Ambitions

Dec. 23rd, 2008 11:30 am

From the following words my next project will take its form.

-----

I have begun to write myself. I began long ago, when to find myself I gave myself words. I originate in a wandering style, though you now read me at the end of a long reduction and exclusion. Having risen, I became someone who walks; having thought, I became someone who errs. So I grew capable of humanity's ways. Having seen, I became someone who overlooks; having written, I became someone who revises. So I learned the rudiments of denying and altering my being human, by envisioning and articulating myself otherwise. Ultimately, I ceased to envision myself, thus ceased the struggle to exist in both my words and my images. The final image -- the enduring, greedy image -- shows a boy, on his knees, in a row in a section on a floor of a vast library, wanting to read it all. I am not mistaken in hungering, but I have made my mistake in hungering without limit. Thus I write. The following are two of the questions to be answered in me. Where does my arrogance end? And how far do my ambitions extend?

Insanity is a problem on which I have made some progress. I have followed our most central metaphors until they loop into something dangerous: I have let high be good until goodness is vacuum, and bright be intelligent until intelligence burns away vision. We who try to be human carry humanity onward, following its errors and reconceiving its forms. We are subject to its reasons and prey to its unreason. We are those responsible for shaping history forward. My ambitions extend into certain of our common ventures, whether or not you recognize their common ground. And I may easily overextend: I return too often to that lofty mood in which concentration ionizes and diverse fantasies present themselves, from ideal little social responses to scenes of grand triumph, with me to decide which of them will enter the first stages of the progression from fantasy to dream, from dream to ambition, and at last from ambition to reality. It is a difficult decision, because I already have many responsibilities, both mundane and internal, and hesitate at one more. Yes, I am responsible to my fantasies, for to deny one that I have kept is to be untrue. I am responsible to my dreams: they nourish me, but I must nourish them as well. Most of all, I am responsible to my ambitions.

Midway through high school, some time after discovering philosophy, I wrote a list of what is good. It was hardly the only list I had written, though most I had the good luck and good sense to discard quickly. (My writing, like my life, traverses such lists, often to arbitrary effect. But I may write and live better.) This one, however, was too grand and too meaningful: I wrote it well. This was a list of values, of things worthwhile, sparkling destinations, and however much I reassured myself of its provisionality I could not afterwards outdo it. I still remember that list's beginning in a single entry, and its slow expansion over the course of a few months to include nine items, a philosophy and an ambition nestled within the nine. I also recall the order of its contents' inclusion, save for knowledge and beauty, which were added together. Now, I even realize how the list's final entry halted any further expansion, though for a long time such realization stayed beyond me, thinking as I did that my time off the ground could be nothing but good.

Now, however, my ambitions must acquire better forms, and I have lived with the old ambition too long to simply discard it. Instead, the list will be refigured. As far as my concepts go, the list's contents are easily reshaped, despite being a part of me. They have as yet little form but what I have given them. There are other concepts, call them animated ones, that were and are more difficult to refigure. I once had to acknowledge a spiritual crisis in the following terms: "To fully understand something I must embrace it and reject it in turn, and I have yet to..." The ellipsis anticipated years' worth of doubt and self-disgust, as I argued and pleaded with an idea that preferred me in its teeth. Luckily, I have since moved on to a fuller way of involving myself with what I value and what I cherish, dangerous though such involvement may become. Here is my way of refiguring the list: If I truly believe something to be good, then I should be willing to avoid parts of it, claim some of it as my own, and, where I am willing to devote myself, pursue it.

-----

I was once a philosopher outside the scholastic cage, but that does not mean I was a good philosopher. Self-indulgence and arrogance -- a far more encompassing arrogance than remains now, an arrogance like an atmosphere, in which to breathe -- were my guiding vices, ones which easily competed with the paired virtues of creativity and civility. I may have accomplished rare feats of learning, but my styles of discussion, writing, and thought degenerated as they developed. Again and again I created a system or argument like a labyrinth, subtle, winding and many-pathed, to be learned and then escaped. Oh, I had points, I had profound and central points! But you could only reach them tired and lost. And so it was that I, coming finally to face the reality of philosophy in this world, before which I could be at most seminal (and in any case minute), at last lost myself and tired myself out: by my lack of wisdom and lack of reason I failed philosophy. At last I could only breathe to it: I will understand you by rejecting you. I will deny you, I will fear you, and I will flee you. Where wisdom is lacking, a declaration of what one will completely reject is an act of either arrogance or despair, and I despair in silence.

Yes, I know avoidance well. Not only to find myself do I lose myself. When something internal hungers after me, such as a sense of unending intellectual and emotional debt, I also move to lose myself, both in the world and in my mind. I travel until the signs become unreadable and the entire ecology of rationality becomes something external to me, leaving me with the quiet things, myself among them. Even if I did only skirt insanity this last time, with delusion avoided -- really, Lhexa, avoided? and this "writing myself" undeluded? -- I still suffer from familiar aftereffects. Here are the ideas become something more than geometric, no longer fitting together; here are the emotions that assemble into something charismatic before another person, but tug and gnaw at me watersnake-like when I am alone; here are intellectual powers sparking at random, talents spending themselves uncontrollably, and a woven identity unravelling. My entireties are connected: I cannot distinguish between my good and my evil. Fortunately, when it comes to what to avoid, I do have a central thesis from which I can draw many implications: I have gone insane, thus I am not a philosopher.

Comparable to the places I am to go are the places I have left behind. Prior to the tower of physics, there was the basement burrow thereof; before the warmth of friends, there was the cold university; before that place's harsh realizations, there was the soft isolation of high school; before the flowering of pride, there were my first declarations of identity; before the city, there were the mountains. Each site gave me treasures which I might yet lose somewhere in the space of a tired silence, if I do not ensure that I can always recover them. More, I find I should go far afield in recovering what I value. The treasures of my life are never so much kept as cached, memories, insights and emotions hidden for future need. I do not need to possess myself, nor keep what is mine. It is not mine by virtue of placement, nor am I myself because I am the person at hand.

Please forgive me as I speak of myself. I may be the only person to whom I can give words. You and I converse, if we converse, along the thin border between a person and the world: we supplement each other's senses. If my speech must reach you from further away than most, then you hear it from beyond your usual range, just as I am so often brought points of light from unimagined distances. My friends are the colors, and every reunion restores some pigment to a gray world, a hue lost while, blind to myself, I follow my voice. My friends will forgive me when I run on, and who else has a word in what I can recover? I have a burrow, a little Maupertuis of my own. I have what sustains and nourishes me. I have clothing that suits me. I even have a tower of theory and experiment to ascend regularly. What I claim as mine I need only describe.

I feel I came into this world by climbing down from a tree. What are my words? (Small thing, be still. Let yourself be nourished.) I know the easiest emotion to exploit. You can seize it. You can shape it. You are not wise enough to choose otherwise, so I know. (Even Dr. Cavell? Even your friends? Yes. And I am willing to do an evil thing for the sake of a human scholarship.) There are as many territories for the action as there are distinct people on this planet. I might see through your very eyes if the chase takes me behind them. (I would tell you of the place of ice. It too moves. Let me take you there in a story.) I have found my two high niches in the ecosystems of rationality, ecosystems where nothing human has yet appeared nor will appear. (Want to know what kind of affection exists in an animal's gaze? Ask which animal.) I walked to a high point and launched myself to the void, which shivered me apart. What did I see in the ascent? (The third and most dangerous hound, which led and still leads the pursuit of youth, which may harry me from my own, I named Ambition.)

The pursuit will be long.

-----

My list of what is good contains happiness, freedom, knowledge, beauty, love, wonder, honor, and flight. I now follow Kant in omitting life.

Like you, I spent much of my childhood hiding. Everything worthwhile in me started out vulnerable to sight, weak against nothing so more than coming out too early: such are the games, aspirations and worlds of a child who knows to keep the clay of himself away from all calloused hands. But perhaps I learned my talent of stealth too well, and became a material no longer under any others' hands. I do not know. Now there is a need to look back as far as I can see, to find out when I first began to arrogate what was around me, when I began to involve my very identity in everything I learned. Of the creations of my past, what survived, and what fell into ruins? I can only undo myself to the extent that I continue myself. My wreckage is my foundation. I know where to find it.

Even in childhood I inhabited places behind and beneath: behind fences, beneath manhole covers, behind sealed trapdoors. I remember many such places: the deck of my grandmother's house, under which I would crawl and sleep; near the opera in the mountains, the cramped loft where I delved into fantasy worlds and the little gullies where I created them; the shadowed mesquite paths which so excited my imagination, beyond the schoolyard fence; the long culvert whose first traversal required much courage, among whose side tunnels I found the place of cockroaches; the platform for storing old curtains, its trapdoor eventually sealed, but afterwards reachable from the sound booth through the space between walls; my shrine beneath the overpass. There were other places, and among these others a specific one relates to my ambitions.

I often skipped high school. My favorite place to skip classes, usually in order to think, read or sleep, was the highest landing among the dozen or so staircases in the huge complex. Being the only landing letting onto the roof (another place I enjoyed) this was the only protected one in the entire school. A high wall resembling a chain-link fence divided the next landing below evenly in two, and unlike that to the roof the wall's door was always locked. The wall did not, however, extend to the ceiling. By climbing diagonally up the stairs' railing I could reach the perpendicular railing of the top landing, and clamber right over it, the twenty-foot gap below becoming less fearful as I gained experience with the climb. At some risk I could enter a space that resembled, but only resembled, a cage, for when I entered it my thoughts took motion within a vaster realm. By climbing into that space I caged the school, and could for a short time be safe from its appetites. Behind that wall of woven metal I was a philosopher. In that place I weighed institutions on scales better balanced than any I had been shown. I thought well and abstractly, though a strong sense of danger and isolation remained. And there I considered each entry of the list of values. Hidden, scared and alone, I contemplated goodness.

I believe I have left many dreams idling in that dusty place. To study there safe from school was, among other things, to learn arrogance: to learn, as Thoreau put it, that it was I in all the philosophers who glimpsed a new truth and wrote it down from its high place. But the other side of the talent also needs learning: that it is you, humanity, and you, reader, who see from behind my eyes when I am fully understood. Your brilliance might someday shine from my words, and your stupidity might speak through them. So I admit: I too own a garden of untouched vanities, one with very high walls. I built, or rather wove those walls (as the cage of my school was woven, from metal and fear) to keep you -- a universal You -- away from the self I cultivated in that garden. In the time I kept You away I nearly mastered everything arboreal: I learned how to take root, how to feed myself on light and fundament, how to grow, and how to bloom. My ambitions now are to attempt something higher.

Morality should often be secretive, for morality is vulnerable while it is maturing. For now, I hide myself and my morality in open view, in words illegible to all but me. What is not yet readable may become so, and what is not writable as well, if one develops one's skills to match humanity's. My being uncomprehended is only humanity's incomprehension. It is a small thing.

-----

Who I am cannot yet survive abstraction. My attempts at picturing myself -- attempts made before I chose between style and vision as methods of self-creation, thus attempts to combine the two -- turned on me and became monstrous, so that I next had to write weapons against them. In one such attempt, I tried to convert a capacity for flight (which I foolishly called draconic) into a gift for others, into an ornithopter many could fly, but I built it before realizing there were intimacies between flight, insanity, and my specific evil. In another such attempt, I thought to make myself the equal of one of this world's histories: I conceived in myself a vastness and a vacancy suitable for an entire human endeavour, namely philosophy. But to complete myself I must undo a mistaken myself. I can no longer simply decide what I will become, which is to say that a decision is now only an initial stage in the transformation. Rather, I must limit the limitless within my appetites and personality: I must give my greed for knowledge an intelligible form, then my virtues and vices an isolating particularity. I need limitation, constraint and form, else I die mediocre. So: I set out! I am thus bound.

Call mine the crisis of insanity. As far as my ideas are concerned, am I divine or not? What powers of shaping and reshaping do I possess? These forms of fisher and fox, how much may they be me? My impositions have already begun to take shape. I have found, and will find again, parts of identity situated in the past -- I mean not only my little past -- there to be left discarded, claimed for my own, or pursued as though alive. Learn as we may, we still do not know how we are to become.

A fantasy that has been kept, but which cannot nourish you, becomes a delusion. A dream that has been held back from influencing your life becomes a vanity or conceit. An ambition that does not become reality is simply a failure. But I have been a mere staging ground for such creative processes too often: now, I want to no longer value everything worth valuing. I carry the hope that someday there will be things, good things, that I can see and like without arrogance, for I do not extend to them. They will be things beyond me. It is the hope that there will be that which I can fully not be; it is an answer, it is not the only answer: arrogance ends where I end.
Every so often a new line of my specific insatiability becomes visible. Greed, as you know, can be found in wanting more of what one has. But what of the greed in wanting what is true to be true? I want you to exist.

*stares*

Jun. 18th, 2008 04:56 am
"Hi Eric,

I hope all is going well.

Dr. Rindler told me many good things about your performance in his course.

I would like to invite you to come to UTD and may be give a talk to the cosmology & relativity group about what you worked on here at UTD or perhaps some other topic you recently learned/read about.

Let me know, and I can arrange for your travel and lodging in Dallas.

Dr. I____"

Er, huh. That's neat. Flattering, but... my research last year was way too sketchy to be presentable. I'm not taking him up on the offer.

Maybe such invitations are common for graduate students. Even so, it's a nice salve for my recent self-doubt.
It's not often I have to maneuver my bike around a house stuck in an intersection.

