A Pause to Plan

I have come to the conclusion that the major reason that I am finding it so difficult to write a blog post most days is the time of day that I’m setting aside to do it. I have been waiting to blog until right before I go to bed. By then I am tired and not thinking as clearly as I do earlier in the day. I struggle to remember the things that have occurred to me earlier in the day that would indubitably be exciting topics for a blog post.

Life is about making choices. I made an important choice seven years ago when I started writing at 750words.com. In those seven years I have become a much better writer. I have completed NaNoWriMo twice and attempted it two other times. I have written several short stories and hundreds of blog posts.

Almost a year ago I decided to step up my game and commit to writing a blog post daily. I felt like it would have several beneficial effects on me. It would force me to write things to be read by other people. My journal was private. No one but me would ever read it so it didn’t matter what I wrote. When you write for someone else to read, you shoulder a certain amount of responsibility. For example, responsibility for the veracity of what you say when you assert that something is true. You also accept a certain amount of responsibility to entertain, or inform, or both. You must give your reader some reason to read what you’ve written.

At about the same time, I stepped up the quota on my journal entry to a thousand words. Writing longer journal entries helped me learn to sustain longer threads of thought. It has been a productive year.

Now, I find myself feeling a need for a shift in my focus. I want to do some writing to share with a critique group. The experience of reading other people’s writing and giving constructive criticism of it while at the same time having them critique something you’ve written seems like the next step in my development as a writer.

This is going to require me to rethink my schedule. I can’t continue to write approximately fifteen hundred words a day, a thousand word journal entry and an approximately five hundred word blog post, and still have enough time left over to write things for the critique group.

The choice that I face now is what to keep and what to put aside, either for a while or permanently. My blog is something that I want to keep writing but I need to move that writing to a time of day when I have more clarity of thought. My journal entry may need to be repurposed and perhaps made shorter. Perhaps I should use it as a venue for writing a first draft of my blog post. Or perhaps I can use it to write pieces to be critiqued. During NaNoWriMo I used it as the time and place that I set aside to work on my novel so using it for other purposes than journaling is certainly not without precedent.

These are all good thoughts. I need to consider them for a while before I make a decision. I felt like it was the kind of thing that might be of interest to those of you that bother to read my blog. Although it was a bit of navel gazing, it had a clear motivation and it does effect the future direction of this blog (which is in no danger of ceasing publication any time soon.)

As always, let me know what you think. You can post comments on Facebook or Twitter, email me at jkelliemiller at gmail dot com, or talk to me in person if we happen to know each other IRL (In Real Life). I have tried repeatedly to set up comments in WordPress but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’ll give that a try again in the near future.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Pardon My Introspection

It is hard to think when you are tired. To a large degree that is because when you are tired and you close your eyes to think for a moment, you wake up after another moment and realize that you’ve just gone to sleep. It’s not that difficult if you have a topic in mind. The words just seem to flow from your finger tips and there is no need for the misadventure of pausing to think.

Alas, I have beaten the commentary on writing horse to absolute and utter death. I find myself repeating myself about the virtues of Lisp and other similar computer languages. I’ve written the draft of a science fiction story, one that petered out toward the end for lack of an ending. I’ve written a number of posts focused on something that I saw on TV or read somewhere that day.

The problem is, I can’t count on the inspirational article or TV show to supply a topic every day and I find it exhausting to sit and try to think of a topic off the top of my head when I have been up for sixteen hours or more. I say this not so much to complain as to attempt to get at the heart of my problem. I often write an essay to attempt to clarify my thinking on a particular subject so that is what I’m doing now.

Perhaps the ultimate solution is multi-forked. I need to think of a number of topics to write about and keep them handy for days when I can’t think of a topic. I need to start thinking about a topic earlier in the day before I get so tired when it gets close to bedtime. I would love to actually write my blog earlier in the day but that hasn’t worked out so far. There just isn’t enough time in the morning to get in all the various tasks that I’ve set for myself.

Perhaps I am being overly ambitious. Perhaps I need to drop one or two tasks from my daily list. I’ve thought about doing that on numerous occasions but I can’t decide which task to drop. I am beginning to get quicker at getting them all done as my Circadian rhythm shifts. I foresee another struggle on the horizon though when we change to daylight savings time again.

