Tag Archives: Writing

getting unstuck: the cat formerly known as a blogger

I’m feeling a little like a former blogger these days. I know blogging is good for me and I want to blog, but it seems that I let everything else come before blogging. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal if I weren’t writing my dissertation on blogging. Well, it’s on trauma and blogging but close enough. So, I’ve been asking myself the question: what’s got you stuck? You have the ideas. You (kinda sorta) have the time. You have the access to computers and internet pretty much 24/7.  And yet.

It turns out this insomnia thing is working well for me tonight because I’m making myself ask that question and, perhaps more importantly, answer it. Guilt. If I’m on the computer and typing, then I should be writing my dissertation, right? Yes and no. First of all, in spite of how I feel and often behave, my dissertation isn’t the only thing in my life, but I usually feel that way. I tend to connect everything that I do to my research, whether it be reading, writing, internet surfing, or even watching tv. The obvious solution would be to blog about my dissertation. Works in theory but in practice I’ve been in a research study holding pattern until this past Friday. My school’s IRB determined that my study was not exempt and after months of back and forth finally gave official approval on Friday. I’ve been afraid to blog about my dissertation before getting that approval. It’s not that I’m going to publish anything that I don’t have permission to post, but the delay put me in this weirdly fearful holding pattern as though someone might read something that I post and not like it. All in all, I’ve been really stressed and when I get really stressed, I often freeze up. I get stuck. Well, here’s to getting unstuck and once more attempting to take my own advice.

Slight digression {{ Last night I went to a local restaurant/bar/coffee house where I go sometimes to work and get out of the house. I was sitting at the bar, having a bloody mary, and reading How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (for my dissertation of course). An acquaintance of mine sat next to me and remarked on my book and how he usually wrote stories but hadn’t lately. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to or didn’t have ideas but he just wasn’t writing. So, I suggested he use a strategy that I use in writing my dissertation: set a word count goal (I use 500), sit down, and make yourself write until you meet the goal. (This is in no way an original idea, btw.) The idea is just to get started. Maybe it will work and you’ll keep going and it will be wonderful writing. On the other hand, it might be crap, but at least you met you tried and you can get the satisfaction of meeting your goal. }}

So, my advice to myself is to employ that same practice with blogging. My blogging resolution is to try to write a blog post each day; don’t obsess over it being perfect (as this one obviously is not); and publish the damn thing. (I have way too many blog posts sitting in the never-ever land of “Draft”) I’m putting this out there for anyone (still) reading this blog: my blog posts will probably not be very polished but on the plus side, maybe they’ll actually exist.

Writers’ Bootcamp: Organizing Intrusive Thoughts

Writers’ Bootcamp: Organizing Intrusive Thoughts

finding the right/write words

A challenge when writing is always finding the right words to express oneself. When writing about the experiences of others, this becomes even more of a challenge. Add to those challenges the word choices made when writing scholarship that anlayzes the thoughts, experiences, and behavior of others, you find yourself in a quandary of diction that necessarily leaves out important information. As Kenneth Burke has famously noted: “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (Language as Symbolic Action, 1966, p. 45). Extending this point Burke argues that it can be useful for us to develop new terms that might reflect a different aspect of reality. Ultimately this alters our point of view and allows us to view situations differently and perhaps make observations that would otherwise go unnoticed.

My specific problem is how to talk about those who have been traumatized. The words typically used to describe those who’ve been traumatized are “survivor” or “victim.” A recent interview with a woman who had breast cancer described herself as a “fighter” rather than a survivor. But “fighter” doesn’t seem like the right word either. I guess it comes down to how we define ourselves. Yet for the life of me, I can come up with a word that shakes the preconceived labels already in use. Even as a someone who has been traumatized, I’ve been unable to find a word that works. I would call myself both a victim and a survivor. For me I’ll always be both. A victim of violence that left me traumatized and could have left me dead. I’m not being melodramatic. Situations involving domestic violence (not just the spouse battering kind) frequently result in death, either by the hands of the perpetrator or by their own hand. Sometimes death seems like the only way out of the horrific memories or the current reality. Fortunately, I now look at myself as a survivor but a part of me will still always be a victim, as disempowering as that feels, it’s a reality that I’ve yet to escape. Still, in spite of my own experience, I have yet to come up with a word that hasn’t already been used and that still reflects my experience adequately. Words are tricky things.

I’ve been considering this issue for some time given that  it’s an essential part of my dissertation. My temporary solution–to refer to them as the traumatized. Long term solution is that I’ll ask my participants how they define themselves. It seems only appropriate given that I advocate participatory research. In future research, I’ll add it to my questionnaire. At this point in my research I’ll need to work the email angle. For now, this is what I’ve come up with for my dissertation. So, here’s a little portion of my draft:

One of the challenges in writing about trauma (and in fact in all writing) is the selection of terminology that best reflects the writer’s perception and coincides with how the reader will understand the term. In this circumstance it is important that I define my choice of terminology and the tensions that exist in selecting them.  As Kenneth Burke notes: “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (1966, p. 45). I am conscious of the fact that the terminology I choose to use here will reflect my selection of reality and will thus deflect from other points of view. The best thing we can do, then, is be conscious of the choices that we make and remember (and supply our reader with the transparency) that these terms are our interpretation of reality.

