Read on for more details of my personal DRAMAZ, if curious.
I really loved this interview with David Rakoff about why he writes. This part especially really resonated with me:
“Writing only ever begins badly. And you have to sit and tolerate yourself long enough to grind out a shitty draft. And unlike cooking, where basically you put together a meal from palatable ingredients, what you have to essentially do is reverse engineer a meal out of rotten, stinky, slimy moldy food.”
I don’t think we were motivated to write for the same reasons (for me, it’s rather like running–it feels so good when you stop), but he’s definitely described why it is so very hard to produce something that anyone would want to read. And no matter how long you practice, it never seems to get any easier.
Rakoff was three years younger than me, and died this week of cancer.
The day after I posted how much I loved living on site at my job, I found out I’ll be cut to 50% next June; that’s effectively a layoff. It was probably inevitable that the state budget cuts would catch up to me.
The thing I will miss most about this job will actually be the Trumpeter Swans. (This is a photo that I took near my front door.) I never was a birder until I took this job; it was all about the bugs. But I completely fell in love with Trumpeters living on this lake.
But, while it will be hard to say goodbye to my awesome co-workers, students, and the swans, I’m kind of excited about the possibility of a completely new start. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while now know this job was waaay beyond a 40hr/wk employment experience; I wasn’t able to have much of a life other than work. Aside from a rather spherical cat, I don’t have any dependents anymore; I am free to move anywhere I want.
I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to do with the next 15 years until I can (in theory) retire. I know what I’m good at; in fact, despite some considerable challenges, I think I’ve done some of the best work of my career in this job. I’m good at social media and instructional design; I’m good with students, and I’m a good teacher and manager. Somehow, if I can sort out how to combine that with bugs or nature-y stuff, I’ll be all set.
It’s clear to me that I need to do more hands-on stuff to really be happy. I’ve been applying for some very long shot jobs that I’m quite geeked about, but I don’t expect to successfully land.
The hard part is explaining why someone with a PhD wants to be a low-level flunky. I’ve done the high-level admin thing. I climbed up the career ladder, and I found out the stuff towards the top is a lot less interesting to me than what’s at the bottom.
I would much rather be cleaning poop out of cages than planning a grant to fund the cages and poop cleaners, or create a multi-year strategic poop plan.
If you happen to know of any poopy jobs opening in the near future, please send them my way.
This will be a rather personal and introspective (i.e., navels gazed at) post, so if that isn’t your thing, just click away.
You might have noticed I haven’t been writing much lately. There’s a lot going on in my life, and I took some time off to decide what things in my life I’m going to keep and what things I’m going to dump.
When I started blogging in 2004, I was (I think) the only entomology blog out there. Now there’s a huge and thriving Bugosphere, and I don’t feel like there’s a shortage of good writing about bugs online. I do think it’s safe to say that I still lead the Buggyblog Pack on cranky, profanity-laced blogging about insects, but that is a somewhat niche market.
The reality of my life right now is that I took a job almost 3 years ago that has taken over my life. It’s hugely stressful. I strongly suspect that if I hadn’t taken this job, I’d still be married. I was outed as Bug Girl to my boss last year, and she ordered me to stop blogging. I’m just hoping her google-fu is weak and I don’t get caught.
So, the reasons to retire the Bug Blog (and the Bug Girl Persona, which is really just me with no polite censors applied) are pretty good.
I do really like to write. And I’ve said all along that this blog is for ME, that it’s an exercise for me to practice writing about technical stuff in an entertaining way. And that’s…mostly true.
Along the way, though, I got into metrics and Technorati and blog rankings and lost sight of all that. A deep inner secret about me: I am a very competitive person. I mean, scary competitive. I like to WIN. I actually don’t play games if at all possible, because the aspects of my personality that emerge when I compete are disturbing. (I once found myself seriously thinking about cold-cocking a 7th grader that beat me at laser tag. And I was 32.)
So, it seems inevitable, given the monsters hiding in my id, that my motivations would morph over time. “Getting better at writing” morphed into “Global Insect Media World Domination Eleventy!1!1!!” Which meant posting something substantive and well written on a regular basis.
And I can’t do that with my current job or life situation.
A few people have suggested that I write a book instead of blogging, and while that seems appealing, I think that an entomology book heavily-laden with F bombs is not going to be a best seller. Again, niche market.
The one topic I’d really like to write a book about would be the whole Rachel Carson/DDT BS business, but frankly the people who are promoting that stuff scare me. I have gotten many, many threats over those posts, most of them threats of sexual assault. I can’t be force-fucked into believing their lies about a brave woman and a wonderful writer, but I have been convinced that I want to stay under their radar IRL. I’ve also had some rather unpleasant encounters with white supremacists, which further reinforces the need for me to write as Bug Girl, not my real name.
What I can do is post completely random ranty rants and pretty photos at this blog on a highly irregular basis. And that’s probably what I’ll continue to do.
What I’ll write about and when I’ll write it will be a surprise to both me and my readers, I suspect.
The absolute best part of blogging over all this time is the wonderful people that I have met–many of whom only virtually–who have been kind and supportive and wonderfully giving. Thank you all of you.
