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.


Be Your Own Protagonist

jquizOptimus Prime

I was walking past a bus stop about a year ago, and there in front of the bench (which was all this bus stop consisted of) was a blue graffito. I saw that it was blue, that it was clearly made with a stencil, and I kept walking.

When I actually realized what I’d seen, I doubled back. Indeed, there on the ground in royal blue spray-paint was a robot–think Optimus Prime, who is pictured at right–with these four words underneath:

Be Your Own Protagonist

I took a picture with my cellphone. And for the last year that picture has been the background on my phone, a little reminder whenever I flip the phone open to place a call or use the calculator.

Others have seen it, but they don’t seem to understand. Or perhaps they do. But “Be your own protagonist” strikes me still as among the most profound graffiti ever to have been sprayed onto the sidewalk.

There are so many messages conveyed in those four words. It could mean that you should turn of the television, get off the couch and go about living a life worthy of the dramas you would otherwise be watching.

It could mean that you should recognize that you–like most protagonists–are far more powerful and important than you realize. That you really are bound for great things even while it may not look that way at the time.

It could mean that you should begin to root for yourself, as you root for your favorite superhero. After all, your self doubt serves no one but the evil antagonists of your world.

It could mean that while you may be going through seemingly impossible trials today, it’s only because you–like the classical hero–have a brighter and more important future ahead. And that you’ll be better able to meet that future because of these trials.

I wonder sometimes how the artist–yes I’m comfortable calling this act of vandalism art–intended for it to be read. Maybe they meant it one of the ways I’ve thought of. Maybe they meant in the more absurd ways I sometimes want to interpret it. Like that we should all realize that we’re robots and embrace that fact. Or maybe that we should all set out to live out our most absurd dreams of–benevolent of course–world domination.

However they meant it. I’m glad to have found it. And I want you to know, Ms. Artist, that I try every single day, to do as you recommend. And I’m certainly thankful that you were bold enough to recommend it.