Sarah M: For me the motivation for Avidly came from this sense that there was a shortage of places that published the stuff I wanted to read, and also to write. I was interested in work that brought intellectual rigor to a range of topics, while at the same time bringing the enthusiasm of just, like, fandom, to intellectual rigor. Smartness partnered with a very ALL-CAPS attitude; enthusiasm partnered with information–that is what I was looking for.
Sarah B: I’ve been writing on the internet (blogging (ew), pop culture stuff, little essays) for a long time, and it’s true what they say: as content has become more centralized (everyone is on Facebook or Twitter), it has also become more diffuse. The archivist in me was frustrated with the evanescence of the clever and enlivening conversations I was having with friends and colleagues on Facebook. How could we make sure those conversations didn’t get completely lost? Sarah and I would chat about this fairly often, until the frustration reached a sort of critical mass and we indulged our mutual, vaguely embarrassing “well, let’s all pitch in and do something about it!” way.
Sarah M: I like that Sarah is casting this as “citizenship!” It totally was, but I think there was also some talk about “world domination.” The other thing I want to make sure people know about the Avidly origin story is that, when Sarah and I first approached Jordan about doing this with us, he immediately got all awesome and meticulous and wanted to make sure that we would have really good site analytics. I was like: I love everything about this guy.
Sarah B: One other origin story, which is not entirely an origin story, but just a note: Sarah and I both hate talking on the phone but love video chatting. We are like the inverse Infinite Jest. So a lot of editorial work, planning, and so on took place while we each leaned on respective kitchen counters, eating peanut butter out of jars, looking at one another in the eyes even though we live 3000 miles apart!
Jordan: I was interested in what academics would want to write. The answers are various and the sample is skewed, but things that emerged clearly are nostalgic items. We have thoughtful reflections on longings and desires and relations past. Some of that is surely an effect of the forum, and Pete’s inaugural essay set this up a bit, thinking about “Call Me Maybe” as something we will look back on as “so 2012.” But there are more psychologically tender aspects of this interest, too, such as the prevalence of essays about parents and children, whether our own or someone else’s, children we have or children we were.
What interests me here is the human side of knowledge, the ways that these essays reveal identity to be both more determinate and more fractal than any crude notion that, for example, women are interested in books written by women, could ever suggest. These essays suggest to me that the experiences toward which we feel exuberance or interest or some more negative affects (or some ambivalence) are only really able to shape our academic work in very submerged ways. Whether or not that’s a good thing, what interests me is that other kinds of outlets are needed; writing is our work, but it can also be our pleasure, a necessary kind of work– one that brings balance to the lives in which our scholarly work is produced, and on which, it should be said, that work takes a toll.
Sarah B: I would pop in here for one minute to note that not all of our writers are academics! I do, however, agree with Jordan that being a part of academia (as well as a number of other professions) can warp one’s relation to writing. I make jokes about my internet-enabled logorrheoea, but I think it got me through graduate school a bit more intact and I absolutely think that the time I’ve put into writing about my liiiiife (and, uh, about television)– crafting pitches, and writing pieces for non-academic outlets– has been time well spent. Not really in a “it all makes me a better writer” or “practice, practice” way but in a “why not?” way. Like, why not express a completely outsized grief in unmeasured and quickly-drawn writing, for a public?
That said, Avidly is most certainly not a “blog” about “feelings;” the quality of the submissions has been uniformly high and we’ve spent a lot of time on the editing process, because we care about feelings being rigorously expressed. But this is the sweet spot that Avidly hits, I think; let’s call it “felt thought.” For example, after I had a baby and returned to the classroom (after a very reasonable maternity leave, natch), I was suddenly like “HOLY SHIT MARY ROWLANDSON CARRIED HER MOANING AND DYING CHILD FOR DAYS.” This, for me, is “felt thought.” I get so excited whenever a new piece arrives in the in-box, to see what people wrote about, the number and variety of “HOLY SHIT” moments that there are. My hope is that Avidly will continue to be a place for these moments, for academics, but also for lawyers, psychologists, nurse practitioners, casting directors, and more and more.
Sarah M: I learned a lot just from the experience of doing a lot of layout. I think of myself as being a very story-based critic, but Avidly opened up a real interest for me in what I guess would be called book history, or print history, or theories of reading, or something. Because when you’re making a material–or in this case, digital–object for people to read, you have to think deliberately about the power you have to intervene in how words will be read. When you insert an image, you’re both editorializing on the text, and changing its substance; when you add a caption to an image, you’re doing all that again. And then, of course, you’re changing the way the piece occupies the reader’s time, which is so much the heart of storytelling.
Sarah M: I have a real hoarder tendency, and all summer I kept worrying that we would run out of material and that we needed to be very stingy and conservative in meting our resources out to the world. So what amazed me is that we never had any shortage of material; people came out of the woodwork to contribute in a way that was really beyond my wildest expectation. Even at the end, when Jordan was like LET’S DO THIS, LET’S RUN ALL THIS STUFF!!! I was really hesitant, and kept thinking that we needed to hold material back so that we could spread it out if we continued in the fall. But I’m glad that Jordan won, because the last two weeks, when we ran material almost every day, were so satisfying. We kept getting more material, even at the end, and already have a bit of a queue going forward.
The other real pleasure of the end of the summer was getting a few pieces on really quick turnaround–Jordan, Morgan, C.–all wrote pieces super quickly, and those were some of my favorite things that we ran. I love the writing voice that can come out of a very considered, measured, person when you just ask “but what do you think, right now.” And I also really enjoyed the editorial relationship that came out of that sort of spontaneous writing. Part of this (no suprise here) was me just really enjoying the whole very bossy/very supportive nature of editing…but also there was truly a sense of collaboration that was really generative and energizing. I was really excited to provide a venue for that kind of writing and I hope to do more of it in the future.
Sarah B: Sarah is the best at being like “you should do this!” and you’re like “yeah, I probably should” but go back to your sandwich or whatever and then she’s like tapping you on the shoulder, “NO YOU SHOULD DO THIS” until you go and put some real pants on and DO IT. So, yes, bossy support is what it is. I think this is great, when coupled with editorial attention, because while fast is not always better, I think that fast can be really clarifying. I sometimes write things fast and I sometimes write them slow. One is never reliably better than the other, so my guiding principle here is, again, why not? Personally, I’m hoping we’ll get some more “Books You Should Read” entries to run in the fall. As much as we might think that personal writing is the final academic frontier, maybe it really is books. Can you do just 1000 words on the weird pleasure you take in a book, maybe even the book that is your book? Can you?! Try! WHY NOT?
Sarah M: Which is a perfect transition to discussing what we’re hoping for in what might be called our “why not try to run Avidly during the school year??” philosophy. Our plan is to continue mostly with the twice a week format, but also to focus more on shorter, more informational things. We’re hoping, as Sarah B said, for more, “I totally had an interesting idea about this book!!” type pieces, and also for more, “I found an amazing image/factoid/passage, and would like to write 500 or so words about it!” type things. Grad students and folks on fellowship: send us your random and excellent discoveries!
Sarah B: So with this backwards-looking post (please thank me for refraining from a Walter Benjamin joke here), we’re happy to announce that starting tomorrow, we’re moving forward and back to publishing. Bear with us, we are teaching and writing in addition to running the site. Perhaps you might take a minute to subscribe to the Avidly RSS feed, so you can make sure that you don’t miss any material! And, of course make sure to keep sending submissions!