On January 17, 2019, I framed a year-long writing project for myself, called Credidero. On December 26, 2019, I completed the final planned installment, contemplating the concept of Possibility, following on eleven other pre-selected monthly topics of interest. According to the “Document Readibility” counter at Online Utility Dot Org, the full project looked like this, statistically:
Not surprising to me that (a) I write long sentences and (b) I write at a fairly high educational level. I think that’s the poet and scholar in me. In my personal projects, I like sentences to flow, metrically, which often makes them more florid than they might be for strict journalistic writing. And then I like to be precise and use the right word in the right place at the right time, even if that word is an arcane one that could be replaced with something less precise, but more accessible. Words matter. As do structure and flow. Text should feel beautiful, even when it’s dense.
I used another tool at Utility Online Dot Org to assess the words most commonly used in the full Credidero text. I eliminated the most common English words that are essential to sentence construction, but don’t much add informational value (e.g. the, be, to, of, and, etc.), and then merged some similar terms, leaving the following list of words that appeared most frequently in the text:
If you’re more visually inclined, here’s a Wordle created from the same data set. (Wordle and I make different choices on which words to combine, and which to eliminate, so it’s not quite an apples-to-apples match, but the gist is there).
Here are some things that jump out to me as I look at these text sets. Do you see something different?
- The focus on “big” topics puts the “big” concept of human beings in aggregate (human/humans/humanity/man, community/communities, and people/person) at or near the top of the pile, more so than words related to individuality, even though this was a project related to my personal thoughts and reflections. I suppose that means I worked to apply my own perceptions in universal ways whenever I could.
- Time-related words (time, year/years, now, long) feature heavily, consistent with both a long-view of the concepts being explored, and also (I think) a sense that I was using this project to place where I am in my life now within a broader frame, looking at what I’ve experienced, and what may be ahead of me, and how I might consider and live within it. Right here, right now is a point on a time line. You can only accurately define it by looking both backward and forward along its span.
- There are a lot of words related to our perception of the world around us (think/thought, know, believe, experience, find, seems, sense). This seems apt in a series that cited an exploration of belief as one of its core tenets. But it also seems to indicate some fuzziness of outcomes and outputs, as there are few absolute statements to be made on many of the subject topics. Belief is as much a function of feel as it is a function of know.
- This was a writing project that recognized that it was a writing project, so there’s probably no surprise that scribbling-related words (write/writing/written/wrote and word/words) score so highly. More on this below, as I think that one of the underlying things that I gleaned through this project was why this type of writing is different from most other things I write, and perhaps some reflection on how to blend those pieces better.
- The tone of the project felt and feels positive to me, even when covering topics with negative connotations, and that seems to be affirmed by the high placement of positive words like “good,” “better,” “right” and “well.”
- I probably use the word “actually” too often. Might need to work on avoiding it (and its “mansplaining” association) in my writing. Although, actually . . . oh, never mind.
Getting beyond that simple text analysis, how do I think this project lived up to my own expectations for it? Here’s what I originally wrote about what I might want to achieve with Credidero:
I found myself focusing on a series where I grappled with one of those abstract and uncountable “-ity” nouns every month or so, letting it carry me where it would, with the thematic restrictions on the pieces being that they should reflect some real personal belief (“My Creed”), that they should eschew political dogma (neither “left” nor “right”), and that the acts of creating them should spark emotional response in some way, ideally something at the joyful end of the spectrum as an escape from the unrelenting sourness of modern media discourse.
I then noted:
I originally planned to title the series “Credo,” from the first person indicative present conjugation of the Latin verb “credere,” which means (approximately) “to believe.” That conjugated form has long since entered the English language to refer to a statement of beliefs, or a set of convictions and premises, that guide an individual’s actions. But as I started to think about it more, I realized that I don’t actually have a statement of beliefs, or a set of convictions, related to those 12 tenets and words right now — though I should in the future, once I really consider them. Hence a new title: “Credidero.” That’s the first person future perfect conjugation of “credere.” This verb form is used to describe an event that is expected to happen before a specific time of reference in the future. So if “Credo” translates to “I believe [now],” then “Credidero” translates to “I will have believed [by the end of the year].”
I think I did reasonably well in being honest and candid and personal in these pieces, and they did give me a sense of joy, most of the time, that hopefully translated into the reading experience as well. I might have been a little more politically strident in some cases than I would have desired, but there were concepts to be considered that, unfortunately, were and are tied up to our current political situation, dire and unavoidable as it is.
In terms of how my beliefs might have evolved or been codified in writing, I went back through each of the twelve pieces to find a sentence or paragraph that best synopsized what I carried out of the writing and research process. Reading them as a piece feels good to me. They may not represent a manifesto, but I think they accurately capture the head space and physical place where I find myself at this point in my life. I am glad to have actively reflected upon them to gain a more structured peek into the morass of my mind, busy and buzzing with noise and weirdness, always.
