I labored a bit over whether or not to post this as it falls a bit far from what I normally post (elearning, mlearning, information stuff), but I am finding some patterns in a relatively common phenomena that has been experienced for eons. Writer’s block.

Everything I write after this might contradict this, but I am muted.

As a person who more or less makes a living professionally and an impact academically through writing, I find this occasional hurdle a bit mystifying. Writing generally flows naturally for me; I see something with some perceived significance and I immediately am crafting a post, a page, an email, or even a caption in my head. My first instinct is to write it out and what this process represents for me I doubt is the same for everyone. It might be, but I am skeptical.

For me, this immediate and incessant writing, immediately after experiencing something perceived as significant, is an extended dialogue. With self, with an audience, audibly. It is the first steps, in my psyche, towards acceptance, understanding, a general cognitive process. Sometimes I walk away more mystified, but sometimes by the end of a post I am at peace with what I just experienced. Intellectual and emotional peace. I know what I saw and I know what it made me feel. In ideal scenarios, after posting I know exactly how that experience will fuel or hinder me, how it might feed enthusiasm for a particular process or encourage me to dismantle the process altogether. For me, blogging/writing is a verbal reflection, a distinct and critical step in my learning process.

But experience doesn’t always jive with motivation. Sometimes, we are stunted, muted precisely because our timetable for real comprehension, the intellectual, emotional, even spiritual variety, strips our (infantile) impatience for a neat closure, to figure out what it is and how it is right this instant. It doesn’t work that way.

Answers will come with enough of an intellectual and emotional dance and dialogue between the conscious and the subconscious, the spiritual and secular, the abstract and the logical. These tools allows us to swallow an idea, make it our own, refine it, and use it. And unfortunately, words sometimes fail. They need to. When they fail, perhaps we have stumbled onto something profound.

I am reminded of the following verse from Wordsworth, a man who seemed to employ a similar process to mine of thinking aloud (why say anything in 20 words that you can say in a thousand?):

I love the brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripp’d lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day. Is lovely yet;
The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye  That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

You can substitute out tears for any profound emotion or intellectual understanding. The thrill of academic pursuit isn’t the time to reflect necessarily; collaboration, exploration, discovery. These are the crowns of academic communication. But they aren’t a reflective state; they are energy, a riotous enthusiasm. Words escape me, because they were meant to. I am muted as perhaps as I am overwhelmed by something vexing or beautiful or mystifying, a path meandering. Many paths intersecting.

And what stumped me today?

  • An upcoming trip and the normal attending anxiety
  • Settling back in Seoul after an extended trip visiting family in the States. Not homesick, but feeling loss
  • Departures, arrivals, perpetual motion. Ramping up for a big change.
  • This picture, which doesn’t do justice to the sublime instance of connection present in this old couple, deep in some forgotten neighborhood of Seoul

Older couple holding hands outside Bongwonsa (봉원사), Seoul, Korea

So, I leave this post with some energy to push on through as well as some understanding that through isn’t the path always available to us, especially with profound experience. So we are left muted at a closed door while all around us swirls possibility.

This is an incubation.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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