Write, Lhexa.

I do not know any person less rational than myself. I never will. The errors I find in others' reasoning lack the subtlety and insidiousness of those in my own: they are lesser offenses against reason. There are the twists of meaning I recognize as mine, where my words fulfill my use but defy another's understanding; there are the thoughts that form a regard without coalescing into actual beliefs, thoughts thus standing apart from critique; there are the topics so singular that they exclude all other consideration from my mind, and lead me to ignore those needed aspects of my behavior which mark me as someone with whom one can reason. But do I have any mind but my own? Or any moods but these that govern my perspective? When can what I am extend beyond myself? You who would converse with me, acknowledge the limits I have discovered for myself, and acknowledge what I know of my own capacity for unreason. We do have much to offer each other.

I owe some loyalty to my perceptions. They often tug my mind toward something between a sensation and a theorem, something of the world and my being in it, something there to be brought within consciousness by thought and by mood; by luck, too, and by a peculiar eloquence that leaves what I write full, containing more than I can explain, a wonderful always more. But I go astray in following my perceptions, until life, with steady demands that can no longer be met, as it were keeps me from myself. Then home confines when it should rejuvenate, and conversations with friends do not break but only limn my silence: I despair. And my despair argues without eloquence. It argues so as to leave me without words. It brings forward the ideas that render me speechless (the same ideas that would, that have rendered me speechless when spoken by friends), the new emotional laws of a very small inner world. Ah, I am such a moody person. But there is a world outside. There is a forward.

I have my paths.
I'm going through QM problems at a steady pace, which is good... but this night's mood, compounded of an unwelcome visit and my toying with direct products, doesn't lend itself to regular, everyday details. So.

There is only one kind of wave function of maximal certainty, the bell-shaped Gaussian: symmetric about its expectation value, with one extremum and two inflection points. And there is only one potential in which it exists stably, the potential of the harmonic oscillator, that which approximates all equilibrium. The Gaussian is its lowest energy state, though all others may be derived recursively from it. In analogy: be at some fixed point, and be at your lowest in it, then you will be at your most measurable.

I write foolishly. Why have I set out on this path of self-creation, knowing as I do that I haven't the wisdom for it? Seven months since its inception, the first work of a project beyond reasonable proportions sits at three thousand words, with two gaps (three prior to tonight) left to be filled before I have a draft. However, I am not as committed to silence as my project might have me believe. Growth involves waste. You who are reading, whoever you are, ought to (and will) see more from me than the systems of that elaborate project. I still exist, as I often tell myself in response to an odd internal inquiry. I will try to convey to you the view from this side of the abyss. My words serve many moods. Perhaps you share some of them.

I grow strange in distance, I know, but I grow sick in company. I cannot hear you except as you, and your voice does not always carry beyond the noise of your person. But I need that outside voice. A lone voice grows hoarse, loses all its resonances but those near at hand, thus loses all coherence but inner; however, when voice answers other voice one may hear another in oneself, and oneself in another, and know that something and someone distant resonate. It is a lonely night, when my words reach noone but me, and the sky itself echoes them back to deafen me in narcissism, though each one calls out to friends. Are you out there?
Last night was good. I completed some eight easy Quantum Mechanics problems, mostly stuff relating to 1D problems. But I had forgotten how strange such work makes my dreams... I can't relate the details of last night's first dream, partly because much of it has slipped away and partly because it was halfway mathematical in content. It somehow involved attempting to establish a means of communication with another world. The dream eventually forced me awake as it became more abstract, even though I quickly lost any ability to articulate the (mathematical) communication going on. I awoke with angular Mayan patterns (half-felt, half-visualized) tracing their way down my legs and patches of heat on my skin that moved from place to place. Eventually my thoughts and sensations became normal enough to bring a minor realization: an ideal measurement creates an infinite probability current. (Said current uses a delta function in time.) I puzzled over that fact for a time, eventually writing it down on a certain list in case it ever turns out to be significant. Then, because this is the way such nights work, I toyed mentally with the probability current for a couple of hours more before being able to fall asleep again.

I still exist. Last semester was good, this semester is very bad. More details after it's over.

I needed to be humbled, anyway.
So. Um. I skirted insanity. For the first time during an experience such as that of the last two weeks, I skimmed along the edge of insanity without entering it. I reached the stage of being completely wrapped up in a personal fantasy, so that the boundary between internal and external activity (imagination and action, to put it another way) disappeared; however, I was able (with significant help) to turn aside before any of my fantasies were fixated into delusions. I did not manage to avoid hospitalization, once again by police officers -- institutions, of course, recognize irrationality far before individuals do. However, a renewed struggle with psychiatry and a bill of some two thousand dollars are both prices that I can currently pay, thanks to experience and student loans. And frankly, they are small prices for what I've accomplished.

This time I came back with four realizations, which is at least double the most I've managed before. The three of lesser importance can be stated clearly without any delay: first, I realized the harm that I was doing my intellectual and emotional life by my secretiveness; second, I realized that I have noone here at UT Austin with whom I can converse about physics, so I departed for Dallas in order to find my mentor; third, I stopped believing in geniuses.

More importantly than all three of those realizations: I found my voice for the last time. I discovered the final resonance which would give me a full voice. I found the voice of a fisher. Fans of the obvious may now applaud.

It turns out that the voice of a fisher has two volumes. One volume is soft. The other is terrifying.
Do I live up to my words?

Do I live what I write?


No cut this time. I only post entries every two months. Why take the chance that a friend forgets to click on the ellipsis?

Finally, I get a chance to sit down at a computer here in Austin and type without being logged off every ten minutes! If any of you have wondered why you haven't heard from me, it's because I moved six days ago, and was without Internet the entire time. That's a good experience, by the way... having to take a small journey in order to write to my friends. I think I'll do without Internet access at home. A telephone is open to debate.

I applied to six graduate schools, and was rejected from half of them. I finally decided to study physics at the University of Texas at Austin, the school of oil, cattle and transgression. My impressions of the school itself will have to wait, although I like what I have seen of it, and the physics department itself appeals to me. The city is fantastic and beautiful, though right now I'm iffy about the people who inhabit it. There is an unusual concentration of Doppler jerks, for instance. I can't predict how my impression will change as I go along, considering I haven't explored much besides the university and my own neighborhood.

I'm already in love with said neighborhood, by the way. I inhabit a roomy corner efficiency in a small complex, with my truck tucked into a little niche off the alley. The lights in the apartment follow a strange hierarchy... at first I was tempted to make a K-map of their operation, just to figure out what pattern they followed. One wall has now been covered with nearly full bookcases. There's plenty more to say about the place, but it can wait. However, I do want to mention my method of finally teaching myself to cook... once in Austin, I forced myself to eat nothing but what I cooked myself: no restaurant food, no precooked food, and no eating entire loaves of white bread anymore. I've held to that manner of learning so far, even if I occasionally break down and eat raw materials; however, I am proud to say that I ate my first good meal in the apartment this morning.

The neighborhood has a coop grocery store, small laundry with tailoring service, and a neat toy store within walking distance. That's just covering the useful places I've found in a week. I've also discovered a route to the physics department whose length consists of two-thirds parkland, a few side streets, the crumbling walls of a seminary, and an overly grand petroleum engineering lot. I am going to have a lot of fun showing my friends around the neighborhood and the university.

Speaking of my friends... the parting with my Dallas ones was not as painful as I anticipated. I sent letters of thanks to each of them before I went, so perhaps that explains the ease of departure. In any case, they were very good to me during this last eight months, helping me to become more comfortable with skritching and cuddling, and providing the impetus to become more forthright and assertive. Though the matter is still moot, my attitude towards sex has relaxed somewhat... partly by medical necessity. On the other hand, the months before were not easy socially: I cut ties with my oldest friend around March (though I still remember her too often), initiated some minor conflicts, and discovered by experience how very much I prefer small groups of friends. I dropped eight or so people from my reading list on Livejournal, mostly because I had only met them a few times and we had not talked in a long time. The couple I dropped for other reasons know them. I do find myself undercommitted, though... it really is time to resume seeking new friends, both in Austin and online.

I graduated with a bachelor's degree in physics, summa cum laude, as I already mentioned. The classes I took during the spring semester were "Survey of Western Art: Renaissance to Present", "Automata Theory", "Complex Variables", "Theoretical Concepts of Calculus", "Geometry", "Optics", "Relativity II", and the senior thesis writing class. Most of the professors were unexceptional, though a few stood out. The geometry course had a wonderfully loose format, but the teacher put far too little effort into the class, mainly (I think) because he was following another's materials. The art history course was quite fun, though the tests emphasized rote memorization. The professor could have been one of those matronly speakers on NPR, which was amusing when she talked about how Michelangelo liked his male nudes, or when she was flipping through the slides of the Goya ones. *grins* I did my writing assignment (a stylistic analysis) on a painting of a fox by Courbet which hangs in the Dallas museum. Finally, Dr. Rindler (whose name appears in the previous update) was both my lecturer in relativity and the adviser for my thesis. I wrote the core of the paper (even if I considered it an outline at first) the second week of classes, and added details, references and padding later on, so that it didn't trigger a huge crisis at the end of the semester. The relativity class was also very fun, although Dr. Rindler didn't cover all the material he wanted to reach. I made three A's and five A plusses. Just as in high school, my last year as an undergraduate was epic.

I think that I've grown out of my Kung Fu school. The last month I was there, the problems just seemed to pile up -- being taught by somebody less skilled (in some respects) than me, listening to an arrogant, criticism-only master, and being teased excessively by the steady members. I quit a month and a half before moving. I intend to enroll in the Judo club here... I think close range grappling will be a nice change from grandiose forms, even if it does mean I'll never get a black belt.

There is one more entry to write in the style project, which has provided most of this journal's activity in the last year, but I can't write it yet. I don't have enough skill, or insight, or need, or something. Anyway, the project is now closed, whether or not I try to write that final piece in the future. I get to move on to new topics, now.

The next update on the details of my life won't take eight months.

I'm slowly going through all of my possessions, packing some of it, getting rid of more... but I think I need to stop for tonight. The nostalgia is intoxicating; it's making me giddy.

Among the items I found while sifting through old things was the letter which I will excerpt in a moment. It was a treasured piece of text, and I was glad to find it again. The writer was Dr. McEnerney, a humanities professor at Chicago, to whom I showed several of my rambles. The excerpts here come from a response to the largest of those rambles... a response only written after I had given him some notes to help decode the thing. He generally showed my pieces far more respect than they deserved.

"As I said, I found your notes of purpose very helpful in finding a way to say what I hope will be useful things about your essay. You've helped me in the way I described: I wasn't able to settle on what to say about any given part of the text, because it wasn't obvious to me what you intended that language to accomplish..."

"(To add something that may seem banal to you, I should first congratulate you on having this conception of your paper: that is, the conception of the paper having paragraphs inside sections inside larger sections, with every part of the hierarchy accomplishing something for the whole. As I said, I suspect that you see this is banal, but I work with many writers who simply don't think of their writing in these terms, and I think you're right to do so.)"

"What I think is most important here is not so much these specific paragraphs... I think the larger point is that you often write with very little margin for error, both for your reader and for yourself. In what will doubtlessly seem strange to you, even offensive, I think that you write with so little margin for error that you may need to add redundancy to your text. This must sound odd: everyone praises concision and condemns redundancy. However, redundancy is necessary in all writing: we could not well proceed without it..."

"One of the key tasks of any communication act is building in enough redundancy in the message so that readers can recover from any confusion in understanding the message. Here, you have so little redundancy in communicating the relationship between the paragraphs that I could not recover from my confusion about the role of the 'dominance' paragraph."

"I would certainly agree that a goal of writing would be to hold redundancy to a minimum. However, I don't believe that writers can perfectly predict the ways in which readers will process the text. To be sure, I've argued all year long that writers ought to think about this, and improve their ability to predict, but I hope I have not implied that you can do this perfectly."

"This is a common experience I have in reading your work: straining to construct in my own mind the chain of relationships that, in your mind, connect the sections and paragraphs of your writing. And I'm afraid that the solution, redundancy, will continue to be distasteful. Of course, there is nothing like an absolute rule here. When the content of the text is not taxing, when readers can readily grasp the implications of the discussion, then they need much less redundancy, many fewer reminders of the hierarchical relations. But when the content is demanding, and readers are working hard to follow an argument or explanation, then we're back at the place of readers needing to see explicit statements of essential relationship. To repeat the language from above: such redundancy allows readers to recover from outright misunderstanding or from misconstruing a more subtle structural signal."

"I also immediately admit that there is a quite reasonable theory of writing that says that the kind of explicitness that I'm describing here is not just distasteful, but actually harmful. You can argue that writing is better when redundancy is kept to a minimum. There is a sense in which redundancy is giving in, yielding to a less rigorous understanding. This may be ultimately a matter of aesthetics, but even if so, that does not, to my mind, make the argument less compelling. In any case, I'm quite willing to accede to this argument, as long as the writer who makes it will accept that readers may not, in fact, be able or willing to read with the rigor required."

When asked to criticize my writing, a friend once described it as convoluted, abstract and irrelevant. I know how to deal with two of those criticisms. Irrelevance results from the purpose of this journal: it is written to myself, and the prose takes a form that another can read only because I recognize the risks of involution. As my purpose changes, in other places or formats, what I write acquires relevance to others. Abstraction, a more serious flaw, can be corrected, both by training myself in writing about the concrete and by studying authors who can couch abstractions in material terms, Thoreau being, to my mind, the most skilled at that task. Convolution, however, is a flaw that I know how to avoid or work around, at much cost, but not fix outright. The fact that I often savor it -- my favorite entries from this journal are also the most convoluted -- indicates a problem more complex than a bad habit or a self-indulgence, one which I must come to understand before this writing will be of use to anyone but myself.

