Freewrite! Writing is a messy process.

When we see a finished piece of writing, we rarely see all the mess that went into creating it. As Annette M. Markham and Nancy K. Baym point out in their book, Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method,

Research reports are carefully edited retrospectives, selected among different story lines and options, depending on one’s audience and goals. Within these reports, research designs are generally presented as a series of logical and chronologically ordered steps. Seasoned scholars know there’s a complex backstage story line and have experienced such complexities themselves. But for novice scholars, it is easy to imagine that the researcher’s route was successfully mapped out in advance and that interpretive findings simply emerged from the ground or fell conveniently into the path. Qualitative research requires a tolerance for chaos, ambiguity, and inductive thinking, yet its written accomplishments—particularly those published in chapters and articles rather than monographs—rarely display the researchers’ inductive pathways or the decisions that led them down those routes.

Two of my voice values are transparency and helpfulness, and I want to share some of the messier bits of my writing process. I have hopes of showing off some beautiful, colorful pen-marked-up copies of memos and notes to you in the future, but today, I’m just offering a few thoughts on freewriting.

I often hit a point where I’ve thought and thought and thought about something, ideas are all kind of swirly in my head, I’ve made notes, I’ve mapped concepts, and I’m still not ready to do formal writing for an audience that’s not me. I might be in a good place to talk to somebody, but honestly, I’m rarely around people who actually want to hear about things like affinity space ethnography (now I’m trying to imagine explaining ethnography to my 3 year old). When I’m in that place, eventually, I realize I need to…


So I open up a new document and type out what I’ve got in my head, with notes to myself but also with citations. I know I’m not inventing anything new here, but this is part of the writing process that I think it’s easy for academics to forget.

Here’s what I freewrote today:

Ethnographic methods are appropriate for studying information literacy practices that are social and occur in an affinity space, as this looks at a sociocultural phenomenon, in a naturalistic setting. These methods cannot produce a full ethnography, but rather must be partial (Hine 2000). (BUT WHY? LIKE, THERE ARE REASONS, LEARN TO ARTICULATE THEM.)

Online spaces, however, present challenges to traditional ethnographic methods. Primary among these is the problem of location-based research; using spatial metaphors to define ethnographic research sites is limiting, because:
Practices travel across various online “spaces.”
Boundaries of online spaces are porous.
And, more and more, boundaries between online and offline activity are also porous.

(Hine, 2000; Leander & McKim, 2003; Wargo 2015, 2017)

Ethnography has some key features.

  1. The selection of a “field site.”
  2. Observation or participant observation.
  3. Interviews.
  4. Artifact analysis.

There are ways to approximate these features online. The field site is the trickiest bit. It’s possible to select one environment (for example, and consider its boundaries to be the boundaries of the field site, but this lends an incomplete picture.

Now, this is not a useful introduction to ethnography for anyone. It’s incomplete, it privileges data collection over more conceptual issues. But it’s helping me move forward in my writing.

Coping when I’m not okay

I’ve been feeling moderately not okay lately. Nothing truly devastating, but a sense of doom. A sense of never being able to finish anything, of everything moving slower than I’d like while somehow also moving faster than I’d like. Of not being able to get out from under life.

I still feel that way, but I’m doing a little better today, for a couple of reasons.

  1. To appease my child, after returning some books to the university library today I went and visited with my advisor and one of my committee members, who is also a dear friend. I talked to them about my slow progress, my frustration, the stage of the work I’m in, the sense that this part is a slog. They affirmed that it’s normal to feel this way and that I’m still within my timeline for a May 2021 graduation, and I’m going to be okay. So, next time I feel this way, I should probably remember: talk to Sandra and Casey, because it always makes me feel better.
  2. A few weeks ago, I read Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map, which focuses on living according to your core desired feelings. My core desired feelings are ease, flow, creativity, and connection. I have not been doing things in alignment with bringing about these feelings, but I know that I have the power to switch things up so that I do live in that alignment, and remembering that I can do that has me feeling a lot better.

So, I’m still not okay, but now I believe I will be okay, later.

Bookmarked A Closet Cosplayer Shares Her Tips on Dressing Up With What You Already Have (POPSUGAR Love & Sex)

Standing at 4’5″, Little Women: Dallas star Asta Young is a small woman making a big name for herself in the world of fandoms.

A conversation with @marijel_melo confirmed a suspicion I had that to a non-cosplayer, saying you were a “closet cosplayer” sounded like you were saying you were a cosplayer on the DL, “in the closet” about your cosplaying, as it were.

