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Ideas, Innovation and Some Eczema

For a minute or so this week, there was some buzz–about “the blog.”  I realize that this is as embarrassing a statement to write as these other recent embarrassments of near middle-age: wearing sneakers to be “comfortable,” not hearing that grating sing-song voice of parenting, not knowing that I’m bleeding out of my right palm as I shake someone’s smooth and stained-free hand (the blood is normal and nothing, a symptom of  my dry, cracked, skin—run of the mill eczema…not serious, but still, not something not to notice, either).

Blogging was “buzz-worthy’ about ten years ago of course. But with duly noted embarrassment, it has generated some excitement for me because I am a beginner.  Risky and new, it offered something else to think about and thus a way to clarify ideas.

Here are the elements of the buzz that were noteworthy while they lasted this week: I thought about writing before I sat down to write; I thought about it immediately after posting; after publication, and still, errors, problems and possibilities of the prose make themselves known to me at odd hours of the day and night.  Though progress of one kind, none of these calls to writing-consciousness pertain to the article I need to be working on.  A problem?  Remains to be seen.  But for seven days, I valued the process of having writing always on, and hoped that this transferred to the things I’m supposed to be writing about.

And then, just like that, the buzzer went off. The thrill is gone. The blog is another ticking clock, another writing task. Back in the muddles of middle.

The trials of not being a total beginner but not being an expert are ongoing and terrific.  Where do you go from unsexy somewhere?

I recently came across the compositionist Joseph Harris’ blog about teaching (Duke University). He has students writing an “idea” blog for a digital writing course.  My first thought about “idea” and “blog”: excellent and perhaps in contrast to blogs without obvious ideas, my own included here.  I mean those blogs that foreground the personal, the autobiographical, the angst (an example–some of those “Mommy” blogs …but I am definitely not going there.  Too personal). How is an idea a blog and how does a beginner blog become an idea? This question and the relationship between the process and the professional and the personal and “public” writing are being worked over for a conference proposal right now.

But equally related to this question about, well, work, is this:  What counts as an idea?  Much of the scholarly work in complexity studies asks this question, in the various and sometimes problematic form that social scientists and humanists understand this theoretical approach to nature, culture, knowledge.  Paradoxically it seems, an idea is something that is both systematized and simple, something that exists in conjunction with what Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki called the pursuit of a “beginner’s mind.” In the “beginner’s mind,” writes Suzuki, “there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”  An idea is not fully formed but accessible, present, always already exposed.

This for many systems theorists is the essence of complexity: the pursuit of first thoughts, of immediate, but not pure or innocent, innovations.  Composition and public writing, theory and teaching all perform an ongoing relationship between chaos and concrete,  between optimism and a present-focused acceptance of a tenuous hold on a knowable future.  This is something like the radical, if potentially muddled, middle ground of associations, here and otherwise.

About Jessica Yood

I am an Associate Professor of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York (CUNY). Composition and Rhetoric is my primary field and research into the history and emerging role of writing in our contemporary culture continues to broaden my definition of this discipline. Work for my book project takes me into the history of literary criticism in America, complexity theories, the culture wars and the intellectual crises of the 1990s, and the enduring complexity of first-year writing and writers.
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2 Responses to Ideas, Innovation and Some Eczema

  1. Katya says:

    I’m loving following your blog. Do you ever read Errol Morris’s pieces in the Times? His most recent is a few days old, on the nature of identity, impostors and referents. I think you’d like his style of idea/personal blogginess.

  2. umutha says:

    luv ur post
    buzzes come & go ; middles become endings; beginner minds get old; eczema is eternal.

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