I posted my first blog on 10 September 2011. Personally, it was a huge step. My blogging “career” most probably started during 2010-2011 when I wrote an internal institutional blog or communique on matters pertaining to open distance learning (ODL). The communique at first served the purpose of sharing with the institution (the University of South Africa, Unisa) some thoughts on Unisa’s progress in becoming a fully-fledged ODL institution. Looking back at those 76 communiques, it is clear that I increasingly found my own voice, enjoying my role as provocateur and clown, prompting thoughts, critiquing institutional trends and hopefully, informing the institutional discourse on issues in ODL. By September 2011 my involvement in this journey ran its course, the communiques came to an end and I suddenly found myself all dressed up and now where to go. The thought of starting a blog outside of the institutional firewall was a daunting experience, in more than one way…
Among the concerns was an intense self-doubt whether I really had something original to say compared to educational bloggers like Audrey Watters, Tony Bates, Steve Wheeler and George Siemens. Each of these bloggers had (and still has) an international reputation in the field of higher education and educational technologies, and their blogs were informative, well-written and often, profound. I also was concerned that, in finding my own voice and style, my blogs would not amount to anything more than truisms and pseudo-intellectual bricolage.
In his “Letters to a young poet”, Rilke (1929, trans. 2011) responds to a young man, Xaver Kappus, who asked Rilke for advice and comments on his poems. Rilke, in his first letter to Kappus, responds fairly abruptly by advising Kappus not to compare his poems with those of others, or take editors who turn down his work too seriously. “No one can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write?” (p. 7). Only if Kappus could answer this question in the affirmative “with a loud and simple ‘I must’”, Rilke encouraged Kappus to “construct your life according to this necessity; your life right into its inconsequential and slightest hour must become a sign and witness of this urge” (p. 8).
Having dealt with the crux of being a writer, Rilke then continues to advise Kappus to be authentic in his topics – to stay clear of love poems and “those forms that are too familiar and habitual”, but to take “refuge in those offered by your own day-to-day life. … If you everyday life seems to lack material, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, for there is no lack for him who creates and no poor, trivial place” (p. 8). When and only if Kappus could submerge himself in his own world, “there come verses, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good ones” (p. 9).
Rilke concludes his first letter to Kappus by encouraging Kappus to “assume this fate and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking after the rewards that may come from the outside. For he who creates must be a world of his own and find everything within himself and in the natural world that he has elected to follow” (pp. 9-10).
I discovered Rilke’s “Letters to a young poet” only mid-2012, but somehow his advice to Kappus became a guiding beacon in my journey as a blogger. I confess that during my early days as a blogger I was obsessed with the number of ‘hits’ my blog would receive. I would sulk if a ‘profound’ blog would go unnoticed. I would celebrate if the number of hits reaches a new high. During those early days I prayed for one of the greats in the field of educational blogging to notice my blog and sound the bugle.
I am relieved that those early, obsessive days have, somehow, passed. Not that I have become careless about my digital voice/footprint. I believe that digital scholarship and the digital presence of scholars will increasingly become important – despite our research rankings and performance appraisal systems trailing behind. [See a very informative guidelines developed by Sarah Goodier and Laura Czerniewicz on academics’ online presence]. My digital scholarship has become part of who I am – for better or for worse.
I also had to overcome a lot of self-doubt, born from (amongst other things), an intense awareness of how my personal history, gender, health status, academic background and race situate me in institutional and broader societal discourses. I cannot (and will not) negate the fact that these discourses and contexts shape who I am as a blogger. I also blog from the southern part of a continent described as “dark”, where the massification of higher education is seen as the panacea for addressing the deep inequalities of the past and where underprepared learners and underprepared institutions are often paralyzed by the immensity of the challenges that face us.
In conclusion: Despite my initial apprehension regarding blogging in an open environment where peer review is a given, and where comparison with established bloggers is natural, I realize now more than ever before that I need to blog. Rilke advises Kappus that some things “cannot be measured by time, a year has no meaning, and ten years are nothing. To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales not fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquillity, as if eternity lies before them” (pp. 18-19).
So, why do I blog? The answer is fairly simple – I must.
Rilke, R.M. (1929, trans. 2011). Letters to a young poet. Translated by Lewis Hyde. London, UK: Penguin.