Closet cosplay is, rather, a term of art referring to “using what you have from your closet, with maybe a couple cheap store-bought items put together” according to Asta Young in this PopSugar piece. I use it to mean that I’m wearing things that weren’t built explicitly for cosplay, like the Coldwater Creek dress I used for River tam, the thrifted top I used to be Mrs. Lovett, the Old Navy dress I used to be the Fruity Oaty Bar Octopus Lady, the LL Bean pajamas I used to be Jess Day, or the Victorian Gothic getup from Retroscope Fashions (RIP but still on Etsy I guess?) that, yes, I just had hanging in my closet, and also used to be Shojo Loki.

I’m still working out what cosplay-related content will go here at vs what belongs to Luna Wednesday, obviously.


Jargon in Academia

I’m having a little brainstorm over here about my frustration with jargon in academia and the way disciplines borrow from each other and then deposit that jargon on students as though they already know what these things mean, and it’s not all coming together yet so I thought I’d just throw some words out here and some of them will have notes on my understanding but others won’t yet.

space and place – this is what launched this brainstorm, because I was reading about bringing a spatial perspective to the internet and because I’m doing work on affinity spaces. A quick Google tells me that this comes from geography, from the work of Yi-Fu Tuan, and I have heard people throw this around so much in educational research and to a lesser extent in information science research, and I think it’s probably a really useful concept but at no point did anyone offer me an introduction to it as though it were a new thing.

Paulo Freire – I really ought to have read this guy’s stuff. I haven’t yet. Maybe I’ll get there one day.

Habitus (Pierre Bourdieu) – SAME. In my second semester of my doc program, John Martin was all “Bourdieu’s habitus” and, like, I know, he was right, this is a thing I should know, because I’m researching practices, and practice theory is a thing, and this is another one where it’s like, okay, I’ll get there someday I hope.

Bakhtinian carnivalesque – I ran across this because of cosplay but I first came across Mikhail Bakhtin‘s work when I was doing a paper on expansive learning, and guess what, I could probably stand to read some more Bakhtin.

semiotics – this comes up a lot for me right now because Gee’s work is all over semiotics and Discourse/discourse and blah blah discursive practices blah.

hermeneutics – Ran across this one in an English class that I thought was about Digital Editing, which it technically was, I just didn’t know that editing has a different meaning in academic English circles than it does in the circles where I ran prior to starting a PhD.

I’m a fourth-gen postgrad and I struggle with this jargon. I don’t know how anyone makes time to deeply understand theory, especially theory translated into English from other languages, and I’ve taken two theory classes and three qual methods classes.

All of this language, in my experience, serves the purpose of gatekeeping and alienating people who could be doing phenomenal work. (Epiphenomenal?) How do we fix it? Can we fix it?

I kind of want to make it my job to fix it.

Why I Have Trouble Fanning These Days

I’ve been listening to the latest episode of Fansplaining, with guest Emily Nussbaum, and it’s led me to sort of a revelation.

[First, an aside: Emily Nussbaum mentions in the episode that in her Buffy days she was on the Bronze. It’s no secret that that was my first fannish home. It’s so nice to hear about Bronzers in the world. I don’t know if Emily would call herself a Bronzer, but my definition is just somebody who spent time at the Bronze, so she counts.]

Since I decided to do my dissertation on the information literacy practices of cosplayers, I’ve been reconnecting with fandom. For years now, I’ve had trouble staying connected to any particular fandom specifically, and fandom itself in general, for a number of reasons:

  • my fannish home being in diaspora
  • burnout after a failed Save Our Show campaign
  • the proliferation of social networks
  • grad school
  • parenting

W. has repeatedly suggested that being fannish is easier in your teens and 20s when you have fewer responsibilities than it is in your 30s when you have a kid, and that’s fair. But I always feel like none of these explanations are quite enough.

Listening to Emily Nussbaum say:

“…the situation in which somebody produces an entire show and then releases it to the audience changes the way that people talk about TV when it doesn’t come out week-by-week.”

…gave me a little lightbulb moment.

My primary fandoms have all been week-by-week TV fandoms: Sailor Moon when it aired as an afternoon show in the 90s, Buffy the Vampire SlayerAngelFireflyWonderfalls (yes, Wonderfalls!), The Inside (I’m here for Tim Minear’s most obscure work), Veronica Mars, 30 RockNew Girl. The intensity of my participation in fandom for each of these varies, but other than a brief flirtation with Star Wars fic in high school because Sonja was doing it, and some heavy time spent reading Harry Potter fic and playing in related RPs, weekly television is my medium of choice.

And the way we talked about weekly television in the late 90s and early 2000s is how I know to talk about things as a fan: what is the significance of what just happened? What will happen next? What do we wish would happen next?

