Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Private Public of Blogs and Classrooms

I just completed a lecture to my undergraduates about blogging. Only three of them know much of blogs, so we spent time getting ourselves acquinted with the whole phenomenon.

We talked, well, I talked, to some degree about the strange private public of the blog, and about my reticence in posting truly private things about myself on the blog. I revealed to them a personal matter that I can't bring myself to talk about on the blog (as tempted as I have been several times to do so). In telling them this private matter, I was trying to illustrate the vulerability I feel in writing personal things for an unknown, unseen public.

Yet, I found it intriguing that I could reveal this personal matter to my students. They are a seen public, although they are still unknown to me. They know far more about me than I know about them. (Indeed, that's one of the many reasons I've found teaching difficult--the one-way nature of teaching is challenging for those of us anxious about our presentation of self.) Yet, somehow, it still feels safer to tell them this private thing than to tell it here. Perhaps because if I were to spill all here, it would be in far more detail, therefore revealing even more than the few sentences I expressed to my undergraduates. In the classroom the revelation served a purpose; The purpose of this whole blogging thing still escapes me.

And still, here I am blogging away.



cruelanimal said...

Yes, a puzzling situation.

Maybe revelation is easier with students because we do ask that they reveal something about themselves in return -- even if it's only how well they've mastered class material.

I, too, reveal more to my students than to readers of my blog. I never actually see those who wander into my blog; they register only as a web address in my stats counter. My students are corporeal -- and are paying to interact with me on some level. I teach creative writing, so there is always an assumption that experiences or feelings will be revealed -- even if fictionalized under the guise of poetic license.

But, weirdly, I must want to reveal something of myself to those who go out of their way to read my blog. Why bother otherwise? Moreover, I share art and poetry on my blog, as well as thoughts and opinions, so, yes, I think you can get some sense of what I think and feel from reading my blog -- probably a more well-rounded picture than a quick stop to just my art site would show.

But, as you note, what keeps us blogging -- or teaching? Is it because we enjoy sharing what we know and who we are with others? or perhaps we are driven in some way with a passionate desire to communicate -- either with a class or potentially with everyone in cyberspace.

I look forward to seeing my students (well, usually) -- just as I look forward to reading blogs I enjoy. There's a kind of What's up with you today? quality to the experience. Thanks for sharing I want to tell them. Now, watch, I'll return the favor...

...but within established degrees of certain onstage vs. backstage behavior patterns. It's like Dante's levels of hell. My blog readers get to one level, and my students burrow to the next, but only my wife and closest friends can drill through the magma to get to the bottom level.

And is that fiery core the real me? The final stop? The lowest pit of hell?

Jenny S-G said...

There must be some element of a desire to share with others, otherwise teaching would be too hard (as would blogging).

Until the past few years I found teaching excruciatingly hard, because of the public revelations that are necessary to be an engaging teacher. My favorite professors when I was a student were those who were willing to share a bit of themselves, not only the material for the course.

The hardest part was discovering that I am really quirky when I get in front of an audience. I always figured I would be serious and earnest. And I am that at times, but I'm also goofy and odd. Getting used to my public persona has taken some time. And, blogging, I think fails to bring that goofy-ness out. The written medium brings out the serious and earnest side. Teaching makes me feel more like a performer.

You're absolutely right that there's a "stages of Dante's hell" element with sharing something of yourself with others. Sometimes, I feel that I share too much, go down too many levels of hell with others. Other times, I don't go far enough. This is true with both blogging and teaching.

As Johnny Cash used to sing: "I walk the line."

Anna said...

Thanks for what you write about it taking a few years to get used to your public persona. I very much enjoyed your presentation at AoIR this year. I'd be glad if I could develop half as engaging a public persona as you have:-). I do know that I'm different in the classroom than I am when presenting at conference.

I also admire the thoughtfulness of your posts and your ongoing civic engagement. It's inspiring.