The Love Your Blog Challenge: Interactions and Community

Kate at A Playful Day has proposed a Love Your Blog challenge for April 2015. Throughout April, she will post a prompt to explore every Monday, to encourage people to fall back in love with their blog and think about what inspires them and find inspiration in others. The first prompt is Interactions and Community, and my response is below.

IMG_1348This is a very new blog, but I’m not new to blogging. My first blog was born in August of 2004, when I had moved to a new city for a new job, my husband was living elsewhere for grad school, and – though I didn’t realize it right away – I was desperate for community.

While aimlessly surfing the web, I stumbled on a few other people like me: recent PhD grads starting new jobs and figuring out how to negotiate an academic identity. I created my blog only because I wanted to comment on others’, and I thought it would be rude to comment without having an online identity/blog of my own. (I was completely wrong, but it was the early days of blogging and I wasn’t sure how the etiquette worked yet.)

That blog was a godsend precisely because it allowed me to join and participate in a community that I treasure to this day. Probably close to half of my Facebook friends are people I came to know through blogging, many of whom I’ve still not met in person, but would be happy to hang out with at any time. (And those of you who followed me here: so lovely to see you!)

As as important as that community was to me for a long time, much has changed since then, both in blogging and me. The biggest change in me is that I left academia to start a new career. While not everyone in my previous blog community was (or stayed) an academic, that space was particularly focused on negotiating professional identity in a field where the personal and professional are unusually closely linked. One of the things I don’t miss at all about academia is how you were never really not at work – you could always be thinking great thoughts! you didn’t have to be in an office 9-5, which just meant you could work anytime, anywhere! – so in a way, you were never not being an academic.

This blog is part of my current goal to carve out a personal identity that has nothing to do with my employment, and to be able to leave work at work. I want to spend my non-work time on activities that I value and take seriously for their own sake, not just because they will make me better at my job or fill up the spaces in between my work days. My self-worth needs to be based in something more than what my employers think about me. And I need to exercise those parts of my brain that love color, creativity, and visual expression, which don’t get used at all in my day job. Which all led me to knitting: color! creating things! looking at color and how to create things!

I decided to blog about knitting for a couple of reasons. First, my Ravelry project pages were getting ridiculously detailed, and I realized that blogging might be a better format for that information. But second, I valued my previous blog community so highly that I hoped blogging might be a way into a knitting community as well.

needlesI haven’t had much luck finding a face-to-face knitting community. As a beginner, I was shy of getting involved in knitting groups. Now that I’m maybe less of a beginner, I’ve moved somewhere that doesn’t have a really strong history of knitting. There are great Native textiles traditions around here, which I’d love to learn more about, but as far as I know, those traditions center on weaving rather than knitting. (Though I’m by no means an expert on this, and as a gringa I’m not in a great position to talk about truly local and indigenous traditions.) So I don’t think there’s as much visible interest in or support for knitting as you might see in parts of the world like northern Europe or the Andes.

It’s also a region heavily populated by snowbirds, and my sense is that most of the local yarn stores cater to retirees who are only here part of the year, and tend to knit for their grandchildren. That is absolutely a valid and wonderful knitting tradition, but it’s not mine, and it’s not usually the kind of aesthetic that appeals to me. (I’m much more drawn to the kind of aesthetic you find here, my favorite yarn store ever.) On a purely practical level, it means that most yarn classes and groups meet, say, 2 pm on Wednesdays, which means they’re not really feasible for people who work full-time.

But I miss talking to people about what I love to do. I adore that knitting is something I can do on my own, on my own time, that doesn’t require me to go somewhere or schedule something or depend on others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to interact with other people about it. So for community, I’ve been looking online.

The knitting communities I’ve found are amazingly vibrant, thoughtful, and accessible. Unlike when I started blogging originally, though, there’s an embarrassment of riches out there: not just blogs, but Twitter, Instagram, and especially for knitters, Ravelry forums and groups. When I blogged before, there were few enough of us that just being out there garnered you an audience. Now, the field is much more crowded, and how to find and get the attention of the people you want to talk to much more complicated. On top of that you have the commercial element of knitting communities, where designers and yarn stores have their own communities as well as mingling with hobby knitters.

It’s almost that blogging used to be like walking into a local coffee shop, the kind where people came to sit and read/work/chat for a few hours. Some coffee shops are bigger than others, but they’re still relatively small spaces, and everyone who enters has the same relationship to the space as every other, as a customer of the establishment. In such a space, it’s not hard to see what other people are doing (grading/writing/drafting a resume/playing chess/etc.), and to strike up a conversation if you feel like it. A small community can be a little stifling or homogenous sometimes – I think we’ve all walked into a small coffee shop or restaurant and immediately felt like we didn’t quite fit in with the tone or atmosphere. The plus, though, is that if you show up long enough, you become a regular without trying very hard.

