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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: New Year's Thoughts
January 3, 2011 - 8:30pm

I’m not much of a resolution-maker; I’m too afraid I’d be a resolution-breaker to even go down that road. And I’m not much of a stock-taker, either—while my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with year-end lists of one sort or another, I’ve clicked past most, more interested in what’s next than what’s just happened.

And yet. I have, for the past dozen years or so, written a family newsletter during the holiday season. I have never once gotten it ready for Christmas, and lately the news is rather brief and filled more with pictures than words. This year I’m even wondering if I’ll manage that.

It’s not that there’s nothing to report, and it’s not that I don’t like Christmas cards and letters. I do—I love them, in fact, and find myself eagerly anticipating them once December rolls around. One correspondent shifted from newsy letters to cards and few years back and I am still slightly disappointed not to hear his news. But I sympathize. We spend so much time online, most of us, updating our status (implicitly or explicitly) for one group or another, that it can seem redundant to go through and create a catalog of the year.

But I think it’s probably worth doing, if only as an exercise for the self. You see, despite my claims to the contrary above, I do like to think about where I’ve been and where I’m going, if only in the most allusive and nebulous ways. I review old newsletters as a way of remembering where I’ve been, and what preoccupied me a year, or two, or five, ago—like a diary or journal (neither of which I keep), the newsletter connects me with past selves.

I’m about to embark on a new course for the spring semester, a course titled (probably far too ambitiously) “The Literary ‘I’: Self and Identity in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature.” It’s a team-taught course: I cover the Victorian period, and a colleague takes on the twentieth century. One of the things we’re most interested in exploring with our students is the way the literature represents — and even helps shape — our notions of selfhood. It’s not too far a stretch to claim that the genre of the holiday newsletter is one such representation — perhaps a best-case, sunny-side-up representation (at least in most cases), but an interesting way of thinking about the self nonetheless.

This year we’ve all seen literary masterworks reduced to facebook feeds — Pride and Prejudice was one example. More recently I saw a “digital nativity” story that included FourSquare check-ins by the three kings. What does it say of our sense of self that we try to express it in 140-character statements? Is my family newsletter a casualty of social media?

The blog post, of course, is another in-between genre, not a diary or a journal article, but a brief update for a semi-defined audience. And while I’m not limited to 140 characters--nor paid by the word, as my students always want to claim about Dickens, as they complain that he’s “wordy” — I know I am reaching what feels like the limits of my readers’ patience when I find myself near the bottom of my virtual “page” on the screen. So I’ll leave it to you, my readers: what selves do you discover or create in status updates, newsletters, and the like, and how have they changed? Or, more simply: should I still write my annual newsletter? I’ve got three more days…


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