Are We Becoming Cyborgs?

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, October 9, 2014

Because of a pinched nerve I’m having difficulty typing.  Because I want to write, I’m seeking alternatives to a keyboard and computer screen.  This failure to type is revealing something about my current state of being.  My mind and body have adapted to the computer.  When I can’t use the computer, or the Internet is down, I’m anxious, and feel physical withdrawal.  I hate this feeling.  Even though my arm hurts more as I type, I keep typing.  Sort of crazy, isn’t it?

handwriting

I’ve tried dictating, and I’ve tried hand writing, and I’ve discovered I’m lousy at both.  When I was young I could write longhand for hours.  Now I can barely scratch out a few minutes of a childish looking print.  Fifty years of typewriters and word processors have ruined me for that ancient tool – the pen. 

The net is full of stories about the death of penmanship.  I used to think, “So what, we’ve got computers.”  Now I regret those thoughtless words.  My left arm burns, throbs and stings as I type, and I feel like banging on it like  Dr. Strangelove.  

I’ve become a cyborg.  The transformation has snuck up me.  If you think you’re still 100% human, try going without your smartphone for a week.

I realize now I shouldn’t have let myself become so adapted to one way of writing.  My body has integrated with cyberspace, and now I feel handicapped when when I can jack in.  Yet, I know fully well that writers were immensely productive before the 20th century with just pen and paper.  Helen Keller wrote inspiringly without seeing or hearing.

Even if I can get my doctors to fix my neck and arm, I think I need to relearn handwriting and pick up the skill of dictation.  I’ve read about a number of authors who write by talking and they claim its immensely productive.  My ability to speak is better than my handwriting, but not by much. Both are so linear.  My thinking depends on word processing features, spelling checkers, and referencing Wikipedia and Google. I now need the Internet to complete my sentences.

Because I’ve thoroughly aggravated my arm, I need to go rest it a couple hours.

JWH

A New Look

path-through-trees

If you are a regular reader of Auxiliary Memory you’ve notice that things look different.  The URL has been changed to be easier to remember – http://auxiliarymemory.com.  The purpose of the new layout is to make online reading more pleasant, and to simplify the look on smartphones or tablets.  There is one simple menu at the top of the page under the three horizontal line symbol.

My new goal is to write more enjoyable essays to read.  Essays with more content and structure.  This will involve more research and study.  Most readers come to this site because Google directs them here, but I do have a few friends who are regular readers.  Readers from Google are researching a topic.  Now that I’m retired I have more time to study, and this gives me an opportunity prowl the web for fascinating subjects to write about.  This exercises my aging mind and improves my writing skills.  Writing has become my main retirement hobby.

I’ll continue to write biographical pieces, but I want to write less about me.  As I’ve worked to research new subjects I’ve learned that journalism is  stimulating and challenging.  My hit statistics show certain kinds of essays get no hits.  There are many reasons for this.  First, the essay is blather about nothing, so there is nothing for Google to index.  Second, many other people have written about the topic better and Google points to their essays.  Or third, I’ve written about something that no one even bothers to query Google.

Yes, I do have friends and a few subscribers that read whatever I write, and I’m grateful for their encouragement.  To replay their kindness I feel inspired to work harder.  I must write about things that interest me, but the challenge of being a writer requires I be more interesting to others.  The simplicity of my new layout is intended to keep my focus on words and sentences worth reading.

JWH – 9/20/14  

What it Takes Personally to Write My Novel

I woke up early this morning and started fantasizing scenes from the story I hope to make into a novel.  I’ve been writing novels in my head for most of my life, but except for when I’m taking writing courses (with deadlines), I just don’t write fiction.  I should be honest with myself and admit I’m never going to write that novel.

But I can’t.

pugs-00015

All my work life I dreamed of having time to work on my novel, and now that I’m retired and have that time, I don’t.  That should emphatically tell me something too.

But I’m not listening.  I keep thinking I’ll change.  And herein lies the rub.  I need to change!  But can I change?  It will require a metamorphosis not as extreme as Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, but pretty close.  I don’t need to become a six foot bug, but I do need to become something that’s not like me at all.

And the willpower for this change will be greater than even losing the weight to have a healthy body mass index – and I’ve never been able to lose weight either.

I know, I’ve whined about this many times before.  I’m sure I’m boring what few regular readers I have for this blog.  But I keep thinking, this time will be different.  This time I can write something that will convince myself to change.

Do you believe me?  I wouldn’t either.  But should I give up?

After breakfast I sat on my couch and thought about this.  What would it take for me to change?  Without being drastic, without going overboard, I figured all I need to do is alter some of my habits but keep most of them so I won’t freak out.   Currently, I like to write a blog post every morning, and that averages about a 1,000 words.  I’m usually through by noon.

Step one.  From now on I can only write fiction before noon.  I can do anything I want after noon, even write blogs, but before noon, I can only write fiction.  That should give me plenty of time to pursue all my favorite time-wasting activities, so I won’t feel deprived, but enough time to get some novel writing done.

Step two.  I spend most of my reading time reading off the web with Zite, News360 and Flipboard, or reading nonfiction books, or nonfiction from magazines.  All of this nonfiction inspires me to write nonfiction blogs.  I need to read more short stories and novels.  I don’t think I can kick this nonfiction reading habit, but I’ll try to never read nonfiction before 3pm, and spend time after lunch reading and studying fiction.

Step three.  I should only read fiction that I wished I had written.  I need both inspiration and models.  I need to study what I like and figure out how it works.

Step four.  Let’s see if I can stick to these three baby steps until June 1st and see what happens.

p.s.  This means I might be posting fewer blogs.

