Progress Report, May 2008

You’ve probably noticed, if you visit this site often, that I’ve essentially dispensed with my old schedule. The write-about-this-today workings of that schedule were rather easy to attend to when I (thought I) had wealth of interesting ideas.

Recently, I’ve have a dry-spell in that category. And coupled with an even more stifling inability to sit down and put ideas into a multiparagraph essay-like format, I’ve been finding that rigid schedule rather difficult to adhere to. Instead I’ve done my best to stick with the content that would be generated in a given week were I actively following the schedule, but publishing whatever I’ve got when “print time” comes on a given day.

This too, is sometimes difficult. It’s been difficult to varying extents through my whole time writing on this site, but it seems to have been especially bad recently. I’ve even been thinking *preemptive gasp* of cutting back from publishing five-times a week.

I’m not without reservations about the thought. I have some well-founded fear that without a schedule this project will soon become grossly neglected. Almost everything I’ve tried to do in my life has been chronically delayed unless it had strong forces to keep it on track.

But I’m pretty certain I can manage a schedule of three posts a week (probably Monday-Wednesday-Friday) with the option to post more frequently when I feel so inclined. That schedule worked fine for me this week, and seems like it can work well in the future. All the features and topics that have been prominent on this site in the past will, certainly, remain. But by scaling back I won’t have to spend time worrying when I don’t have anything to review, or anything to say about politics, or any new poem or quotation that I like enough to share.

But I’ve gone on longer than I needed to: suffice to say that though posting will be less frequent, my commitment to the idea and reality of this site is undiminished. And if, indeed, my posting schedule changes again in the future, don’t be surprised when I completely neglect to mention it. I’m getting rather bored with vanity posts like this one (which likely means that readers are too).

So to end on a different note, this site was accepted into 9rules, a site that aggregates quality content from many great sites. If you’ve never heard of it, you could do worse than spending a few minutes giving it a look.

personal, ruminations

Necessarily Callous

Current figures suggest that more than 22,000 perished in Myanmar (Burma) this weekend. Now the story seems to be the most consequential in the world.

Yesterday’s figures suggested that more than 350 perished in Myanmar (Burma) this weekend. Then the story seemed like a regrettable natural disaster.

There’s that old axiom, attributed to Josef Stalin, that “one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.” I think there’s undeniably something to that. But I also can’t deny that I’m staring in the face two different numbers that make two very different impressions on me. In this cases, 20,000 deaths are a tragedy and 300 is a statistic.

It’s an ugly truth that I willfully ignore disasters when damage estimates are small. Unless you know someone who lives near the site of a natural disaster, it’s easy to ignore all the reports of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. It’s probably smart not to get too worked up over natural disasters we humans, by definition, have no ability to control. It may even be wise.

And yet I can’t escape the fact that doing so seems terribly, inhumanely callous.

People who’ve known hard labor know calluses. That toughening of the skin so that the pressure so often put upon it starts to cause no injury. Perhaps even no feeling. The toughening can be unsightly, but it’s the body’s natural and necessary response to pressures that would otherwise cause tissues to rip and bleed. Given the choice between a callus and an injury requiring attention and rest, our bodies will usually choose to toughen rather than tear.

Perhaps, in our concern for the welfare of others, we need a similar amount of callousness. A similar detachment and unconcern that allows us to get on with what needs doing in our lives. That allows us to get up after hearing about five American deaths in Afghanistan, or the death of 30 Iraqis in an explosion, or 20 in a tsunami, or one in an industrial accident.

We have no time to mourn all these losses. We cannot, perhaps, spare the time and energy to consider, regret, and mourn every loss of life anywhere in the world. We cannot even spare the time and energy to mourn every loss of a fellow citizen of our country. Or even of every loss of a fellow citizen of the city, province, or state in which we live. Sometimes, it seems like we don’t even have the ability to mourn those family member we lose.

I see the necessity of this callousness. I think it makes good practical sense as a means of survival. But that doesn’t make me any less disappointed to notice it within myself or others. Any less sure that it’s wrong to stare at immense loss and be unable to shed even a tear. Any less disappointed that I only see a tragedy when the death toll reaches 22,000. Any less sure that 350 is a tragedy. Any less disappointed when I overlook the tragedy of one.

personal, ruminations

“And Parody Myself”

I’ve become a parody of myself. I think it started–the day I was born is too easy an answer–on August 16, 2007. That was the fateful day when I made a posting schedule for this site.

