November 21st, 2011 / 1:11 pm
Behind the Scenes

Blog Is Still a Four-Letter Word

Monday morning. Cold cat-nose, green tea, sleepy checking of email. Among the messages, one from my workshop leader, asking if I could stop by her office to talk before class.

Back up, explain: I’m a brand-new, first-semester PhD student in a creative writing program. I’m a poet; I’m a woman; I’m forty-two. And I moved to this city exactly three months ago to start the program. It was an astonishing stroke of good fortune to get accepted, and I was deeply excited to move here and to do good work. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that these three months have felt pretty much like trying to drink from a firehose.

That’s okay—that’s how it is when you’re somewhere new. New city, new acquaintances, new university bureaucracies and departmental eccentricities. A new roomful of bright undergraduate faces staring up at me three mornings a week. It’s a struggle to adjust, but as more or less a career academic (in the sense that I career among institutions, jostling back and forth around and between them), I’m used to transitions and I’ll be here for the next five years. I’m a little daunted, but not too badly. I may weeble but I don’t fall down.

Nonetheless when my workshop leader asked me to come chat with her, I was grateful. I knew she’d met one-on-one already with the other members of the class to discuss their writing; they said she’d been extremely helpful and frankly I kind of felt like I needed some extreme help, to get through the whole drinking-from-a-firehose part of the experience. I felt optimistic about maybe getting a dab of reassurance from her—that thin trickle of validation that lets you know there’s some point in continuing the effort.

Imagine, then, if you will, my surprise.

Well, this is awkward, she begins, once I sit down, her mouth twisted apologetically to one side. She goes on to say—I’ll tell you what she goes on to say—but it’s hard, because immediately adrenaline floods my chest and I go into a kind of shock, and I am worried already that I won’t get it right, that there will be some kind of blowback for not getting it right, but she says: So it’s about your blog. And my heart stands still.

Here we are. This is the moment I’ve been dreading and trying to avert and deliberately rashly courting for years. What did I think was going to happen? This was going to happen.

I brace myself to listen. She says something like:

…people have come to me who are concerned…other students in the program…upset…distressed…compromising their experience of the program…haven’t read it myself, that would break boundaries for me…affects their perception of you…their sense of you as a professional…writing about very intimate matters…damage your standing with your colleagues…makes people uncomfortable…took it to the department chair [and here my brain made an almost audible shorting-out sound] and he agrees with me…run the risk of this having a real effect on your career…future employment…could jeopardize your standing in the program….really best that you not…writing about such personal things so publicly…consider…think about the wisdom of…importance of being collegial…for your own sake…. 

It’s still Monday morning. I’m sitting frozen in a strange office trying to scramble my resources for some sort of a response. And I’m pretty sure I have The Wrong Look on my face. I’m supposed to be—what, grateful for this intelligence? Contrite? I don’t know. Probably warring on my features instead: incredulity, disbelief, the deepest shame and anger. Of course I am ashamed. I was born ashamed. The blog is part of my attempt to counter some of that—

(Went to the department chair? Students are upset? Who? Why didn’t they approach me like grown-ass people? Why did they go to one of my professors, why this professor? What the fuck did I write that was so awful? If my blog is so distressing to them, why don’t they just not read it?)

(And is there any irony in the fact that my creative writing program apparently wants me to put a sock in my creative writing?)

Fumbling, I manage to shake a sentence out of myself, another one. I say that, placing to one side for the moment the secondary issue of my setting fire to my own nonexistent career (at this we both laugh), this business of the mysterious upset fellow student/s is completely perplexing, and I don’t know how to handle it or respond as a writer because I don’t know what in particular s/he/they found so distressing, and I can’t find out since this person has chosen to triangulate rather than approach me directly (God, I hate triangulation). I say that I pretty much make it a point not to write in any detail about my students, my parents, my coworkers/colleagues; that I never use names. I say that I’ve been blogging for about ten years and have developed what I believe to be a fairly scrupulous set of codes. All this time I have to fight not to look at the floor. I say finally: I don’t know if you’re still in communication with this person or people, but if so I hope you’ll let them know that I didn’t intend to cause them any distress. And that I’ll read back through the last three months’ entries to make sure I stand by what I wrote.

She’s entirely sympathetic, expressive only of concern. I’m sure you didn’t mean to cause any distress, she hastens to let me know. Given her demeanor, it doesn’t seem appropriate for me to be outraged. Am I outraged? I don’t know what I am. The department chair? Really? Did he really agree with her? Agree with her on what? Are they saying I should shut down my blog? Make it less personal? Was that what I was just instructed to do? Should I email and ask for clarification? Should I pretend the whole conversation never happened?

I’ve spent this week numb and bewildered, sometimes indignant, sometimes small and chastened, struggling to get a neck-lock on the situation. As I had said I would, I read back through the few pages of entries written since my arrival to make sure I haven’t violated my single rigorous heuristic, what I call “the prime directive”: I don’t write anything about anyone that I wouldn’t be willing for that person to read, in context. I found two sentences in which I’d been catty about this same instructor, more catty than I now felt comfortable with, and it was easy to redact them to express more accurately what was really going on when I wrote them (no small quantity of self-hatred and dislike of my own writing). Per Omar Little, a man got to have a code; and until now I’ve always found mine sufficient.

So had I taken care of the problem? Was that what distressed this person, or was it something else? Are they offended by content that’s not actually about the program?

Because I mean it’s not a secret—my blog is intensely personal, as personal as I can bring myself to make it, which is kind of the point. I was so scared about this (yet so compelled by it) that until the last six months or so I blogged under a pseudonym. I write as candidly as possible about my decades-long struggle with mental illness, about sex and relationships, and about the difficulties of being a middle-aged poet with a lousy publication record. It’s really not a very interesting blog, in my opinion. I have fairly unsurprising political opinions and a predictable taste for 90s-college-girl-music videos on youtube. I quote poems and prose that have moved me, and my friends and I act ridiculous and love on each other in the comment stream. I’ve never had more than a hundred hits on any given day. (Though my late pseudonymic blog does continue to be a resource for people who want to know what “metahemeralism” is; but other than that one claim to Internet notoriety, let’s just say I’m not going to have CafePress merchandise or a book contract any time soon.)

Was this reader really that horrified by my writing about Klonopin and orgasms that they would run to my instructor to rat me out? I’m hardly the only woman on the Internet writing about her meds and hook-ups. Couldn’t s/he just go somewhere else? Isn’t that one of the beauties of the Internet—that it’s such a big, beautiful place and if you don’t like what you’re reading, you can move on? Kind of like, if you’re against gay marriage, don’t get gay married? If you’re anti-abortion don’t have one?

I thought of one of my favorite recent pieces of writing, Mac McClelland’s “I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me On This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD.”  Concerning its publication, McClelland had this to say: “There’s a reason I almost threw up when this piece went live.” But she added, “I’m a writer. I can’t really sit around and say, ‘I wish someone else was writing about this.'”

I thought about my favorite personal blogs by some of my favorite writers and poets—Kate Zambreno, Roxane Gay, Dodie Bellamy, Bhanu Kapil, Farren Stanley. They’re affiliated with universities, they have professional lives. Would their schools ask them to pull the plug? Or is there a difference? Am I really not being professional, collegial? Am I doing something wrong, or just something weird and unsettling?

At least I’m hardly alone in being obsessed with these questions; bloggers are a notoriously ambivalent bunch. Confessional writers in particular devote innumerable self-reflexive posts to the contemplation of quitting blogging—it’s already a cliché of the genre. (Cf. Anaïs Nin deciding again and again to stop writing the journal, and never stopping.) We worry about our parents, our coworkers, our students, our exes. We wring our hands over who will find us and who will be hurt and angry and have a different opinion and who will think we got it all, all, all wrong, and had no business writing publicly about it anyway. Will we be dooced? Will our mom flip out? Will someone not like their pseudonym?

(Do Mary Karr and Elizabeth Wurtzel and Lidia Yuknavitch and Lauren Slater and Marya Hornbacher lie awake at night and worry about this stuff? They’d better, is all I have to say. We chose this, we then must serve it.)

Maybe I am sticking my neck out too far. Maybe this position is untenable. The gifted, sweet-hearted poet Ariana Reines shut down her tumblr a few months ago and has created a more “professional” website (though she thoughtfully archived her posts); Kate Zambreno has said she may do the same. Roxane Gay mostly writes about her efforts to get published, and about films (I’m addicted to those blow-by-blow movie reviews), and Dodie Bellamy’s blog is a model of professionalism when it comes to her writing about students and colleagues. Kate will often write posts and then take them down, as do many other blogging friends of mine. We throw our writing bravely there, suddenly feel our testicles shrivel, and take a step back, chilled. But in these cases we (not our department chairs) are the ones who take the temperature of the public/private boundary and determine whether we’ve overstepped, the same way you know at a social gathering when you’ve said too much.

