I’ve been blogging for 10 years at this website. It started off as a collaboration of authors, which made sense back then, in that it was not as easy to create a blog back then, and a group of authors seemed like better bait than a single author to attract readers.It was a good experience back then, and I really appreciated bouncing ideas off the co-authors through our comments and posts. I explored many ideas that I conceptualize as being under the umbrella of cognitive science. Writing about the writings of others pushed those ideas further into my working knowledge–this was so very much more satisfying than ideas slipping in and out. Before I blogged, ideas didn’t stick, and I didn’t have articles to link to my new articles, making both old and new ideas more accessible.
In short, I was blogging for self-improvement, with the thought that many of the things in which I was interested would also interest some others. As I blogged through the years, the number of daily visitors climbed up to the hundreds and then the thousands (according to a measuring tool I then used called “Webstats”). I was inspired to work ever harder at finding articles that challenged me yet were accessible, or at least I tried to make them accessible. I invested two, three, four or more hours per day reading, dictating, polishing and proofing my articles, some of them running into the thousands of words. It was a really invigorating was to become educated.
And here I am, still blogging, though at a much-reduced pace, but thinking that this website is a familiar and attractive place for me. Especially now that I’ve changed hosts, which has sped up the site considerably, which makes blogging seem almost effortless. And as I sit here writing, at the age of almost 60, I wonder whether what I really have to offer that hasn’t been offered dozens or hundred of times already. And upon writing that, I think I’ve identified my quest – to stay unique in my voice, even if it means writing a lot less. Even if it means “reporting” less and emoting more with my words. Bottom line: I suspect that I will be veering more toward essays and observations, though remaining vigilant regarding others’ articles and creative works.
Well . . . that’s it for now. I will be taking some new steps in some new directions in the coming weeks and months, and seeing how it looks the next day and week.
I’ve played guitar and keyboard for many years. I’m quite experienced and confident in my playing, but my performances at local coffee shops have consisted entirely of playing “covers,” and it’s getting a bit embarrassing that I haven’t yet written my own songs (even though I do my own arrangements of the songs I sing). As I’ve forced myself to actually start writing songs with lyrics, I’ve become fascinated with the process. This interview with James Taylor offers lots of food for thought.
At this point, I’ve written two songs with lyrics. I do like the result, but it has taken dozens of hours to get these tunes to a point where I find them acceptable. I don’t know whether there is any way to speed up the process. It does feel, though, that I’m a the beginning of a compelling adventure.
What can you do to be a better writer? Stephen Pinker offers some excellent advice, and Eric Barker puts it into summary fashion, peppering the ideas with useful links.
The beauty of Barker’s posts is that the links tend to lead you to rich clusters of new links. One of the links from this post lead me to a link on how to be a better story teller. The person interviewed is UCLA Film School Professor Howard Suber. Here’s a captivating bit of advice:
Every so often in my personal life with friends, I’ll have somebody who will be telling me, it’s usually over a meal, about they’re in a relationship, and it’s in trouble and this trouble has been going on for some time, often years, and it’s now heading for a crisis. And it’s one of those things where you know sort of, even though they don’t verbalize it, they’re asking, “What do you think? What do you think I should do?”
And after listening to the narrative for a while, every so often, I’ll say, “What movie are you living now?” And it always produces the same response. The person is startled because it sounds initially like a trivial question. They’re usually telling the story with considerable agony, and so they kind of freeze like a deer. And then their eyes rotate, usually upwards to the right, which is where a lot of people go when they’re searching their memory bank, and then they’ll laugh.
That’s the important point of this, and they’ll laugh and say, “The Exorcist,” or something like that. And the laugh is a sign of recognition that the story they’ve been telling me has a recognizable structure, and once they give me that, they then usually laugh again and say something like, “Oh, my God.” I then say, as quietly as I can, “And where does the story go?” And that’s the advice I’ve given them.
While on the topic of Barker, this might be my favorite of his many posts: “Which Old Sayings are True?”
One more: Barker summarizes a study on the importance of sleep. Stunning results:
By the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.
Last month I carefully sanded and painted the passenger side rear corner of our 2001 Dodge Caravan. It didn’t look perfect, but it was more than passable. Yesterday someone scraped the same part of the same car while it was sitting on a parking lot. So tonight I rode the same bicycle back to the same auto parts store and the same guy sells me another can of the same type of paint as I stood there wearing the same bike helmet that I wore last time. “Have we met?,” he asked. I explained, “Yes, you’re the guy who insisted that I use grade 2,000 sand paper last time, and I refused, saying that it would make that part of the car look too nice–and it all would have been for naught. I explained why I had returned, then asked, “Did I CAUSE that jerk to scrape my car yesterday by choosing to paint it last month? He said, “Yes. That’s how life works.”
If you spend many months writing a journal article, will anyone read it? If you are lucky, yes, according to this article at Pacific-Standard.
A burgeoning field of academic study called citation analysis (it’s exactly what it sounds like) has found that this joke holds true for not just dissertations, but many academic papers. A study at the University of Indiana found that “as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.” That same study concluded that “some 90% of papers that have been published in academic journals are never cited.” That is, nine out of 10 academic papers—which both often take years to research, compile, submit, and get published, and are a major component by which a scholar’s output is measured—contribute little to the academic conversation.
From Semore Hersch in the London Review of Books:
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
THIS is why we need a vigorous free press, which means active investigative journalism and protection for whistle blowers.