The analysis part

Writing itself makes you realize where there are holes in things. I’m never sure what I think until I see what I write. And so I believe that, even though you’re an optimist, the analysis part of you kicks in when you sit down to construct a story or a paragraph or a sentence. You think, ‘Oh, that can’t be right.’ And you have to go back, and you have to rethink it all.

~ Carol Loomis

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Simplify

Never use a long word where a diminutive one would suffice. When you want to keep a story moving don’t spend a lot of time going on circuitous side trips when you could instead proceed directly to the most interesting, active parts. Like that time I was in the Antarctic with Ernie and we had to abandon the Endurance to the ice, it’s important to use good visuals to make your point in as few word as possible. Also, there are clear rules for writing, such as: One should only write authoritatively about that which one actually knows. Other rules include: Don’t overuse colons; It’s important to know how to use a semi-colon.

Not sure how I got on that train of thought. It simply struck me to try writing a paragraph which was maximally incorrect. I should probably exercise more restraint. But what started this post— What prompted my title selection was:

I’ve decided to stop tracking my waist measurement. It simplifies my crazy list of things I try to do every day, sure. It also eliminates the number of times I go to weigh/measure and have to double-back for reading glasses to see the tailor’s tape. I had started tracking it so that I could calculate my waist to weight ratio. After a few years I’ve learned that the ratio is telling. Not in a depressing way, but it’s a very interesting number—I can tell my level of fitness, how I’ll feel if I try to do something (say, go run, or boulder,) and it’s a great indicator. But having the data didn’t enable to do anything. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ So, lest I go ever onward adding processes and things and systems and numbers— ahem. Dropped it.

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Lilliputian

Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident. Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver, the bat girl in Yankee Stadium. That’s a more fruitful way to be.

~ Mary Karr

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Outrageous

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

~ George Orwell

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I write to

I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world. Also, I have a need for money.

~ Mary Karr

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Only one !

Writing is hard. (I hear you besmirching my intelligence.) One thing I constantly struggle with is exaggeration and hyperbole. There’s an ancient Bill Cosby skit about Noah trying to collect the animals after building The Ark—”Two mosquitos… male? female?!” and an endless fight with the rabbits, “only two. ONLY TWO!” But this post is about my recent efforts to use only one ‘!’ per post. And you thought that was a stray space there in the title. In this post, I’ve only used one ‘!’ in my punctuation. (Quoted ‘!’ characters I’m accounting to the speaker’s quota. It’s my blog and I’ll make up the rules as I go along, thank-you-very-much.)

One dimension of writing which I find hard is getting the range of expression wide. Quiet in parts, so to speak… err… to write— middle-volume mostly, and just a wee dash of shouting like a Scotsman at level 11. Over on that shouting end, I find that when I’m shift-reaching-for-the-1-key more than once, it’s time to reign that high end in tad. All of which speaks to that old tip about awareness: That which gets measured, gets improved.

Another dimension of writing I struggle with is vocabulary: I get lost reading my dictionary. I get curious about pronunciation—don’t get me started about how dictionaries used to be prescriptive and now are simply lazily being descriptive—and I end up learning for the umpteenth time that hyperbole does not ever rhyme with the little mammal known as a vole. It’s always hyperbole like Brenda-Lee… And, somehow, I thought that the rhymes-with-Brenda-lee pronunciation was a different word that was something like some kind of poetry. Possibly because hyperbole actually does rhyme with poetry? And anyway, on my w-a-y to h-y-, with m-y magnifying glass, I stopped at “Hilbert space” when it caught my e-y-e at the top of another page, as it was said page’s final entry. (What? “n. [David Hilbert] (1911) : a vector space for which a scalar product is defined and in which every Cauchy sequence composed of elements in the space converges to a limit in the space.”) Rats! I forgot what I was talking about.

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How to tip ourselves

From now on I hope always to stay alert, to educate myself as best I can. But, lacking this in future I will relaxedly turn back to my secrete mind to see what it has observed when I thought I was sitting this one out. We never sit anything out. We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.

~ Ray Bradbury

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Embarking on writing

What’s it for?

For as long as I’ve been recording podcasts I’ve wanted to figure out how to learn more, and retain more, from the conversations. An audio recording of a good conversation can be a good experience for the listener; It can be good experiential learning. But the conversations contain so much more—facts sure, but also connections to other people, projects, stories, new perspectives, insights—which I know I’m missing. If something prompts my memory, I can recall the experience of the conversation, but everything else is either never learned, or if it was, I’ve subsequently lost it.

I’m reminded of…

If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened. Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.

~ Mortimer Adler, author of How to Read a Book, 1972

There are multiple levels of understanding and learning, contained in each conversation. At the root of my feeling that I’m missing out is the knowledge that I’m only retaining the most-superficial level of the experience.

Who’s it for?

It’s obviously for me. But by doing the writing in public everyone who finds a specific episode interesting would be able to capture and retain more of those “levels of experience” for themselves.

What does success look like?

As I mentioned, my urge to do something more with the conversations is not new. In the Movers Mindset project, I have already experimented with ways to enable others to get more from each conversation. Two efforts in particular are worth discussing.