Speaker’s remorse—those late-night moments when you writhe in embarrassment, suddenly recalling something you never, never should have said. Bloggers are lucky (or cursed): we just hit “edit.” I compulsively reread and revise entries as a matter of habit. To me this is part of maintaining a website, tending the space; or, in the words of Bessie Glass (as reported by Zooey), “We say many things in heat, young lady, that we don’t really mean and are very sorry for the next day.”

The writer curates her blog, as a living, developing piece of performance. It doesn’t end, it’s not like a novel or a play. The tape is on a loop, no rest for the wicked.

For it’s an illusion, of course, this supposed nudity; a deliberate cultivated aesthetic. It’s not like reading someone’s journal, because in the blog I choose what I reveal. (Though couldn’t the same be said about a paper journal? Perhaps my consciousness is selecting and presenting information to me, and hiding away things it thinks I can’t handle?)

I think of performance artists; Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abramović. (I’m not them. I know this.) All the same I create and destroy a presentational self, that is what makes this art and not reality; and you may not like it and you may not think it is very good, but that doesn’t stop it from being art. It may be really shitty art that makes you roll your eyes and think what a waste; but it’s still crafted, still work, still subject to exigencies and contingencies and control strategies and mistakes and rethinkings and reversals and revisions and despair, and trying again, and—that new Internet cliché—failing better.

If I’ve erred, it may be that I presumed too much safety-net from the fact that no one wants to read long-form posts anymore, much less long-form posts banging on and on about some chick’s medication management issues or her most recent painful breakup.

Or I perhaps have counted too much on the technological divide. That authority figures or people of a certain generation who would be more likely to find my project offensive in some way, would also be the people least likely to run across it—and conversely, that people of the generation who would find it and read it, wouldn’t really care about the content. This has operated as a natural, effortless sorting strategy—until in this case for the first time a peer, someone my age or much younger, another digital native, did find it and read it, apparently quite carefully so, but nonetheless took umbrage and was offended or distressed or what the hell ever they were—

Look, I can’t pretend to be objective about this. My websites are my children. I stay up all night pouring content into them and futzing with their column widths and tweaking their banners. I’m a single poet with a cat and too much time on her hands, and I just want to ask some people I respect: What do we think about this? My blog doesn’t denigrate my university or its citizens in any way that I can see. What’s the real problem here?

We’re in a new moment. Our already sketchy construction of the public/private divide is wavering, dissolving, eroding ineluctably, whether you think it should or shouldn’t. But there is a serious conversation to be had about this, on the real, on the up-and-up and not just between two people in an office: What do we as writers and professionals think about this kind of blogging, as an experimental/performative art form? Can it ever be that? Or is it just diaristic self-indulgence that (apparently) upsets and offends and alienates?

I don’t know, and you can’t look up the answers anywhere. Frankly that’s part of what keeps me here, even when I am frightened and guilty, unsure of what I write, unsure of how truthful I’m really being, unsure of whether I’m fictionalizing a situation to make me look better, to be able to stand myself—it’s a sickening and dangerous business, self-examination; and as a writer I’ve thriven on its queasy mixture.

But what about the rest of you? I know you’re out there. You’re running university-affiliated lit mags, you’re adjuncting, you’re working in the program office. Many of you are women. You came up on Livejournal and now you’re on WordPress and you have a furtive sense that you really wouldn’t like it if the department chair/director stumbled across your site, but you’re pretty sure s/he won’t, but you still cloak a lot of what you write in lyric incomprehensibility, just to be on the safe side, but also because that’s how your brain works. What are these rules we try to write by—the topics we don’t address, people we never mention, moments of felt life that never make their way into language.

And isn’t there an uncomfortably gender-biased subtext here? Would a male blogger be called into a male professor’s office and advised to cut it out? Or would a male never write about these things in the first place? Are we really talking about an assimilation, an accomodation that women writers are still, always, asked to make in the academy?

Whatever else happens, I’m grateful to the discipline of blogging as an emerging form (even though it has a really stupid timber-mill-sounding name, which grates against my poetic sensibilities) because it demands that I grapple specifically and intimately with these questions. How is it that I can best write the truth of my life, which has involved other people’s lives, without implicating them; how can I describe how I have felt in those intersections while remaining upright and immaculate.

We love each other so hard. We don’t want to hurt each other. And yet we want to write.

Ultimately, I don’t know what to do other than ignore the whole incident. One person’s secondhand complaint can’t be enough for me to call a halt to the carefully constructed endeavor of a decade. If my new community is really bothered enough by my online writing to want me to shut it down, they’re going to have to alert me some other way.

Such as, for example, engaging in the loci communes of the form, and, oh, let’s say—I don’t know, maybe leaving a comment. On, you know. My blog.

– – –

J.S.A. Lowe’s poems have been published in AGNI, American Scholar, Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, Factorial, Gertrude, Harvard Review, Poetry Daily, and Salamander, among others. Her translations appear in the MLA’s An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Women’s Poetry from France, and Particle Series Books printed her limited-edition chapbook DOE. She blogs at

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  1. Erik Stinson

      when i was still in academia i did nothing but write stories about cocaine and rough sex – both for official writing and privately – i never had any comments from anyone other than, ‘4.0’ and ‘you should definitely consider teaching’ 

      which of course i had and have no interest in…gender…

  2. Roxane

      I realized at some point last year that my colleagues were reading my blog because they’d make little comments about it. At first, I did feel a lot of anxiety because I delude myself into thinking no one is reading my blog so that I can put myself out there the way that I do. Then I found out my students were reading my blog and that made me even more anxious because they do not need to know about some of the stuff I blog about. For a while, I kind of tried to censor myself but then I decided to blog about what I want to blog about. Yes, I have a personal life and I date and sometimes I go to bars and sometimes I blog in kind of vague ways about personal stuff. Yes, I watch a lot of trash and I write a whole bunch of that. If my job were to be affected by my blogging, frankly, I wouldn’t want that job. This is not to say it’s a free for all. I need my job and like my job and also don’t want my students, in particular, all up in my business so I try to talk a fine line. I don’t feel censored though. If I felt an intense need to talk about, say, what I did last Saturday night, I would. I find it really strange that you’re being censored as a graduate student and that someone didn’t have the maturity to approach you about their concerns like an adult. It’s also weird that the professor called you in. This is… not high school and also, the chances of your blog affecting your professional prospects, unless you’re like, bashing colleagues or putting pornographic videos of yourself online, is somewhere between slim and none. Also, I do happen to read your blog and… you have nothing to worry about.

  3. Darby Larson

      why do people love their blahgs so much? isnt it a little narci? write in a word file and keep it on your computer if you need to write things. why does your writing need to “be on the internet” in order for you to be happy?

  4. Roxane

      Of course it is narcissistic to a degree. Why do people love anything? Blogs aren’t much different from any other hobby or pastime people love. It’s a way to fill the days.

  5. Emma

      Why didn’t you write this comment in a word file and keep it on your computer? Why do people need to “hear your opinions” for you to be happy?

  6. Darby Larson

      convenience i guess? i mean i was reading the thing and there was a comment button right there to do it. as opposed to opening up a file somewhere. plus this is functioning more like a conversation as opposed to something confessional. which is to say i am indifferent to where i comment i guess. delete my comment if you want. it doesn’t matter. the internet doesn’t matter.

  7. alexisorgera

      Good piece. Thanks!

  8. Michael Coppens

      You’re a grown man using the word “narci”? STFU.

  9. Ethel Rohan

      This is a brave and excellent essay, thank you. I can only imagine the horror you felt inside that office. I would have vomited into my lap. I applaud your response and look forward to subscribing to your blog. My own blog writing fuels fears around hurting and/or horrifying others and being ‘found out’ and condemned. I also self-examine (that “sickening and dangerous business”), stand by by my efforts, and choose not to be censored or silenced.

  10. BethDunn

      My blog keeps me honest as a writer. I have committed to writing at least one post, every week, and I have kept this promise for the last ten years. TEN. YEARS. I am convinced that it is because of this discipline that I am now able to earn my living writing. I would not have kept this promise to a Word doc.

      Writing a blog connects me to other people. It is the OPPOSITE of narcissism — it insists that I connect with other people on a more intimate level than I would otherwise. Is it curated? Cultivated? Carefully pruned?Yes, of course it is. So is every word you say, every way you present yourself, every goddamn tilt of your head, in so-called Real Life.

      I wrote my blog for years under a pseudonym, then I took it out of hiding and put it under my own name. When I did this, I cleaned up a few things — mostly pre-sobriety chatter about how much I loved booze that it simply pained me to read. Now part of my job is teaching other people how to blog, and do it well.

      I’m lucky, by one reading, to work in an industry that embraces blogging as an inherent good (the tech startup community). But in reality, I chose it for that very reason. When I wrote under a pseudonym, it was mostly because I worked at a small nonprofit organization that would have been horrified by what I was writing. Or, frankly, that I was writing at all. I eventually found it so grating that they wouldn’t let me blog, wouldn’t let me open a FB account, wouldn’t let me Tweet, that I decided the field wasn’t for me, quit my job and went back to school for the MBA that the tech community seemed to want at the time.

