On being in the midst of it all

Hands after Working. CC-BY-ND 2.0 image by Flickr user W H

I’m scrambling to get the last post of the Useful Dialectics series done, before I leave for China next week, and MCN the week after. It’s been a hard slog, the first concerted blogging I’ve done in over a year, and I’m out of practice. Luckily, Paul Ford’s reflection on 20 years of keeping a personal public record of his writing and thoughts came along at the right time. It’s brilliant writing; a difficult dance of unsparing honesty that’s neither self-righteous nor maudlin. And with a couple of paragraphs that are downright German in the number of clauses they barely manage to contain. Great stuff! Read it already! It’s short.

It feels rarer than hen’s teeth these days to encounter such powerful, smart stuff that doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t sink into despair. As he says at end, “Anyway, how can one be wistful with a TODO list that unrolls forever.” It was both a real tonic for my soul and a reminder of what matters. I have struggled mightily to regain some kind of regularity and rigor in my reflective practice, and finding time to read and write is hard. I guess what resonated with me about Paul’s piece was it’s frankness in facing the reality that it never, ever gets easier. No matter how many times you pick it up, the weight is still heavy. And easy to put down.

So I’ve been back at it, getting reacquainted with the pleasure of thinking I knew what I was about, only to discover through the acts of reading and writing that my initial thoughts were shallow, or ill-informed, or the tip of a much bigger iceberg that I could slowly uncover. It’s a very Nietzschean kind of happiness, the feeling that your efforts increase your ability, that troubling resistance is overcome. The motivating force behind the Useful Dialectics posts was my difficulty sorting out a presentation I’m giving in a couple of weeks at MCN. Turning those chaotic slide notes into a series of posts, not only made the final presentation much tighter than it might have been otherwise, it also got the work done in pretty short order. Looking back over them so far also reminds me of the truth of an old post of Seth Godin’s, called “The quickest way to get things done and make change”.

Don’t demand authority.

Eagerly take responsibility.

Relentlessly give credit.

The worst part of blogging for me is getting something wrong, especially misattributing or not attributing something. I’ve done both more than once with this series and the community has corrected me each time. It is terribly embarrassing to forget to cite someone or spell their name wrong, especially in a tight-knit community where you actually know many of the people whose work you reference. But it feels great to be able to say, “Gah! Sorry about that. I’ll go fix it. “ and make it right.

Ditto for actually naming your sources of inspiration. I can’t count the number of times I’ve referenced someone’s work, only to have them contact me, weeks or months or years later, to thank me, correct me, or point me at new work or other thinkers I should pay attention to. Being transparent and explicit about where you get your ideas is essential to nurturing and growing the kind of community of practice that the web can still be. It just takes work. As Voltaire said in Candide, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”  One should cultivate one’s own garden.


  1. My blog has lain fallow for two years now. I was just thinking the other day I’d like to pick it up again. I haven’t looked at it for a while; I’m sure there are bits that would make me cringe.

    Since finishing the PhD I’ve had to immerse myself and learn a whole new discipline – at least that’s what becoming a manager feels like to me. It’s not an easy journey to blog about though – too personal, both for me and the people I work with who are essential components of the journey.

    Once I have the benefit of hindsight and temporal distance, I’ll come back to it I hope.


    1. Regan!

      I decided awhile ago to adopt Julia Child’s exhortation for cooks “Never apologize!” towards my blogging. It is what it is. Moving on…

      The journey of beginner manager would be a fascinating to follow, and a path that many in the museum field, myself included, could empathize with. It *is* fraught, though, no doubt.

      If it’d be helpful to talk about how you might approach the subject without jeopardizing careers and relationships, I’d be happy to talk offline. You’ve got my email, right?


  2. Your posts are keeping me alive and sane as I struggle with a redevelopment project in a small town…trying to water a cultuural desert with great storytelling, amplify small visions, fight sexism and bigotry..I am in it 4 years and we have achieved a lot but we still have huge challenges. I am looking at another 6 years surely. My daily question – Is it worth it? Am I up to it? So thanks. Pleas keep thinking and writing…it’s lifesaving for those of us working in relative isolation and few resources! Jane Macknight


    1. Hi Jane,
      I am humbled and gratified beyond belief to know that anything I’ve written here, fired off into the darkness as it were, has reached someone who found it helpful. The Internet can seem like such a cesspool these days, it’s good to be reminded that it still is a connector of people and ideas, too.

      Keep picking up that weight.


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