07/25/2012 05:32 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2012

Blogs Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Ahem. A word about the blog I started in college called Cliterati.

(Yep. "Clit" meets "literati." See what my twenty-year-old self did there? If I hadn't been a librarian at the Women's Center in college, I'd say I should've been.)

As I blog I wonder every so often if I should try to act like I'm not blogging. I wonder if, because from an academic or book-length standpoint I would do well to "hold back" my effusiveness, I should temper praise of positive work I see being done in the regional or global community. I wonder if I should bridle my enthusiasm somewhat because it might someday come across as gauche. After all, I wouldn't always be working as a nude figure model for art department classes in college, and one never knows what job they'll pursue after graduation, so shouldn't I have kept a lid on it instead of publishing nonfiction pieces with first sentences like "I am accustomed, now, to being in a room with seven men who are drawing my pubic hair"?


Readers (all three of you) might notice that my blog entries reflect what preoccupies me at any given time, as blog entries are wont to do. Back when I started Huffpost-ing I was working in Mongolia, so I began with a post about observing presidential elections there. Then it was talking to green architecture firms in Shanghai, then defending Chinese dissident writers in Istanbul. Creative writing pedagogy one year; composition teaching the next. And, as a result of my experience mobilizing a theater group for refugee girls in Kenya last summer, this year I became particularly concerned with what recent and current U.S. State Department employees are doing specifically to empower women and engage youth. Frequent fangirl mentions of Secretary Clinton, Ronan Farrow, and Anne-Marie Slaughter ensued. I thought, occasionally, to scale back -- I have my scintillating professional reputation to try and build, after all, and who wants to be that fangirl? The shamelessness! -- but then I remembered the cultural space of the blogosphere, and what I firmly believe it is for.

Recent ganders I've taken at not just the less well-crafted comment responses to various blog posts (on more and less "scholarly" sites), but the respectably thoughtful critical ones, have me wondering if there isn't rather a large missed opportunity happening here. Some commenters apparently think blogs should be an extension of precisely and only the kind of thought, and the kind of product of that thought, familiar to us before we had access to the wonderfully messy, culturally informative window into the human processing of the world that the Internet has given us. They seem to think blog posts should be subject to the same criticism we lob at academic products as well as the same formal requirements for presentability (having read a great deal in a certain subject, earned degrees in it, published in peer-reviewed publications, etc.) If that were the landscape, we'd be missing out big time on the cultural advantages of the view through that window, the one of the glorious and terrifying mess of much more human processing than we've seen before -- and, perhaps most importantly in terms of possible global changes in my lifetime, the goal for democracy such a portal scores us across the world.

The blogosphere never promised us a rose garden. It's process-based, a product of process but not polish, and a product in the process of getting there. It is, from the formal standpoint of the discipline out of which it grew, often flawed. Blog posts record the thoughts we're having now; they're a map of how we got to these current (and likely to change) thoughts; and the blog form even alters the nature of those thoughts, precluding, most of the time, a years-old labor of written love in favor of a weeks- or hours-old one. Blog entries are not only at their "most respectable" a way for _______ Review to expedite the trade of scholarly barbs. They're less concerned with respectability, actually, and much more like a shout in the hall, a wave out the window, a conversation in a crowded cafe. And yes, a growing culture of ahistoricity, shrinking attention spans, and an overblown sense of personal image and its importance are all risks attendant to this development and those of us growing up with it. But did someone forget that risks attend every generation, and that those risks are never the same from one generation to the next -- largely owing to progress in technology and social and political change -- and that this should always be so?

Woe betide the generation experiencing the same risks as the one preceding! Who wants the adolescence their parents had, with the very same cultural trends and limitations? No one, and that's the entire Kevin Bacon Footloose-ing point: this era, with its Generation Me, its Generation YouTube, its sometimes reckless projection into the stratosphere of fleeting emotions and images, is as it should be. This has actually always been, since the first town square, the nature of our public discussions: quick, real-time, not always totally right, reactive, participatory. Democratic, therefore, and inherently so. When we blog we're throwing coins into the well, the most public space we've got: the new town square of the Internet. We have a lexicon (should those in academia hanker for one) available to our discourse community (because we have one of those too): Occupy. Aurora. #sxsw. Cain and Libya; Mitt and Bain. Trending. Anderson Cooper. Friending. Gossip. Cheezburger. Having It All. You know what coins I'm talking about, and if you don't, the search bar in the upper right corner of your screen does. The terms aren't always Internet-specific, but what makes them trends sometimes is, and how! One of the most powerful blog posts I've ever seen is the one Zeynep Tufekci put up very shortly after getting a load of what went on between Andy Carvin, Anne-Marie Slaughter and others they knew as they tried to do what they could over Twitter to free beaten and arrested journalist Mona Eltahawy from captivity in Cairo. Eltahawy's release followed within hours; so, then, did Tufekci's post about "The #freemona Perfect Storm." Tufekci admitted her post was comparatively long, harried, and imperfect. It also led to this blogger over here munching on critical frameworks I wouldn't have otherwise, because what happened to Eltahawy and how it happened mattered to me enough to want to read what I could about it, from various perspectives, and as soon as possible.

In my early twenties, a wonderful boss I had at a very well-respected international organization once looked exasperated when I half-jokingly asked him, at the end of my contract, what I had to do in the future to be a more "grown up" professional.

"MING," he groaned, "Cliterati? Come on!"

But what's done is done, what's blogged is blogged, and even if I delete my earlier, bolder creations, Google Cache has me over the barrel. And I argue that this, also, is as it should be. Welcome to my generation's predicament: in a background check, as never before, what you see is what you get. In this case, that would be a frank, curious, alternative writer and development worker who will not hide her history any more than she'll waste your time making excuses for it. There is a genuineness and an upfront-ness enabled by the irrevocable visibility of my youth on the Internet -- I can't hide from who I was, so I'd rather not spend time I could be useful trying to. There are scores like me who sound off on the Internet, but generally, guys, we just want to add to the conversation, not display ageless genius. The Internet's certainly not where I tend to go for timeless literature. The Internet's where I go for timely literature, timely response, and timely debate. It's the watering hole for an honest and scattered, real and messy exchange-in-process. And it's my fix of the increasingly worldwide democratic dynamic that it enables and exposes -- every bit as well as it exposes my figure-model past.

And maybe sometimes I go online for cute cate pictures too. Every generation has its vice.