#Writing

About

Herserys
You might have noticed that my posts always feature a headline title which might or, often, might not very well describe the following content. Sometimes, the title makes no sense until the end, by which time you’ve probably forgotten the title in its obvious irrelevance. This effect might be influenced by the fact that I often leave the title blank until I’ve finished the first draft, being myself uncertain what I will be writing about until I’ve finished writing. Other times, the title draws from some deeply personal and therefore publicly subtle point nobody but I could ever discern. I generally start writing with some intention but no clear—or even terribly fuzzy—notion of where I’m going.

My best writing has never been sharply-focused. It instead toodles around, but toodles in a certain style; and if not a certain style, a rather satisfying one for me. A decent toodle in the car begins with intention but remains open to discovery along the way. It most definitely begins with a few rather simple ground rules. 1- We head off in a definite direction. North, for instance, and with 2- a purpose. Whether that purpose be lamb-looking or tomato-picking, we’re clear about what it is but 3- not at all clear about how we might satisfy that purpose. We 4- have not outlined the route, but merely declared the destination.
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ChangingStory1.20-PassingOn

passion
Much of the stuff published in newspapers lacks passion. Sure, there’s ample theatricality, that studied intensity every theatergoer knows well, but little passion. I suppose passion counts as somehow unprofessional, ignoring reason and accepted logic that passes for well-formed commentary. The alternatives to passion read about as flat as a printed page, rarely elevating spirit, though sometimes awakening ire. Ire seems a poor substitute for passion.

Passion doesn’t guarantee cogency. Communicating coherently with passion, that’s one of those teenager poet dilemmas: those who feel as though they can pull it off, can’t. Like with love, deliberation ruins it. A certain kind of unconsciousness informed by considerable prior failed effort might be all that’s required, but that’s a lot. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.19-PDTD

test2
It’s the middle of the night and I’m up writing, once again chased from fitful sleep by a bad dream. I’ll piddle around for an hour or two and maybe get back to bed before morning, I never know. This nightmare was a real bad one; no zombies or chainsaws, but real life events. I was taking a test.

Maybe I should call this Post Dramatic Test Disorder. Up until my seventh grade French class, I was fine with tests. I was considered one of the brighter ones, even segregated into a special gifted program; an active, enthusiastic learner. My experience in French class first exposed me to a regime of continuous testing, where the teacher, ensconced in a booth in the front of the room, listened in as students fumbled their way through their first attempt at foreign anything. I performed abysmally. There was no succeeding, only endless testing. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.18-CultureChains

chains1
Engage with any consultant and you’re likely to learn that your organization needs a culture change. Culture grows rotten over time? Either a union’s insidiously trying to get more for less, or management’s playing that game; opposing parties stalemated pursuing the same end. Perhaps the organization’s moral compass’s gone haywire due to executive avarice. Maybe safety slipped down to Job #2 or #3 from its prescribed Job #1position. The possibilities seem endless. Pick your favorite reason, then get down to changing.

I can’t pick up The Washington Post without stumbling into waves of culture change recommendations: Congress “needs a culture change,” so does Metro, and The Pentagon, not to mention (which means I’m mentioning) the IRS, The DOE, DHS, and, of course, The State Department. Private companies, public organizations, even non-profits, seem in dire need of this most curious kind of change; or so say the editorial boards, attorneys general, independent watchdogs, blue ribbon committees, and every freaking inspector general in the DMV. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.17-Housme

IMG_0512
We didn’t lose the place in The Great Dismemberment and Exile, when what was once our home, the center of our universe, turned into a house again. Our fond recollections romanticized the half-repainted place considerably. The first renters did more damage than good.

Three years ago, I returned to finish painting the outside, a six week epic obsession that enlisted family and friends. Last summer, I returned again, digging over the yard. This month, The Muse and I returned to find a bathroom needing replacing just as Spring pruning ached for attention. Both of the last two visits came under the guise of caring for our granddaughter, whom we call The Grand Other, while her folks dealt with her older brother’s extended illness, but that house, once our home, featured prominently, perhaps predominantly. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.16-AnotherPlanet

waygate_to_the_multiverse_by_nitro912gr-d33ivir
I subscribe to the unlikely notion of parallel universes, though with a slight twist from the standard theory. In my multiverse, each unique world exists in the same physical space; not overlaid or merely adjacent, but completely co-equal, separated only by perspective. In my multiverse, the person standing next to me in the grocery line occupies a wholly distinct universe. We share nothing except the occasional illusion of sharing experiences.

My multiverse gets ramped up when I’m away from home. Home might be where my heart receives mail deliveries, but my feet are free to wander pretty much anywhere. Away from home, I experience more prominent sensations of inhabiting a multiverse. Out there, I less successfully anticipate other perspectives, and my tacit presumptions often surprise me. My sense of level, fair, decent, and normal strain before cascading alternative perspectives I could not have possibly ever imagined before encountering them, though I’m certain I will never understand any of them. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.15-ShThFuUp

439px-SHUT_UP^_NAME,_RANK,_SERIAL_NO._ONLY^_-_NARA_-_515415
My inbox overfloweth. So doth mine Facebook stream, Twitter feed, LinkedIn thread, Google+ queue, Pheed feed, newspaper, and neighborhood listserv. They swell with advice, people telling other people what to do, what the sender sincerely believes others should do/ think/ feel/ believe/ support. On rare occasions, someone will broadcast some personal insight, something they’ve personally decided to do without anyone else exhorting them. These bring sweet respite to the fetid wind that seems to otherwise blow nobody any real good.

