Friday, December 29, 2006

Process Reflection

Doug Noon has an interesting post on his site Borderland in which he asks, essentially, what are we doing when we keep a blog, why are we doing it, is it sustainable?

I was already moving into end-of-the-year stock-taking mode this morning, so I decided to use his post as a trigger for a short reflection, which I posted as a comment there:

I’ve been asking myself the same “Why bother?” question, and I think I’d answer it the same way for myself as I answer it for my students. Do I value thoughtfulness? (Yes.) Would I like to think of myself, or be described by others, as a thoughtful person, or a thoughtless person? (Easy choice.) It’s true that in some mechanical sense we’re all thinking all the time, but in my experience, as a writer and as a teacher, the act of writing gives shape to thought, helps to generate thought (that “extended exploration of disorder and contradiction” sounds about right), and allows me to have, once the first thoughts are down on paper, second thoughts: elaborations, further questions, shifts in point of view. Thinking well isn’t something that Just Happens. Thinking well is a discipline which can be improved, like any other skill-based discipline, with practice and attention to process. That’s one answer to the sustainability question. I’ve taught, and written, for a long time now. For the first ten or twenty years I was good when I was good and I was bad when I wasn’t, and I didn’t have a lot of control over the highs and lows. The quality of my teaching, and my writing, wasn’t, for me at that time, sustainable. When I decided to monitor the processes I was in by writing about them—keeping a teaching journal—I got better.

I’ve kept that journal for years; I’ve only been blogging for a couple of months. But what I see as one truly significant difference is the (at least implied, and often actual) presence of an audience out there who share my commitment to the use of words as vehicles of thought. The presence of other thoughtful bloggers makes it easier for me to feel like I am not simply tilting at my own private windmills, but that I am engaged in a larger conversation which has a point and a direction, if not, as Doug suggests, a destination.

Another angle about the sustainability of blogging is that there really is a difference in feel. The templates that are available to bloggers are attractive; given some minimal sense of design, you can make your work look good. And the automatic archiving features offered by most blog engines make it possible to begin to shape a body of work that feels less like a notebook and more like a set of coherent explorations. So that’s both an incentive and an organizational tool, both of which support the sustainability of the enterprise.

It's been an interesting couple of months at Throughlines. I'm hoping to be able to keep it going.

1 comment:

Doug Noon said...

Bruce, I hope you do keep this going. I appreciate your insight about "...second thoughts: elaborations, further questions, shifts in point of view" because it helped me to more clearly see the value I find in writing. I especially enjoyed your observation that thinking well doesn't 'just happen.' As for the public nature of the process... feedback on those thoughts wouldn't be forthcoming otherwise. Thanks for helping me to work through these ideas.