Writing and My Better Self

This blog turned five years old last month and I didn’t even celebrate. I considered buying it a little cupcake and putting on a few candles, but I didn’t. I’m not much of a social planner. Even though I felt like a latecomer to library blogging, five years seems like a long time somehow, like fifteen years in blog years. Since I started writing, a lot of short-form library bloggers have moved on to Twitter and several other library essayists have started to blog. I think I prefer essayist to blogger, because while numerous essayists blog, lots of bloggers rarely write anything longer than a paragraph. Although I write various kinds of post, I think of my typical posts as short essays that happen to be appearing on a blog. In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Library Babelfish, Peer to Peer Review, Sense and ReferenceAgnostic Maybe, and Hack Library School have all begun since I started writing here and all present essays that happen to be published in blogs. It’s like a little renaissance of library essay writing, especially among academic librarians. Plus there are all the strong voices from a few years ago still going.

When I started the blog, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was an experiment, and I wasn’t sure I had the time or inclination to write much about libraries. I had published a few short articles before then, but most of my writing was for myself, usually fiction I wrote just for fun. What I discovered as I went along was that the more I wrote about libraries, the more I read and thought about libraries, and the more I read and thought about libraries the more I had to write. Looking back, I can see my posts getting longer and more analytical as the blog matured. The one thing I did know was that this was going to be mostly a professional blog covering my various areas of interest, and thus it wasn’t going to present me so much as my better self, my ethos rather than my character. A little self-analysis perhaps, but no confessional posts.

A few years ago I met a library writer who had been acquainted with me only through the blog. That person compared me to another library writer we both knew, commenting that while the other writer seemed arrogant in print and not so in person (to which I agree), I seemed to be the other way around. I don’t think I’m so much arrogant as supremely self-confident when stating my opinions, but that’s probably the kind of thing arrogant people say about themselves. In person, I probably do come across as arrogant because I’m happy to argue a position forcefully. It probably doesn’t help that I’m usually equally willing to argue the opposite of that position forcefully as well, just for the sheer joy of dialectic. That’s a common habit of philosophy majors. In person, I can be, but am not always, intense, and have even been told that I sometimes seem aggressive, not at work so much as in personal situations. Of course, I’ve also been told I seem like a flirt, but maybe those comments come from different people.

But in writing I want to create a better self.  My better self is willing to argue forcefully, but doesn’t want to seem aggressive. Threat hinders communication. My better self has a version of what Keats called negative capability, “that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Or maybe it’s cognitive dissonance. Regardless, my better self believes I’m always right but acknowledges that I could always be wrong. I used to think everyone believed they were always right, but after long discussions with friends I realized a lot of people act with no confidence that they are right, and obviously plenty of people believe they’re absolutely right without ever acknowledging they could be wrong about anything. Just read the comments to any political article online to see numerous examples of that. The better self is a more academic self. It’s part of the model of academic writing. Assert and defend a position and acknowledge counterarguments even when you can’t refute them. I don’t always follow the model, but it’s a good model. Spend time with me in person and you’ll slowly get to know my character, for better or worse. Read what I write and you’ll see my ethos. One great thing about writing is that I can take my normal flawed self and try to make it seem a little closer to the self I’d like to be all the time if I were capable.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting five years. Thanks for joining me along the way.

4 thoughts on “Writing and My Better Self

  1. Congratulations on your wooden anniversary!

    I recently discovered your blog / essay collection and have been digging the mix of philosophy and librarianship. Don’t worry too much about misrepresenting yourself; the snark shows through. I’ve actually gone back to read your “Thoughts Out of School” essay a second time because I needed a good cackle.

    Remember, it’s not about having or lacking arrogance. It’s about the virtue of displaying the right amount of arrogance.

  2. Thanks, Garren. I should have made some sort of wood reference! That “thoughts out of school” essay was much more the normal me than the professional me. That’s why I don’t post those too often.

  3. Thanks, Lane. It is a pretty good group, though I think you keep up. I particularly like the way you’re using the blog to develop ideas that I assume will be leading to larger projects, like the expertise posts. Even if they never do, seeing the process of thought along the way is usually interesting. One of the things I appreciate about blog essays rather than short bursts is that I get an opportunity to see thoughtful people thinking, as opposed to thoughtful people quipping or thoughtful people waiting to publish an article in a library journal I’ll probably never read. Or, for that matter, unthoughtful people writing just to promote themselves rather than develop their ideas.

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