Monday, September 14, 2009

Au revoir, Grad Student Madness?

I'm kinda thinking about sticking the fork in this thing. Or, more accurately, I'm thinking about reconjiggering it to the point that Grad Student Madness would cease to exist as it is now. It's getting to be a bit of a slog to write & post this stuff, and I think it's all a bit unfocused anyway. If it's less-than-pleasurable to write, it must be no fun to read. But, even when it is a blast to write, I tend to be voluminous- sort of the anti-Twitter, and I am told that blog posts should be short and pithy. I lack pith. Thorry.

My idea, when I first started blogging, was to both chronicle the stress, boredom, and very great joy of graduate school, as well as advocating for changes in an academic system that is more dysfunctional than I had ever imagined as an undergraduate. I would be a crusader, like some of my favorite bloggers at the time and readers would flow like wine.

Crusaders make for interesting reading. Tacitus has a great line about this: "Sed ambitionem scriptoris facile aversis, obtrectatio et livor pronis auribus accipiuntur, quippe adulationi foedum crimen securitutis, malignitati falsa species libertatis inest." My translation skills are still crappy, but the jist is that we easily reject a writer's flatteries, while our ears are prone to accept spite and disparagement. And why? Because adulation is akin to the foul crime of slavery, while spite belongs to a false sort of freedom. Critics seem more independent-minded somehow. Some of the most entertaining blogs are written by crusaders.

Alas, I got off-topic in my crusade. Blogging also encourages mental wandering. This seemed perfectly appropriate for a blog about grad school, which also encourages mental wandering! Blogging about politics instead of dissertation-writing? Join the club! Eventually, I got to the point I'm at now, in which I explain to people, "Well, it's called Grad Student Madness, but it's not really about that..."

Sometimes, I still write about the maddening mess that is American academia. But, like most people in that system, the problems are so large and sweeping that actually describing how to solve them would take a book (yet another book on that topic!) and actually solving them would require starting over from scratch. Someday, I'd love to have the funding to found a new university. But a blog chronicling my gripes seems only enjoyable to the anti-academia cranks, who have plenty of other blogs on that topic to read. All I have to say on the topic could be summed up: I'm probably too old-school for the new school. Or maybe I'm too new school for the old school.

Quite often, I write about politics. The problem here is that many bloggers write about US politics and they're, again, a lot more focused than I am. You know what you're getting with Liberals Suck dot com! I'm sort of decisive and partisan on some issues. But, the truth is, I think that the Democratic government is doing a mediocre-to-lousy job so far, and will probably just get worse, while the Republican Party has ceased to have a viable governing philosophy of any kind. So, I'm not a great tubthumper. The Huffington Post has not come calling.

Actually, the things I really enjoy writing about these days are all cultural: movies, books, paintings, and history. I could go on all day about that stuff. The drawback there is that you get a lot less comments. Write that you think "health care is a human right" and at least one person will leave a comment, even if just to tell you that you suck. Write a post about the joys of Tacitus and what can the reader really say about that? "Yeah, he's cool"?

Ideally, I'd like to redo the whole site as an encyclopedic guide to the art, literature, and thought that turns my crank- sort of my own western canon (and sometimes eastern). Maybe call it Everything Good. I'd like to make it look better than this blog and foster a sort of ongoing conversation about the things that I can talk about all day, but know no one in Hamilton to talk about them with.

But, the real challenge is getting readers. For that sort of project to work, you'd need active comments and a good number of regular readers. Right now, I'm too lazy to do the dishes, much less get another blog going and advertise the thing.

So, stay tuned.


drk said...

I do not even remember how I found this blog. Although I rarely comment, I greatly enjoy reading your musings. From Hamilton to France, french and latin words of the day, posts about David Bowie, the videos and photos that you post--it is all quite interesting reading. While I understand that a great deal of effort is put into maintaining this blog, I selfishly hope that you chose to continue with the blog in some form...
A reader from Minnesota

painsthee said...

I really like your blog, actually--and it feels like a window in for a girl who is just getting started in this whole graduate world. Maybe I should comment--give a little instead of greedily taking taking taking, but you never know too when your comments as a stranger make someone feel overly visible or just irritated or even raise the whole "hey, you're not in the club!" sort of cliquishness.

But I hope you don't stop blogging, in whatever form.

Rufus said...

Thank you very much. I definitely don't want anyone to feel selfish! I'm a lurker on several blogs myself. But, don't be shy to comment. I love it when people comment and I'm guessing that Claire, Holly and 'the GSM gang' do too.

I think in the end I just want to redesign this thing so it's more pleasant to look at and use. One thing I'm considering is doing the long posts as videos, because they take less time to make, and I'm guessing it's easier to listen to me talk for four minutes than read some 18 paragraph post!