Blogging now feels a little bit like walking into some kind of amazing yarn festival. It’s amazing and colorful and offers a gazillion resources, as well as access to some of the greatest knitting designers and yarn producers. It’s open to everyone, there’s something for everyone, and visited by people of all kinds of shapes, sizes, interests, tastes, and ability levels. But for the average person, it can be loud and crowded and a little overwhelming. And your position as a consumer is different from that of the people running the stalls, who are generally fascinating, kind, knowledgeable people who genuinely enjoy talking to you and want to support your knitting, but are also trying to make a living out of knitting/yarn and thus have different goals for the event than you do.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that one kind of community is better or worse; they’re just different. The nature of the community shapes the interactions that take place, but I still love how blogging makes so many different kinds of interactions possible. I feel a bit like a new kid to knitting right now, but am enjoying writing and thinking about knitting, and hope I will find others to talk to. Even if my interactions end up limited to reading others’ words, looking at others’ projects, thinking about and learning from others’ ideas, and writing here to process it all for myself, though, taking part in these communities will be worth it.

A Playful Day
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13 thoughts on “The Love Your Blog Challenge: Interactions and Community

  1. Really enjoyed reading your post. Quite thought-provoking in the way you use the coffee shop analogy.

    Now off to read about your sweater knitting – I try to avoid sweaters as much as possible so maybe I’ll find some inspiration! πŸ˜€

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    1. Thank you! Almost as soon as I published that post I’ve been knitting entirely un-sweater things, so I may have been a little too dogmatic…

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  2. Loved your post and the comparisons you made. You’re right it does kind of feel like a yarn fest!
    I hope you make space in your life for the creative – everyone needs a space in their life to unwind and escape work. Knitting can really help! Look forward to reading your post next week. X

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  3. Hi. Thanks for a great and thought provoking post. I am on the other side of the ‘divide’ from you in that currently my life and work are all knitting. It wasn’t the long term plan initially, but having a little person in my life and loving my craft they just seemed to come together into my current work. I love blogging and writing about knitting as I find it very personally rewarding but I am keenly aware that my blog is also a business tool and this makes it a very different space from a blog that is purely a personal record and part of the knitting community from a hobby standpoint. I do believe we all have so much to offer though and the diversity in the community makes it so rich and vibrant.

    When I read your blog I thought about this post that I read recently and thought you might enjoy it. https://ravelledsleeve.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/amateurs-assemble/

    Thanks for sharing, and thanks for stopping past my blog to say hi too πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you for the link! That was a really interesting post. I certainly don’t think the professionalism is bad, and I love how involved and responsive so many designers/dyers/other professionals are. I think it’s easy for amateurs to forget the work-ness of knitting/crafting for designers/dyers/etc. sometimes, and think, “I wish I could make a living from knitting,” without considering what that would really entail. So I guess I appreciate, too, how professional blogs both let me see something about what it’s like to live off knitting (and why I would be very very bad at it, completely unrelated to my knitting abilities!).

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  4. I love this post! The coffee shop analogy is one I’ve used myself before now (or, being British, the idea of online spaces as the local pub), but I agree that online socialising has got wider and busier recently – the yarn festival analogy makes a lot of sense, and it can be a bit overwhelming, but it can also be exciting and fun and utterly exhilarating!

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    1. Thank you! The pub is a great analogy, too – and the British local pubs often seem much nicer than the American bar equivalents.

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  5. I’ve enjoyed and been challenged (in a good way) by your post. My blog is all about part of my identity, it’s very reflective, so in a way I don’t write in the anticipation of comments, I write because I find the reflection is a helpful part of my creative process. The comments I receive do make me smile, make me reflect further and some times challenge me. It’s very much a small coffee shop (I love the analogy) people can come by, pause for a few moments and move on, or stay and take in what I say and make something of their own from that.

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    1. Thank you! I agree that reflection is extremely important. And I think the problem with writing for comments is that it puts the value of the writing on other people’s reactions, which we can’t control.

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this. Where you live sounds absolutely fascinating, and what you said about not wanting to be defined purely by what you do for a living resonated strongly with me. I’ve found knitting to be a powerful force in holding onto my identity when faced with a very all-consuming work-life – I love the fact that I get to engage with colour and texture, to create and to do so on my own terms (and in snatched pockets of time). The analogy of blogging as walking into a yarn festival struck home too. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Love, love, love this post! I can totally identify with needing to leave work at work. I find knitting to be my secret identity and would guess many of my co-workers would be shocked to find out what I do at night. I wanted to become more connected to the larger knitting community which is why I expanded my blog. Glad to have found you through this challenge ☺

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