Finding your blogging voice: lessons from Jack Kerouac

This morning I found a pingback on my last post about blogging and conscious incompetence. This came from Lisa Lane’s (online) teaching blog and her post –To Not Speak. Like Bonnie Stewart, Paul Prinsloo, me and I’m sure many others, Lisa has been wondering why some bloggers become tongue-tied and lose their voice.

Lisa has said that she needs ‘inspiration for a completely different kind of analysis of what I do’. I agree and recently, to my complete surprise, I have been finding this through participation in Al Filreis’ Modern & Contemporary American Poetry MOOC (ModPo), which I am finding challenging in many ways, to the extent that it has more than once pushed me out of my comfort zone. I know scarcely anything about poetry and what I do know has been gleaned from the last 7 hard weeks in ModPo.

But thinking about the beautiful blogging voices (Bonnie, Lisa and Paul and others) that seem to be undergoing, as Lisa puts it, ‘a crisis of confidence’, I am reminded of Jack Kerouac’s  Belief & Technique for Modern Prose.  List of Essentials.

Jack Kerouac was introduced to us in Week 6 of ModPo as one of the Beat poets. These were poets of the late 1940s and 1950s, who worked against traditional conventions and standards of writing poetry. They were counter-cultural in all aspects of their lives, experimenting not only with poetry, but also with drugs, sexuality and alternative life-styles. Kerouac, a novelist as well as a poet, was interested in the concept of spontaneous prose. A term used to describe this is ‘babble flow’ and here is an example from Kerouac:

Aw rust rust rust rust die die die pipe pipe ash ash die die ding dong ding ding ding rust cob die pipe ass rust die words– I’d as rather be permiganted in Rusty’s moonlight Rork as be perderated in this bile arta panataler where ack the orshy rosh crowshes my tired idiot hand 0 Lawd I is coming to you’d soon’s you’s ready’s as can readies by Mazatlan heroes point out Mexicos & all ye rhythmic bay fishermen don’t hang fish eye soppy in my Ramadam give

(My spell checker had a field day with this!)

In this ‘babble flow’ Kerouac is experimenting with the ‘sound’ of poetry. He has let go of literary inhibitions and is making new associations. He writes in the moment without censorship or selectivity of expression and without punctuation or other grammar conventions. He doesn’t wait; he allows an undisturbed and incessant flow from his mind. He is true to his beliefs about modern prose and his list of essential techniques.  This is a long list of 30 points, but there are some wonderful messages in the list for bloggers who are ‘losing their voice’ for whatever reason. Here are some of my favourites from the list.

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

4. Something you feel will find its own form

6. Blow as deep as you want to blow

7. Write as you want bottomless from bottom of mind

9. Be in love with yr life

10. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

14. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

23. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

28. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

29. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

For me Kerouac’s essentials align closely with Stephen Downes’ reasons for his prolific blogging. He writes (see response to Bonnie Stewart’s post):

like any writer – I know that if I stop doing it, I’ll lose it. Being articulate has to be a habit; if you stop, it’s difficult to pick up again. The world moves on; your own internal mental representation of jargon moves on.

In his supportive response to Bonnie Stewart’s concerns Stephen writes:

…. write, Bonnie write (sung to the tune of Run Forrest Run (though I’ve never seen the film so I’ve probably misappropriated it). Write quickly, write forcefully, paint that map and plan a pushpin into it, stake a position, be wrong! But be clear about it.

That’s not to say that blogging needs always to be fast and furious.  I remember that in 2008 I came across the idea of slow blogging and wrote a post about it.

I think there is still a place for slow blogging. There are times when we need solitude and contemplation away from the incessant chatter of the internet, but what I have learned from Week 6 in ModPo is that if and when I find myself in danger of losing my blogging/writing voice, as I surely will – this has happened many times in the past – then I will remind myself of Jack Kerouac’s list and indulge in some ‘babble flow’ to get me going again.

