Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Urge To Write What Everybody Else Writes

What's that sound? The sound of spring in the air? Chirping birds and lawnmowers, the dulcet mating cries of frat boys fresh from school ("HEY BRO, WATCHA GAME, WATCHA GAME?! CHECK MY GUNS, ED HARDY BITCH!")? Is it the sound of traffic, minivans carrying families from the burbs to beachier places far from here? Is it children playing outside, getting into friendly tussles involving bullets and invisible force fields, werewolves and vampires? Is it that damn ice cream truck which rolls by precisely 3.6 minutes into my late afternoon nap every damn time I try to sleep?

Hell, no, this is the sound of me not getting much writing done this week. Maybe that other stuff, too.

This time of year always tosses a monkey wrench into my motivation levels, and this year more than most due to the previously aforementioned process of reconfiguring my gray matter and finances to a more retirement-boosting-friendly configuration. That's going pretty well, thank you very much. My company's accountant thinks I'm nuts, but it'll make sense later, I promise.

Anywho.

I was sitting around, brainstorming fun ideas for blogging and decided it had been a while since I'd talked about my Grand Theory Of Boring And Consistent Progress, which I've mentioned before. It's my favorite approach to just about anything, turning any goal into a process of tiny daily steps. It makes for really boring progress reports when friends ask you what's up, but is usually worth it in the end. And everyone is always really surprised when you hit the finish line. They ask you how you did it, assuming there was a training montage or blind cosmic luck, or good genetics or you were born into an awesome family or something (I was, but that's besides the point).

They're always disappointed when you tell them the truth: boring and consistent hard work, over a long period of time. It's what it always boils down to in the end. Even lucky breaks tend not to be so lucky if you look into the circumstances leading up to them.

I was going to write about that. Excellent idea for a blog entry, worthy fodder for my usual bloviation.

Then I loaded up my news reader. Basically, everybody in the world decided to write about that today. They didn't have my apartment bugged. They didn't prompt me to think about it. I doubt any of these guys were influenced by the other. It was just a zeitgeist thing, I think.

One of the cool things about having a decent newsreader (I use feed.ly) is subscribing to a shit-ton of different feeds. Shit-ton, that's the correct work for multiple feeds, naturally. It's like a murder of crows, a keg of fratboys, a cacophany of writers, etc. Anyway, you have enough feeds, you can actually track how news spreads. Memes spin out from a starting point, which you may or may not have access to initially. One blogger thinks up an interesting spin on something, the other bloggers pick it up or riff on it, do it better, do it worse, do it different or just flat-out fucking plagiarize each other. It's all good. Pretty soon it spins out as far as it will go, usually dying somewhere on Lifehacker.

My absolute favorite, though, are science articles. They go through generations, you see. NASA might release the results of a CERN study which analyzed a colossal stack of data produced by crushing many tiny particles into hard radiation and analyzing the resulting flood of exotic subparticles and wave-forms. They point out a strange peak which might suggest some interesting new angle to super-symmetry, or at the very least a direction to follow up in closer detail. That's as far as NASA is usually willing to speculate.

Cue the science writers. They speculate it's a new particle. Maybe it's the fabled Plaid Gluon or its lesser-known brother, the Taupe Anti-Meson. The science sites release the article, with a byline designed to get attention (CERN DISCOVERS POSSIBLE SHATNERON-B PARTICLE). Then the geek sites link to it, summarizing the interesting parts, which is usually the particle that the CERN researchers didn't say anything about (PLAID GLUON WILL MAKE YOUR CELLPHONE FASTER).

Then the main stream Gosh-Ain't-Science-Cool sites pick it up, exaggerating the exaggerated byline (TAUPE ANTI-MESON WILL MAKE YOUR WANG LONGER AND FUEL YOUR NEXT CELLPHONE). Finally, by the time the sites your parents read have read it, Jesus has come back to the Earth with a rail gun which fires the damn things, chiseling deep trenches through mountain ranges. Badgers and snow-cones may also be involved, I dunno. At least four people will meme it and clutter your news feed. Fox News will turn down the opportunity to cover the story because it's too scientific and confusing to their core audience of really old people and younger people who are mentally really old.

And then two days later, it's completely forgotten in favorite of the new shiny.

As much as I sometimes find myself disliking flooding my brain with mostly-useless noise like that, it makes for a fun spectator sport. Except when it pops a cork into what I was planning to write about. Damn it.

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