      When I was back in school, I flirted with the idea (again) of academia. A close prof friend dissuaded me, primarily because I lack the filter necessary to thrive in that world. It’s the truth. I do. I’m happier out here, and they are happier with me out here, too.

      I do not think this means that every blogger needs to leave academia. But I do think that it is a particularly tough place to be a blogger, or indeed a person in the wider world of the internet. I hate that this is happening to you. But you’re right, there ARE other academic bloggers out there. There’s got to be some solidarity to be found there, yes?

      I say stand your ground. They are trying to bully you, because your open kimono makes them uncomfortable. Let it. Christ, academia takes enough from you. Don’t let them take this, too.

  11. Darby Larson

      you’re a grown man using “STFU”?

  12. Farren Stanley

      Seems like there is a very fruitful space in between the personal confession and the public conversation, one that some kinds of bloggers are trying to open up and explore. As one of those aforementioned bloggers, I can tell you that the experiment is as brutally punishing as it is comforting to the ego. And if you want to boil this discussion down to absolutes, why publish anything anywhere for any reason? If you have any thoughts at all why not keep them to yourself? I would respond (and I’ll wager you’ll agree with me) that it’s because there is true brilliance and beauty in the dialectic created by the communal exchange and revision of human thought. Levinas: “By offering a word, the subject putting himself forward lays himself open and, in a sense, prays.” 

      So yeah. I actually think the internet matters enormously and there is no reason to be suspicious of or dismiss out of hand a new medium by which to understand the self and other people, by which to exchange ideas and words, by which to pray. 

  13. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      This is a good post.

      I know the way it works for me is I have my “pro” blog (the one linked here, with my pseudonym and my haikus), and then elsewhere I have my private friends-only Livejournal, where I write pretty raunchy and pretty honestly about things. The “pro” is nice because it’s a good way to regularly write for an audience to which you have distance. The personal is good because I never have to hold back in anything I say or think.

  14. ROB

      Both of you GTFO

  15. Russel Swensen

      “Compromising their experience of the program.”  Good to know UH hasn’t really changed. What a bunch of dicks.

  16. Guest

      Who was the prof who butted in like so?

  17. Leslie McGrath

      Jennifer, I support your right to blog as you see fit and am disappointed that (irony of ironies) your Creative Writing department expresses their discomfort in this way. I haven’t read your blog– other than this post– and can imagine only two circumstances in which it’d be appropriate for them to approach you about it: the first being that you’re saying things about others that might be harmful to them; the second that you’re putting yourself in immediate harm’s way by being too forthcoming. If you’re not hurting your colleagues, not making yourself vulnerable to predation, and are doing your work, I simply cannot understand their position.

       If you’ve got a script for Klonopin, you’re coping with significant anxiety. I wish for you to find a way to reduce the anxiety. It’s such a killer. 


  18. JSA Lowe

      Thanks everyone for your thoughts so far. Just to clarify, I do try to indicate in the piece that I certainly was not given a direct instruction, but it was more—implied, that I should cease & desist? or maybe I misunderstood completely, which is not only possible but likely. I am the eidos of an unreliable narrator. NB also that I am already very fond of my new department and intend them no disrespect in any way. We just have an apparent difference of opinion about this one particular issue. Maybe.

  19. JSA Lowe

      Frank the Raptor, this was my solution for a long time, too. And I just started feeling kind of…parcelled out. But who knows, I may eventually return to this demarcated public/private way of handling things. It does keep stuff like this from happening.

  20. AnonForAReason

      The whole idea of self-censorship in today’s writing world is troubling:

      1) At some point, a writer is deemed “successful” enough that he or she should not say as much publicly. He or she should never–under any circumstances–respond to critics, shouldn’t write “negative” reviews of colleagues or potential colleagues, and should be careful when making bold aesthetic claims. Nevermind the fact that there is a strong tradition in American and English Letters of writers doing these things that are now discouraged. 

      2) This starts early in academic workshops, where writers routinely self-censor themselves out of a desire to please or not offend academic peers and faculty. It happens ALL the time–writers will waste time and psychic energy writing a story or poem that “Betty or John will like” rather than writing the story or poem they want to write for themselves. The workshop and academic culture in general encourages conformity and “tastefulness,” often at the detriment of writers, even if the university’s rhetoric doesn’t explicitly say so. 

      3) Pointing out these things probably makes me an “undesirable” colleague to some folks on hiring committees, which is why I’ve posted anonymously–because I’m on the job market. 

      4) Isn’t that sad?

      5) Not too long ago, writers were encouraged to be fierce, public intellectuals.  Today, writers are encouraged to kiss each other’s asses 24/7, be timid, and be grateful (re: “know their place”) for an academic position and STFU. Even writers who aren’t affiliated with universities feel these pressures–the MFA system has influenced the entire culture. 

      6) This post reminds me of the controversy between Cornel West and, I believe, Harvard (or was it Princeton?), where a dean told him that he was spending too much time in the public eye. Oh, the horror! An academic with a clearly established scholarly pedigree who wants to passionately connect with the masses, instead of speak jargon to a few fellow eggheads! Rein him in now!

  21. Kate Z

      Jennifer, sister, friend, compatriot – I read this beautiful, brave essay like 5 times, had my partner read it, am twisting inside, feeling what you’re going through so viscerally. I also plan on writing a post on my own blog about this, to try to parse through my own thinking about this, to bounce off this dialogue as well. Although I would also perhaps offer as a mild corrective, or perhaps a useful corrective – I am not at all institutionally affiliated, except that my essay book is being distributed by a university press. I have actually not been able to find adjunct work where I’m living now, and the last gig I didn’t get, a writing gig at Duke, I have worried/wondered whether the blog, or hell, the subject matter of my writing in general – might have cost me the job, as it was so close to being offered, and then mysteriously not offered.

      So much solidarity.

  22. Caseyloren

      This reminds me of part of a review by critic Susie Linfield of Katherine Harrison’s The Kiss:

      Charlotte Bronte, for instance, was criticized for
      the unseemly, revelatory emotion of her work. As the
      literary scholar Carolyn G. Heilbrun noted almost a
      decade ago, “When Matthew Arnold disliked ‘Villette’ because
      it was so full of hunger, rebellion, rage, he was at the same time
      identifying its strengths, but these were unbearably
      presumptuous in a woman writer.” And although now
      generally respected as part of the canon, the work of
      such poets as Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton
      was often regarded as too confessional, too personal,
      too angry, too sexy and too disgusting when it first appeared.
      (And a poem like Plath’s “Daddy” is still a shocker, even
      today.) Doris Lessing advised Kate Millett that “you cannot
      be intimidated into silence” when writing about the sexual
      truth of your life, but few writers are as sensibly
      courageous as Doris Lessing. The irony, of course, is
      that it is precisely when women reveal their most
      intimate experiences that they risk being viewed as

      “. . . consider the fate of women / How unwomanly
      to discuss it!” the poet Carolyn Kizer wrote. So when
      Wall Street Journal critic Cynthia Crossen admonished
      Harrison to “hush up,” she was hardly suggesting
      something new. Crossen, Shnayerson, Wolcott, Yardley, et
      al. have simply taken the well-worn, if not quite venerable,
      demand that women writers be decent, tactful, dignified, protective
      and discreet–that is, silent, secretive, deceptive,
      frightened and reassuring–and put a modern, mediaphobic
      spin on it.

  23. Webbish6

      Seems like someone is afraid of a little transparency.

  24. Farren Stanley

      You make some good points, anon, but I think it’s a little short-sighted to restrict this discussion to the pitfalls of the MFA program–a discussion I am, frankly, REALLY tired of having. This conversation could take place (and likely has) in Rhet-Comp departments, Medieval Lit programs, physics departments, in private industry, in wherever/whenever. The substantive and fascinating underpinnings of this story (for me, anyway) are 1. constantly-shifting ground on which bloggers find themselves because they also have physical bodies and social lives that often conflict with the spaces they carve out in a digital environment, the performance of identity as a constant construction and as an ongoing work of art in blogs; and 2. the paradox of asking a writer not to write (which I realize refers right back up to number 6.) BLAME IT ON MFA PROGRAMS is just so…uninteresting. 

  25. AnonForAReason

      I’m sorry that you find those particular points uninteresting and repetitive and ironically wish to shut me down on a thread about shutting people down by grouping my particular points with “all those other tired MFA-bashing points” and completely dismissing them. Nice!

      I wasn’t blaming world hunger on MFA programs, or saying that they are to blame for everything, nor do I need to mention other academic programs–figured that would be implicit in my larger points about “academic culture.” 

      However, it should be noted that creative writing is a fine art, unlike rhet-comp and physics. 

