A blog on (not) blogging


toporImage credit: https://pixabay.com/en/bird-death-dead-829242/

Nowadays when someone asks me whether I blog, I am tempted to say “I used to blog, but not anymore” but then the next question would be “So, why did you stop blogging?” and that, my dear readers, is what this blog is about. In future I can just refer those who ask the question “Why have you not blogged recently?” to this blog to explain why I am not blogging… Mmm, somehow there is a Mobius strip in this narrative, but anyway, here we go…

My most recent blog was on 25 August 2016 – Nested Scholarship: Towards A Scholarship of Transgression, Anger and Hope – a very long blog (I admit) – in which I tried to map my own scholarship practices in the context of the (at that stage, current) higher education landscape in South Africa. Before this specific blog I attempted make sense of my own networked and networking scholarship – The (not so) secret life of a networked and networking scholar, posted on 19 July 2016. Compared to my blogging since 2011, the frequency of my blogs this year is really dismal. Guilty as changed. Mea culpa. Not that I have not tried. I’ve checked this morning and in my 2016 folder titled ‘Blogs’ there are 15 unfinished blogs – ranging from some only having a title and a first paragraph, to a few that are actually almost complete. So what happened?

In this blog on (not) blogging I try to make sense of my recent experiences as blogger. To a certain extent this blog is a confession. But this blog is also a defiant manifesto of trying to make sense of my own scholarship in an increasingly quantified and competitive world of academic scholarship. So please bear with me.

I recently came upon an article by Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti titled “Torpor and awakening” (2016) in which she shares the experience of making sense of picking up a dead hummingbird on campus

It looked really fresh, and I did not know what to do because I did not want people to step on the tiny bird. … So I wrapped the dead body of the hummingbird in my scarf, I sang it a couple of songs, and I put it in my bag…” (par. 5).

She forgot about the dead hummingbird in her hand bag until later the day when she  remembered and as she took it out of her bag she found that it was showing signs of life. This ‘resurrection’ was explained when she found information on the Internet showing that when hummingbirds experience external threats, “they go into a state of sleep where just 8% of its metabolism keeps it going” (par. 9) – a state described as ‘torpor.’ Torpor is a survival strategy by animals to survive temporary resource constraints or context-specific trauma. In her article she continues reflecting on the torpor she herself experiences in many of the people surrounding her with their exaggerated sense of importance,  entitlement and living in bubbles that separate them from themselves, others and the Earth.

Though the article resonated with me on a number of levels, it was the description of torpor that resonated the most strongly.  It somehow gave me a handle, a way of making sense of my own experiences of shutting down, Ctrl-Alt-Del, of playing dead, of stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off feelings. I often wish I could hibernate for a while, just allowing my mental and emotional processes to calm down, and wake up, be resurrected with a new sense of purpose and recovered mojo.

In 2013 I  blogged about these feelings of being overwhelmed, of doubting whether speaking would make a difference, I compared my experience with that of having aphasia or being tongue-tied and illiterate. I wrote how often “I would start with a title for a blog or a first paragraph only to lose interest or lose my way halfway through the second sentence. Words, concepts, images would race through my mind but somehow the coherence, the rationale for blogging was lost in the inner noise and confusion.” I added that in trying to make sense and trying to cope with the pressures and changes in the higher education landscape I resembled “migrants or refugees trying to make sense of a foreign culture and expressing themselves in a language that is not their own.” I found myself illiterate, not knowing the language of performativity and the pervasive quantification of everything I do.

Now, three years later, my feelings of having aphasia and being illiterate, of being a perpetual imposter in disparate discourses resemble torpor, of shutting down, of pretending to be dead…

I’m not dead. I am just overwhelmed.

What is interesting, however, that while experiencing torpor, I am more alive than ever. While lying still on the ground, I am intensely aware of the voices around me, of demands on me.  I listen to the various petitions that faculty and researchers should just have more ‘grit’, ‘pull up their socks’ and have a ‘growth’ mind-set.  I just cannot. I.Just.Can’t. I am lying still on the ground. I hear you. I hear you that I should appreciate the fact that I have tenure. I hear you. I hear you when you shout that I am benefiting from years of inter-generational privilege as a white person in an increasingly unequal society.

I hear you. I hear you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Allow me to reflect shortly on competitiveness in the academe, the increasing sense of precarity, the information overload, and what I did, so far, this year. Please bear with me.

