The ‘About’ Page Dilemma

For several weeks now, I’ve been telling myself I really must get on and write a new ‘About’ page. But I’m conscious that I’m dragging my heels and putting it off. The thing about an About page is that, whether we know it or not, we’re choosing an image to put across, editing our lives, deciding where to place the emphasis. It’s an act of composition in which we divulge the aspects of our selves that are most important to the place from which we blog. And I find that brings up an awkward question: am I writing about myself or about Litlove?

If I look just at Litlove, I can see that she’s changed over the six years I’ve been running this blog. In the beginning, Litlove was very much my best self, a voice that contained the wisdom I’d learned from teaching, my sense of humour and enough distance on any issue to be able to analyse it rather than just react to it. That was the voice I needed back then, when I began the blog off work and ill with chronic fatigue. Litlove was a sort of virtual repository for my personality, and all the parts I couldn’t access consistently in real life seemed readily available to me in the miraculous space of words. Then things began to change, and Litlove was a space of experimentation. I began writing a lot more personal posts, I brought parts of my life into my blog that I wasn’t sure I understood in order to talk about them, and I used books and their authors in all kinds of ways to think through experience. Lately I realise that things have changed again, and at the moment (with the exception of this post!) all I seems to want to do is write book reviews. When I turn up to blog, I feel a hunger to forget about personal experience and shift my attention, whole and exclusive, back onto the stories I read.

While Litlove has been busy doing this, my life has changed beyond all recognition.

I’ve always been fascinated by the question of identity. My PhD thesis was devoted to the topic, and when I wrote it, in the 90s, the dominant theory was all about performative identity. This is the idea that there is no essential core of the self; instead we all play a myriad of roles, none of them absolutely perfectly because they are not wholly natural. It’s not like we have any choice about this, but the twists and chances of life – whether we are born male or female, whether we marry or not, have children or not, which career path we follow – all bring with them demands on who we have to be. The other theorist I used a lot, Julia Kristeva, talked about the way we are all sujet-en-procès, which is to say we are all a work in progress, constantly evolving and adjusting, never fully formed and defined. But the French is ambiguous because it also means we are always subjects-on-trial, our roles constantly being tested and challenged. Are we good enough mothers or wives or teachers? What happens when our various roles clash?

I can see why these theorists appealed to me so much. I was a wife, a mother and an academic, and when asked, I’d say I was an academic because I felt it allowed me more leeway to be eccentric and unconventional in those other roles. Looking back, I see I let the label of ‘academic’ do a lot of explaining for me. In practice, I found it schizophrenically hard to be pulled in so many different directions at once. Motherhood and academia draw on painfully opposing parts of the self, and both are unreasonably demanding jobs, sucking up all the time and energy at one’s disposal. I was so busy being all these functions that I had absolutely no chance to be me. When I finally came off work ill, I remember thinking to myself that now I really wanted to find out who I was, underneath it all. Because it felt to me as if there truths about myself to discover, stable ones. The extreme discomfort I often felt in trying so hard to be coherent and un-perplexing to other people, to present a tidy and composed self in whatever situation I found myself, surely indicated that there was an essential core that I was often guilty of betraying.

These past few years have seen most of my official roles drop away. I’m no longer a full-time lecturer and my son has grown. If you ask me who I am, I have no convenient labels to offer, no easy descriptions to fill in a character outline. But I feel closer to being myself than I have in a long, long time. I’m not a decision or a choice these days, not a model for anything, or an aspired-to ideal. I’m more of a gut instinct, or a sense of resources in readiness, a mental and emotional attitude that shifts positions but doesn’t overextend itself, an eager witness in a state of openness. I don’t ask myself to be coherent any more, or understandable to others. I reserve the right to contradict myself, to change my mind, to be surprised by impulse. And paradoxically, this is what puts me more in touch with something real and authentic in my nature. I have the confidence to forget myself because I don’t have to remember to be anything specific.