Then I made the mistake of following said schedule. Looking back on what I wrote that day, I find it terribly ironic that I fiercely fought against an anonymous boogie man who would hold me to that schedule. It turned out he didn’t need to hold me to it, I do that myself.

So on Mondays I dutifully write reviews. Bad ones. About movies I’ve seen that are old enough to be easy to get my hands on and obscure enough that their age isn’t easy for the public at large to remember. If I haven’t seen any movies that fit that bill recently, I usually scramble together a review of something random that needs no reviewing. I don’t review books because, well, I don’t know how to read.

And then on Tuesday’s I usually write something about the weather. Though the day’s ostensibly reserved for “everyday” topics there are only two things I can manage to fit onto that idea: self-help tripe that I think myself better than, or harmless (and thus meaningless) blather about how the weather’s been. For someone who disdains to talk about the weather in person, the irony of this is inescapable.

By Wednesdays, I’ve usually found a moderately consequential topic of national or international significance on which I can offer vague platitudes that befit my modest level of understanding. I have a strict prohibition against saying anything that will betray my ignorance, and thus tend to say nothing at all. When I come close to saying something, I always make sure to preface it with 100 self-deprecating statements about how “this is just how it looks to me.”

On Thursdays, I desperately hope that I’ve come up with an idea strange enough to write a relatively easy installment of Dispatches. Failing that, I tend to bluff my way to “long enough” by writing something about writing, especially writing on this site. In case you’d forgotten, this was written for a Thursday.

Fridays are meant as a day where I have to do nothing. In order to fulfill that goal, I almost always steal poems from The Writer’s Almanac or passages from books I used to read when I still knew how.

When the weekend comes, I’m ready and waiting to start the cycle of unintentional self-parody all over again.

personal, ruminations

Thinking About Thinking

CMP73Purple Thinker

I noticed recently that I do this rather strange thing. I’ll think thoughts, and then I’ll restate them again as if I were speaking them. Even when I’m not speaking. Even when I’m the only one around.

It’s as if I have to “say” everything in order for me to have really thought it. That is, if I have to choose what to do, I immediately know that I have three options, about dinner for example, and what they are. But not until I articulate those options as if I were saying them aloud am I “done” and able to make the choice.

Certain that I’d noticed this phenomenon before, I went looking for it. This is how I explained it about two years ago (my apologies for it’s roughness):

for example, i do this thing where while i’m brushing my teeth or something my brain has two separate things running. one is basically what i would be saying out loud. it’s rather articulate and reasonable. and then there’s the lower level that comes up with where the articulated streaming is going to head next. and if something goes through the lower level and sounds reasonable i have to repeat it on the upper, more articulate, level. i don’t know why this is and i think it’s rather strange. i already know exactly what will come out of the more articulate string and yet i must MUST go through the act of thinking it or i may have never thought anything at all.

i think the whole thing is rather strange. and i sit there thinking about politics. and then talking to myself about politics [though usually without speaking]. and then thinking about how it’s weird that i have to say all the thoughts i have twice.

i want to know if other people do things like this. when i was pretty young and i did this is kind of made sense. because the more articulate strand would, for example, be talking to a room full of stuffed animals (they listened far better than anyone i ever knew). but now there is no room of stuffed animals getting my articulate presentation and the more articulate strand is still there.

do all people think like this? do they realize they think like this? do they think about why they think like this?

I’m now wondering, much as I was then, if this is normal. I think that it can’t be too abnormal because outwardly I seem to function nearly the same as everyone else. People seem about as fast or slow to respond as I am.

Part of the problem with this whole thing is that I have no terms to describe the phenomenon. The closest I can think of is that the lower stream is, essentially, the “subconscious,” while the repetition takes place, and translates it into the “conscious” mind. Perhaps psychologists really do use these words to mean these things, but I’ve never heard it.

I guess the whole point of this might be–and both parts of my brain are telling me I need a point–is, perhaps, how little I know. The fact is that I don’t often notice this odd dual-stream nature of my brain, even though I must assume that it’s always happening.

Perhaps, then, this whole thing is another lesson in paying attention. About how much we can notices if we just take the time to do so.

personal, ruminations

The Coming Spring

PowiSpring Dandelions

It happened yesterday for the first time. For the first time in months I recognized that winter was fading and spring was coming. It’s not coming quick or earlier than usual, but it’s coming and the first signs were there.

