On Unfulfilled and Undirected Potential


I have a cellular phone. I carry it with me whenever I leave the house for more than checking the mail or running downstairs to the laundry room. The great irony is that I don’t talk to anyone. I have a communications device undreamt of a generation ago. I have the capability of being in contact with any of billions of people in just a few moments. I pay monthly for this privilege, and I barely use it at all. The technology, the capability, the potential is mind-boggling when you stop to consider it. But what good is that capability when you’ve got nothing to say, and no one to say it to?

What good is the skill of writing if you’ve got nothing to write and no one to write it for?

One of the challenges facing a man who fancies himself a writer.

“And I sing this for the captain
Whose ship has not been built
For the mother in confusion
Her cradle still unfilled 

For the heart with no companion
For the soul without a king
For the prima ballerina
Who cannot dance to anything”


-From “Heart With No Companion” by Leonard Cohen

On Poetry and Slavery to Rebellion

My poetry lacks, and I think I unraveled part of the riddle this afternoon. Ultimately, I am a scientist, not a poet. In English today, we discussed connotative words versus denotative words. I tend to use denotative words. I describe things in terms of form and function, I use plain descriptive language and I tend to use communication as a tool, not as a toy. My style lends itself well to prose, but leaves poetry flat and dull. I write objectively; poetry is subjective.

I wonder how much of this shaping of my personality is my own fault. I’ve spent so long working to ensure that I am not ruled by my emotions that I think they’ve all but disappeared. I’ve rebelled against them so long that my life is based more on that rebellion than anything else. Garrison Keillor wrote of a similar concept in the “95 Theses 95” footnote in his novel _Lake_Wobegone_Days_. “75. I wasted years in diametrical opposition, thinking you were completely mistaken, and wound up living a life based more on yours than if I’d stayed home.” How true, how true.

So. As I asked last week in a rambling on a similar topic, where do I go from here?

I Fancy Myself a Writer

More and more since returning to school last Monday, I fancy myself a writer.

Why “I fancy myself a writer”? Why not simply, “I am a writer”? I chose the words I did because there’s a great deal of hubris required to call oneself a writer when one writes as little as I do. More than the average person, perhaps, but not nearly “enough” to be a writer, if indeed there is such a thing. Still, I have this idealized picture of myself in my mind, a version of me indefinably but perceptibly superior. I see Writer Dave, and he looks as I do now, but there’s a certain confidence about him that I lack, a certain wisdom, a certain peace, and a good deal more depth of thought and action. He’s less rash, and perhaps less jovial, but wittier to make up for it. He has read infinitely more than I have, and written a great deal more, as well. His insight boggles the mind, as does his empathy. He is able to read people and help them to feel more comfortable with themselves, more confident, happier… more like him. He understands them, and they trust him. He’s never out-of-place, out of his element, stuck for something (the right thing) to say. He approaches learning opportunities with a tempered enthusiasm. He talks to people just to learn about them, hear a fresh voice, a new perspective, get a window into a different life. He’s also a linguist, and a translator, and can talk to many people in their native tongues (Spanish and a couple of dialects of Chinese top his list of known languages). He observes, as I do, but his perception runs deeper. He is educated in many fields, and can converse intelligently on many topics. He’s been published. Perhaps poetry, perhaps fiction, perhaps technical writing, DEFINITELY non-technical writing. He has an aura of contentment without arrogant self-satisfacton. He knows love not as a casual acquaintance but as a life-long friend and ally. He is, ultimately, who I want to be. Who I *thought* I would be.

I fancy myself a writer.

Bits and Pieces on a Good-Mood Day

I’ve just come from my Physical Geography class. It looks to me like it’ll have a fairly strong speculative aspect to it, which is good, because that’ll help me in adapting the concepts to the world in my D&D game.

My visit to the Foothill Career Center this morning seemed productive, and I hope that the leads it generated land me a job. I got an overview of the jobseeking tools provided by the career center and contact info for a few more people, including one gentleman at De Anza who runs a “school for the laid-off” program. I might be able to get paid to go to school, an opportunity I would likely jump at.

Likewise, my visit to the health office was helpful. the cold medicine they gave me has restored my nose to working order, at least for the time being.

So I guess I’m having a good day so far.

You may have noticed that my Ramblings page has taken on a more livejournal-like quality. This is a result of my new policy of writing regardless of whether I have anything to say. Feedback is welcome, as I’m curious whether the increased frequency is worth the decreased quality. As always, suggestions will be considered, but there’s no guarantee I’ll act on them, even in the face of overwhelming public demand.