  26. Ryan Sanford Smith

      Disturbing to read this. Part of the reason I’m glad to have no interest in academia as a career, and feel fortunate in some strange way that I knew this during my MFA, when I was as much an asshole an ever. I regularly went on my advisor’s blog and said so when I thought he was wrong, not usually in a manner even remotely related to being professional. But this was the same time as class blog comments told me all of my opinions were invalid because I was a white male and in another instance that I was a pussy. It made me laugh! I went on with my day. Why can’t people handle this? As you say, be ‘grown-ass people’. My impulse is, they didn’t act with maturity or tact when confronting the problem, you’re under no obligation to respond in a manner that wasn’t shown to you. Then again, career, etc. Academia is more political than anything we’re going to see in the next year. ‘Playing the game’ seems to be a price you often have to pay. (aka playing nice). 

      I say tell them to fuck off. Literally, I would post on my blog and tell them explicitly to fuck off. You’re not in any conceivable true breach of conduct, precedence is heavily on your side if anyone wants to make more stink about it. Sure it’ll make things awkward with classmates for a while, but that’s certainly already the case. Might as well be able to sleep at night with your artistic-conviction self. I’m skeptical of the value of what you’re even going to get out of a program that shows so little respect for expression. 

      Yeah, I’m biased here, I always feel a little sad when thinking about incredibly talented writers in PhD programs, they’re nearly always asked in some insidious way or another to sacrifice some portion of their conviction on the altar of someday getting tenure (maybe). I get it, I do, money, job security, health insurance, aka all the things everyone is always desperate for. I empathize, I do. It’s still sad, and I’m glad I never had to face it. Give me ramen for life, I sleep like a baby.

      PS ‘AnonForAReason’ +5 points. Right on. 

  27. davidpeak

      i resent my blog so much that i won’t even link to it on my htmlgiant comments

  28. sm

      Great post and I feel for you. I’m shocked this hasn’t happened to me (I’m in my 4th year of a PhD program in a very conservative state). I feel like I edit myself more than I did before I was in academia and had students, and I never write about my students or colleagues, and only humorously about teaching, but I don’t think it matters. There are conservative students out there who want to control what their teachers and their colleagues produce and publish, *especially* their female instructors and colleagues. My fiction and nonfiction on the internet is often more blunt and frank than what’s on my blog so I just feel like, hey, if anyone’s offended by my blog, they’re going to shit themselves when they read my actual work which this department funds me to write. What surprises me about this whole situation is that your faculty isn’t supporting you. That’s concerning. I understand if they have to put on this show of investigating and whatnot to show the student that they’ve done due diligence, but this sounds like they’re actually encouraging you to take the blog down or tone it down? Are they going to start censoring your journal publications next? I can say that I’d take a stand if I were you, but I don’t know if I’d be that brave. This stuff is stressful and you’re in a new place and probably already half out of your mind with stress. And I haven’t read your blog, but content isn’t really the point–I think your university is in the wrong here. I don’t want to sound alarmist, but might you contact a lawyer? Also–your colleague or colleagues sound like non-delightful people. Have you thought about transferring to another program? Do people in PhD programs do that? I wouldn’t want to be stuck with people like that for the next 4-5 years. Good luck, my heart goes out!

  29. Darby Larson

      oof. can i somehow plow through this rhetoric. what you basically are saying: conversation is valuable. what i am saying: what is particularly valuable about conversation that depends on someone’s personal blog, as opposed to anywhere else in the world/internet?

      all blogs posts are either a) narcissistic attempts to “ignite” or “control” a conversation, as opposed to simply participating in one (and you will often notice conversation in blog comments where people leave the comment space and attempt to “take control” of the conversation by writing their own blog post about it and try to get the conversation in their space or b) fishing for like-minded people to empathize/sympathize with you or c) wanting other people to congratulate you for something.

      my feeling is that there is something about posting a blog publicly, that it suddenly becomes something that is googlable by the entire world, that pulls on our egotistic immortality strings. why not make a blog private or by invite only? why is it so important to you to be global?

  30. Farren Stanley

      Most certainly NOT trying to shut you down, anon. My apologies for having made you feel that way. Only suggesting that MFA programs are so versatile in their approaches to aesthetics and performance of writing that it might be short-sighted to make this conversation solely about that. Lots of people get lots of flack from lots of different places/and people in the physical world–this particular piece deals with a PhD program provoking this discussion, but this discussion, in my mind (and in my experience) extends beyond institutional censorship via MFA programs and might be the beginning of a larger discussion about how bloggers can perform selves digitally and physically simultaneously, and how true or divergent those performances can be, and what the stakes are across both/all media. 

  31. AnonForAReason

      Word.  I’m also finishing my PhD, so I can imagine myself in this situation as well.

      OP, if this is your first year in the program, you might want to consider a transfer. Do you really want this person advising your diss? Your diss advisor should go to battle for you, and this situation–based on what you’ve told us–screams, RED FLAG, RED FLAG.  

      A PhD is a huge investment in time, energy, and money, and if you don’t have a strong advisor who will go to bat for you, then you need to take a long, hard look at whether or not you fit in this particular program. 

  32. Farren Stanley

      Only because it’s a new and open space to explore ideas. I’m disappointed to hear that your view of blogging is so bleak–I am incredibly interested in what kinds of ongoing art can be made and what kinds of constantly-morphing ideas/perceptions of self/others can happen in a space like a blog. As they can in a place like this–a comment stream. 

  33. AnonForAReason

      Fair enough.  I understand your initial defensiveness. I’m guessing you’re an MFA student? I also have an MFA, and am currently completing a CW PhD. I am also weary of MFA-bashing that repeats the same arguments over and over again. Understand also that my criticism stems from a desire for MFA programs and CW pedagogy improve.

      But…we will have to agree to disagree on the connections between the issues stated in the OP and MFA programs/academic CW.  I actually think they are quite strong and compelling, but obviously, you don’t. Also, CW PhD programs and MFA programs share a lot of similarities–in fact, the creative side of a CW PhD program is pretty much identical to an MFA program.  The main difference resides on the literature side. CW PhD students often take workshops with MFA students. 

  34. Darby Larson

      probably i find it bleak because it isn’t new. its’ been happening the same way for a decade. the form has exhausted itself of its potential for me, so now instead of reading blogs i read books.

      though i still like the unmoderated comment stream, which is a completely different animal than someone’s personal blog, and even htmlgiant doesn’t feel like a personal blog which is i guess why i show up here. its less about one person’s gigantic idea/whine/hoorah and more like just getting together with friends for beers and talking.

  35. Farren Stanley

      Totally happy to disagree. As an MFA student, I have never been asked to in any way alter the things that I write online (and it’s pretty explicitly understood around this program that most of my peers and probably many of my profs read it.) So, that part I find disturbing. But I will tell you that I almost lost a couple of jobs because of my blog. I have had endless unpleasant exchanges with exes and friends over the years because of my blog, that my blog has made me available to personal attack by people who are predisposed to dislike me–all of those things have rested far afield of my experience in an MFA program, which has been by and large an extremely positive process. When I have to go to bat over the things I write in that space–as I often do–I stress deeply. I have the conversation with myself that JSA Lowe has above. And what matters to me is that I have a space private enough to honestly articulate to myself what I am seeing/thinking/feeling and how interactions with real life (and digital!) people alter and feed and inform those processes–but also public enough that I am called to shape it, review it, work it, make it ART. There is a space there, in the middle, that I quite like dwelling in. I think it’s made me a better, more mindful person and most certainly a more thoughtful and prolific writer. 

  36. Rob

      You were right about your blog being uninteresting.

      What do you envision happening now, that you’ve essentially doubled down on the issue by publishing the whole story on a much bigger forum?

  37. Farren Stanley

      I like watching minds at work. I find that fascinating. Which is ALSO why I read books. 

  38. anne

      Bias against confessional writing _is_ gendered, and so is the feminized social context of a blog.  A blog is very much a rejection of the narcissism of a word doc reflecting itself back it its writer only — and even more threatening, I think, is that the blogform can be resistant to to institutional power.  There is no process of submission, no master/slave binary, no “firm editorial grip” — not even a guarantee of archival stability.  It’s pretty marvelously self-generated and leaky. 

       I would say maybe the key in academia is arming yourself with the theoretical/critical arguments to frame your work and to keep an artist’s courage to cope w/ the various kinds of fear tactics used against scholars.   I don’t think “concern-trolling” is that uncommon in graduate school, but this story is disheartening (and sort of 2003-ish).   

  39. AnonForAReason

      Good post. I feel the same way.

  40. Farren Stanley

      Anne, have you read Dodie Bellamy’s The Buddhist? Your first paragraph puts me very much in mind of some of the things she writes there. 

  41. stephen
  42. Darby Larson


  43. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      This is also very specifically about shame, though, and a practice of public confession as a tool for confronting and coping with shame — this is part of the gendered analysis, also, b/c we are talking about shame that is endemic to female or feminized bodies in this culture. That is why it is so mortifying and horrifying to have the practice called out in way that re-shames and casts the confessor as somehow immature or insufficiently thoughtful about what they share. Kate Zambreno’s follow-up to J.S.A’s post is an excellent continuation of this conversation:

  44. Darby Larson

      this is a smart comment, i like this. this is a good argument against the use of “narcissism” re: blogs. i agree, narcissism is not the right word to be using.

