Two Years Blogging at Bughouse Square

Today is the second anniversary of this blog, and so time to reflect: Why do I write this blog?

I started Bughouse Square (originally bugclub.blogspot.com) a week after the close of an exhibition I co-curated with Peter Alter at the Newberry Library on the history of free speech activism in Chicago. Outspoken: Chicago’s Free Speech Tradition was my first big exhibition (and only one to date). It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun. The great thing about public exhibits–as opposed to scholarly books–is that people actually enjoy them. This was not a blockbuster exhibit, but it had an audience roughly 10 times the size of that for my book.

As I recently noted on my new blog, I finished editing the script for the exhibit at 9 pm the night before my wife went into labor with twins. I promptly went on family leave and left many of the worst headaches to the Assistant Director of my research center, Jen Koslow (she is now a professor at Florida State University). While I changed diapers, Jen negotiated the demands of our higher-ups to edit out of the script what they perceived as overly political (or polemical) phrases.

Not to accentuate the negative. The relevant point is that when the exhibit closed down on January 14, 2005 I was in desperate need of an outlet that did not require vetting by anyone else. The exhibit really just capped off years of frustration. Before working at the Newberry I had been an activist in a union organizing campaign. I was the press liaison for a good stretch of the late 1990s and enjoyed spouting off to reporters or anyone else who would listen. So after four years of enforced circumspection in my public pronouncements I wanted a soapbox, and I didn’t really care if I drew a crowd. I just wanted to sound off.

My wife was in an oddly parallel position. But while I was working in the public sphere, she was taking a leave from her job to raise the infant twins. Notice I don’t say “taking the year off,” because taking care of infant twins is extremely hard work. And isolating. With both of us badly in need of a public outlet, we hit on the idea of starting our own weblogs. I must have been influenced by all the publicity blogs were getting during the 2004 elections. So we started our Blogger blogs. Loretta actually started two or three. But she settled on one, which has become in her words, “a marginally successful humor blog written under a pseudonym.” Too modest.

Looking back over the 2 years of Bughouse Square, I realize I made a few key errors that were mostly related to my fear that blogging would somehow undermine my academic jobs. Thus the masthead:

“The Views Expressed Are Those of the Author and Not of his Employers Past or Present”

This created the cross-purpose of simultaneously promoting and hiding my blog. For instance, last year as I moved to a tenure-track job I redid my template a bit and cut out my blog roll. I will admit now that this was motivated in part because several of you on the blogroll regularly make liberal use of profanity–oh yes, and then there is the occasional piece of soft-core pornography that shows up on The Dude Minds. Maybe not so good for an un-tenured prof. to link to that. In the case of another blogger we reached a mutual agreement that the two of us should not link to each other, lest we blow this person’s “deep cover.” I also changed my url from bugclub.blogspot.com to bughouseblog.blogspot.com, just because I felt like it. That latter move I figured would be okay because, as far as I could tell only about 5 people were reading me. I emailed them all about it. But as it turned out, others were reading. Who knew?

All of this paranoid activity violated the basic ecology of the blogging community: the post-link-comment cycle, which is like photosynthesis in this world. But the past two years have been an interesting education in blogging–and common sense communication. I don’t seem to have much of an audience, but still I write. It must fulfill some need.

I’ve learned a little about “genre” in the blogosphere. These days there are many “academic blogs.” In fact one of the more prominent academic bloggers just called it quits. He was always ahead of the curve, and probably is still ahead with this move. But Bughouse Square is not an academic blog. I never had the desire or determination (or stamina) to write definitive statements or pronouncements here. The problem is that it is not-an-academic-blog written by an academic. It’s hard to disconnect virtual and professional identities, for practical and psychological reasons.

Lately I’ve been thinking it’s time to disentangle the connection between this blog and it’s author. I asked a friend if he wanted to guest post–I can tell he needs a place to rant. No response yet. But there is space on this soapbox for more than one, if anyone feels the need to hop up and start shouting.

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2 Responses to Two Years Blogging at Bughouse Square

  1. Tim Lacy says:

    Toby: I understand the troubles. I once ran a blog on religion under a pseudonym, but gave it up for several of the reasons you cited above. But the biggest of all of my reasons was that I just ran out of things to say, and was posting inconsistently.

    I have some theories, which I’m testing presently at History and Education, on what makes a blog work best. Here goes:

    (1) Openly be yourself. I decided when I started H&E that can’t handle pseudonyms. It’s difficult to perfectly maintain “deep cover”;
    (2) Write about topics in which ~you~ are deeply interested but you know your wife and immediate workmates don’t care (then you know the blog’s your only outlet);
    (3) Try not care too much about how many people are coming by (sitemeter breeds narcissum);
    (4) Use postings to think out loud; and, last but not least,
    (5) Save the rants for public houses and beer!

    Of course I may be full of crap. Like I said, I’m testing these theories right now. – Tim

  2. Prof. Koslow says:

    Happy Belated Anniversary BugHouse Square!

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