Over in my Open + Curious project, I’ve been working intentionally to improve my writing. For Open + Curious the more recent articles all begin with a clear posit (a statement which is made on the assumption that it will prove to be true) and then go on to explain why I believe that to be true; that’s their finished form. I was generally writing each piece, editing it to find and hone a single line of thinking, and then finishing up by crafting the leading posit. Yes, I know, “Craig discovers the essay.”
I’m reading I. Asimov and this advice leapt off the page:
What I do now is think up a problem and a resolution to that problem. I then begin the story, making it up as I go along, having all the excitement of finding out what will happen to the characters and how they will get out of their scrapes, but working steadily toward the known resolution so that I don’t get lost en route.
When asked for advice by beginners, I always stress that. Know your ending, I say, or the river of your story may finally sink into the desert sands and never reach the sea.
~ Isaac Asimov
I’ve now written thousands of posts where I’ve led with a quotation from something. I’m forever writing some observation about what I’ve quoted, and then trying to pivot to what I actually want to say. Unfortunately, this style has begun to feel constraining.
Going forward, I’m going to see what happens if I think of what I’m quoting as giving me a direction. This piece starts with my thoughts about my writing for Open + Curious, and then looking “in the direction” of Asimov’s quoted contribution, beyond that I “see” this gibberish about my writing process. Sorry, maybe that’s all too meta? It’s noisy in my head.
And I typed that title with trepidation. I’ve been saying forever, “You know what you call an optimist with experience? A realist.” I suppose at some point in the past, I must have had the rosy-eyed optimism of youth— but I don’t really recall that. Also at some point, I realized I had a solidly pessimistic position. I simply spent too much time dealing with broken technology; technology is always broken. I always seemed to end up having to fix it. But lately, my mood has certainly shifted. Is that because my “outlook” shifted, or is it vice versa?
The first time I saw speculative futures used to shape cities, I was standing on the work. It was an April evening years ago, and I was headed to a client meeting. I hustled from my car toward the building in question, my arms full of rolled paper, when I noticed a series of questions chalked in block letters on the sidewalk below my feet.
~ Johanna Hoffman from, https://longnow.org/ideas/02022/10/10/speculative-futures-cities-design/
I once QM’d 2km across the Williamsburg bridge. A fellow adventurer had started the morning by buying a croissant with the express intent of not eating it. (Aside: In the French origins or Parkour, they used to say [but in French of course] “…it’s okay, head home, put your feet up, and have a croissant.” As a way of hazing each other into pushing themselves a little harder.)
We had each taken a piece of sidewalk chalk with us. When we were ready to quit (ie, stand up and walk) we planned to write our “excuse” for stopping on the bridge pathway… and then continue on in QM, moving over and beyond our excuse.
I was over the middle of the river, pretty alone, in the chilly October drizzle. And thinking about quitting. And thinking about getting out my chalk… when I crawled—inconceivably! since the pathway is like 12 feet wide—directly over a freshly chalked hashtag… I was so tired I didn’t look up to read, I just stared straight down and read it as I crawled along what had been written…
It made me laugh. It reminded me that my friends were there too. It reminded me why we were doing the challenge. Thank you Kristen. I hope you read this.
Hedonistic adaptation ensures that I continuously cycle back and forth between, “If this isn’t nice I don’t know what is!” and rage-quitting all my self-assigned should’s. Two things help temper my intemperance: Journalling provides me with some—albeit subjective—perspective, and reading about the reality of people’s actual lives and work ethics relaxes my self-criticism.
A truer answer would have been that he was fiercely private and deeply caring. He often let other people talk, entering a conversation with a single considered sentence. He didn’t smile unless he was really pleased, and his biggest laugh was a small chuckle. His eyes would squeeze shut and his head would tip back and after he chuckled, he would look at you with delight.
~ Alison Fairbrother from, https://lithub.com/lessons-in-writing-and-life-from-my-grandfather-e-l-doctorow/
Without Internet cheating, I can’t name a single one of E. L. Doctorow’s works. But I have this diffuse idea that he is (was?) A Real Writer. Someone who got things written, and maybe had a few ideas worth sharing. Darn it if reading Fairbrother’s piece didn’t tug at the ‘ol heart strings, and I might have gotten something briefly stuck in the corner of one of my eyes.
