Saturday, September 24, 2011

Should've Known Better

This year I've made a point of quitting the use of the word 'should'. Seven months into the experiment, I can (almost) safely say it is now gone. Gone from my blog, from my everyday vocabulary. Above all, gone from my inner thoughts.

Why? How did I start this?
Because whenever I read that teachers should...(you fill in the blank)..., I've always felt a need to resist inside instead of engaging in conversation.

Coming closer to examples, I think we mean different things when we use 'should'.

Generally speaking, in affirmative form, I think it sounds like a disguised form of protest.
e.g. "Every teacher should blog".
Which probably translates to "I would like, I need, it would be nice if... I do, it works for me, why not you? Come on!"

Speaking more personally, it's a bit of a diminishing word.
e.g. "I should blog every day."
Which may well translate as: "I think that my not blogging everyday is not enough" or "I wonder if I ever will". These phrases invite to approval or disapproval. A pass or fail in a test. (Who needs another test, anyway?).

I could go on. A quick search in my RSS reader gives me inspiration, but I won't quote. You go search for yourself and write your own subtitles to the 'should' movie. There is a lot in need of translation written out there.

'Should' works very well in question form, though:

"Why should I believe that?"

See? That's the kind of blogging I want to read on without feeling an internal argument building up inside me to resist it. It engages me to find my own reasons. I may even blog back at you. So we both get a chance to learn.

The mind has a natural tendency to resist change at times. if you mean to create or lead change when you write, watch your use of 'should'.

I hear the word very frequently in my network; I do not stop reading people who use it. I just read between the lines knowing I cannot assume what they really meant until I read much more.

Excuse me for contradicting myself in the same post, but I don't think anyone should anything, be it change the way they teach or publish their minds in blog posts, until they find their own genuine reasons. Anything else is as attractive as thoughtless cut&paste of ideas.

About writing, I think that there are more powerful words than 'should'. Only the sentences need to be more wordy, you need to go meta reflective to create meaning, you need to put yourself out there in the open.

How? Here's a possible structure:
"I would like this to change because..." Paragraph. Concise.
Followed by,
"I shape my thoughts like this because of where I come from". More paragraphs. These are key.

That's more humble and also less pretentious. Bonus: that's is the way I can get to connect to you. Speak from your known corner of the world to the unknown world wide web who might read and write responses, if they feel so inclined. Your ideology need not be photocopied elsewhere. Finland is already taken. Perhaps, we need to do differently.

If you ask me, I like sentences with a deep structure grammar based on freedom, not authority. Freedom from the critic or evangelizer lurking in your voice. Besides, 'should' is a poor authority invoker, in my opinion. It tends to overstep it.

So consider cutting down on affirmations with 'should', please. I'll see for myself what I might do with your thoughts, if anything at all.

Engage me. Show me your learning. I'd rather you tell me your stories.

Time Long Past
Time Long Past, by me on Flickr

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What I've Learnt with the Dailyshoot

As much as I love photography, it hasn't crossed my mind to go to a formal course. Maybe not yet. But with the wealth of information online and my enthusiasm to explore on my own I don't see room for a formal course in the near future.

I have been shooting photographs every day for about 300 days now. Following the Dailyshoot prompts has given me some pleasant surprises. I have learnt quite a lot informally and I think it is a good idea to continue documenting it. Here is an illustrated summary of my photo discoveries.

-If I let go of the picture I have set out to find, the one right in front of me may be even better than what I had imagined.


-Overdoing it doesn't always render a better shot. The first one may be your best one.

Tree Parade

-Prompts make me take pictures I woudn't otherwise have taken.

Circles of Delusion
-It's a good idea to priorize fluency over accuracy. Do it fast. It's not about the best shot ever, but a fair enough shot. Play on. You'll take another one tomorrow.


-The photographer is more important than the camera. People do incredible things with an iPhone. I don't have an equipment with plenty of options. So I tend to get more carried away by composition than by technical aspects of aperture, focus and overall quality of the photo.


-Think light, then shoot. Even when you've found the cutest photo subject.


-Be there. Your photo can be in that place you walk by every every day. Notice the details.


-The trivial is as good a photo subject as a work of art. Shooting daily, you learn to photograph anything in front of you. Point of view does it.

Remotely Viewed

Re-reading what I just wrote, I find it sounds a bit like rules. I do not know if there are rules to learn informally. Certainly there are patterns shaping in what I do. Experimenting daily you find beliefs about learning emerging quickly. This post is about jotting down those ideas before they are challenged by future learning. This is what works for me now.

I do have one rule. One rule only I am sure to follow: keep it up.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Writing Phantoms

"It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen..."

Expressing yourself. Online. Making connections. Learning all along. That's the common denominator of what we are doing here.

But there are differences. Huge.