  45. AnonForAReason


  46. Darby Larson

      this meant to be in reply to anne’s comment

  47. Darby Larson


  48. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I totally understand why people do this and would never condemn it, because of course it is critical that folks be able to self-determine what they share of themselves with others, and each of us needs to do what we need to do to survive in our given contexts, while at the same time, I also think on, like, a broader level this partitioning of the self is just such a manifestation of a pathology that exists in our culture and our institutions, part of how our institutions regulate our bodies and compartmentalize us, this inability to bring our whole selves and our full messiness into all parts of our lives I think is sometimes toxic for ourselves and our even for our institutions as they become ever more uniform and suffer from a lack of richness.

  49. Krystal

      Blogging is writing and you are being told by your writing program to stop it. Get the fuck out of that dump.

  50. Krystal

      Why are we differentiating between blogging and other writing? It’s all a continuum.

  51. c2k


  52. Darby Larson

      elements on continuums are differentiatable. otherwise it wouldn’t be a contiuum, it would just be one element.

  53. Barry Graham

      I’m baffled by the way blogs seem to be singled out. Would you have been called in and admonished if what you wrote had appeared in book form instead?

  54. Darby Larson

      good point. i never think of blogging in this way. probably because i am a man. guess i’ll be the mysogynist straw man for the day.

  55. Bb

      Can you be any drier? Impressive.

  56. JSA Lowe

      Ha, ha! I’m so glad you agree! I don’t really envision anything happening now; I was pretty happy with all the nothing that was happening before.

      I wrote the piece for the usual reasons: niggling unanswered questions that won’t leave me alone, a polarized agon in my head that doesn’t seem sufficiently adequate or complicated. Hoping the practice of fitting words to blurry brain-spasms will pan out into some kind of clarity or peace. And the point of publishing anything, I suppose, is to find out what other people think. I’m enjoying finding out.

  57. Annie Finch

      What a disturbing exhibition of censorship.  (and, incidentally, another reason to be grateful for the option of low-residency c.w. programs, like the one I direct, where adults can be adults).

  58. AnonForAReason

      Nice Twitter account. 

  59. shaun gannon

      i spilled coffee on my hand and now it’s sticky

  60. William VanDenBerg

      Putting something on the internet at least instigates the possibility of the conversation.  Yes, it’s a monologue at first, but look, here we all are, talking about it.  And that’s cool and I think it matters.

  61. ep

      Continuum doesn’t mean the two can’t be differentiated.

  62. Melanie Page

      For some reason it matters to me if it was one student who was uncomfortable with the poet’s blog or students. There is mention of “people” and “students” in the advisers comments. Was this a concerned group or one fussy-ass?

  63. Darby Larson


  64. Bort

      The worst trend in modern internet literary circles is the idea that posting all the private “facts” of one’s life, almost always without any insight or analysis, counts as some kind of interesting dialogue or “brutal honesty” that we are supposed to admire. Thus a million “The Twelve Times I’ve Licked A Vagina” blog posts instead of anything with any understanding. 

  65. Bort

       Same thing applies to the “list of all the drugs I’ve taken” “all the pets I’ve had to bury” “top ten things I thought about while masturbating last night” and whatever else posts that clog up literary blogs and are supposed to count for some kind of confession or analysis without actually analyzing anything. 

  66. Bort

      I’ve barely read any blogs–and by blogs here we seem to mean personal journal-published-on-the-web style blogs–that show minds at work. I’m sure some exist, but I don’t think that’s what is going on in most. 

  67. Bort

      I don’t think you can blame a professor for “butting in” if there are student complaints. That is not to say that the complaints are valid in this case, but the professor has something of a duty to relay. 

  68. Bort

      Self-editing (or “censorship” as you misuse it) and constraint is half of writing. 

  69. Bort

      Let me specify here that this is not aimed at J.S.A., whose blog I’ve never read. But a general comment about the state of non-fiction blogging especially as it has spilled out into non-blogs, ie literary websites and magazines that publish this kind of work. 

  70. Bort

      …what? Why would low-residency programs foster more adult like behavior? Seems the exact opposite in this situation. 

  71. AnonForAReason

      I see that you’re jumping from post to post to tell others what they really meant, how they should think, and how they are wrong, but just to let you know, I understand the difference between purposeful constraint and the kind of harmful self-censorship I refer to in my post. 

  72. Bort

      You sound mad. “Censorship” is one of the most misused words and you are definitely misusing it here. It is a smart idea to not cry about negative reviews because it simply makes you look bad. You aren’t “censored” from doing so. 

  73. AnonForAReason

      …and I’m not sure where in the hell you get that by opposing harmful self-censorship, I advocate free-for-all writing, whether it be blogging, reviews, fiction, or poetry.  Maybe you should practice what you preach and not misrepresent what others’ post–that, I think, would be a form of self-constraint that you apparently lack yourself. 

  74. A brave woman and a fine writer « Anatomy of a Dress

      […] Link Here. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment […]

  75. Bort

      Why are you trying to censor me! How ironic in a thread about opposing censorship. Nice. Good job, Hitler. 

  76. Ryan Call



  77. AnonForAReason

      Oh, I get it–you’re 12 years old. Makes sense now. 

  78. AnonForAReason

      Um, there’s a pretty big difference between using “censorship” more broadly and “self-censorship.” I imagine most literature people understand the distinctions. 

  79. Hannah Stephenson

      How interesting.

      I think we have to OWN what we write on some level. It sounds like the author has been fairly careful to not be snarky or revealing about others (including students, which would be an issue). I don’t know why the school discussed it with her, truly. As long as we are sensitive to the identities of others, and self-aware enough to know people will find out about what we write, blog away.

      A lot of people don’t like blogs, for some good reason or other. I absolutely do. My blog isn’t about my life (well, it’s not explicitly about my life—I pretty much only post poems), and I am very up front in sharing the link to my site with others (students, other faculty at the universities in which I teach, strange people on the bus, etc.). I often halfway joke with others, “Start a blog, change your life!” It sounds like some awful informercial, but is semi-true.

      Whenever I write something, I just assume that I’m doing it in public–that EVERYONE will see it (which isn’t true, certainly, but I would be ok with everyone seeing it). It’s the same with any social media.

      I hadn’t thought about how gender factors in. I honestly don’t know that it affects my opinion of what occurred. I just think it was odd and reactionary for the school to bring Lowe in and go into panic mode. Everyone is very free to NOT read anything they don’t want to read.

  80. Redlasso

      Dear Blogging Lady:

      You’re good…I don’t blog, but I do teach…multiple adjunct jobs…I know the paranoia…the insecurity…This instructor seems to have a terrible case of “fear of litigation”–It’s going around…It has nothing to do with you…

      I must wonder about this program…The charming writing programs I went to weren’t known for excessive sensitivity or censorship, God bless ’em…Maybe you’re in the wrong place…

      You keep going. I can’t believe anyone could find fault with your writing…If this post post was any example, you are thoughtful, sensitive, insightful, smart…

      Another Lady

  81. Bort

      I’m actually mocking your tantrum a few posts above, but not surprised that went over your head. 

  82. Bort

      Let me try to spell this out for you a little more simplistically. Most of what you are incoherently rambling about above is not “censorship”, self or otherwise, in any problematic way. The reason to not, say, whine about bad reviews is that it tends to backfire on the writer. It is smart not to do so. No one is preventing you from doing so, and you won’t be like blackballed from the literary world. It just looks bad.

      Your general idea that any of this has to do with the MFA is beyond stupid. YOu really think that in the past all writers were brave public intellectuals challenign everyone to a duel? No. A few people made their names like that (just as some do today: Dale Peck, Anis Shivani, etc.)  but most writers in any era “self-censored” because it is often smart for them to do so. 
      I’m not condoning this necessarily, but it has nothing to do with the MFA program. 

      As far as recent trends, if anything the sad move in today’s literary culture is away from intelligence, fiction and imagination and towards confession, memoir and feelings over fact. As such, the trend is more and more towards expressing the kind of things you seem to think are being more self-censored. 

  83. Institutional Censorship and the Confessional (read: Female) Writer — Susan McCarty

      […] but I don’t have the time I want, right now, to comment. Soon though. In the meantime: start here, then go here, and finally read the excellent blog in […]

  84. Bradley Harrison Smith

      I’m sorry, but this is the kind of departmental bullshit that drives me crazy.  If I write a poem where I talk about raping horses and pissing on old ladies it will be workshopped with complete seriousness and artistic “respect” 

      But if I blog about how Timmy’s an asshole: lookout!  

      The department should issue you an apology, and the individual/s who tattled should too.  Keep doing what you’re doing.  

  85. AnonForAReason

      You have a low threshold for what qualifies as a “tantrum.”

  86. Littlest Ice Age

      “What surprises me about this whole situation is that your faculty isn’t supporting you. That’s concerning.”

