Notes from the Undermind

A collection of random ricochets around the pinball machine of my mind. Keep your eye on the ball ...

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I am the original Speaker to Managers, having earned the title working for Tektronix, Inc. in the 1980's and '90s. Accept no substitutes. I also worked for GemStone Systems, and am a member in good standing of the ex-GemStone Association.

I'm recently retired, and spending my time trying to decide how to spend my time. It will probably turn out to be some mix of photography, making mathematical art, and writing science fiction. Previously I was a professional software engineer, amateur photographer, and occasional poet and artist. I've been a soldier, a peace-marcher, an assembly-line worker, a video studio technician, and an apprentice integrated circuit designer. I've worked in a medical school, a large electronics company, and several high-tech startups. I've raised dogs and children (no success at all with tropical fish). I've never been a short order cook, but I was a lunch counter attendant for a day. I'm politically Left, technically Object-Oriented, religiously idiosyncratic, and geographically Left Coast. I know where the bodies are buried.

Friday, June 24, 2005

There's another reason to blog.

It's really more important to me than the others I mentioned in my initial post. Blogging at its best is a form of essay-writing, and that is one of the hardest forms of writing to do well. Writing a mediocre or uninteresting essay is easy; just look at the op-ed page of any newspaper. But writing an essay that draws the reader in, convinces her of the importance of the topic, and leaves the reader thinking about the essay afterward, well that's a lot harder. So I'm going to think of my blogging as practice in writing essays. Maybe I'll get good at it.

When I think of great essayists I think most often of people who are considered popularizers in some sense or other. Loren Eiseley, for instance, who introduced at least two generations of readers to the notions of Deep Time and the fossil record. He brought romance to the manual labor of digging, by telling us of what we might find, and how we might feel about it. And there was Stephen J. Gould, more acerbic than romantic, more interested in baseball than camping out, I suspect, but still trying to give us a feeling of wonder at the way the world is constructed. One of the key attributes of great essay writing, though, is brevity, which eliminates a lot of otherwise-admirable writers who excel at longer distance but fail in the sprint. I'm thinking here of Carl Sagan, and George Dyson as examples.

Of course, there's one writer that everyone thinks of as the essayist's essayist, because he quite literally wrote the book on the subject, and that's E. B. White. Wrote some good kid's books too.

The program, then, is to try to emulate White, and Gould, and Eiseley, and see what comes out. There is a potential downside, of course, that the kind of more formal language I'm talking about using won't be appealing to 21st Century blog-readers, and so no one will read my blog more than once. But that's where the ego comes in ... if I didn't have it, I wouldn't be up here dancing.


Blogger Morgan said...

I think you make a marvelous point that blogging can be essay writing. As you say, it's also one of the toughest types of writing and when I look at my own I think maybe I've gotten a couple good essays out with more OpEd pieces in between. When a post comes out as a good essay... bliss!

7:51 AM  

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