You can do all of these things after bingeing a season of Stranger Things, and I do (though mostly only with W.), but it feels different somehow.

I’m going to try and crack it. I’m going to figure it out with Glow.

Anyway, this has not gone very far, but it’s just something that I thought about and wanted to write about a little bit.

The Space Between: Reading, Writing, and a Third Thing (Thinking?)

I’m not a very efficient writer.

I have 20 hours of childcare a week, and usually lose two or three of those hours to late arrival (mine), getting settled in, and winding down.

It feels like I ought to be spending every minute of that time either reading or writing.

But I actually spend a lot of it giving my mind space to process what I’ve read or reorganize what I’ve written.

Brigid Schulte writes about realizing that many of the world’s great male artists had women (wives, housekeepers, mothers) who protected their time for them. They used this time not just for the physical act of producing, but also for taking long, silent walks where they thought through their work. Schulte points out that throughout history, women’s time has been fragmented, and they have carved their work time out of these little slivers.

My time is extremely fragmented, though less so than when my son was an infant. He sometimes blesses me by taking a long nap, which I inevitably use as leisure time rather than work time because honestly, my brain is just usually no good for work at the time that he’s napping. (I also can’t rely on these naps, so I’m afraid to plan to work during them, because sometimes he doesn’t take them.) My mother-in-law also helps out by spending several hours with him every week, and my partner takes care of most of the things that those great artists’ wives, mothers, and housekeepers did, in spite of having a full-time job himself.

So, I’m blessed.

But I still feel wrong when, instead of churning out my own words or filling my head with the words of others, I take time to stare.

Even though that’s where my words come from, that space between reading and writing.

I need to reconceptualize this space as part of the writing process.

What about you? Have you successfully given yourself permission to view thinking time as productive time?

Life online and losing and finding my faith in it

Get ready for some rambling, stream-of-consciousness, blogging-as-thinking.

As a member of the Oregon Trail generation, I came of age alongside the Web. I had access to much of it a little earlier than my peers, because my dad’s work provided home access for him. As an adolescent, I had this sort of constant feeling of the immense potential of my life ahead of me and of the Web, and as a young adult I really leaned into that, blogging starting in 2001. It’s not a big leap from me to this rando kid on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “I Robot, You Jane” who says, “The only reality is virtual. If you’re not jacked in, you’re not alive.” I feel this visceral connection to the Web that I have a hard time putting in words.

As I shared last weekend, I’ve been looking at Pierre Levy‘s writings on collective intelligence and cyberculture. I shared in the IndieWeb chat that I was reading Collective Intelligence and it was making me deeply sad. I actually had to put the book down several times and hit a bit of a wall in my plans for my comps because I just didn’t know how to recover from this sadness. The French edition of Collective Intelligence was published in 1994, and full of the kind of technoutopian rhetoric that I believed for years, that kind of still hums in my veins a bit. And reading it made me so sad about what I imagine we’ve lost, the weird internet Vicki Boykis talks about. Specifically, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that the kind of collaboration that excited me about the web, and that Web 2.0 promised to make more accessible, is so much harder to find now, perhaps nearly impossible, because of silos and the proliferation of advertising.

And maybe it’s because I’m 38 instead of 18 that I’m feeling this way, maybe it’s something else, maybe I’m wrong. I just felt immensely defeated, even in the face of examples to the contrary. I just felt sad and overwhelmed and to be honest, this feeling hasn’t gone away entirely.

But then I was poking around the Vaporwave subreddit, which of course is a brilliant place to be if you’re feeling disillusioned by the false promises of and simultaneously nostalgic for 90s-era technoutopianism, and found the thread for VA:10, a project resulting from collaboration between 88 creators, with plans to create not just an album, but also a film and an art book, documenting this digitally-born musical genre and aesthetic. With plans to donate all proceeds to the Internet Archive.

And my faith came back a little.

Other stuff from this week:

Podcasts that are making my afternoons

M. and I have an agreement, proposed and enforced by me, after we spent months with him as a tiny audio tyrant during our commutes. Now, so that I don’t have to listen to Pharrell’s “Happy” on Repeat-1 for 40 minutes a day (or, as it would be now, “Belle” or “For the First Time in Forever” or “My Superhero Movie”), he chooses what we listen to on our morning commute (usually one of those songs above on Repeat-1, and he actually knows to ask for Repeat-1), and I choose what we listen to in the afternoon. He won’t begin a nap anywhere except in a moving car right now – ironic since we never had to do that with him when he was a tiny baby, but I guess it’s because we could always bounce him in the Boba and he’s too big for comfortable front-wearing at 33 months – and podcasts are more likely to lull him to sleep than music, and also I really enjoy podcasts, so most afternoons I put on a podcast.