In a context where funding grants for research are becoming increasingly competitive and the majority of grant applications are not successful; where applications for attendance of foreign conferences are increasingly contested (#TheHungerGames); and where your gravitas as researcher, networked professional and scholar is measured by your h-index, number of citations, who follows you on Twitter, the number of Likes on Facebook and exploding hearts on Twitter; failure is not an option. Competitiveness has become one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture (Will Davies, 2014). Davies points out that competitiveness in the markets is not a feature of modern markets, but “the fundamental reason why markets were politically desirable, because it conserved the uncertainty of the future.” In a (higher education) context where ‘winning’, ‘world-leading’, ‘excellence’ are valued and rewarded, the majority of staff are condemned to “also rans”, or “losers” – “thank you for your grant application. This year we received many more applications than in the past, and for which we have funding. We therefore, unfortunately, regret to inform you that your grant application has been unsuccessful. We wish you all of the best.”

I am lying still on the ground. I hear you.

David Frayne refers to the state of work as being in crisis with the erosion of stable and satisfying employment being something is something of the recent past, and where “mass unemployment is … an enduring structural feature of capitalist societies.” We’ve become “a society of workers without work: a society of people who are materially, culturally and psychologically bound to paid employment, but for whom there are not enough stable and meaningful jobs to go around.” And then this: “Perversely, the most pressing problem for many people is no longer exploitation, but the absence of opportunities to be sufficiently and dependably exploited.” To be unemployed has become “a form of deviance.”

I am lying on the ground. I hear you. I cannot afford to lose my job. Not now. Not ever. So I cancel the appointment with friends in order to work on the latest draft of yet another article. As a relative late bloomer in the field of higher education scholarship, I cannot say ‘no’ to an invitation to submit a chapter, an article and/or present a paper. This year also saw the first invitations to deliver keynote addresses. I just could not say no. For an African scholar to be invited to keynote at an international education conference is just not an opportunity to be missed. On the other hand, I am a white, male scholar – so my invitation probably fits the often hollow but filled spaces of  #JustAnotherWhiteAllMalePanel.

[Excursion: one of the incomplete blogs is a reflection on how I try to make sense of these invitations as another white male, but for now just take note that #IKnow that with these invitations comes a lot of issues].

So in this carnival of academic scholarship and publishing, I feel like a slave being crowned as King for a day. I know that the day may pass, but for now, I dance, I provoke, I make fun of the real kings and queens , I make fun of myself while not affording myself one moment to take my eye of the clock.

I can’t afford to lie down. I must get up. I must keep moving. But fuck, I am tired.

And then there is the issue of comparing my blogging tempo, content and style with the blogs of others in the field – those who, when I read their blogs, I swear I will never write again. I am just not quick enough and/or profound enough. Often I have the distinct feeling that while I am still trying to formulate my words in the first paragraph of a new blog, someone else has responded, claimed the space, wrote about the topic – and so the moment has passed and the unfinished blog shuffles out of sight, embarrassed that, somehow, it did not mature fast enough to claim a space in the increasing fluidness of a Twitter feed.

So, my dear friends, in this blog I am singing to myself, Carefully. Caringly. As I unwrap my soul full of expectation looking for signs of life.

I’m not dead. I am just overwhelmed.

About opendistanceteachingandlearning

Research professor in Open Distance and E-Learning (ODeL) at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Interested in teaching and learning in networked and open distance and e-learning environments. I blog in my personal capacity and the views expressed in the blog does not reflect or represent the views of my employer, the University of South Africa (Unisa).
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16 Responses to A blog on (not) blogging

  1. Maha Bali says:

    Paul… I feel guilty. I always felt that blogging a response to someone’s Facebook post or tweet was a way of showing gratitude for them raising an important issue and letting them know I thought that issue deserved to be discussed for longer, beyond the feed. It never occurred to me how it would make you feel if you were planning to blog it, then found mine there too fast. I was just talking yesterday that I think my ways of writing and broadcasting myself have become less aggressive and less silencing to others. I no longer frequently promote my stuff (other people retweet what they like and don’t retweet what they don’t like and that is it).

    I assume you are more overwhelmed by what’s happening in your life than the blogging (of silly ol’ me), but I was just thinking now that a LOT of my recent blogging is inspired by useful links you shared and conversations you started. And that’s writing you initiated. Tweeting is microblogging and you’re doing it. What’s the purpose of blogging anyway? If it’s to express your thoughts on something you deem important and inspire others to do the same? You already do this in your tweets and on Facebook. Maybe by not blogging long-form you don’t go full circle on your thoughts. Or maybe blogging by someone like me derails you as I go off on tangents to follow my own agenda. I don’t know. I do know that someone like me.. I just dump my thoughts somewhere (blog, prof Hacker) and occasionally they will be good; whereas you seem to be much wiser and take much longer and make every word count. I haven’t I read many blogposts by you, but each one I have, has touched me deeply and is *memorable* beyond the moment it was written. I know there’s so much more inside of you and that you didn’t write this for me to say all this stuff…but if blogging is a means not an end… I think you are achieving a lot of the goals in different ways. Blogging for blogging’s sake? I don’t know. But I don’t think your hibernating in the sense you’re describing because you aren’t really silent, you know? You’re just expressing yourself differently. Imho. I hope that wasn’t too imposing a comment