JWH – 4/26/14

Focus–Finding My Flow

I’ve always been too lazy to be successful.  My ambitions have always been greater than my ability to focus, so I’ve lived a life of quiet desperation (for those of you who remember your Thoreau).  The constant rationalization throughout my adult life was I had to work and thus didn’t have the time and energy to pursue those ambitions.  Of course that’s bullshit.  Successful people always find the time to pursue their dreams no matter what situation they find themselves.  And now that I’m retired and have all my time free, I have no rationalization to protect myself from my own crapola.

A song to play in background while reading this essay.

What’s required to be successful at any goal is focus.  People who can concentrate to the point of getting into the zone and finding their flow have a much better chance at being successful.  However, relentless focus isn’t the only answer, many people on the autistic spectrum can focus obsessively, and just ordinary people with decent hobbies can find flow for escaping reality.  Success is focus, 10,000 hours of practice, and a creative awareness of the past with the ability to imagine something new and different.  Of these three qualities, I believe I have little of the first, a fair amount of the second, and quite a bit of the third. 

My will is flabby, but my ego is buffed.  (I’m sure all us Walter Mittys can say the same.)

An astrologer once told me that there are two kinds of people – those who create and those who consume.  I’ve spent my life consuming thousands and thousands of books, documentaries, essays, stories, songs, movies, television shows, and so on.  This is my 765th essay for this WordPress blog.  In my life I’m sure I’ve written over a thousand essays.  That’s a long way towards my ten thousand hours of practice.  I’ve been working on both fiction and nonfiction books, but I can’t focus enough to stick with them.  I can write these little short blog essays, but that’s about as far as my mind can focus.  To break through my concentration barrier will require changing myself quite a bit.  I don’t even know if that’s possible.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I’ve written this essay before.  I write essays like this one to talk myself into changing, but I never do.  At age 62, change does not come easy.  I’m a man who loves his rut, so it’s odd for me to even desire change.  But I’ve known all my life that if I want to succeed with my writing goals I have to change.  I assume I never will, because I never have, but the desire to write a book never changes either.  It’s an odd Catch-22.  And the funny thing is I know exactly what I must do.  I must give up all my distractions and focus on a single goal.

Like many times before, I have to tell about the parable of Destination Moon, a movie made in 1950 about the first trip to the Moon.  Like Neil Armstrong nineteen years later, these movie astronauts had to do some last minute maneuvering when they went to land, but unfortunately they used too much of their fuel.  They landed okay, but didn’t have enough propellant to take off.  Eventually one of the scientists figures out if they jettison enough weight they’d have enough fuel for the return trip.  They had to throw out all their collected samples, their scientific equipment, their radio, all the unnecessary rocket control instruments, even their space suits.  Getting back to Earth was an all or nothing gamble.  That’s how it is with ambition – you have to jettison all the extra weight to be light enough to take off.

There are writers who published bestsellers by getting up two hours early and writing before they have to hit their nine-to-five job.  I never could do that.  I never could eat just two cookies.  It was always all or nothing with me.  When I read books like The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin that took seven years to write, or The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson which took ten, I realize what it means to be a writer, you have to be dedicated in a way that most normal people never can be.  Wilkerson interviewed 1,200 people.  And the source material Goodwin had to read would have taken me more than seven years just to read.

It’s easy to fantasize about doing something, it’s hard to actually do it.  That’s because success takes unswerving focus.  Last night instead of watching Nature, Survivor, Nova, Nashville and part of The Glass Bottom Boat with Doris Day, I should have been writing, or at least researching.  Yesterday afternoon instead of reading News360 and listening to music, I should have been writing.  Instead of reading Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, I should have been researching.

Sometimes I wish I could just commit to four hours of dedicated work, say from 9am to 1pm.  But I can point to two of my recent blog posts that show you how distracted I am:  “Reading: A Compulsion, An Addiction, Or Obsession?” and  “Too Many Distractions While Running in a Thousand Different Directions.”

Now that I’m retired, and have all my time free, it’s all too obvious just how little discipline I have.  The momentum of my life feels like I’m the Titanic and I see the iceberg, but to change course with all this momentum behind me is impossible.  If I could ever write my first book in my sixties, I’d be the poster geezer for late bloomers.  I still have hope though.  Even the tiniest course changes can affect the destination of a big ship hundreds of miles out.

I  figure if I keep writing these essays nagging myself to change, I just might.

[By the way, did you get the ironic humor of the song?]

JWH – 3/27/14

2014–The Year of the Short Story

Now that I’m retired, I have time to do everything I dreamed of doing, like writing a novel.  Well, novel writing hasn’t worked out like I fantasized.  I keep cranking out thousands of words that go nowhere.  My problem, is I’m building a crappy home before acquiring the skills to even build a good dog house. 

I need to become talented at constructing 1,000 word stories before engineering  a 100,000 word story.

w11_regisboi

The trouble is short stories are a dying art.  Few people read them.  If it wasn’t for would-be writers, I doubt if they’d exist at all.  That’s a shame because short stories are a wonderful art form.

My Zen Habits guru recommends focusing on one goal, and learning how to jettison all the extra weight that keeps my rocket from gaining orbital velocity.  Writing short stories will become my Walden Pond of fiction.

This morning, waking before dawn, I grabbed my Nexus 7 and read “The Ghosts of Christmas” by Paul Cornell, from Year’s Best SF 18, edited by David Hartwell, and was inspired by this science fictional retelling of Dickens’ classic tale.  In ancient days, mystical monks were known for finding revelation in the wee hours studying sacred scrolls.  Reading in the dark by the glow of my Android tablet, I realized I wanted to immerse myself into short stories, and put my mind into a 10,000 word reality.

Goal for 2014:  Develop the habit of reading and writing short stories every day.

JWH – 1/16/14