Friday, July 10, 2009


The man-hero is not the exceptional monster,
But he that of repetition is most master.

Wallace Stevens

After 224 posts, Ars Psychiatrica is a year old--well, not quite, but in about three weeks, and as my kids would say, what's the harm in marking the occasion a bit early?

I undertook this blog after a relocation in which I chose to depart a tenured position in academia (after realizing that while in most of academia, tenure is life-saving, in medical academia it is merely an honorific). I had published a number of papers in obscure medical ethics and humanities venues, but felt like I still had things to say. I happened to find myself in a most peculiar job which had scandalous amounts of down time; for many months, most of the posts here were at least partially composed at work. Yes, it was a public job, so for quite a while this blog was taxpayer-funded; I am sorry, although it wasn't my fault (there really wasn't much else to do).

After a while I left that lame job behind and took on another one which, while involving fewer hours overall, kept me far busier while I was there. Due to that and other obligations, I found myself with less time to write, and probably I got lazy too, which is why in recent months illustrations and quotes petered out, and posts became less frequent. I noticed that readership went down: I think people really like cool pictures, although I wish content alone could carry the day.

The biggest challenge has been to define content and target audience: I have been torn between making professional issues at least the centerpiece of the blog on the one hand, and the inclination to give free rein to my eclectic instincts on the other. The latter has won out often enough that I'm sure that many people initially drawn to the blog in hopes of mainstream discussion of diagnosis and treatment were disappointed. I have found myself generally disinclined to write about work, narrowly construed. Shedding anonymity limited my openness as well.

Observing reading and commenting patterns has been fascinating. Some folks, to judge from both comments and Sitemeter data, come more or less to stay, while others, often after leaving comments suggesting the blog is the best thing since sliced bread, disappear, never to return. Was it something I said, or didn't say? Was s/he run over by a bus? I also think of Elaine's great Seinfeld line, and I paraphrase: "Is it possible that I'm not as attractive as I think I am?"

Timing and scheduling of posts remains tricky. Regularity and frequency help keep the blog's blood flowing, but a daily regimen can lead to some pretty perfunctory posts. Yet I dislike blogs where the author disappears for a few weeks every now and then with no explanation. Perhaps the best solution is scheduled posts a couple of times a week, such that folks know what to expect, yet one has time to work up something really worth posting. I'm curious too about all the abandoned blogs out there, which just stop without explanation: a dilapidated farmhouse in North Dakota, its occupants long gone for parts unguessed at.

I think blogging isn't done with me quite yet, but maybe it's time to overhaul the format, title, and theme. You know, go toe-to-toe with The Huffington Post. Mass appeal--MJ had it, why can't I? (Anonymous, don't answer that).

At the risk of being self-regarding (moi?), I thought I'd mention some of the posts during the year that I've enjoyed the most, usually because of the discussion they prompted. Some of this year's greatest hits: in one of my rare down-to-earth entries, You Be the Judge, folks helpfully advised me on a problem involving felines and unneighborly neighbors. A more highfalutin ethics discussion centered on capital punishment in Hippocrates and the Hangman.

I was tickled to get a surprise comment from the author himself after an appreciative review of Denis Dutton's The Art Instinct. While I enjoyed writing many of the literature entries most, they weren't the kind to generate a great deal of controversy or debate, but DFW Revisited attracted interest after Wallace's death last year. On a mainstream professional plane, posts on medication issues (On Med-Seeking and Old Wine, New Bottles) provoked not only lively comments but even a mention in the Los Angeles Times.

Easily my most controversial post, Uneasy Lies the Head, involved the political acceptability for high public office of those with major psychiatric diagnoses. I offered a heartfelt encomium of President Obama (The Case for Obama, Seriously) soon after his election last year (no, Retriever, I would not retract any of it today).

The question of proper compensation for psychiatrists attracted interest in How Much is a Psychiatrist Worth? The topic of the political persuasion of mental health professionals led to a rousing political tussle (I think Van der Leun has given up on me by now) in Where Liberals Lurk.

Finally, and more loftily, I and others considered spiritual issues in All in Your Head and The Missing All.

While I consider what to do now, I'll leave this post up for a while, so both panegyrics and take-downs are welcomed. Anyway, I figure the dog days start early here in the Carolinas...


Amy said...

I just wanted to give gentle encouragement to you to continue writing. You have created one of the most ecclectic and interesting blogs I read. I don't even recall how I found your site but I've long enjoyed your work.

Note: I have subscribed to your blog via RSS, so I read every post but I don't always come to the actual web page. I'm not sure how your page hits system counts RSS readers but I would imagine that there's a lot of us who get to your posts that way.

I almost never post comments on the blogs I read of people I don't know - even the very thoughtful blogs like yours but I know it can feel as though one is talking (posting) into a great empty void sometimes when there's no feedback so I just wanted to send a small signal that what you say is appreciated and valued. I hope you continue to want to share your thoughts with us.


Dr X said...

Good selection of your posts--a few stand out as favorites.

Dr X said...

Reading the titles earlier I recalled these posts and my positive reactions to them, but after re-reading a few of them this evening, I must say: well done! These are some great posts. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the equivalent of 1 blog year is in human years? - eons? Other blogs have lived, evolved, self-destructed.....and yours is still alive - now that's nothing to be sniffed at.

Just re-reading some of your posts, I think you nearly went nuclear at one stage...very close indeed...

On mass appeal: you need to have more controversial/titillating titles to initially lure the suckers in.....then you can start converting/brainwashing!...Oh, and I think we mentioned something about getting your own high-profile tv show (you know, like....err..I don't recall his name...really a minor character...a bit'll come to me) a few posts back - that idea upon review still has merit, I believe.

Yeah, thanks for the memories!

..And for turning me onto David Foster Wallace.

....and Billy Joel...sorry ;)

Novalis said...

Thanks for the kind words. Some I can take at face value more than others.

Anonymous, "going nuclear" sounds suspiciously like "self-destructing" to me. Billy Joel? You must be thinking of another blog. But every time I think of you, "Just the Way You Are" goes relentlessly through my head (have been meaning to change that ringtone).

(For any other curious readers out there, I do not in fact know Anonymous, or why he--no woman would write like that, for better or worse--has singled out my hapless blog for regular ambiguous attention.)

I'm sure you can offer me some guidance in titular titillation in future...

Retriever said...

A big fan. Keep posting. You are my favorite liberal agnostic....:) Love the mix of the literary, and the everyday observations. You have a good balance. You should change your template, tho, as one can't read the pale orange and white typeface which appears to anyone trying to read it on a Blackberry cellphone connection. Also, when one reads your blog on a cellphone, one has to scroll endlessly thru your pictures and other left collumn stuff to get to the actual posts, which is tiresome when one has little time to read. But details, details. You do a great job!

Anonymous said...

Novalis, you do realise my tongue is permanently stuck in my cheek..

...and it's not my fault - determinism makes me do it.

It's the truth in all its two-facedness questionable reality. I would never lie of my own will or misrepresent a lie as a possible but highly improbable half-truth in an alternate reality or altered state of mind, self-induced or's just too ambiguous and it confuses people. I think I've made myself clear..

Anonymous said...


EAB said...

I still barely know what a blog is or how it is done, but I have figured out RSS and your essays show up on my google page every day or so. I look forward to them and would miss them if you stopped. I like your voice and sensibility. I like your poetry choices especially. I like your take on literature. So please keep going. Please keep interspersing the literary and the professional and the philosophical. Your regular commenters are also fun. It is a good blog.