      Yes, yes, and yes. 

      Faculty – writing faculty! – should support writing, period. I can’t imagine a faculty member who wouldn’t side with free speech and creative experimentation.

      In fact, the fact that faculty aren’t supporting this writer smells funny to me. In fact, in my experience (having been lied to by high-ranking professors in a creative writing program and also, having listened to professors badmouth each other behind the scenes as they jockeyed for tenure and influence) any fogginess, any unclear demands or nameless so-and-sos that the professor induces/produces might be a sign of bullshitting.

      Yes, professors are humans, and humans are not always morally/ethically clean. Professors bullshit, manipulate, and lie (as do other humans in other professions!) High ranking professors have career-climbed over obstacles similar to those of high-ranking bankers, lawyers, real estate developers, and anyone else who must resort to Machiavellian scheming in order to reach their ranks and maintain them. Especially professors in the arts – where, unlike in scientific fields, there aren’t clear demarcations of research value. 

      Listen. This professor claims to have heard about your blog (yes, you, lovely PhD student and writer.) And yet, this professor claims that your blog is deeply distressing, and didn’t investigate it? How is he or she supposed to know if that supposed-student who complained is making it up? Of course the professor HAS to go look! Otherwise, the conversation would be a waste of their time. 

      There’s something fishy here. 

      Honestly, what I smell is a professor that found the blog, found the criticizing remarks about him/herself and resorted to “oh, anonymous says, but I don’t really know, so you should do something about it, but I’m just going to be vaguely passive-aggressive and not really tell you anything, because I know on the inside that the blog is harmless, I’m just pissed and am going to make you squirm.”

      I have witnessed pure bullshit in both academic departments and offices. Going on how manipulative this conversation sounds, I wouldn’t put it past the figure in charge to be bluffing/manipulating the student.

      Also, causing a female writer to feel shame about writing about her body, or her inner life, and enforcing silence on top of shame is a centuries-old tactic of hierarchical domination. It’s why abusers get away with abuse – because they convince the victim that the shame and silence they bottle up inside is better than the other alternative: speaking up and possibly sacrificing their career/accolades/blurbs/etc.

      It’s why Sandusky got away with rape. It’s why bankers get away with well… everything that Occupy Wall Street is protesting. 

      One thing is certain: I am beyond proud, awed, and glad you are speaking out against this act of silencing. 

      I think we are moving into a new age of speech – taking public speech, free speech, to its upper ceiling. And breaking through. That’s why the hierarchical institutions distrust blogs – because they discredit and circumvent the traditional models of dissemination/conversation/ladder/letter-climbing. 

      Although this episode at Houston is profoundly disappointing, I’m hoping that many young writers and academics will read this post and feel emboldened to face their professors, blog as they wish and speak up for themselves. This blog post is a step forward.

  87. Reader

      From what I read, the faculty mentioned nothing about censorship. They just were letting her know that some of her peers were made uncomfortable by it (probably the part where she says “Fuck you” to their instructor). What she does with that info seems to be entirely up to her. They made no threats, most of the people on this board are misreading.

  88. Littlest Ice Age

      Also, suppose this person approves your dissertation. The time comes to apply for positions. You need three confidential letters of recommendation. Is this a person you will trust to write a letter that you can’t see? Is this a person who WILL write a letter (because PhD advisors are writing fewer and fewer letters these days. It’s the harsh truth – it’s all over the Chronicle of Higher Ed – the problem with high-ranking professors who have too many students and they just don’t follow through.)

  89. Littlest Ice Age

      This is one of my concerns, too. How slippery the story is. 

  90. AnonForAReason

      “Most of what you are incoherently rambling about above is not “censorship”, self or otherwise, in any problematic way”-Bort

      “Incoherently?” How precious.

      Earlier, you wrote that your general points about blogging weren’t necessarily directed at the author of this blog post. And yet, the content of her post–the one you apparently haven’t read closely enough because you’re too busy playing school teacher–clearly tackles issues related to notions of self-censorship. Funny thing is, I actually agree with your points as they pertain to blogging as a general rule.

      “The reason to not, say, whine about bad reviews is that it tends to
      backfire on the writer.”-Bort

      Of course a writer should never “whine” about bad reviews–where did you make that leap? There’s a difference between purposeful engagement between writers and critics and reactionary whining, and those sorts of conversations have historically occurred and were quite productive, mainly because writers were cross-trained and also critics themselves.

      “Your general idea that any of this has to do with the MFA is beyond
      stupid.YOu really think that in the past all writers were brave public
      intellectuals challenign everyone to a duel? No. A few people made their
      names like that (just as some do today: Dale Peck, Anis Shivani, etc.)
       but most writers in any era “self-censored” because it is often smart
      for them to do so.”-Bort

      And your continued reliance on hyperbolic assumptions and misrepresentations is beyond stupid, such as suggesting that by engaging in conversations with critics, writers must “challenge” critics to a Dale Peck-like duel. Here are some notable English and American writers who were able to fruitfully engage their critics: Ben Johnson, Dryden, Jane Austen, Henry James, and Robert Louis Stevenson–just to name a few off the top of my head in about five seconds.  Here are a few more: James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston.

      “I’m not condoning this necessarily, but it has nothing to do with the MFA program.”-Bort

      People explore connections all the time between cultural conditions and institutions, connections that are not always visible on the surface.

      “As far as recent trends, if anything the sad move in today’s
      literary culture is away from intelligence, fiction and imagination and
      towards confession, memoir and feelings over fact. As such, the trend is
      more and more towards expressing the kind of things you seem to think
      are being more self-censored.”–Bort

      I won’t disagree with you that “confession” and “memoir” and mimesis are hot now, though I’m often troubled by the gendered connotations of such claims–something else the OP addresses, in case you haven’t read her essay or get a chance to read it later after class is dismissed.

  91. deadgod

      I don’t think there needs to be a conflict between one’s multiplicity and integrity (though if there were, it might be “toxic”).

      Inward plurality isn’t necessarily a matter of “suviv[al] in our given contexts”; I think the multiplicity of contexts is at least somewhat due to the plurality of each of their ‘anatoms’.  It’s a dialectical entwinement, no?, between plural individual and plurality of contexts.

      Likewise, institutions don’t “compartmentalize” their constituents so much as they evolve multitudinously in response to already “partitioned” selves.

      There is “uniform[ity]”–but an abundance of institutions – of performance spaces – (and, it should be added, access to those that one is desirous of participating in or habituated towards) and a (smaller) number of selves doesn’t generate it.

      At least one private self and at least one public self makes pretty good sense to me.  ?

  92. AnonForAReason

      One more thing, “Bort,” you do realize that the situation covered in the OP TAKES PLACE IN A GRADUATE CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAM, ONE THAT HOUSES BOTH AN MFA AND PHD PROGRAM, RIGHT? 

      Don’t you think this important “fact” (you’re big on those, right?) led me to mention MFA programs? 

      Can I make a simple request for all literary blog commenters? Please read the articles–not skim, but READ, R-E-A-D–before going straight to the shit-talking comment stream.  Would that be too much to ask of visitors to a literary blog?

  93. deadgod

      haven’t read it myself, that would break boundaries for me


      What “boundaries”?  –the ones between ‘knowing what you’re talking about’ and ‘talking’?

      It would most likely provoke enmity, but it wouldn’t be wrong calmly to make a priority of specificity:  ‘What did I write that was upsetting enough for someone to put you in the position of having to have this talk with me?’

  94. Bort

      You do realize that this would be far more of a problem in “the real world” with a normal job. People get fired for jobs for shit they post on facebook or twitter all the time. 

      Again, the issues here really have nothing to do with the MFA program. But keep digging your hole deeper if you want!

  95. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I think what I see as toxic is when the management and regulation of the organizational or institutional self begins to REQUIRE a denial, secrecy, hiding, compartmentalizing of the other selves in order to be deemed ‘professional.’

  96. Shannon

      As long as I have been blogging I have run into this (not in academia at all) from time to time. I empathize a lot with how you felt, I quit a writing job I had barely started because my boss didn’t like my blog and decided to tell me how to tone down/not talk about the things I like to blog about. It was a gross but end the end enlightening experience.

      I haven’t read your blog yet but I will guess that you’re not doing anything wrong you are just being unpleasant in the eyes of the tattler, said tattler(s) may be butthurt about it and complaining rather than doing the grown up thing and just not reading your blog. 

  97. Maria Padhila

      As long as we’re all talking like Beavis here: This sucks. The consequences of writing can be high. I, too, am curious about whether a male blogger has ever had a similar experience. (Disclosure: I’m a narcissist who blogs because I’m fucking fascinating, dude, and I just stalled my blog for a while because of trolls.)

  98. AnonForAReason

      You do realize that we’re discussing a writer who maintains a blog, and that one could justify a professional relationship between her blog and work as a writer, which isn’t necessarily the same as a tax accountant in the “real world” blogging about his top ten favorite porn actresses?