Daily Homework

What I enjoy about writing my thoughts online is that these posts give closure to a string of ideas and free me to turn onto things I had not considered before. Sometimes they are like a soup -cooking slowly and mingling what were merely ingredients, spin off ideas read in blog posts. This post has a network of ingredients.

My last post on identity made me realise that I write with a premise -or an illusion- of being understood. Actually it was Graham Wegner's comment that painted it quite clearly to me:

"Claudia, I'm never quite that confident that I have understood your intent in your blog posts, but I am confident enough to know that any written content is open to interpretation from the reader's perspective. Even text that is interpreted differently from the author's intent is valuable and pushes the reader to consider things from a new angle. And if they present those conclusions or ideas back to the original writer, it can open up new insight that wasn't originally considered. If all your readers understand perfectly what you are trying to say, then they may have nothing useful to add to the conversation!"

Interpretation is open source by nature. While my illusion of being understood probably springs from a genuine need, in a networked world, being misunderstood matters most.

Graham says more,

"Maybe in the online connected environment, we can bypass what is considered essential personal detail trading in the face-to-face world, and get down to the emptying of one's still embryonic concepts out to an unknown but open minded audience."

Hopefully someone will 'misunderstand' and leave thoughtful comments like these! And yet, we still long for those details. The unimportant things that make us human.

While slowly mentally drafting this post, making sense of my own need to be understood, David Truss alerted me of Amalia's post, Voice Found. Now What?.

There you have a voice struggling beyond whatever may be a stumbling block for me; for when I write, I completely trust a connection will be made. I simply don't see how it cannot. Unless I change my style to how-to manual writing mode. There's you out there. I know that for sure.

Amalia says,

"So, instead of saying that I’ve found my voice, the bigger truth is that I trust my voice. I know when I’m going wrong. My bones tell me. And if I can stay true to that, then I’ve done something. The problem now is choosing what to say. There are so many things I’m passionate about..."

Her need is different from mine,

"This blog is forcing me to choose. Well, let me put it this way. For the sake of a sense of community around my blog, I want to focus a bit more. Even if it’s only me and two other people, I want us to chew on some common topic together. (...) Show me what You want me to do with this voice. I want to be useful, I want to harmonize, I want to connect."

The post left me wondering and with a strange sense of sadness. I think it's important to find a voice, but it's not enough. Now I see it differently. I'm afraid I disagree with Amalia. The problem is not choosing what to say. The problem is trusting yourself enough to stand at the edge of the writing cliff and make a bungee-jumping leap of faith. Trust your voice to be neither right nor wrong. Connections? That's the easy part: they are the inevitable consequence of sharing your-self.

I am reminded of a lecture by Virginia Woolf: Professions for Women. Fifteen years ago, I would read that lecture voraciously.

Flashback. I remember a bicycle going by in front of Cambridge University on a cold January, sunset, organs playing -one clear, another one fading-, the walls looking like sepia-toned photographs. Me, walking and holding a copy of A Room of One's Own next to my heart. I was planning to buy a flat of my own in Buenos Aires, to be free of paying a rent forever. Maybe write. The Internet was not a dream yet.

I hear Virginia again. (Are you still reading me, Amanda?).

"While I was writing this review, I discovered that if I were going to review books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her--you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily (...)

I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex."(...)

Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time."

At that time? The lecture was written in 1931. The phantom was the impediment to say exactly what you think while being a woman in a man-writer's world. I could harry to say that the 21st century is different, that there are no such gender differences; however, I think we do have phantoms lurking.

I still see it is more likely for women to take care of the home than become prolific bloggers. I still find men more straightforward and less puzzled by dichotomies of online vs offline identity. Less concerned with having to open different blogs because they found new topics of conversation, which may cause worries about losing audience or clicks. I may well be over-generalizing, but men are more likely to be beyond all that. They would probably not write a post like this one. Or take as long as I take to write it!

I had a Skype call with my friend Alan Levine recently. A first synchronous talk after years of connecting online. I remember Alan told me about how he writes. He needs to get it said and published. He is fluent about blogging. I don't imagine too many drafts sleeping in his blog editor.

Alan left this comment on my previous post,

"We talk about 'going' online like it is a place, we never talk about other media like that. And given the way mobile connectivity enabled the communication, I hardly see my online and not online modes as being so cleanly split.

I exist as one Alan: there are things I don't put online but I do not see a neat division."


We are all sharing, connecting, learning. There are interesting differences, though. Amanda is struggling with the phantom of connecting; I am struggling with one of elusive expression. Meanwhile, Alan is being himself.

You need to find your voice and your purpose. And then, not to be tongue-trapped by anything. There's some learning job, if you are patient. After that, there is the most difficult of all. To react genuinely to every single blog post that stirs your mind, to every agreement or deep disagreement with the closest people in your network. For that, you'll probably have to learn to kill a few phantoms. Even when you think you have mastered that exercise, it would not be surprising to find yourself again back to square one in the network game.

