ruminations

Of Ideas and Word Counts

MousyBoyWithGlasses (CC-ASA)Feel Life Poem

I think that every person at every time has only so many words they can spend on an idea before they end up repeating themselves.

A quick example: consider the stereotypical young male bachelor. When he’s single, the number of words he can or will spend on the topic of romantic love probably doesn’t go above 15. When newly smitten, he’ll spend hours to the topic and for any ear willing to hear. Of course that’s an exaggeration, but I think you can infer the point from it.

And this has implications far beyond the amount of love poetry that exists in the world. This relation between ideas (which we could also call topics) and word counts regularly affects what I do here. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve started writing something only to find that I had only a few paragraphs of stuff worth writing on it.

Sometimes, I can’t even write more than a sentence. And I’d like to say that this means that those topic go on some shelf to wait for me to have more to say about them. Usually they do. Sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes, for lack of a better idea, I feel the need to pad an idea I don’t have much to say about. To pull and prod it and hope that suddenly I’ll find something new to say. I rarely do. But somehow I find my way to rather imaginary line of “long enough”–I’d estimate that for this space it’s about seven paragraphs, though it really depends.

Given how much poking and prodding I have to do to my ideas to get them to that relatively short length, I can’t imagine what anyone ever manages to write a whole book about. I’d estimate that a days writing here is less than a page in an average book, and I’m sure that a year of this somewhat-random writing wouldn’t make a very coherent book.

One of the things I’ve always liked about poetry is that it’s the purest distillation of ideas you find almost anywhere. The word count of most poems is even less than my average word count here, but done well it easily eclipses what I do in terms of depth and thoughtfulness.

Poetry and books feel like the opposite ends of the spectrum to me. A poem–at least the kind I like–is as succinct as it possibly can be. A good book, on the other hand, is extremely verbose. Exhaustion of it’s topic is, generally, the goal.

For now, I’ll probably stay where I am. In the middle of these two more common forms. Not sure which, if either, would better fit my style than what I’m doing right now.

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metablogging, ruminations

Tidbits

From the “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” box:

Sometimes you try to write something and come up completely empty. Having had had a number of interesting, strange, and outright unusable ideas, you’ve found nothing that could become a coherent set of sentences that seemed to say anything valuable.

So instead, readers will have to accept some half-formed semi-coherent ideas of what might have seen had it been meaningfully expanded.

  • It’s always best to shovel snow before anyone has walked on it, and especially before any car has driven over it. If you don’t, you’ll get those stubborn packed areas that your plastic shovel will be all but incapable of getting off the concrete.
  • I don’t read nearly enough books. Books are long arguments that require time and dedication to comprehend. My–and perhaps modern culture’s–style is much more little bits of argument presented hundreds of times without much coherent structure behind them.
  • That said, there’s something so nice about feeling a book in your hands. Even if you’ll never read books, it feels good to know you’ve got several dozen (or hundred) on your shelf so you can pick through them from time to time and recognize how much more intelligent you would be if you did read them.
  • Band-Aids are a metaphor for something. If I ever figure out what I’ll be sure to tell you.
  • I sure am hungry.
  • Hunger’s a metaphor for something. If I ever find a way to use such a metaphor without it feeling tired I’ll be sure to tell you.
  • It’s nice when it snows and you don’t have to do anything. That’s what made snow days so great when we were in school. Not that missing school wasn’t a bonus, but I think it was mostly that we were supposed to be doing something but managed to escape it.
  • I’ve never liked pennies. Coins in general even. But quarters, those I like.
  • What else I like: frozen peas. Canned peas usually become mushy and gross. Dried peas get mealy and gross. Frozen peas retain their flavor and shape fairly well.
  • What would it have been like to live where I do 100 years ago? Probably a lot colder. In the winter I mean. Heating would have cost more.

Here’s hoping that I won’t have to use this mess of a post. If I do use it, here’s hoping I never have to use something like it again.

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big ideas, religion, retroview

Retroview: Happiness: A Guide

Matthieu Ricard’s Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill is probably the most important book in my life. No work has ever influenced so many aspects of my life or caused me to see the world so differently. Were there only one book that I could take with my to a desert island, I think this would very likely be it.

All of this is not to say that the book is flawless. On the second reading, some parts of the book seemed superfluous. Most memorably, the results of scientific studies which Ricard dutifully reports are interesting, but not as good as much of the rest of the book.

All of this may lead to the most important question: what is this book about? And were I a more careful writer I would edit this to answer that question at the start. Alas, I am not.

The book is, as you can probably infer from the title, a how-to to happiness. As such, the label “self-help” could be applied to it, but that conjures up images of hundreds of unsavory hucksters and swindlers who claim that they’ll make your life better in a snap. This book does no such thing.