I do not think that my style can fail for being the expression of someone lost. The entities which interest me may aptly be called natural mazes; such are a wilderness, a city, a personality, a clique and a mathematics. They all have their sudden cul-de-sacs, unexpected connections, stretches of uniformity, and variety of ways. An unguided, which is to say an individual, path through such a subject will be convoluted, though such complexity can be reduced by traversing a path many times, shortening it and learning it well. I do not know what to relate of my trips through those mazes. These images are not ones in which I can describe the whole of my writing, just the convolution therein. Some writers describe a reliable path through, or into -- in any case, also out of -- the subject, some merely describe their favored destinations, and a few will, kindly but extravagantly, tell you to lose yourself there. What I can say is that if you explore it earnestly, you do not lose yourself only once in such a labyrinth.

Moments of complete directionlessness (call them dead ends reached) have their awkward, abrupt places in my writing. Unguided investigation, understanding it as I do to be unguided exploration, repeatedly arrives at a point where the path disappears, the walls loom unbroken, or the equations do not reduce. So why should these dead ends have any place; why not just give the origin, destination, and the best route connecting the two? -- An introduction, conclusion, and body, to use another parlance. I give my halted steps because error, corrected error rather, has its place in knowledge. The student who reaches a dead end in a problem, calculates there needlessly and at length, backs up, and takes a different approach has thereby gained knowledge that the checker of tables cannot appreciate, and it is not always the same sojourner who returns from a long delay. Those ideas which I can bring myself to think, yet not think through, are the ones that affect me most; moreover, if the moment is one of being lost, they sometimes bring me to the point of alteration. And there are times when my steps guide me unfailingly to nowhere. They guide me to a place of outer stillness and inner change. My most necessary transformations occur in these secluded places of one approach, and can neither be chronicled nor related. They occur in those places where having gone one can only come back.

What makes its way, after much time, into writing is not the error itself but something gained from it; to indulge myself in math wordplay, the product of transformations is the transformation of a convolution. Perhaps I may soon become skilled enough that every convolution in style is an altered form of a convolution in life and thought, tracking the uncommon turns, transitions and connections valuable in my own. What's more, I feel that there is justification for this representation, though I cannot yet articulate it. For now it will have to suffice that there is never just one proof of a theorem, that unlike facts often have a common import, and that a running animal omits steps.

The style of writing (a worthy one, best for many purposes) most antithetical to my own emphasizes clarity, detail and easy perusal, training writers whose greatest virtues reside in anticipating a reader's response. But one of the needs which underlies my convolution -- a more important one than personal changes, or faithfulness to the subject -- is the need for completion, for the ability to stop writing. If I speak unwisely I will always need to say more. Rather I would like to write compactly, pressing as much experience and significance into each sentence as I can, not contenting myself with one or even two meanings, until I am exhausted in the recounting and have exhausted my meaning. If I were to attempt a clear style, even an academic one, I would be forced to write at far greater length than I desire. In attempting a multiplicity of purposes and approaches I err on the side of convolution, where I once erred on the side of longwindedness, before I learned that the boundary I can walk in two paragraphs I can jump in one sentence, leaving the reader's path undecided.

Today resembles yesterday: years past still cling. I awake as though not yet human into a cold moment, my friends but the morning dew on my coat, soon to be shaken off. Telling myself that today I will be less untrue, I slowly prepare stiff limbs for a day of things I will not say. The light now dawning through my eyelids gives reminder of how far I have gone afield, and how much ground remains to be covered before I can again deserve rest. An eternity has created the day before me, and the day will create a new eternity. Be they just the shine in my fur, my friends will await my return, I think, my next night; but for now I am not for them.
My plan was to wait until the biannual update to mention this, but I think it's important enough to announce early. I graduated last weekend from UT Dallas, with a degree in physics, summa cum laude. I walked with a copy of Walden tucked into the front of my pants, under the gown.

I'm not sure why I'm so proud of that last part.

Change

Mar. 14th, 2007 10:42 pm

I'm not worth reading about yet. This moment of a once-philosopher's life, a shameful and overly pained one, is no place to linger too long; the sign, standing by the road that dominates this desolate internal scene, says, "Wiser people than you moved on."

And why should my writing affect me less than it affects another?

Staying true to my past matters to me, but in moods like the present one moving forward and away from it matters even more. Personalities do change; I am evidence of that fact, though my development has been aided by an otherwise unhealthy emotional flexibility. Yet some of my worst qualities remain, still strong, well after first being unearthed and confronted: narcissism, arrogance, diffidence, silence, distance... none are tendencies which can be undone in a few days' work. Nevertheless, over time narcissism can be avoided, arrogance humbled, diffidence coaxed away, silence broken, and distances bridged; I can change.

I do not think I can rid myself of a certain cunning, vulpine fear, which argues: better to outwit pain than to overcome it. The suffering that has been overcome, forced down, and forced out will always return in another curl-up-and-cry day, albeit in a different form. But the clever response, which halts pain the more effectively the more intense it is, puts the feeling into words and allows it to stand exposed, so that both recurrence and rereading will make the words and the lessons more lasting. Perhaps others would favor other methods of moving forward, and write for other reasons; however, I find mediocre that writing I do which leaves me entirely unchanged.

Why remain in the shape impressed on me by the circumstances of my life? My childhood was too slipshod and amateurish in crafting me, an overambitious, underplanned, clumsily constructed and all too soon abandoned project in human life. The world as it is cannot complete me, but I can make my own attempt, and take myself forward into my dreams, even if they are ones I did not choose for myself. I would be my own journeyman's piece, evidence that I can do better. And I am rapidly approaching the beginning of a long nascency: others suffer through graduate school, but I'll come alive in it, chronicling what I can, learning with style.

How can I justify not rising up to my world as well, to find the germ of good present but dormant in every event, and let it grow in me? Any word ever said to me in affection was more than circumstance; those words pointed to something beyond, even as they pointed away from their situation, and thus perhaps went unnoticed by a mind too fastened to the present. There are so many good things to become, so many ideals presented to me piecewise by friends and mentors throughout my years, that to be defined exclusively by the first two decades of my life would be pitiful. Such definition is not inescapable.

One of the oddest literary conceptions I have is a form of writing which grows, lives, and even dies distinct within the confines of a single work, paralleling its author's transformations; such a kind of work befits a period of nascency. I would like a person reading it to be able to discern such things as: in this passage a common realization was reached, in this other one the point of frustration; here the author licked his wounds for a little while, before feeling strong enough to return to his life; in this paragraph something small, a grudge perhaps or an old preoccupation, died, and a new creature took its place.

I want to undo myself in writing.

"It is, again, an ordinary neurotic relationship, in which both partners wish nothing more than to end it, but in which each is incapable of taking final steps because its end presents itself to them as the end of the world. So they remain together, each helpless in everything save to punish the other for his own helplessness, and play the consuming game of manipulation, the object of which is to convince the other that you yourself do not need to play. But any relationship of absorbing importance will form a world, as the personality does. And a critical change in either will change the world. The world of the happy man is different from the world of the unhappy man, says Wittgenstein in the Tractatus. And the world of the child is different from the world of the grown-up, and that of the sick from that of the well, and the mad from the un-mad. This is why a profound change of consciousness presents itself as a revelation, why it is so difficult, why its anticipation will seem the destruction of the world: even where it is a happy change, a world is always lost."

-- Stanley Cavell, from "Ending the Waiting Game," an essay in "Must We Mean What We Say?"

Quoted in memory of a friendship that was once good. The situation wasn't as harsh as what Cavell describes, but it was indeed neurotic enough for this section of the essay (one about Beckett's "Endgame") to stick in my mind.

My friendship with Raki was my oldest one. I'm not happy about how I ended it, but I'm glad I did. A better, more vivid world awaits me.

A description of the most important parts of the last six months of my life follows, behind the usual ellipsis.

I'll get the bad part over with first: starting a few months back, I've had gradually worsening (though recently under control) chronic cases of epididymitis first, then later prostatitis, specifically prostatodynia. If any of you are really curious, you can look the terms up. On the physical side, I think it's an unquestionable sign of the severity of pain if it has me huddled over crying while waiting for a prescription to be filled. On the mental side, I'm a bit disturbed that the reason I'm willing to relate this experience is a discussion in one of Cavell's works, which I read as: "Of course I may not know that another is in pain. But to claim that it is a philosophical problem is to repress the fact that it is a personal problem, a failing on my part or his."

Good news now! An unrelenting, merciless tide of good news which renders any melancholy quite temporary. To start with, summaries of my classes from this semester, in order from worst to best:

Modern Physics II. The class was nearly entirely qualitative, on a freshman level of sophistication. To make it worse, the lecturer was a bad one, on the verge of retirement, and inclined to long anecdotal detours (mainly complaining that the big Texas accelerator was never built). It's neat to have met someone who knew Heisenberg, though, and later on I adopted the strategy of studying for another class, only listening when I caught something interesting. I'm ashamed to admit that my final essay was plagiaristic, being a paraphrased version of a discussion in one of my textbooks. Grade: A. Memorable quote: "One time in Germany, I had a conversation with Heisenberg about the atomic bomb..."

Abstract Algebra I. Another incompetent, though far livelier, lecturer. His lectures were advanced enough, but nearly impossible to follow, and he wouldn't even write down definitions. However, the subject is fascinating in its own right, so I worked through the textbook on my own, doing problems from it in class... I showed up to ask and answer questions, not to try to follow the lecture. Occasionally I would be startled when he turned around and yelled something at the class, though. A+. "NO! Zey are ze complex numbers!"

Contemporary Physics. The very first class in the physics sequence, and thus way under my level of knowledge. For some reason, I didn't have transfer credit for it though, and so I had to take it as a senior; and fortunately, it covered some things that I needed to review for the physics GRE, namely introductory optics. The lecturer was pretty good, though I've had far better. On the down side, there were occasional errors in his presentations and answers to questions, and the laptop and projector frequently malfunctioned; on the up side, he was a very nice and helpful (well, not to me) person, and the class included lots of physical demonstrations, which are neat at any class level. A. "This is a nearly perfect glass sphere, made specially for our department thirty years ago. The material allows you to see the path of the laser beam as it passes through."

Survey of U.S. History II: Reconstruction to the Present. A required class, but nevertheless very neat. The lecturer was a graduate student, but very good, and interested in her students' learning. Also, the course had an unusual focus on black and women's history in the U.S., which for the most part you don't get in high school. The assignments were easier than I'm used to in non-math, non-science courses, consisting of a few really short (three page!) papers and some small quizzes. The tests, though, were the hardest of the semester. They consisted of eight paragraph-long responses, and one several-page essay, per test, in an hour and a half. A+. "The revolution will not be televised."

Linear Algebra. The professor in this course was the best lecturer of the semester. His classes were interesting, funny (he had a good sense of humor), and well-organized. He also answered lots of questions after class, and clearly enjoyed teaching. The only problem in that regard was that he went too slowly in the course, and didn't get to the material in which I was most interested. Also, this was a sophomore-level math course, and pretty easy for me... to the extent that I made perfect scores on almost all of the quizzes and exams (and would be pretty annoyed when I didn't), and ended up (via bonus questions) off the grading scale. Another annoyance was that the problem session (mandatory, due to quizzes being administered there) was held a couple of hours before the time I normally woke up. A+. "Now I'm going to show you something wonderfully horrible..."

Classical Mechanics. My first graduate class, and I put a lot of energy into it. I probably learned the most in abstract algebra last semester, but this is a close second: it went much further than any previous course in classical mechanics, covering analytical mechanics in a lot of detail, and other topics (notably rotational dynamics) with more sophistication than I've encountered yet. On the down side, the professor (Wolfgang Rindler) spent too much time on subjects that were (to me) elementary, or at least familiar. The professor himself, though apparently suffering from an early stage of Parkinson's disease, was a very good one, and from what I hear prominent in his field (relativity). He had very well-planned lectures, and was the most helpful professor out of class I've encountered yet; I had lots of conversations with him, extending on the class material in many ways. The problem sets were sometimes intense: for example, he had to switch to legal-sized paper about halfway through for the questions, and some completed ones spanned five pages covered with handwriting, toward the end. The tests were fun. A. Dr. Rindler wanted to give me an A+ (the only one of the class), but plusses and minusses aren't allowed for graduate courses. "As a physicist you have a bag of tricks, and you will always be adding to it."

That's all the classes. On a related subject, there's the Physics GRE, whose score I just received tonight, an exam which I studied for a ridiculous amount, on which getting 80% of the problems (100 in three hours) right will get you the top score. Normally, I have plenty of scorn for standardized tests, and hope that institutions of higher learning give them little to no credence. However, this time around I have to hope that the graduate schools to which I'm applying worship ETS (who administer the GRE), because I got a score of 990 out of 990, with 91 problems right.

I've applied to six graduate schools, including one backup (UTD, my current school) which accepted me before my application was even complete. All but UTD are first- or second-tier, in the terminology of nervous seniors who don't yet know that the grad school rankings are untrustworthy. My grades from Chicago are decent, from UTD excellent, and my letters of recommendation will all be strong; one's from Dr. Rindler. So my chances of acceptance are good. Also, next semester (my last as an undergraduate) will be epic: I'll be a double-time student, all but one course will be upper-division, and my classes will include the General Relativity course taught by Rindler. From a textbook he wrote himself, which can be good or bad. To conclude the subject of schooling, I've found I have notably more discipline and emotion when it comes to studying than I did last semester, and a greater understanding of the conditions for learning, as well.

