Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Monday, December 24, 2012

End of Year Review: Epiphany by Happenstance

Sometimes it's hard to trace good things back to a specific event. Too often, things jumble together in a big ball of goo and you just do your best to keep up. This year though, as 2012 counts down to the end, I am able to look back and pinpoint one particular moment of coolness, that developed into lots of wonderful opportunities, and if I slink into fangirl mode, well, get over it.

In October, a flyer appeared on a friend's Facebook feed...
I was interested for two reasons- the first is, I am at heart, a geek girl, and the idea that there was an academic that made a living from this intrigued me. For the last couple of years, I've had repeated conversations with my friend Dion, that I wish I knew in undergrad that film and cultural studies was a thing, because I would have had a different life (then again, it is a relatively recent development, and I graduated in '98, so maybe not). However all the people I've met who present, write, talk about film and culture studies tend to do it on the side- as though to say it was okay to do for fun, but it couldn't be your main job. This was what this guys DID, and I was interested.
The second was the idea of Batman as "Folk Hero" appealed to my latest research, which seemed to be veering more towards how folkloric characters were recycled and reimagined in popular culture.
Because I'm a nerd, as well as a geek, I got the book from interlibrary loan (thank you Sharon, the best local librarian in the world) and read it so I would understand the talk better.

The day came, and I drove the two plus hours to Greenville after school to hear the talk. The hour pre-talk of listening to rabid fanboys was pretty funny, and made me wish Dion was there, because it was one of those things you wish you had a friend there to see you roll your eyes.
The talk was really interesting, and I stayed afterwards, got to talk to the other Will, Will Banks, and got a neat introduction to a Milton scholar from him, who actually told me my research was interesting, and not a take he'd heard of before.
Then I drove the two plus hours home, and fell exhausted into my bed because the next day was a school day, and I had to teach.

A perfectly nice way to spend an evening, but here was the tipping point- Dr. Brooker, during his talk, mentioned that he was tweeting about his talk, and at the end, said if any of us had questions he hadn't gotten to, to tweet him.
Now I have avoided Twitter like the plague. It seemed to me like it was gossip and ugliness in real time. BUT, Dr. Brooker's mention of it brought up an interesting point- what else gave people the opportunity to have conversations with academics an ocean away?
So I set up a Twitter account, and started looking up people in my field, people whose articles I admired, and plenty of geeks, because that's what you do.

That was a little under two months ago. And here's the quick progression from there:
  • I follow Oxford on Twitter, and this video popped up in my feed one morning. It's a little long, but well worth it. There are lots of wonderful things in it, but what struck me most was when Dr. Melissa Terras talks about how it used to be that you went to grad school, and maybe, if you were lucky, met one person who was in your field. If you were able to attend conferences, maybe you'd meet one or two others, but that was it. There were few opportunities to share your thought process, your research, and ideas with others in your field. Dr. Terras says that personally blogging/archiving your papers gives you an opportunity to get your research out there and Twitter allows you to share that it's out there. This seems like a relatively simple thing, but it was pretty big mindset change for me. I'd been keeping this blog for a couple of years, as a result of Dr. Banks' class, and a way to organize my thoughts. Dr. Terras' talk was not only a justification of what I was doing, but an encouragement to take it further.
  • A little later, this graphic appeared, seemingly more encouragement:   

  • Dr. Brooker posted CRISIS ON INBETWEEN EARTHS. A great, personal look at comics. A couple of days later, he posted that Billy Proctor, who runs the site, was looking for people to write articles. I was struck with inspiration (despite it being the end of the semester, and my interests in everything else flagging). I sent Billy the article, and "Geek By Proxy" will be published after the new year on Infinite Earths.
  • A little later, popped up in my feed, and posted that they were looking for new staff writers. I have no idea why they did, but they chose me! And so far, I've written two articles for them: Arrow Still Missing the Mark and  On the 6th day before Christmas, my true love gave to me, movies and TV to see…  At this point, I'm hoping they don't change their mind!

 All of this because I saw one flyer, and as a geek decided to follow one person.

At what other time and place would I be able to have conversations with academics that are thousands of miles away? Share my research, my sticking points, my thought process? What else would let me blend my academic interest in cultural studies with my geek girl self?

Now, I'll confess, I'm still not sure I have this Twitter stuff figured out. 
  • It seems presumptuous to post something and tag people, assuming they'd be interested (which despite my misgivings, I will do with this article). I think I've committed a couple of faux pas with this, as I've gotten the response of "what is this?" and have quickly retreated with a "Apologies!" In a lot of ways, I still have a hard time thinking anyone would be interested in anything I have to say. 
    • That being said, I wish some of the people I followed on Twitter knew that they are people I admire, for their scholarship, and their career choices. They may not know it, but they are virtual mentors to me. They are proof that it can be done.
  • I think there's an etiquette rulebook I'm unaware of- I tend to follow people back who follow me if they have similar interests. But are you supposed to be offended (or saddened?) if people you like and have conversations with don't follow you back?
    • As I suck at networking (and socializing for that matter) I may just have to learn to live with this.
  • If you use Twitter for business, to get your ideas out there, and make contacts in and around your field, is the best policy just to post away and hope the people come? Is it a Field of Dreams thing?
It was less than one year ago that I wrote my first review (for Journal of Folklore Research Review). Since then, I've written three other reviews for three separate journals. I've presented, and chaired at SAMLA 2012, PCAS/ACAS 2012, and asked to present at the National Popular Culture Conference in Washington D.C in March, and chair my panel. While I still struggle with getting anything published, article wise, I continue to spend my free time editing and revising, hoping I'll get it right at some point. It's times like these when I really miss having an academic support system to help out.
And all of those things are wonderful, but here's the epiphany that these events inspired- it is possible to spend your life, academically, writing about things you love. Comics and movies are not silly, or inconsequential. Popular culture is important, and worthy of study. This has led me in my recent research to argue that popular culture figures have in many ways become modern folklore- characters, themes, and tropes that are recognizable across divides, and passed from generation to generation. In my research about television shows based on fairy tales, and how  digital communities influence the storytelling, I've been inspired by Dr. Brooker's concept of a matrix. There are people out there that have learned to balance being a geek, and being an academic.

As I sit and wait to hear from acceptance into PhD programs, and so much seems in limbo, the reassurance that I'm not insane to pursue this seems like the perfect way to end the year, and start a new adventure.


  1. Great post! I loved seeing how this all came together for you ... :-)

  2. One of the things I learned from you- that the process can be just as interesting as the result!