Thursday, September 15, 2022

Twelve Light Years, or Half an Inch

I figured out a great analogy for something I previously found impossible to explain. But it will take a minute to set up (especially with the self-indulgent digressions).

I was talking to a friend about the Slog. I said I'm never unaware that one day a lot of people might read through the backlog.

Totally Understandable Reply: Jim, only a very small number of people will ever have a taste for this sort of thing, and be willing to take deep dives through convoluted and deliberately counterintuitive thoughts. This is hardly a mainstream undertaking, and, I hate to break it to you, but that's unlikely to change.

My reply: In the 1990s everyone I knew thought I was out of my mind for devoting so much time and effort to hunting down great eats. And I seemed like an embarrassing hippy for practicing yoga. And I was downright demented to hold out for obscure imported beers when Bud's perfectly fine. I tried to interest my friends in the Internet, but they assured me that "computer stuff" was strictly for nerds like me.

I could go on. Hoo, boy, could I go on! This has been the pattern for my whole life. So I reject the notion that I'm a contrarian doting on esoterica; a golden retriever fallen rapturously in love with random sticks and squeaky toys; an eccentric destined to remain as marginal tomorrow as I seem today. My kooky interests always - always! - blow up into enormity. And yet the slate wipes clear every damned time. I move on to my next fascination, and even those who've paid attention continue to view me as oddly beguiled. At some level, I've come to believe it, myself.

The stuff I write here isn't so difficult or convoluted or intellectual. It's just hard to choke down while firmly locked into the assumptions and framings of our era. There will be a reframing, and my insights will seem absolutely "duh" for a swath of society (this series of postings will take the longest to strike a chord, but we'll get there, as we finally did with relativity - which many of us still don't really understand, but we're at least past considering it silly hogwash). So I write as if a bona fide crowd might one day read. Even though it's highly unlikely.

To be sure, people never go back to consider how things started. No one ever raked through my ancient beer writing so they could shake my hand for being super early. The craft beer craze sailed right past me like a train. My name's not engraved in The Annals of Beer. It doesn't work that way. And there were no public apologies from folks who deemed me overheated on the subject way back when. Redemption is not a thing. And that's fine, I'm not looking for medals. I'm just delighted to be awash in great beer. The future is awesome!

So while I can acknowledge that, to contemporary eyes, the Slog seems like eccentric writing on esoteric shit, I know that 1. the world will move closer to my perspective (not through any actions of mine - the first popping kernel doesn't make the other kernels pop), and 2. I won't be noticed or remembered when it does. However...a few stragglers might randomly bump into the Slog and spread word to a world better prepared to pay attention to these sorts of observations. That's possible, though by no means probable.

A kooky, marginal project of mine drew mass attention once. Suddenly, I didn't seem so kooky or marginal. In Chowhound's early days, I occasionally imagined what it might be like if it blew up big, but those were cartoonish fantasies, invested with very little reality. The humble beginnings and the imagined outcome were two unrelated things, separated by twelve light years of space.

From the reverse perspective, they are one thing, barely separated at all. The humble origin remained quite real for me. I'm sure that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak never stopped associating Apple with Jobs' parents' garage, despite the success and scaling. Having lived through a marginal thing drawing wide attention (at a lower order of magnitude than Apple, of course), I'm always mildly cognizant of the possibility. To me, it's not twelve light years of distance from origin to outcome. I've learned that it's half an inch, even if it never happens.

That last part is unrelatable for most people, which is why I've long strained for an analogy. And I've finally got one! Here goes:
As a child, you fantasized about being an adult. And that fantasy was cartoonish and unreal. Origin and outcome were two separate things, 12 light years apart. But looking backward, it's only half an inch, right? Aren't you much less distant from your childhood right now than your adulthood seemed back then?
So here I am I working in obscurity, plying a pursuit that will likely remain obscure. Fine. If a few people benefit, great. If it's only me here, alone, working out answers, that's great, too. But it all takes place a comfortable half-inch from mass attention, because I learned, once, that that's the truth.

Consider if you were to relive childhood. The second time, adulthood wouldn't feel like a grand goal or preoccupation. You'd recognize that your fingerpaintings are more than a silly childish proxy for fine art painting. Smart, sensitive kids perpetually feel themselves to be engaged in silly childish proxies for proper adult accomplishments. "Kid-sized meals" and "children's books" and "G" ratings, etc. But, the second time around, you might recognize that fingerpaintings are beautiful and perfect in and of themselves. You'd take the here-and-now more seriously, and have more fun, and be in less of an impatient rush. You certainly wouldn't idealize adulthood. In fact, it would hardly enter your mind at all.

So I'm not praying to Cheeses that THIS TIME I'll cook up an insight that might draw mass attention AND I'LL BE SOMEBODY AGAIN! That mindset is for people for whom that result is a distant two-dimensional cartoon, twelve light years away. No, I putter in my garage, fully immersed in the doing, bemused by a mild awareness of both origin and potential. When the two are separated by a mere half inch, you sense no gap, and proceed full-heartedly.

Of course, it’s gotta be genuinely good (I can vouch, at least, for the postings listed in the left margin). I don’t register a potential for tour groups to one day file in and out of my house to view my sock drawer. I mean, yeah, it’s a pretty good sock drawer. I’m not un-proud of it. But I’m no lunatic. I don’t harbor delusions of sock grandeur. I know my frickin’ limits.

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