Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The One About Five Quotes

There's a blog-meme going around asking bloggers to head to a random quotes page, pick five quotes with meaning to that blogger, and list them on their blog. I sometimes wonder if these memes are created and propagated simply to give bloggers an excuse to keep updating their sites - then I look and see how long it's been since I've updated and I realize that anything that keeps virtual pen to virtual paper is probably a good thing, if only for the 'habit' aspect of the craft.

Anyway, the version of the meme at ***Dave Does the Blog is more interesting than those I've found elsewhere - instead of simply rattling off five quotes, he takes the time to comment on them and note what about them is appealing or at least applicable to his own worldview and outlook. I liked it, so I'll adopt the same system for my own use of the trope.

To review: Go to this page, and select five quotes that are meaningful or otherwise significant to you, and post them on your blog. I'd recommend against choosing any from the first page of quotes that comes up; rather, scroll to the bottom, add in a few more quote-page sources, increase the number of quotes displayed, and then pick from those. The goal is to find quotes that are interesting without necessaarily being 'perfect' quotes, though, so refreshing the page over and over again looking for the 'perfect' quote isn't playing by the spirit of the challenge.

Here goes...

The only way to be truly misogynistic is to be a woman.

- Randy Milholland, "Something Positive", November 5, 2004

It should be noted that Milholland didn't write this from his own point of view - he put the words in the mouth of one of the female characters in his webcomic. Still, it's hard to deny the justice of the point, especially when looked at in the larger context of the strip and the ongoing storyline. I'll let you view the context yourself by clicking the link to Milholland's site, but the overarching point is that men simply don't understand women well enough to be really angry with them.

I'm not really sure how well I 'get along' with women; I seem to do all right in social settings that aren't predicated on potential romantic interest. If pressed, I'd put it down to being raised with pretty much no male role model through my adolescence: my biological father left the family when I was three, my stepfather was always distant and more interested in his own affairs, and my maternal grandfather, who was probably the adult male I was closest to while growing up, died of a heart attack when I was in eighth grade. At some moments I wonder if I wasn't raised by my mother, probably unconsciously, to be the kind of guy she wished she could have met before she became a mother. While mom may have instilled a sense of the things women find interesting in a man in me (conversationalism, intelligence, an ability to listen), she never quite got around to explaining how I was supposed to act around a woman I found interesting, which left me to pick up cues from my peers, pop culture, and porn. Simply put, the 'three Ps' haven't stood me in good stead; I tend to go from being curiously interesting one moment to downright creepy the next, which doesn't do well for my long-term romantic prospects.

And even I, a guy who 'gets' women as well as any guy I know, doesn't understand them well enough to actually hate them. Milholland has a real point here, I think.

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done.

- Andy Rooney

Over the past ten years, the Internet has become so pervasive that it's hard to imagine what life was like without it, without near-instantaneous access to fact, opinion, and even argument. Yet most of us who are alive were alive at a time when the Internet didn't yet exist in its current form; in fact, most of the people I know and call friends couldn't have even imagined the Internet while we played with our school library's Commodore PETs and Apple IIe's. Since then, the Internet has made some people rich, some people happy, and a lot of people more connected than they've ever been.

But almost none of it is strictly necessary.

Back in the late 90s, I ran a fantasy baseball league using a piece of software called Sierra Sports Baseball 1996 - it was a league containing entirely imaginary players, who we drafted, developed in our minor league systems, and promoted into our big-league teams to duke it out for the league championship. For me, the commissioner, who'd assigned myself the responsibility of running the games and distributing the game results to the players, it was a labor of love, but still something of a labor - I'd spend a good two hours or more each weeknight running the games and typing up the nightly update.

A friend of mine thought he'd take some of the pressure off me by automating some of the processes on his personal site, and he devised a form to submit player moves - such-and-so is put on the disabled list, whos-his-face is promoted from AAA to replace him, that kind of thing. Not every player in the league had access to this form, but most did, and the form did streamline the process by which player moves got made prior to actual games. Nevertheless, I was never really sold on the thing, because I was certain that one day, the thing would blow up, and I didn't really want to be responsible for something I had no control over.

That day finally came. The form failed to update properly, and games were played without moves that had been requested by owners. This started an argument, which led to games being suspended while we worked out whether the games should be 're-wound' and replayed with the moves in place, or simply move on as if a real-life problem had occurred, taken some time to fix, but life had moved on in the meantime. Finally, after a long enough time for the league to be idle, I started up games again with the presumption that life was moving on.

Half the owners in the league immediately quit.

To this day, my friend still believes that it was my intransigence over the form that killed the league, and he may be right. From my perspective, though, we had a functioning system, and though it did take up some extra time on my part, I never regretted spending that time; it was the whole purpose behind me running the league in the first place. Just because a computer can do something, doesn't mean a computer has to do that thing.

When it is not necessary to make a decision, it is necessary not to make a decision.

- Lord Falkland

I love this quote, because it flies in the face of how most people behave about decision-making.

