Committing Words to Paper


This last Friday I had the pleasure of submitting my complete and now copyedited manuscript for my first book.  What a wondrous privilege it is to put words to paper and have others think them worthy of being read by a broader community; I am humbled by the opportunity.  I am also, frankly, terrified by it.  For although I have published articles before, the immutability of ‘paper’ has taken on a new significance in my mind.

Throughout my life, I watched the Information Age take hold and become folded into our everyday lives, but I also recall and remain centered in my analog childhood.  I feel the dissonance around privacy and personal boundaries; in middle school I had both a typing class on a type-writer and a computer class in a lab; I prefer books in print but other media through alternative devices; I feel not like a digital native, but certainly I have my digital green card. Although they were big and clunky by comparison, my undergraduate experience many years ago was marked by writing on word processors, and it has fundamentally shaped how I write and how I think.

I appreciate with a kind of awe those writers who pick up a pencil and scrawl the letters across paper, inscribing words like traces of thought frozen in time; my words have never been inscribed like this.  From the beginning I found that writing with a word processor was far better suited to my way of thinking.  On the practical side, I can type far faster than I can hand-write, and my hand-writing leaves much to be desired.  Legibility and speed aside, however, I love the ability to refine and revise as I go, letting my words flutter onto the screen only to be discarded into the digital ether; sentences waltz from one paragraph to the next and back again. I can work and re-work my thoughts endlessly. It is magical.

This was even the case for the dissertation research upon which this book is based.  The data from that ethnography has remained the same, but my own framing of the entirety has shifted over time.  I’ve found different ways to dance with that data, more or less powerful ways to frame what it was I encountered and why it was important.  Each encounter with a colleague, a friend, a student, a current event, or thoughtful tome has facilitated a shift in the work.  It has evolved as I have.  And although there have been articles, these felt more like snapshots of where I was in the analysis at that moment.  Committing the entirety to binding, however, feels far more permanent – and it is this permanency which is so daunting.

I am immediately confronted with the inadequacy of my words.  I know I am a product of my times and my life path.  I know that I have intellectual blind spots, just as I have embodied ones; knowing our blind spots is the beginning of wisdom.  I attempt to mitigate these as best I can, but it irks me that twenty years from now my book will not reflect any newly acquired wisdom, and will instead forever shine a light on my 2016 inadequacies. I think of how my intent will be misread, or how the argument will be glossed, or how my shortcomings may have left glaring holes in my analysis.  But, of course, this is part of the privilege that comes with putting out a book into the universe.

I’ve done what I can.  I hope that my current me has something worth saying.

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