0517 – writing for a richer experience of reality

I wrote two vomits earlier– first about my goals for 2016 (get physically stronger + write daily + review daily + do more deep work), and then about the overall mindset change I want to undertake (be eager to take on more responsibility so that I can influence my circumstances more thoroughly).

I then went on to go to look through some of my papers that I have lying around, because I want to spend some time decluttering and sorting through my papers. I ended up going through some of my english / literature work from when I was 13 years old, which in 2016 is now exactly half a lifetime ago for me. It’s been interesting for me to re-read things that I had worked on years ago. First because nothing seems entirely unfamiliar – there is a sense of recognition (“Ah, I’ve seen this before!”) and second because my current response is so different from what my response must’ve been when I was younger. It’s an interesting way to make sense of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve changed, who I am today.

That’s why it’s worth rereading old books and rewatching old movies. Not to find out how much those things have changed (because they haven’t), but to find out how much YOU have.

And so the thing that I found myself thinking was– I was looking through this collection of short stories that we were assigned to read, and I recall how I hardly ever really read them (yet when I did read them I think I enjoyed them). And I’ve been wanting to read them again now as an adult. Why? Because I feel like my English teacher had pretty good taste, and I’d like to be a fiction writer soon, and it would be good to read well-curated selections of short stories.

Okay, but why do I want to write? What do I want to achieve? That’s what I want to meditate on for a while. What’s the point? We’re all going to die. It’s dawning on me that I want to write even if I know I’ll never get paid for it. It would be slightly more frustrating if I never got recognized for it– but I can break that down. I don’t mind getting recognition for a psuedonym. It’s not that I want to personally be famous or popular. It’s that I want to write things that people recognize as quality work. I don’t need to be the one getting the glory, it just needs to do well. That would sort of satisfy me, at least as far as I can tell right now. Assuming that the responses are from smart, thoughtful people.

What is quality work? What is the work that I want to do, and why do I want to do it? Why is this worth undertaking? Well there are some non-lofty answers. One is that I simply like words. I like that they’re just made out of simple lines, and that anybody can write them. It costs nothing to write a million words, or ten million words. You just hammer them out, you barely even have to think about it. [1] And yet words have so much history, so much baggage. They’ve been through centuries, millenia, passing from mind to mind, evolving, changing, developing, shedding this, gaining that. And we can use them however we see fit. To explore, to pry, to open up, to question, to attack, to analyze, to do all sorts of crazy fun things. I’ve already developed myself quite a bit as a writer and I do quite like the idea of spending another 70 years just getting more acquainted with words and sentences and paragraphs and so on. It feels like an artform that I’d like to develop mastery over.

Is there any use to that? Well, you don’t actually need writing to be useful in order to enjoy it, and if you enjoy it that’s all the use you’ll ever really need in this objectively-meaningless existence. To have enjoyed your time here, that will have to be good enough. To have enjoyed some words.

What does enjoyment mean? How do we enjoy something? What causes enjoyment? What are the factors influencing enjoyment?

I find myself thinking about things like flow, challenge, control, etc. But those things don’t really apply to reading, do they? I mean, hm. I’m not sure. What makes something a really-damn-good piece of writing? It has to achieve something that the pretty-good pieces of writing don’t achieve. It has to really dig into something interesting, without too much unnecessary fluff. It has to make a lofty promise of some sort and meet it. It has to have stakes. It has to have challenges, difficulties. It has to have some sort of setup. It has to have some sort of premise. It should surprise you at some point. It should make you reconsider something. It should give you a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing, or at least give you some new questions to ask that you hadn’t asked before.

What are some questions I haven’t asked before? What are some ways of seeing things that I haven’t seen before? It’s really the most powerful thing once you fully internalize something like that. You inherit entirely new universes just by slightly changing the angle of how you look at things. More than double the pleasure for practically no “real” work, though it’s also arguable that it’s the hardest and most important work of all.

Anyway. Let’s try to answer the question head on– why do I want to write? I think the main reason is that I want to figure out elegant, efficient ways of making sense of all the chaos and complexity that I have inherited, that I have witnessed. Humans are natural storytellers and sense-making creatures. We try to fit things into narratives that make sense to us. Often these narratives are flawed, as all models are. When that happens we owe it to ourselves to smash them, turn them inside out and examine them really closely. [2]

And the idea I guess is to experience reality more richly, to see the interconnectedness of all things. This wasn’t the best of vomits but there’s something in here, hopefully, that I’ll draw from.

[1] I imagine soon we’ll have direct neural interfaces that allow us to practically imagine words into existence. And maybe then we’ll be able to imagine pictures into existence, too. That will be a trippy, exciting time.

[2] A thought I had recently was – how come we learn about stepmothers in fairy tales so quickly and easily? So apparently it was common to grow up with stepmothers because women often died in childbirth. Now that’s kind of surprising, its’ not immediately obvious. It’s satisfying to have a sense of context for that, it makes the whole thing richer.

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