Also, I'd like to do more things like the posts I did on Proust. Those of us in the humanities aren't always good at explaining why we do what we do- why reading these texts over and over adds value to one's life. So, I'd like to get better at doing that.

Also, it's worth noting that, right now, we're entering Autumn in Ontario- for a young man from Virginia, the change is hard. I always question my function in life at this time of the year!

I probably just need more naps.

Holly said...

You probably need more hard labor. It's the 2nd best thing to sunshine.

My one and only suggestion for this blog is to find a way to have jump cuts. That is to say, instead of the entire post being there in its entirety on the front page, make it so there's a teaser paragraph, and then click to read more kind of thing. (I confess: no idea if Blogger does this, but it's basically the same way as pictures are handled.)

It makes browsing the recent entries easier, and it makes it look JUST like you're going short and pithy instead of all that tedious THINKING and ARTICULATING and EXAMINATION OF THE ISSUE that so many short attention span people hate. Screw them. Seriously.

Just write how you are.

Do you even know what your readership is (in numbers)? This is another thing that I don't know if Blogger will tell you. It's probably more than you think. Lurkers often won't de-lurk even to confess to lurkery.

I encourage you to align your activities to line up with your vision, lest this came across as a "don't jump!" kind of comment.

For whatever it is worth: Your 'detours' into what you're reading, looking at, thinking about, etc... aren't really detours. Politics IS a part of how education functions. Cultural accessibility is, as well.

I have a little more trouble lining up David Bowie and Lux Interior with higher educational systems, but I'll leave that to you.

Amanda said...

One way to make it more interesting again is to try to make money off of it with Google's Adsense. It's free so no risk. You could also find a focus for your blog and reach out to a specific audience. Content is key. Your post should offer a benefit to the reader. And it does help to keep the posts more concise because it holds attention better. I tend to ramble and it can be hard to keep it short. I'm a marketing student and i took a whole class on internet marketing. Maybe I can help.

Amanda said...

I think video posts are a really good idea. You could post the video and then a short bulleted recap at at the end of the post.

Paul said...

No videos!!!!
You cannot skip around and find key words/thoughts that interest you.
Your blog is great the way it is, and that's why people read it. If it were more video-based, you would have a different audience.

Rufus said...

Thanks for the suggestions!

Holly: I've run a counter here before and usually, there are at least a hundred visits a day, which keeps me going to some extent.

I do want to add what you're talking about- the expandable post summaries- this is what you see on blogs where the first paragraph comes up and then the link "read more" if you want to see the other ten paragraphs. It's a really good function. I like it a lot.

It's also a hack and I'm not sure I can make it work yet. I've gotten it to where the words "read more" will appear after the 18 paragraphs on the main post, linking to nothing. So, I need to screw around with the template for a while.

I'd also like to add a piece of art to the top of the blog. Patrick has done this, so I'll maybe ask how he pulled that off.

Amanda: Thanks so much for the suggestions. I'll look into adsense. And I'll definitely try to find a focus. Right now, I think it's sort of a "grad school" blog that is generally about everything but grad school! It might really just need a new title that's a bit more accurate.

Thanks again y'all!

Rufus said...

Paul: Thanks, and that's a great point! I find that when I watch those 15 minute bloggingheads videos, I defintely get done and have no memory of what they just said!

What would people think about something that has both text and video? Sometimes they do this on Feministing- they'll have the post as a video, and then the same exact thing as text under it. I think they do it as a "read more" link. The advantage is that you can listen to it and then read it, and I find that it sort of makes more sense that way.

So, definitely, if I do include videos, I'll either do them as a link after the text, or in addition to the text; but not alone.

I'd say the best thing about text, for me, is that you can link to things. I always worry about doing that academic thing where you make a passing reference to something, assuming that people catch the reference, but really they just think you're being a pretentious dick! The nice thing about text is that you can include a link and not look like you're being arrogant.

Brian Dunbar said...

I lack pith. Thorry.

Don't be. I enjoy reading what you write, when you do.

Rufus said...

Thanks, Brian- I like your stuff too, even though I, perhaps, argue too much. It's intentional- I very much enjoy reading bloggers like you who bring a different point-of-view from my own to the table and can back it up intelligently.

Okay, everyone, it looks like I've successfully hacked the template and will be able to use expandable blog posts in the future. We'll see how that goes.

Holly said...

What do you want for art at the top? Do you mean a banner (I have one, too?) or... something else?

Rufus said...

Just something a little fancier than these damned dots really. Did you make your own header there?

Holly said...

I totally DIY'd that. You want one?

Rufus said...

Oh yes, please. Also, feel free to post pics of your artwork here any time you want to!