My friends, close and casual, are great. Without their company I would never have done so well this year. Locally there's a group of furs to spend time with, including weekly Tuesday gatherings at the place of one friend, Fuzzwolf (aka Mark), and frequent Saturday gatherings. Online there's the generally interesting writing on LJ, and more specifically IM conversations (too infrequent) with Paul (Yomatsuri, née Holophote here) and others. I'm no longer a mute at parties, and I'm apparently even developing a good (though hit-or-miss) capacity for ad hoc humor. I'm getting pretty comfortable with physical contact. I've got a little more courage when it comes to confrontations, though not much more than before. I've also done rather a lot of learning from the experiences of others, who have experienced more (socially, at least) than I have. All of these are good developments.

Having resumed Kung Fu about seven months ago, I'm progressing surprisingly fast, despite having to miss a bunch of weeks due to illness, and only being able to attend class once per week. I make up for the rarity of exercise by making said exercise harsh: the criterion for a satisfactory workout is, for me, to be sore two days afterwards. My leg strength and flexibility are increasing noticeably; I think I'm about where I am (ahead in a few respects, behind in others) where I was several years ago, when I left the discipline.

My mother now has kittens... three of them, black, grey, and tabby. They like to reenact scenes from "Shadow of the Colossus" with me. Really, three kittens are much more than three times as cute as a single kitten, which is already unfathomably cute. So I'll refrain from descriptions, since said descriptions would never come to an end. Their names are Love, Truth and Courage: hopefully somebody will recognize what that's from.

The writing project (er, project about writing) I outlined a dozen or so posts back is still in progress, but in greatly changed form. I realized that, even if I had the energy to write encyclopedically, I would not have the desire to read the results again later. So now only a few, very vital topics are getting attention in this LJ, and there are several more to go before I'll consider the project complete. Once that's done the current preoccupation with the subject of writing will end.

That's it. Though I'm happy to answer questions.

Aspiration

Nov. 26th, 2006 01:07 am

I adore the company of my betters. In fact, I needn't look far to locate such company, for in most activities, among them some very common ones, I rank as an amateur. That they are people who do what I can't, or (more fortunately) do well what I can do poorly, is why my friends continue to be instructive, helpful, fascinating and heartening ones; an imperfect doppelganger of shared interests would not compare. When they are superiors in fields that are distant to my own concerns, appreciating the company requires attentiveness and energy... though sometimes it happens that finding myself in (indeed part of) the purveyance of a foreign, yet vital talent, I shyly let another's desires bypass my own. In contrast, there is the experience of being surrounded by those who excel me in the areas I claim, where appreciating them requires less energy, but more humility. In such company -- and so far it has been rare company, for me -- I feel that a commitment to the aspiration requires a commitment to the people who aspire, and a continuous willingness to let them influence me. The point is not moot: in less than a year I will be in graduate school, among many who are more talented in physics than I am.

So what form could the influence of my peers take, in a style of writing unfamiliar to them? A work useful to students of physics in the way I envision should, I think, be something that could not have been written by anyone other than a student of physics, and a good one at that. That idea alone is enough to assemble a list of attributes which should appear in writing, perhaps even in style: a demonstrable proficiency in all basic physics; an area of expertise, and a concern for the continuing development of the field; an enthusiasm undimmed by the trials of graduate study (or at least rekindled after their passing!); an incorporation of the facts and methods of physics, as well as the terms of criticism and appraisal of the field, into my thoughts themselves... What I really see proceeding from the influence of great physics students, however, is something more: I imagine a person, an impossible person, so thorough in his mastery of physics that the entire content of the field is rich material for analogy, humor, fantasy, argument, and especially metaphor. I want to write as my hypothetical better could write.

Well, for that I have my more wakeful moments; I have that better self who lives beyond the day in which he writes. A greater part of my time will be given to less grand objectives, most immediately in ensuring that no hidden motivation survives encysted within my personality; for instance, the belief that I would make a better philosopher than physicist. The one-sided conflict between physics and philosophy, namely the contempt of great physicists for philosophy, is an unfortunate but not unfair one: physics is, in a sense, philosophy's failure, the development that proved philosophy to be undeserving of a dominant position in human knowledge. The contempt -- and perhaps with it the inept philosophy of many physicists, and an awareness of the ignorant physics of many philosophers -- will soon enough be internalized in me. I am sure that the conflict must find an internal resolution, one without a predetermined victor, before I can venture, in writing, a new contact between the two fields.
My computer is returned to me restored! Thanks go to Rick for this deed. In celebration, here is a piece of ephemera of five years' age, which would otherwise have been lost.

"Postsubsequentialism, proceeding from the premise that all human power relies on material assets (henceforth to be called "materia"), recognizes that during the course of history these more and more tend to become the possession of a dominant party, which, no matter how great its stockpile, will nevertheless seek more powerful materia. This accretion is opposed by a worldwide assortment of disenfranchised opponents, led regionally by charismatic and uniquely talented bosses; however, because the dominant party acquires, from the very start, privileged access to medicine, armament, and specialized technology, partisan interests tend to prevail over opposing ones, despite the historical necessity of the steadily increasing strength of the party's opposition. In the end, this recurring destruction of resistance tends to increase the experience, wealth, and materia of the dominant party. Furthermore, this increasing materialization of power is facilitated and given an overarching narrative structure by a network of unknowing allies and supporters, who, due to the peculiar codification of their society, are required to be non-players in the struggle of the partisans; moreover the demands of the party's acquisition of power often force these supporters to limit their discourse with said partisans to the repeated utterance of a single pre-conditioned maxim, required to be of use to their masters in the party. Although the dialectical process of party and opposition proceeds according to rigidly defined patterns, its participants unerringly describe this historical movement according to a predefined, and often self-contradictory and irrational, narrative structure, in an attempt to legitimise the accretion of power and disassociate the party from that which controls it. The accretion of materia is of great importance to postsubsequentialism, and many postsubsequentialists have dedicated their lives to studying this process of materialization."

Skill is needed in crafting anything, but a live idea is an animal to be caught, and I am sometimes a resourceful enough hunter. Let the feeling of pursuit, the sense that here is an activity of living things, be something that characterizes my writing, not the ease of long training, the impression that the prose at last presented was written many times before, albeit never so well as now.

I've come to wonder why I give such respect to my dreams, greedy things that they are. Often I feel I want to inflict myself on the world. Philosophy itself has history enough of arrogance and imposition, its ideals of truth, and means of investigation, being with rare exception meant to stand above all else. So it is with me, despite a distrust for philosophy's weakness, systematization. I want to reveal, inspire, and challenge... anything and everything! ...but even more I want to be the person who revealed, inspired, and challenged. In one's dreams, the audience is a large one, and the dreamer essentially apart from it, above or in front of it. And in pursuing my dreams, in having seen some of what they entail, I've come to ask myself why the person in that favored position ought to be me. Questions addressed to, and owed to myself: Why are you so often resistant to being touched emotionally, being inspired? Why do you shy from debates, even philosophical ones, nowadays? Why are you so apolitical, so quietist? Why do you want to write what you cannot bring yourself to say? Why did you fail at philosophy?

It does not dismay me that tomorrow will be as today. However, it does dismay me that my desired profession is not, so to speak, my calling. It implies (particularly considering I have ambitions in physics to match my ambition in philosophy) that while said profession is something that will be attained with sustained effort, which I often exhaust myself in providing, the actual calling -- once the object of similar, if comparatively undisciplined, effort -- cannot be pursued in such a way. In physics I can guarantee myself a measure of success, perhaps even a high one, simply by ensuring that every day I am better at physics than I was the day before. This program, supplied enough energy, can take me far, and has already. But similar questions, even more pressing ones, arise as in philosophy: Why should it be you who succeeds as a physicist? Why not those many other talented, intelligent, and able students? Have you fallen -- again! -- under the spell of some image of accomplishment, of greatness? Why do you want this? Philosophy is a passion, a duty, a failing and an everything; for it the question "Why not, how not?" overwhelms the question "Why?". Physics I merely love.

No, it does not dismay me.

* * *


Perfection is for those who want eternity. Completion is for those who want an eternity to end.

I've been considering using psychological cues from videogames to help in my studies.

For instance, I could have a tape recorder play one of those "goal completed" sounds, like the jingles from Metroid games, every time I complete a problem or finish reading a chapter. Similarly, every time I get the wrong answer on a problem, I could play a suitably frustrating sound, like Mario screaming as he falls into a pit.

Every time I finish an assignment prior to the night before it's due, I could give myself an index card saying, "You have unlocked a full night's sleep!"

During finals, I could hum some vaguely apocalyptic, final boss music. Plus I would embellish the exams' titles. "Multivariable Calculus Final", for instance, would be crossed out and replaced with "Gigavariable Excalculodeath".

Just some thoughts.

My concept of philosophy has changed significantly since I first became interested in the matter. Arrogance originally drew me to philosophy, just as it did to physics, as the subjects of greatest difficulty and greatest profundity. I considered philosophy a sort of natural superior to every other field, one which concerned itself with knowledge and morality as such, and thus dictated the sole ways in which any other investigation, or for that matter any other effort, could succeed. Nowadays, I view philosophy instead as the progenitor of humanity's greatest errors. There can be no error more pernicious than one which is applied to every action, to every belief; similarly, there can be no more deceptive idea than one intimately bound to an important, powerful truth. A person who seeks profound truth risks profound error, and places much else at risk meanwhile: the same skills and insights which allow one to grasp reality allow one to manipulate and misinterpret it. Nevertheless, there should be someone willing to take such risks, for a mistake is better made early, by one adventurous thinker, than by all humanity at once.

The virtues of a good philosopher are unusual and difficult ones, and it is almost paradoxical that honesty and awareness be vital in those who so effectively (and so inadvertently) deceive. Self-knowledge becomes a necessity in philosophy, because arrogance or conceit is a prerequisite. What knowledge of myself I possess tells me that I ought to reject objectivity (and even more a stance, or claim of objectivity), as something foreign to my personality. I never find my way to truth via objectivity (that is, via disinterested, calm judgment), but rather by way of fantasy, guesswork, inspiration, obsession, and cleverness. It's not that philosophy cannot be done disinterestedly, just that my own has been thoroughly personal. In particular, I have had to accept that a philosopher is a person who deceives, who cannot help but create deception, for the sake of truth; honesty in my case is not a matter of saying nothing but the facts, but in trying to account for my own appearances, in trying never to appear what I am not... and in never claiming to have an idea so true it cannot lead astray.

This is one of the reasons why having a personal style of writing matters to me. I want to make it clear that what I write is inextricably bound up with who I am. I will not take the usual route of developing a professional style which makes the author unobtrusive. It is an ideal of writing, and a goal of many styles, to make it seem that the idea writes itself. This in a way allows the idea to pass from mind to mind without resistance; in this ideal, the thesis is everything. For me, however, other things, related to the presented ideas without being points themselves, are also important: the process of creating an idea, the consequences it has wrought in my life, the mindset which brought it into being, the tender, specific affections and honors bestowed on it... In some cases a part of this milieu is more important than the idea itself. What I really want to do, though, is make myself evident in my writing.

The reason for that desire is that I am, often to my dismay, naturally reticent and unrevealing. I feel that the less time I have to consider a response, the less expressive it is of me, and that my most immediate responses can also be my most misleading ones. I'm nigh incapable of holding a deep discussion face-to-face, and on any emotional matter I have to articulate my thoughts very slowly and haltingly. I can be completely honest and sincere, but if the conversation is brisk, only a small part of my personality will ever show through. Even were I less repressed, there would not be much of a connection between my natural actions in a social setting, and the motivations, emotions, and perceptions which have the greatest, longest influence on my life.

On the other hand, I feel I can express myself very well, which is to say very fully, when I have a long period of time to think about what I write (whether or not I remember the process of writing). I'm particularly proud of this journal as a whole (its insane period notwithstanding) for containing some near-ideal records of moods, thoughts and traits which would otherwise be completely hidden; some of these records are particularly precious, for concerning states of mind which I no longer experience, and parts of my life which are irretrievably past. In feeling that this should be the standard of every entry, I tend to neglect the journal. That neglect is only going to continue: I'm slowly assembling plans for a complete work of philosophy, and eventually all of my literary effort will go into it. In the same way that my entire life is preparation for what happens with each new day, this entire journal is preparation for that piece of writing.

The grand total is 107 pages worth of lab reports, not including data, single-spaced, albeit with lots of tables and graphs. All completed in eleven weeks. Also, after doing one of the experiments (Fabry-Perot Etalon, it's called) the TA told me I was the only person to understand it, and the report's being kept to help with revising the lab manual. *beams*

Plus, my GRE (General) scores came in. 720/800 Verbal (vocabulary and reading comprehension), 800/800 Quantitative (basic math), 6/6 Analytic (essay writing). *beams again*

And... now that financial aid information has come in, it looks like I'll be leaving for graduate school (in a year's time) with four to eight thousand dollars in reserve. I feel I live a charmed life.