So where is Litlove in relation to me now? I’m honestly not sure. But I know that she has been essential in the process of self-recovery that I’ve been through these past six years. She often spoke from the parts of myself that were missing in action. She was probably always a couple of steps ahead of me in her willingness to speak up and speak out, without fear of consequences. Because writing always reveals where we stand, whether we intend it to or not. There is no entry into words without a perspective chosen, a stance assumed. Writing helps us to see who we are and what we think, really, deep down. It is almost impossible to write consistently from a false position. Disclosure and revelation go hand in hand with anything written from the heart, and a blog, this weird public/private space of extraordinary freedom, encourages us if nothing else to speak from the heart.

But what I’ll say in an About page, I really have no idea!

40 thoughts on “The ‘About’ Page Dilemma

  1. I have an “About” page dilemma as well. Even more since I noticed it’s one of the top 10 posts to be viewed on my blog. That’s a bit astonishing. But on the other hand it’s not, I always read the “About” pages and am disappointed when there is a little as on mine. I will never be able to write an about page that tells anyone a lot about me. There are too many “me’s
    I decided it will just contain a very few infos regarding my book blogging self. But I might change that one day. It all depends.

    • I keep thinking I should go down the brief, informative route. Only I’m not even sure what title to give my job – I don’t have an official one (and am often just called the academic nurse!). But, like you, I like checking out other people’s About pages, so I really will fix on something to say soon.

  2. Couldn’t this serve as your new “About” page, Litlove? It would seem–at the very least–to be eminently respectful of the many “Litloves-in-progress” over the course of your blog’s history!

    • Richard, I do like the way you put this (no surprise there, then!). Don’t you think it’s a bit too… well, arty and pretentious for an About page? When other bloggers have great long essays in the About section, I tend to roll my eyes and ignore them….. But at this rate, it’s all I’ve got!

  3. Funny, even though I mapped out this grand plan for revitalizing my blog at the beginning of the year, I find that I, too, am more drawn than ever to wanting to write about the books I’m reading and to write more book reviews (when I’m actually writing anything at all. I’m still not writing blog posts as frequently as I’d like write them, but that’s just another indicator, I think, of how my life has changed). Meanwhile, I, too, have a terrible time with the “About” section. Mine is particularly hard now, because I started my blog with the assumption that I would be writing about telecommuting, never really did, and don’t even telecommute anymore. I’ve changed it a couple of times over the years, but really, I’ve changed so much since I started blogging, and its hard to know how to describe myself or my blog. Maybe that’s one of the really interesting unknown benefits of blogging for an extended period of time: seeing how we evolve. What’s been fun for me is seeing how everyone else has evolved since I opened the wonderful door to the blogosphere and stepped inside.

    • Emily – it has been fun, hasn’t it? Courtney with her baby, you with your moves and changes of job… Bloglily and her book. It is amazing how much has happened in six little years. I keep thinking how lovely your blog looks and I keep forgetting to say so in my comments, so I’ll mention it now! And like all forms of writing, we just have to go where the energy is in blogging. Nothing else works.

  4. I understand your dilemma, to the point that I can’t bring myself to write an ‘About’ page at all. When I try, it becomes a list of roles, none of which seem to say much about me other than, like so many other people, I have a busy life. Not the most useful information. It’s too reductive to capture a person in a few lines – it quickly becomes a set of labels, nothing more.

    Is it cowardice or bravery just to let our blog posts speak for us?

    • Karen, well that’s it exactly. Try to nail it down and like jelly, one’s identity just slips away. I will, naturally!, vote for bravery in letting our posts speak. After all, what we think of a book is very revealing of our inner nature, which is where the book was experienced in the first place. And personal posts often come from a very intimate place too – I say more in mine than I would normally say in a conversation with friends.

    • And honestly, you wouldn’t think: who on earth IS this person making such a fuss about a simple biographical introduction? That’s what the voices in my head say…. 😉

      • Not at all! You just express very well and in terms of your personal experience what we all feel when faced with the horror of the About page.

