provenance: unknown

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Now, what?

So, summer’s over. I know because I was looking at one of those wide, skinny books the other day (you know, the ones you don’t open sideways, and hang on walls instead of putting on shelves, with big-ass pictures on one side of each page and tables with the days of the year on the other. “Calendars,” they’re sometimes called (mostly by people less obtuse than I)). And this one I saw, if I read it correctly, it said it was, of all things, September.

Which, you know, seems so very, very wrong to me. September? I don’t remember authorizing that. Why didn’t I see a request form?

(I guess I’m not the only one around here who senses that maybe I’m not exactly in charge of everything.)

But, so, yeah, it’s September. Ugh. Among other things (like, the beginning of yet another fall in which the job market is still abjectly miserable), September makes it going on three months that I’ve not written anything here. I never intended to take a leave of absence, much less such a long one, but there it is — probably the greatest of all the non-events so far in the still brief but not-yet-finished (I hope!) arc of this here project of mine. And I guess one that merits some acknowledgment.

I hadn’t planned on any prolonged quiescence, but it wasn’t mere laziness that caused it (though I’m sure glad laziness isn’t a capital offense). My reasons for doing this — not so much the thinking about the things I was writing about, but the actually writing them down, editing them and posting them — had changed.

Since I’d started this site, publishing here had been more of a learning experience than anything else. It had worked out pretty well, for a long time: I had fun trying different things, and allowed myself not to care too much whether what I produced was very good — all that really mattered to me was whether I learned anything in the process. And while I inevitably failed to keep learning as the only standard for my efforts here, keeping it the primary one was, honestly, what kept me going for a year and a half.

But eventually, of course, even I started figuring a few things out; the balance started to shift from what I wanted to discover about my interests in this sort of project to what I had already come to understand. The overarching question I had coming in — what most pushed me to keep trying different things — was, What kind of thing, if anything, would I really want to do with it? (And, of course, that will always remain a question, to some extent; I’ll always look for new things to try.) And last spring I realized I had found my answer, for at least the time being (namely, that if I want to do anything in this space, it’s to think out loud about issues underlying what goes on in the world, and to try to understand some things). Which was great and all, but it also meant that that original motivation — finding that answer — had been sated; to keep going, I’d need a new sort of motivation.

This summer I simply lacked that motivation. (I knew it, too — what pushed me to finally build a page for what I called “Incremental” (the basic idea for which I’d been toying with for a few months at least) was at least partly the desire to create another space where I could fall back on the old, reliable urge try new things — though maybe I didn’t know the extent of it.) Having realized what I wanted to do in theory, in practice I simply wasn’t terribly inclined.

Which is sort of surprising, but sort of not. An ongoing effort aspiring to a particular sort of goal (or standard) requires a very different rationale than an effort at learning and discovery does. And, you know that whole thing about “1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration”? Yeah. Execution is work. (And I’m not so much a natural writer, actually, as an editor; effecting the careful style I try to practice here demands a bit of time and attention.) Writing here has always been work, of course; it’s just that the pursuit of the next new thing to try — the next inspiration — was a great sustainer. Settling on what I wanted to do here cleared the way for potentially more productive work, but work all the same. And, not yet having shifted gears, I guess I wasn’t really prepared to do it.

Which, plus an uninteresting but reflective summer, brings us to the present, three months later. Time to get back to work. And if my purpose for this site has evolved, then so be it; best to get clear on that new purpose — refocus on something new to learn, some different sort of inspiration — tighten the bootstraps, and march. Got to find a motivation, can’t just wait around for one to find you. (This feels a little arbitrary to me, too, but work with me here, it’s what I’ve got. And I think it’s more or less true, even if I can’t explain it in any meaningful way — some things really just are the way they are simply because you decide they’re so. So, I’m deciding so. (Then again, maybe there’s still something here I don’t quite understand.…))

So here is a statement of how I presently understand my purpose here — the purpose I arrived at some time last spring:

I want to use this space to puzzle out, as best I can, some of the hows and whys — focusing not so much on fact, as understanding — of this crazy, inexplicable band of humans we belong to, and the universe we live in. And while I do not pretend to think I will find whole answers, or even necessarily right ones, I do hope to make successively better approximations. And I will make every effort to pursue the broader objective — successively better approximations — despite the inevitable mistakes and mediocrities I will produce in the process.

I don’t know yet how this will progress day-to-day; initially I’ll shoot for a new post each week (as I’d hoped to do this summer, but hopefully with better results this time). I may also try to structure this somehow — I realize that some issues underlie others, and it would be useful, before exploring the edifice above, to shine what light I can on the foundations. (Realistically, of course, I’m just going to be poking around in the dark, and so pretending to structure my putterings about is probably just foolishness — but I just might try it anyway.) That may take some effort that is only implicitly reflected in what I post here — and that effort might delay a post or two — but if it might help make more sense of more things in the long run, it might be worth it.

So there it is, more or less. Please forgive me all my tedious self-reflection. At the same time, thank you, immensely, for reading it, and this site. I don’t know how this will go — if I can sustain the necessary effort, and, even if I do, if it will actually produce anything remotely valuable — but I do know that this site’s readers — you — have been a tremendous encouragement to me, and I am very grateful. And I wanted to write all this not just to serve as my own statement of purpose, but also to say to you, I hope I can repay your interest, and I will do my best to try.

P.S. I‘m back!

September 9, 2003 1:11 PM

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