“If I have a mission … and this might sound not exactly what you expect of people, but again, ask any writer and, on this note, nobody’ll tell you anything different … I write those essays for myself — any good writer has to. That is, of course I want to facilitate learning … it’s great, but I think if you did it only because you felt some desire to impart something to other folks [and] you weren’t doing it out of some deeply internal need, you could only do it for a while — once you got the success, there wouldn’t be an impetus anymore. I think any decent writer writes because there’s some deep internal need to keep learning.” Stephen Jay Gould
I’ve been thinking a lot about why I do what I do. What drives me. What I want to experience most in my life and create with my work.
I know I am drawn to explore, whether new lands, new people, new ideas. And especially to explore the deep questions, about the very nature of life itself. You’d laugh to see me sometimes, actually dancing around my living room with excitement when some passage in a book or blog sets off a new light of insight in my brain. There is something in me, once it has glimpsed such an insight, to want to share it.
For this I need to try to capture it in the right words and images. I am particularly fond of metaphor and analogy, because the mind learns easiest when it can move from concrete to abstract, from familiar to unfamiliar, from known to unknown. The metaphor provides a familiar image that is easy to visualize, the properties of which are somewhat familiar. The trick then is to point out some aspect of the image that has been previously unnoticed or overlooked, but when viewed closely can add a whole new dimension to the picture and the story it tells. Much like a detective entering the scene of a crime might notice an item out of place that casts new light on the case. Metaphor comes from the Greek and means to transfer. So the point is to take the new insight that happens in the fairly concrete world of the visual imagination, and transfer it an analogous abstract concept.
All this is to say that like any decent writer, I write because I have some deep internal need to keep exploring and learning. And I don’t want to go or learn alone.
Three morals in this story:
1. I write these blog posts for myself.
2. If you aren’t acting out of some deep internal need, it’s hard to sustain over time.
3. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Greeks for inventing such an expressive language.
Yours with creativity and imagination,
p.s. Shout out to Maria Popova at Brain Pickings for the article on Stephen Jay Gould that inspired this post. And to the Inspector Morse detective series I’ve been watching in the evenings, for the analogy.