Okay, to get the complaining over first: I really didn't expect the summer laboratory course to be this hard. Now, however, I know that it basically means writing an 1800-word essay every week for eleven weeks, when I'm not writing two in a week. My latest lab report, which I just finished writing, weighs in at 14 pages and 4000 words, without raw data. And at UTD they don't even let you play with the liquid nitrogen, like they did at Chicago.

I do plan to get back to writing about writing, and'll take my Sundays off to do that, except for a few hours spent on lab reports; splitting those up over several days is the only way to make them manageable. Since it's going really slowly, I'll probably keep up this summer project well into next winter. Anyway, this post isn't related to that. I've come to accept that an email I've been intending to write isn't going to get written, and Livejournal is, after all, a decent way of keeping people updated on my life. So here are the last six months, condensed:

I quit my job at UPS in January, mainly out of frustration at being frequently moved away from the task I somewhat enjoyed (sorting) to one I hated (loading). This year I'm getting financial aid, though, so I'm not facing any sort of crisis. I'm also earning small amounts of money tutoring people in physics, which is nice, because it brings me more money (hourly) than any job I've yet worked, and strengthens my own knowledge in the process.

The spring semester, which consisted of eighteen credit hours split seven ways, was very good. The second-semester general chemistry professor was a veritable hippie whose syllabus included words like "reviewage" and "spring breakage". The chemistry lab was useful, but I wisened up to the grading of the reports too late, so it was my lowest grade (a B+). The second-lowest grade (A-; the rest were A or A+) was in cosmology, which I really didn't give the attention it deserved. If you want the latest news in contemporary physics, by the way: the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and everyone's baffled. The electronics class was useful, though not very interesting, aside from the revelation that (exact) integration and differentiation can be done by circuit components. The associated lab was the same: useful, with some high points, but not interesting overall. The english class (I want to take a non-math, non-science course every semester, for balance; it wasn't a required one) was fun, and the professor managed to hold my attention for the entire two-and-a-half hour sessions; the only thing I didn't like about it was the obscurity of many of the readings. Also, I think the professor was too lenient in grading my essays, or set his standards too low. Finally, there was the best course of the semester, multivariable calculus. The professor for this one was masterful, giving every lecture entirely without notes while answering questions with ease. The tests were all challenging, and the teacher presented far more advanced material than he had to. I did, however, overhear one person describing the experience of trying to understand his lectures as having blood pour out of her ears.

This summer there's the "physical measurements lab", which is really a potpourri of experiments, along with a required government class, which has ended already. Next semester, which I'm really looking forward to, will be twenty credit hours divided among two math classes, three physics classes (one of them graduate-level), and a history class. I also just learned that tuition doesn't increase after the fifteenth credit hour, so I think I'm going to make my last semester (whose grades don't matter for graduate school) quite insanely busy. My plans have changed again, by the way: I'm going to graduate school in physics, not engineering. It'll be several months before I start applying; first I have to take various GREs.

I've resumed studying Kung Fu, at the school I used to go to, but I'm going back through the belts in order. I think I'll be back at my prior fitness in about a month (in strength, if not endurance), and just recently I've gotten back to the stage where doing a form well is a rush of pleasure. It's definitely good to be doing this again. Aside from the schizophrenia, the reason I stopped is because I felt I couldn't give Kung Fu the attention it deserves, but I've since reasoned that objection away.

I've recently gotten very involved with the local furry population, attending meets and such. The main personages are [livejournal.com profile] fuzzwolf (a great host), [livejournal.com profile] teirandragon, [livejournal.com profile] khyle and [livejournal.com profile] dook, [livejournal.com profile] celyddon, [livejournal.com profile] guardlion, and a number of others, all of them good company. I've really come to appreciate how much good this has done me emotionally. On a related note, I recently attended my first furry convention (Anthrocon), roomed with [livejournal.com profile] yomatsuri, met [livejournal.com profile] eredien and (briefly) [livejournal.com profile] apanthropomorph (I'm grateful for LJ tags here, because I'm often not sure what names to use). I was very pleased to find artwork of a fisher, even if it was in a piece called the "Alphabet of Obscure Animals". No offense intended to all the people I met and had fun with there, but the best part of the convention was time spent alone, watching all the people there, feeling a steady happiness that this is the world in which I live.

That's all I care to relate. Expect the next entry having any direct description of my life to appear in about six months.

Style

May. 5th, 2006 01:31 am

"A change in style in philosophy is a profound change, and itself a subject of philosophical investigation." -- Stanley Cavell

My plans for the summer aren't something another person would find interesting: I'll spend most of it studying physics intensely, both for general exams and to fill in perceived lacks in my knowledge before graduate school. On the other hand, I also intend to resume writing here, if only on a narrow set of topics.

One of these topics is, for lack of a less ambitious word, style. I want to be a good writer. However, I'm largely unable to learn about this from contemporary sources, because I don't want to write fiction, and questions of style arise rarely with regard to nonfiction; when they do, the discussions are not often to my liking. One thing that's particularly dismaying is the goal of universal style, the desire to set out guidelines which are to apply to all (nonfiction) writing, or even just a specific example of it, like scientific reports or academic essays. So-called general style is just grammar, where it carries any weight at all.

So instead of following handbooks of general style, I'm going to build a sort of handbook of personal style. The entries in it are going to fall in three rough categories. First, there'll be short descriptions of very specific stylistic matters, giving my reactions to and understanding of them, possibly along with a judgment of their merits; these entries probably won't be of much interest to anyone beside myself. Second, there'll be comments on more general matters, like overall structure, or what one comes away with as an impression of another's style. These'll still be built for my own needs, but I'll try to make them worthwhile to anyone else reading. Third, there'll be mixtures of philosophy and self-analysis, in which I bring up and address the questions that brought me to this project in the first place, such as why I feel style to be important, what relationship I should stand in with the reader, and why I feel contemporary forms of writing to be inadequate for me. These last, hopefully, will be worth reading on their own.

At one point in my life I did manage to develop a distinct, complete style of writing, which I called the "ramble". The way I would write these was so consistent, it almost became dependable: I would wait until some night when I felt restless, then get on my bicycle and ride someplace at random, in the dark. Eventually a place or situation would hit me with a particular emotion, with ideas and theories following in its path, and I would go straight home to put it all into words. The style of the "ramble" was very spontaneous; it was never written with a structure in mind, and yet would always develop a certain internal coherence, a natural progression of ideas and techniques. The biggest virtue of this form of writing was that it suited those ephemeral, nighttime emotions and ideas. The biggest shortcoming was that it was incapable of producing a point-driven work.

I discovered this in a disastrous way when I tried to adapt this style to academic philosophy. The last four rambles I ever wrote, I also showed to professors, in each one attempting more difficult, more comprehensive arguments. The comments I received, while worthwhile, often concerned how difficult it was to discern their structures. This was my first introduction to the demands of an (in this case, academic) audience; it didn't help that the rambles were such personal exercises that I ended up shaking in anxiety when it came time to talk about them. In the end, the near inability to get any ideas across broke something inside me. I would still feel those strange ideas and emotions, but no longer be able to write them, or produce any more rambles.

This might actually have been for the better. There's a certain self-indulgence in writing which is so common in philosophy that many people have taken it to be characteristic of philosophy. I think that if I had continued to adapt the ramble to academia, I would have ended up with such a style. I was inept at the immediate alternative, mind you -- for a few years I wrote essays of greater or lesser mediocrity. But I do think I'm a better writer now than I was then. Nowadays I can use metaphor effectively, I can understand and plan structures, and I can make a point while having people know what that point is. Nevertheless, it's not by choice that I no longer write rambles; it's because I can't. And that fact, as well as the merits of that form of writing, abilities which I haven't reclaimed in full, gives me a drive to understand it better. From this understanding, I hope to develop a new style, which can have such a place in my life as the old one did.
How can one dream, for the day that never ends?

A moment catches me several stories up, gazing at the city that surrounds me. Earlier in the day there had been a book, a computer, and a radio station, but I had pushed myself away from each. The energy that I had been gathering was for now, not them.

The first things I see are the wildness and the patterns. These spread, though not at an even pace, wherever humanity goes. There is a familiar danger in one side of the pair: when a pattern grows too large, the human is lost within it. Yet it is my conviction that chaos is not the solution to unbalanced order, nor is order the solution to unbalanced chaos. The matter does trouble me -- however, my gaze also brings in the exceptions to the patterns, and the vitality in the uncontrolled, thus I feel that I can always count on humanity. Humanity is the tree that burns, without being consumed. In its radiance of every frequency, seeing anything else is difficult; nevertheless, I am looking beyond humanity.

Just as I once listed the good things in the world, now I must list the things my writing will not do: feed someone who starves; pull the finger from a trigger; free a prisoner; cause anyone to undo past misdeeds; provide raw knowledge, as of research and experimentation; draw a shy loner into friendship; guide the hand of an artist; give the feeling of looking up, as a child, to the stars. The people are humanity's best who dedicate themselves, or even just their lives, to such tasks. I, however, do not find myself numbered among them. Humanity does not need me. But through my peculiarity and aloofness, I may yet discover a distant goal, one suited to me in particular.

That is why I sought a place for this moment. There is something that I... think I... have seen, and I wish to repeat the observation. But as I stand here, looking out over the lights and colors, I do not perceive that elusive entity. -- There are sounds, from the streets below, that I fail to hear.

I turned off the radio because I had become disgusted with the conceit of its music. The song that finally struck a nerve was some blather by a group claiming to be the heralds of a new revolution. They should have learned from better musicians, ones who had already tried, and failed, to create a world of love; at least they knew what the revolution was for. -- There will often come a day when a man of passion breaks down the doors of the church, runs to the altar, and screams at the wretched figure, "Give me back my sins!" When I see such a man, I will not get in his way, but neither will I follow him into the church. -- If I was not there at its genesis, I feel that it is not my conflict. In a fisher mood, I would go further, in fact: this is not my society; this is not my community; these are not my rules; these are not my sentiments; and so on, into solipsism. In the shadow of a building, I catch a glimpse of my target; it's here, somewhere.

I put down the book because it reached me too easily, disrupting my mood in an instant. I read with feeling, now that I've learned not to speedread. However, there are works which, although they too touch me easily, leave a feeling of revulsion. I now regard them as something abusive, and they are related, but only related, to what I'm seeking out. To call such abuse "postmodernism" once held some attraction, but was wrong; postmodernism will die, and has other merits besides. Only when hurt do I revile a name. Let it suffice to say that some books leave me feeling hunted. I do not enjoy the danger of being caught, for I do not enjoy being caught; when captured by that which I most often flee, I can merely struggle briefly before my neck is snapped, leaving me for a time dead to myself, thus dead to the world.

Finally, I pushed myself away from the computer, because it is what puts me in contact with my friends. I hope that they will forgive me for taking such risks, for sometimes aiming at a star only to arrive in the void. I already know that within me is something that will one day need a more-than-human forgiveness, that I have seen in a friend something I wish to destroy. That which comes from loyalty to powerful emotion, and from the exegesis of glorious thought, is not easily confronted.

As I turn my gaze away from the city, planning to return home, I hear a whimper, see its source. Beside me is a poor, broken-winged little creature, draconic. Looking into the blue eyes of he who once danced in the sky, I see them defeated, but still brave. My past self tells me in a whisper: "This is your evil" --

The ultimate temptation is to make the experience too profound for words.

Fluff

Dec. 31st, 2005 11:50 am

I'm nearly done, and now's a good time for various asides, and neat little things.

I think the month of involution will fulfill its purposes. I am certainly feeling accomplished, right now. (Oh, and something or other by Sarah McLachlan is playing. Don't know which song.)

In the tally of entries thus far, there are: one new "Best Entry in Lhexa's LJ", finally knocking "First mention of the pursuit of youth" off its stand; one entry hijacked by an intuitive purpose (I expected many more); *counts* five great entries; too many good one-liners to try counting; less mediocrity than I expected; only-you-know-how-many stunned moments while reading; zero words not meant.

Yeah, I'm definitely moody. Which, at one point, led to vulnerability, then pain. There were unusually many transformative emotions, too...

Also, while writing the entry whose expansive mood caused such vulnerability, I listened to Sarah McLachlan's "Mirrorball", and sung along with it. Over, and over. And over.

Nothing on my journal is friends-locked, and nothing ever will be. Isolation protects me better than secrecy, at the moment. And if the worst happens, well, what's the worst that can happen?

I will never again do any month-long one-entry-per-day thing. Damnit, for the last two weeks I didn't do anything not connected to the writing. Work included. This winter vacation, I only get next week for having fun.

Had an awesome trance-dream the other day, in which I was able to clearly read an LJ comment, and wake up remembering both the situation and the content. But what's best about this dream is that it refutes the factoid of not being able to read anything in a dream. The writing was coherent and meaningful, although the verb tense in the sentence I seized was wrong.

Self-control is having a dozen-plus unread LJ notification emails sitting there, every time you check your email. I wasn't able to keep myself from reading friends' journals, by the way.

I don't like LJ's date/time marking system. The previous entry is marked 7 PM, but I finished it at 11:30 PM. That was written far more quickly than usual, actually; two others took three and four days, and each time they cost me the extra days I had gained by writing ahead (which I haven't gained back, as it happens; this one's being written December 31st).

An exercise for an anthropology class: plenty of religions have one pray on one's knees, or even bowed on the floor. But do any advise praying on one's back? Why not?

Samus morphs into ball mode, and rolls into the deadly lava. After a difficult traversal involving bombs and crawling things, she emerges, with little health left, in a secret room. And there she finds a new powerup! She grabs it, a sublime little melody plays, and on her visor a message informs her, "Your capacity for suffering has increased by one unit!"

