Get Real

by Anna Blanch on September 12, 2011

Or maybe that should be “getting” real.

I’m trying to “get” real. I mean I am real. But I’ve struggled with the balance of this project, Goannatree, as a space where I do write about my professional interests in theology and the arts, and literature, and photography, and writing and teaching in the university context. I’ve hesitated on bringing personal perspective to much of this. Emotions are messy, right? One “shouldn’t bring their personal life into the office, right?

“But, yet I wonder if this attempt to “be professional” hasn’t left me appearing wooden. Yep, I care about my profession. I want to be a good teacher. Part of being a good teacher is constant professional development. I think this. Then why am I so afraid to write about the good, the bad, the ugly, the fears and the little successes? Why can’t I just “be” in this crazy moment?

After all, there’s a reason why my professional interests are my professional interests, because for the large part, they are also my personal ones.


I’ve already made many decisions that have led me to a point where I can say that there isn’t much divide between my professional and personal interests. I don’t leave the work at the office. I enjoy what I do in part because it is about life and important questions. Big questions. Real Questions.

But every day requires decisions about what that means.

And I have to remember that blogging and how I engage with digital media in a professional and personal context isn’t based on a set of defined rules.

I like rules. Partly because I like to know when I’m breaking them.

Then, when I break them it’s a considered decision.

But when there’s no rules, I find myself confused. I like parameters and guidelines.

I’ve enjoyed this project developing in its very early days as a travel blog (that was way back in 2001 and hopefully has been lost to the abyss of the blogosphere) but the name Goannatree came in 2007 when I moved from Canberra, Australia to Waco, Texas. By mid 2008, this had developed into a scholar-blog, largely because those were the posts that seem to interest a wider variety of people; besides, I hadn’t really figured out what it was that I wanted to say about my expatriate life.

So where am I now? physically, in the cottage-by-the-sea in the seaside toon of St Andrews. But as far as this project goes, I’ve sought to offer a way to navigate my eclectic (dare I say, polymathic) series of posts. I’m aware that Goannatree can be confusing for people who find a “way in” with one of the things I write about, but where other posts are either a little esoteric or a little mundane – I have a weird mix of interests for sure!

I’ve grappled with this for some time. I guess it’s been about wanting to interact with people reading this and I’ve grappled with whether I’ve been trying to please others too much. But, I’ve had a online whack into reality.

That reality check?

I’ve realised that I want to navigate digital media in my own way. I want to walk a path consistent with what I think it means to be a scholar and a teacher. I have to think about why and how because there aren’t yet thoughtful guidelines. To be sure, there are conventions for the genre – but scholar-blogging is still relatively undeveloped.

I’m aware that many people worry about being taken “less seriously” in academia as a consequence of their extra-curricular lives and in some cases are advised to avoid a presence online. But is this really a reality? And is this ludicrous in the society in which we live?

I have my own boundaries about what I share with others – like everyone. I guess I’ve been worried about other’s perceptions of “oversharing.” But then me as an “oversharer” is likely to be pretty tame.

I’ve certainly heard that women are under much more pressure to be “taken seriously” within higher education. With the job market being particularly spare at the moment,  the anecdotes are sobering indeed.

I’m idealistic enough to still believe that my work (in traditional scholarly media and digital media) will stand for itself. And, if i’m serious about being authentic, then it makes sense to write about broader aspects of my life and work – especially questions, ponderings, thoughts and concerns. Blogging has taught me a few things about myself in the last year: some surprising things; for instance,  I’ve realised that I’m not naturally polemic – i don’t relish attacking other people by name and I’m not naturally inclined to controversy (I don’t get any kind of thrill out of it).
Why am I worried about showing weakness and vulnerability in day to day life?

Well, why wouldn’t I be? I enjoy reading other people’s blogs and I’ve been a huge fan of biographies most of my life. But I guess I’ve always been hesitant to write too much about my life, outside of the ‘life of my mind’! I do worry about getting a job. But,  like so many things I just need to “get over myself” and not “take myself too seriously.” Besides, there’s a crazy amount of stuff happening in my life – and I really want to get to a place where I’m not afraid of admitting that I have some fears and concerns because I’ve come to think that is in the experience of weakness and vulnerability where there is much common ground. Also, when joys and positive experiences are shared (and thankfully there are plenty of those) they’ll be more recognisable!

