First, a big thank you to the resident Harpies for such a warm welcome, and a nod to my fellow newbies whom I’m looking forward to getting to know.
It was surprisingly difficult to think of what to blog about in my first post here at The Pursuit of Harpyness. I kicked around a bunch of ideas from the very small (book review, quick link-and-commentary) to the very meta (“what is my philosophy of activism?” “what is the meaning of life?”) and couldn’t settle on anything that seemed exactly-precisely how I wanted to introduce myself. In the end, I decided to interview myself about my background in blogging and what I hope to bring to the Harpy community.
Why an interview? Because with interviews, there’s less obligation to be comprehensive; I don’t have to worry about getting the idea polished and complete before letting it float out into the world. And discontinuity is also acceptable: not every thought I share here is connected to every other thought. Except insomuch as it came out of my head.
So without further ado, here I am.
Me: Welcome to The Pursuit of Harpyness! Can you talk a little bit about your history with the feminist interwebs and your experience blogging?
Self: Well, I’d done some early personal website stuff through Geocities and in computer classes in college back during the early 2000s, but it was all very personal stuff … pictures from my year abroad for my relatives and friends back home, that sort of thing. I didn’t get into the online feminist community in a big way until I’d graduated from college in 2005 and was casting about for some way to stay connected to the world of feminist ideas I’d gotten connected to as a women’s studies major in undergrad. I started reading and contributing to comment threads at Feministing and Feministe in early 2007 which was really a pure shot of feminist adrenalin. I was very isolated in terms of feminists of my own generation in my hometown where I was living at the time, and to discover this flood of feminist conversation about current issues — a conversation I could tap into immediately, and begin to participate in, was intoxicating.
I was in my mid-twenties at the time and making plans to move to Boston to start graduate school — a dual Master’s program in library science and history — and decided to start my own blog as a way to share the changes in my life with friends and relatives. So I set up a blog. And over time it’s grown from being a very personal “pictures of my dorm” sort of blog to something that — though I still can’t quite believe it! — has followers whom I don’t personally know. I mean, outside of the blogosphere. More recently, like in the last six months, I’ve gotten involved on tumblr as well which is a whole new level of interaction and sharing of ideas. A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from this librarian, Kate Angell, who told me she was inspired to start a blog herself because of me, and that she knows other librarians who read my blog. It’s kind of scary and humbling and exhilarating all at the same time.
Me: What do you write about at your blog, the Future Feminist Librarian-Activist? (And where the heck did that title come from, anyway?)
Self: [laughs] The name is a spin-off from this inside joke a friend of mine in undergrad and I used to have about being the “future feminists of America,” you know? Some sort of meat-and-potatoes, Girl Scout type organization like the Future Farmers of America … only for feminists! And at the time (in 2007) I was applying to graduate programs and thinking about how my interest in librarianship intersected with my desire to work for social change as someone who identified politically as a feminist.
In terms of what I write about … Oh, gods, I write about pretty much anything I have a passion for and strong opinions on. Which, as my girlfriend will tell you, is pretty much everything. I was not born to be neutral about most things and since I was a small child I’ve had a finely-tuned bullshit detector and what is probably a (personally) unhealthy degree of righteous anger. In terms of political issues, I’m obviously into following and participating in feminist activism and the ways in which feminism intersects with all other human rights issues on a national and global scale. Because I have a background in non-traditional education — I was home-educated as a child — I’m really interested in the politics and culture of education. More recently I’ve also become more aware of class and labor issues and economics — possibly something to do with acquiring all that graduate school debt! Questions of education often intersect with children’s rights and how we situate children and families in our culture. Growing up in a very religiously-conservative part of the country I’m also fascinated with Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism as well as the progressive, social-justice oriented aspects of religious traditions and personal practice. I blog about all of this stuff over at the FFLA (and, obviously, plan to continue doing so here!)
Me: Since your own personal blog seems to give you so much satisfaction, what made you audition to join the writers at Harpyness?
Self: What got me into blogging in the first place was the energy rush I get from exchanging ideas with folks and the way in which writing on the internet has the power to connect us with other like-minded, like-hearted individuals who can help us refine our thinking and hopefully translate that thinking into personal and political action. It was that sort of collective brainstorming that I yearned for throughout my undergraduate and graduate career and have rarely found (though the instances in which I have I absolutely treasure). Blogging on my personal blog has given me entre into that sort of conversation but obviously one very small and quirky personal blog doesn’t have the same sort of traffic that a group blog does.
So when I saw the call for additional writers go up at The Pursuit of Harpyness (which I’ve been following since it began in 2009), I wrote up an audition piece, which y’all will be seeing in the next couple of weeks, and the current bloggers liked it so here I am! I’m looking forward to figuring out where my unique niche here in this space might be — what issues and topics and unique perspectives I might be able to bring to the table.
