Monday, September 14, 2009

An Addendum to ‘Seduction’

Anatomy of a Time Sink
Gawd I love! And I really don’t know why that is, as I never really was all that hot about English classes in high school (although I did take a Semantics course that I really dug my senior year), but as an adult, etymology has always been a real fascination for me.

Likewise, I’ve never taken a foreign language course, let alone Latin, but one of my most oft-used browser bookmarks is to Merriam-Webster Online. I constantly cruise this extensive online dictionary site for help with word definition, usage, punctuation, and root origin information.

I’m one of those types who would list the dictionary as one of my all-time favorite reads. I’m serious; I could lose myself in a dictionary for hours. I’m fascinated by words. And I’m also fascinated by etymology; the history of words. I find it extremely interesting to find out where words came from, what their roots mean, and how their definitions and connotations have changed over the ages.

The English language, being the amalgam of so many others that it is, makes for a particularly interesting investigation of how our words were formed and developed.

But back to seduction…

So there I was, last Thursday, reading Liz Strauss’s post, when she mentioned the part about getting seduced by an idea. And then, for some reason, a context alarm went off in my head. I thought about the word ‘seduced,’ and for me, the first thought I had was ‘sexual,’ because in our culture, for the most part, sexual seduction is the context through which we perceive that word.

But that just didn’t seem right to me in this case. I fully identified with Liz’s use of the word in her statement. She definitely used the right descriptor. But when I’m ‘seduced’ by an idea; when I’m led away from one idea by a different one, it’s not because I’m thinkin’ sexy thoughts. Where did the sexual context actually come from? I needed to learn more to understand the true meaning of the word.

So first I checked Merriam-Webster, and then, where I discovered some interesting things about the word seduce.

When placed in a historical context, the interestingly subtle change in the word’s meaning makes for an even more poignant object lesson in human nature.

And for the record, I don’t pretend to be any kind of learned linguist.** This is just a loose interpretation, but one that makes a lot of sense to me.

**For entertainment purposes only; your mileage may vary.

I learned that the moral and sexual applications of the word, seduce (i.e.: seductive/seductress), manifested themselves about 50 years into its first attributed origin of use, in the early-middle portion of the sixteenth century. It was only at this point that its connotation gave rise to the prevailing modern interpretation of the idea of seduction being ‘immoral’ or ‘sexual’ in nature. Quite to the contrary, in its original Latin root components, the word is much more neutral in its moral stance.

The original usage context of seduce was, “to persuade a vassal (a feudal servant or slave), etc., to desert his allegiance or service.” In other words, seduce simply describes the act of leading a feudal slave away from his duty. It does not necessarily insinuate the act to be evil or immoral.

Seduce’s Latin root word, seducere simply means “lead away, or lead astray;” formed by the component parts, se — “aside, away” + ducere — “to lead.”

I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t see any moral judgment there, but I guess it just depends on your point of view.

It’s interesting to note that according to most historical accounts, the early 1500s were the beginning of the end of the feudal system in Europe.

Oh the times, they were a-changin.’

The Middle Ages were over and so was the status quo (seein’ as how we seem to be on this Latin kick). The old guard obviously wasn't too terribly jazzed about this brave new world and its gradual disintegration of the feudal system.

Just as the abolition of slavery in the United States was met with extreme resistance from the establishment that had previously profited from it, the feudal kings and land barons who depended on those vassals to make their land productive couldn’t have been too happy when their way of life began to come to an end.

Again, this is just speculation on my part, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume that things worked much the same way then as they do now, with the noble and powerful, exerting control over opinion and most likely, language as well.

Is it therefore any less likely that a word, whose original meaning was purely descriptive, and without pejorative connotation, could be ‘turned’ by an establishment that disagreed with its action, than one of modern vintage, such as the word, ‘gay,’ whose ‘recent’ connotation over the past 100 years as a slang descriptor for homosexuality, has forever overshadowed its original meaning and primary usage from the previous six centuries?