Ricard, as the spelling of his name signals, is French by birth. He’s also a Buddhist monk who spends his time between Nepal and Tibet, serving as a translator for the Dalai Lama. And though it would be reasonable to say that Ricard’s answer to happiness grows out of Buddhism, one needn’t understand the first thing about the practice to get something from Ricard’s book.

Many, upon first introduction to Buddhism, see it not as a religion, but as a philosophy or even a type of positive psychology. The fact that Buddhism takes no explicit stance on the existence of deities (or a deity) makes this interpretation easier. And though Buddhism can be endowed with as many dogmatic traditions as any Western religion, the parts which Ricard discusses are not.

For those doubters of Buddhism (and religions in general), Mr. Ricard does conveniently provides scientific evidence–that stuff I said was dull–that Buddhist practice can and does make people happier, more controlled, and peaceful.

All of this is not to say that Happiness is some extended argument for Buddhism as the happiest religion in the world. It is, at the most basic level, an introduction to what thoughts and practices have made Mr. Ricard “the happiest man in the world.” (It was, if you’re wondering, that article that led me to the book in the first place.)

This book didn’t by itself transform my thinking, but it clarified and made much more salient some arguments that I’d been hearing for sometime and not fully understanding. The triviality of difference. The merits of optimism. The way to value all time. The wastefulness of envy.

It’s very likely that you could read this book and recieve from it much less than I have. It’s even possible that I received from this book more than it endeavored to give. But I can say with firm conviction that this book could teach everyone something, and many a great deal. After two readings, I still look forward to returning to it again and again, getting as much as I possibly can.

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metablogging, personal, ruminations

But What Is a Blog? & My Answer

Source: topgoldA Blog is a placeā€¦

Aside from having been described by Jerry Seinfeld as a terribly ugly word (which it is), “blog” is a hard concept to pin down. Of course the word’s evolution from the original meaning of “web log” would suggest that they’re necessarily linear expressions of a set of idea, thoughts, and goals. A diary almost. But I’d hope that this “blog” doesn’t feel like a diary, or have substance very similar a teenager’s secret journal.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the difference between a “writer” and a “blogger” but came to little more than my frustration with, and inability to parse, the distinction. I wrote a few months ago about the different types of blogs I see on the internet. But neither of those seemed to answer the question of “what is a blog?” and more specifically “what is a blog to me?”

I think the easiest analogy–and it’s not really a surprising one–is that like a “book” or a “magazine,” it really varies. Like both of those forms, there’s a certain idea that people usually associate with the word “blog.” Where for books they probably tend to think of a novel, or for magazines, a news weekly (about politics, “news,” celebrities, what have you), with a blog the default assumption is roughly that it is a place for a person to write irrelevant blather to make themselves feel important.

But a “book” also includes the notions of long non-fiction, short fiction with illustrations (picture books!), short story collections, or diatribes about politics, gods, or “man.” So too can a magazine be a heterodox collection of fiction, nonfiction, short bits and long blather. It can be exceptionally experimental or staid and boring. It can be exceptionally timely or exceptionally timeless.

Of those two, my description of a “magazine” is closer to my understanding of what a blog is. But neither fits exactly. The point is perhaps as simple as this: a blog, like a book or magazine, is what it’s made into.

This is no revelations, even to me, but for some reason I can and frequently do lose sight of it’s truth. Too much time online regularly convinces me that all blogs (mine included) are the same. That it’s all inane blather that does little more than serve to create circles of people patting each other on the back and never realizing that they’re producing drivel.

Nor does it help that finding blogs I like which update regularly often feels impossible. Much of what passes for political discussion in the blogosphere feels like arguments about inane topics that no one but the most nerdy cares about (see: Kos, Daily). Most of what passes for discussions about life is journaling about the events of your day (see: dooce). When what I want–as Leslie said accurately–is “a new breed of philosopher” (see: my blogroll?).

The difficulty faced in finding what I want in the “blogosphere” is enough to make me despair and desire to run away from the medium. But I’m also pretty certain that flight and despair are choices built for fools.

The type of blog I’m making here is the kind of blog I’d like to read. Even if they sometimes feel few and far between–among a vast wasteland of seething and wasteful punditry, savaging of celebrities, and “get rich from blogging” sites–I persist. If only because of my own stubborn and insolent insistence that what I’m looking for, what I’m making, is worthwhile.

Perhaps I’m a quixotic fool. The artist who dies destitute and sad. Whose brilliance–whether real or imagined–is discovered only after death. Or not at all.

Whatever the reality, I must again thank those who read this. Whatever it is or is not.

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