On Blogging

I started blogging as a freshman in high school, over four years ago. I published over 220 posts for this blog, The Unvarnished Word, which started as “Unusual Passions.” The first name perfectly encapsulates my motivation when I began blogging: I wanted to build so-called “weak ties” with other people in the health blogosphere because I felt that my peers simply did not share my same interests. Later, I felt that the name was too pretentious, too exclusionary––my passions are different than yours and therefore somehow special. Something like that. My motivation for blogging transformed into something deeper for me. It became a way to be honest with myself and with other people when the spoken word was too difficult. I wanted to document all of my experiences and thoughts, to make a snapshot that I could always return to. I also found an outlet for creative expression in arranging photos and text on the post level and picking themes and widgets on the holistic/blog level.

When I came to college last August, I made most of the posts from 9th and 10th grade private; although I kept them for my own records, I felt like they did not represent who I am today well enough to exist on the public Internet. I mean, that’s 2.4 billion people who could potentially read what I’m writing. It’s not that that many people are reading my words––thank goodness––but it’s that they could. All together, the older posts are valid since they represent a development of me, but taken out of context and seen in isolation, they aren’t me.

I also stopped blogging regularly for this blog, for a couple of reasons. First, I pledged allegiance to Inside ‘Dores, because I was already writing about the “Vanderbilt Experience” and because I could earn a bit of money––not much, but enough to buy my family Christmas presents from B&N at the end of last semester. Enough to buy a bus ticket to see my best friend in South Africa this summer. Second, I didn’t like the idea of all of my words popping up in email inboxes, because of the same issue I mentioned regarding hiding my earlier posts––of how my blog posts represent me.

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Throughout the past few days, I’ve reflected on blogging as a communication technology, as a medium for socializing and networking, and as a psychological phenomenon. I read peer-reviewed, journal-published studies on my hobby––who knew they existed? I didn’t until I found them in order to give an informative speech for my public speaking class.

I read these studies, and I found so many interesting facts and patterns that, together, point to why I am a blogger. For example:
• Compared to general U.S. population, bloggers are younger, better educated, more likely to be urban dwellers, and avid online shoppers.
• A study of personality among 367 students conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama in 2007 found that of the Big Five personality traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, those high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers; this is especially true of women. Neurotic people are more anxious than calm, more insecure, and more emotionally reactive. Open people are more imaginative than down-to-earth, more independent than conforming, and prefer variety over routine. This makes intuitive sense, as creativity is an element of openness and blogging is a form of self-expression. (I am an open and neurotic personality type!)
• Although blogging is like keeping a journal, a study of Stanford students in 2004 revealed that in general, bloggers intend for their blogs to be read. This is evident in the tools provided in blogging platforms to track reader statistics and pingbacks, and also distinct social actions such as salutations, advice-giving, and invitations embedded in posts. The social aspect of blogging is two-way: friends urge friends to blog and bloggers write posts with their audience in mind. The audience includes known personal social network and the larger blogosphere of unknown readers. Despite the fact that 80% of North America is connected to the Internet, unwanted attention is rare; in fact, bloggers typically find emails and comments from strangers “satisfying and motivating.” (So true!)
• One of the studies found that people blog in order to stay in touch with friends regarding activities, work through emotional issues, seek others’ opinions and feedback, and express their own opinions. One study participant said, “I am one of those people for whom writing and thinking are basically synonymous.” Other functions of blogging include creating relationships and interacting with others, establishing an identity and self-representation, and being able to find and reuse earlier writing for other purposes. (Me! Me! I do that last one all the time.)
Blogging allows greater control over the time and pace of social interactions. Due to the asynchronicity of blogging, post authors can take time to thoughtfully present their circumstances in the best possible light, and they can write long narratives that would typically violate conversational norms. (Ha.)
Blogging encourages physical and/or psychosocial well-being. A 6-week study of 121 blogs, published by Stephen Rains and David Keating, 2011, examined blogs written about health and well-being, ie. heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, and HIV/AIDS. The study found a relationship between support from readers of such “health blogs” and outcomes related to well-being: as support increases, loneliness decreases and self-efficacy increases. Blog readers often leave comments with advice, factual input, and messages of caring, concern, and empathy. Social support is a critical mediating factor between the stressful events of life and an individual’s stress response, but the type of support––the type of reader––is also relevant: family and friends want to know what’s happening in your life, but where blogging really shines is its ability to increase the authors’ access to weak ties, such as neighbors, acquaintances, and even strangers––people who are more likely to share similar experiences, offer more objectivity, present less risk associated with disclosure, and bear less obligation to give (or feign) support. Blogging removes tricky interpersonal factors such as the threat of disclosing undesirable information and facing potentially unsupportive listeners. In the study, a majority of readers were considered weak ties by blog authors.

