I wanted to write about my Twitter vacation because I wanted to think about the interaction between Twitter and my blogging activity (and I’m someone who needs to write in order to think). In an earlier post, I described how, after a few years of blogging, I’d come to think of my posts as falling into two categories. One I called hey-look-at-this posts — short, quick references to interesting things I’d recently read. The other type was longer and, ideally, was more reflective and — dare I say — substantive.
I felt that writing quick posts was distracting me from writing longer ones. It occurred to me (this was in 2011) that I could simply tweet the items that interested me rather than blog them. What I hadn’t anticipated was that, once I started tweeting frequently, I practically stopped blogging. After a few months, I felt a need to explain my absence and wrote a post called On sabbatical. I assume my decline in blogging was due to both the time I spent on Twitter and Twitter’s ability to satisfy my desire to communicate. Read more
On December 22 I pinned a tweet to the top of my tweet list saying I was taking a vacation from Twitter. I didn’t speculate, publicly or privately, on how long this would last. It was an experiment. I linked to a nice post by Adam Brault (@adambrault) called I quit Twitter for a month and it completely changed my thinking about mostly everything. My own vacation was less earth-shaking, but it did get me thinking about my digital habits.
On January 8 I came across a review of a book whose author I follow on Twitter (A History of Lung Cancer: The Recalcitrant Disease by Carsten Timmermann). Since I wanted to share this with my Twitter history of medicine colleagues, I broke my Twitter fast and unpinned my vacation tweet.
So it turns out I went seventeen days without Twitter. Subsequently I’ve found myself only gradually resuming my typical Twitter behavior. It’s too soon to say whether this vacation permanently altered either how active I am on Twitter or the nature of my tweets. That’s a definite possibility. The main reason I haven’t resumed my prior behavior is that seventeen days seems to have been enough time to acquire a new set of habits. Read more
Been thinking lately about my usual preoccupations. Vanity, death and the self. Healthism and neoliberalism. Blogging and social media. Feels like it’s time to blog a little differently.
Here’s a lovely passage from Rebecca Solnit’s recent memoir/essay/narrative The Faraway Nearby.
Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?
In a blog on the self, I would not want to neglect the philosophical and cultural position that there is no such thing as the self — the Buddhist doctrine of anatman or no-self. In this post I relate the story of my initial encounter with Buddhism.
In the early 1980s I worked for a magazine publisher in New York City. I was the assistant to the Vice President, which meant next to nothing. Since this particular VP didn’t want anyone to learn how to do her job, I was kept busy with routine, uninteresting tasks.
One day on a lunch break, I was browsing in a midtown bookstore (I worked at Sixth Avenue and 50th). I don’t know how I found my way to this particular book — it was one of those it-fell-off-the-shelf-into-my-lap experiences. The title, Skillful Means, meant nothing to me at the time, so there was no reason to select it. The author was a Tibetan lama called Tarthang Tulku (pictured above at Dharma Publishing). The book was about being mindful while doing one’s work, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed at the time. Read more
It seems that the best way for me to figure out what I actually think about something is to write about it. This is true not just for personal matters, but for almost anything. Thoughts alone are too ephemeral and ill-behaved. This is the sense in which, for me, writing is research on the self.
This post contains a history of my relationship to writing. There’s probably more personal information in this post than will ever appear anywhere else in this blog. This is a blog on the self, not a blog about my self. Although, of course, indirectly and unavoidably, it is.
Invasions of privacy
When I was eleven, my mother read my diary. Not only did she read it. She read it out loud to the neighbors, apparently featuring the passages she found most amusing.
I found out about this when I was teased by a neighbor girl about something she could only have learned from my diary. She was the youngest of those neighbors who regularly lounged on the lawn of our apartment complex (and apparently not old enough to realize she should have been more discrete). I subsequently wrote nothing except assigned school papers until I left home, when it felt safe enough to write in a journal. Read more
The name of this blog, Basic research on the self, comes from an essay by Phillip Lopate. The essay is an introduction to his edited collection of essays, The Art of the Personal Essay.
A number of qualities characterize the personal essay, according to Lopate. These include the author’s willingness to write in the first person and to speak directly to the reader, allowing the reader to identify with what the author reveals. The personal essayist conducts a dialogue with herself in which she drops her psychic defenses, reaches a deeper level of honesty, and – ideally — arrives at a tentative truth.