I’ve been looking for any concrete evidence that telling anyone what they really should otta do in any way results in them following these instructions. I’m concluding that these exhortations might be for the sole purpose of feeding the exhorter and nobody else. Like the street corner screaming preacher, nobody pretending to be invisible as they slink by ever finds Jesus on their way past, though the preacher sure seems to. Perhaps the very form of the injunction shuts down the ability to follow the advice, or, I think more likely, telling just does not work. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.14-Mis-formed

mis-formed
I seem to possess the superpower that enables me to mangle any form. Give me even a smallish index card-sized one, and I will quite reliably find myself unable to fit something into one, often several, of the handy boxes provided to contain information. I sometimes start on the wrong line, uncertain if the label hangs over or under the space provided, entering my name into the first address line. I run out of room by the bottom of the form or have a line leftover.

I score no better when completing surveys. Many forget to include a ‘none of the above’ choice, and most seem to insist upon an answer, however irrelevant my forced response might be. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.13-InTeGrationDay

13thDay
On the thirteenth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
the challenge of integrating
all the
cra ... er ... gifts she’d given to me.
The partridge, we’d long before roasted,
with a plum sauce en souffle.
The turtle doves still cooing,
day and night ... and every blessed day.
The three French hens are found out moping in the yard
after learning we didn’t much care for Heloise or Abelard.
The calling birds lost their cell plans, they say,
for overrunning their data cap in little more than a day.
I’ve now got rings on every finger
of what used to be a functioning hand,
as well as an especially ungainly one
on that adjacent thumb.
As of this morning, I count a full six dozen goose eggs,
with no end to the laying in sight.
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ChangingStory1.12-CantDo

cantaloupe
Some days I awaken obsessing about all I can’t do, recounting my innumerable failures to learn to do even the seemingly simple activities everyone else engages in without even thinking about them. For these, I remain the eternal rookie. No amount of repetition ever yielded mastery of these, and, truth told, I hardly hold out for any noticeable improvement now, having apparently already forfeited any possibility for improvement, radical or even small.

I consider myself a decent driver, but I should admit that I’ve not yet learned how to drive on freeways, beltways, turnpikes, or thruways. These are white-knuckle immersions for me, exhausting and terrifying. I suppose my experience stems from never having learned to pass on the right or change lanes without signaling, sprinkled with a deep aversion to driving fifteen miles per hour over the posted speed limit while riding the bumper of the car directly in front of me. I see the masters sanguinely engage in these apparently death-defying stunts, and feel bushwhacked every time. From on-ramp to off-ramp, I experience endless alarming surprises, as cars appear just where I never expected they would; without warning, without apparent strategy, other than to pass everything currently ahead of them; as if they were engaged in some kind of competition. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.10-NeverAgain

neveragain
Somewhere along about the Industrial Revolution, a subtle shift started in the kitchen. Before, it might have just been taken for granted that each meal would be unique. After, that each might properly aspire to become a replication. Cookbooks became books expressly not for cooks, but books for people who aspired to become chefs, and the purpose of cooking shifted a tiny bit away from creation into replication.

Before, Lord only knew what supper would be cooked on. After, every home featured a little industrial facility complete with gauged surfaces and uniform measures. There became right and wrong ways for employing this machinery. Recipes took over while intuition and craft fell ever further out of favor. Great grandma might have thrived on a pinch of this and that, but we now measure much more precisely, and what started as a small revolution eventually forfeited the very soul of our heritage. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.9-WickedWhich

which
I despise Big Box stores. They scare me with their over-sized Elizabeth Ann shopping carts and maps purporting to show the location of everything. Saturday, The Muse and I entered one, looking for a simple household appliance, and ended up wandering over most of the floor plan before we discovered that the map had been mounted sideways, and we found someone who could tell us that they displayed this particular household appliance, not in the household appliance department, but on a different floor, next to the toilet paper department. Yes, they had a toilet paper department. Slip over here for more ...
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ChangingStory1.8-Self-eek

sepiame
Whatever the product or service might pose as, it’s always self on offer. The content gains little traction and seems transparent. They buy the person, the personality, never the product. This can’t quite amount to a clever branding strategy, either, since brand separates person from product, replacing self with some vacuous avatar. Marketing mostly fails because it’s also not about the (notional) market, but about self; present self, self in service rather than selfless servitude.