There are things I should be doing right now, but I prefer to write, so on to other topics…

Financial institutions. Am I the only one who is frustrated nearly to the point of a postal outburst by financial institutions? When are these people going to catch up with the times? If bank technologies advanced half a century overnight, they’d still find themselves firmly entrenched in the 1980’s. Everything is online now, everything is electronic, everything should be fast. Why, oh WHY does it take FOUR DAYS to do a simple funds transfer online? When you compound this with the fact that moving funds from one bank to another online requires an intermediary, and the automated computer systems apparently get the weekends off (?!), it takes TWO WEEKS to pay off my credit card bill so I can buy books for school. This is RIDICULOUS. We live in the INFORMATION AGE, people! Get it through your heads: Pony Express is DEAD! Stop using smoke signals and carrier pigeons! When I need money in one bank instead of another, I shouldn’t have to spend half a month juggling accounts in order to do it without paperwork! Jeezus!

Okay, I think that’s enough ranting on that topic for the moment. I’m a bit more annoyed about this than usual, since waiting for funds transfers is threatening to impact my grades, but this has long been a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes I’m convinced I’d be better off shoving wads of cash into my mattress.

I’d like to take this moment to be grateful that my head no longer aches like it did last night. I went to bed at two and found that I couldn’t sleep because my head hurt. When I sat up, it felt better, so I moved to the living room and slept sitting up on the couch for an hour and a half. Then I woke up and moved back to my room, close enough to sleep that I was able to drop off again without giving my head time to start hurting. 🙂 Luckily, I think I’m getting over this cold, and it’ll only get better from here.

Okay, I think that’s a sufficient quantity of deranged ranting. Time to work on a different form for a bit.

On the Misnomerhood of “Total Immersion”

I’ve heard that one of the quickest ways to learn a new language is total immersion. I agree, though my definition is likely different. How many native speakers do you think exist in an environment of TOTAL IMMERSION? Not many, I’d wager. Most people don’t immerse themselves, or even think about language much at all. Most people merely learn what they need to to get by (if that) and then stop there. Tell me, how is this total immersion?

Writing for Writing’s Sake

They say that if you want to be a good writer, you have to read, read, read, and write, write, write. I seem to recall… Hold that thought.

We interrupt this rambling to bring you an account of what interrupted the writing….As I sit and type, music fills the air. I look up, across the cafeteria, and I see that someone is playing the simple wooden piano on the back wall. An Asian girl in a denim jacket is playing a beautiful, floating, classical melody where just moments before she’d been sitting on the bench chatting with a friend. I’m enchanted by the melody, sweet and unexpected. I look briefly around the room, noting the others still present so late in the day: three friends of the piano player and a woman in a hot pink vest with a dayplanner and a cell phone. The girl’s friends go on with their conversation and studying, and the woman with the cell phone goes on scheduling various appointments. I return my attention to the piano player, and listen with rapt attention until the melody concludes. She turns around and I smile, but she just turns and walks to the microwave, backpack in hand. I return to my writing, but after a short time, one of the original player’s friends takes a turn at the piano…

Ahem. I seem to recall one of my favorite authors (‘though I can’t for the life of me remember which one) saying that he advised writing for at least an hour every single day at the same time. A scheduled hour practicing your craft. If you have nothing to say, say it anyway, brainstorm, write SOMETHING, even if it’s crap, just to get something on the page and time on the clock. Likewise, my English 1B instructor, Mr. Berthiaume, says that it’s important to write a lot, because if you write a lot, you can throw away the crap and just keep the good stuff. If you don’t write much, you have to keep the crap. 80% of writing, he says, is re-writing. I don’t know if I agree with that last bit, because if it’s true, I’ve never gone beyond 20% of writing. I’m somewhat concerned about what kind of grades I’ll get on my essays in his class. He allows re-writes, which is a plus, if I go to the effort. With English 1B on top of Physical Geography, though, somehow I doubt that I will.

I am, however, planning to write just for the sake of writing during free time at school and on the bus, and post my ramblings, so there should be a dramatic increase in the volume on this section of the site some time soon. Maybe I’ll work on some of the other sections of the site, too, such as my Profile or my Writings. I’d like to do some poetry; maybe next time I get the opportunity to take classes I should see if there’s one on composition of poetry. I’d love to focus on the technical aspects of it (there’s that soullessness peeking through) and study poetic forms.

What should I write? Email me ideas at gwythinn (at) gmail (dot) com. You can suggest whatever you like: form, subject, title, character, setting, theme, anything. I’ll use what I like and ignore the rest.

