Crumpled Paper Balls

ideaYou couldn’t know this, but my blogging workspace is littered with balls of virtual crumpled paper.  The ones writers make when they rip failed writing attempts from their typewriter, smush them up in disgust, and toss them disdainfully over their shoulder. This post — which has been in my mental queue for well over a year — has the strongest resistance to being written that I’ve ever encountered.

I wrote the note you see here somewhere back in 2013. It seemed like exactly the sort of thought chain that would make an interesting post. Many of the items in that chain (consciousness, art, science) are things that fascinate me and are even areas this blog tries to discuss.

So why is a post about it so dang hard to write?


Blog Central

The note itself has been nesting amid others of its kind here in Blog Central. I am absolutely the type of person who tries to capture passing thoughts with notes. Many of the posts here started as an idle thought captured as a brief note. (I imagine it works that way for a lot of writers.)

Just to show how old the note and these photos are, to the left of the arrow that’s pointing to the note in question, on the whiteboard, you see a rectangle around the words Hard Core Coder.

That’s when I’d come up with a possible name for a programming blog and had put that name in a place where I could see it for a while to see how well it sat with me over time.

I ended up creating that blog in February of last year!

What seems to happen is that every attempt to write this post stalls — the words just don’t flow — or wanders off into digressions or even just vague mumbling…

piled up high

Piled high and deep!

And yet another sheet gets ripped from the typewriter and crumbled in disgust. If I have room at the end here, I’ll flatten out some of those wadded rejects and share them with you just for shitzengiggles.

I added the “BB?” you see at the note’s top later thinking that, if I can’t write a meaty post about it, maybe I could just throw it out as a Brain Bubble and be done with it. But it seems to deserve more.

Maybe the problem is that the ideas behind the note are too meaty for a single post. Maybe that chain of thought is something to explore over time one link at a time.

Whatever. I just can’t bear to see it sitting there month after month (after month). Therefore I’m kicking it out of the nest. If it can’t fly by now, well, so it goes.


Bet he never had this problem!

And these lame paragraphs I’ve just written? Exactly the sort of weak tea that comes out every time I try to write about it. (You have no idea how many paragraphs were ripped out here for being even worse.)

So without further embarrassing myself, here’s what the note means:

I started with the basic idea of (human) consciousness and experience — that life-long movie starring ourselves that we all have running in our minds.

We don’t really know exactly how our sapient minds arose from our earlier bestial minds. In particular, we don’t know the causal role language might have played. But it seems reasonable to me that the richness of our language springs from our consciousness and experience because those things are so rich.

Vitruvian Man

It’s totally Vitruvian, man!

That richness, perhaps, is expressed in our art. One of my early posts defines art as ‘what artists do.’ This requires a definition of ‘artist.’

To me, an artist is someone who is driven to express their interpretation of reality in some medium. Art, therefore, is an expression of our experience, and it uses the richness and complexity of our language to accomplish that.

Here I will include our ability to make evocative images (paintings, statues, etc.) as part of our language. No other creature we know has such a large toolkit for expression of ideas — in particular, abstract ideas.

I think all of this naturally leads to questions. I said many times that one of the defining characteristics of humans over animals is that humans ask “Why?” All of science is really nothing more than asking “Why?”

Newton apple moon

Why?? (Also: ouch!)

Why does an apple fall, but the moon does not?

So our questions lead us into science, and one result of science is technology — the application of science.

Technology gives us tools we can use to create art, to ask more questions, and — most importantly — to do science. There is a direct line leading from the first stone axe to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It’s a long line, but a direct one.

So what I’m seeing is a chain that leads from our consciousness and experience through language and art to questions, science, and technology.

So what? Why is it so hard for me to find anything useful or interesting to say about that? The chain seems fascinating to me. Is there just too much of a “Duh!” element to it all? Is it so obvious that there’s nothing really to be said about it?

the endThe only thought that sprang from this is a phrase I jotted on the note after it got its picture taken. The phrase reads: “Why I revere higher thought.” At this late juncture I’m not quite sure how I meant to connect that idea, but there is no question I do regard those who question, who use language well, who create art, and who do science.

And there you have it.

The End.

Just for shitzengiggles (and because writers hate not using their work), here are some of the wadded up rejects. I saved them thinking maybe I could beat them into shape somehow, but… well, call it early Spring Cleaning.

¶ I have this note I wrote a long time ago that I just haven’t found an angle on for a blog post. That elusiveness seems to be infecting this post! Even with an angle, I can’t find an angle!

frustrated writer¶ (I can tell this is gonna be one of those posts where I write ten times as much as actually make it into the final result. The virtual paper pile is already knee-deep.)

¶ It isn’t writer’s block, but it’s something similar, at least for me. Hunting for those first opening lines that launch a topic, sometimes they hunker down just out of sight. You know they’re out there, lurking, probably snickering at your inability to see them. Several paths seem to lead towards them, but each one ends at a dead-end.