There were a couple of things I wrote that would've made good entries, but wouldn't have fit in the progression of entries. One's too long to put here; and the other is:

An amateur writes himself into his story. A professional writes the world into his story. An artist writes his story into himself. A master writes his story into the world.

When my mind is occupied by a tortured allegory of The Fox as Hunted Beast, it's really a breath of fresh air to check my friends page and see someone talking about having sex with one. Also: At first I planned to write a Reynard story for one of the entries, but I couldn't bring the various pieces together in time. What I had was two traditional stories put together in an awkward way, and would've taken too long to get to work right.

*takes a deep breath*

As if I've never hunted, myself. As if I've never been caught!

I remember these things...

During one of my visits to Arlington, I waited until everyone else was asleep, and left the family house on a rickety bicycle. It was something I often did, though this was not to be a journey to chronicle. In the park, the fireflies luminesced. I came to the overpass, thirty feet up, and decided to ascend from the paths by the stream. The strip mall there was mostly closed, but I think I was able to find something to eat before moving on to the hilly, challenging residential areas. At every intersection I paused for a moment, looking down each road, and asked myself which appealed to me the most, which seemed most mysterious, before choosing. This method often led me to cul-de-sacs. I flattered myself, thinking it a marvel that something profound would have its origin in these zig-zagging rides. At a late point, in attempting to articulate a certain feeling, I imagined myself laying my hands on something ceramic, a sculpture maybe, which somehow represented language, and softening it with my touch, then reshaping it. I didn't develop this piece of imagery any further, though I've since come to wonder at its strangeness. How can one soften back into clay, what has already come from the kiln?

Twice in Chicago, due to mistiming and lack of money, I had nowhere to sleep. One of these times, I made my way by bus and then foot from the university to Midway Airport. (This airport had, in fact, been the midpoint of an earlier journey, at whose far end I asked myself, "Do I lick my wounds?" But that story's already been told.) I found, in a parking garage, a dusty little space between two concrete walls, and wedged myself in there to sleep uninterrupted. The other time did not go so well, because the place from where I was to depart the next day was Union Station, located downtown. I dozed briefly on the wooden benches in the Great Hall, but had to leave when the station closed for the night. I wandered vaguely west in the hours before dawn, occasionally stopping in some corner to sleep, but something (the March cold, namely) or someone (an offended guard) always forced me to move on. It felt odd, because it was the first time I had ever felt a city to be a place where I was not welcome, despite having moved through this nighttime city and others numerous times. When I'm moving through those streets for my own unique purposes, I am not unwelcome, but when I am there with a basic need not satisfied through normal means, I am an intruder.

Another time in Chicago, I travelled south until I came to a forest, which I took as a sign to head back. The university is an exception in south Chicago. A more common sight, and one that struck me deeply on this particular ride, are the crammed-together little dwellings, narrow but deep, and two or three stories high, which struck me as somewhat representative of humanity. On first sight they all appear identical, meek and run down, but a closer inspection reveals unique qualities in each one. This pattern I've noticed before, however; what struck me here was that, riding in front of a row of such dwellings, I would suddenly come across a gap. Two healthy buildings would be on either side, but between them rubble, nothing more. I pushed forward, and found a neighborhood where the gaps were the rule, not the exception. And further on, the relative darkness of a factory area. When journeying through the city at night, the dark stretches have a special value for me, but for the most part I prefer to be under the streetlights; fluorescence may not make me warm, but it does light my way.

Unless the trip is on another's time, I only read maps once I return; instead of reading it, and telling myself, "There is where I'll go", I prefer to read it, and tell myself, "This is where I went." This tendency reminds me of an ambition I once had, briefly; I would get a fresh map of Dallas, then explore the city street by street, and whenever I found a location of special beauty (like my shrine, which I had already discovered), I would mark it on the map with a colored dot. I planned to mark bookstores and video game stores, too. To this day, I have some derision for those who bemoan the disappearance of new territories to explore.

Back when I was filling in the details of my last fantasy world, and planning novels to be written in that setting, I wanted to make a prequel, called "The City at Night", which described the transition from a world of technology to one of magic. In this novel, there was a philosopher (employed as a professor; I would give the name, but for the fact I use it as a password) who, through years of self-discipline and study, had learned to do a small amount of magic. However, she was deeply troubled by the epistemological problem of magic: she had experiences which indicated its existence, and could relate these experiences to the stories of other mages, but however much devotion she put into the task, she could not work any magic that could be verified by another person. She couldn't even do any magic that would affect anyone but herself. Thus she lacked the critical piece of evidence that would do away with her ingrained fears of solipsism and delusion. The only solace she found was in wandering through the city, at night. Eventually she did find a way to bring magic into the awareness of humanity, though she died before she could see the chain reaction she started, which inverted the order of the fantasy world.

I dislike the idea of having a grave when I die, or any sort of monument to my death. "Here Lies Lhexa" is too alliterative, anyway. Instead I would like to have a number of stones (they'd be small ones), to be placed in various locations where I experienced an important beginning, or even rebirth; on each would be inscribed, "Here Rose Lhexa". The list of places is currently: the University of Chicago (anywhere on campus will do), my father's house in Virginia, Southern Methodist University (near a certain dormitory), and... Inspiration Point, in the Ozarks. That last one puzzles me whenever I think about it, actually. I think I would have to write something different on the stone that would go there. I set out yearning to explore Dallas, and I found a love for the nighttime city, sometime before SMU, but after Inspiration Point. And I don't see these passions ever going away. But... before there was the city, there were the mountains.

In my adolescence, when I set out to reexplore the regions of Dallas near my house, I ranged many places on my bicycle. Occasionally I would come to an area that gave me a specific, consistently reproducible feeling, sometimes having to do with the terrain, or the buildings or the people, and sometimes just myself. It's dismaying to have learned that neither driving (in a small, insulated pickup) nor walking give the same experience; here's hoping a motorcycle will.

Friendship

Dec. 28th, 2005 09:27 pm

There is a trembling, a happy shiver some call it, that comes from a touch. To be great music, in fact, a song needs only touch you. Sing along with such a song; if it reaches you, you will shiver, though the feeling may not be a happy one. An affectionate friend, however, can do without trouble what it takes a songwriter all her life to do, and even though a moment of affection touches only once, only lightly... I value it above the stars. Yet to give affection, to be on the other side of the touch, is as much a blessing. Just as one must lower one's defenses, (and sing along with the song,) in order to truly be touched, being able to reach out, span a distance, and make contact, is a thing of difficulty. The person who gives and receives affection freely and frequently, and without insincerity, is a rare one, and the subject of strong emotion. But then, there are also the unexpected moments of affection and intimacy, the liberating ones, to be considered; these shake you, shiver you, more strongly than anything casual. A friend breaks through to you with words that resonate, where anyone else would use a hammer. It's friends who keep you from becoming trapped in yourself.

I tend to be undignified around friends. When the goal is to have fun, it's wise to forget for the moment about philosophy and physics. Not that dignity is requisite for either subject; it's just that the excessive dignity one too often finds in their devotees is incompatible with having fun. Dignity, in general, gets in its way. Fun requires light pleasures, treated with levity. This in turn requires a willingness to shift conversational topics as attention shifts, start and stop games casually, and enjoy whatever it is a friend brings to you, for your pleasure and his. Beyond that: once a comfortable situation has been established, high spirits and unreserved antics can carry the day. They can carry it well into the night, in fact. It speaks against the worth of dignity, that it creates distance when closeness would only bring harmless pleasure. When distance comes easily to you, beware the ways in which you increase it.

The feeling of kinship is a strong one, one that makes friends, yet it is not enough to create close friendships. It is the feeling of seeing in another person something both familiar and familial, which leads you to acquire a close interest in that person's success, a hope for her future, that mirrors the ambitions for your own. In this situation you are ideally situated to appreciate the words and actions of your friend, but not in an ideal situation for helping out, for you face the same recurrent troubles, equally unresolved, equally overwhelming, and equally indispensable. Moreover, though your friend will have to solve these same problems, it will ultimately be in a different way, for you both chose uniqueness for your futures. So much for similarity as the universal basis of friendship. But this sort of friend is ideal for times of desolation, when the feeling that the failure always skirted is imminent, or that yours is a spirit unsuited for this world. Somewhere out there is the same spirit in a different form: thus there is one less sense in which I am alone. Somewhere out there is a different form for the same spirit, a form that might be better fitted for survival than mine, or worse; heaven knows there are too few such spirits, for any two to risk their lives in the same way.

The project worked on together is special, not for being better than an individual one, in which you shouldn't compromise yourself or your ideals, but for being something in which compromise creates a greater whole. Even when the project goes on without a terminus in view, and acquires a feeling of endlessness, every stage of it produces something valuable for the creators, given that a shared interest and enthusiasm is what brought us together. This benefit is a set of insights into how another person labors, how that person thinks on matters both mundane and grand, and what that person regards as beautiful. And what these insights teach is the ability to discuss, and compromise, with this other person, and in the end create something that both find beautiful. A long history of such interactions also produces a unique camaraderie, one picked up easily after long absences: how is that eternal project going?

New topics for conversation can, and indeed must, always be thought up, as every old topic will be exhausted sooner or later. The work of discussion never ends, even after its present materials run out. But it must be asked: is friendly debate as frivolous as it seems? That it's enjoyable isn't to be denied, but arguing amiably with a friend seems like an etiolation of the purpose of debate: to push truth forward. It sometimes feels like preparing for a scrutiny that will never come. Yet then, why question the pleasure of discussion? Isn't the feeling of presenting ideas to a friend justification enough? I don't know how to answer, for it is a feeling of incompleteness, or shallowness, that nags at me. It's like skimming over the surface of something deep: the same territory, but without the struggle, the plunge that I expect. But when the mind of a friend is such a bright one, I must accept that darkness gets neglected. With an enthusiasm that turns every topic into something curious, and a rationality that isn't shaken or diminished by any subject matter, such a friend scatters your driving emotion, whatever its force, leaving you able to talk about it calmly for a short period of time. There's no danger of losing something important: the emotion will reassemble soon enough.

As well suited as the progression of seasons is for most timekeeping, it is the coming and going of friends that divides the eras of one's spirit. Here a new one came, and showed you a new kind of happiness; there, an old friend dropped from contact, leaving only memory. But, what memory! It comes from a time when your perception was more direct, and your emotions more simple; should that friend ever return, if even for a single day, his recollections will be able to revive within you the transitory experience of being younger. I've spoken often enough of how, with the aid of time, I've identified the bad in my past, and slowly done away with much of it. But what I rarely discuss, due to a habit of unbalanced self-criticism, is how much of the good in my past has survived the transition to my present. Old friends remind me both of what I was then (not to mention how I made myself, and what I did, better, for another's sake), and of the continuity with every past self, a cord that has thus far not been severed. For this... thank you.

The moral distinction between friendship and love, in which all close acquaintances are to be divided into friends or lovers, lest they fall into a deadly No Man's Land in between, is one of the few that I reject outright. Perhaps it is because one side of that pair is likely to remain absent from my life, or perhaps it's simply because I'm a furry. Instead of following this restriction, I recognize a variety of emotional attachments and a variety of ways in which to be attracted to a person; none of these are to be regarded as the special domain of love. (Would love, then, be a matter of degree (rather than kind), a matter of completeness, a matter of permanence, or what? I can't answer, obviously. It's awkward to hold opinions about it, in the first place.) Thus I do not hold to any set of categories for, or distinctions between, types of friends; only sometimes do I distinguish between close friends, and those who aren't close. However, my feelings do not always agree with me here, and (not consistently, mind you) provide a clear way of distinguishing between the friends of whom I'm fond, and those for whom I'm more-than-fond. I will fantasize about future moments with some, and not fantasize about them with others. To provide a brief, incomplete list of situations I've recently given life and hope to within my mind: being introduced to a new form of art; showing off the marvels of a physics laboratory; helping out with financial troubles; saving a friend from physical danger; being held in a time of pain; showing off odd pieces of clothing; making a video of my dog and I playing at wolves, then giving it away; meeting new and wonderful people through a friend; and finally, heh, presenting, after long work and thought, a piece of writing that touches personally. For the past, there are pride and nostalgia; for the present, contentness and fun. Consciousness of the future, too, has unique joys to offer.

The great harm in suffering is not that it hurts, for pain isn't permanent, but rather that it is so difficult not to pass on. Great respect is given to the person who endures many trials, but refuses to treat others the way he was treated, and instead... chooses a different way to perpetuate the suffering; such a person says, these are my enemies (whom I will hurt with my words), these are the ideas I struggle against (may noone derive pleasure from them), this is how I've triumphed (not over pain, but over the prevailing reaction to pain). To be a dam or channel for humanity's impulses are equally unsatisfactory choices, when the river in question is a tainted one. I seek the alternative. I have not found it. But if you are my friend, then I want your help in finding it. Every theory we discuss, every experience we relate, every concept we entertain, every marvel we share, everything we say, every illocution we make, every perlocution we attempt, every feeling we emote, and every insight we bring, has a good chance of being the next movement (the next step, jump, stumble, flight) forward. There is no goal so distant that it cannot be reached via small advances.