  2. sharonslade says:

    I hear you. But your posts have and continue to resonate. So when, if, that sense of being overwhelmed shifts far enough, long enough to feel the stirrings of an urge to share, do. I love your posts. They encapsulate much of what many of us feel and experience. I don’t blog. I have other calls on my time and I’m not sure enough that I have much to say right now. Life is speeding in directions I don’t always choose or appreciate. But I appreciate your voice, the simplicity and complexity. Our journeys are intertwined and I am grateful to keep hearing you.

  3. Pingback: Who makes me think deeply, differently & critically about education or the world in general? another post escaped from my drafts – Frances Bell

  4. francesbell says:

    As I read your post, I identified strongly with many of the feelings you expressed. I too “sing to myself “- my late lamented blog 2006-2011 was subtitled “the tree that fell in the forest” and I do regard myself as my most significant audience as I work through my ideas. Comments from others are welcome and precious but my blog would still have meaning for me even if noone was watching. The quote from William Purkey
    “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
    Love like you’ll never be hurt,
    Sing like there’s nobody listening,
    And live like it’s heaven on earth”
    captures this but also hints at the self-conscious performativity that goes along with blogging. “like there’s nobody watching” does imply that we know there is somebody watching.
    I also have many drafts – current score Drafts 25 Published 116.
    I also identified with torpor. My last years in work were marked by a feeling of impotence – I couldn’t make much of a difference (ignoring of course the value of the tiny differences I made) . And then when I retired, the surge of energy I expected didn’t materialise. A year later, I discovered that I had developed an underactive thyroid so there was a treatable physiological explanation for my post-retirement torpor.
    Your post prompted me to read my unpublished drafts and I found one where I mentioned you. It had benefited me, like my other posts lurking in drafts, by its writing. Now you have prompted me to click ‘publish’ so here’s a post for you Paul http://francesbell.com/bellblog/who-makes-me-think-deeply-differently-critically-about-education-or-the-world-in-general-another-post-escaped-from-my-drafts/
    We both have a few flickering signs of life 🙂

  5. CogDog says:

    There’s a sad but terrible real irony in blogging about not blogging. A hoarse scream into an empty night.

    And there this little hummingbird, miracle of torporific survival, this beautiful/tragic metaphor you share. Many of us respond to the bird, it’s plight, it’s surprise, it’s thin shred of aliveness. It’s a sweet metaphor.

    Yet I find myself intrigued by the role of Vanessa in this story, the woman who sees this tragedy, a death of something most would walk by, ignoring, or giving it a quick forgetful glance before heading to their important meeting. If she was not moved by what she saw, if she had not stopped, if she had not cared… not story, no noticed torpor, end of story. There is more to the story than the bird.

    I’m relatively new to reading your blog, finding my way by mentions of colleagues like Maha Bali and Kate Bowles. And I like to see it as another metaphor, not a glass mostly empty, but every post being partly full. Sure, we might want the glass to be overflowing, but it’s not empty by a long shot.

    And it leads me to another blogger, Richard Hall, who shares a deep struggle with life and academia. In blogging his pain, he pulls (not the first time) from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, a story most see as darkly. hopelessly apocalyptic, but to me, and I think Richard, carries a message of love/hope more than survival:

    “You have to carry the fire.”

    “I don’t know how to.”

    “Yes, you do.”

    “Is the fire real? The fire?”

    “Yes it is.”

    “Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

    “Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”

    Carry on with that fire, whatever you blog or not.

  6. sensor63 says:

    Paul. Thank you for this song of life.

    No one can claim the space which is yours.

    You are not “justanotherwhitemalevoice”.

    I have no doubt that your voice is essential in this insane “lastdaysofacademiaparty”.

    I am sure that the really important battles lie elsewhere (he writes – while trying to figure out what the hell that might mean).

    I, for one, would very much like to read what you consider to be your “unfinished blogs”.

    If you were truly dead then others might make a collection of your undiscovered work to be published. Isn’t that what they do in literary circles?

    Indeed the fact that they are unfinished – given the context which you describe here gives them more power.