If there’s a core theme that runs through them, I believe its an active acceptance and embrace of the fact that I’m blessed to be able to think and write about such matters, a luxury many cannot afford, and that I need to use whatever time I have left on our blue-green glorious rock to embrace wonder in ways that produce joy for me and those whose lives intersect with mine, directly or indirectly. That joy and wonder should be anchored in the real, observable world around us, but with a recognition that our powers of observation are limited by biology and culture and habit. There are surprises and unknowns out there. Some will feel good. Some will hurt. Such is being alive, and aware. There’s no brilliant revelation there, I know, but it still feels good to actively contemplate and test such conclusions, and to decide whether they feel right and true. For me, they do.
Here are the twelve key quotes that frame “what I will have believed” in each article under the Credidero rubric:
- Hostility: We can know how to kill without killing. We can know how to hate without hating. We can feel hostile without being hostile. Or we can be hostile without feeling hostile. We have agency in the presence of hostility imposed and hostility expressed, both individually and institutionally, but we must choose to accept that agency. I believe we should do so, and I believe we may all become better humans by occasionally facing the ugliness that sits at the very heart of our species’ collective soul, and also occasionally considering the ugliness that our societies ask us to assume as part of our social contracts, and then consciously, actively shaping our behaviors to manage, accept, or reject that ugliness, as best befits our personal and collective circumstances.
- Curiosity: When I ponder what a personal end of days might look like, I tend to think that losing the desire for these types of inquisitions will be among the key dominoes falling in an ultimately failing physical system, and I’m going to rage, rage against the dying of that light, for as long as I can. For all of the emotional negatively that morbid curiosity might theoretically inflict upon me, were I more prone to explore it, I can’t help but think that the emotional positivity of eager, open, innocent investigation of the world around me will always return a net positive position for the time and energy spent in its pursuit. If I am the sum total of my experiences, then my curiosity, more than anything else, is what makes me me. And your curiosity, more than anything else, is what makes you you. And the glorious variety possible through endless permutations of those equations is what makes so much of life so very enjoyable, in ways that I hope to remain always curious about, until I disperse the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen that composes me, so that other curious entities might form from it.
- Security: The little moments remain precious, the little touches remain important, the little objects remain iconic, the little steps remain productive, and on a personal basis, I will pursue and appreciate them as I always have, and they will anchor me, daily, in their comfortable familiarity and emotional warmth. That said, they should not, must not, render me numb to the realities of the world around me, and the real — not imaginary — threats to me and mine, and you and yours, that await there. We must feel at least “cum minima cura” about those realities, to create the friction and heat needed to prepare us to do more than hug fantasias when we’re required to do so by events beyond our individual control. Perhaps that collective sense of edge and unease will serve as the fulcrum upon which change is finally levered, and perhaps that’s the greatest little step than any of can truly take toward building a more secure world for the maximum number of its residents, human or otherwise. As good as it feels to hug our transitional objects, and as often I’m going to continue to do so, I think I’m also going to try to hug my own anxieties every now and again, if for no other reason than to look at them, understand them a bit better, and maybe decide that they might actually be trying to tell me something that I shouldn’t be hugging away at all.
- Absurdity: I am absurd, I admit it, inside and out — but I am not a philosophical absurdist. I do believe we can glean meaning and value in an unfeeling, unthinking, and unknowing universe. And I do not believe that a fundamental conflict between the quest for meaning and the universe’s indifference to it drives my own inner absurdity.
- Inhumanity: [All cultures], throughout our history, have created stories and religions and narratives that seek to guide humanity’s future through the examples of non-human actors, be they other living things on our planet, or mystical beings beyond it. I doubt that any one of them is any better or any worse than any other, so long as they focus individuals and small groups (remember, we get horrible en masse, always) on goodness at a scale perceivable to the perceiver, and receivable by a receiver . . . Maybe we all become better, more humane humans, the more we embrace the inhuman-ity around us.
- Creativity: Creatio ex nihilo was long the sole province of God, or the Gods, or Muses, or Daemons, or other inhuman forces swirling in the vapors around us. I believe that by claiming creativity as our own human right, in all the things we do, and celebrating its fruits, we don’t denigrate the God(s) that inspire us, but instead become ever more like them.
- Community: Somewhat ironically, this month’s “community” topic has been the hardest for me to consider and write, almost entirely because I’ve already spent so much time thinking about it and writing about it over the years that I already have a stronger set of well-formed beliefs on the topic that I’ve had on any of the others thus far. How I act on those beliefs, though, I think is evolving, hopefully in ways that connect me more meaningfully with a more local or in-person communities, rather than spending so much time alone (in real life) while sort of together (in virtual space). I imagine that retirement, with all the newly available time it entails, will be a much richer experience that way. Less thinking and writing about community all by myself, and more experiencing community with others.
- Complexity: If simple work is the opposite of complex fun, just as entropy is the opposite of creation, just as the Devil is the opposite of the Watchmaker, then we’ve got to wrap back around to opening arguments and conclude by accepting that work must be the purview of Satan, and play must be the purview of God, and that we model ourselves most clearly in His image when we frolic in fields of phlox and fescue and philosophy and felicity and feeling and friends and family and festivity and fun. I’m ultimately happy to believe in such a simple truth when staring into the awesome face of such a stupidly, gloriously complex universe as ours!
