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Collecting Experiences

18 July 2014

Is the market truly choked with addiction memoirs? Can I cram one more salty snack into America’s slack-jawed gullet? I want to write a book. I want to write a book the same way I want to write a symphony. It’s not so much that I want to share something so much. It’s that I want, at the end of my life, to look back and be able to reflect on the experience of writing a book, and a symphony. Apparently, in the symphony’s case, I want it enough to write two-and-a-half movements. I wonder if I’d have the wherewithal to actually finish a book. Or if I’d end up with a half-finished block of paper.

When I write here, I sit down and write, generally with no agenda, and with little concern for quantity or quality. There’s no editing. There’s no investment. If what I write isn’t any good, well, it’s gone in a few days, down the memory hole. Sure, it’s still there to find for someone with some interest and intent, but for the most part, with the exception of a few posts of lingering interest, once something is off the front page, it’s gone forever.

And of course, books are the same way. It’s a rare exception that a book is of any interest longer than a few years, at the most. I have no illusions that I could end up writing a major work of lasting interest. Just like I have no hope of writing a great symphony that would be performed, well, ever. What I want is the experience. I’m a collector. I want to have had the experience of creating these things.

I wonder sometimes if I don’t look at my career the same way. I collect things. I collected degrees. I’ve now had the experience of publishing in reasonably well-respected academic journals. Of writing and being principal investigator of federal grants. Of conceiving science from idea to grant-writing to funding to research to result to publication. I’ve worked for famous institutions and been praised for my efforts there. I’m happy with that. Maybe soon it will be time for me to look for new experiences to collect, professionally.

I travel much the same way, collecting new countries. For the first time in a long time, my last (England), and next few trips will be to places I’ve been before. BB and I are going to return to Bermuda for a short vacation later this year. For our big trip next spring, we’re thinking of Europe. There aren’t many countries in Europe I haven’t been to. And I’m excited to go back, because it’s exciting to see things through new eyes, and because there is so much of so many countries that I haven’t seen, even if I have set foot to soil before.

So I want to write a book. I wonder if I will. I wonder what it would be about. There’s something so peculiar about trying to take a whole world of narrative and experience and inscribe it onto paper, where it can be neatly contained in strangely aperiodic inscriptions. Closed up and forgotten. A massive experience, translated to carefully arranged, dried-up pools of ink on a film of dead, pulverized cellulose.

But I don’t know how to write a book. And I don’t know how to sell one. Just like I don’t know much about symphonies. Chances are, my life’s published output will be a few dozen pages of journal articles. Which is great! I’m proud of those. But sometimes I think I’d like to write a book that people would read for the pleasure of reading, instead of to figure out how to improve their hospital.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimee permalink
    18 July 2014 10:30

    For years ive been wanting to write a book about my experience with Mexico, and about how Homero and i navigated the system to get married. During my year in Oaxaca, i actually began actively trying to write this book. I made an outline. I wrote and wrote, and i collected previous writings. I tries to wrestle this mass i to some sort of shape. It was really hard. I gave up after eight or nine months. Now i have about two hundred pages of semi-related musings in no particular order on a hard drive in a closet. Im sure you’ll do better 🙂

  2. Syd permalink
    18 July 2014 21:17

    I used to want to write a book about living with alcoholism, but now I don’t feel driven to do that. In fact, I don’t feel driven to pour my heart out much anymore. I have weathered a lot of personal crises that brought me sadness and yet, somehow, time has healed the pain. Without pain and angst and drive, the creative juices simply don’t flow for me. So I am okay with my pages in journals, and the book I edited. I simply am just content now with not having to collect anything else.

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