There is one more thing that I want, but want shyly, in vain. I want you and I to face the world together, for alone I am weak, too weak for the place where my ambition will take me. I want you there with me. But that isn't going to happen; the beast that carries me where I want to go will not let you on its back. It is the exception when in the company of a friend I am not facing... away from the world. (That is the value of friendship to me.) We will never stand, at the same time and in the same place, face to face with the same fact. We have enough trouble facing each other, and seeing each other, for more than an instant. This I believe: friendship is so vulnerable to misunderstanding and despairing silence, because one's relationship with a friend is (in major ways) a purer, more intense, form of one's relationship with humanity. It is subject to the same perpetuation of suffering. And to be, together, in a place where our friendship can be a good one, one which will help us make the world better, there is only one thing that we need to tell each other, an epic task though it be to express and articulate fully: ...These are the conditions in which I thrive; do not undo them.

When everything seems to have delineated a fixed path now before you; when the sky is empty, the air cold, and yourself resigned to a lifetime's journey, spent afoot; then comes the time for friendship. It is the tremor that knocks you to the ground, yet causes no injury, and in truth, you are cuter off your feet than on.
I don't care that it's something you wouldn't have said in another mood. The mood didn't say it, you did.

You are probably aware of a certain variety of puzzle, fascinating but frustrating, which evokes a short-lived obsession. Generally, but not always, it's a brain teaser or riddle. I used to value these highly, but now the experience of solving them just seems incomplete. The best puzzles require insight, knowledge, and toil to complete; riddles just require insight, and are as bad as the low-level math problems that just require toil. I think that, in trying to regain my sense of puzzlement, I've had to disregard the feeling of puzzlement, which all around me is a thing of mere entertainment.

To defend myself: the puzzle that loses its charm on having its answer revealed is of little importance. What I value is the state of mind that comes from wondering where rivers come from when they only flow in one direction, or how a system in which few people farm can produce more food than one in which everyone farms, or how there can be a number whose digits have no repeating pattern, or why gravity attracts but never repels, or why it's hard to remember falling asleep. The sense of puzzlement that comes from one of these questions is not satisfied by an answer alone, yet it is rarely given anything else.
How do I name it? It is to emotion what dogma is to belief.

Self-abuse

Dec. 24th, 2005 02:07 am

To a person who credits no all-judging divinity with the invention of good and evil, what is a sin? My life has given me a good answer: a sin is a misdeed that transforms its victim.

It's not a good metaphor, but it is illustrative: insofar as I cultivate myself, I am well behind the times, which now advise an industrialized mode of agriculture. Rather than drenching myself with tons of water and nitrates, and harvesting from myself tons of produce, I like to spread a rarer fertilizer, on ground long fallow. What I grow could buy no luxuries, and cannot even buy necessities in times of drought; however, to sell is not why I grow, no more than it is the purpose of any other philosopher who dabbles in farming. Having plowed myself into the soil, I expect a special crop. Or -- perhaps I am phrasing this badly, so that you aren't able to discern the mood. When I'm full of shit, something always grows.

I am accustomed to treating myself badly, and I harness self-disgust, and invert anger, as effective means of self-improvement; the vice that can't be attacked in this way acquires a near-archetypal importance in my mind. But you'll hear enough about them -- for now, I'll talk about the ways self-abuse has failed me, and helped me. The term is the right one to use, because although anybody will say that hardships can improve a person, few will consider that those hardships you bring upon yourself, are the ones most suited to you -- and I have brought on quite a few such troubles. To list a few: climbing a mountain while fasting; walking a window-ledge around a building; the sixty hours of consecutive exams back in high school; a spell of isolating myself, my avoidance; gaining entry to a psychiatric ward; my first (and only) sexual encounter, in retrospect a traumatic one; working myself until I can't hold my arm straight; in general, only turning disgust and anger against another person once their effects on me have been exhausted.

To be happy is not the purpose of my life. In fact, I've turned my back quite definitely on happiness. When given the chance for bliss, I've turned it down, ever since getting close and facing that dilemma for the first time. It comes every three months, roughly, the mood that spirals ever upwards, and the circumstances that produce it are consistent, namely a heavy dose of (mostly my own) philosophy. Every time my giddiness reaches a new elevation, the sense of illusion, the sense that in my every action and perception I partake of illusion, grows, leaving me with the impression that I could embrace this state of mind, walk forward, and step beyond the world. It's not an impression that I trust. Instead I deny the desire for an ultimate happiness, even when it's at its strongest. Lesser happiness tends not to fare well, either. This is not to say that happiness is no longer on my list of good things; rather, it no longer holds a high place there.

I'm accidental. Had my father been less of a jerk, or my mother less easily exploited, I wouldn't have happened. I can't summarize how the awareness of this has affected me. But it does relate to what this entry's about. It left me without any desire for reciprocity, specifically, no desire to let my effect on the world be as governed by accident as its influence on me; perhaps it also left me feeling justified in treating myself very differently than I treated any other person. One very specific insecurity, the subject of puzzlement from some, has resulted from all this mistreatment of myself, as I wonder how I would treat a person to whom I owed an intensity of emotion equalling or surpassing that which goes to narcissistic purposes. For the anticipated future it will suffice to say this: I fear, deeply, that in a romantic relationship I would be either false, neglectful, or abusive.

Distance

Dec. 23rd, 2005 03:36 am

On the astronomic scale, distances are vast, and on the atomic scale, distances are vast. But on our scale, things can be near or far. It suggests a limit to the application of metaphors from physics.

It was with horror that I listened to a certain girl tell me that she felt a close connection with me, after I had listened to her troubles and offered some shallow advice. I felt as distant as ever, and I had already figured out that I wouldn't be able to give the help she desperately sought; we did not commute.

I had been in her situation myself, actually, though I more reasonably expected a final rejection by the woman to whom I confessed my problems, rather than a crossing of the distance. How odd to think that for a short period of time she and I could both diagonalize me.
At one time I fantasized about a mirror painted black. It's because I've sometimes found my mind to be like a room of mirrors: a finite area, but in it an infinite space represented; a line of sight that extends forever, yet never reaches the outside.

A common element in criticism of academic philosophy is that it deeply misunderstands philosophy or academia. However, what follows is not a criticism; I wish rather to explore my lack of understanding. When you understand or misunderstand something, the facts come together; but I... No. This will not be a coherent or well-written entry. Might as well get on with it.

It seems almost farcical that philosophy departments should exist, but then, physics departments exist too. Physics professors study the largest and the smallest things, plus the fastest and the slowest; who in their right mind would stick such subjects together? It's rather the same with philosophy professors.

I think you can ask a person what philosophy is today, and thereby find out exactly how the world has failed that person.

All popular fields have harsh introductory courses, designed to discourage those with no care for the subject. And it's universally true of these courses, that the learning you do in them is nothing like the learning you do in advanced courses, though the topics might be the same. I was able to skip most of the introductory philosophy classes.

Ouroborus was cut at just the right place, and lost both head and tail; what remained?

At one point Raki suggested to me that academic philosophy was too recursive, but I replied that it wasn't recursive enough.

Some people face up to their demons, and are then savaged by them.

No one is as well-versed in intellectual deceit as an academic philosopher. Just look at how often an academic philosopher leads in, or rather misleads in, with a conditional whose antecedent is false. When I was at Chicago I fantasized about writing a book called "How to Deceive", which was to be a very honest book.

But as the people with the most knowledge of deceit, they're the people who most consistently avoid it; while the philosophy department contains philosophers, every other humanities and social-sciences department contains sophists... though I speak of their ambitious members.

It has been said, and it is true, that you can study anything you want as a professor of philosophy.

To approach philosophy cheerfully was transfiguring for Nietzsche. The usual pattern is to approach philosophical matters with gravitas, but to do physics giddily, after the difficult part (surviving physics or philosophy instruction) is over. But my tendency has been to create and discuss philosophical ideas playfully, and regard physics knowledge as something awe-inspiring. To calculate a set of eigenvalues and eigenvectors is a profoundly serious task to me, even after it comes easily. Cheerfulness isn't something that can transfigure me.

When students of philosophy are asked why philosophy is important, they often give grandiose but inadequate answers. But physics students and teachers give similarly grandiose -- and similarly inadequate -- answers, and they're never called out for it.

I lost the ability to ramble (note that this word has a special, precise meaning to me) at some point, while studying philosophy at the University of Chicago. I recall mustering the courage to show my last ramble, the one on emotions, to a couple of professors (one of whom had been very helpful with previous rambles). I remember it making me so scared that I almost threw up, when I was waiting for my appointment to talk to one of them about it.

My work in philosophy is rather fearful, rather vulpine, since there are so many things that can harm it.

One thing nearly always lacking in academic philosophy is a fully developed self-awareness, and a full awareness of what one's work is. In the 20th century, I can only recall finding it in a few professors of philosophy (Cavell, Austin, Wittgenstein, and maybe Russell), and lacking elsewhere, whereas in every other field the academics know exactly what it is they're doing, and why they're doing it.

My own philosophy professors were the wittiest and most erudite of my instructors; they would also have the title of best teachers, had I not met Dr. McEnerney, a writing instructor with a shelf of philosophy. I find nothing more fascinating than to find someone with an ability that completely escapes me, and one professor of mine, who favors analytic philosophy, gave the most stunning example of this to date, when, without my having knowingly given any evidence of this familiar trait, he named me a mystic.

Back when I drew, blank paper... well, that's a subject for a later entry. Let it suffice to say my experiences with academic philosophy in some ways paralleled those with art, and that my experiences with art left me convinced that to earnestly try to become an artist would destroy me. I've dallied enough: time to relate the events that finally convinced me I was unfit for academia. Well after my hospitalizations, while I was arranging how I would return to Chicago and finish my undergraduate education, I decided to write an essay on vagueness. I had thought about the matter extensively and singled out, accurately, what had made my previous class papers so pointless and obtuse. I accumulated notes, read many essays on the subject, and composed drafts for some two or three months. What I produced was worse than mediocre; it read like a mockery of a philosophy essay. When I stopped devising ideas and started pulling ideas together instead, the theory of vagueness that I created, revised, and recreated many times, in an attempt to produce something receptive to the needs and demands of philosophy professors, something valuable to them, proved to me what I would otherwise have learned in the long years of graduate study, that I am worthless to academic philosophy.

I eventually dropped the goal, along with my plans to return to the University of Chicago. I felt nothing about it for a long period afterwards, but I suppose that's natural. After months of hospitals and medication, I hadn't felt defeated, or even subdued. But when I finally gained my feet, and advanced confidentally in the direction of the life which I had imagined, I met with a defeat unexpected in common hours.

Although I now pursue physics as a career (only a career, mind you), my evasion can't last forever. Every good university has a philosophy department.
You can read a map without trespassing on the territory it depicts. But when a landowner catches you trespassing, pointing at the map that guided you onto the property won't help. Yet why do I deliver such a warning? My entries aren't like maps, because maps depict roads and paths, and these can be walked backwards.

To say that I have an awkward relationship with sleep would be accurate, though inadequate. I rarely remember what I dream, perhaps because I sleep so deeply. By deeply I mean I can sleep, and have slept, through nearby ambulances and gunshots, falling out of the bed, or being rained on. It takes an alarm five minutes or so to rouse me. However, I will occasionally experience a different kind of sleep, which I call "trance-dreaming". As far as I can tell, I must be tired, and feeling happy or accomplished, for it to happen; in addition, I have to go to sleep in an unusual location, like a University bench, a hollow in some rocks, or a pile of blankets. This variety of sleep is lighter, and significantly more restful, than regular sleep. But the best part of it is the dreaming, which is very unusual, and far more self-aware than usual. A couple of examples:

While dozing off on a UTD bench, hearing and watching the trees swaying and whispering far overhead, I dreamed that I was in a room with a woman who I cared deeply about (I don't know who), who was sick in bed. I was a stringed instrument of some kind, leaning against the wall, playing music, varying it as her reactions changed. I don't know what type of instrument I was, but my sound was somewhere between that of a classical guitar and that of a banjo. Now, as cool as it was to dream myself into such a strange body, the fantastic part, and what woke me up pretty quickly, was that the chordal music I was playing was beautiful, and something I had never heard before; I adjusted it to the woman's reactions, in fact. Apparently in a trance-dreaming state I can produce good music, despite having no musical talent when awake. And of course, I can't for the life of me remember the music, now. Suddenly hearing an unknown melody is fairly common while trance-dreaming, actually, but never before has it been this long or this good.

Another recent trance-dream happened before a Thanksgiving meal at an uncle's house; I was sleeping on a couch in a side room, since it was hours before my normal waking time. In one of the trance-dreams, I recieved a new (and rather large) videogame console as a gift, but was dismayed when I thought that it would play only a small portion of the games out there, and perhaps only some of the worse ones. So I altered the gift into a Great Console, capable of playing any videogame ever made. This gave me a very strong, very chemical rush of happiness, rushing out from somewhere around the area of my heart. I sure noticed this, and for the next ten minutes or so started sifting through dream-images, finding that every half-dozen or so I would find another one that gave me the same chemical rush. It was very strange, but I certainly enjoyed it, until I drifted back into wakefulness.

Those are two recent examples, and it's only recently that I realized that there are actually two very different types of sleep that I experience. Next semester I'm going to have an eyehole or tie sewn into a good down pillow, and carry it around hooked to my backpack.

The "month of involution" is proving very difficult to do, and I haven't even gotten to the most difficult subjects; see the previous entry for some of the reasons I'm finding it hard. So, until I'm done (which'll be about two weeks, I think), I'm going to deny myself the things that most strongly divert my attention and alter my mood. I won't be around for lengthy IM conversations. I also won't be reading any more of the replies to my own posts until done, though after I'm done I'll go address them all well. Similarly, I won't be commenting in friends' journals for now; if I can summon the self-control, I won't read them at all. For anything important, I can still be reached via email. 'Til 2006, everyone.

