Bits and Pieces: Learning from Great Blog Conversationalists

A playful tweet by Jim Groom this morning responding to one I wrote (about proposing something for Northern Voice) has me thinking. He jokingly suggested:


I laughed. Very funny. Hmmmm…. But what is it about bavablogging that distinguishes it from what I do, what do I learn from him and others who keep blog company with him.

I thought about being a kid. How at my childhood dinner table, my mother would shake her head at my father and one of my brothers, who, she said, did not engage in dinner conversation, or in decent discussion about the explosive events of the day (Civil Rights, assassinations, riots & protests, Vietnam, Watergate–pretty wild time, that), but in adjacent monologues. It was pretty tough to get a word in some nights, I remember.

early december loneliness

The monologue versus the conversation or the discussion.

Sure, linking out helps even the long post become more than a self-congratulatory harangue (or musing ;-)). But the long, intricate posts do not invite conversation really. My previous post, for instance, included a couple of side pages, one about three books I highly recommend. I’m pretty sure very few people had the time or the inclination to click through to those pages. I understand. The long post is, after all, mostly an open letter to oneself. But slow-blogging shouldn’t mean plodding blogging, or deadly monologing. The monoblog. Yikes. Oh no.


The hoopla about slow-blogging has been good all in all. It has brought some fine posts, some funny ones, some angry ones. Mostly, it has made me restless in my own blogging. And so I’ve been paying a lot more attention these days to bloggers who not only write well about ideas, but who also know how to lighten up, and most importantly, how to mentor a great blogversation. (Okay, I’m getting a little carried away with these terms…) I’m spending more time leaving comments and listening in on conversations, learning from the give-and-take, often far more than from the original post alone. Sometimes the topic is rather silly–at least on the surface, such as Jim’s recent post about blogs and the insignificant — and he covers such a range of topics and pushes out more posts than seems humanly possible, with mad energy and intelligence and humor–yet he always responds to his commenters, gratefully, respectfully. He’s a great blogversationalist. He clearly takes in what they say and thinks about each comment, synthesizing them as he pushes the conversation further, into discussion. No monoblogger he. Geeky Mom, too, dares to mix it up. She’ll post a cat video, or a poll asking what she should blog about side by side with some musing about the state of politics or education or gender issues in her profession. I’ve always felt I could learn a lot from her.

Brian Lamb‘s another blogger model. Yes, he’s inventive, has on-the-edge ideas, but he also gets interesting conversations going. His prose alone makes you have to read on–the opening phrases of his last three posts: “Being an anxious sort…” “It came as an unpleasant shock…” “”Part of me feels…” invite you into the post, not just as reader, but as someone who might have some advice for him. His posts are generous, thought-provoking invitationals. And people respond.


I’m going to learn from these three and play around a little. Stretch my blogging wings. And try hard not to sound like those dinner “conversations” of my childhood.


13 Responses

  1. we would love to have you submit something to northern voice! yes please! i might have recuse myself because i am biased in your favour 🙂 LOL!

  2. Arriving late to this particular party, I have just subscribed so I can watch, and possibly join in with, the new blogversation experiment. You now sit next to Jim Groom on my iGoogle, so it’s bgblogging versus bavablogging…

  3. Hey Roland, It will be great to see you on this visit to Vancouver–I remember well listening in on the conversations over dinner in Vienna way back when about visions for Northern Voice. Can’t wait to see it in action!

    Ed, Oh boy, I am honored to be placed next to the Reverend, but never versus! 😉


  4. Barbara – No monoblogger are you. You are extremely generous with your time and your thoughts. I wonder why you’d think otherwise.

    But I also wonder if the notion of dinner time conversation is strained with blogging and what you need is a different metaphor.

    Don’t get me wrong. Experimenting with different forms is a good thing to do. But how you judge the results might depend on the metaphor. I know that sometimes I can be quite satisfied by seeing my role as instigator or catalyst but not otherwise ongoing participant. Other times I prefer being off in a corner taking a critical view. I can do the latter with blogging but the other takes a different type of communication. And still other times you may really be onto something but there is nobody else ready to try it. Why blame the writer for that?

  5. Long posts invite and inspire conversation, but it is typically a different kind of conversation… the kind that takes place deep in our headspace and gets distributed in blogs and informs and influences myriad other discussions. That’s not monoblogging, that’s going deep. One of the reasons I like the slow blogging idea is because, proportionately, I just don’t think there are enough people willing to endure the risk, take a really deep breath and dive all the way down to where the pearls are.

    That said, I blog in all kinds of different ways. And I love the blogs you mentioned and many more beside, some of whom certainly never do anything like slow blogging. For me, the occasional slow (bright, deep, etc) blog is a tonic. Any mode of writing (in a blog or not) can be “better” or “worse” depending on how apt it is and how considered and authentic my motivation…

  6. Lanny and Chris,

    Ah, two of my all-time favorite slow-bloggers, here to remind me not to discard the slow, the deep. And not to confuse things by how I use “conversation.”

