on reading, and writing

July 1, 2019
Thinking about my reading habits. One of the downsides to tracking all the books I've consumed (for almost two decades now) is the tendency to "gamify" reading. I started the practice to try and remember the books (along with movies and games and what not) of my life, but now that there's a yearly number to it, it's hard not think in terms of the tally - whether for "bragging rights" or just to get a feel for how I'm spending my time over the course of a year, and how that number varies over the course of a decade.

That leads to a few knock-on effects, like how I'm more likely to follow a mediocre book to the bitter end, or less likely to start juggling several books at once, partially for the pressure of adding to the tally.

For a while I admired and kind of imitated people saying "Oh, I only read non-fiction, really." Isn't the universe rich enough that we should focus on what is, rather than people who are making up more of it? But now I'm thinking I want to recant on this idea, and focus more on fiction.

I'm a fast reader (and so, secretly a skimmer) and so I tend to read for substance, books presenting superficially interesting and novel ideas. Or better yet, and maybe this is where novels can best produce novelty - books that give me a new way of interpreting the otherwise too familiar.

I read through Kris Gage's 8 Things I Learned Reading 50 Books A Year For 7 Years (Tangent: this article was a recommendation from Firefox's Pocket, the first "let us be your homepage, we'll show you interesting stuff" portal widget I've seen that actually seems good.) The author quotes this lovely passage:
We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.
Rebecca Solnit, "A Field Guide to Getting Lost"

Arthur C. Brooks in the Atlantic on Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think

It's an intriguing article that starts about professional decline with age, with a sudden veer into a call for spirituality and finding a role in being a mentor. "Corpse meditation" - a practice of literal encounters with the remains of the dead - is touched upon; to me the "exposure therapy" it offers (similar to the "negative visualization" suggested by modern forms of stoicism) is much more satisfying than a life of avoidance...

Interesting wrapping this into where I am now - my long term lack of career ambition (long term ambitions in general, actually), combined with my mid-life rediscovery of community through band, and my version of a spiritual quest in terms of helping people cope with their own mortality, as well as figuring out the sense of ultimately unrealizable but existent and relevant objective truth that has driven me so many years.
So much of my writing is made worse by me trying to say too many things, either to show off my smarts or to acknowledge the validity of people holding conflicting opinions... even before I've stated my own.

Or the fear that if I leave out a detail, it is gone forever, without hope of later retrieval as needed.

"Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity" and you can leave off two of the Simplicities...
Is life fair? Short answer, no. Long answer, nooooooo.