by: Raechel T
“I’m very motivated by product. I think it’s a working-class writing method. If I produce something, I can give it to community.” – Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
A couple of weeks ago I started my third active blog. In addition to writing for a living as a researcher/academic, and in addition to regularly contributing to In Our Words, I also write a vegan food/healthy living blog, a critical/academic blog where I reflect on politics, culture, and teaching, and, most recently, I created a blog to write about the parts of my life that don’t fit into food or sociocultural politics: a place to record the conversation I had with a stranger on the bus, or to write about that one part of this song makes me feel like that one night in June when I was 17 and in love, (for example).
But why a blog? Why this public format, and not a journal? Why do so many of us spend our energy writing for the invisible audience cloaked behind the curtain that is the internet? I think most people assume it’s because we feel validated. Arguably, blogging is a type of online presence that is self-serving, narcissistic, and self-indulgent. Truthfully, I can’t deny that much of that is real. There is an undeniable level of self-importance that bloggers must have in order to put our stuff “out there.”
But writing/blogging can, and ought to be, understood in less pejorative ways too. Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk and reading with poet Leah Laksmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who shared her “DIY queer brown girl art adventures with lips.” During the Q&A, Leah was asked about her writing process. How she works, when she works, what motivates her to work. Already the question was respectful, framing her writing as “work.” Leah responded with the following:
“I’m very motivated by product. I think it’s a working-class writing method. If I produce something, I can give it to community.”
Those words struck me, viscerally. I felt by body react with total understanding. As a working-class woman who grew up watching my single mom struggle, writing for the academy has often seemed little more than a means to an end. I write to get my degree, to get a job, to get tenure. This “motivation” has caused me to describe being a part of the ivory tower as “soul crushing.”
But when I write for my blogs, or for IOW, I know that there is a chance, however small it may be, that this tangible product will serve community. It won’t be trapped on the university library website where access is granted only after paying tuition dollars, it’ll be open for anyone with access to a computer. Obviously this is still a very limited population, and even my mom has to go to the public library to get my internet updates, but the blog casts a much wider net than my doctoral degree ever will.
And this becomes important when the subject of my writing has so much to do with learning more about myself, and figuring out how to understand how my identity makes sense with my politics, and with my vision of the struggle for a better world. Of course I could process and make sense of those things on my own, but if I didn’t share it, I would be limiting the invitation for others to help me on that journey.
Feminist writer Aimee Carillo Rowe reminds us that “belonging precedes being. There is no separation between longing—to be with—and being.” That is, who we are is shaped by the spaces we inhabit, and by the people with whom we desire to share those spaces. Similarly, Judith Butler tells us that we cannot “give an account of oneself” without acknowledging our relationship to an-other, to those others that shape us and make us “who we are.” She states, “My account of myself is partial, haunted by that for which I can devise no definitive story.”
Blogging is a way to give credit to relational identity. To reject that writing is something that must be relegated to the private, when our identities and our thoughts are fundamentally shaped in the public. Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve been able to better understand myself as a queer femme, as an academic, as a member of the working-class, as a partner, as a former Chicagoan, as a daughter.
These things weren’t accomplished only through my own self-reflexive pontification. Rather, each of these posts were accompanied by real-life human conversation. My writing about being a sex-positive femme led to a conversation in my office at work with four amazing women weighing in on current debates in feminism. My reflections on being a working-class person in the academy who was, at the time, getting paid to study for our graduate exams, was circulated to the cohort below mine, to help them think through their own relationship to the exam process. And as a result of a post I wrote about my inability to come out as queer to the classes that I teach, I had a truly powerful moment with a student:
“Can I talk to you a minute?” he asked me after class.
I glanced at my watch. I had a few minutes to spare, so I nodded.
“Now, I don’t want you to be mad,” he began, “but I Googled you, and I found something you wrote recently. And…well…I wish you would have.”
That’s all he needed to say. It was clear he read the IOW piece I wrote about staying closeted because I didn’t think straight students could understand how I could be queer, but also be in a relationship with a cisgender male. That interaction, fueled by self-disclosure on the internet, taught me to not underestimate myself, but more importantly, to not underestimate the people around me, people that I care about.
So, there you have it. Why do I continue to write publicly—with the constant threat of nasty comment sections, awkward family dinner conversations (been there), and the assumption that I’m a narcissist who needs attention? Because it’s bigger than all those things. It’s about being motivated by product, for community. It’s about giving recognition to all those around me—whether I know them “for real” or not. It’s about admitting that I can’t “go it alone,” and that belonging precedes being. And I think it’s okay if my spaces of desired belonging include a virtual world of words and ideas, because (if you’re reading this) it means I get to share that space with you.
Raechel T is a PhD Candidate in Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include: critical media studies, queer studies, rhetoric, critical pedagogy, and the labor movement. She’s a long-time labor activist and a full-time cat lady. You can read more of Raechel’s thoughts at rebelgrrlacademy.wordpress.com, and you can follow her adventures with vegan food and healthy living at rebelgrrlkitchen.wordpress.com.