Me: What do you enjoy the most about blogging?
Self: I’m one of those people who has an internal monologue going on all the frickin’ time, analyzing and contextualizing and integrating the ideas and events and people that I encounter in my daily life (and online). I’m an extremely verbal person, so these ideas manifest themselves in words. Lots of words. Words which, since I learned how to speak, I have had the urge to share with people and get some sort of feedback on. I thrive on developing ideas in collaboration with other folks. I can (and do) think about things in a totally self-contained manner … but optimally, I enjoy sharing. I was the kind of child who narrated my life. And kept diaries. And had lots of pen-pals.
Blogging is an outgrowth of that need I have to make sense of the world, and to keep some sort of record of that sense-making process.
Me: What is the most challenging thing for you about blogging?
Self: I’ve always found it difficult to write with brevity, and it can be really difficult to take an amorphous idea or group of interconnected ideas or thematic set of links and figure out how to bring them together with any coherence in the amount of time I have to devote to blogging. I could be a full-time blogger. Easily. I could spend eight or twelve hours every day writing massively long philosophical screeds and contributing to comment threads. But I have a day job and I have a family so I really have to discipline myself when it comes to how much time I put into writing. I’ve almost dropped off the comment-thread radar completely because of that. I just don’t have the time to keep up with comment thread discussions right now. I miss it sometimes.
That and the level of judgyness that you come across on the internet. I’ve written a few posts, even on my little personal blog, that turned out to really offend some people and rather than debate the ideas — the substance of my argument — with me, some of the commenters were right away making all sorts of judgments about my life experience. Judgments they had no factual basis for other than their assumption that because I held belief X than I must fit profile Z. Since those experiences, I’ve been much more conscious myself about when I’m making those types of judgments, and asking myself “how do you know that?”
Me: Is your blogging related to your wage-work in any way?
Self: I don’t generally get paid for blogging, if that’s what you mean. As a librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society I do contribute regularly to the content on the Society’s website — look for a feminist-themed “object of the month” coming up in February! — but blogging has never been an income-generating enterprise in my life.
In terms of being related to my vocation as a librarian? I absolutely see it as related to that. I decided to become a librarian because I’m committed to making information (the means of constructing knowledge, gaining personal wisdom, and pursuing social change) accessible to everyone. I wanted to be working with ideas, but I didn’t want to get stuck in a college or university setting where the terms of the debate are so often limited by the cultural and physical structures of schooling. I see blogging as an extension of that personal and professional vision I have, about the way in which the exchange of ideas and collaboration among like-minded folks, can bring about a more just society.
Me: What do you do when you’re not blogging and not librarian-ing?
Self: My girlfriend, Hanna, grew up watching old series Dr. Who with her father, who was born and grew up in Leeds (England). Since we’ve been together she’s introduced me to the Whoniverse, including Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures; we’ve been enjoying Season 5 which the BBC finally deigned to release on DVD Stateside around Thanksgiving time. I’m now thoroughly addicted, and the Harpies can definitely look forward to some Who-themed posts at some point (I promise to furnish spoiler warnings!)
I’m also still working on my Master’s thesis in history, which I’ll be presenting in May of this year, so writing of a more academic sort is a part of my life right now as well.
Me: Since you’re a librarian I assume you read books as well as blogs. Can you talk a little bit about what books you’ve been reading lately?
Self: [laughs] Well, I try to make time to read! Some seasons are better than others in that regard. Since finishing my graduate coursework in early December, I’ve been reading a lot about nonviolent activism, actually. One night in bed I was looking for something to read and there on my shelf was Mark Kurlansky’s slim little volume: Nonviolence: Twenty-five lessons from the history of a dangerous idea (2007). That book (which I reviewed at the FFLA) led me to seek out Hanna Arendt’s classic On Violence (1970) as well as a biography of labor and peace activist A.J. Muste written by Nat Hentoff. I’ve been meaning to read about Muste for a few years now because he actually graduated from my alma mater Hope College in Holland, Michigan, back in the early 1900s when it was a preparatory academy. For Christmas, Hanna bought me Jill Lepore’s recent The Whites of Their Eyes about the Tea Party movement’s use of American history, specifically the American revolution, as an attempt to legitimate their activism.
And of course, it’s not all fun and games! I just finished reading Connie Willis’ latest (All Clear) and am anxiously looking forward to Patricia Briggs’ sixth Mercy Thompson novel, River Marked.
Me: Can Harpy readers look forward to book reviews of any of these titles?
Self: Absolutely! I’m already thinking about a couple of posts on what I’m learning (or, more accurately, re-visiting) about nonviolence activism and its place within feminist and other movements for radical social change.
Me: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!
Self: No problem; I’m looking forward to spending more time here and getting to know all the Harpy writers and readers better.