      You do realize that I’ve already agreed with your general point about the relative quality of one’s blog posts? Does the OP strike you as the kind of blogger you reference in one of your earlier postings? (That was a rhetorical question, btw). 

      Finally, your insistence that none of “the issues here really have [anything] to do with the MFA program” is rather comical, since, well, the writer was told by her creative writing professor (and peers) in a department that hosts a graduate creative program to “cover her ankles online,” despite the lack of evidence on her blog that would warrant a “real world” scolding for inappropriate blogging.

      The hole on this thread is in your ass, which is indistinguishable from your head. 

  99. deadgod

      I agree.  In the case where there is conflict between one of one’s selves and expectations foisted on the ‘whole’ person, then it’s one’s integrity that’s probably sacrificed for, as you say, “surviv[al]”.  There are legitimate standards that institutions self-impose–for example, campus rules against hate speech–, but if the regulation is against disclosing something essential to the person where the disclosure would in no way harm the institution or its constituents, but still that essential thing must be concealed, that, I’d call “toxic”, too.

  100. kb

      Keep a G.D. journal. It’s what people did before 10 years ago. You won’t die.

  101. kb


  102. Ester

      Wow. What a story! Firstly I can’t get over the fact that you are only 42 and have been published in “AGNI, American Scholar, Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, Factorial, Gertrude, Harvard Review, Poetry Daily, and Salamander” and yet you describe yourself as “a middle-aged poet with a lousy publication record.” Fuck. If that’s a “lousy publication record” then what would a good publication record be?

      But more to the point, your story is horrifying. UH sounds like a shitty program. At least the weasely fellow student who complained behind your back and your gutless passive-aggressive prof who traumatized you instead of sticking up for you as any writer would…are shitty. I agree with whoever above said you should think about quitting it.

      If you don’t, then it might mean that you realize that UH is an impressive place to get a CW PhD from. Which means that you put credence into surfaces and images. Fair enough. Most of us do. But then, to be consistent, you would need to be able to accept that people will judge you based on what you write on your blog. Is this fair? No. Is this right? No. But it is the way things go. One must accept it and only share on public blogs shit that one would be comfortable with one’s employer reading (this is really basic by 2011, right?). Self actualization, the need for confession, “why can’t I just say whatever I want and it’s all okay,” and all that other bellyaching is just juvenile. Like saying “It serves a deep-seated need for me to play Russian roulette therefore it’s unfair that I might get shot in the head, too.” There’s the way it should be and then there’s the way it is, and to not know the difference, or to continue while moaning about it, seems silly. Oh, and it’s hardly just a female thing either. I’ve known many men screwed over at their jobs because of what they posted online, so making it all a gender thing is just plain stupid.

      The end of the above was mostly in response to some of the comments above. I looked at your current blog and it seems harmless, so it’s clear that your fellow student is just a precious, pampered jerk-off and your prof should take a few seconds break from triple-underlining and highlighting the fact that she teaches at UH on their CV, and spend a half second acting like a real professor and stucking up for one’s right to write. You were treated shabby and have every right to be hacked off. Best of luck!

  103. The Best Literary Fiction Blogs & Websites | Jane Friedman

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  104. Cole

      AnonForAReason wrote: ” This post reminds me of the controversy between Cornel West and, I believe, Harvard (or was it Princeton?), where a dean told him that he was spending too much time in the public eye.” 

      It was Harvard and (Lawrence Summers).

  105. AnonForABloodyGoodReason

      CW PhD programs have too much power. Almost all the creative writing jobs on the Creative Writing Jobs Wiki this year mention a PhD in _creative writing_, when they mention a PhD as a qualification. 
      This means that less than a half-dozen English departments have the power to grant or deny a crucial job qualification. It means that much of the future CW professoriate in the whole country is supposed to issue from a handful of mediocre English departments in third-rate universities. Try to imagine another humanities discipline putting this in their ads: You must have a PhD from one of these six institutions: U of Denver, U of Western Michigan, Oklahoma State U, etc etc…I know there are jerks and petty bureaucrats at top-ranking universities, too. And there are some better universities (Utah, Houston, USC). But this is an extraordinary concentration of power in a very small number of institutions. Literature PhDs can come from any one of hundreds of universities; CW PhDs, from one of six. 

  106. AnonForABloodyGoodReason

      “If you don’t [quit], then it might mean that you realize that UH is an impressive place to get a CW PhD from. Which means that you put credence into surfaces and images.” 

      Troll, please. 

  107. Rob


  108. Rob

      Don’t get me wrong, the article here is pretty interesting, but I agree (based on a cursory reading) that it’d be hard to find anything offensive on the blog you linked to.

  109. Anonymous

  110. Ann Bogle

      This will be something like the 106th comment.  I have enjoyed trips to HTML Giant, but ought to hesitate to participate as there was a problem with the site apparently refusing to depost a slanderous comment made against a sister writer.  The commenter called her “psychotic.”  She protested but to little avail.  I said to her it was slander because she didn’t hallucinate (as one meaning of psychotic), but it also slandered people who do hallucinate (he was using “psychotic” as a derogatory term by definition).  Then she and I spasmed in our own unique friendship when it became clear that she wasn’t thinking of sufferers of mental illness, and only wished to be disassociated from them.  Her brain tumor had not been discovered then.  A brain tumor falls within the purview of neurology.  Neurology is the science of disorders that affect sane minds, psychiatry the science of suffering that affects weak minds.  I do not hallucinate, but I have mood variations a little more noticeable than some others’.  In the past, my mood variations may have made it seem to others that I was on drugs rather than that I should have been.  U of Houston was a happening place in the early 90s.  There was a little or a lot of that, depending on whom you ask, the concept of absolute truth.  Of censorship.  It was before the Internet.  Dissemination was a question, but the menace may have been the Xerox copier not the Internet.  It surprises me that the graduate students and faculty would complain about a blog, considering what freedoms we usually believe we are safeguarding in this country, the reason, ostensibly, we send young people to kill civilians overseas.  I mean, someone did, kill the civilians.  It wasn’t our civilians who killed Iraqis.  The First Gulf War was briefly news back then.  I don’t recall that we had the word “hookup.”  The operative word might even have been “promiscuous.”  I was 28, 29.  There were post-modernism, post-feminism, post-punk and pobiz.  There was my tome.  I wrote it in three months and kept it mostly to myself, showing perhaps 150 double-spaced pages to my workshop professor; when I failed during the second half of a semester to keep up with rather extensive T.A. teaching duties, I surrendered to in-house diagnosis, while never literally falling, staying always on my feet.  As a kind of veteran, I’d warn against improper use of words like “truth” while yet recommending its pursuit.  I’d warn against assuming that better writers are at so-called better schools.  Some of the better writers are not at any school.  It seems propriety is as much an issue now as it was then.  It is not only, as some would have it seem, a high-brow, low-brow issue or concern.  They are asking (remembering you are in Texas not California) whether it is proper for words to circle social truths, perhaps truths especially of women, in a public forum via the Internet.  Then (during my tenure) they were asking whether social truths ought even to be written, even in private.  There was an argument against writing that wasn’t perfect, that admitted flaws.  I used the word “form” deliriously, disastrously, unfashionably.  The word we use today is “design.”  An evolutionary process is in motion, however subtle the shifts.  “Write as well as you can.”

  111. Anonymous

      Ignoring the raging discussion above, I have to say I really felt for the author here. Except for this bit:
      “And isn’t there an uncomfortably gender-biased subtext here? Would a
      male blogger be called into a male professor’s office and advised to cut
      it out? Or would a male never write about these things in the first
      place? Are we really talking about an assimilation, an accomodation that
      women writers are still, always, asked to make in the academy?”

      Unless she was naming and insulting student and faculty members, or parodying them in a way so transparent as to be easily recogniseable, I don’t see the complainant has any leg to stand on. But raising the question of gender bias seemed way off base (from reading what she said happened.) Why is ANY of this about you being a woman? When I joined my previous job, I had to sign a contract saying I wouldn’t blog about the people or place. Not because I was a man, a woman, a poet or a playwright. And that place was a hardware store.

  112. Lilzed

      Thanks so much for posting this. Also, Villette is amazing.

  113. Lilzed

      I’ve been reading a lot of these comments. I think this issue is more complex than it appears. We don’t really have a code yet for social media and how it presents subjects that are political, touching on institutional values, or possibly controversial. Obviously your blog is your personal expression. But blogging can give you a lot of power, over things that don’t affect you, if the content involves departmental personalities, or funding / hiring processes that need to be private for a while (unless you’re doing, like, journalism). . . I don’t get the sense you blogged about any of these things but it seems that there is some nervousness on their end that could be warranted in a small hypothetical way. The only reason I’m writing this is bc I strongly agree with a lot of what I’m reading here, like what Anonforareason wrote. Your example is stunning because it involves a creative writing department and writing as an endeavor has a particular investment in boldness and honesty. But what I’m saying applies to many other things.

  114. Lilzed

      There was a good comment that addressed this earlier. Perhaps it’s a form of gender bias that’s new to you.

