Wednesday, March 14, 2007

This Used To Be A Personal Blog

I want to blog like Joseph Kugelmass, like this:

I’ve been thinking about the first period of my life when I really started blowing my allowance on new pop records, which was my junior year of high school. It happens that during that year, two of my friends died in car crashes. This is something that happens in Northern California: there are a lot of twisty, dangerous roads, the weather can get nasty, and you have to drive twenty minutes or more just to see friends. As far as I can tell, most teenagers go through a phase where they buy what other people deem “cool,” so that’s nothing unusual. But it happens that I went through this phase at a moment when I felt particularly scared and isolated by those deaths, and culture seemed to offer itself up as a universal and legitimate source of contact with other people.

I don’t know what other people experience when they open up one of those dusty black CD binders, and the plastic pages flop open to The Cranberries. For me, the sensation is very odd and melancholy. When I bought The Cranberries’s debut album, I thought that was it. I thought, in some important sense, that we’d always be able to gather together and mutually appreciate “Dreams.” I thought the same thing about ska bands and swing bands: I would shell out for albums by the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Reel Big Fish with some notion that these albums would remain relevant to everybody.

So, the necessary condition for making peace with the past is the forgetting of the past, and that forgetting takes the form of turning the past into a story that combines fondness with resignation. The moment when Dickie takes up the drums, he necessarily has to forget having had the same moment before with the saxophone. I was learning about this at the same moment as my school, which was organized around Wiccan and pagan beliefs, was putting together pagan ceremonies where we would learn to say farewell to the dead students by addressing prayers North, South, East, and West. We did this out on a beach, where the directions were marked out with fresh green boughs.
My ideal relation to the past has nothing to do with making peace.
As much as I’m concerned with celebrating and re-considering pop culture, that project only makes sense in terms of its opposite: I am interested in talking about good pop culture because my impulse is to reject it entirely, on the grounds that it recycles itself so quickly that A Devil Wears Prada can re-tread a not-very-good film like Coyote Ugly and hardly one head turns. As a test case, the planned obsolescence of pop culture fetishes is a remarkable example of sentimentality at its most revealed.

I used to blog like this. Well, not as good, but I did use a lot more first person pronouns. Heck, not too long ago I had a post on applying canons of statutory interpretation to mix-tapes, and that's not so far off. But I was luxuriously nerding out, and it is not as poignant as the above post. I read this and nearly cried, because I too bought those albums when they came out, and I too thought that swing craze would last. I too loved The Cranberries, for their pleasing pop melodies and later, sturm und drang references to William Butler Yeats. I read this post and realize how much time has passed, how I measure out my life not in coffee spoons, but in CDs that are gone and forgotten.

If I allowed it, every moment of my life would be filled with regret and loss. Fortunately I'm pretty cheerful, except in the late hours of the night when I become ruminative. Being pseudonymous, I could write more about my personal life. I sometimes obliquely refer to it, but only to the past. Writing in the first person means that you add a personal voice and dimension to the subject at hand, but that doesn't make it "personal" per se. I don't use this blog as a diary. If my experiences as a minority female aspiring legal academic growing up in a strict Asian household in Sunny Suburb and attending Top 10 law schools can add something to a discussion of the academy, the law, or literature, then by all means I interject my personal perspective. But I dont' write about my life unless there's some quasi-pedagogical purpose. Why not?

I really enjoyed Joe's post, and his unfolding, laconic way of writing an essay that starts off with Freud and pop culture operates as a sociohistoric tie, and then goes on to say much, much more, beautifully and movingly. I read this and think, "damn, why can't I write like this?!" (Often a thought I have when I burst out in laughter at 2 am when I read this guy.)

My readership has gone from mostly disgruntled grad student to mainly lawyers, aspiring law academics, and law professors. It's great, really--I have formed so many contacts in my field, and it's really helped me personally and professionally. But somewhere in that, I lost my confidence in my weirdness. The more bloggers I came out to and met, the more real-life friendships I've made, the less I want to say on this venue. I am charmingly weird and quirky and classically oversharing in my epistolary friendships--but only when I feel welcome to be. So the more my readership changed, the more I self-censored, knowing that once I post onto SSRN, my cover will be blown, my future colleagues will be weirded out, and thus the less personal nature of the blog.

But in reading Joe and his brilliant, brave, beautiful (anything else alliterative?) narrative, I feel reassured. I don't like talking about my current personal life, but I would like to go back into the past and try to figure out how it got me to my present. How on earth is it that I arrive here, researching often very depressing cases (happens if you research the federal regulation of child pornography, guns, drugs; employment discrimination against minorities and women), when once I dreamed of studying literature and critical theory? How is it that I arrive here, often lonely and sometimes love-lorn, when once I was engaged to be married? I don't want to use this forum as a shrink's couch. But it does seem like one could use the learned tools of critical analysis and academic writing to flesh out the sea changes of life.

Sometimes I wonder about my writing. I look at the pages and ridiculously long law review footnotes and think I'm writing crap, when once I wrote well. I used to have all sorts of exciting ideas and turn out great papers on Flannery O'Connor. Now I struggle, per day, to write 2 pages on why the government can regulate fungible criminal commodities for which there is an interstate market. I know that had I gone to grad school, it'd be the same problem on a different subject.

But would I have my own voice if I wrote about different things? Have I lost my own voice here?

Can I get it back?

Let's see.