Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Blog or Not To Blog

Of course that is the question...I started this blog, and sometimes I wonder why I continue to keep it. Do I write for an audience? That is a question that just appeared on Jim Burke's ning. It is a question that I am asking myself as I write this blog post. It is a question that does not have just one answer.

I have always enjoyed writing and have kept various types of journals over the years. I kept sporatic journals when my children were small as an attempt to just try and keep some sort of record of what life was like during that period of my life. I didn't really have an audience in mind when I kept those journals, but they were often more than just some sort of daily log of experiences. I wish I had been more disciplined in my journal attempts during those days because now, I do have an audience for what I wrote during those busy, hectic times: myself and possibly my children.

Many young moms are blogging these days. They create fabulous blogs full of wonderful pictures of their children. They are pretty blogs filled with flowers and flowing designs. They represent the technological gifts that this generation of moms have developed. I envy these young moms and their blogs because they will have a precious record of their lives with their children. What a gift and a blessing. What I wouldn't give to have the same type of archive of my childrens' activities when they were young. I think these moms must have a permanent camera in their hands to capture all those adorable photos. They also must be incredibly organized to be able to produce these wonderful blogs, cook the meals, do the laundry and clean the house.

When one writes, the audience does not always present itself immediately. We wrtie because we have a need to record our lives. We write to express our dreams, our needs, our disappointments, our heartbreak, our insights, or even as a means of trying to make sense out of what is going on around us. Writing is intensely personal, and for that reason, we are sometimes hesitant to put down our most intimate thoughts and emotions on paper because we fear an unknown or known audience. Audience can intimidate us and cause us not to write or not to write well.

As a teacher, I now see I might have confused my students when I taught about audience and writing. I would tell my students that they did not need to consider audience when they wrote in their journals. In fact, I encouraged them not to think about the reader while writing. I told them that they were just to write. They did not have to worry about punctuation or spelling or any other grammatical rules as they wrote in their journals. I just wanted them to feel free to write without being intimidated by feeling that they must write perfectly if they were to write at all. I told them to focus on developing voice.

Many of my students would write stunning journal entries. They would amaze me with the uniqueness of their individual voices. I would get glimpses into their true selves through their journal writing. Sometimes, I would be heartbroken by what they had to share. Sometimes I would be alarmed. Always, I was grateful that they trusted me enough to write transparently and honestly when they knew I would read what they wrote. I was their audience, and they trusted me enough to write honestly.

Othertimes, when the students had a writing assignment, I would teach about audience. I would remind them that they should consider their audience when they wrote. Unfortunately, many times, these formal writings lacked an ability to touch any type of audience. They became stilted, boring, and seemed to only represent some sort of stylized writing that came about from trying to follow the form style writing that they had been taught in previous years of schooling. This writing would lack life. It might be perfectly representative of a five paragrah essay, but it lacked true meaning. The concept of writing for an audience was difficult for many students to grasp.

When my father became very ill and was hospitalized just days before he died, my students took a quarterly essay test that I had to grade before I could leave to drive over to Grand Junction to be with him. They had to respond to Li-Young Lee's poem, "The Grandfather." They knew they were writing for me - their teacher. They wrote mostly to get a grade. They clearly understood their audience. Interestingly, after all the responses were read, the grades were assigned, and I had left my role as teacher to drive to my father's bedside to become a daughter who only had a few more days to spend with her father, I found that my focus as an audience who had read assigned poetry responses shifted. I found myself recalling the poem, and even more importantly, I recalled the responses my students had shared with me about the poem in their tests. Their words began to comfort me. They gave me strength. They allowed me to peacefully surrender myself to the moment I found myself in. I realized the power of the written word in a unique way. The freshness of my students' youthful responses that spoke of the value of caring for the elderly grandfather while treasuring his final stories spoke to me. We don't always know what response our audience will have to our writing.

Now, I find that I question the appropriateness and usefullness of my own attempts to write by using a blog. One of the most freeing lessons I embraced during this summer's writing project, was the concept that "there are not final drafts; there are only due dates." I can hear Katherine Frank's voice in my head whenever I repeat this saying to myself. I also embrace Anne Lamott's quote about some writing being a "shitty rough draft." The problem with a blog is that those types of drafts are immediately published! Horrors! What was I thinking???

Blogging is certainly the new "in thing" to do. I have so enjoyed our family blog. It has kept me smiling when I read the funny responses my children post. It has been a place where we can share our pictures and update our lives with each other. In today's world, so many of us have children spread all over the place, so it is nice to have a place where we can connect. The blog has been that place for us. It almost reminds me of the old round robin letters that my grandmother's family would circulate.

Blogs that are successful, seems to require audience. One would not continue to blog very long if one did not have some sort of audience. The beauty of the blog is the ability to have a place where one can post something that can generate an immedite response.

As of today, the jury is still out. I am not sure of the benefit of this blog except for serving as a place where I can create a bit of a history of what is going on in my life at the moment. I am newly retired. I struggle with my new status at times. I miss the academic life, and yet I am also happy to leave the daily demands of it behind. I miss my students. I miss the interaction. I miss my audience. That is one thing a teacher always has - an audience. As I used to say, "Just give me a stage!" But, I also like to think that my classroom was a place where we were all learning together. I like to think that I created a more generative, constructivist type of classroom. It wasn't just like the classrooms where I went to school most of the time. It was interactive and interesting. Certainly, if a blog is going to be successful, it must be all of those things too. At the moment, I think my blog mostly serves as a place where I can contemplate and explore where I want to go with my life as as a retired teacher. I don't necessarily need an audience to do that. I only need a place where I can record my thoughts and activities so I don't get lost. So, for now the blog continues.

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