Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Un-Statistics?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about numbers and meaning. It's January, a traditional time to consider the past and look to the future.

Last week, I shared some statistics about Alzheimer Disease for Alzheimer Awareness Month. The week before, I talked about numbers and (briefly) their limitations.

Here are some more thoughts about measurements.

* A number: your salary. Not a number: the happiness (a meal at your favourite restaurant, a book of your own, a warm coat for your fourth-grader) that your income makes possible for you.

* A number: a grant amount. Not a number: the learning and freedom a grant brings--whether it enables a research trip or lets you rent a studio space with adequate ventilation to protect your respiratory and neurological health (as opposed to, say, painting on a table near a window in a stuffy basement apartment).

* A number: subscribers to and purchasers of (and/or eyeballs on) a publication. A different number: readers of your work. Not a number: how your work touched those who read it (and even those who started but stopped--because maybe they were touched and appreciated it but *couldn't* finish, speaking of Alzheimer stories).

*** A side note: your work, once published, is OUT there. Even if the publication folds, your work exists in the world. Someone a decade or century from now could theoretically find it and read it and be touched by it. Cool, eh.

* A number: a "relevance" or "influence" metric as demonstrated through hashtags or some external designation. Not numbers: how your work engages with what's happening today, whether it's set in the past or present or some never time. Whether your work affirms or challenges the status quo. Whether your work meaningfully challenges or even disrupts your own complacency.

*** Another side note: the thoughts posed above, relating to relevance or influence, don't have right or wrong answers, necessarily.

*** There isn't any greater virtue to writing about "today's events" (though there's the argument that we always do, whether we mean to or not).

*** It's not always "better" to challenge the status quo (depends on the status quo where you are, for one thing).

*** Nothing anywhere requires you to write something (or do your own artistic work) that challenges your own complacency. People like to read/experience art that's like the art they've experienced before. (Hence books in a series.) People also like to create as a way to exercise competence--to be really good at something, and do that.

* A number: 31, the days in January. Not a number: how long this month FEELS. Holy cats.

At the moment, I'm looking at contexts in which I challenge myself (writing long-form fiction and creative nonfiction) and contexts in which I am content, for now, to exercise competence in rewarding ways (doing income tax spreadsheets according to the system I've developed over the past ten years or so).

I'm also examining how I gauge success, though others might find it underwhelming (just FINISHING things feels HUGE to me), or undetectable (doing the spreadsheets early, before looming deadlines freak me out).

But I gotta say, challenging my assumptions as part of my creative process has been a great way to re-energize January. Which needs it, amirite?