I wondered how I'd feel coming back here. I'm still parsing the information I think. For some reason, and it's as likely to do with the unseasonably cold weather as it is anything else, I'm feeling oddly introspective.
However, introspection is best done in private, at least until the process has finished. At that point one can decide to share as much as one wishes of the journey. But to interrupt preemptively with extrospection and declamation is likely to force a early termination of the initial event itself.
I wondered what I would write about now that I once again had the freedom to write about anything I so chose. And of course, I can now think of nothing to write. I thought creative writing might again be fun. I used to do a lot of that for LabLit and I really enojoyed it. Some time peices were more free and creative than others, but I tried to put my style on everything I wrote, even book reviews.
"I can clearly remember the first time I saw the Milky Way. I mean, really saw it. I’d noticed it before while vacationing with my parents in rural Yorkshire, a wisp of starlight like a cloud trapped in moonlight. I remember being impressed, or at least as impressed as a surly teenager stuck in the Dales with his parents for a week can be. But the first time I saw our galaxy in its full glory was driving across the Texas panhandle a few years ago. I had reached a crossroads in my life and decided that the best way to determine which direction to head in was to take some time off work and embark on the kind of road trip my heroes had taken before me. Sometimes it was more Kerouac than Steinbeck, but it was nevertheless the quintessential American road trip.
I was somewhere between Amarillo and Oklahoma City on I40, a thick brown scar cutting across the belly of the nation. The sun had set and the landscape around me, an unending sea of featureless desert and scrub, had disappeared, swallowed by a thick darkness that pressed in on the windows of the car. I stopped, switched off the headlamps and walked off the road. Above me an infinity of stars receded to the limits of imagination. The foreground of familiar constellations was blazing atop a shimmering highway of starlight. Only once before have I been rendered breathless at the realization of my own infinitesimal place within the majesty of the universe. In April 1997, my band and I had traveled to the Scots border to watch comet Hale-Bopp glide overhead. As we entered a forest clearing and looked up we suddenly seemed very small and foolish, and our bottle of vodka for the toast, oddly sacrilegious."
(from What It All Means A review of 'Origins of the Universe for Dummies')
I tried to do it sometimes when I wrote for Nature Network, but felt the exhortation to stick within the unwritten guidelines of 'being scientific' stifled my creativity. It also effectively put an end to my writing for LabLit because every idea I got for something science-based to say was written for Nature Network instead. I deeply regret that.
I moved recently to LabSpaces and enjoyed the re-creation of 'A Meandering Scholar' with more freedom to wax lyrical. But as you know that little experiment didn't pan out for me. This is self-imposed, I think, but I still didn't feel free to write about anything I chose.
Oddly, part of my rapid and sudden departure from LabSpaces was the gnawing urge to write freely again. Silly, I know. There was literally nothing to stop me doing that either there or here. We were told we had freedom to whatever we liked, but I think having the banner of a network let me construct a mental barrier. I know at least one of my fellow exiles felt/feels the same way.
I think this is why Occam's Typewriter is going to be enormously successful. Not just because of the very talented crew of writers they have, but also because they are very open about being a blog network by scientists, not for scientists, or even always about science.
The best advice a writer gets is "write everyday", or my personal variant, "Just fucking write it". Grad students working on their first proposal or manuscript often feel like an asthmatic staring up from the foothills to the cloud smothered peak of Everest. "How am I going to do this?"
I was taught, and still rely on the same technique, to write, starting in the middle if need be, and rely on editing to whip the beast into shape. I feel the same when facing enormous projects involving any level of creativity. The most recent (and on going) is the annual overhaul of our Institute website. This year I decided to take the initiative and just do it my way. Partly this is borne by the confidence that I finally know what I'm doing, and partly by the fact most of the senior investigators involved don't believe we have a hope in hell of getting funded so the whole exercise is futile. Well, not to me. Right now, at my career stage, every experience is potentially valuable, and almost everything can be used to pad my resume in one direction or another.
It has been a protracted event this year because my time has been split between this and another major institutional project, but I think I'm nearly there. One of the investigators gave me 21 pages from the grant and said, "Use this to make the website". Well, shit. Talk about standing in the foothills of Everest with my Salbutamol inhaler uselessly back in Memphis. But, following my own advice, I have finally figured out to do it (it involves liberal use of internal redirects, pop-ups and understanding how to effectively use ahref anchors inside pages).
But what about the blog. What do I write here. I guess, sometimes you need to just write. Thanks for listening.