There have been times in my life when I've been called upon to make decisions. More often than not, the moment at which I've been called upon to make that decision isn't the best time for that decision to be made: either there's additional information that would be pertinent to the decision that hasn't been revealed yet, or there are other people's input to consider that hasn't yet been considered, or something like that. Yet most folks who find me in this situation seem upset or even angry that I defer my decisions in these situations, usually responding with some variation of the quotation that 'refusing to make a decision is itself a decision.'

I've found, though, that most decisions don't actually need to be made; one way or another, the situation will progress on its own without your input. The number of situations in which you must make a decision at this moment, and that decision ends up being both necessary and correct, are actually vanishingly small, in my experience. In most cases, I'd have been better off doing nothing.

Case in point: While finishing up my theater degree in Arizona, I was participating in an ensemble show called "Impassioned Embraces". One of the members of the cast, while certainly talented, was also probably the least admired performer in town; his opinion of his own talent was certainly higher than that actual talent warranted, and his treatment of fellow cast members was often crude, tasteless, or worse - his attempt to seduce one of the women in the cast, despite having announced his engagement to the stage manager at the top of the rehearsal run, was probably the best indicator I can give of the combination of his sense of personal entitlement and the sheer ignorance of the impact that sense of entitlement had on everyone around him.

Then, a bit more than a week before the show was to open, he had an accident and severely injured his knee. It seemed a given that he wasn't going to be able to go on, and the rest of the cast rallied to pick up the parts he wasn't going to be able to perform. Suddenly, a cast that had been nearly on the verge of mutiny was among the closest knit and supportive of casts I'd ever been involved in; the show was, as a result, probably the most demanding and yet most satisfying I've ever done. For the first two weeks, anyway. Until the director announced that our prodigal actor was recovering faster than expected, and would be playing his own parts for the final weekend of the run.

In retrospect, I should have just kept my mouth shut, my ideas to myself, and rode out the storm. Yes, the actor in question was a jerk; yes, he hadn't been rehearsing with us for nearly two weeks and was certainly rusty and absolutely limited in his movement. On the other hand, he had rehearsed his parts for over a month before his injury with the expectation of being able to perform; had I been in the same boat, I'd have wanted to get the chance to do those scenes in front of an audience at least once, and preferably as often as possible.

What I did, though, was to circulate a petition asking the director not to allow the prodigal actor back in the show, because we didn't want him back. The rest of the cast, who agreed with my sentiment and my reasoning, signed without hesitation, though one actress later recanted and asked that her signature be removed. To his credit, the director took the petition, read it, and then promptly ignored it, and we played the final weekend as we'd have played it had our prodigal actor never been injured - at least in theory. In practice, we were all off - our excitement had largely changed to sullen acceptance, and our final weekend wasn't nearly as good as the two previous. And I have no way to argue that my decision didn't make things worse. Sometimes, a bad decision is worse than no decision at all.

It is when I struggle to be brief that I become obscure.

- Horace, Epistles

Brevity really is the soul of wit. But brevity only works when you're able to leave certain things unsaid, because everyone understands what wasn't said.

There are those who say that long-windedness in general, and on the Web in particular, is off-putting, even boring. I have to say that I agree; more often than not, I find myself scrolling through a long-winded essay (sometimes even one of my own) hoping desperately that the author will just get to the freaking point already.

At other times, I'll read something short and sweet and have no idea what it just said. I think those moments are far worse.

At least if someone is reading something you've written, and they become bored in the middle, they found something worth muddling through in the hopes of it getting more precise; later, when you do write something more precise, that reader may well be back and enjoying herself. But if something is too precise to the point where it's incomprehensible, that reader isn't likely to come back hoping to find a longer piece where you might end up simply being long-winded.

It should be noted that Strunk's famous advice was to omit needless words; if removing something eliminates the reader's understanding, those pretty clearly weren't needless words.

Be what you would seem to be - or if you'd like it put more simply - Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

On the other hand, sometimes wordiness for its own sake is kinda funny.

Had I chosen a quote for this spot instead of letting the random generator choose one for me, I'd have chosen the Samuel Johnson quote about every man wasting part of his life trying to display qualities that he does not possess. I've done that far too often for comfort, and it's still something I find the need to work on from time to time.

Because we live in our own heads every day, because we've been first-hand observers to a life we've come to think of as 'normal', so long as it doesn't include newsworthy levels of triumph or tragedy, it's easy to imagine that, as a result, we must be boring people. That I, despite my individual ideosyncracies and unique life story, am a boring person. No matter how many people, in starting to get to know me, try to tell me otherwise.

And the crazy thing is, the longer I go about acting as if I was dull and uninteresting, the more people begin to get the idea that maybe I really am dull and uninteresting.

The solution, though, is not to invent attributes in yourself that you think would be appealing to others; no one has the combination of intelligence and stamina to pull off that kind of personality fraud. Instead, take the advice of an old absurdist and do something truly absurd - be who you would seem to be, and in doing so, seem to be who you really are.

Sometimes, that means wearing my less admirable qualities on my sleeve: being a gaming nerd, or just a general social misfit. The alternative? Seem to be someone with no interests at all. Now that would be truly dull, wouldn't it?

Traditionally, a meme ends with a 'tag'; an invitation to others who read to pick up the meme themselves. Again, I'll take a page out of ***Dave's book and just say, run with it if you find it interesting.

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