Horror and systematic idiocy

Have you ever looked at your own writing and wondered: What author’s work might it resemble? And if you haven’t, I hope I didn’t just break writing for you.

All I can remember of these once indispensable arts is the intense boredom by which the practice of them was accompanied. Even today the sight of Dr. Smith’s Shorter Latin Dictionary, or of Liddell’s and Scott’s Greek Lexicon, has power to recall that ancient ennui. What dreary hours I have spent frantically turning those pages in search of a word for “cow” that could be scanned as a dactyl, or to make sure that my memory of the irregular verbs and the Greek accents was not at fault! I hate to think of all that wasted time. And yet, in view of the fact that most human beings are destined to pass most of their lives at jobs in which it is impossible for them to take the slightest interest, this old-fashioned training with the dictionary may have been extremely salutary. At least it taught one to know and expect the worst of life. Whereas the pupil in a progressive school, where everything is made to seem entertaining and significant, lives in a fool’s paradise. As a preparation for life, not as it ought to be, but as it actually is, the horrors of Greek grammar and the systematic idiocy of Latin verses were perfectly appropriate. On the other hand, it must be admitted that they tended to leave their victims with a quite irrational distaste for poor dear Dr. Smith.

~ Aldous Huxley from his essay, Doodles in a Dictionary from, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Other Essays

Lest you think that’s an overly long quote, I’ll point out it’s still only about half of the paragraph. Huxley can really unspool a sentence. Some of the writing in that book—Huxley’s, omg no not Smith’s dictionary—are overwrought. But some of them have a delicious tinkling of structure and grammar with an occasional punctuation of solid snark.



Here’s a hack for improving your life: When you have a significant decision, ask yourself which of these options would Future You most appreciate? For example, “Should I watch this Sci-fi series, or write?” Future Me gets the rewards from good decisions, (the result of small sessions of writing.)

All success is a lagging indicator…all the good stuff (and bad stuff) is downstream from choices made long before.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/36-lessons-on-the-way-to-36-years-old/

I was tempted to write my own 52 Lessons On the Way to 52 Years Old, but decided that would not be a gift to my 3-hours later, still only part-way done, self.

The challenge for me, is that the significant decisions go past unnoticed. It doesn’t even occur to me that my automatic urge to begin the next thing that I can imagine as being useful, is actually a choice. If I was able to reign that in, then perhaps I’d do only 11 things, and then relax with that Sci-fi. It doesn’t occur to me in the moments of the day, that better balance would be the choice that’s the real gift to my future self.


I should take a break

Taking a break is really difficult. A short break is often easy enough if you’re comfortable simply ignoring everything… for 10 minutes. But if you really want to take a real break, the difficulty escalates rapidly. I recently spent a long weekend camping a short, walkable distance from the beach. Each of the three full beach sitting days I tried to lengthen the stretches of time I literally sat in a beach chair without getting up. By the third day I was feigning agitated exasperation, and making jokes like, “That’s it! Today I’m getting serious about holding my chain down in the sand. No more standing up for me!” But in reality, I was bumping up against bodily functions, sun exposure (even under a magnificent umbrella), and peer pressure from my beach pals warning me of deep vein thrombosis. (I hope you never know what that is.)

I’m only half kidding. Everyone talks about taking a day off from work, and about looking forward to the holidays (for family and experiences, sure— but we all mean for the break we pretend we’ll get, but never do.) We even have a dedicated word, staycation (a word so legit it even passes my spell–checker) for suggesting some days we’re taking but not even going anywhere, just because we need a break. Our phones ring, our apps go bee-BOOP! and it’s ping! notification this, and ding! notification that. And an email arrives, and the dog needs walking, and the children need this, and the housemate that…

The hard work is actually prioritizing, pruning and putting one’s life in order. The impossible work is getting sufficient duration, and premium quality, sleep.

Taking a break isn’t lazy – learning to recharge is a skill that will allow you to enjoy a more creative, sustainable life.

~ Alex Soojung-Kim Pang from, https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-rest-well-and-enjoy-a-more-creative-sustainable-life

What’s that? How long did I manage to sit in the chair? On day three I managed a transcendental 5-and-one-half hours of literal sitting, toes in the sand. And I was on a roll, no where near needing to arise, having perfectly judged my fluid consumption, sweating, and kidney function up to then. I was foiled by my beach mates forcing me out of the chair (and at least part way into the ocean.) Which, all things considered, was very nice of them.


Eyebrow raised. Chuckle stifled.

Once I learned how to be a good sport, I began to appreciate getting my delusions busted as the target of a well played, real life, condescending Wonka. I’m too often condescending, and being the recipient is potent medicine.

It is to my great pleasure that such a fine example of 18th-century punking is related to typography.

