Saturday, July 14, 2012


Most of the blogs I read are fairly focused.  There are blogs about politics, or art, or science, or the joys of a gluten-free diet.  Some bloggers discuss their daily lives, but that also provides focus.  By concentrating on a particular topic or theme, bloggers can tap into the readership interested in that theme.  Like most of modern life, blogging is about specializing; find your niche and become a voice for that topic. 

The reader perusing my blog might well wonder, "What is this blog about?" While certainly there are themes in my writing, I tend to be interested in a fairly broad range of topics and issues.  If I restrict my focus to just one topic, there isn't enough scope -- it feels too confining, too much like work.  Part of what is fun about being an academic is the potential to explore new ideas and consider all kinds of issues.  I have long resisted the push to specialize, researching across disparate topics and teaching in different areas of psychology and women's studies.  I have pursued a number of creative outlets, as well, including singing, acting, dancing, gardening, herbcraft, beading, and textile arts.  I love the vast scope of possibility I see before me and I want to sample it all. 

Of course, what specialization offers is the ability to go deep and become expert in a particular area.  The dangers of a broad scope of interest is being a dilettante -- knowing a little about many things but not much about any of them, being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.  There are risks to the narrow focus, as well; the specialist may miss important connections between different topics or across fields.  Many innovations stem from the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated areas of interest (as discussed in Jonah Lehrer's new book, Imagine).  The broadly educated person may be more well-rounded and find inspiration across disparate interests. 
“One purpose of a liberal arts education is to make your head a more interesting place to live inside of for the rest of your life.”  -- Mary Patterson McPherson, President of Bryn Mawr College
Q designed a logo for me --
What do you think?
The only real theme of my blogging is that I like to think about things (in psychological terms, this is called a high need for cognition).  And truly, there isn't much audience for a blog that's just think-y, without any clear focus.  But then, my friend and fellow blogger db mcneill, author of the momsomniac blog, nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  After being surprised and pleased by the nomination -- thank you, db mcneill! -- I got to thinking about what it means to be versatile.

The versatile person can do many things competently.  A versatile object can be used for many purposes.  So a Versatile Blogger can write well about disparate topics and in a variety of moods.  The Versatile Blog could be a source of information, inspiration, laughter, community, or insight; it might provide a visual feast at times and a deeply moving memoir or incisive political commentary at others.  So my blog isn't unfocused . . . it's versatile. This fits for momsomniac, as well, who blogs about art, writing, parenting, faith, politics, and television, just to name a few topics.  She writes with an honesty and vulnerability that is refreshing and engaging; she isn't shy about sharing her opinions and her artwork and writing, but she is also open-minded and nondogmatic.  Check out her blog -- I think you will like it.

Here are some other versatile blogs that I am hereby nominating for the Versatile Blogger Award. (I'm supposed to nominate 15 blogs, but I don't regularly read that many blogs I would consider versatile, so I'm just going to nominate the ones I think fit the award best):
  • Work-Life Balance with Zachary Benavidez:  A fellow academic who blogs about politics, teaching, writing, and life.  He writes candidly about his own experiences and explores a variety of social issues.  Plus, as an English professor and writer, Zach's blog is well-written and thought-provoking.  
  • Paper Balls, thoughts from the round file:  The collected ephemera of Jill Kronstadt: Jill is also an academic and blogs about work, teaching, writing, and her thoughts on everything from flight to music.  She's a great writer, too (another English professor) -- she delves deeply into her topics and has a wry sense of humor.  Her blog is always a fun read.   
  • The Education of Jarvis Slacks:  Jarvis writes about anything under the sun:  biking, music, the politics of race, teaching, writing -- and all of it with an acerbic wit and an in-your-face attitude that I could never in a million years emulate.  Read his blog, if you dare.  Oh, did I mention that he's also an English professor? 
  • The First Impression:  Azadeh Aalai blogs at Psychology Today about the role of culture in our everyday lives.  She takes on a diverse range of topics, making it clear how far-reaching the impact of culture is on our lives.  Her blog is well-researched and thought-provoking.  Azi is a fellow professor of psychology at Montgomery College (do I have great colleagues or what?). 
  • Fibermania:  Melody Johnson writes about knitting, quilting, gardening, cooking, and her dogs.  She is equally facile at writing tutorials or analyzing the process of textile creations as she is in discussing the pleasures of her daily life.  Plus, she includes terrific photos of her textile work and her home; I'm always happy to look at her colorful quilts. 
  • Pomegranates and Paper:  Mrs. Pom blogs about art and her life.  She is an excellent storyteller, able to write evocatively about her daily experiences to provide a vivid emotional and poetic context for the most prosaic activities. 
  • Krulwich Wonders. . . an NPR sciencey blog:  Robert Krulwich, an NPR science correspondent and co-host of the fabulous podcast, Radiolab, writes a delightful blog exploring a range of science topics.  He exemplifies the curiosity of all good scientists, while keeping a sense of humor and of humanity. 