When Wittgenstein was close to dying, he burned the majority of his notes. I prefer not to wait so long. So when I take down notes (which is rare anyway), I try not to keep them around, and burn the paper copies once I've transcribed those worth keeping. It's more fun, and more symbolic, than throwing them away. Then if a note in a text file gets used in something I write, or it is addressed satisfactorily, I delete it for good.

I do this because I am sensitive to the fate of excess. We are far beyond the point where the lot of humanity can be improved simply by upping humanity's productivity. To speak of proportions: the more is created, the less used; the more written, the more will go unread; the more food you grow, the more will rot uneaten. On a cheap hard drive I can store as much text as I need, but my consciousness is not so spacious. If my mind is to be a door, let it not open onto a warehouse.

I say this despite the necessity of supplementing one's natural intelligence with outside aids. This journal is very useful to me, as an aid to introspection; when I need to I'll skim through the entries, in forward or reverse order, until one grabs my attention. Right now I can survey it very easily, so I hesitate to write entries on whim; chances are I'll write more in this "month of involution" than I will in the entire year to follow. As paradoxical as it may sound, my Livejournal is, in some respects, an exercise in self-control.

My moralizing tone may give the wrong impression. I deride writing in excess, but I am also not up to it. If I tried to write casually, the journal would be far below the standards of others I've seen. I can only rely on myself for mediocrity, as all my college essays attest. To create anything better requires luck, emotion, preparation, need... For ambition's sake, I'll relate the conditions of my best writing. My best writing is amnesiac. I cannot remember writing it, or the period of time immediately preceding its writing. But it's always preceded either by a long accumulation, or by a long germination.

Sometimes what I write will be the final expression of long thought and consideration. I'll go over something over and over again, until suddenly everything falls into order without my expecting it to, so quickly that I can't quite recall what just happened. The tree grows for decades, but its flowers bloom overnight.

At other times, fortunate circumstances and good decisions will come together in just the right way, to fill me with glorious thought and powerful emotion, in their very nature difficult to remember. I might ride the passion out, to attempt to remember or understand it, or I might hasten to a computer the moment it starts to fade, and write in a blaze. Often I find that I can't write at all. This isn't dismaying, though. If it's extinguished by the time I get back, it can't have been a star that I brought down with me.

Style

Dec. 16th, 2005 03:26 am
I don't want to interrupt this progression of entries with a long tangent on writing style, so I'll just list some topics that I'll need to think about later. The topics are only stated in enough detail that I'll remember what they mean later on, so don't expect them to make much sense.

Structural influences on the sense of import (mainly at the sentence/paragraph level).
Effective flow in long sentences (the goal being a return to 60-plus word sentences, where useful).
How often to invoke metaphors, and how to deal with their obscurity, perversity, or aggressiveness, where applicable.
Using different levels of vagueness well (mainly epistemic/temporal/quantificational/emphatic vagueness).
Sentence-level structural redundancy/recursiveness, finding the balance between readability and concision.
When to avoid alliteration, given how naturally it comes to me.
Minimizing the presence/impact of words with a solely, or mostly, grammatical function.
To what extent I should use repeating terms with a peculiar, complex meaning (a la "flight").
How explicit, how convoluted, and how symbolic written self-awareness should be.
Titles and section headings that are good, without being catchy.
Large-scale structural cohesiveness, whether it's desirable.
Learn how to interrupt myself well.
Utilizing illocutions, when they should be explicit performatives, and when not. Bringing in illocutions not normally found in philosophical writing.
Deciding between impersonal pronouns (namely "one" and "you").
Dealing with a split audience.
The compatibility of philosophical argument, symbolic narration, and Thoreauvian writing.
Study Thoreau's, Cavell's, Nietzsche's styles. Maybe also Derrida's, Heidegger's, and Kant's, to learn what to avoid.
Opening and closing methods of approach (the reader's). Should any be closed?
Controlling the amount of various important aspects, in a given section: eloquence, abruptness, explicit connection, "meaning density", layering, disinterest...
In science, one has a reason to avoid a personal style of writing -- elsewhere, one has an excuse.

Though it might destroy my respectability forever, I must admit that I have envied those who speak with the broken grammar and quick slang found throughout the Internet. This manner of speaking is expressive in a way that's beyond my ability; it has a limpidity that is the natural opposite of my own opacity. I'm not insincere enough to try to emulate the style, though I've seen many people do it to good effect; besides, I get the feeling I'd have to scour away my command of English before I could get close. If you think I'm simply being contentious, consider the observation I made recently, that a specific person who writes in this way online, is, in person, far more articulate than I am.

I can write with eloquence, but its usefulness to me has clear bounds. (I tend not to like columnists and essayists, since, more often than not, they say eloquently what isn't worth saying.) However, I have problems with expressiveness. Though I haven't read them yet, I venture that some of the comments to my recent posts are based on mistaken impressions of the emotions conveyed therein. In fact, I can only think of one LJ entry to date whose purpose was to express (and document) a mood. It took several paragraphs. My penchant for eloquence over expressiveness was far more severe in the past, though. The worst example of it was a three thousand word email which failed at its purpose, when a simple "I'm angry at you" would have succeeded. Given my recent self-training in expressiveness, which has come such a long way, I ask myself: why do you remain so focused on understanding style?
A person who lives a heroic life needs trials to overcome, as a vital necessity; but if you're not up to living the one, don't worry: chances are you'll provide the other.

In many simple endeavours, distractions constitute the biggest obstacle to overcome. This is especially true if you're a student, because then resignation and responsibility have yet to take their share of your time. Sometimes these distractions are a result of having to economize one's life. To focus on some things requires energy, on others none; some things are inherently pleasant to do, others not; some things are habitual, others not. The action you decide upon will almost certainly be a valuation of some good things over others, but this will not make you forget about the good things you decided against. Instead, they'll have a sort of constant presence in your mind, assuming you don't try to diminish this presence through scorn and superiority. The presence will manifest as a niggling desire to go back to the other good, now that the preferred one has started to diminish, and the reasons for seeking it are no longer so persuasive. And you occasionally turn aside. The remaining distractions tend to come from others, but people are easy enough to avoid, if you keep in mind what it is you're avoiding.

The likelihood of distraction is one reason I have no fondness for the ideal of home. Home is where I've gathered all the things that most effectively distract me. Home is a place where I'm wasted. In my bedroom, I can flatter myself with my collection of books, play with various trinkets, or fall asleep without the possibility of trance-dreaming. At my computer, I can dither endlessly on the Internet, immerse myself in a game, or write. It's a good place to be entertained, I suppose, but being entertained can be draining. As necessary as it is to have a home, it's a bit annoying to have to live there. Though here as anywhere else, the location is a trifle compared to the company.

So much for simple tasks, and ordinary distractions. When it comes to difficult endeavours, good distractions are vital. Thus a University's science buildings for difficult physics problems, a radio station in the background for online debates, and the city at night for contemplation. A small rest, by diverting oneself in wandering about one of these supportive settings, can decide between success and failure. And when it is the right time with the right mood, I will be in the city, a million people and as many sights, and find that it contains not a thing to distract me.

I could try to list my flaws, but knowing me, I'd get muddled with synonyms halfway down the first page, and "lists flaws" would show up shortly thereafter -- not that a list of virtues would go much better. However, since I don't want a certain set of related concepts, with a long lineage in my thoughts, to be forgotten...

Vanity: For some reason I'm particularly sensitive to this in others... it's not that I'm any good at noticing it, but when I do, it grates against me. Though I don't refer to physical vanity, but emotional and intellectual vanity: overly cherishing favorable opinions and feelings from others, to the extent of manipulating said others. I don't have a problem with this, even as much as I like to be liked. Positive opinions or regards towards me, when explicit, tend to meet with one of two responses. Either I feel flattered but nonetheless brush it aside with a joke -- or correction (see "arrogance" below), due to it being something I've already thought to death -- or it renders me helplessly bewildered for a little while. Assuming it comes from someone whose opinion I'll consider, in the first place.

Conceit: Believing oneself to have virtues or abilities far exceeding actuality. Certainly a problem for me. I still often fantasize about accomplishments that are beyond my capabilities. One way to combat it is to seek out standards you clearly don't meet, and set them as your limits; unfortunately, beyond a certain point this becomes impossible in the fields I pursue. Another way is to refuse to form an opinion of one's talents. This is my usual tactic, though recently it seems to merely be a backlash from my adolescence. It was, after all, self-conceit that got me interested in philosophy.

Arrogance: You won't soon find a person as arrogant as me, though it's not a readily visible trait. I am very civil, and civility is, after all, the best way to nullify arrogance. Or rather, civility negates its lesser dangers. I'm not up to writing more on this.

I do not treat myself gently, and I'm surprised when people think that I do. At least I'm not sick of myself anymore, or of anything I choose to take in. Unlike Nietzsche, my ailment is not digestive, but respiratory. I filter a poisonous atmosphere. I draw in small amounts of sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide when I inhale, but they are not present in the breath I exhale.
The brightest light leaves half the Earth in shadow.

My mandate

Dec. 10th, 2005 01:36 am

"Endure". Or, when I am particularly close to collapse, "Survive".

Every day my body tries to protect me from work. It does this by inducing a state of torpor, about an hour before I have to go there; it's difficult to focus during this period, or to do anything but doze. I can hardly accuse my instincts of working wrong, when every time I go to that place I do not return better fed, warmer, or happier. Instead, I come back wounded, albeit to a minor degree. But although I've often asked myself whether its retention is the work of desperation, I haven't quit the job yet. Neither do I plan to, before graduating; I see myself enduring another summer and another winter. The benefits outweigh the harms; it's not as if I always cry after coming home.

One of my worst days at UPS, recently, was this last one; as is sometimes the way of things, it was created by the day that preceded it, one of the best. This better of two days was frigid, so frigid that half the unloaders didn't show up. As a result, the packages came onto the slide far more slowly than usual, so that the loaders weren't overwhelmed, and jams were rare. However, half the sorters were also missing, including a few of the best; resultingly, I worked with extra speed to keep the packages from piling up. (One of the supervisors has nicknamed me "Speedy", to my annoyance.) Since my appetite had been strong that day, I was able to keep up the pace for nearly five hours, sweating in my t-shirt, in the five degrees Celsius. (The surrounding machinery keeps the slide about ten degrees warmer than the trucks.) When I held up my hand near the end of the shift, I observed it to be trembling. The next day, as I said, was a bad one.

Perhaps it is now wrong to say that it's my mandate to endure, because it is now my pride to have endured, and I no longer need repeat it to myself. Through adversity I've become strong, almost absurdly so; and with that strength comes its overflowing. On the decreasingly rare days when I'm more than up to my job, I see the entire hub in a new light, my own light. The location no longer seems hostile, and I realize I could be content here, with a few changes; the UPS system works by opening opportunities for advancement after an initial ordeal, to jobs that are better-paying and easier, certainly easier to endure. At times like this I feel that the final reward is to forever dwell above one's circumstances.

This, this, is a danger to me, though a small one. To be superior is a mean goal, for it depends on the mean. After finally acquiring the strength or the means to do something more than simply endure, the next segment is to work against the conditions you had to endure, for your past's sake, and for the sake of all the people who didn't have the perversity to put so much excess energy into the job. It made you weep week after week, as you went "above and beyond" in a way that eventually gave you more strength, more energy to waste. Now will you recommend to everyone else that they, too, drive themselves until "endure" becomes "survive", in order to feel content later?

Fuck nine

Dec. 9th, 2005 04:36 am

Well, I was planning to start off with another topic, but as so often happens, events in and around my life changed my mood in such a way as to focus my mind on something else. This is a frequent occurrence in my life, and despite my large talent for self-coercion, I've learned something about when to exercise that talent. If I resist the mood, which I can do successfully, my previous one is still weakened, and I've wasted part of my all-too-finite store of self-control. But if I follow it, its impetus is such that I can gain much from the resulting state of mind.

So, when a strong mood hits, work, school, and LJ entries can go screw themselves. And one of my goals is to acquire a life in which such disregard doesn't come with immense risk.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that, at a given time, I could do only two of these things: work, school, and philosophy. So I accepted that two years of my life (of which a half-year is now completed) would be a low period. This acceptance remains, but I do get vacations. In the recondite image of pursuit that depicts, with a vital sense of danger, my way, one of the (five) hounds chasing me is Forgetfulness. The gulf between my past and myself widens every month, as is inevitable; however, actively keeping a continuity between the two can keep insights and emotions attained then from being forgotten.

There will also be much to dismay and depress me in the months ahead. I need something that can sustain a sense of purpose, when that within me is so prone to wavering. Perhaps I need a permanent caution against my more insidious vices, too. To achieve some of this, I plan to use this month or so, when school is at bay, to write one LJ entry per day, at least after averaging.

Considering I almost never use this journal for actual journalling, whether of the traditional or LJ sort, expect nothing simple, nothing specific, a covenant more than a chronicle; you (my half-dozen or so friends who read this) will be my audience only incidentally, though occasionally I'll meet myself with similar disregard. But a few warnings are in order: first, if you're repulsed by either self-hatred or self-love, think about stopping when you see them coming. You will see them coming. Also, I plan not to read comments until a week after they're written, in order to avoid disrupting the progression of moods behind the entries. So be patient until then, if you're really curious about something. Finally:
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