The consequences of public ideas and sitting with the feelings

While on sabbatical last year, I read all kinds of stuff, and two works that made a big impression on me were Show Your Work by Austin Kleon and Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson. Both books convinced me of the necessity of sharing my ideas instead of my usual practice, which is to jealously hoard my ideas, or share them only with a select few trusted people. It’s not that I think that my ideas are OMG SO GREAT that people are going to steal them and pass them off as their own, although this has happened. I also know that I don’t necessarily own ideas, that my ideas have an ancestry and lineage and genealogy and emerge from specific contexts, contexts that I of course cite, because citation matters.

So it was with that perspective in mind that I decided to make this burnout project a blog instead of a lengthy IRB-approved qualitative study of some kind. It’s not that studies aren’t valid and useful ways of sharing ideas; it just takes a whole lot longer, and this project had a sense of urgency to me that I could not ignore.

My vision for the blog is that all kinds of voices will be represented in the discussion of library instruction burnout, and that it would be a safe space for talking openly about the subject. (So far, my two guest posts have been really excellent contributions to the conversation, and I’m always interested in hosting more, so please get in touch if this is of interest to you.) And I knew that by making this a public blog, it would be freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection and the know-how to track it down. Still, though, it was hard to imagine that anyone other than librarians would really care about my writing, so that’s always the audience I’ve imagined and have written with that audience in mind.

So it was very surprising and not a little worrisome to me when I was recently notified by WordPress that my last post had been Freshly Pressed. Honestly, my first instinct was to take the post down, or to make it private, and I still kind of wish I did, because over the last 48 hours, hundreds of random internet strangers have liked the post, commented on the post, or become a follower of my blog. The comments have not always been insightful or useful and many times completely miss my point and are kind of annoying. I have not approved any new comments, actually, because it made me so uncomfortable to even countenance interacting with random internet strangers, and then this morning I disabled commenting altogether.

My discomfort as a result of being Freshly Pressed made me seriously confront my previous revelations about sharing ideas. Isn’t this how innovation happens? Isn’t this how hunches grow and develop and progress? Ideas cannot flourish in isolation, right? They need other ideas to connect to and bounce off of. That was the whole point of making this blog a publicly accessible project.

The difference for me, though, is that in order to connect and be productive and fruitful, the networks that connect the ideas need to be cultivated in a safe place. Suddenly having my ideas on full blast, and having people who were not my intended audience reading my stuff, felt unsafe to me.

It occurs to me now that publishing a blog post that is widely read is not necessarily very different from publishing a book. I’ve done that, too, and that too feels a little weird and terrifying to have all manner of unknown strangers reading your stuff, especially when it turns out that a lot of people read it and like it. My book came out two years ago, and I’m still getting emails from strangers who want to tell me that they like my book. It is a singularly bizarre feeling. It’s very nice and not unwelcome, don’t get me wrong! But it’s just so strange to me that the book I spent two years writing mostly in isolation has a life outside of me now.

I don’t know how to reconcile the tension and discomfort of wanting to have a public platform and then the actual consequences of having that public platform. Austin Kleon and Steven Johnson and all of the Share Your Ideas people don’t really talk about what it feels like to share those ideas. So here’s how it feels: NOT GOOD. NOT SAFE. It feels FEELINGY. One of the lessons of my adult life that I have to keep learning and relearning is to Sit With The Feelings. Even if it feels terrible, I just have to let the feelings happen, and then eventually they pass, for the most part. So I think that this is the answer here, for now, for this present discomfort. I did a thing, and now things are happening, and I’m just going to sit with it.


One thought on “The consequences of public ideas and sitting with the feelings

  1. I’m glad comments are turned back on. The good thing about the internet is a wider reach and supportive community. The bad is a wider reach and a community who feels the need to correct your feelings. Perhaps see it as a writing workshop — evaluate the source and comment and accept what you need / dismiss what you don’t. (I’ve been developing a theory on how creative writing workshops can help people in professional, non-CW settings.)


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