So I’ve been away, blogwise, for two months, in the circumscribed world of the miniblog. I am only just now emerging, blinking, into the bright lights of the Greater Blogosphere.
I was writing a reading journal of the French language novel Mãn by Kim Thuy. Our students have been doing extensive reading of English language novels, and the miniblog was a way of keeping them company.*
How was it? Well, some things were easier than I had imagined, but there were also some unexpected challenges.
I thought it would be hard to keep it real. It seemed that the only way to forge a connection with the students would be to manufacture artificial learning moments. This was based on the untested assumption that the reading would be easy for me. When I read in French I tend to read fast and confidently. I had never felt the need to be analytical about my reading before. To be honest, I had always felt that I didn’t need to because my reading was essentially native level. However, when I slowed down my reading and compared my process to that my students were probably going through, I realized that I was probably missing a lot of nuance, just as they were.
When I became aware of the process of my reading as an L2 reader, I found that I didn’t have to search for things to write about or fabricate reading “issues” to find empathy with the students. My reading process was a lot closer to theirs than I realized, and we actually had a lot to talk about. I had started off with a list of themes that I would somehow work into the narrative. However, as time wore on, I ditched many of these and found that I was having authentic and unplanned reading “moments.” The fish in clay pot story? That one just happened like that and it wasn’t until I started to write about it I realized how perfectly it embodied the goal of extensive reading.
But some things were harder. I don’t even feel comfortable saying this, but sometimes nobody read it. To be clear, it’s not as if hundreds of people read every Teacherpants post, but I do have the sense of a group of readers that has developed organically. My blog has evolved as part of a conversation with other bloggers, and these writers have been welcoming and supportive. I have learned not to panic if one post has fewer views: I know the readers will come back. Also, if readership dips, I feel that I have options. I can change my subject material, or my tone; I can also promote my writing more aggressively. In this case, I didn’t have that flexibility. I had a limited group of readers and a prescribed task. I didn’t promote myself much because I wanted the project to retain its integrity. I wanted the you in my sentences to be the ifp students, with their particular reading experience, rather than the people I talk to when I post on Facebook or write Teacherpants.
There were some low points. Those statistics graphs on the dashboard look awfully bleak when you’ve had a few straight days of zeroes. Eventually, though, I got it. It was a lot like one of those inspirational posters: “Write as if nobody’s reading it (because they’re not.)”**The lack of scrutiny gave me the liberty to play with the task a little, going off on tangents about Annie Lamott’s braids or Kim Thuy’s family life. Also, paradoxically perhaps, my writing confidence has actually increased. I started to write what I wanted to because I wanted to, rather than because of the immediate gratification of reader responses. I’m often a little too immersed in the world of social media, with its competition for likes and views, so this was, as they say in the motivational speeches, a character-building experience.
I also had to gear down my language. The readership and topic demanded a simpler syntax and less flashy vocabulary. At first I winced at the repetitive pronouns and the flattened diction, but it wasn’t just that. Without my bag of tricks — the wordplay, the ironically self-deprecating persona, the faux textisms — I felt disarmed, like Prospero with his drowned book at the end of Tempest, or Superman confronted with kryptonite.***I just didn’t know whether people would like me without all the flash. I had realized that many successful bloggers have a much simpler style than mine, but I just didn’t know whether what I had to say was interesting enough to go unadorned. Was it? Hard to say given the utter lack of feedback (see previous paragraph), but I did manage to find power and beauty in the simple prose. The clay pot post is probably my favourite of the series, and that one worked precisely because the language was so limited.
** …. Teach as if no one’s listening, etc etc
*** A little grandiose? Perhaps, but I’ve been on a metaphor-free diet for two months: it’s natural to overcompensate a little.