So a number of different threads are congealing in my tired brain regarding writing and blogging and why we do all of this stuff. The post that finally led me to try to get this down was Bud’s Brain Dump on NCTE where he quotes council president Kathleen Blake Yancey as saying this:

If you are writing for the screen, you are writing for the network.

Oh. Yeah. How nice that is to hear, isn’t it? Not “global audience,” but “network”. And as Bud unpacks his conference experience, you get the sense that this whole blogging thing may finally, finally, finally be tipping over the edge in terms not just of a tool to publish but of a tool to connect.

And that is a crucial distinction, I think. Yes, we write to communicate. But now that we are writing in hypertext, in social spaces, in “networked publics,” there’s a whole ‘nother side of it. For as much as I am writing this right now to articulate my thoughts clearly and cogently to anyone who chooses to read it, what I am also attempting to do is connect these ideas to others’ ideas, both in support and in opposition, around this topic. Without rehashing all of those posts about Donald Murray and Jay David Bolter, I’m trying to engage you in some way other than just a nod of the head or a sigh of exasperation. I’m trying to connect you to other ideas, other minds. I want a conversation, and that changes the way I write. And it changes the way we think about teaching writing. This is not simply about publishing, about taking what we did on paper and throwing it up on a blog and patting ourselves on the back.

This after-the-publishing part is difficult because we are forced to attempt to do it in filtered, restricted, contrived spaces for learning, spaces that are not conducive to this type of writing or learning. Barbara Ganley (who was featured last week in the Times as a “slow blogger”) is consdering this as well.

As a college teacher, I thought I was all about collaborative learning, about students taking responsibility for their learning and their lives–together–but how can you do that within an artificial environment? Within a closed environment?…Teaching and collaborating and learning and working inside an academic institution have absolutely nothing to do with how to do those things out in the world.

And I continue to wonder if the two are even possible to combine. Those of us who write to connect and who live our learning lives in these spaces feel the dissonance all the time. We go where we want, identify our own teachers, find what we need, share as much as we can, engage in dialogue, direct our own learning as it meets our needs and desires. That does not feel like what’s happening to my own children or most others in the “system.”

Barbara’s post is worth reading not just for her own reflections but for the connections she creates in the writing process. She took me to Scott Leslie, whose post “planning to share versus just sharing” is as one of the commentors called it, “another doozy.” Scott writes about how frustrating this dissonance is, how difficult institutions make it from a tradition and culture standpoint to make this kind of learning happen.

In all of this lies the tension of the world “out there,” outside the walls, this great unknown, or more likely, this great potential wrench in ointment to what we’ve been so darn good at doing for all of these years. I can’t tell you how many “why me?” looks I get from people who listen politely to my presentations but then probably want to go home and throw up. And I think it’s because they’re not writing for the network. They’re not connecting, seeing the value, feeling the network love. Scott nails it:

Now I contrast that with the learning networks which I inhabit, and in which every single day I share my learning and have knowledge and learning shared back with me. I know it works. I literally don’t think I could do my job any longer without it – the pace of change is too rapid, the number of developments I need to follow and master too great, and without my network I would drown. But I am not drowning, indeed I feel regularly that I am enjoying surfing these waves and glance over to see other surfers right there beside me, silly grins on all of our faces. So it feels to me like it’s working, like we ARE sharing, and thriving because of it.

Oh. Yeah.

(Photo “A fractal night on my street” by kevindooley.)