On fear, and imperfection

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The ideas of fear and fearlessness have been quietly turning over in my mind for some time. I think they are relevant to writing, museums, and social change, and so I hope they are relevant here too.

I recently discovered this article by Leanne Regalla via Boost Blog Traffic (thanks to a tweet by writer, Amy Butcher); Regalla suggested that developing empathy for your audience and understanding your readers’ basic drivers (for example, their desires and fears) are critical to successful blogging (Leanne Regalla, Boost Blog Traffic).

This got me thinking about the blogging experience and about those of you who read the blog, supporting my nascent development as a writer and museum thinker. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my own drivers, and in particular, my motivations for writing the blog. In fact, the questions ‘Why write?’ and ‘For whom?’ have been steeping in quiet unrest in my mind since a minor episode of ‘writer’s brattiness’ that occurred on Thanksgiving.

My post about personal responses had been ready to go since early that week, but I had been sitting on it because, although I liked the ideas it contained, I was dissatisfied with the way that it flowed. My fears about the post were reinforced when my husband (the blog’s informal editor) read the post on Thanksgiving morning and reviewed it with a lukewarm, ‘It’s good.’ Oh. No.

When my husband registered my obvious disappointment, he explained that he simply did not feel a personal connection to the subject matter. He correctly pointed out that I had probably influenced his judgment by saying that I wasn’t particularly crazy about the post. Hmmm ok, but the post is about personal connections, and actually, I kind of like the post; I’m just not sure others will.

I made some edits and published the post anyway. However, on the way to Thanksgiving dinner, I had a bit of a controlled tantrum—the kind where your behavior is civil and restrained, but you just won’t let a subject drop until you’ve exhausted yourself and your unfortunate audience. Should I have posted something I wasn’t completely thrilled with? In general, was I improving as a blogger?

Returning briefly to the idea of fundamental motivators, I think many of us who aspire to be creative and socially engaged have a quiet fear of not progressing and moving forward, and of failing to contribute the way we want to.

When I worked in human services, I helped shoulder other people’s vulnerabilities and although I had to give a lot of myself (energy, empathy, and general goodness) to do that successfully, I never had to expose my own inner world and my fears. I never had to ‘create’ anything that could potentially offend, fall flat, or simply be perceived as irrelevant. This is a new and occasionally frightening experience for me, which I suspect affects not only writers, but also museum folk (and artists) who frequently ‘create’ and ‘risk’ as stewards of culture and learning.

So given these fears, the question of ‘Why write?’ is important. The most compelling reason for me to write is to learn about museum work and to contribute, if I can, to a dialogue about culture and wellbeing. Despite the fact that I do not position myself as any kind of expert, I find I still need to approach the blog with a little fearlessness. The fear of being ‘wrong’ and of not improving, if allowed to flourish, could become large enough to derail the more important goal of learning about the museum field and contributing a social service perspective.

One thing I like about the genre of blogging is that a single contribution need not offer a definitive answer on a topic; it can simply be the beginning (or the middle) of an ongoing conversation. Wanting something to be ‘perfect’ before risking ourselves by sharing it is an understandable concern; however, I am glad that, on Thanksgiving, I favored imperfection over not sharing.

Recent museum-related posts from other bloggers have got me pondering the issue of perfectionism in museum work. Yesterday, on his blog ExhibiTricks, Paul Orselli asked ‘How Can Museums Respond Faster’ to issues of social concern such as recent events in Ferguson and New York . Commenter, Margaret, suggested that fear and the uncompromising desire for objectivity can hinder responsiveness (see Margaret’s comment).

Robert Weisberg, in his account of this year’s Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference, commented on the need for speed and agility rather than perfection when advancing museum technology (Robert Weisberg, Museum Digital Publishing Bliki).

The cost of ‘perfection’ and the successful management of fear and risk in writing and in socially-conscious museum work are something for me to chew on as I continue to create and risk in the hopes of sharing ideas and learning how I might contribute to the museum field.

Fellow bloggers and occasionally-insecure writers, educators, and curators please weigh in. Your imperfect, ‘in-progress’ ideas and reflections are greatly valued.