On the Difficulty of Writing Without a Soul

“I think college teaches you techniques and skills, et cetera. And, uh, it teaches you something about the, the craft of writing, but art has to be alive, has to have life in it, and college does not teach you anything about that. It seems to me I have a poem and one line is, ‘This is a poem,’ uh, ‘This is about one human heart.’ And it seems to me that poetry, to live, has to come out of lived human hearts.”

-Lucille Clifton in “The Power of the Word, part 6”

When people see this site of mine, they often complement the writing. They tell me they enjoyed reading what I have written, and that I should write more, and have I considered being a writer? I always respond to this in the same way: I’ve considered it, but I don’t really have anything to say that I think people would pay to read. My cousin told me that I write very well, but there’s no passion in my writing. She’s right, there isn’t. There’s very little passion in me, and the writing reflects that. But like Lucille Clifton says, college doesn’t teach you anything about that.

I’m writing this at school, in the library, second floor. I’m in college. I’m taking English 1B. I want to improve my writing. A couple of years ago, I took a course on Professional Writing Skills. I got an A. But what do I do with that? What good are professional writing skills when there’s nothing I’m dying to say? Maybe I’m in the wrong place. I’m working on my the craft of writing, when I should be working on the life. “College does not teach you anything about that.” But where do I go to learn?

Well, I suppose maybe college *does* teach you something about that, after all. If it weren’t for my English class, I wouldn’t even be thinking about this right now. I wonder, though, if college can answer the question it exposed. If I want to be a writer, I have to have something to write about. How do I add vibrance to my life so that I’ll have something vibrant to write about?

On a side-note, I think that frequent sabbaticals from working life (say, one quarter of every year?) to take some classes would benefit me greatly. Keep me thinking, help to stave off mentropy, and get me some time away from The Machine. Or perhaps, if I strike it rich, I can get a summer home in the mountains and get away from it all for a while every year.

Maybe I should have gone away to college, seen other places, how people are somewhere else. I don’t know. Is it too late? Perhaps. Not in terms of logistics, but in terms of me.

I’m off to see about applying for a job as a time traveller.

On Curmudgeonhood

I think that, at heart, I’m a grumpy old man. My peers hated me when I was a child; perhaps they knew that there was something a bit unusual about me, that I wasn’t a kid. I was a grumpy old man. I always got along better with adults when I was a child than I did with those of my own age. No patience for youth. I’d be more comfortable, even now, waving my cane and grousing about “those damn kids” and “youngsters today” and “you young punks” than acting like a member of my peer group. Of course, this is an unpleasant attitude to have growing up, mainly because of the responses it draws from others. Now that I’m out of high school, I get along better with my own age group. Nonetheless, I still feel like an old man, wondering at the impetuousness and audacity of teens an twenty-somethings.

Oh well. I suppose, given thirty or forty years, I’ll grow into it. :>

On Returning to Academics

I started school today. In the wake of an increasingly frustrating job market, I’ve decided that it’s time to start doing something productive. If I can’t get paid for the skills I already have, I might as well pick up some new ones in the mean time. So I’ve enrolled in classes at Foothill College, some two hours’ bus ride away from home, but a place that is, in itself, a home of sorts to me.

I’m taking Physical Geography (well, retaking, technically), English 1B, Introduction to UNIX (which is a bit of a joke, given that you’re probably reading this off of a website hosted on the Linux box I installed and maintain as a network server), and Lifetime Wellness, which is a rather pretentious name for weightlifting. The instructors seem knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and the course materials seem interesting. Unfortunately, the bookstore lines are longer than I remember, and the campus buildings have all been renumbered, so I’m having to re-familiarize myself with room numbers. I’ve got an odd sense of nostalgia, coming back after having been away for so long. It’s always a triumph when I remember where something is. Today I rediscovered the computer lab I used to go to. Perhaps I can start updating from school. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a tough quarter, as both the Geography and English classes seem to be very intensive. I expected this for the Geography class, as I’ve taken it before (ahem), but it looks like we’re going to be going through several whole books in the English course. Oh well, we’ll see how it goes.

There aren’t many people left on campus that I recognize; I guess most of the folks I knew have moved on. It sure is strange not seeing the same old familiar faces in the cafeteria before class. *sigh* It’ll be difficult for me, not having a tightly-knit group anymore like Middle College was. I still miss that, and I doubt I’ll ever find an academic situation like it again.

In other news, I may be moving to Sunnyvale or Mountain View soon, which would be a big improvement over Campbell. My dad and I are looking to buy a mobile home. That would put me a lot closer to school, a lot closer to where I want to work, a lot closer to my friends, and a lot closer to the public transit that I need. In addition, it’d probably be cheaper, and the expense would be building equity instead of draining my savings for short-term survival with no long-term payoff.

That’s all for now.