Recently Russell posted a recording of ‘Ted Hughes on thinking’. It got me thinking. Here’s a brief quote from the beginning, that whilst not really his point, had my mind distracted by other thoughts that were already mingling - which is a point he makes later.
At school I was plagued by the idea that I really had much better thoughts than I could ever get into words. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find the words, or that the thoughts were too deep or too complicated for words. It was simply that when I tried to speak, or write down those thoughts those thoughts had vanished. All I had was a numb blank feeling.
Although technically not at school any more, I am also plagued by this idea. I have pondered other conclusions to this recently and, to follow a theme, am trying to write them down.
One of my New Year Ambitions (for resolutions are too pressured) is to “be more like Phil Gyford”. This is a very specific and personal example of a more broad “improve my writing to make better arguments”. A less obscure example might be to “be more like Steven Fry”, linking to this emotional but unsurprisingly articulate argument for “no” when asked “Is Catholicism a force for good in the world?”. I was in awe at Fry’s ability to tackle a thought that is not only charged with emotion but also so vast in scope that I would have previously given up on rational words to try and convince such a large audience.
Back to my personal example, I have been repeatedly impressed by Phil’s ability to stand by his eloquent and rational writing skills when confronted by arguments made by People Off The Internet. I was annoyed with myself when I lost mini debates on the few things we disagreed with when working together on the Mag+ project - my emotions bruised as I retired them after realising they will not help me against such accuracy.
My respect for these skills turned into desire for these skills after another surge of frustration with failing to be able to properly express myself to the many different people who read my publishings on the internet. Having 800 people following you on Twitter is good for the ego but frustrating for someone like me who lacks the skills to articulate to them all at once.
It is obvious to say that speaking with one or two people in the pub is very different to writing to 800 different people on the internet. I am very practiced at the former and would put a great deal of the successes in my life down to my skills in that area. That has however allowed me to be pretty lazy with my thoughts. A thought can grow in the internals of my mind, leapfrogging challenges that I deem uninteresting or just plain wrong. It can then just sit there, being an unarticulated part of who I am and how I think other thoughts. I only need to air it when it finds itself relevant to a conversation I am having with someone I think has the same disinterest or opinions of the matter as me. This is to articulating as observational humour is to art. Or like a columnist.
I dislike columnists. Their skill seems to only convince the reader something they were already convinced of. They provide words to thoughts, but only to those who share the same disinterests and opinions of the readership. Maybe I dislike it because I recognise it in myself, although I often find it’s better for me to hide such writing behind obscurity so that those who disagree simply don’t understand. But then I find myself pompous rather than controversial. I’d much rather be Gyford.
This is why I was quite proud of my TechHub and Silicon Roundabout post. It is about an obscure and specific subject that I am well positioned to write about, but it was a good place to start. I could have brushed past questions and arguments against my thoughts in eagerness to get those who already agreed nodding their heads. But, according to Phil Gyford himself, I was “on good form”.
And, at the point of praising myself, I shall end. I am finding my impatience at my own writing is eating the interest of the thought itself. It has taken me almost 2 hours to write this - getting quicker would probably help.