The genesis of my blog project came from my previous sabbatical when I spent a year at the University of Tennessee. I had recently learned about the tradition of hikers on the Appalachian Trail assuming nicknames during their journey, and separately I wanted a way to keep in touch with family and friends who I would no longer be seeing regularly. Inspired by stories from my BFF (Best Friend Forever) who told me of a friend of hers who had spent a year in Spain and sent back stories of “Senor Barcelona,” I believe, I began a series of emails known as The Adventures of the Tennessee Yankee, which described my experiences and told stories of my life in the land of Rocky Top.
For my 2012-2013 sabbatical, I knew that I wanted to do a similar project, and a number of both personal and professional contacts suggested that a blog would be accessible to a larger audience who might be interested in an insider’s perspective on the government. “Dr. Pence Goes to Washington” was the result.
When I first started blogging in the fall, I wondered how long it would be before I ran out of topics. That turned out not to be a problem since at times I had half a dozen ideas noodling around in my mind waiting for me to have bandwidth to process them and write. I set myself a vague goal of averaging two posts per week, and since this is the 116th post, I more than met that benchmark. At times the blog seemed to hang over my head as I felt self-imposed pressure to post somewhat regularly, and my workouts certainly suffered this year since mornings were my prime writing time, but I have found the process of writing about my lessons, experiences, and adventures to be incredibly rewarding.
I have particularly identified two traits instilled in me at an early age that influenced my writing this year. The first is that I come from a family of storytellers. Events and observations from a day, a walk, or a vacation have always become shaped into stories, and I have realized that I tell stories in my teaching as well. This blog has largely been about telling stories of working in a Senate office, and living and exploring Washington DC.
The second habit was shaped even earlier. I was about 18 months old when my father was writing his Ph.D. dissertation, and as was much commented-upon by my grandmothers, I didn’t talk until I was about two. (Apparently I wasn’t going to amount to much.) This combination, however, made me an excellent walking companion. When my father hit a block on his writing, he would invite me to go for a walk with him. As long as I maintained possession of my yellow blanket, I was perfectly happy, and my silence provided an ideal environment for Dad to organize his thoughts and be able to return to his writing. I attribute that early influence to finding that the shape of many of my stories has emerged while I walked to the Metro and back.
Stephen King in his book, On Writing, talks about having an Ideal Reader, who becomes the audience for whom an author writes. Stephen King writes for his wife, Tabby. I found that my Ideal Reader often shifted as I became aware of different people who were reading my stories. As I lived my life, I would encounter stories that made me laugh, details that intrigued me, and pictures that impressed me, and invariably, I would think of a person or persons who would enjoy the story, detail, or picture. So my blogs have been written with a great many people in mind. Thank you all for being my Ideal Readers.
It took a little while to find my voice as I started writing. I don’t think I was ever going to write the cutting edge issue blog to which everyone would come to read the latest news. Indeed, it was of primary importance to me that I not cause any embarrassment or difficulty for my Senator’s office, so I avoided controversial topics. Because I was thus constrained, I likewise constrained two comments that were made on my blog that I did not allow to be posted. One was effectively an advertisement for a place I had written about, and the other was a snarky comment about the efforts of an entity I had mentioned. I’m still happy about adhering to a snark-free blog.
I have been highly amused that although I have avoided including names in my posts, there has been a certain cachet associated with getting mentioned in the blog. For example, my BFF has kept track of my visitors based on who emerged in my stories. I’ve been pleased that every person who came to see me shared some kind of unique experience or event that did indeed lead to a story to share with the rest of my audience.
What happens to the blog now that I’ve finished my year in Washington? I’m still not sure, although I’m certainly open to suggestions. The first priority has been to transition to living in a house rather than an apartment, to speaking my own mind as a professor instead of supporting and speaking the Senator’s perspective, and to dealing with recalcitrant students rather than recalcitrant Members of Congress. I do hope that a new set of stories will emerge for me to tell as I explore the ongoing influence of my fellowship, and that I will continue to post. Until then, I thank everyone for reading, for commenting, and for supporting my grand adventure.