Blind Spots

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I was inspired to write this post after reading Nannus’ Turning the Other Way which explains what blind spots are and how they apply to all thinking. It’s directed toward everyone, artists and non-artists alike. It’s beautifully written and a quick read, so please check it out first. It might inspire you to take a stroll down an oft-neglected path.

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I thought I might apply his insights to writing and its connection to our sphere of attention in everyday life.

I’ve become aware of systemic problems in my fiction writing through my writing group. These friends constantly and unanimously tell me that I need to include more visual descriptions. Not only that, but I have a tendency to mess up time in such a way that one would have to posit parallel universes in order to make sense of what I’ve written. (And I don’t write Sci-Fi, so this is truly problematic.)

Now that I’m working on the second draft of my novel, I’m forced to face these annoying details head on.

But wait. Are these just annoying details? Or is there a greater problem here?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized why I keep having these same problems over and over:

Your blind spots in writing are your blind spots in real life.

They say you should write what you know, but if you’re not a great observer, your writing is going to reflect that.

I am not a great observer. I don’t pay a lot of attention to visual details like what the room looks like, etc. Not unless something really strikes me as out of place.

For example, I get annoyed when people interrupt a conversation to point out some object in the background, or something someone is wearing, or whatever, and I think, “Are you listening to me?” It’s because I don’t pay great attention to those things I can’t imagine such a detail trumping the words that come out of their mouths. I usually come away from such people feeling like a very boring person. Maybe I am, or—and I hope this is true—maybe I’m just not as attuned to these things as other people are.

Which explains why dialogue is the easiest for me to write. It’s what I pay attention to in life. Other people find describing a room or a landscape very easy, but have a hard time coming up with “things to say” for their characters.

Of course, I would object that you can’t just tack on dialogue. It has to be integrated into the story and the character. You don’t just make up filler because you know your character should probably say something at some point.

Yet what have I been doing with visual descriptions? Tacking them on. So imagine:

So and so has blue eyes and brown hair.

I hope I’m not the only one who finds this boring. This is the kind of stuff I gloss over when I’m reading a novel. Too many of those kinds of lines will make me stop reading.

No more tacking on. I have to go out into the world and pay attention, I have to force myself to focus on things I’m not used to. That means I have to select the appropriate and relevant details, and see their meaning. I need to clue myself into visual details that in themselves tell a story.

What stories am I missing in life? Is life really a Platonic dialogue? No, this is just the way I’ve been seeing it—and this excludes of a lot of potentially interesting things.

I have to learn to pay attention to my real life blind spots or else my writing will not feel true. This requires expanding my horizon of attention, and I don’t suspect this will be an easy feat.

(Not unless I find myself stuck at a dinner party chatting with someone boring.)

Are you aware of your blind spots? What are they?

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Health Update

So I just wanted to post a quick update on the results of the MRI…

I’m okay! No brain tumor, no MS!

(And yes, I did just pass up the opportunity to say, It’s not a toomah, a la Arnold.)

A lot of you know that I have been dealing with constant dizziness for months now. I’m finally at the end of all the tests to figure out what’s wrong with me.

Now they’re sending me to the balance clinic to retrain my brain (of which I was hoping they’d send me a picture, but they have not). They’ve ruled out everything else, so the default diagnosis is that it’s some kind of virus that has affected the inner ear. This feels kind of like when the doc says, “It’s inflammation”—who knows what that really means.

In any case, I’m eager to get on with it. I’m publicly declaring that I will be good about doing whatever tedious exercises they throw my way. Hold me to that.

Versatile Blogger Award

versatilebloggeraward

Rules:

Show the award on your blog

Thank the person who nominated you

Share seven facts about yourself

Nominate 15 blogs

Link your nominees and let them know

Many thanks to On the Edge of Enlightenment for nominating me for this award.  I thought it would be great opportunity to show my appreciation to you, whether you choose to participate or not:

1  Linnet Moss

2  Hariod Brawn at Contentedness

3  Nannus at The Asifoscope

4  Erikleo: All things creative

5  bloggingisaresponsibility

6  Mike Smith at Self Aware Patterns

7  Wyrd Smythe at Logos con carne

8  Malcom Greenhill at Malcom’s Corner

9  NicholasRossis

10  thinkingliketheancients

11  Michelle Joelle at Stories & Soliloquies

12  Johan at jmeqvist

13  Howie at truthiselusive

14  Steve Morris at Blog Blogger Bloggest

15  kevinsterne

15  bengarrido

15  Millie Ho

15  ratmancue0 at aspiretofindtruth

15  arkenaten at ataleuntold

15  ausomeawestin

15  And of course TheLeatherLibrary

 

And now the seven facts about me:

1  I never break the rules. 🙂

2  I started this blog very reluctantly and only because I thought I needed it to gather an audience for this novel I’m working on. But since I’ve started, I feel I have made new friends. I never anticipated I would enjoy this so much.

3  I’m half-Korean, but I’ve never been to Korea, I don’t speak Korean and I really don’t care for kimchi (the real stuff smells like a rotting animal corpse). Culturally, the only Korean thing about me is that I take my shoes off when I come into a house and can’t seem to throw away things like yogurt containers (hey, that’s free Tupperware.)