One can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing. In order to write one must already be writing. (Maurice Blanchot in The Gaze of Orpheus)

A 10 minute post

Having just  read 10 Web 2.0 things you can do in 10 minutes, which has been posted by Stephen on today’s Daily, I am tesing this out to see if I can make anything like a respectable post in 10 minutes. Time is a real issue with connectivism, as exemplified by this course, as I’m sure many people are finding.

Earlier in the course Stephen posted that the course should take about 8 hours per week, but to do this course justice you would need to spend far more. Carmen’s post today, which I have only skim read, must have taken her a considerable amount of time and there are many others on the course who make deeply reflective and what must be time-consuming posts.

Connectivism seems to demand constant interaction and ‘fast’ connections, whereas deep and critical thinking and reflective learning takes time. This seems to be a tension for me in connectivism. Do we want to listen to multiple interactions, all fast firing, on twitter, on blogs, in Second Life, on Facebook, etc, etc. – the list seems endless (how do people do it!), or do we want to/need to take more time and listen to more thoughtful posts?

I am really struggling with time. I haven’t even read last week’s reading’s yet and I haven’t responded to other people’s blogs as much as I wanted to. I have watched George’s video introduction to this week today, which provides an excellent overview of where we are up to. How does he manage to be so concise? But doesn’t he look exhausted.

Is this what connectivism means? That we are so busy keeping up our connections that we are permanently exhausted? If George is looking tired, then there is absolutely no hope for me. It has taken me 20 minutes, going like the clappers and not saying anything much to write this post!

How fast should the connections be firing?

George’s weekly blog summary has just come through on my email (his elearnspaces one – elearnspace’s) and there’s a great paragraph on slow blogging, which I’m going to reproduce here for future reference.

Everyone should subscribe to Chris Lott’s blog. As I’ve stated before, he’s one of the most thoughtful bloggers I follow. In a recent post, he extols the virtues of slow blogging: “And I like that slow blogging is an explicit antidote to the subtle, pervasive technological determinism that lurks beneath the surface of many geeky conversations focusing on speed, ease, shortening of attention and shrinking of content. I don’t doubt the reality of these points… I just want to make sure we don’t forget that these characteristics are driven by our behavior, not the tools we use, which remain inert whether we sleepwalk through their use or not.” The value of thinking about and understanding a topic deeply is a by product of time. Writing articles for journals can be easily dismissed as “it takes too long” (and it does – the review process is comical in many journals), but there is value in the pace and depth of writing articles. It’s not only the readers that benefit from well-considered articles. The writer is the first benefactor. For a related talk, here’s a short video I recorded while in Australia a few years ago where Geetha Narayanan talks about slow learning.

This idea of ‘slowing down’ crops up over and over again in relation to working online. Looking back through my private reflective blogs (this is the first blog I have ever made public) I realise that I have posts with similar titles such as ‘Slow learning’, ‘The tortoise and the hare’ and so on, in all my blogs.

It also crops up in my work with online learners, who often find the pace too fast and ask for more time to reflect, make sense of and digest new learning. Online learners on my courses have also said that they need more time to ‘nurture’ connections.

But here’s the dilemma. I have found in my online work that there is a fine balance between allowing enough time for learning and reflection and everything that learners have said that they want, and keeping the momentum of the course going. But I work on time-limited courses that I would regard more as groups than networks as they have smaller numbers of participants than on this course and recognisable boundaries.

I hadn’t thought before about whether a network needs a certain momentum to keep it going and how fast the connections need to be ‘firing’. So if I don’t blog on a fairly regular basis, will my connections break?

The writers that George references in his post suggest that blog posts should be about quality rather than quantity, but as they say, quality takes more time to ensure. And remember that George himself has equated the number of connections with intelligence – the more connected you are, the more intelligent, which implies that we also need quantity to be intelligent. (I commented on this in a previous blog post)

I suspect that all networks will have bursts of high speed activity and then have more reflective, slower periods – whereas courses can be fast and intense for the duration of the course, if the course is fairly short.

I am still thinking about this. There seem to be tensions between action and reflection in most learning environments and networks are probably no exception.

PS I am a slow blogger even if its doesn’t lead to quality 😉    Slow Blogging Manifesto