The mid-morning walk offered some clues. It’s been getting warmer out. Recently, a hat and gloves have feel extraneous rather than absolutely necessary. But more important was the light: the gray and bright fading in an out as clouds blew around overhead. And as much as I know that this is a local weather pattern and not anything that it’s wise to extrapolate from, I couldn’t help it.

But it was later, when the hot air in the kitchen was interrupted by the cool air from outside that I was sure. Sure because of that key sign. The air outside was cool; not cold, not biting, not frigid. It was cool. Surely, a meteorologist will tell you I’m unwisely extrapolating again. Maybe I am, but I know it’s coming.

There’s a certain anticipation which should accompany every season. A change in the weather, in places fortunate enough to get changes in the weather, is the surest sign that time is passing. A gentle reminder that days do unavoidably become weeks, months, seasons, years, decades, and lives.

The new season gently asks by it’s difference, if you’re ready, if you’re satisfied, if you’re sure. If, indeed, you’re willing to enter the next season and the next year the same way you’ve lived this season and year.

Some people think that these questions are best asked between December 30 and January 2, but I’m sure they’re not. The two days that we use to mark the passing of the old and the arrival of the new are just that: days. If you blink you can miss them, and blinking through the new year is an underrated thing.

Perhaps people use those days because it’s hard to miss all the pomp and circumstance with which we mark 12:00 am on January 1st. But the passing of winter into spring can be missed. Its rarely noted and almost never celebrated. And worse, we spend so much time indoors we can easily forget we live in a place where the temperature isn’t always 68°F. A place where seasons pass. Where winter gives way to spring.

personal, ruminations

Writing is Wasteful

This is the first part of a two-part argument that I seem to be constantly having with myself. The second half, Writing is Useful, will be posted on Thursday.

D’arcy NormanLandfill

If this site exists for one reason, its for me to write. If it exist for a second reason, it’s so I’ll be listened to. If it exists for a third reason if so I can make a few dollars. If it exists for a fourth reason it’s so that’ll I’ll eventually get to appear on a late night talk show. If it–it’s clear we’ve hit the point of diminishing return on this game, let’s move on.

I have a sometimes-tenuous relationship with this blog. Once I was convinced it would help me change the world. Once I decided that it proved I was an egomaniac. Once I decided that I could do whatever I wanted with it. Once I decided that it was the magazine I’ve always looked for but never found.

Those are just the opinions about it I remember having. I don’t doubt there are more, though they probably either weren’t expressed here, or weren’t expressed very clearly.

But if the variety of the ways I’ve looked at this blog prove nothing else, they make a point of this: I’m wasting words all over this blog. I’ve regularly disagreed with myself–see these divergent thoughts on ignorance for example. What I’m doing, in short, is wasting words and adding to the noise. And we all know how I feel about noise.

My hypocrisy proves this essential point: my writing is wasteful. Even more, writing done in most places for most reasons is wasteful. People elsewhere have said it better, more eloquently, with a larger vocabulary, or greater modesty. There is, in short, no point in your writing anything.

For a less personal example, consider all the strained remakes that Hollywood has made in recent years. Few were memorable, except as reminders of how good some old movies are. In their averageness, these remakes made the most widely-watched case for a complete moratorium on writing by anyone but journalists–who must be allowed the privilege to convey novel events from around the world.

And consider the soon-to-be-forgotten strike by the Writer’s Guild of America. Though doom and gloom seemed to be the picture that emerged when the strike began, the rather quiet resolution proves how little the scribes were actually missed. The late-night comedians proved that not having writers doesn’t make what they’re doing much better or worse.

The simple fact is, with all that you’re thinking of writing, going to write, or would like to writ, someone somewhere has said it better, thought it better, or written it better. Your words do little more than take up space on hard drives across the internet. Few read them, and even fewer would notice their absence. There’s no sense in writing anything.

american society, big ideas, personal

On Privilege

White privilege, as you may know,

is a sociological concept describing the advantages enjoyed by white persons beyond what is commonly experienced by the non-white people in those same social spaces (nation, community, workplace, etc.). It differs from racism or prejudice by the fact that a person benefiting from white privilege need not hold racist beliefs themselves.

There is also some noteworthy scholarship on male privilege and heterosexual privilege. All of it speaks to the ways in which being white, male, and straight allows me the freedom to never be asked to speak on behalf of any group in which I was randomly born a member. How my poor behavior is rarely seen as a reflection on anyone but myself. How most people will assume that I’m intelligent, safe, and trustworthy. How history, as conventionally told, is brimming with people who look like me and by people like me. How role models that look like me are everywhere in this culture. How people are unlikely to harbor any negative ideas about me because of who I am.