Despite what they insisted when I was in business school, connections occur by accident, never by clever strategy. Strategy might be the sole property of those who do not need it and could never use it, but feel compelled, perhaps for appearance’s sake, to look as if they could command manifestation. This observation might seem cynical rather than simple truth or even simpler experience. When they ask after my strategy for marketing the book, I feel ashamed, as if I really should have a strategy already or must immediately stop writing, stop creating, stop being that self I know so well, and start crafting what my experience understands could never positively effect anything. Then I go looking for my self again. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.7-Parody

oops1
P. G. Wodehouse wrote parodies. Bertie Wooster would try to pull some fast one which invariably backfired. Jeeves eventually bailed him out, but only after making sure that Bertie would get bitten a bit, but never really badly enough to dissuade from further misbegotten adventures.

I seem to create my own parodies, with The Muse playing Jeeves to my Wooster. The key to great parody might be the simple, completely human act of failing to hide something from someone else. The Wooster in me presumes he’s a lot smarter than he could possibly be, and that everyone else must be a whole lot dumber than they’re really likely to be. The result reliably produces parody. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.6-Data

data
The way we proudly proclaim that we’re driven, you’d think we were cars or wagons, or maybe sheep. Driven to success does not, apparently, mean your mommy drops you off at the 7-11 so you can buy that Powerball® ticket. Executives insist that they drive performance, managers get held accountable for driving results, while individual contributors, the ones actually performing and producing, I guess they at least get a lift out of this.

The admission that data drives stopped being evidence of impotence about the time computers took to the desk top and Excel made everyone feel like real, live database managers. The following wireless revolution turned every action into some form of data to be sorted, sifted, stored, then mined. If you can’t measure it, they say you can’t manage it, but that’s no longer enough. Now, measures must be backed up with data because, contrary to what executives and managers proclaim, data’s really driving. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.5-Testing

testing-testing-123
Since I was in the seventh grade, my story has included a chapter explaining how I don’t test well. In seventh grade, I learned how to perform poorly on tests. Before then, I seemed to posses that innate ability The Muse still exhibits: I could pass most any exam I took. Since then, exam success has seemed more crap shoot than skill-related, a random event unrelated to what I know. I suppose my current state springs from my exposure to the French language, for which, like all languages foreign and domestic, I had little aptitude. Later, of course, this budding ability migrated into math, then most every subject.

I could be excused for thinking I was somehow growing dumber with each passing year, and I remain grateful for that high school guidance counsellor who headed off deeper discouragement by convincing me that I was not, as he phrased it, “college material.” I most certainly was not, and perhaps most persuasively because I then, much more than now, believed that the purpose of testing might probably be to assess my level of retained knowledge, whatever that means. The Muse insists that she can pass most any test, and always could, because she somehow figured out that testing could never say much about who she is or what she knows, but might instead assess how skillfully she navigates that alien environment, one almost completely unlike the real, lived world, where right and wrong answers exist, like some prehistoric bug suspended in amber. Maybe she’s just a good guesser, but I don’t think so. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.3-DayOne

DayOne
I calibrate each year twice, on New Years and on my birthday. Though nobody drops any lighted balls in Time Square in mid-August, my birthday feels the more significant milestone point. New Year seems to be one of those generally agreed upon celebrations, like George Washington’s perennially Monday birthday, which consensus set for the convenience of long weekend Federal employees rather than to denote any real event. I have documentary evidence that I was, indeed, born on the nineteenth of August, on a kitchen table in a country doctor’s house that served as the hospital in a tiny Eastern Oregon town.

Those comprise the facts. The rest of my beginnings might be no more than myth, for every human’s early life comes shrouded in the proud if unreliable testimony of sleep-deprived parents and siblings too young to remember with any clarity. A new child suspends history for a few years. No matter how carefully anyone might try to chronicle the baby steps, most of them will go unobserved by anyone but the child, and he will not yet have become entrained in the curious art of observation, and merely experiences without jotting even a memory for future reference. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.2-Observing

observe
Jerry Weinberg used to insist that non-fiction must be a fictional notion, since all writing gets filtered through a writer first. Some so-called non-fiction seems more self-reflective than others, and perhaps this observation supports his point. Few authors, I suspect, ever get through to the bottom of writing anything without stumbling upon an unexpected, sometimes unwanted participant: self.

Likewise, Cyberneticist Heintz Von Foerster insisted that objectivity qualifies as a delusion that one could have an observation without the trouble of including an observer. The presence of an observer engaging in the observation nudges the notion of objectivity nearer the subjective end of the scale, a relative value rendered in rather definite terms. Since no observer can be certain of just how they filter what they report they observe, we might just be better off remembering Weinberg’s Insistence: non-fiction can’t exist. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.0-Catching

catch1
I’d grown tired of my story long before I caught myself repeating it. I’d felt my enthusiasm fleeing whenever I mentioned the unfinished book, not initially noticing the connection. One can apparently repeat some actions over and over and over, without noticing. Then I caught myself simply being myself, and blushed. The second time I caught myself, I began to understand the source of my shame.

My story seemed even to me to have grown into an excuse rather than an adventure, an explanation which could not possibly impart understanding. If it baffled me, how could it do any better with anyone else? My words and my music had fallen out of synch; I kept right on singing. Slip over here for more ...

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