But I came away with a recalibration: I now have this diffuse idea that he was A Real Writer, got things written, had a few ideas worth sharing, and it was made possible by his family and his work ethic.
(Also, maybe help this autodidact out by hitting reply and telling me one thing of Doctorow’s I must read.)
A couple of weeks ago I started obliterating processes. I’ve often talked about how everything is a process, and I still believe that. However I’d reached a point where I simply had too many processes (I won’t bore you with unbelievable examples) and a couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough. I spent several days doing nothing but thinking about everything I was doing, and wanted to be doing but wasn’t “getting around to.”
We’re overwhelmed by it all: all the things we have on our plates, all the interruptions and messages and emails, all the things online and on social media, all the news and chaos of the world, all the things going on in our relationships.
~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/onebreath/
Some things I do can feel like a chore but when I was honest, they are actually things I enjoy doing. Furthermore, they pay off outsized benefits for the time they require. What then made them feel like chores? I think it was the anxiety of the other things I felt I should be doing—after all, I put those other things on a list or made a process so I could chip away at them in sane-sized chunks. I went through everything, and then started deleting things from that “everything else” space.
Is this simply me oscillating between no-planning, planning, no-planning, planning? Is this a 2/3-life (or, if I pretend I’ll live long, “mid-life”) crisis? Have I said a polite-but-clear “no” to some big things? Have I been having some anxiety-free days? YES, to all of those. I’m currently trying to be vigilant to notice the first thing I get anxious about—because I’m going to delete that next.
Could you contribute a testimonial for 7 for Sunday? I’m always on the lookout for some, “This is better than sliced bread! ~ Craig C.” testimonials. If you’re open to being quoted, please hit reply and send me a testimonial. (They end up getting posted on the front of my site where the main signup is for 7 for Sunday.)
And please consider sharing 7 for Sunday with others. Forwarding the email you received works, but you can also just point people to https://constantine.name/7-for-sunday/.
Thanks for reading! I appreciate your time and attention, and I don’t take it for granted. :)
I’ve embraced this slow philosophy for most of my professional career. As with Stearns, I too have become a believer in how much can be accomplished in normal 40-hour weeks; if you’re willing to really work when you’re working, and then be done when you’re done. It’s nice, however, to see someone so much more eminent than me also find success with this fixed-schedule approach.
~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2022/10/21/professio-sano-in-vitam-sanam-on-balancing-work-and-life/
The other day I had a most surreal experience. I was at home. The weather was gorgeous and I spent most of the day on the patio. For about half of the day I did nothing in particular. And I felt—in the moments when I was doing nothing—that that was fine.
I have often experienced this surreality, but always when I have been away. Always, critically, when I had intentionally spent time planning and working to create space to be away. Think of it like getting a running start to coast through the away time; the experience of that surreality had always been while coasting.
“…and then be done when you’re done.” But the other day? I dunno. I did stuff, and then I was done, and that was okay.
When we consider consciousness, a number of questions naturally arise. Why did consciousness develop? What is consciousness good for? If consciousness developed to help us plan and act for the future, why is consciousness so difficult to control? Why is mindfulness so hard? And for that matter, if our actions are under our conscious control, why is dieting (and resisting other urges) so difficult for most of us?
Why does it appear that we are observers, peering out through our eyes at the world while sitting in the proverbial Cartesian theater? Why do we speak, in William James’s words, of a “stream of consciousness”? Can we perform complicated activities (such as driving) without being consciously aware of it?
Are animals conscious (and if so, which ones)? Are there developmental, neurologic, or psychiatric disorders that are actually disorders of consciousness?
There have, of course, been many answers to these questions over the last 2500 years. We hope to provide new answers to these and a number of related questions in this paper.
~ Andrew Budson, et al from, https://journals.lww.com/cogbehavneurol/Fulltext/2022/12000/Consciousness_as_a_Memory_System.5.aspx
A longer pull-quote than usual for me. But it’s from a 30,000 word article.
That list of questions reads like the Table of Contents from the Owners Manual that my body didn’t come with. It’s a big deal that there might be an answer to just one of them, let alone the claim in the last sentence, “We hope to provide new answers to these and a number of related questions.”
Having now read some of those plausible answers to those questions—including rebuttals and improvements to some others’ answers to those questions—my take away is: Oddly, I am now less interested in those questions.