I have officially sold my house, and have moved into an apartment about 1 mile from where I’m working. So, no more cross-state commuting! Yay!
Of course, I can’t find anything, I’m grieving for my garden, and I’m weeks behind in my work, so I’m still not quite ready to fire the blog back up just yet. Like the last time I took a bloggy vacation, I’m finding that the absence of the blog is …..well…surprisingly stress-free, actually.
So, here’s some posts from the Bug Net that will hopefully amuse until next week:
- BBC covers reflexive bleeding in armored crickets
- A nice series of photos about the phorid fly parasites that create “zombie” fire ants
- Lovely photos of jumping spider eyes
- Cecropia moths emerge!
- The NCSU Insect Museum asks you to support their students
- Lifehacker has a hilariously useless recipe for insect repellent made with vodka and aloe vera. If you don’t mind smelling like a lush and re-applying every 5 minutes…sure, it will work.
- StarTrekLOL, for no particular reason.
MGK recently was musing about the case of an anonymous blogger publicly “outed” by another;
“Pseudonymity is great. Blevins explains most of the cogent reasons why he blogged anonymously (not wanting to frighten students, not wanting to have to deal with family issues, not wanting to danger his tenure) and they’re all entirely reasonable…
The problem with pseudonymity is this: it exists only by common compact. This means that, like any other protection provided by commonality, it’s only as good as everybody is willing to let it be. With an essentially infinite audience you will, sooner or later, find somebody who is both willing to fuck your anonymity over and is able to do so.”
This is something I ponder quite a bit, since I will be effectively outing myself at the SkepchickCon in a few weeks. While quite a few entomologists have solved the mystery of “Who is Bug_girl?”, only one of them has published that conclusion online. Also, quite a few people guess incorrectly, which adds to the whole plausible deniability of the thing
At this point, I’ve been online as Bug Girl for 5 years, and it’s too late to try to hide. My motivations for being anonymous are similar to Blevins’–it’s just easier to try to separate your personal persona from your professional one.
Students and employers do Google your name, and check your Facebook account, and your family does find things out that you might rather they would not (i.e, the big Red A on my side bar, for example.) Even blogging anonymously isn’t good enough when state government is involved. I can’t possibly pretend that I don’t have really strong opinions about….um….well, a lot of things, really.
The problem–which many of my students discover to their dismay–is that in a digital universe with camcorders and cameras in everyone’s pockets, the line between personal and professional is non-existent.
People keep saying that as less of our lives are private, the rules on what is acceptable behavior will be relaxed.
That ain’t happening.
This also combines well with something PZ wrote this week about science communication:
“none of those properties — politics, passion, and personality — are necessarily regarded as virtues in the scientific community. We’re supposed to be dispassionate, aloof, objective, non-partisan, and there’s a prejudice that you’re a lesser man (yeah, it’s also a male bias) if you step away from the illusion of impartiality.”
Scientists are supposed to be objective. We are supposed to deal with data and nothing else. And that is exactly why science journals are deadly dull, and blogs about science are much more interesting. Blogs are written by people, with opinions. Journal papers manage to have most of the personality edited right out.
While I don’t think that being able to put things like “This data was the coolest EVAR!11!!” in a journal paper would improve it, I do think that something has been lost when I look at papers from the early 1900s. The excitement of the writers clearly comes through.
Read this letter from Charles Darwin about a visit to an insect collection–he’s clearly delighted and excited. If Chuck’s letter showed up in a blog, would his life have been different?
I totally identify with Darwin in this letter:
“I am dying by inches, from not having any body to talk to about insects:—my only reason for writing, is to remove a heavy weight from my mind, so now you must understand, what you will perceive before you come to the end of this; that I am writing merely for my own pleasure & not your’s”
So I will be in Minneapolis, and I hope to see some of you there.
Let it Blurt!
I thought it was interesting that as I am struggling with the issue of anonymity, Feministe was also discussing this issue. It seems like women especially come in for abuse online–something I’ve mentioned before. (And which several bits of research support.)
I think Merlin Mann was spot on when he said “email combines intimacy and distance in a way that sociopaths really seem to enjoy.” I’d extend that to all online communication–forums and blog comments especially.
Having said that…
I actually am missing blogging, and I think it’s obvious I can’t resist the temptation to occasionally come back and tell you about random things that strike my fancy. The plan to disconnect myself isn’t working too well.
“The frontal and temporal lobes, which govern speech—no dedicated writing center is hardwired in the brain—may also figure in. For example, lesions in Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal lobe, result in excessive speech and loss of language comprehension. People with Wernicke’s aphasia speak in gibberish and often write constantly. In light of these traits, Flaherty speculates that some activity in this area could foster the urge to blog.”
Would anyone like to guess which parts of my brain were damaged when I had my head injury?
Of course, this got my attention because it helps me rationalize something I want to do anyway, that might not actualy be a good idea. The other problem with frontal lobe damage is impulsiveness…..
So I wrote ScienceBlogs and asked them if I could become a Sb’er. If you know anyone, please feel free to pull some strings.