It’s an interesting thing to consider, and one that I’m quite sure, if properly fleshed out, could very likely be a common theme in the evolution of our language.

Time sink concluded, now back to the series…

Next: The Difference Between ‘Alone’ and ‘Lonely’

Sunday, September 13, 2009

SOBbin’ (continued)

Time Stinks…er…I Mean…Sinks
Continuing to continue the conversation from Liz Strauss’s blog, on Thursday September 10th, 2009, the topic was, as she describes them: ‘time sinks’.

Liz says, ‘time sinks;’ I say, ‘black holes’ — but whatever moniker you wish to use — they’re creative enigmas wrapped in a practical riddle; that which simultaneously robs us of our creative energy while we are in the process of creating, and are often responsible for our being drawn away from those projects that we sometimes start but never seem to finish.

Time sinks can come in different forms; from the legitimate components of the creative process — like brainstorming and refining a project theme, to the practical evils of necessity in getting a job done — like research, or necessary governmental and/or legal due diligence.

For her part, Liz has focused on the spinning and development of ideas as her nominee for time suck numero uno. She invites us to think about the stumbling blocks that the rest of us encounter in comparison, offering,
“Getting ideas is so much fun. Making them happen is where the real work starts.

We lose interest, find a flaw, get seduced by a new idea, or land a job that offers more.

Have you found that the biggest time sink on the web are ideas that never get done?”
This, as are so many of Liz’s topics, just so apropos to my modus operandi, (which is why I’m doing this series in the first place), that it’s simply uncanny.

And then again it may not just be coincidental, but rather a common circumstance that other creative people with short attention spans (like me) experience over the course of everyday life.

However the one thing I wanted to key upon really isn’t any kind of exposition regarding the chasing of ideas down the rabbit hole, but rather my personal version of the time sink phenomenon (which not so coincidentally, I’ve been forced to deal with in the writing of this story).

Seduced by Seduction
Now I don’t consider myself an ‘idea guy,’ although I am called upon fairly often to contribute to brainstorming sessions at work, where everyone comes up with ideas regarding themes and such for the conferences and events our department is involved with.

Generally speaking, however, I consider my strong suit in that area to be a little less than the ‘nuts & bolts’ logistics that are essential in giving a project legs. Rather, I’m the type that is better suited at things like finding a clever turn of a phrase in naming a product or theme, or something else in a similar lighthearted vein.

But while that’s a large part of my external personality, it’s far from who I am as a whole. I might be a goofball on the surface, but my serious side in an equal part of my identity.

I think; a lot; sometimes too much. Oftentimes I’ll become drawn into an internal conversation so much that I lose the direction of my original thought. I’ll suddenly stop and marvel at how far off the track my train of thought had traveled. Does that ever happen to you? Unfortunately I do that when writing stories as well.

So when Liz listed, getting “seduced by a new idea” as one of the symptoms of a time sink, I stood up and took notice. That as much as anything had been the bane of my existence as a writer.

When I first began this blog, there were no roadblocks to my motivation or ability to tell the hundreds of stories that were practically bursting from my head. I’ve always written for myself first and readers second, so there was no concern about making my early blog entries ‘sexy’ for those other than myself. Frankly I never really thought anyone else would read them. I didn’t need to try and make them interesting — they just were — to me, and that was all that mattered.

Likewise, I didn’t need to work for story line material. The compelling issues of my family’s battles with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease, the fact that my Dad married my Aunt, and that a little boy from a hick country town in Indiana ended up making good in a place so far away (physically as well as culturally) as Los Angeles is more than enough guts to build a few good stories around.

However my problem with ‘seduction’ began a couple years ago — after my life’s history had pretty much been told. That was the point where I realized how much work this gig can be. And given how much I’ve struggled with it, sometimes I scoff at the notion that I even fancy myself being a writer.

I began to find myself in a consistently frustrating place when embarking on a story: I would begin with guns a’ blazin’ — knowing (or so I thought) exactly where I was going with a thought or opinion. Then two or three pages into the tale, the realization would befall that I was so far off course that I practically had two completely separate stories written instead of just one.