There’s a trick of just writing, just putting down words without much thought, a kind of free association. Once the words are trapped on paper, they’re easier to manage, easier to corral into something that works.

¶ After a lot of posting recently, I feel my tide shifting. Again. The freedom of retirement has brought my tidal nature to the fore. I’ve always been a person of cyclic moods; my interests bounce among a variety of things; some new, some old. I get very focused on whatever I land on, but that very focus seems to lead to burnout. I find I have to put things down and change the channel.

The Old New ThingExample: a few days ago, I stumbled on the (10-year-old) blog of key Microsoft programmer, Raymund Chen. Could not stop reading! Unlike many of my peers, I’ve liked Microsoft, and I have a high opinion of their products.

Reading about the struggles developing new Windows™ versions given the wrong things other vendors do with Windows™ is fascinating (to me, anyway). It explains a great deal. They’re faced with the conundrum of accommodating wildly incorrect behavior or having people blame Windows™ for breaking their unruly apps.

The following came from an attempt to explain the writer’s block — a major digression from the main point and even a digression from the writer’s block sub-point! I saved it thinking I might sometime write a post about relaxation oscillation, which I think is a useful concept.

relaxation oscillation

These dipping “birds” are a good example of a physical relaxation oscillator in action.

¶ I’d say I have phases like the moon, or tides that go in and out, but a better analogy is actually relaxation oscillation.  Which is just a precise term for something you’re already familiar with.  “Oscillation” is a concise way of saying, “goes back and forth in a very regular pattern.”

The “relaxation” is a bit more abstract, but you’ve experienced it in real life, I’m certain. It applies to the idea of something getting “fuller” and “fuller” (whatever “fuller” means in a given case) to the point where it “tips and spills” (depending on whatever that actually means). Then it resets and begins to “fill” again.

The “fulling” and “tipping” can have many different meanings. Imagine sliding down a pole or rope.

relaxation oscillation 2

As are these, which “slide” down the rope as described.

You release your grip and start to fall. You apply pressure, but gradually to not rip your skin off. Eventually the pressure brings you to a stop. Then you can release and begin to fall again. The repeating cycle of stopping prevents you from picking up too much downward speed!

In applying pressure you’re “filling” to the point of stopping (“tipping”). In the abstract, you can think of the “filling” as gradually charging and the tipping as suddenly discharging.

Whew! It’s really nice to finally get this stuff out of my queue!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

18 responses to “Crumpled Paper Balls

  • siriusbizinus

    It sounds like the idea you’re wanting to express is more complex. Or it could be that different aspects of it pop up at different times. Often when I have a problem with my own writing, I find that sometimes it helps just to arrange it properly. By creating an order somewhere, it is the particle upon which the crystals of the final piece can form.

    Your idea also might be big enough to warrant a novel. I’m just saying…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, I think you’re right. It’s just too big — while also being too general — to really provide a good hook on which to hang something. I’m hoping that in putting it out there it might provide a back reference for posts exploring individual ideas. (There is also that I have written about some aspects of the chain. Maybe I just don’t have that much more to say on it.)

      Mostly I’m glad to be able to throw away that note! Now I don’t have to see it sitting there…

      Mocking me… o_O

      • siriusbizinus

        If it’s a thought that’s important to you, it can still mock you from the cheap seats. For complex thoughts, there’s nothing wrong with hammering away at it over time.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with using a blog to work out opinions and ideas over time. It feels against the grain of all the technical writing I’ve done (which obviously needs to be polished and complete and effective), so there continues to be something of a learning experience here. The posts I like best have an almost comment-like informality and structure that is counter to the more formal style of writing from most of my history!

  • Doobster418

    I used to write long, multi-topic posts back when I posted only once or twice week. I also would jot down notes on a piece of paper to remind me of whatever occurred to me that I might wish to write about and then I would try, sometimes not very successfully, to group topics that could be at least somewhat related into the same post.

    These days, though, I post daily, so I try to keep each post focused on a single topic only. That way they are shorter, more easily digestible, and meander a lot less than they used to when I first started blogging.

    I’m not saying that is the best way to go. We each find whatever works best for us.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I feel that burden with the three-film structure I seem to have fallen into with posts about movies. I really like the idea of tying together three films that have some kind of relation, but invariably at least one (if not two) of them seem to get short shrift. The intent isn’t to review them in detail so much as mention why they’re worth seeing (or avoiding), but even that makes for a long post.

      This one doesn’t come off so multi-topic as much as mega-topic. As I said to siruisbizinus above, maybe all this really has to be is the introduction, and I can explore aspects of it down the road.

      But one thing was absolutely clear: I really wanted to get rid of that note!

  • Hariod Brawn

    I’ll get back to you with a comment in a few months Wyrd.

