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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Commonplace Blog

Last week, I attended our area Classical Conversations Parent Practicum, which was wonderful, by the way. Unlike many attendees, my children did not attend with me. This meant that during the lunch break, I was blessedly ALONE. (I know all moms enjoy alone time, but trust me when I say homeschool mothers enjoy it the most!) I packed a light lunch and some good reading, which for me was the May 2008 “First Things” journal.

While the weather was pretty hot, I was able to find a shady spot in the grass that caught a little of the passing breeze. It was just lovely to sit and nibble and read. That one hour of break was more time than I’ve had in a long time to focus on simply reading and thinking – outside of school, family or house-related subjects in some time. (Which made me realize how desperately I need to carve that time out on a regular, even if not frequent, basis.)

The first article I read was by Alan Jacobs who is a professor of English at Wheaton College. He wrote a fun and intriguing piece on the blog as a commonplace book. One of my favorite bloggers (unfortunately she’s no longer blogging, but her blog is still a great source of wisdom and wit) often featured “Commonplace Book” posts, so this idea is not particularly new to me. However, the article helped me think a little more deeply about my blogging – why I started, why I continue, where I want to go in the future.

Mr. Jacobs describes a Commonplace book as a place where one records “memorable ideas, wise sayings, or beautiful lines of poetry – words of rare value, distinctive enough that we dare not trust them only to our memories.” He tells us that the Commonplace book came into practice during the 16th century as the printing press gained steam as a way to deal with the seeming deluge of print material (imagine what they'd think of today's deluge of print!). The wealthy “found themselves … with access to more books than they could read, or at any rate read with care” these books became a popular way to “select the best and wisest passages from those books.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Jacobs sees great similarities in the impetus for many blogs, especially, if you look to the first weblogs which were “simply a log of interesting stories” discovered on the Web. However, he recognizes that most blogs now have another component: the online journal. (In fact, most of the blogs I read are more online journals with some interesting links thrown in, too.)

In the past year, I’ve drifted a bit more to the links emphasis rather than the journal emphasis. It doesn’t take as much of myself to list links, which makes for easy content for a busy homeschool mom. While I’ve no intention of abandoning that aspect (I love sharing what I find!), I do want to make sure I’m not neglecting one of the initial desires that brought me to blogging, the journaling!

At the end of the article, Jacobs launches a good challenge for bloggers or commonplace book keepers:

“The task of adding new lines and sentences and paragraphs to one’s collection can become an ever tempting substitute for reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting what’s already there. And wisdom that is not frequently revisited is wisdom wasted.”

Perhaps the journaling (about those linked-to articles), is one way to revist wisdom.

What about your blog? Do you tend to have more of an online journal or a links blog…or do you walk the via media between the two? How do you revisit wisdom on your blog?


Emily said...

Interesting! I will have to dig out our copy of FT and read that article. Thanks for mentioning it!

Myself, I think I waffle. Some journalling (though I never get too personal, I guess I'm just more comfortable doing that in a face-to-face fashion?) and some linking, mentioning.

The "Unfortunate Events" books always reference one of the character's commonplace books and I never knew (until now) just exactly that that referred to!

Kerry said...

My son LOVES the "Unfortunate Events" books, but I didn't know they mentioned commonplace books! I'll have to ask him about that - he probably doesn't know what that is either.

Annie said...

Mine is definitely a commonplace book. I think Sam Beaver's notebook (in The Trumpet of the Swan) is a commonplace book, too.

Peter Thompson said...

Why is it that nobody seems to know what a commonplace book is and thus, what a commonplace blog should be. It is not explaining what you did last weekend. That's just a blog. Come on! I've been down the first five entries for Commonplace Blog I've found on Google and so far nothing but "We went to smelLA for the weekend..." Just quotes, randomness, words, lines...none of the inane commentary people.

Kerry said...

Hi, Peter! I suppose it could be that some people are using the term "commonplace" to mean ordinary, usual, etc. Therefore, fo them, a commonplace blog is one that just has notes from their ordinary lives in it. Perhaps?

I use the term on my own blog (and it is my blog, thus, I can choose how to employ the term whether others deem it the correct use or not) for my posts in which I record notes from books, magazines, web articles, etc. These posts usually include some of my thoughts, too, because I want to open a little discussion here, too.

So, Peter, do you have a commonplace blog?