It’s been just about a year since I started posting weekly entries on Museum Notes. Even though I am a planner, I didn’t plan to write a blog. A few right steps arrived in quick succession. I must have been willing, curious, and/or susceptible.
In September 2010, Paul Orselli posted an interview with me on his terrific ExhibitTricks blog. Looking at his previous interviews took me into a deeper, but casual, exploration of blogs, and museum blogs in particular. Reshuffling the stack of stickies on my desk with notes, quotes, and anecdotes, possible topics to write about took shape. At about the same time, I was writing Planning To Plan to share with clients who were starting a major planning effort to give some concrete steps for the journey ahead. Maybe something like this could be blog-worthy.
Setting up the blog could be a stumbling block, but wasn’t with templates and some just-in-time tips from Mr. Orselli. Planning To Plan became the first post and a happy experiment began. I was somewhat astonished to hear myself telling people to check out Museum Notes, setting an expectation they’d be finding something to read there in the future.
Trying something new and figuring it out as I go along has been a trick, a treat, and a great experiment. Not so long ago, I didn’t know what a blog was and just a year ago, I rarely read blogs, and, certainly not regularly. Over the past year, however, I’ve been reading more and more blogs for interest, ideas, and information. I am astounded at the many blogs out there and am intrigued by how bloggers present fresh views and friendly provocations; I marvel at how prolific some bloggers are and appreciate finding news and current happenings.
A Library of Ideas
Every day, I catch a few of the humming ideas and loose thoughts that flit across my desk, my screen, the page, or just through the air: educational reform, brain development research, demographic trends, audience research, participation, play. These form a library of ideas for me. Some are captured on stickies, others are penned on any available scrap of paper, and a few actually are printed and clipped together.
I am on the look-out for big ideas I can unpack, relate to museums, and to their relevance and value. I want to gather fragments and consolidate loose ideas about planning, museum practices; play, thinking and learning; experience and environments that have been sloshing about in my head. I am interested in reframing ideas to offer new perspectives and converting ideas and information into tools and practices that museum educators, designers, leaders, evaluators will find useful. I want to inspire, and some times exhort-just a little-to act, experiment, and try things another way.
Writing a blog has become a kind of practice for gathering, viewing, and developing information and ideas. When an idea or topic forms, it feels like spring and a new beginning. Perhaps only a phrase holds it together at first, but it’s enough to carry around with me, almost like a stone, fingering it, rolling it around in my hand, getting a feel for its shape and sheen. I dig out favorite articles and dig into recent studies, google and scan and think roundly about the ideas. What does this really mean? Is really it important? Why? Where can it be put to good use? Who really knows about this? I follow that growing cluster of thoughts to see where they might go. I am often surprised.
The Wrench of Writing
The gap between a thought in my head and how it comes out on paper is always staggeringly larger than I expected. I am apparently a slow learner since this happens again and again. Projecting what’s in my head with what’s on the paper is wrenching, but fortunately interspersed with occasional moments of joy. A word or two or even a sentence is not so hard. But when two or more sentences need to be hooked together in a clear and useful way, the struggle starts.
I search for a small, slim thread of a working idea and follow it. Soon I am stuck; I stare, I squint, I back up and come at the page from a slightly different angle. Then I rewrite. My husband’s sympathy extends to reminding me that E.B. White said, “The best writing is rewriting.”
Writing is inevitably a discovery process, disciplined, but discovery of what I am thinking that is worth others’ time to read. An idea’s impact is compromised if expressed in a flat or fuzzy way. Sometimes in trying to reveal an elusive point, I lay down a few new words crossing my fingers they will resonate more with my purpose and point in a more productive direction. The idea I am after inevitably lies deeper in the center of the block of stone I have chosen to attack. I must push my thinking harder and further to write, and I suppose that is a good thing.
Those few moments when ideas snap together, useless words disappear, and the way ahead is clearer keep me going. The very tail end of writing, knocking off a few rough edges and polishing up some words, is the most satisfying. Twelve months of writing really hasn’t changed the highs-and-lows of writing. I am still surprised that everything finally comes together and am delighted when I hit the “publish” button.
Sharing ideas and resources with colleagues is a great delight as is linking like minds and distant museums, whether with a study or an article I have come across, a tool I have developed, or something I learned from a recent conversation. Museum Notes has allowed me to share more with more people. I never would have imagined that articles, books, tools, images, and links posted on Museum Notes would find their way around the world, yet one quarter of its readers come from 70+ countries around the world, from Argentina to Zimbabwe.
Year one has been an experiment. Year two will be an experiment as well, but hopefully one with more of your input and that of other readers.
• I am thinking about revisiting several of the topics that have been read most: vision statements, stakeholders, questions, and children’s environments. What aspects of these topics are particularly interesting to you?
• I really enjoy thinking and writing about materials exploration, loose parts, building, paper, light, mud. What would inspire your explorations?
• I’ll continue to write about building on strengths–strong children, strong museums, and strong communities–and how this contributes to public value. What do you wish you knew more of in these areas?
• I hope to continue converting ideas and practices into tools, such as the stakeholder maps, learning frameworks, learning assets, etc. If you have used any of the tools, how helpful have you found them? What other tools might be helpful?
• Intriguing google searches, such as convergence of museums, show up on Museum Notes' analytics; That is an inviting image. What do you think the convergence of museums might mean?
• Are there topics you are interested in that you think are a good fit for Museum Notes? Would you like to see more reviews of exhibits? of museums?
• And, just in general, what would you like to see more of? Less of?
Thank you for reading the posts, sharing your comments, contacting me with questions, engaging in new conversations, teaching me about our field, and showing me some of the possibilities ahead.