My conflict here is multi-layered. Not only do I need to recognize that my choices are an interpretation, I find it difficult to actually interpret the reality with the terms available to me. I am uncomfortable using the word “victim” because I feel as though it is a further violation of the person who has been traumatized by placing them in the position of a passive object who has been acted upon. A victim is someone that something happened to, who has been acted upon. The traumatized have already been stripped of their agency by the victimizer and resulting trauma; how can I further strip them of that power? But there is a certain reality to the term victim; it does reflect an important fact—someone hurt them So, why not call them survivors? This is a further difficulty. True, the traumatized have survived their traumatic experiences in the sense that they have not died. However, survival is more than not being dead; it’s about living. As I’ve explained, the traumatized are unable to live fully in the present. They are possessed by their traumatic memory; the trauma is still acting upon them. Surviving means healing. By referring to people who have been traumatized as survivors by virtue of the fact that they did not die is a deflection of the reality of trauma’s effects. The term “survivor” deflects attention from the harm done by the traumatic experiences. So, if I choose to use the term “victim” for some of those who have been traumatized at what point do they become survivors and do I have the right to make that determination?

My interpretation of this reality is that speaking is survival. By not remaining silent, trauma victims reclaim their agency; they live. While this certainly doesn’t ensure that they heal, it does mean that they are surviving. The trauma isn’t controlling them entirely; they are beginning to process the memories, to loosen their hold. The trauma bloggers that I discuss are survivors, even more so they are activists. By giving voice to the existence and experience of trauma, they are creating an awareness of traumatic experiences and the damage of trauma to the psyche.

Ultimately victim and survivor, as terms, form an either/or binary that obfuscates the complexity of trauma. Not only does it force the individual to be identified as either the acted upon or the actor, it also neglects the spectrum that might exist between these two states of experience. Healing is a process and thus “becoming” a survivor is a process. Using one term or the other deflects the attention away from the lived experience of coping and living with trauma—attention that I am not willing to lose. So, unable to develop a term reflective of how I view those who have experienced trauma, I will simply refer to them as “the traumatized.” While this term still places them in an object position, it lacks the negative connotation of “victim.” Happily, when speaking specifically about people who have both experienced and blog about trauma, I can use the term “trauma blogger.”

following my own advice

I haven’t had much time to blog lately because of all of my dissertation work. For a while I found that the blogging was helping my writing process, but then I got a little freaked out about the possibility that the blogging was taking me away from my work. Of course I’ve been feeling guilty about not blogging. Part of that is because I want to be true to my readers (though they may be few) and another part of the guilt is that I actually enjoy blogging. Then there’s the fact that I study bloggers. Perhaps the most important reason is that I continually encourage my students to write informally as a way to prepare themselves for formal writing. I require students to write low-stakes, informal reading responses and post them to their class blogs as a means of practicing. Writing is one of those activities that improves only through much practice, an opinion that I continually emphasize to my students. Yet I have been failing to follow my own advice, a practice that I often complain about when others do so. If you’re going to preach it, you should practice it. While I’ve been writing drafts of blog posts, I haven’t been completing or publishing them, a practice that would cost my students grade points. So, I vow to spend time (at least weekly) writing (and completing) posts for my blog. If nothing else, I’ll post about my dissertation. Perhaps that will alleviate the guilt I feel on both ends.

jargon and more jargon equals inaccessible knowledge

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Bad Writing and Bad Thinking – Do Your Job Better” provides much-needed commentary on the quality of writing in academic scholarship. I have often argued that scholarly writing tends to be inaccessible to all but a chosen few and even those of us who can understand it still hate to read it. It’s particularly ironic when scholars in my field–rhetoric and composition–publish poorly written articles. While we teach our students to pare down their writing and use active rather than passive voice, in our own writing we tend to ignore that advice. I’m even more appalled when I read scholarly articles and books that specifically address accessibility yet are entirely inaccessible to a larger audience. When I’ve voiced this criticism to fellow academics, the frequent response is that our work is written for a specialized audience who should be familiar with the terms and writing style that we use. On the surface it is difficult to argue against this point, but the subtext is less defensible. Rather than “specialized terms and writing styles,” read “obscure terms and poor writing.” In spite of this, many of us who are not already established scholars are penalized when we write accessibly. Even though our thoughts and writing are intelligent and carefully considered, our failure to adhere to obscure jargon is held against us. It’s a sad state of affairs when those who teach writing write so poorly that only a small percentage of the population has even the slightest clue as to what we are talking about (and even that percentage dreads reading what we’ve written). Kudos to Rachel Toor for writing this article!