I treat my blog like a commonplace book, sticking updates, diary entries and half-formed thoughts alongside quotes I come across. Here's why.
I came across my diary from India the over day.
As a diary it wasn't very consistent, and more of a notebook, where I pasted in paper gifts I was given by the children I taught, or sketched whatever I saw in front of me: an old-fashioned glass bottle with a stopper, say, or a man selling kulfi outside the school gates. Looking at it now, every entry causes my then-immediate surroundings to spring up around me, as I sat overlooking the Ganges at Rishikesh or the Beas valley from the schoolyard on top of a hill, the hot dry air in my nostrils, scratching a title or date beside a pen and ink sketch.
It’s not the entries themselves, but the style of those entries that brings back so vividly my thoughts at that time. They are chaotic, informal, rambling. It’s a considered ramble, I know - my teenage attempt to appear interesting and chaotic and informal - but it works. I look back and see myself, not just fumbling for the things I thought, but for the way in which I could express them.
Nowadays my written life is much more distributed. I leave annotations on bookmarks in Delicious, on friends’ walls, alongside links on Twitter, on blog posts, on other people’s finds on Soup and Tumblr, under photos on Flickr, or on videos on YouTube and Vimeo. Sometimes I repeat myself, saving and tweeting the same links, and sometimes I can’t find where I’ve seen something, and it falls through the cracks.
What I want is something that makes sense of my annotations, that collates them, sees where the item referred to is the same, records friends’ responses, removes duplicates, knits threads and finds similarities. And then publish it all as a book, so, like my India notebook, I can feel its weight in my hands and smooth the crushed velvet cover and be transported to another place and time.
In the mean time, I’d like to try and make sense of all those half-formed thoughts and places here on this blog. I call it 'commonplacing' in reference to the scrapbooks people kept of their thoughts, the quotations and images they encountered, and to all the notebooks I’ve kept - some full of sketches, scribblings and bits of paper, and some empty except for an opening optimistic page - throughout my life. Sometimes it'll favour stream of consciousness and be a book of scraps - links, photos, quotes - and sometimes I'll attempt to think some of those thoughts through a little more clearly.
There's an ambiguity at the heart of commonplacing. The entries may be extracted and elevated to a collective storehouse of wisdom, but the manner in which they are copied, arranged, juxtaposed, cross-referenced or indexed are personal and individual. I also like how "Commonplace" refers to the commonality of references and a shared culture. It suggests that by recording things and thoughts you are making them common, in both its meanings of "ordinary" and "collective".
That's a good mental disciple, I think.