I’m not sure this really helped me find any concrete solutions. It did allow me to get the things that I have already given some thought to down on the page so that I can study them to see if I’ve overlooked any alternatives. But for tonight, I’m going to call it a night and head for bed. Tomorrow is another day.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Who the $#%& Am I?

People used to derive a sense of identity from the place that they were born and raised. They identified with the church that they attended and the schools that they attended. They were defined by their profession and their friends, how much money they made, what kind of car they drove, what neighborhood they lived in.

These things still contribute to people’s sense of identity but these days things change so fast that if you define yourself solely in terms of these things, you are building your identity on shifting sands.

Things change fast these days. Practically no one lives their whole life in the town where they were born. Most people move at least two or three times over the span of a career and many move more than that. As a side effect, even the most devout church goer ends up changing congregations several times at least.

In this age of ever more expensive cost of higher education people are taking longer to complete their education and often as not are studying at more than one school. This tends to dilute the identification with alma mater.

And the work place is changing so fast that few people complete a career in one profession and even if they do, they end up having to reeducate themselves at least once a decade or so.

So, where do we derive our modern identities from? In part we make our own tribes. We reach out to people with similar interests. We make friends online and use the various miracles of modern communication to bridge the distances that may span the globe.

We struggle, we experiment, we adapt, and in the final analysis, we get through it all. If you keep searching for the things that make you happy and doing the things that you know are right, you will become the person that you were meant to be.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

A Couple of Insights

I sat down with Pam to watch “Chance” on Hulu tonight. It is a series starring Hugh Laurie as a Neuropsychiatrist. I loved him as House. Before that I loved him as Bertie Wooster in “Jeeves and Wooster”. I even loved him as the bad guy in “The Night Manager”.

As dark as “The Night Manager” was, it wasn’t quite as depressing as the first half an our of “Chance” was. It has all the signs of a great show. I just don’t need a show this dark right now. I intend to give it a shot later when I’m in a better mood myself.

I started therapy, “seeing a psychologist” as I sometimes call it, years ago. When I started, my major goal was to get rid of my anxiety. I recently figured out that I didn’t want to get rid of my anxiety, I just wanted to manage it. Anxiety is what motivates me to do good work. Anxiety is what helps me overcome my natural laziness.

I had a similar breakthrough today. Early in my therapy, I complained of mood swings. I admitted that I liked the elation of the manic swings of the cycle but was willing to give that up to keep from having the brutal lows of the depressive swings. My mother always told me to be careful what you wish for because you might get it. Today it occurred to me that the problem that I was dealing with now was the fact that my life had become a monotonous emotional gray.

I’m not unhappy but I’m not enthusiastic about anything either. I spend most of my time struggling to be an adult. I deal with common things, paying bills, domestic chores, caring for my family and my fur children. It’s rewarding in it’s quiet way but I think I could handle a bit of excitement every now and then. Even if I paid for it with a little depression. I don’t ever want to go back to the deep mood swings that I had in my thirties and forties, but I’d like just a little bit of spice back in my life.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Time Out for a Soap Box Session

Okay. I blew my blogging streak. I didn’t write a post yesterday. But I’m going to get back on the horse and ride. I’m writing this post today and I’ll write another tomorrow, and so on. Tomorrow, I’ll be back on schedule with the writing prompt that I posted yesterday. Today, I’m going to write a different post though.

Today, we took Pixie to be spayed. She came through the procedure with flying colors. But that was just the beginning of the day. When we got back from dropping her off for her procedure, Pam talked to her sleep doctor and he told her to go to the emergent care place to get her ear seen to. She had noticed blood coming from her ear yesterday morning.

It turns out, her ear drum was fine. She had an abrasion in her ear canal. The doc in the box gave her a shot of antibiotics and a prescription and sent her on her way until she can get in to see the regular doctor next week.

Then we went to Walgreens and Publix for necessities and came back home. After a quick lunch and a short break while I wrote in my journal, I got back on the road to go pick up Pixie at the vet. On the way home from the vet, I missed the turn to the interstate and took a state road half the way home, adding ten or fifteen minutes to the ride home.

