One of the questions I struggle with in this blog is how personal I should get. It is, after all, an academic blog, but that doesn’t preclude the personal1 and  and  especially when mnemonic practices is itself a topic. For instance, I touch upon a five-year struggle with situational depression and the end of a 19-year relationship in just a few posts, “Emerging” and “Year in Review, both in 2008. The lack of blogging during 2009 is a direct result of this struggle, but I don’t think I ever touch upon it. However, I have discussed such thing as recording Winnie-the-Pooh for my niece just as my grandmother did for me, confronting my father’s mortality and the dangers of his career as an FBI agent, or the loss of two mentors important to my growth as an academic, Steven Gloseki and Thomas Walsh, let alone more mundane posts on topics such as my personal fandoms such as science fiction/fantasy, old school role-playing games, and comics/manga/anime. But enough about me. This is about the courage of two friends to go public with the private in ways I could never imagine.

As those on my Facebook friends list know, my high school friend Holly White has gone public about being kidnapped and sexually assaulted at the age of 14 to combat the attempt to whitewash the event by mother of the serial rapist who attacked her. The other courageous act I want to highlight is Lisa Schamess‘ recent musings on writing a book about coping with her husband’s death of cancer ten years after the event, and to link to the set off essays co-written by the two as he was dying and a set of essays written in the first year after his death when Lisa found herself a young widow with a young child.

Central to both these issues is the question of how personal is too personal, how much one wants to reveal about oneself in the electronic age where the anonymity of print gives way to the interconnectedness of McLuhan’s electronic global village. In Holly’s case, while her act of revealing the personal was a choice, it was a choice forced upon her by someone else. Here we find her using social media as well as the traditional press to combat a whitewash of events in a small town. For her act to work, she must make public her very private role as a victim of a serial rapist, something unknown to most of us who lived with her daily in a small town, a traditional village, if you will. Friends, acquaintances, and even strangers with no direct connection to Holly or our small community now know of some of the most private details of Holly’s life because she has used social media such as Facebook and the press to combat the distribution of this self-published book.

While Holly’s choice was thrust upon her by the self serving acts of another, Lisa’s choice to go public, to first use an online forum, her blogs, and now her book-in-progress is a choice that comes from within, although the event(s) that serve as the genesis of these choices are no less wanted than Holly’s.2

While both contexts are quite different, in their motives, in the results, and in what they are revealing, both Holly and Lisa have chosen to make the very personal public in ways that I can only call acts of courage. My own struggles with the walking the line between the personal and public pale in comparison to theirs, and I am in awe of these two women.3

  1. The medieval studies group blog In The Middle, Jeff Rice’s Yellow Dog, Bonnie Kyburz kind of…, Mike Edward’s Vita, Brendan Riely’s Digital Sextant, and Lance Strate’s Blog Time Passing are all  excellent examples of academic blogs that effectively and engagingly slide into the personal. []
  2. Just so it’s clear, Lisa is published writer and novelist, which for me means that when she says she’s writing a book, this isn’t the same thing as your cousin or neighbor or person you meet in a bar telling you that they’re writing a book. Unlike the average person who says they’re writing a book, Lisa has a track record of making it happen. []
  3. As a footnote to this post, I feel compelled to comment on the mnemonic function of these acts of courage. Making the personal public brings personal experience into the shared experience of the social, into the realm of communal experience. In this way personal memory becomes social memory. Their public acts of personal remembering transfer those personal experiences to us through acts of Burkean identification through consubstantiation. To paraphrase Maurice Halbwachs, the father of social memory studies, all memory is social, which means that all remembering is rhetorical in nature. And in realizing this, the lines between the private and the public, the question of how much personal might belong in an academic blog, becomes more muddled. Or maybe it becomes more clear. I’m still trying to figure that bit out. []