On the way to producing even something as innocuous as a blog post, there's a culling process. Ideas have to be sifted and shifted, weighed and discarded before they make their way to the blank canvas of the input screen. From there, they turn into the monstrosities that you read (or prudently ignore) in this space here. Though the actual writing is something I usually do quickly, there is significant meditation, conversation, and consideration on the front end.
Which is all to say that, even though I haven't been writing very much during this visit to San Francisco, there's an awful lot to write about, and I've come up with more ideas for posts in the last couple weeks than I can possibly turn into readable entries anytime soon. At times of inspiration, this is usually true. It's not uncommon to run through a good dozen ideas for every one that actually becomes a post. At other times it can be hard to generate even a single idea.
Nevertheless, I find it important to write even when I struggle to know what to write about. Why? Because of something I learned from my piano teacher, Todd Kelly, while I was growing up. He once told me that, as a pianist, sometimes you're inspired and sometimes your not. The purpose of practice, then, is to ensure that, when you are inspired, you can harness that creative energy and make your musical dreams into a reality. It is, in short, no good imagining fantastical glissandos when your hands can't play them.
What's more, if you practice enough, it's likely that you'll find yourself being inspired more often, too. Though I also would caution against over-specialization. Focus on practice alone, to the exclusion of the world, might stop you from ever being inspired by, you know, the world, which is frankly more inspiring a place than a practice room.
Anyway, as you can tell, all of that is transferable to writing (or to any other pursuit, really). If you don't slough through those ugly times when you can't think of anything to write about, and you don't want to write, and you wonder what's the point, you'll struggle to write when you do have a bright idea. There's a kind of learning that goes on when you struggle to succeed that, I believe, fills in the cracks in the learning that comes easily.
So with that in mind, I want to expose a little bit of my own writing process by sharing a slew of ideas that I've been contemplating these last few days while zipping from museum to symphony to restaurant without a chance to even turn on my computer. Not all of these will become posts, and those that do, I suspect, will end up very different than how I imagine them working now. Some will turn out to not have enough meat for a full post, while others will have to be cut into pieces. Part of the point of blogging in the first place is that it's not immediately clear which is which. Only writing will tell.
My Decision - Not a riff on the LeBron James motif, much fun as that would be. My current choice between attending UCSD or Stanford to do my PhD work is, as far as I can tell, the most important decision I've had to make in my life so far. While we certainly face countless momentous decisions every day, rarely are we conscious ahead of time that any given crossroads is truly life altering.
Rough Dissertation Ideas - This is related to the above. In order to help make this decision, I was advised by a Professor at Stanford to run through my current top 4 or 5 dissertation ideas, and to see which school would better fit with those possibilities.
Defining Learning Sciences and Communications - The last iteration of the decision theme, this would be a high-level attempt to understand what the two programs I've been admitted to really are. Stanford's "Learning Sciences and Technology Design" program practically demands an attempt at definition, while "Communications" is so broad and ambiguous a field that it would be valuable for me to place myself within it.
Drawing an Aging Curve - I'm fascinated and, in some ways, terrified, by the human life-cycle. Joe Posnanski sometimes writes about athletes and how they believe they will never get worse, or, even more improbably, that they will continue to improve indefinitely. I'm curious as to how that maps to non-athletes as well (from a theoretical and speculative perspective, anyway; I don't know the research on this stuff).
What is Art? - Inspired by the ongoing conversation Jericha and I have had here in San Francisco, I want to explore thoughts on narrative, meaning, categories, and specialization as they relate to artistic creation and artistic consumption. Painting, music, literature, games, and so on are all possible angles. So is - be forewarned - Schopenhauer.
Beethoven's Eroica, Part 2 - I haven't forgotten the music project, either. Part two (and beyond) is in the works.
Darren Waterston's Clearing - Of all the art I've seen in the past week or so, there are a small set of pieces that particularly stand out to me. This is one of them, and while it is abstract, I think it lends itself well to some layman analysis and interpretation.
Caius (sic) Marius on the Ruins of Carthage - A John Vanderlyn painting from 1807, this piece is another worth writing about. I find it surprisingly prescient.
The Symphony from the New World Live - It may surprise you that I spent a year at Stanford without ever seeing the San Francisco Symphony live. During this trip I've remedied the oversight with the help of Dvorák. His most famous piece is a both very accessible and deceptively subtle and complex. Definitely worth a listen and some analysis. Also worth mention is the quality of the symphony and the symphony hall in San Francisco.
San Francisco (and Stanford) Retrospective - I already wrote an in situ poetic rambling about my experience of staying in San Francisco earlier in my visit, but I feel like there's still plenty more snobbish waxing I might do.
Cities and Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino is one of my favorite authors, and Invisible Cities is on my "Best Books Ever" shortlist.* Why not, instead of just gibbering about my own experience, bring in the expert. Of course, talking about Invisible Cities means talking about design and emotion and love and desire and meaning and civilization and religion and, well, yeah, just about everything.
* How short is that list? Frankly, Invisible Cities might very well be on the list even if I cut it down to one. Which gives me an idea for another post...
What Makes a Good Museum? - One last San Francisco inspired post, taking a broad view of the museums I've visited during my trip. What makes them work (or not), from my uninformed perspective as a simple museum-goer?
Science and Optimism - A response to the eminent Joe Spotts's recent post, Science is Optimism. I would tell you more, but I haven't actually read the whole thing yet (I've been busy, and it is tagged with "absurdly long winded posts"). Anyway, don't tell him and maybe I can get away with writing a response without reading it. You know, kind of like everyone else on the Internet.
Watson, Computer Overlord - I did recently watch the IBM computer Watson "compete" on Jeopardy. I say "compete" because, frankly, it completely crushed its opposition, which included two of the most successful Jeopardy contestants ever. While the whole thing is a little sensationalist and, of course, not nearly as big a jump in computing as the IBM people make it sound, a computer that can deal with common language statements has profound implications.
Baseball Team Names - Inspired in part by a Pitchers and Poets post (which in turn was inspired by a Cardboard Connection post) about current MLB hats, I think it would be fun to do a run down of MLB team names. There are a lot of potential angles here, but the ones that interest me most are:
1) Pure Poetry - wherein we lament the loss of the sonorous Montreal Expos and shame the atrocity that is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2) Appropriateness - wherein the Los Angeles Dodgers don't make a bit of sense, while the Philadelphia Phillies is perhaps a bit too obvious.
3) Historical Significance - wherein the New York Yankees are as iconic as they come, whereas the Tampa Bay (Devil?) Rays can't even decide who they are.
Nuclear Power - In the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and Nuclear disaster, public opinions is quickly turning against expanded nuclear power (not that it matters, since big wigs from both major parties are still firmly in favor). The problem is, people are changing their minds for all the wrong reasons. Nuclear power is terrible, but not because of the threat of meltdown. How is it terrible, then? Let me count the ways (and, of course, we'll also count the not inconsequential ways in which it is not terrible).
The FEC vs. Citizens United - For those of you who aren't aware, the Supreme Court ruled prior to the 2010 elections that corporations could effectively give infinite sums of money to political campaigns. The truth of the matter is, most people from both parties believe that corporations have too much influence in politics already, and that influence is only growing. So let's talk about corporations, law, precedent, and the effort to reverse the trend.
The Man Who Arranges the Blocks - I don't know if there's a post in this, but I love it.
So there you have it, almost 20 ideas for posts. I'd say the odds are roughly even that my next post is none of these.