  115. Farren Stanley

      I’m going to second lilzed here and encourage you to think harder about the ways women–women artists, especially–have been silenced, historically, and what kind of institutional legacies of shutting-women-up still exist, and the way blogging as a practice and an art form can subvert and openly war with techniques of silencing. Also please see Kate Zambreno’s response to this piece for a much more coherent articulation of what I am attempting here at

  116. deadgod

      straw perchild

  117. deadgod

      The question is ‘why are we making this discrimination? in other words, aren’t there similar rules against all kinds of a-clef writing–and against all kinds of gossip?’.

  118. deadgod

      It’s a tart question you actually asked:  not ‘why did you write this blogicle?’, but rather, ‘what do you expect the result of publishing this blogicle will be?’ 

      Given what provoked Blog is Still a Four-Letter Word and Blog is Still a Four-Letter Word itself, what kind of answer is “nothing”?

  119. B.

      The fact that women often find their voices surpressed does not mean that this case has any gender bias in it though. That is the kind of leap from specific to general that people on the left and right tend to frequently confuse. 

      From the description of the events, there doesn’t seem to be any gender bias implied. This kind of situation arises in all occupations in the digital age of 2k11

  120. Leapsloth14

      This is a great post, meaning it covers a lot of complex
      issues and made me–as a teacher and blogger–think about issues. Some of this
      might be covered by other comments—I’m not going to read all of the other
      comments (though I read many). I’m going to jot down some quick thoughts.

      Should you have an academic/professional blog
      and then maybe a personal one elsewhere? We wear roles in life, so why not
      online personas, too?

      At my university, they ENCOURAGED me to talk
      more about my blog, bring it more into my professional work. This surprised me
      since I considered my blog personal and often downright stupid, mostly
      concerning itself with nachos.

      In that specific feedback, I don’t see a gender

      I’ve almost crossed lines before blogging, but I’ve
      learned that if I feel a nagging feeling, I don’t post, usually. I sometimes
      drink beer and blog, so maybe I’ve slipped up a few times, but, like you said,
      you can go edit.

      I like your conclusion. I think it’s valid to
      ignore the feedback. There might be consequences, but it seems there WOULD be
      consequences if you stopped blogging. It’s what you do. It’s how you live as a
      writer. You do have a code, and these are times you fall back on that code.

  121. deadgod

      In my view, the concern the “workshop leader” is voicing does not stem from a ‘bias against confessional writing’–it discloses a bias against gossip, a mode of discourse as much a province of men as of women.

      The event displayed in the blogicle is not an example of a woman “be[ing] silenced” from telling her story as a woman; it’s a case of a territory being policed on the grounds of limiting discourse-destroying discourse.

      The relevant question for the “workshop leader” isn’t ‘why are you silencing a woman telling her story?’, but rather, ‘what did Lowe actually say on her blog that’s stimulated this “warning”?’.

  122. HermanCain

      Damn, HTMLGiant is growing–even Sean Hannity fans are now commenting. Preach it, brother!

  123. deadgod

      I agree with posing this nuance:  saying personal things is a powerful and therefore dangerous exercise.  The “workshop leader” was fulfilling a responsibility as a teacher (by responding to some kind of complaint or anxiety); the rush to identity-political judgement here is, to me, mistaken. 

      What did Lowe say on her blog that warranted the little chat inflicted on her?  –for Lowe to ask this question wouldn’t gender herself oppressively.  If the answer is ‘nothing’, maybe the “workshop leader” could have little chats with the anonymous bomb throwers.

  124. deadgod

      Damn, HTMLGiant is growing–even black people are being mocked.  Get a witness, son of the Confederacy!

  125. ClarenceThomas

      Damn, HTMLGiant is growing–even black people such as myself can’t be misogynists, and “preach it, brother,” has never been uttered by a white person before! 

  126. Ester

      Hilarious. You call me a troll for what I posted? You’re precious, dear. If I could, I would comfort you and pat that little vein popping out in your forehead and tell you everything’s going to be okay. Nobody ever said anything you don’t agree with. It was all a dream. The bad person has gone away now.

  127. FollowMyTemplate

      Your view (and the view of the dude below) is quite rigid–who are you or anyone else to assign “one question” to such a complex matter? The “relevant question” you (and him) pose is certainly worth asking–don’t get me wrong–but so is the “other” question.  And other reasonable questions. The human brain can process multiple questions applied to a complex topic.

      And are you seriously suggesting that “gossip” isn’t gendered? 

  128. DieDieDie

      People who don’t use paragraph marks are crazy in my experience.

  129. deadgod

      Damn, HTMLGiant is growing pubic hair around its rim!

  130. deadgod

      Agreed that the mind can process complexity–so well, in fact, that a mind can turn its focus in some particular discussion away from what it takes to be a misleading target without ruling out the legitimacy of that target in other cases or categorically.

      Particular instances of “gossip” are often – but not always – gender-specific.  I’m actually saying that men and women are more-or-less equally likely to wield “gossip”.  If your question is rhetorical, what are you seriously suggesting about “gossip”?

  131. FollowMyTemplate

      Did you read her essay? 

  132. deadgod

      Did you read “We chose this, we then must serve it.”? 

      Or “For it’s an illusion, this supposed nudity; a deliberate cultivated aesthetic.  [… I]n the blog, I choose what I reveal.”?

  133. Anonymous

      Lilzed – I think you may have been replying to me. I read back thorugh the commments and can’t find the one you allude to, unless it’s by Tim Jones-Yelvington where he says “this is part of the gendered analysis, also, b/c we are talking about
      shame that is endemic to female or feminized bodies in this culture.” If so, I’d still have to say “What?” Because, from where I stand (as always in internet discussions, this opinion is purely my own, entirely subjective and therefore neither wrong nor right etc etc) we’re not discussing that. We’re reading a blog that says “I was called into my boss’ office and told that someone had complained about my blog.” My opinion here is that this is disgraceful – who complained? Why did they complain? What was so bad that the boss in question felt it needed addressing? If there was a specific complaint, why are they not speaking to that complaint? If the blog is a problem, why do they not formulate a specific policy on whether or not faculty members should be allowed to blog? All this is enough to incite outrage. Does it make any difference that the writer of the blog is female?
      I don’t think so. From what I read, there was nothing specific in the complaint that the boss mentioned, other than “writing about intimate matters”. Do only women have intimate matters? If a man is writing about his prostate cancer, or his vasectomy, is that all fun and laughs because he’s male? Or do we not believe that men would write about intimate matters because they’re all so emotionally blocked?

      I have to say again, I don’t think this is a trivial matter, that the university feels it can berate someone for having a blog, that it can act on a third party complaint so ephemeral and vague and not have a policy in place. My current employer has no policy regarding blogging. If my boss calls me in and says someone has been offended by something they read in my blog, I would tell him it’s none of his business. If he said he felt (as this person seems to have said) that it was affecting my professional standing in the office, then that’s a different issue.
      What I don’t get is why the author (who is erudite, well written and composed) feels this is happening to her because she is a woman and wouldn’t happen to a man.

  134. The Best Literary Fiction Blogs & Websites « i love english literature

      […] HTML Giant. I’ve enjoyed having my blog posts smartly ridiculed by HTML Giant. Many contributors, always a good read. Twitter: @HTMLGiant. Recent post: Blog Is Still a Four-Letter Word […]

  135. JSA Lowe

      Thank you for this clarifying comment.

  136. renkat

      (One day I will learn to not read comments. People’s ugliness amazes me. Their inability to look the other way. And that was me demonstrating mine.) Anyone who opens their mouth – who puts their
      crafts/opinion/comment/story out there is feeding a narcissistic need.
      Who’s kidding who?
      J.S.A.: I admire your strength of character.

  137. Jacquelinegens108

      beware of global comments that “people are talking” this is usually an exageration. More likely one person! I would press “for instance who” to get to the bottom of things. 

  138. Lee Kottner

      Darby, if you have to ask that, you don’t understand writers at all.

  139. Lee Kottner

      I’m tired of people on the internet thinking that just because they’re disturbed by someone’s writing they have a right to ask that person to censor themselves. Don’t bloody read it then. Don’t ask for tags or warnings or similar coddling. You won’t get them anywhere else. I may not like what you write, but I’ll defend to the death your right to write it–and mine to use to the back button.

  140. Ann Bogle

      I reread this essay today, almost three years after it was posted. I had found the comment I had added (somewhere below) that is also stored on Discus. It is too bad that Lowe’s long-time blog now seems to be disconnected, especially considering that her argument in favor of blogging is strong, and her writing about it is confident, and her confidence may issue from her ten years as a blogger. Blogging is sometimes a fearsome thing to continue to do, I agree.

  141. The Best Literary Fiction Blogs & Websites | Jane Friedman

      […] HTML Giant. I’ve enjoyed having my blog posts smartly ridiculed by HTML Giant. Many contributors, always a good read. Twitter: @HTMLGiant. Recent post: Blog Is Still a Four-Letter Word […]