Writing an essay a day is an easy thing to do. Writing an interesting essay a day is not, at least not for me. The month of February was an excellent exercise in cutting the chaff from the wheat, and I’m glad that I did my essay-a-day project.
Observations that I’ve made about the past month’s worth of writing:
- I often did not know what I was going to write about until a few hours before I had to write it. This produced some pieces that were uninspiring to me, but also generated some of my favorite essays. As with fiction writing, sometimes you just have to trust the process.
- I have a tendency to pick theses that are too ambitious for short essays. Many times during February, I would be two or three thousands words deep into an essay and realize that it would require thousands more to properly address its thesis. I would then have to set that essay aside and think of something else to write that could be properly confined to 500-1,500 words.
- I didn’t anticipate so many pieces that were inspired by, or incorporated, music. My writing in the past hasn’t done this, but I’ve found it to be valuable to me (and hopefully anyone who reads the essays). I’m not exactly sure how I’ll incorporate music into future writing, but it’s exciting to have a new tool.
- I’ve always written consistently, almost daily. But the writing would be very short notes and to-do lists in one notebook or another. After this February, the notebooks will likely contain more essays. I find myself drifting into the David Sedaris pattern of writing, although I know he didn’t publicly post most of his notebook scribblings (I actually haven’t either—there are piles of filled notebooks in my room right now).
I think I’ll do another essay-a-day project later in the year, but definitely not before June. I have a book to finish writing.
The game Dungeons and Dragons has a schema used to determine a game character’s moral and personal attitudes, which are summed up by its “alignment.” Alignment is derived by a point on a Cartesian plane, the two axes of which are “good vs. evil” and “law vs. chaos.” For the sake of this essay, assume that good and evil are on the x-axis, and law and chaos are on the y-axis, as below.
As you can see, there are nine principal alignments that are produced at the extreme points of the axes:
- Lawful Good, “Crusader”
- Neutral Good, “Benefactor”
- Chaotic Good, “Rebel”
- Lawful Neutral, “Judge”
- True Neutral, “Undecided”
- Chaotic Neutral, “Free Spirit”
- Lawful Evil, “Dominator”
- Neutral Evil, “Malefactor”
- Chaotic Evil, “Destroyer”
To read the details about each one, go here.
But, as you could also imagine, there are many more points than just these nine—there are as many other points as the Cartesian plane would permit, which approaches infinity.
Although I don’t think this schema is incredibly profound, I think it’s useful and fun for thinking about my own tendencies and personality traits; for the same reason, I don’t think that Myers-Briggs personalities are dispositive, but I like the mental exercise that their contemplation engenders.
In practice, this kind of introspection can go in one of two broad directions:
- You can pick one of the nine on the list you like best for yourself, thinking it correctly represents the ideals you hold, or
- You can pick the one of the nine that actually represents how you are, which may or may not line up with the ideals that you hold.
The first kind of introspection isn’t really introspection—it’s wishful selection based on what we’d like to find upon actual introspection, although individuals who do it aren’t typically explicit about the fact that they’re doing it. Others have called this “belief in belief,” and I’ll keep that terminology. It’s what’s at work when someone says, “I’m a [person who believes in this or that deity/religion]” while the rest of their thoughts and actions contradict that belief.
The second kind of introspection can be done with varying levels of quality, but it does require that an individual be able to examine what is happening in their head, and why. Unlike the first kind, the second kind does not pick a conclusion beforehand—it picks one after examining the metrics for selection and accepting where they point.
Put otherwise, the second approach asks, “Do I really think that? Do my actions line up with that?” instead of doing what the first approach does, “I’m that one!”
Take the alignment schema for a whirl. I think it’s an interesting way to conceptualize various personal tendencies. In general, it seems like I tend toward “chaotic good,” although I’m not on the edge of the Cartesian alignment graph.
This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.