So if this was just about marketing to university positions, this is what my bio would look like:
Ryan Edel is a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at Illinois State University. He earned his MFA in creative writing with a concentration in fiction from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars in May 2010. He served in the U.S. Army from 2002-2007, which included three years with the 82nd Airborne and a ten-month tour in Afghanistan. He also earned an AA in Arabic Language from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. His bachelors degree is in English and German from Case Western Reserve University.
But there is much more to scholarship than a degree, but it’s difficult to convey your life through words alone. And so we depend upon credentials to provide context. Have you been to college? Have your survived graduate school? Do you have life experience indicating the presence of a positive, can-do attitude that will benefit our department? Has this positive attitude adequately tempered to provide a necessary degree of empathy for the human condition? Will you produce sufficient scholarship to prove your value to the academic community? Will you teach our students enough that they will view the university experience as worthwhile? Or will you at least not damage them?
And so, the subtext to my academic biography:
I joined the army after September 11th. I told myself I would make a difference in the world, become the kind of sturdy and heroic figure that I had always imagined myself. In reality I was running. I was an English major – my best job skills were the ability to write and the capacity to work without sleep. I was tired of people never listening to what I had to say. But mostly I was tired.
In the military, I learned that people do not listen to what you say – they witness what you do. Are you on time? Do you work hard? Will you pick your buddy up if he falls? Will you keep crawling if you fall?
Graduate school is not entirely different. Will you be on time? Will you work hard? Will you read the books you need to read, and then fairly represent the scholars you are quoting? Will you help your colleagues build a department and a discipline? Will you continue crawling when you fall?
This website isn’t about showing the best of me – although that will be included, of course. It’s more about posting my research notes, sharing the interesting resources I find, and organizing my thoughts. It’s about better integrating my personal writing activities into the discursive publics of scholarship. Because the nature of sharing has changed. And the last time I looked up, I saw I had fallen behind.
And then I realized the definitive sadness of academic life: we are always behind. There is always the new. But much of this “new” is built upon the long habits of good scholarship: reading, thinking, responding. The only change is that more is happening within these digital spaces. We can now share and discuss in real time. The conference table has grown to dozens of screens, each one open to the entire world.
Still, the “world” of the web is narrow, in its own way. Search engines and social media use automated algorithms to sort our electronic catalogs of reality. How will we address the differences between the online and the offline? How does the media of image change reality of “real” life? How do we parse out the nature and meaning of mediated social relationships? How should we address the fact that many such relationships are built upon privilege and marginalization? And how do we counter the injustice of imposed silence without silencing others in turn?
And can this sight be about all that? Yes. In the same way that a single tree in a broad forest can represent the sun and green and the soil. Except by tree, I mean sapling.
To the sun and the rain: may they nourish the soul without burning the grass to desert or flooding the plains to a broad abyss of ocean.