        I actually cannot bear to look at my crap About page any more, it’s just abandoned to its fate.

    • I was SO gung-ho about being very readable on the outside. But what that meant was that I rarely followed my instinct or my heart – because both are contrary and not governed by reason. I still feel a bit odd about it, but nowhere near so tired!

  5. I love the melding of subjectivity and intellectualism in your blog. I love the surprise of not knowing what perspective you will take towards your book reviews. I love that your perspective varies. There is no reason why you have to choose or stay consistent. Write professorial reviews when you like and exhausted mom when you like. It makes your reviews and blog completely unique. I wrote my dissertation on identity too, among artists, from a psychological perspective. Women derived identity from doing, men from simply being. Be yourself as you shift over time and the doing will follow. Blogger asks silly questions so my “About” page is a silly but satisfying profile.

    • Squirrel, I so often want to give you a hug after reading your comments. Thank you for this one. And did you ever publish your dissertation anyplace I could read?

  6. Your PhD thesis sounds fascinating, as was your whole post. I agree that it could make a good ‘about’ page itself. I love reading the profiles on people’s blogs and have a post half written (in all honesty it’s been half-written for ages) quoting some of the best ones I’ve come across.

    • Ooh once a librarian, I can only encourage you to finish off your draft post – that sounds wonderful! A bit like that London Review of Books publication about its lonely hearts ads that was entitled something like Call Me Naughty Lola or something. Perhaps I should write my About page in that style? Or perhaps better not…

  7. I like Richard’s idea or if you want to be radical write several versions, one for each of your selves and allow the reader to select. After all the reader changes every time they read you too!

    • Ha! Oh Bookboxed, that made me laugh. I just love this suggestion – if only I could be trusted to tell the truth about each version of myself. I fear a little fictionalising would creep its way in – just for the sake of tidiness and coherence, of course.

  8. It’s quite sobering to look back over 6 years and see how much has changed. I am also in a different place from where I was then. How to encapsulate that in an ‘About’ section? I think you have some clues in your final paragraph. This is an ever-evolving blog – and all the more interesting because of it. Well done!

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! Sobering is a VERY good word for what it is. And worse still, it feels like no time at all has passed, and if I took a nap and woke up back in 2006, I wouldn’t be so terribly surprised.

    • In all honesty, I think it perhaps ought to look more concise… But maybe I’m coming round to this idea. I am attracted to the thought of not having to worry about it any more! 🙂

  9. I love your honesty in explaining your evolving vision of yourself. It is so easy to define oneself by one’s roles. I know I do it a lot. I like to say (or at least have people think) I am the grant writer who works at the University and who is very effective at her job. But then I find that most people really don’t care about this role. They want to know who I am deep down.

    I am glad you are feeling more comfortable with who you are these days and that you don’t feel you need to be defined by any specific role. I think that feeling is partly a product of being older and wiser!

    I promise I will write this week! I haven’t forgotten about you!

    • Feeling okay with being nothing specific is definitely something that has come with being older. Although between you and me, I will still stick a label on myself whenever possible, and particularly in situations that scare me, like parties. It’s a measure of the safety I feel in my blog that I can discuss all this so truthfully! But you’re right, when people ask who we are, they do want to know what we’re really like (but would they be shocked if we straight out and told them?)

      Thank you for the lovely comment! I do appreciate it, and really, you have excellent credit with me. I know exactly how hard it can be to get enough mind space to write properly. Whenever you’re able is good by me. 🙂

    • Ha! Do you have an About page, Stef? I realise I haven’t read it – I shall have to see how you do it next time I visit. A reviewing policy would be a good thing to have, now I think about it.

      • I do have an About page. I wrote when I set up the WordPress blog, slightly revised it when I began library school, and then slightly revised after I finished library school last June. But after I read your post I realized I couldn’t remember what mine said so I had to go read it to make sure it was still current!

