Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Everything and nothing, for the umpteenth time  §

I have no idea how many times I’ve used this particular subject line over the years.


Subject lines are funny things; I didn’t use them in the early versions of my blog—the ones I coded up myself. That really wasn’t the format. It wasn’t about a set of “articles” or anything so formal as that.

I almost thought of designing subject lines out in this case, but decided to keep them. There’s a certain charm about them.

— § —

This is working well; it feels almost like the old days. I’ve got an app in my dock; it loads up OmmWriter and chucks that onto my Dropbox, and from there the file is automatically pulled into WordPress. Gets me out of HTML forms.

And out of the structure. Structure kills. (Don’t tell my wife I said that. But it does.)

— § —

One of the trickiest but most necessary tasks in life is self-admitting, i.e. admitting things to yourself. Things about what your’e like, what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, what you want despite yourself, what you’re going to do, what you’re not going to do, why you did what you did… Did I miss any?

It takes courage to know yourself and to admit to yourself who you really are and what you’re going to do.

I don’t think people make “bad choices” or “unconscious choices” nearly so often as the popular imagination would have it so. Or rather, I think we do a disservice by labeling choices this way.

What people do is make real choices—choices that reflect their values. My wife would actually agree here; what you’re working on “reflects your priorities,” she says, repeating the truism.

I think that’s absolutely so. People do what they decide to do, knowing at some level what the potential problems are, and they hope against hope that things will work out well.

— § —

Me, I’m tired of choices. I’m particularly tired of choices amongst options that are “objectively great,” i.e. desirable to many, yet at the same time not particularly fulfilling to me.

I want, in my list of choices, to be faced with options that make me feel something. That excite me, enthuse me.

— § —

That’s not to say that I’m not enthusiastic about my work now. One of the problems that I have is compulsively doing work and checking work stuff even when not “on the clock” or even during “non-working hours.”

But it’s not life stuff. It’s not about building an identity, it’s about ROI and climbing and competitiveness and all that stuff.

— § —

The operative question is: what do I really want?

And the vague answer is: I want a research professorship at an R1 or similar.

Will I ever have it? Odds right now are like playing craps. I’m from the underclass. I haven’t developed the persona or the body of work in some of the ways that the competition has. Why? Because I was always trying to figure out where rent was going to come from and how I was going to eat and pay the bills.

But it doesn’t change what I really want. I want to think about questions that fascinate me and to research questions that fascinate me and to write about questions that fascinate me.

I love teaching, I really do. But teaching alone—different ball of wax. Although—and at the same time—I could see myself teaching troubled kids at the high school level, if push came to shove.

In the long term, I need a cause, a field of inquiry, a field of activism. Drawing a paycheck turns me on, but it doesn’t turn me on if that makes any sense.

— § —

I also want to write.

Funny, that’s all I’ve ever actually managed to do. Write, write, write. Books, articles, papers. Just about every paycheck I’ve drawn as an adult comes down to writing in the end.

I am, in fact, a professional writer, one that has by turns been paid both poorly and very well for my writing.

And yet, I still find myself saying, “By god, I wish I could write for a living!” on a regular basis, as though I’ve never been paid for a word in my life. This tells me several things:

(1) Historically and in the aggregate, I’ve not been paid well enough for the writing that I do, causing me to think about it in terms other than “making a living” in many cases. I’ve been “living on it,” but that’s entirely different from “making a living.”

(2) The other jobs I’ve had were aberrations.

(3) I’m not doing the right kind of writing yet.

Of these, I think that the third item is the most important and most essential. The fact is, I want to make a living from academic writing and/or from creative writing.

I’m a writer, but I’m a writer of “assets” or, to use another multi-industry buzzword, “collateral.”

I’m good at it. Good enough to have earned a living. Good enough to have published six books. Good enough to be able to chuck out a publication-quality, well-researched, persuasive, fun, authoritative article on just about any topic you can name on earth, given an Internet connection and a free two-hour block.

But “good at it” is separate from “fulfilled by it.”

— § —

Of course, all of this must be qualified by the presence of kids and family. Maybe it has to wait—until they’re grown, until I’m retired, who knows.

But here’s the deal, in the final analysis: I have to get a Ph.D. and I have to earn a living writing things that are personal. Until this happens, I’ll still be working on it, whether I like it or not, consciously or not, whether I try to stop myself or not.

And “working on it” while I’m actually, officially working on other things is inefficient. The other things—they suffer. Always have, always will.

Convergence and unity, the defragmentation and compartmentalization of my identity: these are the only way to success for me. It’s been a long time now that I’ve been around and working to make it all work; I know.

I don’t always admit it to myself, but I know.

— § —

I haven’t camped out in the national park in many years.

I haven’t camped out in federal wilderness area in 22 years.

Tonight—as it rains and I look at the silhouettes of towering pine trees swaying in the wind, between myself and the moon—I wonder whether I’ll ever actually manage to do this again.

Life is full of firsts and lasts and “onlies.” They get obscured by some of the endless repetitions, but the fact that so many things are so historical in such a narrowly bounded way is really actually tragic and bittersweet.

If you can stand to think about that stuff, and to talk that way.

— § —

Most of the time, most people… can’t.