I started posting in the Gender Shrapnel Blog just about one year ago, promising that I would post weekly on issues having to do with gender and its intersections, including race, class, national origin, and parental status. The one-year anniversary of the Gender Shrapnel Blog is two weeks from now, but this is the 52nd post. I mark the anniversary by reflecting on the year’s events and the genre of the blog, in addition to assessing what I have learned and have yet to learn from this writing experience.
My book, Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, came out a year ago. The book’s hybrid combination of narrative, theory, and practice seemed to dictate an afterlife in which I would continue to apply concepts from the book to gender and intersectional problems around us. After I had written several blog posts, a friend remarked that he enjoyed reading the blog and wondered how I would keep finding topics to write about. In 52 weeks, coming up with topics has never presented a challenge; only finding the time to research and write the posts has. As I wrote the first post, the conventions of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee had already taken place. Like so many other people in the United States (and the world), I was confronted with the GOP candidate’s forma y fondo, that is, his style of delivery and the content of his delivery. This meant that my honest attempt to read about and document the assertions I make/made here seemed to contrast with the candidate’s penchant for lying, cheating, and twisting, as well as his drive to oppress African-Americans, Latinxs, Muslims, individuals living in poverty, and women, among other groups. Gender and race shrapnel swirled around us, as the candidate bragged about groping women, encouraged violence against African-American citizens at his rallies, and prepared policy text to ban individuals from majority Muslim countries from entry into the United States. At the same time, deep misogyny in our political realm was revealed time and again through attacks on candidate Hillary Clinton. Plenty to write about, indeed.
When the current “president” was elected on November 8, 2016, old and new friends of mine and I did what many people were doing all across the country—we mourned and then banded together both to combat the new agenda and to make any progress we could in the local, regional, and national political arenas. You will note this turn in the blog posts. For me, the activism—not grand, but certainly steady—I had already practiced for decades in the realms of gender and race equity and educational access was accentuated, or maybe distilled, into a singular desire to use this blog, in its own small way, to signal wrongs and advocate for change. Just a few weeks after I started the blog, one of my Republican-leaning friends asked if another friend and I were being paid to post our political opinions. This innocent question both amused and frustrated the hell out of me. I was amused because I know many activists (me included) volunteering plenty of hours a week who are not picking up any paychecks but who joke about it after a long night of meetings. I was frustrated because I realized how many people believe that it’s impossible to be so committed to social justice that you would actually offer your words and labor for free.
Our personal lives also keep moving, though, and the blog posts reflect some of the events in my own life, including attempting to understand my own biases, listening to younger generations of activists, introspection about how I was raised, and the loss of a parent. Simply put, there were some weeks overtaken by worry, grief, and sadness, and the blog posts indulged these feelings and experiences. I think I had to get over the sense that writing about these issues was exhibitionistic and realize that hitting closer to home tends to appeal to readers, to allow them to consider their own reactions to universal phenomena. Real writing, whatever that is, seemed to live in that space. But I also wanted to continue to protect the privacy, as best I could, of those in my personal life. I am still finding this a difficult balance to strike.
Several of my siblings are long-time Republicans and voted for our current “president.” Several disdain politics and government and rarely vote. One (besides me) has voted the Democratic ticket for many years now. Most of my family members are either not on Facebook, which is the only place I’ve broadly posted the blog, or they almost never use Facebook. I don’t believe they are regular readers of the Gender Shrapnel Blog. When my contradictorily kind and Fox News-watching father read a few of my posts, he said, “Kid, you’re brutal.” I believe he meant that mine is not to criticize the current people in power, that I was supposed to just put up and shut up. I wrote “The Stifling Status Quo” post after that conversation, realizing once again how many people have trouble conceiving the status quo as more brutal than the attempts to undo it. At the same time, I know I would have written a much more blistering and personal response to my father’s statement if I didn’t love him as I do and care about my portrayal of him.
I have attended several (not enough) writers’ workshops, read a lot about writing poetry and memoir, and taught a multi-genre workshop for creative writing in Spanish. One consistent theme from all of these experiences is that writers need steady time in the chair to think, brainstorm, read, research, write (crap and not-crap), and edit. My year of blogging weekly has reinforced for me the wonderful discipline necessary for this craft. I spend a lot of time reading newspapers, magazines, and journals in order to enter into dialogue with the gender shrapnel topics raised by the pros. Each blog post takes me at least five hours, and so I have to prioritize the blog and commit time to it every week. Among many other professional and personal responsibilities, this commitment looms large every Tuesday, as I figure out how to stare down a Monday publication deadline. I am the only one imposing the deadline, and so being steely about it can be hard to justify to those around me. Writing on a deadline equals stress and pleasure, pleasure and stress.
My file of clippings, both paper and virtual, overflows. There’s always an opinion I want to respond to. In one of the blog posts, I write that my daughter chided me one day by saying, “Moo-oom. Opinions!” Indeed, the more I read and write, the more opinions I have. This requires that I balance the sense that I’m right against the curiosity to listen and learn more. This will be an ongoing challenge, I’m sure.
My blog posts have usually consisted of 1000 to 1500 words, depending on the topic, the research required, and the busy-ness of the particular week. This article length has settled into my writer’s biology and rhythms. The quick outlines I do for each week’s post naturally lend themselves to pieces of this length. Mark Twain’s saying that “if he had had more time, he would have written a shorter letter” manifests in the Gender Shrapnel Blog. When I reread certain already published posts, I mentally move paragraphs and cut wordy sentences. I haven’t quite experienced the cringing of rereading a diary years after writing it, but I keep that image close at hand as I hit “Publish” on the WordPress site. My writer’s voice has played hide-and-seek, emerging more in some posts than in others. I have become more aware of my Spanish-language-influenced penchant for long sentences and paragraphs and of how my physical surroundings at times influence how I write (not always what I write about). Those who have generously read poems and prose pieces of mine have encouraged the reduction or elimination of adverbs, which I still use stubbornly, copiously, and probably poorly.
This year of posting has taught me a few things about audience. As I have posted only on the blog itself and announced the posts only through Facebook, I have limited my readership. I am naïve in the ways of promoting the work beyond this medium; or maybe I feel shy about doing so. I haven’t announced new posts through Twitter or directly asked friends to boost readership. Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t gone all out (whatever that means), but I just haven’t yet. I’ve learned about blog post titles, too. “Sexual Assault Prevention Training in the News” attracts fewer readers than does, say, “Lock Her Up.” Images, even clip-art images, spice up the posts in ways I never would have predicted, and finding compelling images has meant spending more surfing time away from the research, but I learned it was worth it. Not many people have commented directly on the Gender Shrapnel Blog site, and so management of on-site comments has been minimal. More people have shared their reactions through Facebook. Learning from people’s positive, negative, fiery, neutral, and intimate reactions has been such an interesting and significant part of blog production. Hearty thanks to the many people who have read the posts, thought about them, shared, and/or made comments. I really appreciate your engagement with the blog and the ideas it presents. I haven’t decided yet whether “a” year of blogging weekly will turn into more, but please stay tuned!