Rendered Fat Content


Giovanni di Paolo:
Saint John the Baptist Entering the Wilderness (1455/60)

"… we periodically pretended together that it was."

I claim to be a political Progressive, meaning I subscribe to the curious notion that progress remains both possible and net positive; unlike political Conservatives who view their future skeptically, often cynically, as if it serves as a descent from prior greatness, Progressives claw ever forward. In contrast, Conservatives seek to return to past glory. We cannot possibly experience either perspective, what with entropy and all, but they're belief structures, not intended to represent reality but to harbor aspirations. As a Progressive, I hold lofty aspirations. My Conservative neighbors seem to hold more catastrophic ones. It comes down to what sort of future I imagine since an actual future has yet to manifest and perennially can't.

The question of progress made and experienced eventually enters into every human activity.
If I start assembling a manuscript, the question of how much progress I've made will quickly become my constant companion. This question requires some measurement—some metric—to concoct an answer, though manuscripts were never comprised of the nearly ubiquitous widgets. When a product gets made of widgets, one easily measures progress by merely counting said widgets, presuming one knows beforehand how many widgets the finished product will feature. Manuscripts seem like fundamentally different creatures. When I ask myself what they're made of, I muster no shortage of stories, though each seems more or less useless for counting. I could count the number of stories and then start maintaining a count of how many stories remain to be assembled. Using that measure, I might even manage to produce the most useless metric ever devised, the infamous and ignoble Percent Complete, which exists solely to answer the most vacuous question ever imagined: What Percent Complete is the effort?

Manuscripts, like many things, are never assembled linearly. One day it might seem as if significant progress was made—the following day, little. Progress seems more of a felt sense than a physical measurement since not all stories were even imagined as equal. Progress remains tenaciously imaginal, more a feeling than a measure, though emotion can profoundly influence motivation. A week with little progress sensed can leave an author motiveless, wondering where his work might end and if it ever would. A week where progress seemed great might leave our editor feeling as though he could continue assembling this manuscript forever. The better the progress, the less the laborer wants his laboring to end. The most significant progress, then, might be measured in infinities, unadulterated aspirations like hope which cannot ever be imagined in terms of percentages completed.

My grammar checker keeps track of my progress, counting the number of words I've subjected it to throughout this effort. I began using it almost two months ago, just after I started creating these Publishing stories. It yesterday reported that I'd so far used it to analyze 2,316,245 words. This number includes this series' Publishing Stories and the stories I've been busily assembling into a manuscript in the background while recounting my Publishing experiences here. TwoMillionPlus and counting presents a measure as meaningless as percentage complete, for it seems too indistinct to carry much meaning. A million of anything becomes a statistic rather than a sensory experience. I can read the number but cannot muster an accompanying sense of its significance. I feel abstractly impressed that I must have managed to write and read TwoMillionPlus words and counting. Most of those several times, for, unlike the grammar checking application, I have to read while writing, then preread each story before correcting its contents, then read it once or twice after correcting it to confirm that I haven't made it worse, that it still proves acceptable.

If I counted words written and discarded, I'd have a different notion. No number seems representative of what always was and remains an intellectual exercise, poorly represented by any physical measure. I doubt I'll recognize when I finish, never having completed before the current projects with which I'm busy distracting myself. I will most likely realize well after I'm done that I must have accomplished something, but that thing, like any aspiration, will not amount to very much of anything. It will be accurately misrepresented by counting the millions of words or impressions represented therein as if those might offer useful comparisons with anything real or imagined. Back when I worked as a project manager, I always blanched when the conversation turned to progress. The executive steering committee, who understood nothing but budget allocations and burn rates, were in charge of asking the vacuous questions, and my responsibility to respond without snorking my beverage out my nose or cracking a smile. Progress was never our most important product, though we periodically pretended together that it was. I would have dazzled them with the meaninglessness of my TwoMillionPlus.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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