In his book The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker (who also wrote The Mezzanine, which I’ve mentioned before), creates Paul Chowder, a poet who is compiling an anthology. Near the beginning there is a brilliant sequence of how Paul goes about choosing his favorite poems. He realizes that the good poems really have only one excellent part, one stanza or even one line. Then, within that line, there is really only one great couplet or a special word, standing above the other words. He distills the poems, choosing his favorite word per poem and per author. Finally, however, he is only left with a bunch of words, with little meaning, far removed from their original context (I’m not doing the chapter justice since here I’m distilling it myself, so please read or listen to it, the audiobook is fantastic since it’s read by Baker himself, which gives more subtleness to the exclamations, pauses, chuckles).
So, I wanted to use the “Baker poem breakdown” idea on my blogs. The other day I realized that I’ve completed 50 blog entries, and I thought I should do something about that, review them or distill them, see if I could make an interesting conclusions.
What did I do?
I went back and re-read each blog and tried to summarize them. Actually, before that, I went through and made a table of how many visits each blog had received (Table 1). The most visited was “Three years of using 750 words”, probably since it is about a tool that many other people use, and because I spent an inordinate amount of time on the graphs (i.e., people do judge a blog by its cover). I tweeted the link to Buster and Kelianne (makers of 750words.com) and they put the link to the 750facebook page, which now has boosted traffic by about 2-5 visits per day. I also tweeted BJ Fogg, who helped me out with his interesting habit course, and he nicely retweeted. Tweet tweet, visit visit, small endorphin rush.
Table 1. Summary of the last 50 blogs posted (“blog” means blog post number where the 1st post was uploaded on October 30th, 2014), “title” is my short form title and visits are the total hits received in decreasing order (as of Oct 31st, 2016).
So, I re-read each blog and summarized the main conclusions. I actually did this using 750words.com. Although not the best text editor, I basically would copy the whole blog text into 750words and then chisel away at it, keeping the most interesting parts (kind of morning pages in reverse!). Then, I took that paragraph and distilled it down to one line, which I put into Excel.
As an example, using Blog 2, about a heap of photos, my first summary was: Blog 2. Heap fotos. Picasa and face recognition, index of bodies to faces and ways to recall the past. Not clear if time used to recognize faces is useful. May tell me about people seen per day. Recalling the past by different methods provides different results, more physical (where at, people seen, what eaten, how was weather), more mental (what read, how felt) and more specific moments (lighting, interactions). In Excel that got distilled down to: Blog 2. Heap fotos. Not sure how useful it is to recognize faces.
What did I learn?
Most of my blog posts are a reflection of how I reflect on my life and how I try to capture or log it, life being seen as a series of diverse events in time. I ponder about what and how to log, and how that affects my emotional interpretation of what’s going on.”
After reviewing my blogs, I ended up with about 50 conclusions. Some overlapped a bit and I found I could distill them, “a la Baker”, into about 31 words (Table 2).
Table 2. Summary of all 31 distilled words from the 50 blogs posted.
|coincidence||how to log||not dehumanize|
|combine info||Ideas||peaks and endings|
|curious vs goal||learn||reflect|
|current and past self||outside home||sequence in time|
|disjunctive time||log emotions||shadow of time|
|diversity/variation||memory of events||short/long term|
|double loop||moments unquantifiable||spaced repetition|
|ease of recording||moods||stories|
|environmental nudge||give up||symptom or cause|
|short repetitive events||natural routines||time use|
So what? Well, something can be learned from the overlap among words. The most recurring theme was the “usefulness of it all”, me questioning whether all the effort of journaling, picture taking etc, is worth it. The second most recurring theme was kind of an answer to that first question, I do it all to learn about routines, by reflecting on my use of time, trying to move towards positive emotions or interpretations of all these diverse events.
Looking over the words I found that I could classify them into one of four categories, three related to what, how, and why questions, and then general conclusions about different exercises. The what questions were mostly about what to log, including coincidences, food, ideas, mood, and time use in general. The how questions were about how to best record things and set up methods to reflect about events, combining info from different sources and double looping. The why questions are basically only one, to learn new things.
Finally, the conclusions were more varied, and related to an interpretation of the results of reflection. For example, the recurring question about the usefulness of logging depends on the goal, which can be short or long term or about simply being curious about time use. I spend quite a bit of time being amazed about the “disjunctiveness” of time, and how we try to make it conjunctive. So a big reason behind my logging is to find out more about the diversity and variation of events occurring around me.
Our memories are quite poor, and we are constantly making up things and inventing stories, often only recalling peaks and endings. That may or may not be useful, but we all also have natural routines that build our “habit architecture”, even though we are not always aware of it. It’s hanging out there in the shadow of our minds.