On the possible futility of writing this blog

I just read a blog entry by Snarky’s Machine, entitled “Why I Could Give Two Hot Fucks About the Loss of Daria.”^ Which got me thinking: what am I doing, really doing, to make the world better? Am I like Daria, complaining but just marinating in my privilege and not being productive, or am I saying something that needs to be heard? In other words, am I using this blog space for anything even vaguely related to activism, or just selfishly spewing words out?

I didn’t like the answer I gave myself: this blog doesn’t do much. Yeah, sure, it’s valuable to have spaces to express ourselves and spaces for people who feel isolated to find some connection. But mostly what I write about is roughly the equivalent of etching LILY AND I WERE HERE on some concrete wall or piece of pavement. Maybe some anthropologist will wander by some day and see my graffiti and use it to try and understand who I was and what my society was like, but really, the blog itself isn’t all that meaningful. (You knew I was a scientist, yes? Ha, well, yeah – that really is the way my brain wanders.) Although I firmly believe that siblings deserve to be heard, especially by bureaucrats who overlook us, I’m an exceptionally well-off sibling, able to sit back and ponder my life while other people are out there living theirs. This is both a good and a very bad thing: I’m in a place where I can wave my hands and shout, “Hey, over here! You’re missing something!” to people who need to hear it. I want to believe I’m able to make my privilege work for me, even if I’m surely not doing that enough. (NB: a more comprehensive discussion of my privilege, and my and Lily’s identity politics and social situations, is forthcoming.)

And, actually? I think that’s okay. Disability activism isn’t my calling, and frankly, despite my disappointment in myself saying this, activism in general isn’t who I currently am. When I devote my energies to thinking about how to make the world better, I’m more likely to think of things that apply mostly to what I do feel is my calling: I want to help train scientists who will do good science, and communicate that effectively, and I want to be sure that every student whose life I enter comes away from the experience being science-positive and more scientifically literate. It’s not a completely unimportant job, although it’s not exactly the least privileged space to be. I want to be able to make a difference in the academy, to make sure the Ivory Tower is – and is seen as being – a little less smug, less cold, less “old white guys,” and, well, less of a tower. (We can debate the ivory part later.) I think right now it’s okay with me just be here, talking about the realities and fictions of life with Lily, just to bear witness to her existence and how it intersects with mine.

As I get older, I’m more inclined to want to be an activist. Maybe someday sooner rather than later I’ll get there.

Edited 07 Jan 2011 to add: I’ve been meaning to return to this post for a few days, because I read something that made me feel less cynical about “just” writing this blog. This post had a huge impact on me, especially this line: We object to the conversation, and we object with conversation. Changing how people think about the world is no small task, but it starts small. It starts personally.

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8 Comments on “On the possible futility of writing this blog”

  1. Lynne says:

    I mean, is it doing anything useful for you to have public conversations? Because that’s a perfectly good reason to write publicly. It can be just for you and that is valuable. It is valuable even if it is *only* useful for you, and even if you have it easier than some other people. You still have a voice and it is acceptable (okay, necessary) to use it for your own fulfillment.

    • Elysia says:

      For me, sure, there is some value in being very open about my emotions and thoughts – it’s not always easy for me to talk about issues regarding Lily in real time. Sometimes that feels selfish, and sometimes it feels like I’m just part of the wonderful chorus of humanity. (I really like reading about other people’s lives – what better way is there to learn about the human experience than to listen to human experiences?) Most of the time, that’s okay, and it’s just a wonderful benefit to have people give me feedback about how much it helped them to read something I wrote.

      And sometimes I long to be doing something bigger and better with myself, you know? Which may just be part of my current need to get out and interact with people besides my coworkers (and I’m planning some non-work-friend time this weekend). It may also have to do with my current discomfort with how great my life actually is and how much I haven’t lived up to my own dreams of philanthropy. Regardless, I am enjoying writing here, simply as an exercise in self-expression, and I agree with you – that’s a valid and valuable exercise.

  2. Being relatively privileged doesn’t make your story less interesting or important. You’re telling a story that doesn’t get told very often. You are in a good position to tell it because you can afford to speak where others with similar problems may not be able to. Even if you were only speaking to other privileged people about rarefied issues (which I doubt), it’s not as if privileged people as group are already perfectly informed and enlightened about disability issues in their midst.

    Speaking selfishly, I’d love to read more of your science writing. I was blown away by your essay on menstruation and ev psych.

    • Elysia says:

      Very true. Especially when considered with everything that Lynne and Snarky’s Machine said. And like I said, if I’ve got some privilege, I’m going to try to make it work for me.

      Also, I’m glad you liked the menstruation/evo psych post! I’m not sure how much science I’ll get into here. I don’t mind messing up details or having unfocused narratives when it comes to talking about myself and Lily and our adventure, but I very much want to be accurate and effective when I discuss my chosen profession. That said, I’ve got a stub written about academic versus clinical science and disability and am hoping to parse some professional papers about epilepsy and other aspects of Lily’s disabilities in a way that’s meaningful for sibs and interested observers alike.

  3. I mean, is it doing anything useful for you to have public conversations? Because that’s a perfectly good reason to write publicly. It can be just for you and that is valuable. It is valuable even if it is *only* useful for you, and even if you have it easier than some other people. You still have a voice and it is acceptable (okay, necessary) to use it for your own fulfillment.

    I absolutely agree with this. There are definitely moments when I just want to talk, think and read about things before embarking on some defined course of action. This is particularly true as it relates to marginalized identities I don’t experience, but I wish to support in ways that particular group would find productive.

    • Elysia says:

      This is particularly true as it relates to marginalized identities I don’t experience, but I wish to support in ways that particular group would find productive.

      Excellent point. Also, more sibs are starting to comment here, which might help get more diverse stories out and about.

  4. Also, it was really difficult for me to write the Daria entry because I really loved the show. Critiquing the content I dig is sometimes rough road.

    • Elysia says:

      I’ve seen your statements about it being hard to critique shows you like, and I’ve always been impressed by your ability to write very incisive commentary without apology, unlike many fan critiques.

      I’m not even sure I know how to articulate why what you wrote got to me the way it did, but I felt like I’d been kicked in the butt and that I had really needed it, so I took some time to explore it. Doesn’t mean I’m not using this space productively, but it also doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to check my privilege or examine why I’ve had an unsettled feeling about writing here. That idea seemed to parallel, for me, the thought that the fact of Daria’s existence in pop culture was interesting/good, but that didn’t mean she/the show couldn’t have been better.


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