Why it happens is still a mystery to me. It’s not an insurmountable problem if I recognize it early enough to head it off before it ruins the flow of the piece I’m writing. However, the damage inflicted is in the time sink, and the way it affects both the limited amount of time I have to write in the first place, as well as the creative energy the whole re-work process drains me of.

It has caused me on numerous occasions to abandon multi-part series, not because I’ve lost interest, but because I just don’t have the time to go back into them and re-sync my mind into that scenario once again.

And that again speaks to this idea the Liz threw out there, of the ‘seduction’ of new ideas drawing us away from completing projects: I don’t feel as though I ‘have time’ to go back and finish these incomplete stories, why? Because there are now ‘new’ stories that occupy my mind and beg to be written.

See what I mean? It’s a particularly vicious cycle.

BTW, that’s really all I wanted to say about my personal time sink demons. I’m workin’ on ‘em, and as I mentioned previously, this effort to base a week’s worth of posts on Liz Strauss’s SOB Blog topics is in large part an exercise in breaking free of the over-thought that has crept into my writing.

Somewhat ironically, I have an addendum to this story that’s actually an example of the problem (and why this particular post is two full days late). Nevertheless I found it interesting, so I’ll share it as a separate post.

It’s about that word, ‘seduce,’ and its connotation in our modern lexicon.

NextAn Addendum to ‘Seduction’

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Lost Weekend
I've been knee-deep in Facebook and Twitter for the past couple months, and while I've enjoyed myself immensely, I've finally arrived at the realization that in so doing I've been — perhaps subconsciously — involving myself in these new media vehicles not only because they're fun, but also because they're a lot easier than blogging.

As I’ve mentioned before, it seems I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch in my motivation to write lately, due in no small part to the even drier patch I struck about two years ago with relation to coming up with new story material.

Problem is, I’ve pretty much always written only about my life, my family, and my moods. Unfortunately, over the course of five-plus years’ blogging, I think I’ve pretty much told the lion’s share of my life’s story, so the only thing left is my mood — and right now my mood stinks. I'm not inspired; I'm not motivated; I’m not really happy, but I’m not sad either. Usually one of those four things are at the personal forefront whenever I write. But right now, I got nothin’ — zippo; zilch; nada; the big donut.

This past Labor Day weekend brought my circumstance into focus.

It felt like a completely wasted five days to me — I had taken additional vacation days on Thursday and Friday to augment the three-day weekend and make it a mini-vacation. I’d had every intention of making it a blogging vacation. My wife was out of town visiting our daughter in Atlanta; I had four solid days with which to work. One would think I could at least ply a couple decent posts in that amount of time. Instead I got nothing done, apart from posting some photos on Facebook along with my typical Saturday barrage of activity on Twitter. Sure, I had some other tasks around the house that needed attention, and I did them. However I still had plenty of time with which to write if I’d applied myself; but I didn't. I just wasn’t inspired. I just wasn’t feelin’ it.

However, don’t get me wrong; my purpose for this gloomy preface really isn’t about flogging myself for having writer’s block; One positive thing did arise from my lost weekend: the realization of why it was lost in the first place. Things have been coming to a head in that regard for a long time, and as a result I’ve finally realized that I must somehow push back in order to stem the tide.

What I’m experiencing isn’t new or different from what every other writer who’s ever lived experiences from time to time. I just didn’t believe it would happen to me. I’ve needed a reason to do something different, and now I’ve got one. I’m going to experiment with something that hopefully will kill a flock ‘o seagulls with one stone.

I’ve decided to get past my dearth of inspiration by drawing some from another who never seems to run out of ideas, and who actually encourages folks like me to do what I’m going to do; to “carry on the conversation” to venues beyond her own blog; to add ideas and opinions that will hopefully spur others to do the same..