I was doubting that I needed to take the whole day off when the day began. At the end of the day, I was amazed that I got everything done. I don’t know if the flavor of the day came through in this post but it feels to me like a microcosm of my life of late.

I set out to accomplish one thing and I manage to do just that. Along the way, I accomplish two or three other things that I didn’t even know that I intended to do. And somehow, I still manage to not accomplish the thing that I would have liked to accomplish if I was going to be an overachiever. Not that it matters, but in this case I would have liked to have spent some time writing on the plan for my National Novel Writing Month (http://nanowrimo.org/) project. Or playing my guitar. Or playing my mandolin. I haven’t played my mandolin in much to long.

I’m not complaining. I’m observing what happened. I’m trying to learn from what happened. Oh, another thing that I neglected to mention. I also watched NCIS, Bull, and NCIS: New Orleans. That was three hours that I could have spent writing or playing.

It’s all about priorities and will power. I need to examine my priorities and muster some more will power. I’m going to need it to make it through NaNoWriMo in November.

Tomorrow’s writing prompt:

You discover that you can fly. No one else can fly, only you. What do you do? How do people treat you?

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

But Does This Mean I Have To Grow Up?

I have started thinking seriously about my goals. I have been living life on autopilot for so long that I have lost a clear sense of exactly what I want out of life. I started trying to enumerate my goals and discovered exactly how hard it is.

When I say I’ve been living on autopilot I mostly mean that I  have a good job that is interesting, pays well, and has good benefits. Consequently, things like shelter, food, health care, and a modicum of entertainment is pretty much taken care of. I occasionally have to pinch my pennies until the next pay check but I don’t worry much about necessities.

What I do worry about is the fact that I have lost sight of the things that I wanted to accomplish in life when I was younger. I have pushed them aside in favor of fighting the various fires that routinely arise when you are attempting to go about your life and raise a family. Now that my children are on their own and I have learned the basics of coping with day-to-day challenges, I am left pondering, what are my personal priorities?

After several false starts I came up with a small list of things that I want to do more. I want to play music. I don’t really have any great ambition to be famous or make money from it. Making money from it would be nice to the extent that it would help finance further projects but it would just be lagniappe.

Another thing I’d like to do is write. I am just starting to get to the point where I occasionally write something that I’m not completely embarrassed by. I would like to have time to devote to writing, both non-fiction and fiction, for more than a stolen hour here or half hour there. I realize that it takes discipline to actually sit down and take these opportunities when they present themselves.

I’d like to have the time and funds to occasionally travel. I haven’t done much traveling in the last several years and I miss seeing new horizons every now and then. I have had the yearning to revisit some of the places that I’ve lived in my youth. Places like Kentucky, Illinois, and Germany. I’d also like to see Great Britain in all her glory.

And finally, although it would be somewhat of a bus-man’s holiday, I’d like the opportunity to work on a programming project of my choosing without having to worry about schedule or budget or adhering to corporate standards or policies. I’ve always felt that programming was more an art than a science and after a career as a commercial artist, as it were, I’d like to address the more aesthetic side of the art.

This is by no means a comprehensive or even fairly detailed list of my goals. I’m still working on refining them. I have learned from experience that the more clearly you can envision something, the easier it is to manifest it. I’ve also left out the more intimate goals like spending time with friends and family. Consider this a first, skeletal pass at putting my goals into writing.

As always, pleasant dreams, tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important, be kind.

Contemplating How We Create

Some days when I sit down to write, I just want to get my words down as quickly as possible so that I can get on with the things that I have planned for the day. Today, I am in less of a hurry. It is paradoxical that since I’m not in a hurry, I am able to express my thoughts more quickly and clearly than I usually can. I think it is, in part, giving myself permission to think about what I have to say. This may entail periodic pauses to think about the next thing that I want to say. So long as I don’t get lost in thought, that’s okay.

Actually, depending on whether or not I am productively daydreaming, it is even okay if I get lost in thought. Sometimes that’s how new ideas percolate up to the conscious level of our minds. We just have to carefully pay attention as it emerges. My ideas often come as snippets of images. I’m also very influenced by music and other sounds in my environment. I am sometimes distracted by them so there is a constant tension between inspiration and distraction. That is probably the case all of the time. Who is to say when a distraction may become the focus of the inspiration? It has happened to me as  often as not.

