Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Reinvigorated Blogger!

Two articles recently brought to my attention by two different friends have helped to confirm my new resolution to blog more.

First, an article by Verlyn Klinkenborg (a name which you really should say aloud, just because) called "Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota." While giving a talk and visiting some classes at Gustavus Adolphus College, the author is asked...well, I'll just copy a couple of paragraphs below:

Midway through lunch one day a young woman asked me if I noticed a difference between the writing of men and the writing of women. The answer is no, but it’s a good question. A writer’s fundamental problem, once her prose is under control, is shaping and understanding her own authority. I’ve often noticed a habit of polite self-negation among my female students, a self-deprecatory way of talking that is meant, I suppose, to help create a sense of shared space, a shared social connection. It sounds like the language of constant apology, and the form I often hear is the sentence that begins, “My problem is ...”

Even though this way of talking is conventional, and perhaps socially placating, it has a way of defining a young writer — a young woman — in negative terms, as if she were basically incapable and always giving offense. You simply cannot pretend that the words you use about yourself have no meaning. Why not, I asked, be as smart and perceptive as you really are? Why not accept what you’re capable of? Why not believe that what you notice matters?

This is very similar to the ideas that I was trying to get across in my essay published in James Jordan's The Musician's Walk. The author appears to believe that this "polite self-negation" is a result of the specific quiet, Minnesotan culture the students are raised in, but I firmly believe that this is something that is found in women doing all kinds of things all over the country. When I was describing this article to a friend, and how well it expressed my feelings and frustrations about the ways in which I and other women I know often present ourselves, she said it reminded her of Imposter Syndrome. And I immediately knew what that meant, despite having never heard of it before. After all, as a conductor, I certainly have to fight the tendency to put myself down all the time. Go read Klinkenborg's article - it expresses these things very well. Thanks to friend and novelist KA for bringing this to my attention.

The second article, The Well-Tempered Web, is a very useful summary of some of the ways the web is good for classical music, and discusses some of the more interesting sites about there. Thanks to friend and composer MJV for that link.

So, in honor of non-self-negation (how's that for a double negative?) and more fully joining the wide and happy world of classical music on the web, I hearby resolve to post about more than just what concerts I have coming up. Here's to fighting the good fight against that little voice that says, "You have nothing interesting to say."


  1. Verlyn is quite the gentleman. Inkberry brought him to northern Berkshire a couple of years ago, and he was a real treat to work with. I admire his writing a great deal.


    Also, I applaud your intention to blog more often.

  2. Hurray for writing more!

    That article touched me -- I was surprised how much. And I don't think
    Verlyn Klinkenborg meant it only as a discussion of Minnesotan civility; he says:

    I’ve often noticed a habit of polite self-negation among my female students

    He lives in New York (as he says in the article), he's writing for the NY Times, and he's taught at Bennington and at Harvard. And... his writing sounds more open and thoughtful than that, to me.

    So yes, go you! I'm going to start a professional blog too. Soon as I work out the technical end.

  3. To Katherine:

    You have a good point. I think I assumed he was making comments about that specific place, because of the line "These are poignant questions, and they always give me pause, because they allow me to see, as nothing else does, the cultural frame these young women have grown up in." That implies to me a distance from the cultural frame himself. But I suppose he could have meant to imply the wider cultural frame that we're all in.

  4. To Rachel:

    Do you know anything else that Klinkenborg has written that you'd recommend to me? (This essay obviously really pushed the correct buttons with me!)