What are your thoughts? does the idea of sharing personal life stuff put you off what is otherwise a scholar-blog? or does it make the intellectual stuff more interesting?

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  • Darren

    Interesting and great post. I am still struggling with the same issue, but from the other side, as in not academic and deep when I often wish I was. I also have a half-finished post about how 'personal' a personal blog should be, which reminds me I really should finish it.

    • Goannatree

      yeah, i have a feeling this isn't as a rare an experience as i might have thought. come back and share a link with me when you're done with that post!

  • Pete

    I'm convinced that you need to be real. But then I read some people's blogs and they come across as either display material (I'm a great polymath/Christian/uberSpeaker) and reveals nothing of their true identity.
    If we are moving into the Age of Authenticity (i.e. the age beyond postmodernity), then surely that authenticity will be shown in a matching of online with offline. That people will be the same online as offline – that their won't be that awkward period of re-learning when an online relationship becomes an offline relationship and you find out what the person is really like.
    Even in working relationships online this can be the case because the conversation via text misses the important physiological clues to what a person is really saying. Without those clues, you might go on thinking this person is strong, fulfilled, equipped when actually one look in their eyes tells you they are breaking apart.
    Online ends up being the place to hide your emotions and identity behind a bland wall of posting. Or, on the other hand, a place of emotional display which just puts people off engaging with you. Not sure how to walk the tightrope between those yet, but I am convinced that it needs to be walked.
    Be real…whatever that means…and let others decide how to engage with that. that's what we do in normal offline communication and conversation, isn't it?

    • Goannatree

      Thanks for the comment, Pete! I guess I've been trying to stay true to who I am in what i've written previously – i feel like I have been 'real' all along, but it's more about defining genre and what I will and won't talk about here. It's not that I have different opinions on and offline, it's that some topics I just haven't wanted to talk about or i've kept it within the sphere of professional or scholarly explorations and haven't explored the subjective or the personal, or even the way that being a Christian changes the way I approach my field of Lit and Theology.

  • Hannah Stephenson

    I think rather than just "avoiding an online presence," it would be better to craft (or be aware) of our online presence(s).

    For me, it's all connected…I talk about being a poet and blogger when I teach, and a lot of my poems are informed by teaching writing.

    Interesting and thoughtful post!

    • Goannatree

      Definitely, I wasn't saying avoid it, i'm not sure where you got that from! – I've certainly taken the tack that it is better to be aware of, and craft, your online presence. You will be googled, it's probably a good idea to have a sense of what comes up when you are! As an academic, things like can be great for making sure searchers are directed to your academic work.
      It's certainly interconnected for me too, i'm just not sure how much I want to shred the personal booundaries I have about what I will and won't post here!

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  • @tim_hutchings

    Hmm. I don't see personal posts as any more "real" than professional or topic-focused posts – just crafted for a different audience. If you're writing for yourself, be as cathartic as you like. If you're writing for academic colleagues, stay on topic. Personally, I prefer to hear about friends' lives through Facebook and Twitter, but other people might like to share your life experiences through a diary-blog. There's no right or wrong answer here (and definitely no "real" answer) – just work out what kind of audience you're writing for, and what that audience wants, and give it to them. Trial and error may be required!

  • @vfxhanley

    Great Post! It raised a couple of questions for me (and they might not be issues for you). Firstly, I am always concerned about a coherence of self. i.e am I the same in different situations whether that be with my mum and dad, my mates in the pub, or my colleagues in the academic staff room. That doesn’t mean I ‘behave’ the same but that I discover a deeper sense of self so that I am more attentive of who I am in a variety of situations. As a tutor once said to me years ago ‘sometimes you have to be different in order to be the same. I guess the question for you is what might you need to do differently in order to be fully you. 

    The other question it raises for me is around the whole issue of what can or can not be published on a blog. For me – it comes down to something I wrote about in my #digidisciple post. Is your blog your space? If so you can publish what you like!! (or at least as much ad you would say in your own living room) Or is it a public space and therefore you need to be much more attentive to other people’s desires. So do you host others in your blog? Or are you a guest in someone else’s space? If you are host then you shape the space as fits your desire and requirements now. If it is more public then other people begin to shape it for you. 

    Got me thinking all day! Thank you!! 

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