And aside from the privileges bestowed by being white, male, and straight, I’m college educated. My parents are still married. My parents are upper-middle class. I’m an American. I live in the United States of America. I have little discernible accent (at least to American ears). All of these are seen as things that make me a better person, despite my responsibility for none of them.

And those are merely those privileges that I can enumerate right now without effort. I’m sure there are many more that I’ll discover later and probably untold ones I’ll never be made aware of.

Discussion of privilege can quickly degenerate into theoretical issues and nit-picking on substance. Surely, you might argue, there must be some privilege’s in being black, Latino, or Asian. I wouldn’t contend that there aren’t. But that’s immaterial to the fact that white (or male or heterosexual) privileges in most countries–and especially this one–are far more numerous than those conferred by other identities.

And surely white privilege–even all the privilege’s I possess–doesn’t dictate my lot in life. A poor gay black man from Zimbabwe could make himself far more successful than I’ll ever be. But I feel rather certain that he’d have had to fight a lot harder to get there.

If–or when–one recognizes that they’ve received so many unearned privileges the obvious question is: what do I do about it? One bad answer to that question the easiest to give: nothing. To assert that though you’ve received these unearned privilege’s you should essentially forget about them. Or worse, you can make the absurd and disgusting claim that they’re rightfully yours because “it was earned for you by the hard work and self-discipline of your ancestors and relatives, whom you should learn to appreciate.

There is something to be said for conscious awareness of it. To recognize and understand what it may be like on the other side of that divide. It wasn’t until I spent fifteen minutes in a mostly-black grocery store near downtown Detroit that I ever recognized what it’s like to be on the minority side of any social situation. Aware that even if these people meant me no harm–and I’m sure of that–there was the immutable fact that I felt out of place. For a white heterosexual male who has lived most of his life in predominately white parts of a predominately white state it was an eye-opening experience.

Real awareness, I think, leads directly to action. Perhaps the greatest action you’ll ever undertake is to spread awareness of these privileges among others. Perhaps you’ll just vote for politicians who you think understand and would do their best to countermand these unearned privileges. Perhaps you’ll become an activist against these privileges.

Perhaps you’ll do absolutely nothing. But I do hope you’ll at least think about what a privilege you’ve been given, to be able to ignore the ways in which you’re privileged. The unprivileged have no such choice.

personal, ruminations

How To Spend a Do-Nothing Day

Sarah MurrayDoing Nothing - Rain

It’s not as easy as it sounds, doing nothing. It’s too easy to think of all that you could be doing. All that you should be doing. In a country that seems to possess a cultural bias against stillness, doing nothing can feel dangerous. Immoral even.

It will also help, if you want to do nothing all day, to have nothing to do that day. No obligations of any kind. No work that needs doing. No driveway that needs shoveling. No social commitments that need attending. Not even phone calls that need to be made.

All prepared? Good.

Now wake up late, but not too late. 9AM is a reasonable time, 11AM is essentially too late, 1PM and you’ve already wasted your nothing day.

Then eat breakfast, preferably something that requires little work and creates little mess. Cereals–both hot and cold–are probably the best choice.

Should a dog need to be walked after the meal, ignore him for at least 15 minutes. And then, when you’ve rested from the exhausting effort of breakfast, take him. Not for too long, mind you. And not if it’s too cold.

Then, and only then, do you really want it to snow. If it’s the wrong time and place for that, rain would certainly suffice. Strong wind could work too. Anything that makes it unappealing to go outside.

Then put on some comfortable inside clothes. Get to a comfortable inside place. And do comfortable inside things. Reading, watching, listening. Baking, playing, organizing. Whatever it is that you like to do, do it. And do it a lot. You’ve got a whole day ahead of you. Don’t waste it on anything that needs doing, nor anything should be done. This is a day for things that could easily go without doing for years. Lifetimes even.

When meal times roll around, it’s imperative that you find food in the refrigerator. Knives are allowed but discouraged. Cooking by any method but the microwave is frowned upon.

Pretty soon, if you’ve done all this right, it’ll be late. Past-my-bedtime late. And you’ll sit up and wonder where the day went. But as you crawl into bed, be happy that you did it. You spent the day doing nothing.