  10. Thank you. You have an amazing ability to articulate what I have been sensing but unable to chrystalize, sometimes an unease about a particular book or sometimes, like now, something more personal. I identify completely with your early litlove, struggling with CFS and life generally and finding in blogging a place at least temporarily to be the part of you that you enjoy being. I need to remember that part of myself, competent and outgoing and not forever having to ask for help as I struggle with my own CFS. For me that is the biggest gift from blogging.

    At the same time, I also move between wanting to write personally and wanting to bury myself in reading and writing so that I can put the rest of my life down.

    As for identity. I too would be interested in your work on it, if you still are. I have read a little Kristava but tended to dismiss some of her more radical views. Of course, our identities are multiple and changing, but I not sure that means we don’t have some core and the ability to shape ourselves. I have often enjoyed expressing a somewhat conflicting range of who I am.

    • MD, thank you for this lovely comment. CFS is such a hard illness to explain to ordinary people, or rather I should say people who have only experienced ordinary tiredness, not the point-of-collapse exhaustion that is so debilitating. And after all, when you’re stuck in bed not doing anything, what else is there to think about? I used to narrativise what was happening to me over and over, as if it would give me purchase on it. Blogging was wonderful as we are all weightless in the virtual world, and physically flawless, too. It was, as you say, a way of putting life down that I really valued.

      Funnily enough, Kristeva is one of those theorists whose work hasn’t all stood the test of time and life beyond the university for me. Plus, as I get older, I too feel a far greater sense of self. But she has a whole bunch of concepts that are excellent and enlightening and at the very least provocative. I wrote a lot about chronic fatigue at one point, and we can always exchange writing on it – but only if you feel like it and only when you are completely back on your feet again!

      • I’d very much like to exchange writings on CFS although I haven’t write much explicit. Maybe I’d find that a help project. Mostly I have written on my autobiography–probably needing to find an identity that i could affirm after I got sick. And I went back time and again to the dissertation I didn’t write but should have–a fairly futile effort to rewrite and correct my past. Yes, I think I will write about what CFS has meant to me. Thanks for planting that idea. I look forward to reading anything you’d like to share.

  11. You’ve said so eloquently what I’ve been thinking, and feeling. When I first started my blog, I had a more definitive About Page, listing all my favorites. But later I’ve overhauled it all together, for I find it hard to capture my identity, or maybe, the parts that I want to reveal. Anyway, this following description is part of my About Page now: “… it’s time for an overhaul of this page. It is now a constant re-invention, perpetual de- and re-construction, just like the person, always a work in progress.”

    • Arti, I am realising that I haven’t seen a lot of my really good friend’s About pages. I suppose I’ve paid more attention to your/their posts! I’m very interested now to see what you’ve put as I’m sure it will help me. I love what you’ve added at the end – that’s a perfect summary, really, of what this post was about!

  12. Must chime in with the others as I was thinking the same thing–it does seem as though this is your about page! I like the idea of being a work in progress and that is often how I consider msyself. I always think I need to decide on what to be–something more concrete, as I feel so adrift, but maybe I shouldn’t worry about that so much and think of it all as a journey. So it sounds like blogging has been a really good thing for you?! It has for us too (that is, being able to reading your ruminations!).

  13. About pages are hard! I’m glad I didn’t say anything very particular in mine in the first place, because my life has changed out of all recognition since I started the blog. I think all I say in mine is what a few of my favorite books are, and although I’ve added some to the list since starting the blog, I haven’t stopped loving anything I used to love.

  14. Pingback: About the elusive “About” Page « Smithereens

  15. I was paralyzed at the idea of an “About” page so I did the easiest thing possible and wrote next to nothing. I know I have changes and evolved over the course of the years that I have been blogging. I suppose we almost need to revisit our “About” on a yearly basis since I feel like it can change and should.

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