Lately (and by which I mean “always”) I’ve run across a lot of people who seem to use very different definitions than I do for words like “conversation” and “discussion.” So, as is my way, I’m jotting down what I and most of the rest of the right-thinking world mean by these things.
Paula and Quincy meet up one day and talk about the weather, Paula’s car trouble, and Quincy’s rash. This is the sort of discourse people have 90 percent of the time. (Note: As usual, all of the statistics in this post are completely made up.)
Conversations are essentially devoid of intellectual interest, and that’s fine, because the point of them isn’t to enrich one’s gray matter: we have them to strengthen social bonds, or to pass the time. When Paula talks about her leaky transmission, she might be looking for a sympathetic ear, or simply seeking to relieve stress by sharing her worries with a friend. Quincy may indeed learn something new about cars, but it’s the social connection which is important.
In a conversation, no one is trying to convince anyone of anything, or change someone’s positions on any issue.
Paula mentions she needs to get a new car and Quincy suggests a hybrid. The two then begin talking about the relative merits of hybrid vehicles as opposed to fully electric vehicles (which Paula favors). By the time Quincy has to leave for his appointment with the dermatologist, both are wondering if they could meet their transportation needs with bicycles and public transit.
Discussions are had when two or more people begin a mutual exchange of ideas where all participants are open (and likely) to change their minds. In the example above, both Paula and Quincy come to the table with their own positions (Paula favors electric cars, Quincy favors hybrids) but as a result of their information exchange, they each walk away with an entirely new, shared position (favoring bikes and public transportation).
The key factor in determining whether or not a discussion can be had is the willingness of the participants to alter their positions in response to new information. When ideas and information are exchanged in such an environment, altering positions is likely for all concerned.
If you find yourself frequently exchanging ideas with someone who never seems to alter his or her position, you’re probably not having discussions with this person, but instead having debates. For example…
Paula meets Quincy for lunch a week later and tells him she’s decided to buy a road bike and take the bus when necessary. Quincy says he’s doing the same, only he’s decided to buy a mountain bike. Paula tells him that’s overkill and Quincy tells her he’s worried about potholes and doesn’t think a road bike will hold up. The two go back and forth until Quincy has to leave for his follow up with the CDC. Neither one has budged from their positions, and each is frustrated that the other is so “irrational.”
In a debate, one or more participants is unlikely to alter his or her position, yet seeks to alter the position of either the other participant(s) or an audience. There may be many reasons why a participant would be unlikely to alter his or her position, but that’s irrelevant—the mere existence of this person means discussion is impossible and debate is inevitable.
I’m not saying debate is “wrong” or “undesireable,” here. I’m simply pointing out where to find it and how it differs from other forms of discourse.
On their next lunch-time rendezvous, Paula says she’s worried her bad knee might not be able to take biking everywhere, and that she’s thinking about just biting the bullet and buying another car. Quincy begins a 30-minute monologue on the evils of the coal industry and the company running the city’s power plant. By the time Quincy has to leave for his skin grafts, Paula is nursing a migraine.
Rants tend to be very easy to spot. If you’re talking with someone, and can easily imagine the other participant carrying on without you, you’re experiencing a rant. Unlike a conversation, discussion, or debate, only one participant is needed (or, indeed, welcome) for a rant. In the example above, Paula’s only purpose is to serve as a catalyst for Quincy, and he delivers a speech which might as well have been a typed manifesto.
A Personal Note
I enjoy conversations and discussions. I especially enjoy discussions when I’m thinking about something new (say, writing comedy) and have the benefit of speaking with someone knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge (say, a friend of a friend who happens to be a stand-up comedian).
I’m not really a fan of debate, though. If someone holds a strong opinion on something which significantly differs from my own, I might have a discussion about it, but more often than not (and often because of my own unwillingness to alter my position) I find it best to either avoid the topic or treat our discourse like a conversation—we’re not trying to change each other’s minds, we’re just strengthening social bonds through casually sharing things which are important to us.
If we’re both on that same page, sharing our views can be quite rewarding and not the least bit frustrating. Getting on that page isn’t always easy, though, so I tend to stay away from topics which seem to be “hot button” issues for me.
As far as rants go? I don’t know if it’s my age, my experiences, or what, but I’ve become exceedingly intolerant of them and those who wish to subject me to theirs. I’m not interested in being talked at or feeling like my role could be handled equally well by an inanimate object as far as the other participant is concerned.
Anyway, that’s my rant and I’m sticking to it.
I haven’t written anything here since December? Seriously?
Well, that’s not actually all that surprising. As I wrote in my last update, I’ve been crazy busy with a bunch of things, most of which have had me writing for other sites and left me with very little time to play around here.
I’d go into details about what I’ve been up to, but I don’t think any of it is particularly interesting—especially since so little of what I’ve worked on has amounted to anything more than months of…maybe not wasted time, but certainly nothing tangible has come out of it.
