To the ubiquitous question asked at wedding receptions, cocktail parties, Church, and literally everywhere we’re forcecd to talk to someone we don’t already know, we all answer in pretty much the same way. “What do you do?” may as well be said, “What do you do to earn money?”
If I forget about that for a second, and answer more literally, I do a lot of things.
I build fences.
I hang out with my wife.
I take care of my dogs.
I spend a ridiculous amount of time laying down trying to avoid doing anything productive.
I eat food. I then poop it out.
I talk to strangers about what I do and give far more literal answers than they were looking for.
I have a better qeustion.
What do you do with new information?
I’d love to know.
Myself? I ask more questions, but it’s never that simple.
The problem is I am rarely satisfied with incomplete answers: nuance creeps its way into every opinion I have, if by the end of my process it can still be called an opinion.
And that’s why . . .
I have little for you but questions, at this point. I process new information by writing, but by writing privately first.
Letting it ferment
One of the books sitting on my “Favorites Of All Time” shelf is Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck. In it, he takes a three month trip around the United States in order to understand America again. It’s fantastic.
He, like me, brings too many things he knows he won’t use.
“I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters. I took paper, carbon, typewriter, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaires, a compact encyclopedia, and dozen other reference books, heavy ones. I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless. I knew very well that I rarely make notes, and if I do I either lose them or can’t read them. I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment. I must do what a friend calls “mule it over” for a time before it goes down. And in spite of this self-knowledge I equipped Rocinante with enough writing material to take care of ten volumes.”
This trip to Nicaragua has brought the curiosity I’m used to, but a much greater reluctance to come to conclusions. I have a separate notebook for each trip, each filled with thoughts and questions and profiles of the people I meet. This trip’s book is the same, but it holds few conclusions. If there is one conclusion I’m happy making it is that poverty is complex and solutions are incredibly difficult to come by.
I’ve had the pleasure of being forced to make decisions about programs to begin, and in that decision-making process I’ve had to refine my philosophy toward philanthropy. I’m excited to relay those thoughts, and the results of those thoughts, but can’t do so yet.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be “muling it over,” and making sure I don’t let too much time pass so this trip falls into the shadowland of memory, so I can continue to ask questions about the things I saw and learned.
To do that, I have to write. To think clearly, I have to write privately, for myself. Once I’ve dealt with the issues enough privately, I’ll be able to publish them publicly, receive feedback, and further adjust my views in response to what you all have to say.
That is my process: writing to myself first, and then to you, and then back to myself again.
I am a Writer, dear reader, but not yet to you. We have so much to talk about, and I hope we’ll be able to do that soon.
I kind of missed the point at the end of this article, which is perfect because it illustrates what my process is. It’s not always true that I don’t come to conlusions. Without temporarily accepting an idea, it’s hard to test it.
Writing helps me express temporary conclusions, then balance those conclusions with opposing thoughts, and eventually, perhaps, come to some clarity.
Phase 1: write to myself
Phase 2: wait some time, then write to myself some more. Edit, refine.
Phase 3: write to others
Phase 4: receive feedback, further explore ideas I missed.
I’m a Writer because I wouldn’t process information nearly as well without the four steps of this process. That’s why blogging is important to me. #3 creates a challenge to think things through clearly in #2, and the existence of #4 helps me learn from others perspectives and find more to write about.
The trick is in the waiting. If I post early, I’ll often wake up the next morning and think, “Well that wasn’t very true, was it?” If I wait too long, I lose the energy of the idea, and it all fizzles incomplete.