Thursday, January 08, 2009

Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy...

Strange how hard it's been to write lately. I don't know if it's that inner editor that always tells you that what you're writing isn't good enough or what, but something seems to have slowed me down.

I've made a few attempts, and some of them pretty good efforts. I had a column by Anna Quindlen making the standard comparison between same-sex marriage and miscegenation laws, which I went on at length about why I feel the comparison works in some ways, but not in most. (Actually, that was one of the times I had a real-life editor questioning the worth of the writing: a friend was looking over my shoulder as I wrote, commenting that if I published what I wrote, many would label me as both homophobic and racist, not that I worry too much about being controversial.) Unexplained blog meme.I had a blog meme that I wasn't tagged with, but considered running with it anyway just because it was interesting. I keep mulling over ideas for topics that I've hinted at writing about, but have been afraid of my inadequacy of treating properly. I wrote a half-hearted essay on why, despite the fact that I like Christmas, I have a strong dislike of Christmas carols. I was even attempting to put together a dissection of the comic book Watchmen before the movie comes out, and it was going pretty well, but I started to realize it was a bigger undertaking than I'd anticipated. I may still finish it, who knows?

I was going to finally put something together this week about how I felt vindicated once again due to the fact that I had come across another "professional" writer who was expressing sentiments that I had ranted on at length in the past. Sharon Begley writes (as published in this week's issue of Newsweek) that scientists don't like to change their minds, despite the fact that science is by its nature supposed to be ever-changing. Didn't I write that? Yeah, I did. I realized, though, that there's something ironic in writing such a piece. Not the first one, that was good; I mean writing a follow up piece in which I rehash old ideas and say, "See? I'm totally right!" The whole point (well, a major point) of the column is that people, even scientists, like to be right, and therefore will sometimes have a tendency to belabor old ideas, whether they have merit or not. What's the point in bragging about my own views and showing myself party to the same personality flaws as the scientists I'm criticising? Yes, I have those same flaws--it's human nature after all--but why not just admit it and move on, rather than indulge in non-self-aware irony?

Actually, the final paragraph of Begley's piece has a wonderful bit of irony. A psychologist whose pet theory was that people like to be able to change their minds ended up changing his mind about it! So he changed his mind and decided it was better to not change one's mind. Funny. And cute, as it turned out to lead him to propose to his girlfriend. He was happier making his relationship a more committed one. Maybe science can tell us something about abstract concepts like love after all?

But hey, I was talking about me, wasn't I? I think one of the hardest things for me as a writer is the idea that what I write might not be original. In college, in the middle of an otherwise very fun creative writing class, I wrote a story about a person writing a diary chronicling the collapse of his mental abilities. Upon sharing it with the class, my heart sunk when a classmate said, "This reminds me of Flowers for Algernon." I realized that I had essentially (without meaning to) written essentially a highly inferior version of that classic novel. I hate it when that happens, and unfortunately, it's not a particularly uncommon occurrence. Actually, there's an episode of South Park in which a running joke is that everything one particular character thinks to do is compared as, "Oh, yeah, that's just like that episode of The Simpsons!" The character gets annoyed, but at the end of the episode, somebody points out that after being around for nearly 20 years, doesn't it just make sense that The Simpsons have covered just about every conceivable topic?

The Bible says that "There is nothing new under the sun." (Eccl. 1:9) I think there's real truth to this. As I wrote before, I don't think the Internet is so much a new thing, but a different way of presenting much of the same old stuff the world has had since time out of mind. I have a strong desire to be original, yet I always suspect that I'm unable to write a single thing that has not been written about before. Many of the topics I cover (including this one) have probably been debated back and forth for centuries. How can a single individual manage to struggle to rise above thousands of years of written history and the competing voices of over six billion individuals?

It's funny, though, because when I put it that way, it sounds like a stronger bit of ambition than I in any way intend. I've never aspired to greatness; at least, not for fame and fortune, but only to be the best I can be personally. I don't want to be leader of the free world, but I do want to be an adequate leader of my family. I don't expect to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, but I would like to someday write a book that people will find entertaining. I'm not a great philosopher, but I'd like the things that I write about to be thought-provoking. Are any of these things possible for me?

Can a paragraph end without a question? Maybe.

Still every bit of ambition can potentially be quite daunting. We never really live up to our harshest critics, whoever they may be; of course they often are ourselves. There is a certain sense in which it doesn't matter, both from a pessimistic side and an optimistic side. As a pessimist, I might say, well, I am just one of six billion people, and a lot of them probably have much more interesting things to say, if they wished to say it, and so many more of them are sufficiently like me that my personal experience has nothing to say to them that they don't already know in their own hearts and minds. On the optimistic side, I can realize that with my voice being lost in a sea of voices, failure to truly stand out will simply make me fade into the background, but any moment of excellence that happens to sneak into my writing by accident at least has a chance to be recognized, simply because it's out there. Who cares if my writing makes no difference? To paraphrase the punch line of a Dilbert strip I saw years ago, it's not like we have a limited supply of ones and zeroes.

I suppose what we do have is a limited supply of time, and potentially, I am wasting plenty of mine. How many hours of my life do you suppose I've poured into writing that nobody will ever read? If I'm going to invest that time, I need good reason to think it does have meaning on some level. I think it does.

We all have our personal opinions, and as was said, we like to think that we're right. Am I going to corner some stranger on the street and force-feed them my opinions on current affairs? No, but isn't there some part of human nature that wants to, in a sense, stand up in a public place and say, "Hey, these are my views, and they matter!"? Hopefully, we're also consumed with the desire to follow up with, "...and what do you think about that?" earnestly looking for an honest answer with an open mind. No, the Internet isn't entirely new, but it's a medium by which such interaction can take place in a much easier fashion than ever before. Self-expression? Interchange of ideas? Why should I shy away from such an opportunity? I need to write, and if you needed to read and made it this far, thanks for your indulgence.


Brucker said...

See now, if I could write brilliant crap like this...

brilliant said...

I think you are brilliant and should write for The New Yorker. I'm packing to go out of town for the weekend, so I won't elaborate beyond that at this time. :P

Brucker said...

You're going to to New York to plead my case, aren't you?

marauder said...

Dude, if you're referring to the divination "meme" -- and the stickler for accuracy in me has to point out that, properly speaking, those things are not memes -- consider yourself tagged. That was one of the reasons I put it on the forum.

(And what I find ironic about that affair is that Cats was the first one to respond to it, and I got the thing from a post in her blog.)

The word verification string this time is "uncivil."

Brucker said...

NO, I was talking about the picture meme, which I posted without directions or explanation. I'm afraid you can't tag me with the divination meme, as my mp3 player has very little music on it, so I wouldn't feel it was clever enough. (I've pretty much got nothing but Beatles, Beck and Johnny Cash on there at the moment, because I can't find my cord to connect my phone back to my laptop, and a large portion of my CD collection is missing.)