I have suggested in the recent past that this blog’s triggering event involved the time that my cat engaged in cut-up poetry, but further reflection suggests I oversimplified things a bit. The VoodooPad document I mentioned in my last post, the one that holds all my loose project ideas, also acts as a personal journal. Every month I add a new page to the file, naming it according to the non-ISO-compliant pattern YYYYMM. Within it, for the whole of that month, I note thoughts that seem worth saving somewhere, but don’t seem appropriate for a more specific location, nor deserving of an audience beyond myself.
This means that those past thoughts of mine that I bother to write down become searchable. So when, today, I dimly recalled my troubled reaction to stumbling across Shakespeare’s coinage of the term “sea-change” in The Tempest, I easily retrieved and reread a passage of personal notes from the first week of last November:
Getting alarmed about mortality in new ways. This evening: realized the origin and the meaning of the term “sea-change” in a flash. No sooner did I think “Oh, how lovely,” than I was struck with how little time I had left to make wonderful discoveries like this, and how they would mean absolutely nothing after I am dead. I doubt I would have thought this ten years ago, even though I was preoccupied with thoughts of immortality and such. But now I’m just starting to have glimpses of worry.
First balm that occurs to me is simply: write more, man.
Early November 2014 saw me quite busy. I still had the IFComp to wrap up, while I also lead a small team shipping a major project for one of my most important consulting clients. So, it doesn’t surprise me that these worries, as striking as they seemed at the time, apparently sunk below my active memory in short order. Before the next month had ended, though, I had relaunched this blog, one that I’ve managed to keep current with at least one post per week in the months since — a feat I’d attempted many times but not succeeded at in several years. It seems reasonable to suspect that my morbid November thoughts exerted useful pressure towards this success, even without my consciously recalling them.
Pondering this further brings to mind terror management theory, the hypothesis that all human civilization has come about due to the accrued cultural bulwarks individuals have built against their knowledge of certain personal mortality. Perhaps more subtly, it also reminds me of something Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote: “The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary.”
When I first encountered this quote, not long ago, I wanted to reject it. Read literally, it seems to suggest that all personal creative originality ceases at age 40, after which one’s focus permanently shifts to navel-gazing until one’s springs finally wind down. Looking around the web reveals those who have found room for more lateral interpretations of this adage. Blogger KC King saw it specifically as a reflection on becoming a grandparent. Stack Exchange user “medica” sees a more general description not of a strict modal shift from only-creation to only-explanation, but of the point in life where one begins to feel a greater responsibility to analyze and document their own, ongoing experiences, as opposed to a youthful powering forward through time, seldom pausing to look back or take stock. She links this observation to the much better known (and, for me, rather more palatable) Socrates quote regarding the questionable value of the unexamined life.
Written out that way, I find it easy to apply medica’s interpretation to my own rekindled impetus to write regularly in public. I have thought out loud recently that blogging serves as both the record of and the fuel for my rejuvenated desire for deeper cultural exploration. I wrote a couple of months ago about wishing to rebalance my social media use, but in truth I’ve shifted the weight of my attention beyond that: I spend far less time playing video games than I did last fall, investing that time instead into reading books and lingering in libraries — and then writing about what I read, right here.
I still enjoy games when I do play them, but today I act on my recognition that 1,000 hours of Skyrim doesn’t offer a much higher personal payoff than 10 hours of it does, or that appreciation of the powerful message of a game like Papers, Please does not require obsessively finding every possible detail through days of repetitive play. Compared to video games’ often indeterminately long experiences, books begin to feel like more reliably efficient ways to broaden the mind, what with their beginnings and endings fitting together comfortably in the hand.
The first dreadful premonitions of a distant but approaching deadline start to encourage me to look at the whole body of human creative work — whether by Shakespeare or Bethesda Softworks — as less a set of backgrounded cultural touchstones and more something to actively explore, now, while I still can. By writing about it — and doing so in public, forcing me to put more care and thoroughness into my thinking than I would were I to keep my thoughts to mere marginalia — I hope to cement this spent time into something even a little bit more permanent and larger than myself. And that feels like something worth doing.
I didn’t mean to operate exactly according to Schopenhauer’s schedule when I launched this blog, and I still find certain implications of the quote’s latter half distasteful (slash terrifying). But, I cannot deny my embrace of its more optimistic interpretation. I only hope that I manage to continue authoring both my text and my commentary for a long time to come, and that either might occasionally prove interesting to anyone other than myself.