Charting a New Course

21 May

 

Charting

Last week I had the great good fortune to spend an hour or so hanging out with some really big time historians…two major dudes, well connected in the field with impressive careers and equally impressive positions. The type of historians you dream of becoming…that is, if you actually dream of becoming an historian.   Just a few years back I used to do this all the time as part of my doctoral training, but since my hooding two years ago, I spend a lot more time managing staff, planning budgets, and helping to write grant proposals than I do studying the past or chatting with renowned historians.  As the conversation went on, one of the pair, a longtime friend and colleague, observed that my blog is a far better reflection of my personality than is my academic writing.  “You really found your voice in your blog,” he said.  “By contrast, your academic style was something that seemed imposed on you.”   I smiled and said something about the demands of academia, but as the conversation went on two thoughts came to mind.  The first was that my friend was right.  I think anyone that knows me even a little can “hear” my voice in this blog.  I tell stories.  I make jokes.  I whine and complain.  I’m not a particularly private person, and I really don’t know when to shut up.  This is how I talk in the real world, and this is how I choose to write in my blog.  My other thought was, “Well that’s just great!  I’ve spent the better part of a decade learning to write a work of history in a voice that is utterly alien to me.  What the hell am I supposed to do now?” I think the answer is to really hone my blog voice and to try it on new topics and in new forums.  I think that the first step in that process will be to expand the scope of my blog.

In some sense, I have expanded the scope of this blog on several occasions already.  Last October, when I began this project, I was focused on one persistent, terrifying thought—that I have lymphoma.  Those of you who have suffered through a dangerous and/or chronic disease know how all-consuming this kind of knowledge can be.  No matter what you’re doing or thinking, somewhere in the back of your mind is the ever-present thought “I have cancer.” In an effort to deal with that very scary idea and to, perhaps somewhat selfishly, ask all of you to share my burden and ease my fears, I set off to write this blog.  My early postings were ALL about cancer—fears about cancer, friends with cancer, cancer treatment, even cancer jokes!  Then, as I learned that I did not have cancer, I started to explore a broader range of topics that might reasonably fall under the heading of health and wellness. One more misdiagnosis and the blog moved from health and wellness to fear and suffering, and on, and on, and on. 

Point is, despite my initial reasons for creating this blog, over time I have found it to be a really wonderful opportunity to think about things that are stuck in my head and to try and let them out of there before somebody gets hurt.  And while health, wellness, and the lemon-sized tumor inside my chest are ever-present in my psyche, so too are other thoughts. For example, while this may seem silly to some, I have begun to feel ambivalent about my love of football, which was once a great passion but now, with the continuing revelations about athletes who have suffered brain damage, proves harder to watch (and yet I still love the game!).  I think quite a bit about the ways in which Americans and American Jews understand and relate to history. I am deeply troubled about the nature of political discourse in our society. I fret about my daughter’s inevitable departure from our home.  And I am concerned that my newfound love of craft beer may signal a troubling low in my continuing decline into insufferableness. 

To be clear, health, well-being, and my ongoing engagement with the healthcare system will still play a large role in my blogging.  To my knowledge I still have a large, benign tumor in my chest (only next month’s scan can tell for sure, but c’mon, do we really think it’s disappeared?).  I still have sarcoidosis.  I’m fast approaching 50, and I’m still overweight.  I now have just as many doctors interested in me as I did when I was writing my dissertation—four to be exact.  Back then, of course, the four were PhDs and now there are four MDs on team Erik—five if you include my thoracic surgeon.  For these reasons, and for others, I intend to keep the blog’s current title, Limbo—strictly defined as a place between heaven and hell, but which I have also taken to mean a place or state between health and illness, happiness and sadness, youth and old age, being and becoming, and other structural opposites.  I’m still in Limbo and I still plan to write about that.

While thinking about this new direction in my blog, I actually went back and reread my first post from October and found that, in some sense, the point of this project has always been vague and subject to change.  At the close of the first piece I wrote that, “Perhaps I am just talking to myself, here, to be comforted by my continued ability to communicate clearly in the written form, and to use that as some kind of gauge for my health and happiness.  I simply don’t know.  I just know that right now I want to write and to do so publicly.  To share my stories and see if they resonate and what they generate.”  And so the process continues. I still want to write, to share my stories and see if and how they affect people.  It’s just that now, I want to expand the range of potential stories.  I hope that some of you will continue to follow me on this journey.  I have found your comments and support to be invaluable, and I look forward to seeing how you may or may not respond to my efforts in the future. 

As always, stay tuned.

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One Response to “Charting a New Course”

  1. Daniel Faigin May 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    I’ve been blogging since 2004, when a friend introduced me to Livejournal. I’ve also seen a change in what I write over time, but I’ve found it an excellent way to get out those things that swirl around in your head — in my case, be they comments on the news, comments on theatre, comments on security, or comments on life. The only thing I really don’t talk about are specific details about the workplace, because that’s inappropriate. I encourage you to do the same. Experiment. Use it as a way to write about what you see and think about in life. Don’t be afraid to write longform; too many people are of the “tl;dr” ilk, but some of us just enjoy using the words as they were meant to be used.

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