Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Blog As A Commonplace Book

I am asked, very often, why I write this blog. People wonder how I can find the time. Others conclude that I don't have much to do. Even my protestations that I usually get up at 5am to try writing the blog does not clarify the point: Surely I can find something more worthwhile to do even at that time, they would so.

This blog, when I started writing this in October 2004, started as my 'morning pages'. I just read about the concept then. I used to write, and my aspirations during late school years (when I grew beyond the dreams of being a cricketer) was to become a journalist. I did do some fiction and poetry writing and published some of them in amateur magazines. Then, as I started working and traveling, I gradually lost the habit. I did give up and thought I couldn't write anymore.

In October 2004, after having just come to England, life was tough. I did not have a proper job and was working in a Cash and Carry intermittently. It was a strange time to go back to writing. But this is also the precise time when I wanted to restart my life and be free again. I read Julia Margaret Cameron around the time and got introduced to the idea of writing whatever comes to my mind, as morning pages. The suggestion was to write this in private, usually in a diary. However, I had very little privacy in the home I was sharing then, and I thought a private access blog would be the best idea to do (not to mention that after having used computers for a long time, I couldn't write by hand anymore). So, off I went: Start early morning in private and type in a few pages, whatever came to my mind then.

I never published those posts. They were scratchy in language and content, though full of wonder and reflected my mood accurately in their ebbs and flows. To my regret, I got rid of all of those old posts before I made this blog public in 2006. That was a new year resolution: To keep a scrapbook of ideas. That's what I did since, posting on and off ideas, my creative writing efforts, posts about books I read or things I have done, and occasionally, about places I visited. Since then, it was very much a part of my life and my identity. Most people see my blog as they google my name and I indeed share the URL on any mails I send from my private email address. Many a time, my conversations with others turn to things discussed on this blog. And, best of all, some of my best friends, who I have never met, or only met occasionally, or long time ago, are friends through this blog.

In a way, then, I write this blog because this is at the center of my social existence. This is a sort of calling card for me the person, the real one. Indeed, I endeavour to keep it real: I write about my failings, disappointments, shortcomings, my imperfect life. It may look crazy to people who barely know me, and who only saw the blog because they received an email from me or they are connected to me on Linkedin. It could be my bank manager reading I am broke, or my sister knowing exactly what I have in mind before even I have spoken to her about something. I have been told that some of this is exhibitionist, a parade of the personal in the public space. However, I have a different view: I see this blog as my socially connected commonplace book.

I know commonplace book as a learning tool is dead and gone. Something that used to be at the center of someone's (gentlemanly) educational experience, has been discarded as quaint and useless by modern educators. But, indeed, commonplace book - scrapbook of ideas was the description I used before - was the inspiration behind Tim Barnes Lee's development of the World Wide Web (he said he was influenced by the commonplace book of Erasmus Darwin, Enquiry Upon Within Everything). But the commonplace book, in my mind, has resurfaced since as the 'Reflective Journal' in learning and this blog can possibly be accurately described as the log of my conscious journey, a metaphor I keep coming back to.

The only difference here is that this is of social nature. I have indeed made it more social than it needed to be: I have connected it to my Linkedin page though I am an open networker, to Twitter and on my email signature panel. This does two things: It makes me write in a certain way, slightly constrained but I am still concerned about making things coherent etc because of these links. Often, I shall start a post in the morning, but if I couldn't get very far or if it didn't make sense, I shall abandon this after half hour or so and get on with day's work. I see this as a good filter - the kind creative people usually need to make them work harder - because this keeps me from being completely irrelevant. Second, this also builds the pressure on me to write, because there are people who would expect me to post on and off. The reason I sustained writing this blog for the last five years is exactly this - my life hasn't been easy and I never had the time - but I always felt obliged to share an idea if I had it, or an update on my life.

Commonplace books were not social, they were a sort of a reminder medium for their authors. I shall argue this blog more or less the same, a mixture of embedded videos, links and my own writing, an archive of around 800 pieces of work accumulated over five years. I keep thinking that some day, when I finish my travels and go back to India, I shall look back at this blog as a narrative of my journey. Its uneven nature will be offset by its authenticity, it will not be just filtered nostalgia but a story of fragments and real people and ideas of the mornings.

All journeys must end, so will be mine. But the end isn't the point, it isn't what the journey is for. It is, more often than not, about the road. This blog is my tribute to the road, its dust, dirt, disappointments and discoveries, and finally, its exhilaration and opportunities, all worthy of this narrative treatment.

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