Thursday, October 22, 2015


A group of techies

Not just on but in a number of places there is an ideological struggle going on that most of us don’t even realize exists.  It is between the young mandarin techies of California (mostly) who have the idea that nests make birds (if you build it, they will come), and the aspiring entitled young writers whose acquaintance with wordsmithing is mostly gained through the lyrics of pop and punk songs DO come.  But no one cares.  Ev Williams is involved in some of this, since he links Twitter, Blogspot, and  Maybe the hopes for Medium were just too high.  But the hopes were secretly not about good writing at all -- they were about profit.  I use Blogspot, myself,  NOT for profit, but because it holds still so I don't have to figure out something new all the time -- NOT because I want to tinker with the html.

The American premise is that success is the product of “progress” in the sense of actively pushing numbers up and adding more gimmicks.  They are wrong.  Often success is the product of just sitting there, thinking.  Because the “nest” of thought and writing is in the brain, which is a lot of neurons, not a computer game.  The catch phrase is “generative plasticity” meaning that the brain physically re-shapes itself constantly to accommodate new experience and the thought it evokes.  I have read ever since the “eureka” moment about 1944 when I realized that the marks on the page were words and “Jack and Judy” plus their parrot (a primary school reader alternative to “Dick and Jane”) were in a virtual world I could visit at will.  This was the nest for writing.  It didn’t just grow, it transformed as it went to fit what rested there.

Song bird nest built by a BIRD.

One cannot attract condors by building robins' nests.  The real trouble with Medium is that the techies are conventional, the pride of their families, and utterly blank when it comes to breaking out of the crowd -- they didn’t want to do that anyway.  They just want to overachieve on some scale they learned in grade school -- stickers and A+ grades.  It doesn’t work like that.

What you think about, you become.  If you think about money, you become money.  If you think about technical coding, you become technical coding.  If you think about writing, the number of neurons in your brain about writing increase, complexify (there are over 200 KINDS of neurons that specialize in aspects of awareness), and swell into literature worth reading.  

Condor nest in the crevice of a cliff -- bird in center, I think.  
Remember how big a condor is.

What many readers are after is feeling.  Coding will not let you feel.  Feelings are the foundation of being human.  Trauma takes it away.  Coding takes it away.  Modern suburban successful swimming pool espresso sophistication takes it away.  It is a mistake to think that extreme sports/sex/
vehicles/stunts will make you feel.  Extreme things like fire-eating and wire-walking are not the point, though they will teach you to concentrate.  Well, at least it will eliminate all the people who can’t concentrate.  But coding is not a bad thing to do while you learn to feel.  Maybe relearn.  

I prefer reading print, even to film and other arts.  That’s partly about my age, but the point about being old is that I’ve had decades to expand my neuron plasticity.  And in my case, economic necessity forced me to take on environments and kinds of people I barely survived.  That’ll make your nest bigger in a hurry.  It might teach you to fly -- or eat worms.

In my case, teaching English taught me grammar.  English teachers don’t teach grammar anymore -- in fact, they don’t even know it themselves, nor do they know the reason for it, nor can they transform an appositive into a prepositional phrase.  They just pour out words on a wave of emotion that imitates every other wave of emotion.  I’m not saying you have to know grammar to write.  A lot of people know it intuitively, not from taking quizzes but from reading fine writing the way one intuitively learns how to ride a bicycle.  You want to do it, you want the momentum and the control, and you learn them by FEELING, not by logic or tech gimmicks.

Animal control taught me tolerance and to be alert.  Forget “beware the dog” signs -- watch for large-bore poop.  And never think you’ve seen everything now, because going through neighborhoods and knocking on doors soon reveals that some people are on the edge, some people are intensely driven to control their neighbors, and some people are dead and have been that way a while, but no one noticed.  I also benefited from sudden surges of adrenaline when under attack.  You remember that “black swan” guy?  Nassim Taleb -- not the ballerina.  Taleb says humans are MEANT to have sudden moments of danger, we're built for it, and I think he’s right.  But I cherished the moments when I was on a dog stake-out, just sitting and ruminating early in the morning while I watched for some uncatchable trespasser so I could see where he came from.

Writers will be constantly pressed to write what a monied investor or an internet audience wants to read, something spectacular that will make them pay.  Techies and investors don’t know how to do that kind of writing, and they don’t know it when they see it -- only when the stock market says so.  That’s their only yardstick and it doesn’t measure “real” writing.  In fact, whoring for the stock market will kill profit.  It’s a form of VD.  (A.B. Guthrie, Jr. always repeated “We kill what we love.”)

I’m "barebacking".  No income from publishing.  I assume you will understand what I’m talking about, judging from what I read in pop markets, via the Internet.  (You cannot buy magazines in Valier.)  What I mean is that I’m not writing for sale -- I’m only after the un-mediated experience of writing, the addition of more neurons, the ones I can feel meshing in my head so that I wake in the night suddenly understanding something -- not in words, but in endorphins or something, in my gut.  If I can’t get to that point regularly, I get very very cranky.

Particularly aggravating are the few people who still press me to write something different from what I write.  Some have not realized that I write for a global audience -- this is not a local column in a regional paper -- or they have a favorite thread on the blog and want me to get rid of all the others.  They want the time-lines to include only their own families, history as endorsement.  But I’m after the meta-trends, mutation, evolution.  I love the anthropologies and analyses and quotes from grownup books written by seasoned observers.  I do not want to cheer up, settle down, or pull in my horns.

Academics have been suffocated by corporations or have fallen so in love with post-everything theory that they have abandoned reality because it has too few syllables.  Ministers have become therapists and fund-raisers.  "Smart" guys spend their days trying to invade other people’s lives -- someone is trying to hack this computer.  If I value something, I put it on the other computer that isn’t in contact with the world.  If I value it even more, I commit it to paper.

I’ve given up the idea of preserving things for the ages -- it’s just not possible in a world where ideologues blow up ancient statues in order to prove they’re better.  But I do save some things that look as though they might be useful in my lifetime.  I’m always surprised by what they turn out to be. 

Techies are mayflies, their work obsolete overnight.  But . . . so is a lot of writing.  In my experience there are too many high-school-level Friday essays stacking up that ought to be burned.  Grading tapioca is a fool’s task.  I once tried a Seventies sort of experiment:  I gave everyone in a class an A at the beginning of the quarter to see what would happen.  The kids formed the same curve as always.  And they worried more about how they were doing.

Sometimes I think that China had it right -- the students ought to go out and plant rice instead of sitting in a desk learning other people's big ideas.  But China is infamous for sacrificing its children.  We would be, too, if the truth were known.  All those mind-rotting Saturday morning cartoons have come home to roost in our computers where they leak out into kid brains.

No comments: