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This story in the Guardian is an instance of one of those strange journalistic tics: presenting the context of a story in a way consistent with the facts but bordering on the irrelevant.

“The Cambridge company [Autonomy] … developed a product to sort information based on the theories of an 18th century cleric,” writes Mark Tran. All of which is entirely true, but what does the fact that mathematician Thomas Bayes was an 18th century cleric really have to do with a business report about how well a software company is doing?

One might argue that it’s just an interesting fact that a reader could note in passing, and there’s a certain truth to this; if only more business articles were so horizon-broadening! However, if Mr. Tran had really wanted to provide a context for his brief remarks about statistical theory and fourth-quarter results, he could have done better. Much better.

Bayesianism, after all, is not some obscure concept rescued by archaeological software developers. It is an entirely mainstream theoretical tool used in a range of disciplines, from epistemology to spam-filtering. Pretensions to erudition, far from enlightening readers, generally only create misleading impressions. Journalists should remember that having the right balance of facts providing context to an article is just as important as ensuring those facts are correct.

The other week, I finally filled my long-suffering Moleskine notebook, and went out to buy a new one. Writing absorbs quite a lot of my time; at the moment, I have essays, papers, resumés and personal statements to write, and that’s even before I start on anything for here. Obviously, having a good notebook is pretty important.

Notebooks—especially new ones—come with strings. What you write at the beginning sets the tone for all the words yet to come. Writing in a notebook creates an idea in your mind about what your writing is like, what that notebook is like. It creates, for want of a better word, a character, and it’s hard to break from that conception of what you should be writing.

So, when I bought the new notebook, I took an afternoon to write a couple of longish pieces. Whether or not they’ll ever see the light of day, I have no idea. That wasn’t the point. The point was to say to myself,

I write in this notebook. I write well in this notebook. I write thoughtful, considered pieces that flow well and communicate their ideas effectively. But most importantly, I write in this notebook.

After all, what’s the point of a notebook you don’t write in?

Another good example of taking time is planning, something I used to resent immensely. After all, I reasoned, shouldn’t I be spending my time working? Planning—writing lists, deciding on what to eat that week, working out the structure of my essays, keeping track of appointments—just took away from what I really ought to be doing. Foolishness, of course, but overcoming that impulse has been incredibly difficult.

To do something well, you need to take the time. Moreover, you need to spend what I call support time: planning, preparing the ground, getting things ready—getting yourself ready.

Obviously there’s a balance to be struck here; if all you do is plan, you’ll never accomplish anything. But it is a balance; too little support time and your work will be muddled, you’ll find yourself hungry and exhausted, forgetting things, and maybe not even doing that much work.

If you feel supported, by having taken the time to plan and prepare, you will have greater confidence in yourself and in your work, and that confidence will allow you to accomplish far more than you would have otherwise.

Having been bereft of a home internet connection for the last week or so, I’ve returned to an older method of communication: the letter. Since email became ubiquitous, there has been a debate over the relative merits of the two, usually informed more by personal prejudices than by a considered reflection on what I see as complementary, not competitive, mediums.

If one can feasibly do either, then the choice of whether one writes or emails is dictated by a number of considerations that are to some extent universal, and are otherwise intensely personal. Email is quick and easy: transmission is nearly instantaneous, so it’s much better for anything needing a quick turnaround (hours, rather than days). Given the overheads of letter-writing—stamps, envelopes, going out to post it—email is cheaper in both time and money.

The appeal of a letter is more subtle. It’s less dependent on personal infrastructure—internet connections go down, people are too busy to check their email; sometimes they just forget to—but a letter can be read almost anywhere, regardless of technological factors. In fact, its inherent slowness can be advantageous: people don’t feel they need to reply immediately, and so may be more likely to do so, or at least in more depth.

Letters are also, in a sense, more real. We are physical beings, and the immateriality of online information (metaphorically, but don’t let that make you underestimate its effects) can sometimes be a barrier. Paper is very real: you can hold it in your hand, keep it in a drawer, tear it up, burn it. Paper takes effort, and making that effort sends a message over and above the actual words on the page.

Email is highly transferrable: it’s just data, to be moved around, altered, and saved or discarded at will. This is a great advantage in many circumstances, but it also means that it is incapable of the contextual depth of a letter, with all its subtleties of choice: the paper used, the envelope, the stamp, the handwriting. The ink, the pen, the little doodled illustrations, all give letters depth.

Unless you’re given to writing drafts, and then writing out a final version, letters also possess spontaneity: they are unedited, uncut, written in a flurry with bad sentence structure, metaphors that didn’t quite take off, abject apologies for the above failure, and a general roughness—rawness—that betrays a mind writing to someone, with that person or the thought they are trying to communicate absorbing them so totally that propriety is cast aside in the mad dash to catch the words before they are lost forever.

Email is too open to revision: you scan the screen, think of a better way to put something, try to be diplomatic, polish your message. But once words are on the page they are indelible: they cannot be taken back. All you can do is send it, or not.

Relicnews has a WordPress backend, and because comments are enabled and you don’t need to register an account to comment, we have an intermittent spam problem.

Most of my time at the moment is spent updating this site, working towards my degree, and developing new sites to help pay the bills (not necessarily in that order). I don’t have a lot of free time to spend messing around with different anti-spam solutions, so until now I’ve just let the default spam words list catch unwanted comments. However, when I saw Akismet had been launched, I thought I’d give it a go. The stuff Matt’s been behind—WordPress, mainly—hasn’t let me down yet, which gave it a bit more credibility than the usual run of plugins and the like. More importantly, it seemed simple to implement, and the numbers looked good.

There was just one catch: I needed a WordPress.com account. A golden ticket arrived in my email inbox a couple of weeks ago, but since I already had a blog, I gave it to my brother (a better and funnier man than I, if somewhat more lazy). No account meant no API key, which meant Akismet wouldn’t work.

I suppose I could have asked him for his key, but he might need it himself at some point. No, what I needed was my own WordPress.com account, so I toddled over to the site to submit a different email address, in hopes of getting a new ticket. And, of course, the site was broken—the front page displayed fine, but trying to anywhere just gave me database connection errors.

That was last night; this morning brought more luck. Specifically, the Flock download, which (once installed) gave me the chance to create a WordPress.com account then and there. Victory!

(A quick note on Flock: it’s just a skinned Firefox, with a couple of blogging and social bookmarking plugins. Still, it’s easy on the eye and hasn’t crashed yet, so I’m trying it out; Eric’s made it his default Windows browser, which is a recommendation of sorts.)

My intention was simply to make the blog, grab the key, and get the hell out of Dodge, but in the end I couldn’t do it; empty textareas call to me with a kind of siren song. The resulting posts are a bit abrasive and less thought out than usual, but some people appear to like that. So, if you want to read me ranting about foolish expectations or the word ‘blog’, head on over to ‘My Own Private Riot’. I suppose we could subtitle it ionfish unplugged.

Something guaranteed to make me wince is passing places with names like ‘Ye Olde English Tea Shoppe’. Not only is it anachronistic—tea came to England from India in the middle of the seventeenth century, carried by merchant ships to a nation on the cusp of the modern age—but it it also maintains the illusion that the word ‘ye’ has any place in the dictionary beyond an etymological footnote.

‘Ye’ is the Middle and Early Modern English nominative of ‘you’; all well and good, no complaints here—feel free to carry on singing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ at Christmas. It’s its employment as a replacement for ‘the’ that I object to.

Reading the word ‘ye’, the contemporary reader assumes that (like the other ‘ye’ mentioned above) it is pronounced yee, rhyming with ‘be’ or ‘me’. Doubtless if one were to speak with the proprietors of establishments employing the word in their names, they would assent to this conclusion.

This is, quite simply, wrong. It’s wrong not because a word written ‘ye’ shouldn’t be pronounced like that, but because (in this day and age) the letter shouldn’t be a ‘y’ at all.

Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t know whether it’s my increasing knowledge of content-management systems, databases and the like, or if the usage of this term is indeed on the rise, but lately I seem to be seeing the word ‘metadata’ everywhere.

What is metadata? Briefly, it’s data that explains how a particular chunk of data—a file, for example—fits into some more general organisational scheme. An mp3 file, for example, might have metadata saying who recorded it, who composed it, and when, and what genre the song is. A blog post might have metadata about the author, publication date, and the number of comments on that article.

So far, so uncontroversial. Clearly this kind of data is important and useful. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that we cannot properly comprehend the meaning of a piece of data without viewing it through the lens of its attached metadata. What’s my problem, then? Pretty simple: we already have an excellent term meaning just what metadata does, and it doesn’t sound so stupid.

The name of this term? Context. If you want to be long-winded, you can use ‘contextual information’, but it means pretty much the same. ‘Metadata’ is a redundant term that people employ simply because they want to sound cool, to sound cutting-edge, to sound like technologists. It’s just PR, and pretty crap PR at that. It adds nothing of value to the discourse; in fact, it devalues it, by replacing a simple and elegant term (that we’re all pretty sure of the meaning of) with a vague buzzword.

First, an apology: of late, I’ve had little time for writing, less inclination, and next to no ability. Perhaps I wrote myself out in my exams; perhaps I’ve had to expend all my energy just recuperating from what has been a draining year; perhaps I just wanted a break from scribbling. Whatever the reason, updates here have been a lot less frequent than I’d like, and for the last three weeks, completely nonexistent.

The computer problems I alluded to in my last post but one have been all but resolved; in a nutshell, I formatted my computer to fix one problem (an inability to upload files to FTP servers), and in doing so, created a tentacled mass of others, including hard drive corruption (I lost documents, movies, and a large chunk of my music collection), memory problems (I installed 1GB of new RAM, which didn’t play nicely with my existing memory; essentially it’s a motherboard problem, it doesn’t like having all four slots filled), and sundry other annoyances like the loss of all my emails (I backed them up, but the file corrupted).

Resolving my sundry difficulties has cost me a not inconsiderable amount of money (I bought a new graphics card, a new hard drive, new memory, and a new power supply), and a lot of time and irritation. That said, at least it’s fixed, and at least I seem to have salvaged a good deal of my important data (website files, for example).

So, exams are over, and the University year will soon be too (I have to dash back to Bristol to sign up for classes). My computer problems are basically fixed. Lastly, Glastonbury will soon be upon us once more. My yearly pilgrimage there is, in many ways, the only real holiday I get these days. Once I’m back from that, I’ll have to put my nose to the grindstone: I have five websites in various stages of development, a Finals essay on Epistemology to plan and write, and various short stories to complete (more on this at a later date).

The future looks busy, but that’s ok; busy, I can handle. At any rate, I should be writing again, and my five (or is it six?) visitors can once again groan at the excessive verbosity and lacklustre musings that characterise my posts.

I read with wry amusement this post by The Little Professor about spicing up the opening sentences of letters to (for example) the Times Literary Supplement. A sneaking suspicion is forming in the dark recesses of my mind that this is advice I could do with taking.

As previously remarked, a large proportion of this blog’s raison d’être (about 64.25%, by my last assessment) is to provide me with experience. The business of churning out strings of verbs, adjectives and possessive pronouns should, in theory, improve my writing. According to a friend, that theory is even beginning to translate to reality. He’s right, I think: I sound more like myself now, the neurotic self-referentialism and self-criticism has started to recede, my prose is less stilted.

So what’s changed? Has my work really, over the course of eight thousand words or so, improved perceptibly? I think it has, and I think I know why: tension. Or rather, a reduction in it.

I’ve always been tense, with the usual caveats that “always” means “as far as I can remember, and maybe I’m just projecting my current state of mind into the past”, and all the standard sceptical worries. It arises, as far as I can make out, from failing to attribute value to myself, at least to the correct degree (that normative standard arising from what we view as ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’, that is, able to carry out a reasonably happy existence, unimpaired by constant doubt). When I look at myself, I see failure. An unhealthy attitude, to say the least. But when I relax, I work better.

This is why I’m good at exams. When you’re sitting there in the exam room, locked inside your head with only a pen, paper, and the question, you are in a sense liberated. There’s nothing you can do now except right. It’s like being tossed off a cliff: terrifying, perhaps, but you can’t do anything about it so you might as well just get on with it. So you put your head down, and write, and feel better for those three hours than you have in months.

Coming back to the blog, there are two main points. Firstly, it was in itself a way of reducing the tension associated with writing. Do more writing and it becomes more normal, a less fraught activity, just part of the routine. Secondly, in order to keep writing—keep blogging—I needed to find some day-to-day coping mechanisms. This is something I’ve become better at lately, simply through realising that I had to. I had to stop being proud, stop thinking I would do things, write things, suceed simply by some kind of self-realising genius.

I started to carry a notebook everywhere; while I’d always taken my Moleskine in my rucksack, I didn’t have anything ultra-portable, so I bought a pack of new Moleskine Cahiers (pronounced kä-yā, apparently). These are little 64-page things with a cardboard cover; there’s a good review at 43F. I’ll probably post further about these at some point, but suffice to say that one now accompanies me practically everywhere (even to bed; I’ve borrowed a torch so I don’t have to clamber out of bed when that brilliant idea strikes me at three in the morning).

Inside the front cover of my current Cahier is a Post-it note, where I put down one-line blog post ideas. The temporary nature of Post-its invite the most deranged ideas, spur-of-the-moment thoughts. Since you can abandon them at will, there’s less second-guessing. Is this really a good idea? Probably not, but who cares? Down it goes! I have to feel free to scribble, to be scrappy, to just jot things down regardless.

The last component is implicit in the previous two: create a routine, force habits on myself. Put pressure on doing the little things (carrying the notebook around, keeping the right implements handy, writing several times a day) and the big things—like writing blog posts, even stories—take care of themselves.

Being social animals, human beings tend to allow their better judgement to be stampeded by the crowd’s impulses. This applies not only to the followers of trends, but their critics: the bigger the icon, the bigger the kudos accorded those who accomplish its takedown. This is only aided by the ephemeral nature of popularity: both sides laud–or criticise–things based on their aura rather than the true nature of the thing itself.

A recent example of this is the Moleskine notebook. Produced by the Italian company Modo e Modo, Moleskines are essentially copies of a French design. Their advertising copy links them to a number of literary and artistic luminaries: Hemingway, Chatwin, Picasso. Since all of these people are dead, they can’t complain that they never, in fact, used the notebooks in question, although they may well have used very similar ones (Chatwin certainly did; his were purchased from a Parisian stationer, until the supplier closed down in 1986).

This is really where the trouble starts. Coupled with their good looks (the Moleskine is a very attractive notebook), the cachet of the artists and writers essentially providing endorsements for them gave Moleskine notebooks the jumpstart they needed. It’s important to note that the kind of person who will spend time looking for the perfect notebook is generally the classic “early adopter” so beloved of computer technology companies, and I suspect they (we) are perhaps more vulnerable to the lure of the Moleskine’s whispered promises. “Buy me,” it seems to say, “and you too can be inspired to write like Hemingway.”

Marketing does not fool us, exactly; it hands us the lines we feed ourselves. Seduction is something we allow to happen, and investing objects with mysterious power is an old trap. We want to believe that possessing these items is what will give us power, or wealth, or inspiration; we want to deny that ‘genius’ is a label we apply to those who are both supremely gifted and work harder than anyone else. Olympic athletes have a genetic makeup that makes them suited for their chosen sport, but this is at best a starting point; potential will always go unfulfilled unless it is accompanied by a daily grind of back-breaking labour. Nobody wants to hear this; it’s not a cheering message. The idea that we simply lack some talisman, owned by those whose powers we aspire to possess, is a far more attractive one.

The story so far: early adopters are drawn in by a combination of factors, one of which is the mystique evoked by Modo e Modo’s marketing copy; the cult of the Moleskine grows, and they begin to crop up in a multitude of stationery, art and book shops, helped along by distribution agreements with several major chain bookstores (Barnes and Noble, Waterstone’s). Enter the critics, with the message that Moleskine fans are clearly being taken for the proverbial ride, Hemingway and Chatwin never bought Modo e Modo products, and that the talismanic qualities that are (implicitly or explicitly) being appealed to do not, in fact, exist.

Several lines of argument appear in response to such sceptical claims; I do not claim any of them as my own, merely hoping to summarise the main position.1

  1. They’re just good notebooks, better than anything else on the market; yes, you pay a premium for them, but it’s worth it to have the best.
  2. The talismanic qualities do exist; I write more and better in my Moleskine than I did before. Of course, the Moleskine only serves to evoke this response in me–it isn’t some kind of immaterial power residing in the notebook itself–but if the effect is real, surely the end result is the same.
  3. I just like them, it’s a personal aesthetic preference. I don’t deny the marketing argument, but you have no basis for criticism as far as subjective preference goes.2

There isn’t much consensus on #1; some think that there are better notebooks, or cheaper notebooks that are just as good. Many don’t. Personally I haven’t found any that are both as well made and suit my personal needs as perfectly, and I suspect many of those needs generalise well. Briefly, the pocket Moleskines are compact, with a high page count for their size, and good paper (albeit with well-documented feathering and bleed issues; you need to choose your pen carefully). They are stitched and bound in oilskin-covered card, which makes them resilient. Lastly, they have several nice touches that make them stand out from the crowd. The built-in bookmark and elastic snap that keeps it closed while not in use are of obvious utility; the back pocket grows on one. I use mine to carry library photocopier cards and Post-it notes.

The second argument is trickier. Merlin Mann calls the Moleskine a MacGuffin, which seems to have a certain truth to it. However, speaking of the Moleskine in these terms does it something of a disservice, and does not tell the whole story by any means. On the one hand, it may draw out certain good behaviours in some people: writing more, writing better. The Moleskine, when evoking these tendencies, helps define an ideal we aspire to (it may do this by instantiating a certain ideal itself, that of the ideal notebook, or at least coming closer than other notebooks).

As portentous as this sounds, it is only one side of the truth; the downside is that a Moleskine can inhibit as much as inspire. By declaring this ideal of good writing, it poses a challenge–or an obstacle. If one is constantly second-guessing oneself, worrying about whether what one is writing is in some way ‘worthy’ of being written down in a Moleskine, then it is that much harder to write anything. The loudest voices may be of those trumpeting their new muse, but this does not mean that those who find the Moleskine a mental burden do not exist; perhaps they are ashamed of their failings, or simply don’t recognise the syndrome for what it is.

Having suffered from this problem myself, I suspect that which side of the fence one falls on is due to temperament, and how one views one’s writing. When I initially purchased a Moleskine, several years ago, I wrote fairly prolifically about a story I was trying to write, but I didn’t get much of the story itself written. Entering a period of greater depression, my doubts assailed me with more vigour, and my writing petered out. Whenever I did try to write, I had to use simple sheets of lined paper; if I sat down with my Moleskine, I would stare at the empty page, trying to think of something worthwhile to write. As my condition improved, I began writing more often in the Moleskine, and now I write in it at least every couple of days. Many of the posts on this blog began life as musings in my Moleskine.

There is a third point, of course, which is that whatever the Moleskine is, it is not simply a talismanic object. It is, in fact, a notebook–and rather a good one at that. In my initial paragraph I warned against the seductive nature of the aura surrounding a fashionable object, and here we can see that warning realised. The fan claims that the Moleskine helps them write more, and better; the critic responds that in many cases, using a Moleskine may actually hinder the writing process. All this does is polarise the debate: what we should be doing is looking at how these claims really relate to an individual choice (that is to say, whether or not they buy one, if they’re thinking about doing so). I don’t mean to claim that a given transaction (or the set of all such transactions) is the only thing that gives this argument meaning, but it is certainly an important nexus of it.

What do I mean by this? Well, to begin with, the decision puts these arguments in a context, relates them to behaviour, and generally provides some much-needed perspective. The question of how an individual’s writing will be affected by using a Moleskine is an individual one: it depends on their circumstances, their nature. Moreover, there are practical questions: is this the right kind of notebook for me? What does it do better than the rest? Is the price worth it? These issues depend on the individual, on the context in which the questions are asked, not on spurious normative claims. The hard work of answering a question is done once the terms of the question and the context in which it is being asked are defined closely enough.

These questions of individual circumstance bring us to the third argument. Essentially, it grows from a confusion about subjectivity: the word ’subjective’ is used as a shorthand to mean “circumstances specific to me”. When someone says that buying a Moleskine is “A personal preference”, or “A subjective judgement”, what they really mean is “It suits my needs, but not necessarily yours.” This isn’t what it really means for something to be subjective: the circumstances on which the choice is based are in fact objective facts; if you were in their position, you would make a different choice. There probably is an element of subjective aesthetic appreciation, but I think that if it exists (this is a point of philosophical contention) its influence is overrated.

I have several Moleskines in current operation: a sketchbook, some Cahiers for ultimate portability and throwaway scribbles, and a lined notebook in which I write… well, pretty much whatever I feel like. A couple of months ago I wrote the following in it:

Decided that too much sanctity is stifling me. Need to loosen up. Consequently, this notebook will loosen up—starting with some Post-it artwork. The Moleskine craze is apparently, just like the iPod, big. Now I’m just one of the crowd. Still, nice to be an early adopter for once, even if I haven’t written in it as much as I might (I put this down to the aforementioned desire not to violate such a beautiful notebook with incessant and unremarkable scribbling).

Post-its are another good way of avoiding this problem; I draw on them, badly, then stick the good ones in the Moleskine. However, I’ve decided it’s high time I did more of it—so I bought a Moleskine Sketchbook. We’ll see how it goes.

1. The 43 Folders wiki entry contains a number of these points, but in general they are culled from a few weeks of reading Moleskinerie and the places it’s linked to.

2. The most recent and high-profile example of this argument that I could find was put forward by 43 Folders‘ Merlin Mann in this Lifehacker interview. He claims it’s a “personal preference”, which to some extent avoids the subjectivity problem. However, the claim that personal preferences are in some way indefensible–or don’t need to be defended, which amounts to much the same thing–is mistaken in my view.

Four weeks after starting this blog, and I’m finally happy with the basic look and feel of the place. My comment style was shamelessly purloined from Khoi Vinh’s gorgeous Subtraction, although his superb deployment of grids, when compared to my more modest layout skills, ensures that no one’s likely to confuse us anytime soon.

So far I’ve learned a lot about WordPress, kept my CSS skills sharp, and written a lot of mostly incoherent babble about literature and America. Given that the last few years have seen the gradual decay of my writing abilities, getting six thousand words (even if they’re not of any great import) down in a month is pretty good. I didn’t expect an overnight improvement, and sure enough one hasn’t come.

That said, I’m pleased with how I’ve done; I don’t think I’ve gone a whole week without posting, although it came close once or twice. A total of ten entries—one every three days or so—is a healthy total, especially for someone (that is to say, me) who was never terribly prolific.

Currently my goal is just more of the same: grind out a post every few days, don’t worry too much about quality. Set down some thoughts, an experience, anything that will keep me writing. I’m more interested in creating good habits, and building up momentum, than writing well. Quality comes with experience, with refinement, and with more good ideas than I’m probably capable of right now.

America is defined for me by sound and space. I read the wrong kind of fiction at the wrong kind of age; now, books are bound up with science fiction and European history and mythology. Music, though, and cinema, belong to America.

The mythic landscape is a big canvas, and modern Britain is too small and squashed. I could never have survived here, crushed between Thatcher and Eastenders—so I escaped. The world was bigger, long ago, before concrete and steel compressed time and space, squashing it all together. I took refuge in the past—and in America.

This, then, is the difference between Britain and America: we live with echoes, memories of greatness and glory and battles and great darkness and great light, but those things are past. Only America is still alive as a mythic place. This is why they’re so weird over there—and why sometimes it feels like everyone here is dead inside. We have our little victories, our little escapes; we laugh at ourselves, and in the process create great comedy. The canvas is smaller, the defeats are smaller, but we have lost the power of greatness.

America is big. No one knows what happens out there, in the wilderness, the forests and the mountains and the deserts that seem to go on forever. The individual—the gunslinger, the blues singer—has power because the people are scattered, isolated. Out there, the balance of power can be swayed by one man’s conscience.

The blues came from Africa with the slaves, and England with the religion, but only in America could it flourish. Only there, it had room to breathe. All that empty space was waiting to be filled, wanted to be filled, with something new. A whisper can fill a silent room.

A big world attracts giants, and sure enough they came: Robert Johnson, John Wayne, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan. These are the storytellers, the patterners who weave together America for me. History and myth have a strange relationship, a feedback loop spinning out ethereal static. When you lose the myth, the world seems so sad and grey. The world I grew up in has no myths anymore, and I’ve always wanted to leave.

I’ve never been there, but America speaks to me, whispers to me from the pages of books and the landscape of cinema. There is an America inside me, but that’s not enough: I want to se the real thing, bigger and more grandiose than my imagined one, yet even more deeply flawed and human. I want to go somewhere big, and America is nothing if not that.

I have a hunger for myths: stories give my life meaning, and myths are the biggest and most mystical of stories. The mythos of America defines my internal landscape, and I need to find these mythic spaces myself if I’m to truly write. Out there, in the desert, I will find something. Truth, maybe, or a muse, or just emptiness. But even emptiness is something. Maybe it’ll be enough.

As with all dubious enterprises, we should begin with a disclaimer.

Trouble is, disclaimers are a lot like manifestos, and we get all tangled up in self-imposed restrictions and constraints, before we’ve even got started. This is antethical to the way life really is: we are cast naked into the world with no agendas, no mission statements, no training.

For a brief moment, we are ahistorical beings, living without a past; the endless future engulfs us, so huge that we cannot perceive it. Only the present is livable in, and we must live on our wits—except we don’t really have those yet either. So we throw up our hands and say, “I can’t handle this. You lot deal with things till I’m older.”

In conclusion: I’m going to get on with it, and worry about things like why I’m doing it, what my aims are, and other vague questions of this nature, at some later date. In the interests of being upfront, I have a few other concerns about this post that I’m going to briefly mention.

When someone begins a blog, they are—unless they happen to be a well-known figure of some kind, or for some other reason have a reasonably large audience in place before they write a single word—placed in the slightly strange position of writing their first post for posterity. With no readers, the author must compose their first post as a greeting to an as-yet nonexistent entity. People find many solutions. Some simply ignore the problem, and dive straight into writing about the mating habits of South American tree frogs, or best practice in tax form design, or what Mary said to Ted at Dave and Annabel’s wedding. Others bite the bullet, and write an introductory post of some kind or another.

An unanswered question is still hovering over this decision: why is it important? If no one will read it when one posts it, why bother? Why not just start writing about whatever it is one writes about? The answer is, roughly, “people read first posts”. Not now, of course, but sooner or later if people (even if it’s only five of them) start reading a blog regularly, then eventually people will look back to see what the first post said. Assuming that my habits are even vaguely indicative of the mores of the blog-reading public, here’s my rationale for why this will happen: people like to know who they’re dealing with. Who is this character, and why are they writing about shelf-stacking in Indonesian supermarkets?

Of course, there’s always the “About” page, but that tends to be a block of fairly up-to-date information about the person; it sits, in a sense, outside the temporal flow implicit in a stream of posts ordered by the point in time they were posted in. A first post is different—it’s first. It tells the reader (usually) why the blog exists: what was running through the author’s head when they started writing, and the editorial direction they thought it would take.

In my experience, these predictions about what people are going to write about are invariably wrong. The ideas people have about where they think they’re going tend to (probably necessarily) be one-dimensional. Life, and by extension blogging, have far more texture than our plans ever anticipate. Consequently, when someone says “In this blog I intend to write about X, Y, and occasionally Z” you know they’re never going to stick to it. People with a pragmatic bent don’t expect to; their plan is just that, a plan, a guideline to the future. People like me, on the other hand, make posts like these.

I have no idea whether or not this is going to be a “wild ride”, but buckle your seatbelts, just in case. After all, you never know when your best friend is going to decide to drive the car into the tree.


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As well as reading Philosophy at university, I develop websites. This site is the sum of its stolen parts. Same as it ever was.