4   I prefer informal gatherings involving paper plates and dirty jokes to formal dinner parties with “intellectual discussion.”

5  I love karaoke and dancing. I’m actually a pretty silly person, but most of the time I don’t show it. This is my chance to show it. In public.

6  I love being in my 30’s. I never did any of #5 in my early 20’s, which is when most people do those things. Who knows what future decades will bring? The older I get, the more these ridiculous inhibitions fall away and the happier I am.

7  It’s a good thing I’m on my last fact because I’m starting to run out of ideas. Well…I started roasting my own coffee. I was using a popcorn popper to do it, but now I have an actual coffee roaster. (The popcorn popper thing is not the way to go because you can’t control the heat and timing.) There’s really nothing like coffee that’s properly roasted and fresh. If you’re interested in doing the same, check out Sweet Maria’s.

Stoicism in my Toolbox

We like to think of philosophy as a worldview or a quest for truth, but I’d like to offer an alternative view—philosophy is a toolbox. We can pick out some specific philosophy for some specific purpose and use it to fix things.Unknown

To be clear, this toolbox metaphor is not meant to replace that quest for truth, nor do I mean to suggest that “everything’s relative” and so we can just wear a particular philosophy until we get bored with it. I’m still on the hunt for my philosophy, and I’m probably operating under some provisional Weltanschauung (if there is such a thing), but in the meantime, we needn’t entirely dismiss certain philosophies that fail in some regard. They might not encompass the whole truth, but they can nevertheless be useful in specific cases where the ordinary failings of that philosophy no longer apply.

This is all another way of saying let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

I can sense the objections already. Just hear me out, keeping in mind that I’m talking about very unusual circumstances.

Using philosophy as a toolbox occurred to me for the first time in the recent past when I found myself in an unusual situation that rendered a particular philosophy I don’t generally buy into useful in that situation. I could either use that philosophy or have no way of making a decision, which would in itself be a decision, and a bad one. I don’t want to get into the specifics of that case because it was pretty emotional and I don’t want to relive that. Instead I’ll focus on my current case.

I thought of this blog post after having a conversation with Mike Smith at Self Aware Patterns. I told him about my current problem with lightheadedness and how the primary care doctor sent me on my way after mentioning, “It might be a brain tumor.” I told him about a particular philosophy that helped calm my nerves.

Everything was going fine for a while. I had the situation under control. Later I went to the neurologist who told me, “It’s not likely to be a brain tumor, but we’ll do an MRI anyway and check for it and MS.” Now my worries about having a brain tumor are replaced with worries about MS. So of course I come home and start Googling. Oh my God, I have bad balance…trouble concentrating…muscle spasms…numb feet…blurry and double vision…I must have MS.

I thought I’d be the last person to become a hypochondriac—I’m usually utterly oblivious to my own physical maladies until they blow up and become a big deal—but it turns out I just needed a little nudge.

Tomorrow I should find out the results of that MRI, and it will likely be nothing big. (I’m sort of excited about getting to see a picture of my brain, even though I halfway expect to find some crazy object lodged in there, perhaps a marble or even a hole where a marble used to be.) This whole process of figuring out what’s causing my lightheadedness will probably take a while. In all likelihood, it’s a viral infection in my ear, and the other symptoms are probably due to other things. In the meantime, I’m writing this to remind myself of the philosophy that worked in the first instance, hoping it will work its way back into my psyche once again.

Stoicism has its merits. It’s a rational philosophy that says basically this: Don’t bang your head against the wall. The basic idea is that while you don’t have control over external circumstances, you do have control over yourself and how you react to them.

As Mike and I discussed, he brought up the same problem that I have with Stoicism, and it’s not the usual complaint. There’s something about Stoicism that sounds like sticking your head in the sand. At what point do you admit that you have no control over your circumstance? It seems like you must have knowledge of where the wall is before you can avoid banging your head against it, but we don’t always have that knowledge.

In my particular case, though, I have that knowledge. I know I can’t know anything until the doctor diagnoses me. I know it’s irrational to assume the worst, to drive myself crazy by over-Googling.  When I think about the matter clearly, I know that I can only control one factor in all this—myself. And even if it does turn out to be something bad, I can still apply Stoicism to the situation and make the most of it. I can choose not to let these external circumstances drag me down.

This is not a pat, smug answer. It’s not as simple as the motivational posters make us believe. It’s a kind of exercise of will, much like what I use when I’m running. It requires constant vigilance and effort. Do that extra lap by pacing yourself, think about something else besides your fatigue. These things we tell ourselves can work, but they don’t come of their own accord, they must be rejuvenated over and over. They require a lot of self-control, discipline.

Writing this helps remind me of what attitude I need to take. Thanks for listening!

Have you ever used a philosophy as a tool to solve a problem? Any other thoughts? Is this philosophy-as-toolbox problematic? (Feel free to criticize…I sort of expect it and I promise I won’t fall apart.)