Erin O'Connor was born in Berkeley, California, and grew up in Indianapolis. In 1995, she took a job teaching English at the University of Pennsylvania. She escaped in 2008. Currently working as a writer, editor, project manager, and consultant specializing in freedom-oriented and education-based nonprofits, she is a research fellow at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and director of programs and development at the Moving Picture Institute. She has published many essays and reviews. Since 2002, Erin has blogged about higher education at Critical Mass.
Why do you blog? > Why do you scratch when you have an itch? I started blogging because I had some things I urgently wanted to say about higher education. It was a revelatory writing medium for me - easy, spontaneous, and powerfully hooked in to an audience. It's part of my life now - I can't imagine not blogging.
What has been your best blogging experience? > In 2003, a law student at Boalt accused the dean of the law school of sexual harassment. The allegations were unprovable and in some instances not credible. His career was ruined, but the press protected her identity. I did some research, deduced who she was, and published her name. It was only fair.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > A group of graduate students at Penn launched an anonymous stalker site called 'O'Connor Watch'. The purpose of the site was to revile me for having some conservative beliefs, and to humiliate me and my family by publishing details of my personal life. I've had some fun times with trolls, too. Oh, and let's not forget the death threat.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Write about something you are passionate about and keep navel-gazing to a minimum; write often, honestly and without affectation; be temperate and have a sense of humour; respect your readers and cultivate a healthy, vibrant commenting community.
What are you reading at the moment? > The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black, who is really John Banville. When Banville writes noir thrillers set in 1950s Dublin, he's Benjamin Black.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Not possible to name one. There are some I've read over and over, and love more and more over the years, though - Bleak House, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White. Yes, I am a recovering Victorianist. I also lovelovelove Annie Proulx, A.S. Byatt, Richard Russo, John McGahern, William Trevor, Lorrie Moore, Elizabeth Bowen. I could go on.
What is your favourite movie? > This shifts. But right now it's probably Napoleon Dynamite.
Who is your favourite composer? > Bach.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > It's not a thesis so much as a pernicious effect of theses that have been degraded and absorbed into our culture: moral relativism. Tolerance is important - but should not be the cover for toxic tendencies toward abdication of responsibility to reason, to decide, to act and to accept the consequences of those actions, and, yes, to judge.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > The Shadow University by Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate. This is an eloquent, reasoned history of how our campuses became places where it's acceptable - even a duty - to suppress and punish viewpoints that are felt to be offensive or harmful. Everyone who senses there is something wrong with campus culture should read it, and so should people who think things are just fine.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Apathy and ignorance in the West, combined with growing militant, repressive, and fundamentalist powers in the Middle East. We're at that decadent point where we have the luxury of forgetting what freedom is and why it must be ceaselessly defended - and we're risking everything.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Live every day like it's your last - while still planning, deferring gratification, and seeing the big picture. Enjoy the moment but provide for the future. Strategic double consciousness!
What personal fault do you most dislike? > I don't like martyrs, blamers, narcissists, ideologues or whiners.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > I'm prejudiced against truly closed-minded people. You can disagree with me - but just don't be righteously horrible about it, and always be open to reasoned arguments and to evolving your point of view. Too many people live by demonizing - it's a cause and an effect of our politically torn culture right now, and I really can't stand it.
What is your favourite proverb? > (a) Every cloud has a silver lining. (b) What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Small talk. I'm also not much for aimless hanging out. Killing time is, well, killing.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > I worry about everything. I am trying to learn how not to worry so much. Some things I can't change, and some things aren't my problem, and some things are made worse by worry. So I learn and take the deep breaths.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > As Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, I'm just happy to be here. I'm not into regret or what ifs - but am very into learning from my experiences, not making the same mistake twice, that sort of thing.
What would you call your autobiography? > My family will laugh at this. It should probably be called I'll Give It Some Thought.
Who would play you in the movie about your life? > Laura Linney.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Small thatched cottage on seaside in west of Ireland, on some land with a few goats and chickens. Paid in full.
What would your ideal holiday be? > See above.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > I read like a maniac. I play the flute. I walk, cook, do yoga, watch movies, keep bees, spend time with family and enjoy the cats. I would like to learn to knit and to speak Irish.
What is your most treasured possession? > Are relationships possessions? The best things I have are my partner and my family.
What talent would you most like to have? > I would love to be able to move like the people on So You Think You Can Dance?
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Forensic scientist. Detective. Purveyor of marvellous artisan goat cheese made on my own small dairy farm.
Which teams do you support? > I don't watch sports much, though I played lots of sports growing up. The one exception: Arizona Wildcats fastpitch softball. Magical team.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I would buy a home and try to learn to stop worrying about money. I wouldn't stop working.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > My grandmothers - both are gone - and my partner, whom they never met.
What animal would you most like to be? > It might be fun to be a hawk.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]