15 April 2008

It's a Long Story . . .


The Aviary has a new feature to the left (to the lef'!): Links to my shared items on Google Reader. Expatriate Dave introduced me to Reader, all from across the Atlantic and everything, and for this he must die. Dave, you are a sunumabitch, and must die, for now I have a tremendous difficulty justifying any time spent on the activities of my actual day job. Dave's imminent demise notwithstanding, now you can quickly view other 'blog entries and online articles that have piqued my interest of late. It's a nifty way of citing my sources and streamlining some of my brain activity not necessarily related to The Third Life(r); though really, it all relates. Plus, my 'blog is about ten-to-twenty screen shots tall, so I could probably insert one of Shakespeare's histories to the lef' without scraping bottom.

I have hoped and searched for a way of making this style of 'blog wider in format, so that such would not be the case, but it is as yet in vain. I am nerdly, but not in a computerly way, and shan't venture to edit the html myself. God no. Imagine the potential losses!

I do go on. And on. And on. (And on. [And on. {And on.} And on.] And on.) And, I on. Wait. What? I on. Hold on. I--on. I . . . woul- on! On on on! Look at my goings on! ON!

The above is an abstract sort of summary (get it?) of my mental processes. I may be way off base here, but I think this aspect of moi is a big part of the reason I experience so much frustration in learning other languages. I am at once in love with order and complexity. I appreciate specificity in ideas, but strongly resent the inability to wiggle within formats and the mediums of expression. So I'm rather stuck on English -- that most ambiguous of languages -- rather than html, or Italian. In part because I learned it first, hence I have "wiggle room" that no other language can compare to sans decades of study, but also because its value is ingrained on my conscience. English means the script of a new play I've been cast in. English means communication with my loved ones. English means western literature. I heart English.

That is part of why I write at such length on almost every subject I address here. Most of my entries, I'm well aware, would not pass the mustard (intentional abuse of idiom; because I can) with any English teacher in his/her right mind. Most of my ideas can be summarized in an abstract (ah ha!) of about twenty-five words or less. I write on these ideas in meandering, playful ways because I'm improvising on a theme. (I knew I should have stuck through to Jazz Band! Where's my trombone...?) I'm improvising on a theme because I enjoy it, and because it's the best way I know of surprising myself with my own conclusions. There's almost nothing empirical about the process, when I'm doing it right. Generally speaking, I'm a little too cautious to become a Dirk Gently altogether, but there's something to be said for not determining the end before you've begun.

I suppose I have mental processes on the brain because I've been helping Fiancee Megan with her thesis paper. Last weekend was spent by-and-large helping her compile and organize data, actually. (It's fun to pretend you're in school, if you can reach that state of feeling as though it takes a certain load of decision-making off of you.) It had been a while since I had dipped toe in that kind of scholastic world, and I was reminded of the comforts and drawbacks of ideas such as determinism, causality and the empirical/scientific processes. Simply put (or so I hope), most school environments depend upon concepts of quantification and objectivity in order to function to standards, which concepts have varying degrees of use or relevence to any given lesson. They gots to grade you, and you gots to learn somethin' from its. I'm not faulting empiricism at all. How could I fault something so useful? Neither, however, do I consider it the Omega to every question's Alpha.

Consider a school paper. Generally speaking, the student is supposed to state an objective and hypothesis, then do this and that to prove the hypothesis, preferably using hard data and citing other opinions. In the end, a conclusion is drawn. The conclusion needn't be conclusive, nor even agree with the hypothesis (though some teachers insist on revising one end or the other until they match, which is so stupid it makes me want to scream), but no one likes to feel dumb and most people, by the end of working on something, like to feel they got somewhere relatively significant. So a conclusion ties it all up. Like a well-crafted play, there's a beginning, middle and end, with no dangling doubts or questions. Pretty. Concise. Let's us bronze it, and put it on a pedastal.

Though it has been reprinted onto numerous magnets, mugs and mouse-pads, I'm still a big fan of this excerpt from Rilke's collected letters to a young poet:

"I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
One of my biggest problems is that it's hard for me to admit that I don't know something. It's not that I can't do it; it's that it pains me to do it, which is in some ways worse, or at least more complicated. So I practice not knowing things all the time, even as I'm trying to learn more and more in the hopes that by the time I'm 80 or so I won't have to endure not knowing quite so much. Until then, loving the questions is a pretty effective approach to ignorance. At least that way, the questions get asked, of myself as much as of anyone else.
Update (not minutes after I posted; see reader sidebar article): Ira Glass agrees with me...
"Indeed, that might be the single biggest reason that This American Life has more in common with the documentary films of Errol Morris or the writings of Studs Terkel (both oft-cited Glass influences) than with any network magazine news program: It follows its sources where they lead, instead of using people as props to support a premise that’s usually been decided upon before the actual reporting has even begun."

4 comments:

dave said...

I believe this may have been the entry that Google engineers read that caused them to decide to do away with GR sharing. Nice going, Wills.

Jeff Wills said...

Took them long enough.

What're you doing in my backlog? Not that you're not welcome. I just have to warn you that if you're four years behind, the posts thin out considerably in the last two.

dave said...

this post randomly showed up in my linksto:foucalt.blogspot.com google feed. I have as much right to be here as anybody else! what're you gonna do Wills, NOT APPROVE MY COMMENT???

Jeff Wills said...

...No. But I did leave you in AGHAST SUSPENSE over whether I would or not for 36 hours. Right? Of course right...