One of the things I tend to struggle with is taking on projects which are too big, too ill-defined, or otherwise are doomed to failure. Another thing I struggle with is a tendency to spread myself too thin: to take on numerous projects, try to work on them all, and ultimately fail as any right-thinking person would expect.
So, suffice it to say, I’ve spent the last six months doing things I thought were good ideas at the time, but ultimately didn’t work out. Some things didn’t work out for specific reasons I could point to, while others just sort of evaporated without a discernible cause.
I should probably be bummed out by that, and maybe some part of me is, but truthfully? I’m kinda relieved.
There were times during these last six months where I was earnestly bashing my head against no less than three monumentally huge projects, working sixty or eighty hours a week, and basically driving myself totally insane. Now that these projects have well and truly fallen apart, I’m feeling the mental equivalent of slipping into a hot bath after a hard workout.
As I implied above, I don’t really consider the last few months wasted, and that’s because I’ve (hopefully, finally) absorbed a lesson I thought I’d worked out years ago.
I’m supposed to be writing. All else is just killing time.
I’ve been stupid busy lately with two high-maintenance projects screaming for my time. One of these projects is The Project, and I still can’t write much about it. It’s not just my story.
The other projects is…something else, all mine, and while I’m still not quite ready to thrust it screaming out into the light of day, I can tell you it involves comedy.
I know a fair number of people, most of them believe they’re funny, and I’d say they’re right. Given the relaxed atmosphere and common history that only hanging out with friends can provide, they’ll all drop hilarious lines which have me questioning the absorbent power of whatever I’m sitting on.
And, assuming my friends can be believed, I’m one of these people. Whether I’m watching a movie, talking about current events, or commenting on Facebook posts, funny little quips are just one of those things that have always appeared to come naturally to me.
But being funny around your friends is very different from writing comedy for mass consumption.
See, all jokes—or nearly all of them—can be broken down into two basic pieces:
- The setup, wherein expectations are established.
- The punchline, wherein the unexpected occurs.
When you’re with your friends, all that common history—plus whatever situation you’re currently in—is basically the setup, pre-packaged for, and hand-delivered to, the clown of the group. It’s half the work done, no effort needed. All the “funny” guy or girl has to do is recognize the setup and drop a punchline.
And, because you’ve got that relaxed atmosphere of friends around you, even an obvious—read as “expected”—punchline can bring laughs. Try the same gags on an audience of strangers, you’d be lucky to get a few groans.
Which leads us ’round to the thrust of this post: comedy is hard.
I’ve never done much thinking about comedy, and now I’ve stuck myself in a position where I have to write it. Every. Single. Day.
It’s brutal at times, but I’m adapting, and when I get a few spare hours to write about writing I might share some of the finer bits I’ve learned. Until then, I really just want to write three things about it:
- I’ve never, ever, worked so hard.
- I think I might be kind of good at it.
- I’ve never, ever, had this much fun.
Anyway, since I’ll either be celebrating the holidays or working my ass off over the next week or two I doubt I’ll post anything substantive here until after Christmas. So, until then, have fun and Happy Holidays.
I’ve been tinkering with the theme of my blog again, in preparation for…something.
I’d write more about that something, but I’m still tinkering with that, and I have almost zero faith in my ability to get WordPress working the way I want without having to write my own plugin.
As I’ve said before, some days I really wish I’d never learned how to write code.
Stop telling people to download boilerplate files, libraries, or what-have-you and use them without any explanation as to how/why the markup and code in those files works. Because, if you do this, then you are what’s wrong with the web today.
See, any website of sufficient complexity has been built out of innumerable bits and pieces filled with—among other things—all sorts of kludges and workarounds for ancient and diverse browsers. Calling a modern website a house of cards is doing it too much credit. It’s more like an angry pile of half-dead and deranged koala bears someone stapled together and splashed with a little cologne.
And the reason we’re in this situation is that no one, no one, understands what half the shit in all these cobbled-together, hand-me-down files actually does. Cross-site scripting attacks, SQL injections, and hate-fucked user data are the inevitable results of the copy, paste, and get on with your day approach to website development being taught today.
That’s your fault. Yours. Take any book on this shit published in the last couple of years and you’ll see they all offer up their fair share of advice like this:
Our friends in the open source community came through with the perfect solution: ignorant_fucker.css, a style sheet that seeks to eliminate many of the differences between browsers’ default styles. You can download ignorant_fucker.css from http://toolazytotea.ch/i-got-paid-in-advance/. We don’t explain the details of how ignorant_fucker.css works, although you can certainly open it in any text editor and be totally fucking baffled at goddamned near every line of it because we can’t be bothered to do our jobs.
So, enough with the pointing your readers at this or that library or boilerplate and actually do your job.