For a while, we were listening to Fansplaining and The Mermaid Podcast, both of which are super fun, and which I intend to get back to. They’ve got huge backlogs, and also are a little distant from my current experiences in life, so I decided to check out some podcasts that are more relevant to my day-to-day and would be easier to catch up on. It’s made a huge difference in my quality of life. Here they are:

The Double ShiftThe Double Shift Podcast Cover Art: “a reported, narrative podcast about a new generation of working mothers.” Every mother works, host and journalist Katherine Goldstein points out. This podcast is huge for me because it’s not about parenting as an activity and it’s not about kids. It’s about personal experiences of being a mother and how that impacts your whole life. I loved hearing her talk to a punk rock future rabbi and women who work in Las Vegas brothels. I want more media like this: acknowledging that being a mom impacts everything you do, but doesn’t have to limit you to activities and ideas that center exclusively on motherhood. It’s sort of the impetus behind my (dormant but I’ve got the next issue in draft form) newsletter, Genetrix.

Acadames LogoAcadames: “a biweekly podcast that explores whether being a woman in academia is a dream, game, or scam through interviews with a diverse range of women.” This is hosted by two scholars in the health sciences at my university. They address lots of issues that feel deeply relevant for me, though I do sometimes bump up against the differences between health sciences and social sciences, for example when Dr. Whitney Robinson was talking about how she thinks the study of knowledge is called epistemology and I thought, “What a luxury, to be uncertain of the definition of epistemology.” (Her definition is one: epistemology as a branch of philosophy that deals with how we know what we know. In the humanities and social sciences especially, but also I think in the natural sciences, epistemology is also a scholar’s or scholarly community’s set of beliefs about how knowledge is constructed. Your “epistemological stance” is your personal take on this. Mine is that knowledge is constructed, that there are multiple ways of knowing that include but are not limited to both empirical and experiential ways, and that anyone can create knowledge.)

Motherhood Sessions Podcast LogoMotherhood Sessions: Dr. Alexandra Sacks is making matrescence, a concept with which I am obsessed, a more widely known idea. In her podcast, she talks to moms about all kinds of things, and basically does recorded therapy sessions. (The guests are people who volunteered to be on the show. She’s not secretly and unethically and maybe illegally? recording patients or anything.) Some of these are closer to my experience than others, but I found it especially valuable to hear from a mom of one who has mixed feelings about the fact that she’s okay with only having one kid, and a PhD student who has had her dissertation on hold for years and needs to talk through whether she wants to bother finishing.

Who will I be this year?

My friend Little Willow doesn’t make New Year’s Resolutions in January. She makes them on her birthday, which is not in January.

I like to set intentions lots of different times: in January. In March, when the astrological year begins. At the start of the school year. With each new moon. And, yes, on my birthday.

My birthday was yesterday, and I spent it packing up the last stuff from my brother and Mom’s apartment to move them back into the closest thing I have to a childhood home (where I lived from ages 13 – 18), having lunch, playing video games, and having a much better day than I feared I would, but I didn’t have the oomph to set intentions.

Today I’m asking myself who I want to be this year.

I want to be someone who takes care of herself, unapologetically, and who understands that there is no one in her immediate environment who would deny her the ability to take care of herself. (It’s easy for me to think that self-care needs to fall by the wayside because I’m a mom, but I’m at a point where that’s just not true anymore, so I need to not let it be an excuse for neglecting my own needs.)

I want to be someone who simultaneously understands that she is a person of value just by virtue of existing, but also contributes to keeping her family and household going.

I want to be someone who is invested in her community. (My family gave me a membership to the Durham Co-op Market for my birthday and shopping there and participating in the Co-op is one way in which I can really support my community.)

I want to be someone who makes things for pleasure.

I want to be someone who continues to live a life that is more for living than for documenting, but also be someone who documents her thoughts and understandings both to share with others and so that she can reflect on them later.

Who do you want to be?

What would you like me to write more about?

I love that Ton Zijlstra asked his readers a few years ago

What would you like me to write more about?

I want to blog more and to use the time when I need a break in the middle of an academic writing sprint to write other stuff. So I’m asking you to answer the same question for me. You can answer publicly or privately, and you should feel free to include fanfic prompts in your suggestions.

(And a note for Sandra, you don’t have to answer, because I know and I promise I’m working on it.)

I should mention that it’s my birthday today and answering this would be a great gift from you to me.

I’ll update this post with answers as they come in. Let me know if you want yours to remain anonymous.