New blogs/Old blogs

Now that I have returned from the internet cafes of South America to my quiet computing space of home and office, it is much easier to reflect and consider and ponder and let ideas percolate according to Slow Food”-esque principles. Blogging out there on the fly, dashing off the street and into the internet cafe made posting both easier and harder–easier, because I just let the words write themselves. Time pressed, and I wasn’t willing to sit there digging into other blogs, or to interrupt a post by walking around and doing something else for a while. Nope. I just sat down and let that baby spin itself out in no time. I didn’t feel as though I needed to link carefully or reach out too far to see what others were thinking about the topic. I just wrote what I was experiencing and thinking right then.

Now that I’m back and have the leisure to come and go from my computer at will, I feel not the pressure of time, but of depth, of substance, of needing to have something worthwhile to offer the blog (and its readers). It means I’m thinking about how I might link to the interesting bits I’ve been reading (such as Bryan’s Dracula Blogged or Seb Pacquet’s link to a terrific post by Lee Bryant from back in January or <a href=”http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/004153.html”Dave Weinberger’s NECC keynote, notes to which on his blog include:

So, how do we teach our kids? Do we cram their heads full of content and then test them on it? As individuals? Do we imply ambiguity is a failure? Do we insist on being right? Or do we say that knowledge is an unending conversation? Do we teach children to seek ambiguity and love difference?”

or Jyrie Engstrom’s talk on social networks or Mary Ellen’s reflection on the backchanneling at SSAW), or how I might allude to the fledgling conversation my students have just started over on the creative writing blog (yes, the students are really starting to step back onto the blog even though school is out, the course is over and our community dispersed to the four corners of the earth) or to the new blogging-the-world project for the fall that is starting to take shape (the operative word being “starting”–it will be some weeks before the blog is really chugging along). In other words, I am thinking about the bigger conversation more than about my own experience. And of course, it’s impossible to keep up or even to catch up, but pulling in just this smattering of thinking swirling about blogs I read is incredibly thought-provoking and stimulating.

What’s the upshot? Well, for this fall’s blogging-in-the-world group, it means (or I think it means) that it will be easy to write the experience (the journal kind of post) but hard to engage in the discussion that asks for more than a simple rat-a-tat-tat of off-the-cuff responses. The student bloggers will have to figure out how to find the time to do more than report. Piya was lucky to have so many people (professors, peers, family, readers from the Indian diaspora) reading along, commenting, and even questioning her responses and conclusions (people are still leaving comments although her latest entry was posted in February). Will the students want to pull out of living in another language enough to converse in English about the ways in which their experiences across cultures and continents can be enhanced through this kind of collaboration, this dialogue? Will they have the patience? Or like much of the travel blogging I see out there, will the blogs turn into diary entries for the readers at home with little deep exploration?

And then there’s the whole question of my involvement in the group blog–do I stay largely silent the way I do on my course blogs once the conversation gets rolling, or do I have a role to play by throwing questions to them from the home space?

Blogging from Argentina

I donīt do much blogging from the field, preferring to jot notes and impressions from conferences in draft mode, letting them percolate into a post when I return home. Same with travels of any sort–I take a good old paper journal and leave the computer at home.

But as I am embarking on this blogging-the-world project with a small group of students heading to study abroad experiences this fall, I want to blog from the Northwest of Argentina at least once before I head home if for no other reason than to feel what itīs like to step off the streets, out of the immersive experience into this dimly lit, grungy little room filled with computer terminals and telephone booths, trying to figure out the differences between the keyboard here and my lovely little Powerbook at home, surrounded by teenagers playing computer games, travelers checking email, my daughter i-ming friends at home. I never sit tapping away on a greasy keyboard surrounded by strangers engaged in all manner of transactions, and I find myself distracted repeatedly by the people here. Fiction writer that I am, I am fascinated by the potential of stories. Internet cafe stories. Telephone booth stories from this neck of the woods–the old couple coming in to call someone in America. The indigenous boys playing shoot ém up games. The girls in school uniforms writing papers. The travelers playing online chess. The man singing Andean folk songs next to me as he surfs the Web. Stories. Is there a camraderie felt in these places between the people at their stations? Am I romanticising? Yes, I believe I am.

So here, nearly three weeks into this trip to Ecuador and Argentina I am ready to blog about blogging abroad. Iīve checked in on home a couple of times via email during the trip, but blogging is of course not at all the same as emailing. And as I sit here, I see that blogging has the potential to be more challenging and more valuable than I had thought. As I sit here trying to put words to the experience and as I miss out on whatever my daughter and husband are doing out there in the sun,I get a little glimpse of blogging in the world as my students will experience it.

Internet cafes take you out of the immersive experience–they interrupt it in a way that a journal or an aerogramme on a park bench do not. Itīs disorienting to have your blog homepage pop up as though you are actually sitting in your office. You could be anywhere. Or nowhere.

Taking the time to write more than a journal entry (for that is what I am asking my students to do–to be aware that they are publishing, that they are engaging in a conversation with the other project bloggers and whoever else reads along) is something they may well resist. Itīs different from writing in ýour private journal or a letter or even a group email which is a one-to-self, one-to-one or one-to-many proposition. The audience of the blog is self, inner circle and unknown other, and while you canīt really think about or worry about that unknown reader (reminds me of what my fiction writing teacher said in grad school–write for the good of the work first, then for yourself, then for the reader), you cannot pretend that you are writing just for yourself. So you shape your words more carefully, striving for clarity and pushing past the shards of memory and observation to try to express something you want to hear back about–you are communicating, conversing, discussing instead of narrating. (though you do a lot of that too) And that shaping can take time–internet cafes can be expensive and who wants to waste time away from the fascinating world out there. You can blog a la Piya and her India blog, writing the post first and then copying it into the blog later. This shaping and deeper thinking, processing of the expereicne can disrupt the experience. A paper journal can exist in jabby fragments each of which signals a full experience or response. A bog, or least this kind of blog, should do something a little different.

Reaching out and talking with others about the kinds of observations being made about life in Russia and Brazil and India and Germany, for example, can bring a sharper focus to the year abroad. Itīs the old “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” deal. And in turn, perhaps our senses will be heightened, weīll take in more and have more to say about it. Language will help us create the meaning. Certainly it could enrich it.

And so I see the blog as being a wonderfully fluid receptacle for all kinds of reflections and discoveries for the student studying abroad as long as itīs connected to other blogs and the bloggers get on one anotherīs blogs and keep a group conversation going on the main group blog.

Options and oppotunities for the group plus individual blogs–

— A place to try blogging in the second language

–Reflections and observations about the particular expereince

–Tips for travelers and for students considering a year abroad/Info exchange

–Questions for other bloggers

—RSS feeds from media & resources

–Photo repository

And as someone said about writing poems that itīs damn hard to keep the beat and the meaning at the same time, itīs damn hard to write in an internet cafe and keep focused. And so back out into the sun I go trying to make myself understood in my poor Spanish, wishing I had a community of bloggers-in-the-world who were discussing with me their experiences with the internet cafe.