I made a new friend this week, and he uses tumblr to collect favorite quotes and photos, and to express various and sundry thoughts. At 2:30am, while I was working on the speech about blogging, incidentally enough, we exchanged all our social media contacts. Later he wrote this: “Looking at the collection of photos/gifsets assembled on my main tumblr, reading some of the impersonal musings on my personal, and scrolling through the variety of quotes I’d amassed gave me a strangely out-of-body experience. If someone could only read and see those things about me to determine what kind of person I am, what impression would they walk away with?”

That’s a great question. When people read your blog, they are seeing the facets of you that are more reflective and analytical––and in my case, often more anxious and pensive––so of course readers will form a different impression than if they only got to know you in person. Who you present yourself to be in person does not––cannot––represent everything you are, and the same is true of the online persona. In high school I wrote because I needed to be able to express myself in ways that I couldn’t in my day-to-day life, even with some of my closest friends, but there was something about that divide between the real-life self and the online self that was uncomfortable to me, and I thought that if I could find the words to express something online, then I could find the confidence to express it in real life.

Blogging is my passion. The blogosphere is a valuable network. But in the end, I just want to remember and tell my stories, and I want to be known for who I really am––desires that are common to every human.

Ma famille, en français

Ma famille est grande. Mon père s’appelle Bryan et ma mère s’appelle Lisa. Mon père est drôle et raisonnable et ma mère est optimiste et sociable. Mes parents ont quarante-trois ans. Ma mère est châtaine et mon père est roux.

Mes parents ont cinq enfants. Je suis l’aînée. J’ai trois frères cadets et une sœur cadette. Mon frère Calvin a seize ans. Il assiste au lycée et il est réservé et calme. Il aime les mathématiques. Mon frère Peter a quatorze ans. Il est exubérant et aventureux. Il n’aime pas l’école. Mon frère Ray et ma sœur Autumn sont nés février et ils sont roux. Ray a neuf ans et Autumn a cinq ans. Ils sont gentils et intelligents. Ray assiste à l’école élémentaire et Autumn assiste à l’école maternelle. Autumn est aussi très féminine et mignonne. Elle pense qu’elle est une princesse !

Ma famille a des animaux : nous avons un petit chien appelé Charlie. Il a trois ans et il est châtain. « Charlie le Chihuahua » est énérgetique et assez indiscipliné. Nous avons aussi un poisson bleu ; c’était un cadeau d’anniversaire pour mon frère.

Samedi matin, mon père prépare le petit déjeuner pour la famille. Samedi soir nous allons à l’église. Pendant la semaine, mon père travaille et les enfants vont à l’école. Ma mère fait les courses et prépare le dinêr. Le soir, mon père regarde la télé, fait du bricolage ou travaille dans le jardin. Ma mère parle au téléphone avec ses amis ou lit des livres. Typiquement, les enfants font les devoirs ou jouent aux jeux-vidéos. Parfois, mon père et mes frères courent les motos tout-terrain le week-end. Ma mère aime jouer du piano, mais elle ne joue pas très souvent.

Ma famille aime les vacances. Mars, ma famille va à la plage pour les vacances et nous faisons du camping dans des tentes. Novembre, nous allons aux montagnes, où nous célébrons le jour de l’action de grâce. Il est de tradition de manger la dinde, la purée et le gâteau de noix de coco, mais nous aimons aussi le saumon et la patate douce. C’est ma fête préférée parce que j’aime les montagnes. Pendant les vacances de Noël, nous restons à la maison ou rendons visite à la famille.

J’adore ma famille !

