Blogging my way to the MLA (2017 Edition)

I have a strange relationship with the MLA, especially now that I am in an alt-ac position that doesn’t have anything to do (not really) with my original research and PhD. But I was invited to participate in the panel Working Out Loud: Online Identity Building, Digital Networking, and Professional Development, and then in the subsequent workshop, Going Public: Tools for Developing Your Digital Identity to specifically talk about blogging and social media use. Which, of course, I accepted, if only because I was going anyway.

The panels will be taking place back to back on Friday, January 6th, from 10:15am-1:15pm. The line-up is great, and it will be a lot of (dare I say it) fun, and I expect that I’ll learn a lot from the people there, because that’s what happens.

I say I have a strange relationship with the MLA, but I also have a strange relationship now with blogging and social media, which may lead to me giving a lot of advice that would seem to be at odds with how I blog and how I use social media now (versus how I used it way back in 2010 when I got started). But, I have to remember the advice I always gave when during the webinars I used to do on this very topic: things change, you evolve, your career evolves, and so, too does your use of the various platforms, as well as what you want to use them for.

So, consider this a trip down memory lane. With annotations.

My first brush with MLA social media was for MLA 2011. I had been on social media since March 2010, and had been slowly but steadily building a voice, a following, and a presence. I saw on the #mla11 hashtag a lot of discussion/debate around digital humanities. I followed a lot of digital humanists on Twitter (as they made up a not-insignificant proportion of academics on Twitter), and so I shared a post, in response, from the perspective of a contingent faculty member at an underfunded state institution, On the Outside Looking in on the Digital Humanities.

Now, the post itself had been written with the intention of being published with University of Venus, a group blog I was also contributing to. But because of the timeliness of what was going on, I threw it up on my own blog, and tweeted it out with the #mla11 hashtag. My traffic spiked, and for a short time, it became one of my most-read blog posts on the site.

I wrote a reflection on participating in #mla11 virtually, which caught the attention of the editors at ProfHacker, who featured my thoughts in larger post reflecting on social media use and the MLA conference. To be perfectly honest, I completely forgot that this had happened, but it helped my visibility tremendously. I had been on their radar, having been featured in their Teaching Carnival two months prior, in November and December. Considering I had only just returned to the classroom that fall, it felt pretty good to have my work and my words shared as a part of larger conversations.

I also wouldn’t even have allowed myself to imagine that I’d be writing for them one day.

The next year, I participated virtually yet again in #mla12. Now, though, my blog was living at Inside Higher Ed. When University of Venus moved to Inside Higher Ed, I was encouraged to move my blog along, too. Which I did. My audience grew, and so did my profile. I was even more committed to writing about job market issues, as well as contingent faculty issues, finding myself increasingly out of place in academia.

My new gig at Inside Higher Ed provided me with financial support to travel to one conference per year, and I decided that I wanted to use that support to participate, “in real life,” at #mla13. I had a panel accepted, Building Bridges within Digital Humanities, which was standing-room only (you can find a version of my talk here). I also presented on a continually theoretical DH project I wanted to develop around Dany Laferrière’s work, but alas, a 5/4 contingent course load and zero institutional support isn’t conducive to building DH projects. I reflected, as always in my blog, particularly focusing on meeting so many people I had come to know well via our blogs and twitter presence.

It was also the #occupyMLA conference, or at least the conference where it was revealed that it was an elaborate piece of netprov that I had unwittingly participated in. I wasn’t ready to talk about what happened, and a year later, on another panel at #mla14, I tentatively addressed what had happened, in my talk, On Using Digital Words, Creating Communities (see a full recap of the panel here). It’s a post that also examines one of my non-blogging experiences, back in 2009, when the MLA was still in December, and I was just about to get online. It’s a post that traces my involvement in the adjunct movement, how I found community there.

Ironically, it was also the conference where I ran afoul on social media in the eyes of some because of a frustrated tweet (I can’t find my original at the moment), calling out the lack of interest and attendance at a panel on part-time faculty issues. My profile at the conference had already been raised, being named one of the Four Scholars to Watch at MLA 14 by Chronicle Vitae (fun fact – only one of us is in a traditional academic tenure-track job now). Now, because of that one frustrated tweet, I was being attacked on social media. And, a new community emerged and supported me. We were legion; we were not alone.

At this point, I had been elected to the part-time faculty group, now contingent faculty group, and was finally ready to share an experience I had way back at the MLA when I was interviewing for jobs in 2007. It tied back to my activism and commitment to adjunct issues, before I even knew I cared about them. It was a hard and important piece to write.

And so an even funnier thing happened later that year: I was tapped to run for the eventual position of MLA President. I happened to have a PhD in Comparative Literature, where the majority of my published scholarship was on French-Canadian writers (and I had taught a French class), thus qualifying me to run that year as a “language” person. Needless to say, I didn’t win, but if I could for a moment, inspire someone who might not ever consider running to throw their hat in the ring, then it was successful.

I also suddenly found myself in an alt-ac position. So, going to the MLA was a weird and bittersweet in a lot of ways that year.

I changed jobs (again), making it difficult to attend #MLA16. I also stopped blogging at Inside Higher Ed, making it more financially challenging to attend as well. So I skipped. I went to New York City to celebrate my long-suffering son’s birthday. I barely paid attention on Twitter.

This year (ok, MLA2017), I’m back. I can drive to the MLA and come home in time for my son’s first-ever birthday party. I have been invited speak about blogging and social media and contingent faculty issues, as a mentor. A mentor. An expert. An invited expert.

I went to my first MLA almost 10 years ago, just another graduate student wearing a cheap suit trying to get a job. The only person I knew who was there was my supervisor. I never would have imagined that almost ten years later, I would be going back at the invitation of the MLA, to speak about social media, to talk about mentoring contingent faculty. I go back to the MLA with a calendar full of coffee and meal and drink and just-come-hang-out invitations. I go back to the MLA, having revisited those posts and those hashtags, in awe of how much I managed to accomplish, to do, to say, to see, to meet. Not that I have done much, but I have achieved more than I ever could have imagined ten years ago.

I hope to see some of you there. If not, I’ll be live-tweeting the whole thing.