Category Archives: The Blogger In Me

getting unstuck: the cat formerly known as a blogger

I’m feeling a little like a former blogger these days. I know blogging is good for me and I want to blog, but it seems that I let everything else come before blogging. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal if I weren’t writing my dissertation on blogging. Well, it’s on trauma and blogging but close enough. So, I’ve been asking myself the question: what’s got you stuck? You have the ideas. You (kinda sorta) have the time. You have the access to computers and internet pretty much 24/7.  And yet.

It turns out this insomnia thing is working well for me tonight because I’m making myself ask that question and, perhaps more importantly, answer it. Guilt. If I’m on the computer and typing, then I should be writing my dissertation, right? Yes and no. First of all, in spite of how I feel and often behave, my dissertation isn’t the only thing in my life, but I usually feel that way. I tend to connect everything that I do to my research, whether it be reading, writing, internet surfing, or even watching tv. The obvious solution would be to blog about my dissertation. Works in theory but in practice I’ve been in a research study holding pattern until this past Friday. My school’s IRB determined that my study was not exempt and after months of back and forth finally gave official approval on Friday. I’ve been afraid to blog about my dissertation before getting that approval. It’s not that I’m going to publish anything that I don’t have permission to post, but the delay put me in this weirdly fearful holding pattern as though someone might read something that I post and not like it. All in all, I’ve been really stressed and when I get really stressed, I often freeze up. I get stuck. Well, here’s to getting unstuck and once more attempting to take my own advice.

Slight digression {{ Last night I went to a local restaurant/bar/coffee house where I go sometimes to work and get out of the house. I was sitting at the bar, having a bloody mary, and reading How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (for my dissertation of course). An acquaintance of mine sat next to me and remarked on my book and how he usually wrote stories but hadn’t lately. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to or didn’t have ideas but he just wasn’t writing. So, I suggested he use a strategy that I use in writing my dissertation: set a word count goal (I use 500), sit down, and make yourself write until you meet the goal. (This is in no way an original idea, btw.) The idea is just to get started. Maybe it will work and you’ll keep going and it will be wonderful writing. On the other hand, it might be crap, but at least you met you tried and you can get the satisfaction of meeting your goal. }}

So, my advice to myself is to employ that same practice with blogging. My blogging resolution is to try to write a blog post each day; don’t obsess over it being perfect (as this one obviously is not); and publish the damn thing. (I have way too many blog posts sitting in the never-ever land of “Draft”) I’m putting this out there for anyone (still) reading this blog: my blog posts will probably not be very polished but on the plus side, maybe they’ll actually exist.

Introducing “Writing/Fighting to Survive: The Rhetorical Strategies of Trauma Bloggers”

As I reconstruct my dissertation–rewriting, revising, conducting a new research study–I’ve been considering many of the questions that reappear in my personal research journal. Since my research isn’t just my research, I can’t really make my research reflections fully public. Some of the things that I reflected on were concerns for specific participants (I include this here because I am conducting a new research study to complete my dissertation and have an entirely different set of research participants) or feelings that were at the time too personal to share with my blogging audience. I’m beginning to test out these boundaries now for several reasons. First, blogging is good for me. Seriously, it’s like vitamin C (and not the sunshine and vitamin C that I joke about being in clove cigarettes) and warm chamomile tea followed by a slug of peppermint oil to wake up your brain. As Father Ong (That’s Walter J. Ong, S.J. to all of you non-Purdue, non-rhet/comp geeks like me) so aptly put it “the writer’s audience is always a fiction.” So, while writing in my research journal, I am writing to a fictional audience just as you, my dear blog reader, are a fiction in your own way, writing in my blog makes the audience less fictional. Sure, I imagine you when I write and until I hit the “post” button that’s all you are–imagined readers. But the great thing about blogging is that in the moment that my post changes status from “draft” to “published,” you emerge from the ether along with my pixelated thoughts and voila–real readers who write back. And this brings me to…

Here’s a piece of my dissertation introduction for your edification. Feedback is appreciated.

