Sunday, 10 August 2014

Wonder on a Weekly Basis

Part I of ?

Have I mentioned here that I am running a collaborative tumblr on which my collaborators and I post brief entries on wonderful things on a weekly schedule? On Mondays I post an entry about a prehistoric animal of some kind; on Tuesdays I post an idea; on Wednesdays, a plant or fungus; on Thursdays, a fantastic being; on Fridays, a meteorological and geological phenomenon. Contributors run on their own schedules, usually at one day a week.

This is not the first time I’ve run such a project. In November of 2012 I began posting one animal to Facebook per day. I would include a link to a resource about the animal—often but not always Wikipedia—and a brief entry summarizing what I found interesting about it. I did this for a calendar year, ending exactly 365 days later in November 2013. During this time, I missed 4 or 5 days; 3 of those were because the Internet went down at home and I didn’t want to abuse my Internet access at work.

I’m not sure why exactly I chose to run such a project in the first place. I do remember this: a friend of mine posted a link to Facebook to an article about a parasitic isopod that eats out and then replaces fish’s tongues. Through aimless Wikipedia link-hopping I came on a page about velvet worms, which I had never heard of before then. Finding them fascinating (they have social hierarchies demonstrated by who gets to crawl over whom!), I posted the link to Facebook. The response was favourable and enthusiastic, and within an hour I planned to do it daily for an undetermined length of time. A few months in, I realized I could probably only keep it up for about a year before it got too hard to find new ones (that prediction proved correct). When I stopped, a lot of my Facebook friends seemed disappointed but grateful that I had done it for so long (the best compliment I got, I think, was this: “true story: whenever i am forced to defend the internet, i cite this series”).

However, even when I quit then I had planned to start again with a new category, and about 6 months later I asked if people would be interested in a different sort of thing each day of the week (I had decided to cap it at five days a week). Quickly I found that some people would be willing to collaborate, so to accommodate collaboration and allow advance preparation of the posts, I decided to transfer the project to tumblr, though I still do cross-post to Facebook every day.

What I’ve noticed is that the daily practice was much more enjoyable than the weekly practice, since now I prepare posts in more intensive bursts rather than doing a little bit each day. I was able to appreciate something each particular day on the first schedule; now I don’t have that, because I prepare the posts in advance. Sure, I still cross-post to Facebook on a daily basis, but by this time I have already looked at that content so much that I no longer feel so enchanted by it when I finally get it to Facebook—I’ve scheduled it for that months before, written the content weeks before, and put it up on Tumblr as much as one week prior. I might still feel great affection for whatever I’m sharing, but I no longer feel quite so surprised by it. (As silly as it may seem, I do feel affection for pushmi-pullyus and simulacra and virga and catchflies.) What I do still get on a daily basis is the possibility of my friends’ responses; this is never guaranteed, but it is nice when I get it.

However, the weekly basis does have a slight advantage: it’s easier to remember everything and to start to understand how it all fits together when I return to the same content at least four times. I did get this benefit posting animals, too, because I have a fairly good memory and I could keep in my head the taxonomic relationships between all of the animals. (Indeed, the first idea I posted in this project was Linnaean taxonomy as an homage to that experience with the first project.) I’m not sure if the trade-off is quite worth it on its own, but the advance work certainly makes the project easier on my schedule, and I can take days off without worry. Last time, I had to arrange for friends to cover my travel-based absences. Also, the way it is now, I get to have collaborators, which is great.

I like this project quite a lot. I enjoy sharing things I find wonderful with other people, hoping they experience the same. I worry, sometimes, because I have little capacity for effusive praise; in general I simply present what I find wonderful and assume or hope that other people will find it wonderful, too. To facilitate this I try to find details about it that will draw out what’s unique or fascinating about this creature or this idea or this cloud in particular. Simply describing an octopus’s neurology or a fire whirl’s dynamics seems praise enough to me. Discussing an idea’s complexities and repercussions, even critiquing its failures, is for me an exercise in appreciation. (People have told me, in the past, that it’s clear that I care about ideas, and I suppose this is true; I don’t know what it would be like not to.) However, as much as I admit to being biased in favour of ideas and fantastic beings, I am glad I chose to write about rocks, weather, and flora as well; their concreteness, and their independence from human need or activity, gives me the same sort of wonder that the animals did: their sheer otherness from human endeavour is a relief from our self-absorption and neurosis. They are grounding to a person as easily detached as me. Even if there was nothing else interesting about them, this would be wonder enough in itself.

I asked a while ago what gave people wonder; no one answered. If anyone is reading this, I’d still like that answer, but I suppose I’m trying to figure it out elsewhere, too.

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