Monday, February 14, 2005

Yesterday's future today

Although from the frequency of posts here it seems like I rarely write, the reality (or some delusion commonly agreed upon) is I don't often write on a computer outside of work (where I spend far more time behind a keyboard than humans were even meant to). On the train ride to and from the office, I jot down thoughts on a pad of paper with alarming regularity, sometimes composing several handwritten pages of drivel a day. (That I consider my journal, something I have been keeping on and off since 1988.) To the extent any of that is worthy of being shared with others, when I get home each night I tend to be too tired, undisciplined, unmotivated, and distracted by television to transcribe the barely legible text and transform it into as close to a coherent essay as I bother to achieve here.

A short time ago I borrowed a laptop from work to test using it during the commute. What follows is what I wrote one morning on that machine (a rumination on what it might be like to switch from using paper and pen to using a computer), without revision. You have been warned.

The biggest loss, to the extent that applies, to switching to composing on a machine like this would be the lack of false starts. That is, when I’m writing on a pad with a pen and I decide I don’t like the word choice or I decide to change the direction of the sentence or I misspell a word and have to re-write it to get it right (or as close to right as my brain allows at that moment), there’s lingering evidence of it: the lines scratching out the “deleted” text. Often I make them so heavy it would take forensics to make out what was there originally, but there’s no way to hide that I either goofed or reconsidered. On the computer, of course, if I backspace over a mistyped character or if the automatic spell check kicks in and the guesswork is taken from the scenario, all that is left is the end result—which may still be flawed from the standpoint of how well I composed whatever theme I pretended to be exploring, but would show no evidence of the process by which it was achieved (be it worthwhile or not).

I suppose there’s something about the process that I find enjoyable, and hence the slight dismay over the alteration to the way that would work by changing the methodology. No, let’s call it what it is: arrogance and egotism. Like anyone who puts even the slightest artistic effort into a task (go with it—remember, arrogance and egotism), I harbor some delusion that the process grants some delightful insight into my person and my personality, and should it prove to be something that is regarded as genuinely artistic, some scholar might choose to analyze it thoroughly someday (presumably after I’m dead but perhaps sooner), and the scratched out passages could be seen as some kind of Rosetta Stone to the enigma that is Doug.

Arrogance and egotism. I make no proverbial bones about it. Not that I’m sure what making a bone of something means from an etymological standpoint, but nonetheless the expression has made its way into my vernacular. (See, that’s the sort of detail the scholars would eat up. That frightens me somewhat, to be frank.)

On second thought, there may be something to be said for having the evidence of my mistakes be lost to history. More than being combed over by scholars it would just be used to tear down what little I may have achieved. Well, that’s not so much an issue; given the way I try to reveal my shortcomings in these essays, what might be learned in a journal entry that would be that damning is somewhat hard to imagine.

Really, it’s probably my own inadequacies that aren’t exploited by writing on a pad of paper with a pen that I like about that method. With electronic words in an easily transferable format like this, I have little excuse to not go back and revise, to hone it to something that is ready to be shared (if the thought is even remotely worthwhile); with immutable scratches of ink on a piece of wood pulp, there’s no opportunity to go back and re-work it. It can be re-written, yes, but that’s essentially starting over, just with a good outline; it’s not merely tweaking a word here and there, not just adding or subtracting a line to improve the argument. It’s much more laborious, and hence the ideal excuse to not bother with even starting (unless great inspiration strikes)

Yes, procuring a laptop of my own (that is as small enough to be used it on the train, harnessing the nigh ten hours a week I’m already accustomed to being semi-productive) is certainly a first step to overcoming my shortcomings, and perhaps getting to the point where scholars would decide that the world needs no greater insight into the enigma of Doug than concluding he’s not much of an enigma.

[I am presently stymied by the decision of what kind of laptop to get, with what bells and whistles, etc. Ah, the joys of a neurotic bent to one's personality.]