First-World Problems

If these are your problems, you live in the first world:

• you can’t get Skype to work between your iPad and your mom’s smartphone
• you’re locked out of yoga class because you’re late
• your iPad isn’t charged when you want to take it to the gym to watch TV on the elliptical
• Netflix doesn’t have the most recent season of your favorite show (ie. “Breaking Bad” and “Sherlock”)
• every elliptical and treadmill in the gym is taken
• you get tired of wearing your coat before winter ends
• you wake up to your roommate’s alarm
• you’re annoyed when you accidentally write through white-out
• you have to stand in line for twenty minutes to pick up a package that was delivered yesterday
• you’re dreading the expiration of your free six-month trial of Amazon Prime for students
• the salad bar is out of avocado
• you have to buy a USB cord for your WiFi printer
• a key pops off your wireless keyboard for no reason
• your nail polish flakes
• your bike is stolen because you were too impatient to use your U-lock
• your $16 haircut isn’t as great as your $25 haircut
• your favorite sticker won’t stick flat against your water bottle

Last Week of the Semester

Finals week: It’s stressful because I feel pressure to do well on these last projects, papers, and exams, but yet the process is straightforward enough that I am not truly anxious about it. Or at least, not as anxious as I thought I would be.

stress. n. a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
anxiety. n. a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

This is what I mean: I got back to Vanderbilt from Thanksgiving break on Sunday night. I completed the penultimate assignment for my statistics class and turned it in the next morning at 8am. On Tuesday I completed the final assignment and turned it in on Wednesday. Very linear, see? Thus I proceeded: I worked on my final project for cognitive studies Wednesday afternoon/night and finished it up and submitted it Thursday night. On Thursday I had my last classes; Friday was a “reading day,” dedicated solely to studying. I ended up working for no more than 2.5 hours in that whole day, however; I spent a good amount of time shopping online, freaking out about my lost Commodore Card (the iDesk had it, fortunately), and attending the “Mega Stress Fest” (henna tattoo, eyebrow waxing, massage––in other words, I LOVE VANDERBILT).

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I must not neglect to mention #IDSBSSE2K13, also known as the Inside ‘Dores Secret Santa Exchange/Christmas party.

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Today I put my nose to the grindstone. It helps that it’s been below freezing all day, and thus miserable to be outside. Being forced to stay inside helps me focus. I spent at least eight hours focusing on a paper for my education final, and it needs just a couple more hours before I turn it in Monday at noon.

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Next, I’m going to study for an actual exam on Tuesday (Human Bio) and Wednesday (Nutrition). The thought is blessedly not anxiety-producing. Maybe it’s that Citalopram kicking in, because the beginning of the semester was sure as heck anxiety-provoking.

This summer I spent five weeks in China. Afterwards, I wondered at the value of the trip. My job was purportedly to teach, but I spent half of the time in the office working on A/V presentations and printing stuff for camp activities. And that was my choice––I found teaching to be really hard (even the fun-and-games style we were doing at camp), and my skill set to be really inadequate. It makes sense: I had just graduated high school, I was the youngest teacher at camp for the majority of the time, and really my only qualification was that I had been to camp three years prior.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved working in China. I spent my summer with so many cool and inspiring people, and I got to mountain biked and night-hike through Shanxi dirt cliffs. I made everyone envious. You know, those kind of benefits.

But what was the impact of my summer on others’ lives? Do the students remember me? Did I bless the other teachers? I don’t know the long-term impact.

Today I was thinking, maybe it’s more about what I didn’t do this summer than what I did do. I didn’t waste it. I didn’t sit at home, playing Candy Crush on my iPad, online shopping, eating desserts and watching full seasons of Breaking Bad. Which is what I’ve done this semester as a reaction to stress.

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During the summer, of course I was excited and nervous about starting college, but I had bigger things on my mind. When I finally arrived on campus, less than a week after flying across the world, I had to face the realities of college. It was tough.

I told myself, It’s the first-year experience. Adjusting to college is tough for everyone. That’s just how it is. Maybe I made it tough for myself by going to China, and then California, and then moving in early for Media Immersion––what a whirlwind––but I’ve survived, and the Dean of the Commons said that once finals are over, we will be “college experts”!