The LIZ-a-nator
Say what you will about the ‘preaching to the choir’ nature of Twitter, but this sometimes incestuous echo chamber of the social media channel isn’t entirely composed of regurgitated material. While some of the medium’s mavens can come off as at least slightly egocentric and self-absorbed, there are still many more who leave even the most personable ‘real-time’ types looking like narcissists.

One of these marvelous folks is Liz Strauss. Now Liz and I aren’t pals, per ce, but I’m certain that if ever we were to meet she would treat me like a dear old friend. Out in the Twitterverse those kind of personal characteristics can sometimes be a mirage, but in Liz’s case, after observing her for nearly an entire year, I believe that what you read really is what you get — either that or she should drop this gig and become a politician, ‘cuz she’s a natural.

Tawk amongst y’selves...
A highly sought-after conference and public speaker, one of the daily irons in the fire of Liz Strauss’s career is the support and evangelization of blogging in social media. She herself pens three blogs, one of which is targeted directly at the support and growth of other bloggers.

Successful and Outstanding Bloggers (or, S.O.B. for short) is Liz’s daily invitation to hack thru the kudzu; an opportunity to apply fresh opinions to fresh ideas and release them into the blogosphere. Simply stated, Liz choses a topic, often one that’s been brewing on Twitter or other social media outlets for the previous 24 hours, and places it on the table à la Mike Meyers’ SNL character, Linda Richman, to “talk amongst yourselves.” The effect can be manifold. First, it extends the discussion beyond its original bounds and potentially brings many more people into the conversation, providing new ways of looking at a subject, creating ideas and story material for others to write about, which can in turn spawn countless other potential conversations.

It’s a great concept, and nobody does it better than Liz. So, considering my current plight of not having anything compelling to write about, I figured I would take the opportunity to exercise my SOB genes and give it a try.

For the next seven days (or as often as Liz updates her SOB blog seven times) I plan to continue the conversation and see where it leads.

Wednesday’s topic was particularly apropos to what I’ve been involving myself with lately: Twitter and Facebook. Liz asked, “What IS Facebook” — not as in a literal definition, but rather as in relation to Twitter as a metaphor for a conversation. Some of the respondents to Liz’s poll related it to a party, whereas Twitter was more like a business meeting, “a huge networking room,” as someone put it.

The opinions were fairly varied, but whatever the analogy, the basic difference thing fairly unanimous: Twitter is the more formal of the two media, primarily because of its more restrictive 140-character input limit. And while conversations are trackable through the use of hashtags and more readily available with alternative Twitter interface apps like TweetDeck, that 140 character limit for responses just seems to create an air of formality that sometimes is hard to break through.

Facebook has no such barriers. It’s threaded commenting interface makes it easy to follow even lengthy conversations in a way that Twitter simply can’t do well on its own.

However the judging the physical merits of the two social media clients wasn’t really the question here, but rather, what they represent in comparison, metaphorically.

Liz Strauss’s initial question on the table was “What is Facebook”? She then refined that by adding, “If Twitter is a huge networking room, what is Facebook?

Allow me now to wax a little metaphorical…

Twitter is indeed a huge room; one whose only networking limitation is your willingness to walk up to someone and say hello. Some folks you encounter may indeed ignore your engagement, but if you’re genuine, and have something worthwhile to say, people are highly likely to return that engagement, albeit only 140-characters at a time.

Personally I love Twitter. I love the rapid-fire tenor of the conversations flying back and forth. It can be challenging to follow the story at times, but it’s never dull.

Facebook on the other hand is more like a large, but private, hospitality suite; big enough to house a large group of your closest friends or acquaintances you’d like to become friends, but intimate enough to hold lengthy conversations with any number of those friends, complete with the sharing of photos, videos, or even a party game or two.

So despite the fact that I still prefer Twitter, Facebook has really been growing on me of late, as I begin to plugin more and more to the lives of former high school mates and family members who are discovering its value as a connection tool.

Bottom line is, both are equally valuable for accomplishing the mission of social media, particularly as potential business applications — but that’s another discussion (and metaphor) for another time.

I promise it won’t be quite as long-winded.

NextContinuing the Conversation