Sunday, 30 September 2012


Over the years I've been accused of writing fanciful. Or maybe it's long-winded. I don't know why I write this way, but it could be of fear of running out of things to say. I stare at a blank screen with a thought in my head, then I ask "how can I make this thought a full page, or even a full paragraph?

I stare in wonder how a person sits down and writes a book. A full book, with hundreds of pages of thought. I try to write what comes to my head, but moments of panic make me draw out simple ideas into a very weak tea indeed. My favorite books are the ones you can open to a single page and get as much as you need. Like DNA, or a fractal.

I write self-conscoiously. That is, every time I use the word "I" too much, I try to remove it. Or "however", remembering the interchange between "that vs which", wondering if I sound too snobby by adding "therefore", "obviously", "ironically", "so that", "such", "but", "indeed", "e.g./i.e." & "et al/etc" (I use both pairs interchangeably). Too many exclamations points and parentheses. I know I write too many adverbs. I add a semicolon when I think there aren't enough of them on a page (a bit circling underused letters in a multiple choice exam, just in case). I abuse commas, badly. Rotten habits, all of them, I know. Fuck it. Today I will write "I" as many times as I want and do all sorts of other no-nos. Let's see what happens.

I write like Yoda sometimes. Or sometimes I write like Yoda. Or I write, sometimes, like Yoda. In my head there is no special order to sentences. Write I like this, I think that is fine. Or should be fine. Or has always been fine. Or was fine until others pointed/would point it out to me. Present and past, passive tense are all interchangeable; there is no now and no centre of obvious action. No obvious centre of action. No centre of actions, obviously. Obviously the action is not centred. Where is this action centre, and how can it be obvious?

Timing: If I say that it's Sunday, or said that that it was Sunday five minutes ago, what's the difference, really? Hofstadter pointed out the French translation of The Jabberwocky moved around some of the tenses:
An interesting feature of the translation into French is the transposition into the present tense. To keep it in the past would make some unnatural turns of phrase necessary, and the present tense has a much fresher flavor in French than the past. The translator sensed that this would be "more appropriate" -in some ill-defined yet compelling sense- and made the switch. Who can say whether remaining faithful to the English tense would have been better?
Indeed, who decides these things?  My 220 pages of thesis (actually just 120 pages; 120 pages, actually) was a mess of past, present, present perfect  (I hate that term) and who knows what else. I just didn't care about such details. I still don't care about such details. Tomorrow I will not have cared either. I want to talk how I think, or wanted to write how I thought. But it's not so easy to do as to say. Other thoughts get in the way. I retype an sentence, on average, twice. Every word I write, I type two or three. Typos are a burden. It's incredible to learn the Coen brothers claim to have no typos in their scripts. Not a misplaced "s", nothing.

Where is all this going? I don't know. Perhaps I want to ask myself why I decided to write on this blog, and I answered to myself that it is because it's the same feelings as I get when running. It's good practice to write, just like it is good practice to run. But I'm not exactly learning new tricks or writing 10x faster. Same old me. "Natural" writing,  like running, does not exist for me. I suspect writing on pure instinct exists for no-one. How can a person be a born writer? If such things were possible we'd have evidence of writing from 100,000+ years ago.

I don't find anything to be very natural, except the gimmes like breathing, eating, sleeping and exercising a little. Exercising a lot, less so. I am not a natural runner, at least not a natural racer. Yes, I have been running 'faster' since 2008 when I (properly) joined a running team, but growing up I had no natural speed, endurance, or love of running. I did have some appreciation of it, in that it suited my needs, yet it took five years into in high school to see that I liked it at all. I didn't love it in university, and still don't. Recently I stopped running, regularly and I don't terribly miss it. After four marathons I doubt I'll ever love a marathon unconditionally, or any distance in particular. Of course the atmosphere is usually fun, at least the first twenty eight kilometers, but still it's not an ultimate passion for me. For that matter track, cross country, road running are nice but not essential.

I've learned that my leaning habits make the world a curious place. For instance I don't see the difference between tasks; I find nothing especially easy or particularly hard. I rate "talking to people" on par with reading Moby Dick, watching a Nova special, or reading about physics. I have my strengths and weaknesses like everyone else but there's no special "talent" I feel to possess. I can pass any test with enough practice, and fail any test with too little. Point in case: At 16, after a not-so-careful studying for my learners permit, I was one question away from failing the written exam, but the section I knew more thoroughly I got perfect. A year ago at 29 I failed the WHMIS test, a test so legendarily easy that I've confessed this failure to practically no-one. But I wasn't for lack of trying as I answered the questions, more that I figured I could "tune out" some fraction of my brain as I listened to chemical safety. Not so, it would seem. Before I retook the test I decided to not only study to a compulsive degree, but also to find errors and contradictions on the WHIMS website, investigated poor application of labelling rules in the Otto Maass building, and sending email about these issues to boot. Using these powers of supercritical obsessiveness I got 100% in the second round. Perhaps it was a matter of revenge, but it I didn't care at the time because it worked. The same stories can be found anywhere: an opening-round first year physics quiz yielded a dismal 4/10 performance. I got overdrive-level obsessed, forgot everything else in the universe and received 10/10 for following five sessions. I didn't study for an english test in grade 11 and got 50%, a D-. I studied like crazy in grade 13 and got 90%. This attitude got me though my entire high school and undergraduate experience. Either 100% or 0%, like a halogen light bulb (at least the old kind).

Likewise my running and writing feels only a byproduct of utter focus. I was completely immersed in writing this blog between February and April. I posted something new at least three times per week. After this May I stopped obsessively re-writing entries and posting every thought that came to me, which at that time was a torrent, now a trickle. At the same time I have been told (and noticed, unsurprised) the severity of grammar errors increased. There's that kinship again between the two. This past weekend  I ran a small 10k this but did not train for it. I decided to do it "on instinct". It was only two months since I ran my fastest 10 miler ever, yet the result was my worst 10k since 2007. This is unsurprising to me. For me a single lapse of mental and/or physical preparation is the equivalent of doing nothing. Hence I drift from one topic to the next, as my own interest seems to be the only relevant factor. Let's see what happens.


  1. I have been reading your blog pretty regularly. I think I've read almost all of them? I don't know what has driven me to finally post a comment. Reading this reminds me of when we ran together and I'd let you talk on a subject for some time which i always found very interesting. I'm getting this weird feeling of sad nostalgia from reading the final paragraphs, as if an end of an era has come...

    You had an approach to the sport that i have yet to see in anyone else. From what I can gather from this post, this approach may be applied to every aspect of your life. This has me all the more intrigued!

    I'm excited to see what you choose to excel at next. And I'll definitely keep reading, no matter the subject! Miss you my friend.


  2. I'm right there with you on that. For the last two months I've been attempting to learn as much about atmospheric science as I can. I know some, but a there's a lot left to learn. The effort has made the running a secondary exercise, but for how long I do not know.