    How profound, how quick, do you imagine your blogs need to be? Fuck that. I’d settle for 18 unfinished ones you’ve written rather than 918 “finished” ones coming from others.

    I found this.

    You sing of freedom.

    Thank you.

  7. Michael Rowe says:

    Hi Paul. It’s just a small thing but I thought you should know that I find your writing to be thoughtful, hopeful and inspiring. Keep well, and thank you.

  8. Dear Paul,
    Your post is the first thing I read this morning. There was a decision – to click the link, to follow the mention, to read on the spot still in my pyjamas. When I finished reading I felt moved, a little teary. Now I’ve come back to respond and feel a little teary all over again, after getting dressed and the first cup of tea. I want to take this time to sit with what you’ve created here, to sit directly with you.
    I concur with these wonderful voices above in stating that your contribution to community, to understanding, to provocative thinking is always valuable, worthy and whole – in whatever form it arrives.
    Here’s what I know about you: you coordinated an international conference that brought some of the most outstanding keynote speakers in the field and you set a powerful example of what’s possible when inclusion is a top priority, rather than a note in the margins. This activity, this vision, this success blew my mind at the time. (Still blows my mind, in fact.) Since then I have paid much closer attention to what you share, write, comment on, where you participate, where you walk because your example is one I know I cannot afford to miss or look past.
    Too, my white male friend, remember that none of us gets to choose our born identity. Rather, we can and do learn to work with the identities we have and grow to improve the environments in which we are active, *if* we are so inclined. Your inclination to break through traditional narratives of privilege is so large that many find space to speak their peace and feel uplifted because you deem the creation of that space a necessity and duty.
    Your overwhelm must have some roots in your Herculean efforts to make academia, global scholarship and the world a kinder, more humane and just place for all of us. That work is exhausting, particularly in the careful, critical and nuanced way in which you pursue it. And let’s not forget, we readers, followers, fans, we see what you show us. Only. We are not party to all the behind-the-scenes struggles, ambitions, deliverables which inevitably complete the picture and make it even possible.
    I have so much love and respect for you and your presence in the places we meet, Paul. When you write and share – it is a gift I appreciate. When you elect silence and torpor, you have my understanding and all the best wishes for your well-being. I am so grateful to be on this journey with you. Ich umarme Dich ganz fest. (A big hug)

  9. Debbaff says:

    Oh my word this so resonated with me. I was only saying earlier this morning how difficult it is for me
    as someone so new to this area to have the courage to find a voice and to be productive enough to feel able to finish a blog post and press that little button. Your post about not blogging was so engaging (which I read in the waiting room at the dentists ) and really made me think. Thank you x

    • sensor63 says:

      Dear Debaff stop trying to finish blog posts.

      How does one start a story like this?


      You can try giving yourself timed challenges – post whatever words come out in fifteen minutes/ten minutes.

      Ten minutes

      Fifteen minutes

      Look forward to reading you.

      Thanks in advance


      • Maha Bali says:

        Simon, I don’t think it’s always technical matter that stops people from blogging or hitting publish (I don’t think you meant to say that either)… I think it may be partly an attitude or comfort with making public our incomplete thoughts… or even not believing we have something valuable to say? (obviously I am not that person right now because I write and blog a lot, but I learned about blogging in 2003 and I started my current blog in 2013 after I got my PhD – before that I only played around with blogs to tell faculty about how to use them in their teaching! So technically it took me 10 years to publish my first blogpost – and all my writing was completely private or semi-private shared with a trusted few)

      • Debbaff says:

        Aww thanks for replying Simon … I shall read these links with great interest ! 🙂 and look forward to not trying to complete my posts all the time ! 🙂 Thank you

  10. sensor63 says:

    Maha. It is sometimes technical often time pressure but mainly
    attitude or comfort with making public our incomplete thoughts
    not believing we have something valuable to say

  11. Ken Bauer says:

    Paul, thank you for this post which I think many of us have meant to write on our own blogs (well, something similar) but well don’t because we aren’t blogging, or not blogging enough, or taking a break or something.

    I sometimes wish that I blogged more and sometimes those small daily ideas since often I try to find some article I was thinking about in the past week or so but spend 20 minutes finding it. Perhaps I should have spend 10 minutes on a small post about that article or blog post I read so I could go find it in the future on my own blog.

    Mostly I blog when I need to reflect on some event or feel that what I share could be useful to someone else. My blog is for me but I’m happy when someone else stops by to see what I’m thinking about out loud on the internet.

  12. Pingback: Some thoughts on blogging as educational activism | opendistanceteachingandlearning

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