Secondly, I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”
~ Patrick Stokes from, https://theconversation.com/no-youre-not-entitled-to-your-opinion-9978
Stokes is a professor, and I rarely find myself in a teaching context. When I hear someone express an opinion, I make an assessment of their argument. Did they actually give a coherent argument? Did they give a sketch of one? Do they seem the sort of person who could give an argument in support of their opinion? To be clear, I’m not judging the person, but rather I’m trying to judge the ideas espoused.
Surprising to me, it’s become clear it’s often not obvious when something is a fact versus an opinion.
On the flip side, I try to signal my level confidence in my opinions. I’m trying to banish the phrase, “I think…” because it carries no meaning. Instead I try to say, “It seems obvious to me that…”, “I read somewhere that…”, “So-and-so told me that…”, or “It happened to me that…”
But the deeper reason is that there’s really no such thing as a natural resource. All resources are artificial. They are a product of technology. And economic growth is ultimately driven, not by material resources, but by ideas.
~ Jason Crawford from https://longnow.org/ideas/02022/10/07/can-economic-growth-continue-over-the-long-term/
A few years ago my thinking shifted. I used to think of something, simply by its existence, as being a “natural resource.” More recently I’ve begun to pay attention to which, and how much, technology has to be added for something to be a resource. Anything in the ground has no special value until someone adds the mining or drilling, the refinement, distribution and so on. That makes it clearer how to evaluate the trade-offs.
It becomes easier to visualize, and realize, that the constraints are not the amount of the natural resource (the raw stuff) but rather that the limits are all the expense, destruction, energy, transformation, and ideas that have to go into making that raw stuff usable. And sometimes, it’s just not the right trade-off to make a something into something useable.
And so we did the math, and it was really at the same time that I had lost [my idea] that she had gotten [her idea]. And we like to think that the idea jumped from my mind to hers during our little kiss that we had when we met. That’s our magical thinking around it. But it’s — there is no explanation for that other than the one that I’ve always abided by, which is that ideas are conscious and living, and they have will, and they have great desire to be made, and they spin through the cosmos, looking for human collaborators.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2022/09/the-muse-strikes-again/
Obviously that’s not how any of it really works. But it is a sublime, inspiring idea! I know that if I focus (or worse, fixate) on where some idea came from it’s easy to lose the delight of the overall thing. This cosmic perspective from Gilbert reminds me to simply take things and run with them. If I can. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
If I can’t run with it, well, that’s okay too. It is simply okay. But, if I still need some self-convincing, that cosmic perspective gives me the comfort I need to let go.
HomeNet could be (and has been) interpreted as an indictment of the internet, or screens, or modern communications technology in general. In truth, it illustrates a much simpler truth about love and happiness: Technology that crowds out our real-life interaction with others will lower our well-being and thus must be managed with great care in our lives. In order to reap their full benefits, we should use digital tools in ways that enhance our relationships.
~ Arthur C. Brooks from, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/09/technology-happiness-communication-relationships/671586/
I’m reminded of some comments by Rafe Kelley.
If junk food is flavor divorced from nutrition, then pornography is sexuality divorced from the context of relationships. Video games are thrill divorced from physicality. And so you take these boys who have this inherent aggression and you let them play Fortnite, and they can play all day without any self-regulation from having the physical demands of actual rough and tumble play. The problem is that it so easily out-competes the actual thing that we need, which is the real physical play.
~ Rafe Kelley from a video short from an Instagram post, so I’ll just link you to his Evolve. Move. Play. project.
Brooks and Kelley are talking about different technologies, but I think they’re both pointing toward the “divorce” being the actual issue. The arrival in the living room (mentioned by Brooks) divorced [I’ll say] the mental stimulation from the other people in the house.
efficiency scales but isn’t memorable
inefficiency is memorable but doesn’t scale
~ “Gaping Void” from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2022/09/20/core-human-motivations-thoughts-inspired-by-kunal-shah/
This post over on Gaping Void is a great tour of their illustration style. There are several fun and interesting take-aways from a podcast episode from a different favorite site of mine, Farnam Street.
The point (from Shah, in the podcast) about what scales and what doesn’t has always fascinated me. If I try to imagine how to build something (whatever it is) in a way that it will scale up to “huge” it never works out well. Planning for scale up front, involves huge amounts of time, and then huge amounts of building. Instead, I like to think of technology (or any system) as a force multiplier; can I, by my own linear work, do something whose affect can be multiplied through technology?