    I pushed at my own blogging style a bit hard, I know. I didn’t mean to convey a new yearning for a different way, but a willingness to learn from what is quite different from me. But I will admit, yesterday was one of those days when I experienced that little flame of envy. I marvel at the instant blogversations, the kind that Jim and Brian and others routinely spark. It was out of a momentary frustration with my own rambling. Stephen Downes recently opened a kind word for my blog by wondering if I sometimes didn’t know what it was I wanted to write about. And he’s right. Usually I’m okay with that.

    So thank you for reminding me that other, more dispersed conversations might slowly burn out there in response to our attempts to go deep. And you both do that. All the time.

    For my own part, I think it’s a healthy concern to keep self-aware enough not to fall into the lovely trap of self-congratulatory expression. I can fall so damn in love with words, the lilt of a phrase that I can forget where I’m headed. Yup, Stephen is right.

    I want to write better than I do: lean and lush, deep and real, sitting down with a bunch of frayed threads of clashing colors and see if I can weave them into something beyond myself.

    Lovely responses both, Thanks.


  7. Barbara,

    With reflections like the following, I once again defer to the power you demonstrate by using a space like this to reflect on your reasons for doing this whole blogging thing in the first place:

    The long post is, after all, mostly an open letter to oneself. But slow-blogging shouldn’t mean plodding blogging, or deadly monologing. The monoblog. Yikes. Oh no.

    And you give me the occasion for such reflection once again. My almost obsessive need to post anything on my mind on a regular basis has everything to do with trying to escape the learned logic I was so trapped within during grad school. I was tortured by my own deep problems with communicating effectively in long, formalized papers, and while I had a good idea or two during my incarceration, they often were lost within a flood of bad writing that characterized so much of my attempt to do “graduate work.” When I left the Ph.D., a decision informed by the freedom and immediacy of having the freedom of my own publishing space, I kind of intentionally erred on the side of publishing fast, half-baked, out-of-control ideas. My voice was, and still is, at times the worse for it, but I also know the freedom I’ve felt and the comfort it affords me with writing—something I have always loved but was never much good at—pushed (and still pushes me) to remain in that space.

    At times I think I’m kind of caricaturing deeper ideas and concepts that need a far more extensive reflective (s)pace, but I get immediately scared, and wonder if I will fall into the same logic of taking what I say far too seriously. The ability to make fun of myself consistently, and my remarks like the one you refer to above, has everything to do with both a self-consciousness about my style as well as an attempt to re-affirm its value for me. I don’t know how long I’ll blog for, or where all this will lead, but I am going on three years in 4 days (dec 13th), and it has been the most powerful creative space I’ve ever had. I’m unhealthily obsessed, but I also feel that when I post that I have put one more idea out there that would have (and maybe should have) died on the factory floor of grad school.

    There certainly is no versus, there’s just an attempt to honestly recognize what works for and why, and the realization that this may change at any moment. Thanks for this, not only are you too kind, but you are a constant source of reflection for my own reasons for being here, even if they don’t often manifest themselves on a post on the bava–I think they do appear in the comment threads of socially sinewed posts like these.

    You rule!

  8. Jim,

    Wow, there you go, just as I blogged: sharing, generously of yourself, your ideas, your process. Reading about how you felt trapped in grad school brings back my own painful grad school memories: I did not pursue the PhD after the MA in literature for similar feelings of incarceration. I couldn’t get out of there soon enough. Of course the big joke turned out to be that I landed in a college classroom anyway. But always on the fringes, always seen as in interloper, one who didn’t quite fit, and thus I was left alone in large part. It was pretty wonderful in a lot of ways.

    I love that you put your ideas out there with such passion. Your creativity, your spontaneousness, and your brilliance inspire many of us! And your light-hearted posts remind us not to take ourselves so seriously. Listening to you try to speak the Queen’s English just about made my day yesterday.


  9. […] in the comments of Barbara’s latest post (an excellent think-piece about different blogging styles) is a fine statement that sums up quite […]

  10. You know, I love bloggers who take it seriously. That there’s thought, and concerns of conversation. That there’s a purpose to the page.

    I know one particular company that has quite a spotty blog, and when they do, it just flummoxes me about what they’re saying and why. I don’t think they know. And they have a slew of young devotees (I’d love to have their numbers) who I think would love to become an online community and it’s just not happening. Interesting.

    Thank you for your post.

  11. But getting lost in the sound of words you love is the poet in you.

    I admire Stephen’s relentlessly logical, sharply honed approach. And, as his recent half-an-hour post about activists shows, sometimes that approach lends itself to an elegance that moves me and I am grateful for.

    But it’s not poetry. And like Williams said, there’s no news in it yet people die for lack of what is found there.

  12. Thanks, Lindsay, for your comment–interesting to get feedback about companies and blogging communities. I wonder what it would look like, a company encouraging the slow blogger, encouraging reflection as part of work, creative noodling in a conversational space open to the world.

    Chris, yes. I, too admire Stephen’s approach. Reading such writers and thinking about what I can learn from them keeps me honest, I think, balanced (at least I hope so) on the razor edge of sentiment, not falling into that pit of sentimentality. Williams was right, of course. Nothing so damn hard as staying true to it, though. Nothing more important. At least for the likes of us.


  13. You take us far, bg. You challenge us. You make raise this blogging enterprise into the realm of the significant.

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