First, I’ve pushed the concept of episode notes to the limits of sanity. We have guest images, embedded audio player, guest pull-quotes, transcript excerpts, highlights, and the entire thing is organized by chapters—the audio files have embedded chapter information if your player-app supports it. Each section is cross-linked to the corresponding part of the full transcript; The transcripts are organized into sections which are linked back to the episode’s page. This takes massive effort involving myself, Melissa, Rev.com, custom software, and hours of time. Here, take a look at, Selene Yeager: Menopause, Health, and Writing.

Second, I’ve created a tool which enables exploring the episodes. If you were looking closely at Selene’s episode notes, you’ve seen one part of this already. The tool enables choosing a perspective, (for example, how did they answer the signature, three-words question,) and that perspective is dynamically inserted into the page that you saw. There are many other perspectives which you can interact with. (Imagine an old-fashioned, twist-adjustable kaleidoscope; the tool I built is the kaleidoscope and you’re pointing it at the entire Movers Mindset project.) If you want to try something mind-bending, take a look at, Exploring the Movers Mindset Project, where I explain it in more detail, and which includes embedded controls for playing with the current perspectives in real time.

Beyond those to efforts, I’ve always wanted to write something based on the Movers Mindset conversations. Unfortunately, they’re quite long adding to the difficulty of finding a “chunk” to work on. One of my goals in creating the Podcaster Community, was to create a short-form-conversations companion podcast. (Look for Podcaster Community wherever you listen, or you can play the episodes via embeds on the community’s forum.) Those conversations are targeted at 20 minutes which usually leads to a single, clear thread appearing in each episode. This gives me terrific material to work with as I explore how to get at the deeper levels of learning within each episode.

On July 15, 2021 I put up an article, On Storytelling, which is based on the first episode of the Podcaster Community’s companion show. That article was an experiment, and based on the responses it was a successful experiment.

Just figuring out how to write that article was an experiment. First I spent hours talking to various people about how to write an article from a conversation, and about what style, format and voice should be used in such an article. I tried a variety of tools for writing; Not simply “which text editor” but rather what process should I use. I tried: Listening and then starting with a blank page; Dumping the transcript into a spreadsheet (transcript in one column with a cell per block of dialog from each speaker) and converting each cell into corresponding prose in a second column; Working conceptually outwards to an outline of principles or topics, and then working back inwards to create prose. I eventually settled on a way to directly transform the raw transcript into a finished piece. Even though I’ve settled on a way to do it, it remains hard work. It took me three hours to write that experimental article. All of that to say: I’ve only done one, but I’m confident I can now do many more.

How many could I write? There are already 40+ episodes of the Podcaster Community’s show. I estimate there are 300 pieces of Movers Mindset episodes that could be articles. (Many episodes have 3+ threads of discussion, each the size of one of the Podcaster Community’s entire episodes.) I’ve also begun recording short-form-conversation episodes for Movers Mindset. With recording continuing across multiple projects, I have an effectively unlimited supply of raw material.

What’s the problem?

To free up enough time to write consistently, to make meaningful progress, my projects need to become a source of income for me. Movers Mindset has some patronage revenue, (you people are awesome,) and the Podcast Community has a core group of supporters, (also awesome,) which are covering its costs. But neither of them currently supports my life and creates space for this new writing.

My questions are…

Are the conversations valuable?

Would it be valuable to create articles from the conversations?

Would you be willing to support my writing efforts by supporting the Podcaster Community, or by supporing Movers Mindset?

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Bitter is better

Remember that anything really worth doing is probably hard work, and will absolutely require you to do things you don’t currently do, which will feel uncomfortable for a while. This is a “hard truth” we must all face. If it was easy, everyone would already be doing it.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2016/10/eat-the-broccoli/

Somewhere along the way, I learned to like vegetables. I mean, really like vegetables. I know you think I said, “give me a lot of vegetables,” but what I actually said was, “give me all the vegetables.” Brussel Sprouts? Do you remember when they used to be bitter? …because, yes, they really did breed them differently in recent decades to be less bitter. Artichoke—not just the hearts, but the whole thing… yes, I know how to make them, and keep your hands out of the way when I eat them. But a good one is hard to find these days as they’ve been bred to be more “palatable.” Peppers, yes of all sorts. Tomatos, I ate them all. Beans, kale, spinach, turnips, cucumbers… steamed, raw, tossed as summer salad (aka, with EVO and red wine vinegar)… nom nom nom nom.

A little over a year ago, I settled on my personal mission: Creating better conversations to spread understanding and compassion. To make progress on that, I need to eat my vegetables. And—as discussed—I love me some vegetables. I’m currently, slowly working on adjusting my life to be focused on two things: Recording kewl conversations with people, and writing; writing about those kewl conversations. It’s not that I currently have responsibilities to eschew, but rather there are still too many off-focus things I do which I’m working to eliminate.

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But if you ask them

You know, Phaedrus, that is the strange thing about writing, which makes it truly correspond to painting. The painter’s products stand before us as though they were alive. But if you question them, they maintain a majestic silence. It is the same with written words. They seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say from a desire to be instructed they go on telling just the same thing forever.

~ Socrates

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