There is something heroic in the essayist’s gesture of striking out toward the unknown, not only without a map but without certainty that there is anything worthy to be found. One would like to think that the personal essay represents a kind of basic research on the self, in ways that are allied with science and philosophy. … [T]he writing of personal essays not only monitors the self but helps it gel. The essay is an enactment of the creation of the self. [emphasis added]
Are blog posts personal essays? Occasionally, but not usually (certainly not when following the advice of Andrew Sullivan and the Huffington Post). When they are, however, they can have an impact on the author’s ongoing self-understanding. Read more
When I was originally thinking of writing this blog, it didn’t occur to me to include chapters from my 1981 book on anxiety. But as I was writing the last post, I saw a connection between my past and this blog. I’m still intensely interested in the things I wrote about over 30 years ago. I hadn’t realized until just now how much I’ve wanted to get back to those ideas. It seems surprising to me, actually, to find that I am still that same person.
The next two posts are additional chapters from that book. The first post, a chapter I’ve renamed The flexible self and the inflexible individual, applies social construction to identity formation, the illusion of self-creation (the belief that who we are comes from within, not without), and the belief that identity persists over time. The point I was trying to make relates to what I find liberating about social construction: that despite socially shared beliefs on what is socially acceptable, there is no one way to live that is correct, permanent, or guaranteed to be satisfying. Our self-concept is more flexible than the scientific studies of research psychologists might lead us to believe. (I discuss this in another chapter of the book, The Problem is You). I also briefly relate all this to anxiety, which, after all, was the subject matter expected by the book’s publisher. Read more
I once wrote an essay – actually it was a chapter in a book I wrote — where I described my childhood reality shock as “anxiety in its purest form, an awareness of the gap between the self and the world it has come to know and depend on.” I’ve reproduced that (rather long) chapter in the next post, called Anxiety, mysticism, and reality.
The book was on anxiety and was published in 1981. Something that old seems like a museum piece now, but it does at least remind me that my interest in the self and reality goes back a long ways. Read more
Blogging makes me uncomfortable, but it’s a discomfort that interests me. It’s not the discomfort itself I find interesting (especially my own), but the experience of being a self in a public space, the self-consciousness that engenders, and the reflection that provokes on what it’s like to be a conscious self.
When I first started blogging, I didn’t feel self-conscious. I was probably too preoccupied with identifying and pursuing my subject matter. Within the first year, however, the idea of “the self-conscious blogger” started to appear regularly in my private journal. Why am I doing this? Should I be accomplishing something? How much should I care about not accomplishing what I only vaguely perceive as my intention?
Self-consciousness is usually associated with self-presentation: How am I perceived by others? How does that make me feel? I had no interest in blogging about my personal self, i.e., my private life. By the time I’d accumulated a year’s worth of posts, however, I could see that 1) my choice of subject matter revealed my interests and 2) what my interests conveyed was an incomplete picture of how I understood myself. Read more
As I mentioned in the last post, it was my personal experience of healthism that motivated me to start a previous blog. When I now ask myself why I want to start a blog on the self, I find multiple motivations.
I decided to write a few initial posts where I talk about this. I’m admittedly not aware of all that motivates me, but I should at least be able to reveal some of the personal prejudices I bring to the subject matter. As it turned out, the idea of a “few initial posts” got a bit out of hand, and I now have 24 “introductory” posts. To help you locate what might be of interest, I’ve summarized those posts below.
The self-conscious blogger
Blogging makes me uncomfortable, but it’s a discomfort I find interesting. To blog – to participate in social media — is to be a self in a public space. This creates self-consciousness and stimulates reflection on self-presentation. It turns out what I needed to do to alleviate my self-conscious discomfort about blogging was to acknowledge that learning in public is the best way for me to learn new things. That doesn’t make it any more comfortable, but – I tell myself – it’s only a blog.
Learning in public
For me, writing is a way to pursue new interests and incorporate new knowledge – a type of active learning. As an ex-academic, however, am I willing to be seen learning in public — warts, insufficiencies, and all? After considerable initial hesitation, I’ve changed my mind about this. Read more