      • Hariod Brawn

        My tedious irony again. Did this post not take you “a few months” to issue? 😉

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Over a year, in fact, and this is a good demonstration of what I said two posts ago about not being a good film critic or reviewer — too much stuff goes over my head! I just realized it’s also a good demonstration of why I often didn’t do well on school tests: I get too literal on interpreting questions and fool myself into seeing how wrong answers do fit and correct — even obvious — ones don’t quite.

        I wondered if you were referring to how long this post has stewed, but then my literal brain got hung up on “a few months” not really being “well over a year” plus I got concerned you might really be going away for some reason.

        Welcome to my twisted mind! o_O

      • Hariod Brawn

        I very frequently take things too literally myself. There is a part of me that wants everything said to mean just what it says, and to do so clearly and unambiguously. Engaging with others on blogs is quite good a way of countering this tendency I think. I have noticed several North American blog writers who seem almost incapable of engaging other than in analogy and, to a lesser extent, metaphor. I wonder if language will evolve to account for this. The learners of ‘foreign’ languages will then have two levels of decoding to pass through. o_O

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I know what you mean about wanting, at least in part, for things to be clear. There’s another part (at least in my case) that revels in metaphor and analogy, so there’s a push-pull thing sometimes. One of my favorite Star Trek episodes involves a race that speaks only in metaphor, Capt. Picard is challenged with learning how to communicate with them. It’s a neat idea, but I’m not entirely sure it would actually work like that.

        For conversation and debate, clarity seems pretty important, but in storytelling so much of that is metaphor. Say, does that at all tie in with your lack of love for fiction? Is it strictly the fictional aspect, or is some of it from that part that dislikes metaphor and analogy? I sometimes wish I were smarter about that stuff — sometimes I can tell the author is pointing to something, but I just can’t quite tell what.

        Good example: a Bruce Cockburn tune that’s a favorite of mine, Pacing the Cage. I think I understand (and really identify with) most of the tune, but the first lines go completely over my head:

        Sunset is an angel weeping
        Holding out a bloody sword
        No matter how I squint I cannot
        Make out what it’s pointing toward

        Love the tune both musically and lyrically, but those lines… no real clue.

        Some of it is so evocative (and painfully on topic) that I’ll just give you the rest of the lyrics:

        Sometimes you feel like you live too long
        Days drip slowly on the page
        You catch yourself
        Pacing the cage

        I’ve proven who I am so many times
        The magnetic strip’s worn thin
        And each time I was someone else
        And every one was taken in
        Powers chatter in high places
        Stir up eddies in the dust of rage
        Set me to pacing the cage

        I never knew what you all wanted
        So I gave you everything
        All that I could pillage
        All the spells that I could sing
        It’s as if the thing were written
        In the constitution of the age
        Sooner or later you’ll wind up
        Pacing the cage

        Sometimes the best map will not guide you
        You can’t see what’s round the bend
        Sometimes the road leads through dark places
        Sometimes the darkness is your friend
        Today these eyes scan bleached-out land
        For the coming of the outbound stage
        Pacing the cage
        Pacing the cage

        I can relate to so much of that.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Oh, that’s interesting what you say about the Star Trek episode; never having been a watcher, I would not have known. To answer your question, then no, I don’t think the use of analogy and metaphor, which part of me can get a little disgruntled at, is anything to do with why I gravitate more to non-fiction in my reading. I can be mesmerised by evocative fiction, and can read a novel such as Graham Swift’s Waterland, which is rich in mysterious imagery, over and over. It’s Sci-Fi and mythic tales that I seem to have an irrational aversion to. I went on YouTube and watched Cockburn play that tune live with a Dobro – exceptional! Wonderfully poignant and expressed with sophisticated musicality to in my opinion.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, Cockburn is one of my favorite recent musicians! He’s a true poet with some very heavy things to say. My other top favorite of his is Burden of the Angel/Beast. Both tunes just devastate me every time I hear them.

        Those who know don’t have the words to tell
        And the ones with the words don’t know too well

        Wow! Just fucking wow!

      • Hariod Brawn

        Those words are deep indeed Wyrd, as are the tune’s lyrics overall. Looking at what’s going on in the world, one can see he has a point, though the angel in humankind is far less in evidence than the beast it seems. Love the arrangement, the changes, and the distorted guitar. Class.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yes! As a wannabe keyboard player, I really like what sounds like a Rhodes (also distorted by overdrive).

        It’s a great tune. Pacing the Cage is personal to me in what it says, but Angel/Beast is, as you say, about the world and really hits home. We do seem to have lost touch with our inner angels, which I think is tragic.

        Somehow the tune calls to mind Hamlet’s speech about, “What a piece of work is man,” although the Prince seemed to speak mostly about the angel side in that one.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Well, yes, though I’m not sure how “infinite in faculty” I am even at the best of times!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        😀 Yeah… He does seem to be talking about the paragons of the paragon of animals. I’m pretty comfortable with “quintessence of dust” though… :\

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