the collateral of words

On twitter and facebook I recently wrote:

Words have become my main form of collateral, and now I think I fear using them. It’s more than writer’s block. It’s about identity.

I wrote this in the midst of struggling with a paper. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since this and these are some of the issues that have arisen from it:

  • Because this is the first time in my life that my words and my thoughts are REALLY paying my bills, I’m much more cognizant of them than I’ve been in the past.
  • I fear speaking out and/or writing in public now more than I have because I will be held accountable for my words, and people may challenge them. What if I can’t hold my own in the challenge? What if I just don’t have the knowledge and/or skills to do so?
  • I have great fears of disappointing people I respect and, conversely, not being respected for who I am and what I think. This manifests itself in problems with writing.
  • Academics can be snarky. As I’ve followed recent tweets by academics at one of the largest conferences in my field, I’ve noticed that so many of them were snarky, negative complaints about silly things. They weren’t issues with theory, but personal digs. Why do we do this to ourselves, to people who actually *get* us?
  • Recently I was told that I talk too much in class. I like to add to discussions, but if others think I’m talking too much, I shut down. I choose seminars because there is discussion and they are interesting and engaging.
  • I need to find that place of medium existence in which I can feel safe expressing my words and not intrude on others’ spaces. I’m not sure where that is or if it is possible.
  • Finally, Peter Elbow, a respected and controversial professor in my field, said this at a recent conference:

    Nobody can write well unless they are able to make a fool of themselves.

    In the end, maybe most of us, especially those of us who are engaged in social mediums in online spaces, are willing to make fools of ourselves. It may be the degree in which we do so that makes us better writers.


    1. miss ashley

      oh, excuse me while i flip out. you talk too much? seriously?

      i can’t tolerate lecture classes, and i don’t run my own classes like that when i am teaching a f2f class.

      i run on the assumption that what bores me bores my students, and lecture bores me. i know, off the top of my head, that this isn’t (can’t be?) an absolute — because lecture (by definition? why yes, i am thinking out loud) has to work for some people or it wouldn’t have become the default mode for so many.

      speaking as an academic (in spite of the small letters.. *grin*) — i think it’s an understatement to say that we as a group can be snarky. i would probably go with “ruthless.” academia and the connected academic politics involved for a lot of people — it’s all a minefield.

      i relate to being afraid of your own writing. i am certainly afraid of mine. i know mine — on some levels — has power, because i have seen/read/ witnessed its effects. i think i am both afraid of the power that i have seen, and conversely — afraid the next thing may have no power at all. and so i avoid it, which is no good to anyone.

      i think i’ve just talked myself into a complete circle. wow. i hope this makes some sense.

    2. dawn

      You didn’t talk/write yourself into a circle. :-)

      And yeah, seriously. I was told that I talk too much. Not just once, but this person made sure to reiterate it in front of an entire group of people.

      There are some lectures that are good, I’m guessing. But my brain engages better when I can talk things out, think about them out loud with others.

      *laugh* Ruthless is good. I thought I was being harsh with snarky. Yow. Heehee. ;-)

      And this is the thing, miss ashley, my fear paralyzes me. Seriously. I had a serious panic attack and couldn’t write this paper. I made myself sick over it. And then I got mad because I did, which made me even more sick. It’s an ugly cycle.

    3. miss ashley

      miss dawn — check out my fb note. i couldn’t agree more. the fear can paralyze you, and does. it is a difficult cycle to see/find/dig our way out of.

      oh, i have no problem being harsh when the situation calls for it. :) but the situation has to call for it.

      i am sure some lectures are excellent. it’s just not the way i learn. it did, in fairness, take me a good while to understand that there really *were* different ways people learned.

      i think that one is a process that is hard to balance as a student and as a teacher because — how do you know how to say what to who?

      …which is not unlike a writing conundrum, i guess.

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