Note to Self
Remember the basics: never ever assume you're that connected, well- expressed or understood.

Now make that as big or small as you want.

Carry on.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Some thoughts on identity -particularly mine

I have never written posts like this or this. Come to think of it, I wonder what people think of me when they probably have little data about my offline life and self. It sometimes feels unbalanced that I know so much about them.

Who are we when we are online?

Maybe a better question could be,

What is it about you that surfaces in an online environment and would not come up anywhere else?

Things change depending on how you frame the question, don't you think? The first question seems to call for a battle of opposites between virtual and real. The second question could well ignore superficial dualities and deal with more important things, in my opinion.

I think it is not possible to hide who you are after having written for, say, four years online. If you pretend, I think you may fool a beginner, someone who goes for convenient quotables in your posts instead of consistency. Because reading, after all, is a choice between what you would like it to mean and what it actually means, seasoned with lots of tolerance for what you cannot tell clearly yet.

I think I need uncle Whitman to help me express what I mean,

"All truths wait in all things,
They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,
They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon,
The insignificant is as big to me as any,
(What is less or more than a touch)..."#1

Things are there, if you want to read them. That simple.

Those who have been reading my tweets or listened to my mini-podcasts know that I love poetry and poetic prose fragments. You may find the most varied kind of poems there in English and in Spanish, but I know that there is an underlying theme in my choices. My search, my drive in finding them is an exploration of how different voices have managed the struggle of making sense of the world, while living in touch with the mysterious interstices between fantasy and reality.

So, for instance, for Borges, reality and dreams are really hard to tell from each other. His point of view is that of Leo Di Caprio's in Inception. (By the way, I learnt that the film director read a lot from Borges before writing the script).

Cortázar, far from the academic and classical allusions so typical in Borges, made his point speaking of objects that surround us everyday. Listen to him,

"Now I write birds.
I do not see them come, I do not choose them.
They are suddenly there, they are this.
A swarm of words
in the barbed wire of the page,
screeching, pecking, rain of wings
and me, without any bread left to give them, just
letting them come. Maybe
that's a tree
or perhaps
love." #2

Cortázar is an ordinary man with an extraordinary predisposition to weave poetry with whatever signals he comes across. He is a feeler, a noticer, a dailyshooter.

When asked about where he drew the line between reality and 'the fantastic', as the genre he wrote in is called, he said:
"I don't. The fantastic is my reality."#3

Try it.

Juan José Saer, who would have probably argued with Borges, solved the reality versus fictional aspect of literature quite simply:
"By its mere existence, every story is real". #4

On a TV interview #5, Saer was asked to talk about the power of books, their relationship to life; he interrupted the interviewer and said:
"Books ARE life."

Those words go deep in the vinyl of my brain.

We are, we live, we can understand based on the many stories that were read to us, and the countless stories we have told ourselves of who we are.

Think of this.

When you write, and you try to be transparent about how each fledgeling thought of yours is tied to the words that another blogger has said, and you become aware of the hyperlinks between their experiences and your own life story, isn't that as real as it gets?

Right. No. How about close-up enough then?

How can I hide who I am in my choice of subjects for a photo, in my foreign tone of voice when I read a poem, in the rhythm of my sentences or the list of subjects that never ever get an account of in my blog? Something real and undeniable underpins the chaos of it all.


You do not have my portrait. You hardly have a clue of how old I am. You cannot read my very own poems sleeping in a cardboard box on the bottom shelf. Most importantly, you do not know who I'd be ready to kill or die for.

I have long ago decided all that is my privacy.

And yet, I like to think that if you, keen reader of my online footprints, met me face to face, you would confirm you already know me. You would, perhaps, just add more accurate sources to this long quote of myself, which is my blog.

Let me ask you once again:
Who are you when you write online?

Think of it conversely. The offline-only people in your lives who have never ever cared to read what you passionately write about, who do they actually know?

I feel I could carry on writing like this, but this post is long enough and I need some sleep.

#1 Whitman in Songs of Myself.

#2 Cortazar's fragment is from the poem "Cinco últimos poemas para Cris". The translation is mine.

Ahora escribo pájaros.
No los veo venir, no los elijo,
de golpe están ahí, son esto,
una bandada de palabras
en los alambres de la página,
chirriando, picoteando, lluvia de alas
y yo sin pan que darles, solamente
dejándolos venir. Tal vez
sea eso un árbol
o tal vez
el amor.

#3 My best recall of what Cortázar says in this long interview.
#4 Juan José Saer in his novel, La pesquisa (The Inquiry). I read a taste of it here.
#5 How I wish that existed somewhere online! It was in Channel 7 in early 2001.

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