#20: Taking Its Toll

Since I began this blog I felt as if I am under internal compulsion to write something. This is mainly due to the two-posts-a-week commitment that I made (well, I narrowly missed the deadline last week, but it was OK as I was occupying my mind back then by learning new stuff online). An implicit premise for my activity is that I write about assorted topics, or I write about a topic that I may have dealt with before but with new twists. After all, as I said before, ’tis better to write something than to write nothing. Let’s call that Rule #0: the rule that separates a writer from a non-writer, and from those pseudo-writers who clutter their heads with ideas from coast to coast, without writing, just like pouring water into a pitcher and then never drinking from it at all.

This self-determined compulsion to write takes its toll in the midst of swarms of other routines on my schedule. However, this has a positive virtue, at least. It requires me to have something to write about, so I have to pay attention to the outside world every time. Everything around has to be a ready subject for exposition, analysis, synthesis, or just plain contemplation. If nothing outdoors seems fitting to write about, then there are always the inner workings of my mind, or anyone else’s mind. There’s my blog – or any random Internet article or any hitherto unread book. Anyway, I have to write or else my commitment takes a blow and a rift opens allowing a discordant voice to strike me (“Hey, isn’t it that you broke your rule last time? What’s wrong with breaking one again, if it needs be?”)

If it needs be – we frame all rationalizations as needs, and in the end the distinction between them disappears. For instance, we fancy a car that we can’t afford, but sometimes we buy it on the grounds that our work requires us to wander from place to place, that everyone else in our field of work has a car, because commuting is tiring, and so on, without assessing whether these are the real reasons. As long as they linger in our heads, there is the danger that these bogus reasons may evolve into real reasons – and we may pass them to the next generation, thereby perpetuating errors. Thus it is imperative to block all back alleys for rationalizations to penetrate our ears. We have tips for resisting temptation, but it’s quite hard to counterattack rationalizations.

There’s an additional bonus that forcing myself to write can give. What if everything looks dreary – as if peering at anything outside can make you more bored than you are right now? What if the sight of blank paper or a blank Notepad page, far from instilling a motivational sense of dread, despair, sadness, angst, fury, or fright at the nothingness in front of you – emotions that can drive you to clear out the white from any field where words and signs should be – what if the sight of blankness makes you fall asleep instead? In this extreme case, the problem isn’t my senses; the problem may be the current social, economic, political, or educational systems that bore people and then provide us with a shell to withstand the boredom, all without helping us find out why boredom has to be there, and suppressing our native childlike ability to ask why such is the case and what if another case is possible all the while.

Writing helps us clear our thinking to realize all these. Remember these two asking prompts for all time: “Why?” and “What if?” “Why” stimulates precise thought while “What if” gives a wide berth to imagination, and both are effective against general stultification bombarding us all over the place and the willing but uncritical obedience so characteristic of the way most adults – and most of their children – live with today. Who knows, most of your creative ventures will revolve around these two questions.

If all we have are a bunch of dull ideas and perceptions, then there are two simple tricks that can ease the boredom and may actually help generate useful ideas. One is to think of the opposite – a “What If?” variant. “What if I assume that the opposite of an idea is true?” The opposite need not be an antonym; something starkly different is enough. The minimal logic behind this is that the opposite of dullness is richness, so we will do well to train our minds to consider opposites. The second is to combine any number of ideas to form new ones, and then think about the newly formed ideas. If thinking about a pencil bores you, think of a pencil with wheels. Ridiculous, but if it helps you think better, then so be it.

To stay in action you have to be in action. A tautology, but true nevertheless.

In passing, I want to say something about a possible congruence between the notion of “writing something is better than writing nothing” and the “puwede na iyan” mentality, a thought process common for Filipinos who want to take a break after finishing something instead of improving a concept in increments. The two notions are different. “Writing something is better than writing nothing” serves as an idea-cooker; it’s more like writing in a journal to keep you practiced and to keep you loaded with ideas that may be useful for any future writing project. In that case, there’s no “puwede na iyan” involved because there is constant improvement, unless you find out that you write badly but take no steps to improving the way you think and scribble. “Puwede na iyan” suggests a definite stop, an aversion to “What if?” thoughts about the future; in contrast, our notion of writing just to fill blanks, while fine in itself, clearly has future value.

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