Being able to recognize those inspirations and experiment with them dynamically is what Brett is talking about in so many of his presentations. I want to use the tools that he demonstrates in his presentations. They illustrate an exciting approach to thinking about things. At one point Brett made a distinction between two styles of programming, engineering vs. authoring. I have always though of what I did as authoring.

I have always been concerned about writing programs that communicate with others. It is interesting that Brett is more concerned with building tools for people to communicate their ideas. It is a different approach to using the computer. He does have thoughts on how to program as well. It is a strange fractal idea, communicating ideas about the tools that you are using to communicate.

I’ve always felt that thinking was a fractal activity. I think that is why artificial intelligence is such a hard thing to achieve. I use the term artificial intelligence here with what I consider to be its typical connotation. Without the ability to think about the way you think and to modify the way you think dynamically, you aren’t really intelligent, are you?

I have experienced the pleasure of exploring a system interactively. It is patently obvious to people that approach programming from that direction that immediate reflection of the consequences of your changes is essential to productive development.

When you are creating, you often don’t really know where you are going with an idea. You start off in some direction and see what happens. The journey informs the destination. As you get to one place, the next place suggests itself. This happens whether you are writing a song or a novel, solving a packing problem or creating an algorithm to sort a multidimensional array.

Another aspect of creating is that it is rarely about manipulating symbols. Even writers work from inspiration that is something other than the words they write. They imagine something in terms of images or sounds or other sensations. They translate those experiences into words that attempt to communicate them to the reader. Words often fall short. Pictures are usually more expressive.

And then, there is the dynamic experience. It may be a picture that you can change by clicking on it or a song that you can affect by waving your hands in a particular way. There is often a computer involved but it isn’t absolutely necessary. A Rubic’s cube teaches you a lot about mechanical geometric transformations. A musical instrument teaches you a lot about music. These are all examples of dynamic media for creating dynamic experiences.

The main reason that we overlook the dynamic nature of computers is that we are stuck in a pen and paper mind set for solving problems and expressing the solutions. This is a truth that has been laying under the surface of my consciousness for decades and I  have only just been able to understand it, thanks to the work of Brett Victor. I need to reflect more on how to incorporate it into my daily work. I need to keep my eyes open for insights that will inform my choice of a principle to champion.

I haven’t said anything about that yet. It is probably best left to someone else who has discovered their principle to explain it. I just know that deep solutions are not focused on a particular problem but rather on how we go about solving all problems.

I sometimes think that the best of my blog posts are channeled instead of being written. I’m not sure where they come from but it is more like reading something that someone else is writing than writing it myself. This post has been an imperfect rehash of a lot of the ideas that I have learned from watching the Brett Victor videos online. It is interesting to note that although the principle that he walks away with is uniquely his own, many of the ideas that he bases his work on are from other visionary pioneers. He credits them in his work.

Professional Principles

I’ve been watching a lot of videos of presentations given by Brett Victor. This particular video was particularly inspiring. It helped me understand something about myself and my relationship with my work that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on before now. I realize that you may not have an hour to spend watching this video right now. If not, please consider bookmarking it and having a look at it later. I’ll try to give you a few clues as to why you might want to do that.

In this talk, Brett talks a lot about having a guiding principle that motivates  his work. Most of us just go to work and do the best we can to produce the work that is assigned to us. This is a valuable way to live your life but it leaves people like me unsatisfied. I want to create things. I want to discover new things that haven’t ever been discovered before. I want to change the way we do things for the better. This entails a lot more thinking and introspecting than just showing up and doing the work that is assigned to us the same way that it has been done by everyone else that has done it before.

Brett talks about his principle and gives examples of how he has modified the tools he uses to comply with his principle. He also gives an example of another person’s principle and how he worked to apply it and ended up changing the face of modern computing. I have a  yearning to do this kind of work. I’ve got a lot of introspection to do in order to figure out what the principle is that I want to champion.

Watch the video. Brett is much more eloquent than I am in explaining what he means and that will help you to understand my ramblings here a little bit better.