When I wrote my master’s thesis, I began with a story of my own pain, relating it to the purpose and context of my subject matter. I did this because stories matter. They are how we construct ourselves within the world, how we determine self worth, how we deal with the vicissitudes of living, and most importantly for me, they provide insight into our motivations. Just as motive is important to understanding our life decisions in a broader context, it is important for the scholar in understanding what she chooses to research, to the writer in understanding what she chooses to write about and how. My research deals explicitly with these motivations that compel the trauma blogger to write about their experiences. It seems only fitting that I do the same.

I was first diagnosed with primary PTSD and chronic depression at the age of nineteen. These two diagnoses did not define me but rather put into words what I was experiencing. After a lifetime of painful medical conditions and procedures as well as emotional and physical abuse, my psyche was damaged, so much so that I feared it might never heal. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing therapist who guided me in understanding and working through the traumas that had so disrupted my ability to live fully in this world. In addition, I had a caring psychiatrist who carefully worked with me to find a drug regimen to balance out the neurochemical problems that contributed to my disorders. Many people with PTSD and depression are not as lucky as I have been and/or need to supplement the professional help by engaging in therapeutic techniques that they develop in response to who they are. The people discussed in my research have chosen writing as the vehicle for their therapy, more specifically they have chosen blogging.

Like the bloggers that I discuss, I needed to develop my own techniques for dealing with my trauma. Unsurprisingly these techniques were rooted in my previous experiences of dealing with problems. First, I researched; I read everything I could find on PTSD. I read clinical studies, psychological theories, research into the causes and effects of PTSD, narratives, and literary theory. I became consumed with learning about trauma, convinced that if I could only understand it, I could defeat it. Since then I have written about and researched trauma extensively; I have posed theories about trauma and language; I have analyzed works of literary fiction and nonfiction; and after I became a blogger, I began studying the writing of trauma bloggers. My academic and scholarly nature lead me to deal with my trauma in concert with my professional development. However, throughout all of this I discovered that what helped most was not the research and reading but the writing about it. Like these trauma bloggers, writing became my therapeutic outlet. Yet my writing did not fall into the traditional rubric of therapeutic writing; it was and is primarily academic in nature and doesn’t fall into the genre of therapeutic journalling. In spite of this, I have found it to be more rewarding than writing about the specific experiences and perhaps more importantly, it feels safer. Those feelings of safety are often what allow victims to write about feelings and experiences that they cannot speak of.

My own experience inspired the questions that I explore here. What has motivated these bloggers to write? More specifically, why did they choose blogging rather than private journals? Why have they chosen personal blogs as opposed to the support forums that are plentiful? And when they sit down to write a blog entry, why do they do it? What experiences motivate them to take the time to sit and write and publish their thoughts? And I don’t mean the traumas that are the origin of their PTSD; I mean the experiences that directly precede the act of writing the entry. How do they respond to the experience in content and form? Do they write about the experience, the emotions that the experience engenders, or do they externalize like me and write about what they learn through the media and reading? I want to know what the writing means to them and if it helps. I want to know the answers to all of these questions, but to answer them I need to start at the beginning—the motivation.

As Kenneth Burke has noted “motives are shorthand terms for situations” (p. 30, Permanence & Change). In making this claim, he is explaining that motives are more complex than we usually perceive them to be. Motives are situations that we recognize through a pattern of stimuli and response that have occurred with enough frequency that we have generated a word for them. For example, my motivation in writing this is what I would describe as a desire to help myself and others. My “desire to help” is actually my response to a situation in which I see a pattern. Specifically, there are people who are hurting and who deserve to have their voices heard; I want to have my voice heard; I want to do my part in helping these people; and I am best equipped to help through my training as a rhetorician and scholar. So, there is a situation that involves both stimulus and response that I have translated into the words “a desire to help.” The motivations of the bloggers that I am discussing are no less complicated. Understanding the situational context of their writing helps me to understand what interactions constitute their defined motives which then helps me understand their writing. To clarify, the writing in this context is the response, and I am trying to identify the stimuli and understand the response and by making connections between stimuli and response understand motive.

