have created and managed a website in some form since I first used Apple's iWeb service back in 2006. At that time, I only wanted a place to host information and discussion forums for students that would be easier, more flexible, and more interesting in content and form than the Blackboard suite offered at the time. It was incredibly useful and successful so I stuck with the practice. Over the years, my use and intent of this website has changed and transformed, waned and waxed. I've shared academic, photographic, and personal material. I've posted regularly, sparsely, and even shuttered the space at times. All the while I've had to ask myself regularly: why am I doing this?
If an answer to that question is not easy it is in part because I know quite firmly what I do not want to this space to be. I do not want to simply add to the negative, mean-spirited, and at times outright nasty discord that seems to dominate so many digital spaces. I would much prefer this space to be boring and uninteresting than simply add to the din of constant criticism that so frequently fails to consider the experiences of others and the contingency of our own. I'm certain this in part because I have many of my students visiting this space, and I'm likely to find my son one day reading all the drivel I've shared online here and elsewhere. With that in mind, recognizing that I would like at least attempt to be a positive example to my students and son, I try to demonstrate that is, in fact, possible to participate in the digital space without oversharing, selling out, or getting lost in a delusion of self-importance because we have "followers," or "likes," or whatever metric for popularity comes next.
I have realized over the years that when keeping a blog, remaining polite and professional is more difficult than it might seem. I have seen my posts, written here or in other spaces, having been often misread and misunderstood, elicit strong reactions from others. (I once saw comments I made about the need for greater hospitality in relation to the study and practice of yoga taken to mean precisely the opposite.) Having misread or misunderstood the work of others, I have also found myself needing to prevent a similar reaction. What I have had to learn over the past eleven years, and what I try to teach my students and son, is to be patient and measured in our contributions and responses to the digital world. It really is great advice to take a step back, breathe deep ten times, and then ask ourselves if we really want to make that post, send that email, or tweet that picture. Often, the answer is complicated. Sometimes, if the picture is of our dog rolling in the grass, the answer must be yes!
With so much of my time dedicated to my dissertation and students over the past year, I found I had less to say in a blog than ever—the progress of my projects, the little updates about life, pictures of the adorable and enormous dog. I have thought about shutting the whole thing down (as I have done in the past), but maintaining a website has proven incredibly useful for teaching. And, writing in the public space is something that I find incredibly important to practice, even if I have not done so very regularly.
The posts may be few and far between, but sometimes great things happen because of them. For example, there was a post in which I expressed concern about ableist and homophobic language going uncriticized in educational settings. Many months later, a student wrote to tell me how much the post inspired her and helped her deal with some of her own experiences. It was one of those letters that everyone working in education dreams of receiving, where the student tells you that you made a positive difference in their life. It was appreciated and helped me recognize that I need to send a few of those myself.
I suppose my reason for maintaining this space remains relatively unchanged after eleven years. First and foremost, I want to provide a flexible and helpful digital environment for my teaching. Yet, I also do wish to have a free and open space to express my thoughts, share my experiences, and contribute to the exponential growth of text and images on the internet. I recognize much of it is not revelatory or revolutionary, but neither is much of what I have found to be of lasting and significant value in life.