~ Martin McClellan from https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/caslon-baskerville-and-franklin-revolutionary-types

Typography is a field which I find intriguing. People spent tremendous time and effort understanding readability and utility of little bits of lead type, printing presses, and optimizing everything. I find it sublime that someone so into type (go read the essay) was so oblivious about something they held so dear. Yes, do tell me more about that typography minutiae.

At which point I began doing that sort of squinting, glancing side to side, I’m feeling suspicious thing. I’m not a typography nerd, but there are a couple other fields where I could probably use a good punk’ing.


Kill it. Kill it with fire.

It was the briefest slice of light, a telltale shimmer, that revealed you. It glinted up your thread, running down from the ceiling to the lamp sitting incongruous in the middle of an unpacked living room. Did you stow away in that lamp, riding rough in the back of the moving van, those three long evening hours? I hope you did. You deserve this space as much as we do.

~ Peter Welch from, http://stilldrinking.org/to-the-tiny-spider-that-came-with-us-from-brooklyn

I don’t want to say I aspire to write as well as Welch. (I do. Just don’t want to say it.) I stumbled on his stuff pretty late in his writing arc. This piece makes me happy. Go ahead, click, it’s not too long. Perambulate through it. The more you perambulate, the better will be the ending.

…unless you don’t like Welch’s writing. Then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ move along. Nothing to see here.


Curating your sources

Some people are highly motivated. They will curate their information sources and follow whoever provides the most value. That will likely include some independent writers (maybe “good” ones or maybe “bad” ones).

But most people aren’t all that motivated. They just want to get information quickly and go live their lives. So they get their information in three ways:

~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/copypasta/

Whenever “the Internet” comes up (including discussion of anything that runs via the Internet, without the Internet itself getting a specific mention) I trot out this handy aphorism: The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us that anything related to the Internet was easy to understand. In this article, the anon-/epon-ymous “Dynomight” goes deep into why the mainstream (read: online media platforms that gets all the traffic) winds up being this solidly middling quality of content. To get there, there’s a deep dive involving tourists finding restaurants and a you-must-not-miss mention of Gell-Mann amnesia.


You don’t say

I first discovered sarcasm as a freshman in college, which I realize makes me a bit of a late bloomer as far as teenagers go. There were certain classmates who seemed to always come across as clever and funny no matter the topic. Over time I noticed there was a simple formula to their contributions and it was pretty easy to mimic.

~ Andrew Bosworth from, https://liveboz.substack.com/p/on-sarcasm

One could say (anyone who knows me surely would) that I can be a tad sarcastic. I used to be sarcastic, not just to a fault, but well into the realm of, s’rsly bro’, stahp. Of course I got various amounts of pushback over many years against my being so sarcastic. I received a ton of positive reinforcement in the form of attention, too. Still, no one ever made the point clearly: The sarcasm I was deploying didn’t add anything.

Reading Bosworth’s short piece made wonder: The point he makes is so clear, and yet I never heard it put as such. So how did I move away from being entirely sarcastic (“snarky” to put a fine point on it)? Well, I didn’t move away from it. Over time, with increasing regularity I moved towards engaging creatively with others; Writing, building things with technology, moving in parkour spaces, etc. The more creative I was, the more fun I had while experiencing the virtuous cycle of positive reinforcement from others. I still delight in sarcasm’s occasional use. But now I find [hope? *grins nervously*] that when I use sarcasm it brings some insight.


Frustration and…

Every once in a while, when someone finds out that I’m a writer who dabbles in programming, they’ll ask me: So, is programming hard? And I usually answer the same way. “‘Hard’ is the wrong word,” I’ll say. “It’s not so much that it’s hard. “It’s that it’s frustrating.”

~ Clive Thompson from, https://levelup.gitconnected.com/programming-isnt-hard-but-it-s-frustrating-6cb740085243

This article is sublime.

Because Thompson isn’t a professional programmer, there are two more parts to programming which he hasn’t discovered: First, that your mistakes inevitably come back to bite you in the ass. Second, you will forever face the engineering dilemma of having to wrestle with balancing good execution (does the bridge carry the weight over the river, or do people die) with project parameters (the budget is $5, it has to be shiny, and we need it next week.)

The soul–sucking frustration which Thompson rightly identifies is very real. Also real: Shit catching fire (literally and/or figuratively) in the wee hours of the morning requiring one to fix one’s own mistakes made, or shortcuts taken, years earlier. After a decade of that, one grows tired of explaining one’s reasons and process (not that anyone would listen.) And after a few decades of all that, one will understand why I sometimes say, as I approach losing my temper: Please do not meddle in the ways of wizards, for we are quick to anger and you are tasty with ketchup. It’s nothing you did; It’s nothing personal. It’s simply that Programming is terrible and it has broken me.