So, the reader may have a question here: why do motives matter? An excellent question deserving of an explanation. I refer back to Burke to answer this. In examining motive I am actually looking at three linked concepts: orientation, motivation, and communication. Trauma victims’ orientation has been disrupted by their response to trauma. It’s really not dissimilar to being lost. The structures or landmarks that you use to determine your position are no longer there; you are disoriented and to find your way you must find those structures. “Orientation is a bundle of judgments as to how things were, how they are, and how they may be.” (14) Orientation is a means of understanding the world, when it is lost or disrupted, so is the individual sense of self and well being. Motivation is directly related to one’s orientation. The stimuli and response to a given situation (and the naming of it) are understood through prior experience. For the traumatized their orientation, influenced by trauma, results in response to stimuli that can be harmful in a multitude of ways. Because their response doesn’t always make sense in the way that we might normally understand it, they can’t attribute a word for it. They can’t give the situation a name. Thus, they cannot communicate their experience and that is what makes traumatic experiences traumatic—the disabling effect that they have on our ability to communicate. Communication is how we make connections to others. Ultimately these three concepts are circular. Communication helps us to reestablish orientation. Being able to communicate the trauma and experiences returns the ability to situate that bundle of judgments that is our orientation. Since my argument here is that writing allows us to process information differently and in some ways more effectively than other forms of communication, I need to understand the motive for writing as opposed to talking and the efficacy of blogging as the means of communicating these experiences. I also am trying to determine how blogging may move the blogger toward more stable orientation.

It’s about power.

Okay, so I stole that line from Buffy, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I’ve realized something in reading the blogs of my research participants–it’s about the power. The people who’ve harmed us want to take our power. They see power as “power over.”  I believe in “power to.” That’s where my power lies, and it’s part of my strength. This frightens people, and they want to take our power. They want to have power over us. They want power over me. But I don’t give in easily because I’m strong. I’ve dealt with the trauma of abuse, the pain and loss of physical illness, and the alienation imposed by those who want to take my power. Reminding ourselves that it takes strength to simply live when you’re dealing with issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and clinical depression is essential to our survival. This doesn’t mean that we have to define ourselves based on our traumas and diagnoses. These are part of us, but we are more than just “the traumatized.” Writing about trauma demonstrates strength. Writing about it in a public forum, such as blogs, demonstrates courage. As bloggers we have the power to expose the violence that we’ve been told to keep silent about, to help others who’ve been traumatized, and to teach those who haven’t been traumatized.  Our silence does not protect us; our voices do.

word cloud for “finding and losing myself in words”

Courtesy of Wordle, I’ve created a word cloud for a prior blog entry. And without further ado…

following my own advice

I haven’t had much time to blog lately because of all of my dissertation work. For a while I found that the blogging was helping my writing process, but then I got a little freaked out about the possibility that the blogging was taking me away from my work. Of course I’ve been feeling guilty about not blogging. Part of that is because I want to be true to my readers (though they may be few) and another part of the guilt is that I actually enjoy blogging. Then there’s the fact that I study bloggers. Perhaps the most important reason is that I continually encourage my students to write informally as a way to prepare themselves for formal writing. I require students to write low-stakes, informal reading responses and post them to their class blogs as a means of practicing. Writing is one of those activities that improves only through much practice, an opinion that I continually emphasize to my students. Yet I have been failing to follow my own advice, a practice that I often complain about when others do so. If you’re going to preach it, you should practice it. While I’ve been writing drafts of blog posts, I haven’t been completing or publishing them, a practice that would cost my students grade points. So, I vow to spend time (at least weekly) writing (and completing) posts for my blog. If nothing else, I’ll post about my dissertation. Perhaps that will alleviate the guilt I feel on both ends.