And in accordance with the rules of the award, here are seven things about me that you might (or might not) find of interest:
  1. I enjoy children's music -- well, good children's music.  My iPod includes classic Sesame Street songs, Schoolhouse Rock tunes, and the soundtracks to children's movies, mixed in with pop music, Gilbert & Sullivan, and world music.  (My taste is music is eclectic.)  Q and I have a surprisingly extensive collection of children's books, music, movies and toys, given that we aren't raising children.  It comes in handy -- we were able to entertain our 2-year-old niece at a recent family gathering by singing children's songs on command.  She was most impressed. 
  2. I often find change unsettling.  It takes me a while to get used to something new or different and to determine how I feel about it.  (I think of this as similar to the classic slow to warm up temperament.)  I'm likely to leave a gift in its box for a while before I use it -- sort of like acclimating a new fish by having it in a separate bag inside the fish tank.  I may come to love the gift, but I have to live with it a while first.  
  3. While I find change unnerving, I also get bored by sameness.  I don't want to have the same lunch everyday.  I want to work on new projects, not just keep up with the old ones.  As a child, I used to enjoy redecorating my room -- moving furniture around to make everything look different.  So I suppose in that sense, I like change, as long as it is self-generated rather than imposed by others. 
  4. I'm put off by hype -- the more hugely popular something is, the more everyone tells me I have to see it, read it, eat it, the less interested I am in doing so.  I suppose I distrust mass appeal because I don't see myself as typical, or part of the masses.  I'm also well aware of the role of marketing and conformity pressures that can influence popular appeal.  In addition, I have a strong streak of reactance (the response to a perceived loss of freedom or choice), so when someone tells me I simply must see this film, I am likely to push back against the implied pressure.  In short, I'm unlikely to read 50 Shades of Grey anytime soon.  
  5. I once sang at a women's prison.  When I was a member of the Anna Crusis Women's Choir in Philadelphia (while I was in graduate school), we did a series of concerts in underserved communities, including a women's prison.  It was an interesting and educational experience, although I wish we had been more able to interact with the inmates. 
  6. While I have relatively limited physical prowess in many ways, I can wiggle my ears and pick things up with my toes, both of which Q thinks are freaky. 
  7. I find lists like this difficult.  Seven facts -- which facts should I discuss?  What will other people find interesting?  As a social psychologist, I am well aware that my choices will influence the impressions others have of me -- what aspects of myself should I highlight?  Do I emphasize my positive qualities or is it time for personal confessions?  Is it better to mention the most unusual experiences I've had, or illustrate the more typical aspects of my life?  Should I be funny or serious?  Well, I guess it doesn't matter -- I'm done now.  
Moral of the story:  Don't be afraid to explore widely.  Don't feel that you have to specialize to succeed.  There is good in the broad-based approach as well as the narrowly-focused approach.  Versatility is a trait worth cultivating.  Thanks for reminding me, momsomniac

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