Lessons Learned from the Exponent Blog

This is my addition to the 10th anniversary retrospective series for the blog.

This anniversary has coincided with a time that I’m also doing a lot of reflecting about my career and my life more generally, and the role of The Exponent blog in all of that (for those of you also wanting a stroll down memory lane–do jump into the internet archive and you can see several different iterations of our site screenshot from the wayback machine). Despite my current distance from Mormonism, I still read the blog every morning on my feed reader and I especially enjoy reading our ‘newest’ voices.

Some thoughts on what being involved with the blog has meant to me…

First, the technical learning curve that I experienced with the site has been critical to my development as an IT professional.  I appreciate so much your patience with me as I have learned about managing a website.  I now manage several installs of university-wide wordpress for my campus, which of course I probably would not have done had I not had this learning curve with our blog.  I know that as the technical person at The Exponent I sometimes did things that weren’t well-received by the bloggers (who remembers the numbered vs threaded comments debacle?  Oh my, that was a tough one!), but I have always welcomed feedback from the permas and have done my best to support the blog from a technical standpoint.

Second, I recognize that writing regularly for The Exponent was a wonderful vehicle for me to experiment with my own voice and to share some of my thoughts and experiences with a wider audience.  I have been missing that lately, and as a result I recently decided to return to write bimonthly about life as an empty-nester.  I think I have a lot to say about the joys and challenges of this phase of life, which is not a perspective that we currently have on the blog.

Third, I’m reflecting on how working on The Exponent permas has taught me so much about how to work as a team–I’m taking Management courses in Team Leadership right now, which is further underscoring to me how remarkable our group is.  The permabloggers have developed norms and workflows based on collective decision-making where we’re not afraid to have hard conversations with each other when we disagree.  As a result this has meant that some changes are molasses-slow or sometimes they are tabled due to lack of consensus (and of course that’s been frustrating to me–often!).  But I am so proud that we’ve stuck with this process even when it hasn’t been easy.  What we’ve developed together is incredibly democratic and fair, and that we’ve sustained it for 10 years is nothing short of amazing, especially given that we’ve all been steeped in the hierarchical LDS culture.

Finally,  in the past 10 years my life has changed radically and much of this can be traced in the annals of The Exponent.  I went from being a devoutly active LDS SAHM married to an RM with two preteens, to being a divorced breadwinning Quaker empty-nester cohabiting with my never-Mo partner.  I don’t even dare to link to the many blogposts over the years that recount this transition–much of it is still too raw to recount, including my ex-spouse’s church court for apostasy and my own serious health problems.  There have been so very few constants in the midst of all that change, but among those are Caroline, EmilyCC, Deborah, Brooke, Amy, and Dora (as well as the other amazing permas that I’ve met along the way).  Ten years ago when we started this blog I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the most important outcome of this experience would be the friendships that were strengthened by the endeavor, but looking back I can see that is definitely the case.  Thus, I close this post with a poem that is one of my all-time favorites, dedicating it to those strong women who have made, and who continue to make, The Exponent blog a worthy endeavor, because “Strong is what we make each other. Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid”:

For Strong Women

A strong woman is a woman who is straining
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing “Boris Godunov.”
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.

A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why aren’t you dead?

A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.

A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

~Marge Piercy

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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8 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I had forgotten about the nesting vs. number comment controversy!

    Loved reading this retrospective, Jana. And I love that working on this blog has been so important to your professional and personal life. This blog would never have survived without you.

  2. Ziff says:

    I really enjoyed your look back, Jana. I particularly love that this is the case:

    “Ten years ago when we started this blog I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the most important outcome of this experience would be the friendships that were strengthened by the endeavor, but looking back I can see that is definitely the case. “

  3. Jenny says:

    Jana I missed a lot of your journey because I’m fairly new to the blog. This post along with the other anniversary posts have convinced me to take some time to go back and read older posts. I am excited to have your voice back at the exponent and to see things from your new perspective. I love this poem, especially the line, “Strong is what we make each other. ” I reminds me of one of my new favorite mantras, “Empowered women empower women.”

  4. spunky says:

    I love you, Jana. You continue to inspire me, and I am so grateful for your friendship- a blessing that occurred because of the Exponent blog.

  5. CatherineWO says:

    This is beautiful, Jana, your words and the poem. I started reading Exponent early in its development and quickly identified with you, as a questioning woman with disability. I followed your personal blog for several years, and your writing was like that of an old friend who understands and never judges. We are all in many different places now. I rarely read Mormon-themed blogs anymore, but I am happy to have chanced upon this one today. It is good to be reminded of how far we have all traveled and where those travels had their beginnings.

  6. Violadiva says:

    You’ve planted a tree that all of us are sitting under, enjoying the shade! Thank you for all the years of dedication, and for your continued perspectives (will my empty nest ever come?!?)
    Like Jenny, I want to go back through the archives and read more about your journey. Hoping to meet in IRL someday!!

  7. Rachel says:

    Oh, I am so grateful I read this. I love the beautiful, strong lessons you learned, and the beautiful, strong poem you shared (which made me cry beautiful, strong tears, and be glad). Thank you!

  8. EmilyCC says:

    I am forever grateful for the birth of this blog and for you.

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