- Eternity: It seems to me that a belief in and commitment to the tangible (though as yet indeterminate) time span “L” is of greater utility than being afraid of and/or longing for a metaphysical eternity and what it might (though probably doesn’t) represent and contain. So is anybody up for starting The Church of Maximum “L,” with a defining core belief that “N” is greater than one, if we can only stick around long enough to establish contact and connect? I’d be a darned good early apostle if you need one. (Note: “N” and “L” are terms in the Drake Equation, discussed in that month’s article; “N” is the number of intelligent species in the galaxy capable of communicating across celestial distances, and “L” is the length of time they — are we — able to do so).
- Authority: I believe we need to be constantly vigilant as we evaluate the various authorities that govern and shape our lives, but when all is said and done, I also believe that there’s a need for such authorities, and I hope that I am able to continue authoring my own life story in a fashion that encourages others to look my way and say “Now there’s an expert. Let’s see where he’s going to take us . . . “
- Mortality: What else can we do in the face of the ways that mortality will impact us, sooner or later, except live life to the fullest while we still can do so? As trite or pat as that might sound as a concluding sentiment for this article, it’s what I have believed, do believe, and hope to always believe.
- Possibility: Not everything’s possible, but more than enough things are plausible, and probable, to keep my sense of wonder and expectation high, and I believe that’s a rubric worth living in, and living through, and living for.
As mentioned above in the comments about the prevalence of writing-related words, I also found myself considering, from a technical standpoint, what it was that I was doing with this project, and how it differed from what I “normally” write. I knocked the idea around a bit, and eventually kept coming back to there being four key types of writing in my world, as follows:
- Reactive: These would include reviews and related pieces; I saw, heard, read or did something, and here is how I react to it. Political pieces probably fall into this bucket too, as they are often written in response to governmental or social actions that generate a reaction requiring explanation.
- Descriptive: I see these are being my experiential pieces, and I probably do this most often in travel articles and in my professional writing, where I am trying to tell readers something in ways that lets them see what I see, or understand what I understand, or value what I value.
- Creative: The most obvious of the four categories, these would be my short stories, poems, lyrics, or whatever else just spins out of my head without direct anchor in the real world, until I make it so by writing about it.
- Reflective: This is where I put Credidero. I see it as a type of writing that is personal, but is not necessarily anchored in any specific outside stimulus or activity. If I go back through the 1,200+ articles in my web archive, it’s unquestionably the least represented category of writing in my archive.
When I think about writing across these four categories, I believe that to hone my craft, I need to find ways and spaces to create more pieces that straddle multiple categories. A descriptive travel piece would become more compelling with a deeper reflective component, for example. Creative writing is strengthened when the descriptive elements are rich, even if the descriptions are of imaginary spaces and places. I can see other opportunities to blend across the four categories, and as I work in the year ahead to frame and market various writing projects, I want to be mindful of not just defaulting to my three usual silos (e.g. reactive reviews, descriptive travelogues, creative stories), but to think of ways to cross-pollinate my usual styles within each one, and to bring the reflective elements more to the fore. We can always get better at what we do, and that’s true for me and writing as with everything else. Maybe this will be a good rubric for formalizing that aspect of improvement.
One final thought, on “belief” itself. If asked to briefly summarize my most deeply-held beliefs before embarking on this project, I generally would have offered something glib like “physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics,” rather than anything anchored in mystical or metaphysical worlds. One needs a particularly deep faith to embrace the untestable, the invisible, and the unknowable, and my personality is a bit more “show me” oriented than ones that are receptive to believing in something simply because someone told me to believe in it. In our culture, those faith-based life practices tend to be seen as warm and nurturing, where science-based life practices are viewed as somehow cold and without deep emotional reward. I beg to differ on that front. I found myself reflecting regularly in this series on mysteries and margins and mind-blowing experiences — which can exist in the material world — and I glean deep emotional resonance from being a small, sentient object in a vast universe, composed of an uncountable number of ever-smaller objects, moving across a globe that seethes with living, breathing, moving, growing and dying objects of all shapes and sizes, each of them as important as I am, in the grand scheme of things. As noted above, “belief” is as much about feel as it is about know, and I do not see that as being the least bit out of alignment with a science-based view of the world around me. I’m happy to know things empirically, and I’m happy to feel things emotionally, and my beliefs sit comfortably atop both types of life experience, always. I do not feel a void in my life where faith should sit, at bottom line.
And with that note, I think this project is now complete. I appreciate those who have read along with me over the past year, especially given the fact that this is not the type of thing that has generally brought an audience to this website, nor sustained it. The project may have been an act of creative self-indulgence accordingly, but I gained value from it, and I’m glad to have played it out in a public domain. Here’s hoping that the insights and perspectives it provided me result in better writing and richer experiences in the years to come, however many more I might be blessed to experience, actively, in good health, and with eyes wide open to wonder and joy.
Note: This epilogue summarizes a 12-part, year-long writing project. If you wish to read more deeply, you may do so at the links below:
All Articles In This Series:
Thanks again, St. Anselm of Canterbury, for letting me borrow “Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo, quia, nisi credidero, non intelligam.” You have been a good guide.