One of the tasks of educating professionals involves inculcating the ability to concentrate intensely for long periods of time on whatever one’s job requires. My job requires a good deal of writing, and reading, and learning — and I would not have it any other way. But I may be happiest when I go into random mind mode (RAMM!) — which I do more often than perhaps I ought. One of the benefits of RAMM, however, involves happening on new ways of thinking about things. Reading a few of 27 year old Mary’s posts — beginning with Fifteen Things White Girls Love to Do on Facebook — got me thinking again about how much the idea of “authenticity” in academic writing has changed in the past 2 or 3 decades, and how advanced information technologies (especially blogs and online journals and newsletters, but also spelling and grammar checkers) have changed our notions of what it means to write, and to read the work of others.
Academic writing in the professions is put through so many layers of critique and often endures so much editorial meddling that it loses whatever creative energy it might once have possessed. There is an odd gauntlet through which a writing project must pass if it is, indeed, to “count” for much in the academy. At least in my fields (education, anthropology and psychology), the goal is not simply to share ideas and research findings, but to do so with the benediction of peer-reviewers who presumably provide an “objective” and informed evaluation of quality of the work. [I have written about this in the "Political Economy of Academic Writing (PDF)" in the Journal of Thought.] Those who write journal articles on their own must compete with those who work in teams and with others who receive varying amounts of help from amateur (student) or professional editors and ghost writers. By the time it makes its way through the gauntlet of critique, academic writing may no longer reflect either the intellect or the communication skills of the author(s). As a result, it can be difficult to gauge the authenticity of the persona manifested in academic writing projects. Blogs might be another story, or so it seems to me.
Mary lived in New Orleans a few months ago and was working on a nursing degree in a community college. Her “Fifteen Things” entry garnered a lot of attention when it was spotlighted on the Word Press “Freshly Pressed” page — a great site for anyone looking for RAMM opportunities! In prior posts, she had bemoaned her inability to study for an important “A and P” (anatomy and physiology) exam. Instead of studying, she blogged. Blogging is seductive because it provides a readily available venue for self-expression and exploring alternative possible futures.
I thought Mary’s subsequent post on “The Pros and Cons of Being 27 and Living with your Parents” provided an imaginative, humorous and insightful glimpse into what developmental scientists call emerging or early adulthood - the period in the lifespan from about 18 years of age to the late twenties (Arnett, 2000). Mary has better reason than many to still be relying on parental support, but the truth is that “growing up is harder to do” today than in the past (Furstenberg, et al, 2008; Marantz Henig, 2010). The situation is a product of the social and economic context rather than individual deficiency (of either young adult children or their parents). On January 4, Mary wrote a thoughtful commentary about sibling relationships (“Brothers and Sisters“). And early in February, she announced her decision to (re)turn her attention to writing, setting aside her aspiration to become a nurse, at least for now (“Community College Drop Out“). Given how her readers have responded to her work as a blog author, she wonders whether she might have become a kind of “internet nurse” — helping to relieve human suffering or at least, making some of her readers feel less alone.
As a teacher, I am reminded of how hard we sometimes work to help students overcome barriers in order to stay in school and finish their degree programs. It sounds as though Mary’s community college professors did what they could to help, but there is only so much one can do. Things don’t always work out as planned. In any case, I am struck by the way that Mary seems to embody her prose. Here is how she describes the role writing plays in her life:
I think more than any physical place, my notebooks have been my home. Writing often reveals to me what is true and real before my own mind can recognize it in the world. I know that writing is a way for me to find truth and tell the truth. It might be why I get anxiety just before I sit down to write, but after I finish, I feel better. Lighter. And if I’ve written correctly, I always walk away with more clarity, more light in the room than before. So I won’t concern myself too much with what house I call mine for now. Maybe home is more an internal thing than anything else. For the time being, home is on paper, and deep within. (2/28/12)
Blogging affords opportunities for writing as an “authentic” form of self-expression to real and imaginary audiences. Through writing, we create, recreate and comfort ourselves. This is a new and noteworthy phenomenon and I suspect it is worthy of more scholarly attention than it has received. Ed Prof
References and Further Reading
Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55 (5):469-480. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469
Furstenberg, jr., F., et. Al. (2004). Growing up is harder to do. Contexts, 3, 33-41.
Emerging Adulthood (Wikipedia Entry).