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What this blog is about

14 Oct

Nor is the streetlight enough to read by. It projects rhomboidal ghosts of the windowpanes, alive with a spasmodic motion as raindrops tremblingly gather and then break downward in sudden streaks.

Right now I’m reading Rabbit at Rest by John Updike. He’s a good writer. Frequently I’ll read a sentence or two like the ones above and just marvel at his ability. He writes entire books like that. Hundreds of pages. I’ve been thinking more about writing since I started this blog, and it makes reading someone like Updike kind of demoralizing in addition to being exhilarating. There’s such a casual fluency that it seems like he just throws words on the page without much thought. He makes it seem easy, as they say. I could never do that.

I like to write. I’m writing mostly for myself. I’m thankful to anyone who wants to read this, but I’m not really writing for an audience. I don’t have any specific topic or topics in mind. I don’t think there will be a lot of consistency in the quality or quantity of posts. I don’t have much formal training and I haven’t written anything with the goal of making it fun or enjoyable or worth reading probably ever. Maybe emails about basketball or Lost.

I did a fair amount of writing in school, but the kind of school writing I did is really bad practice for actually becoming a good writer. Science and medical writing is some of the worst writing imaginable. It’s so highly stylized and jargonized and generally unreadable that I can hardly stand it. Doctors and scientists write like that on purpose to sound smart. I hate it. Here is an example. I just picked a random medical journal article I cited once in a grad school paper. I didn’t re-read it. I don’t need to. I just know. Here’s the trick: if you’re not a medical expert, don’t let the big words and technical nonsense impress you. That’s what authors are counting on in order to distract you from their inability to clearly and directly express themselves in plain English.

I wrote a lot of papers aping that style because I knew that’s what professors wanted. I remember writing a short thing for a class once–the assignment was to summarize and analyze a journal article or something. I wrote something that I thought was confusing and meaningless and full of buzzwords and generally not helpful for an actual person trying to understand the article in question. The GSI* was so impressed that she gave me an extra credit point. One hand I was pretty proud of myself. On the other hand it was depressing because even though writing like that came easily to me I already knew then what I told you in the preceding paragraph.

*Graduate Student Instructor. At most colleges these people are called TA’s. My guess is that they demanded some respect and got a new title. Like janitors who are called custodians.

That got a little ranty. Sorry, dear reader. Hopefully writing blog posts regularly will enable me to avoid this tendency and break all of the other bad writing tendencies I have built up. Maybe one day I will be an actually good writer. That is what this blog is about.

The title of my blog

11 Oct

If you know where The Pensive Years comes from without being told, you are my favorite person. It’s just unfortunate that this person doesn’t exist.

The mid-90’s were a different time. There was no South Park on Comedy Central. The Daily Show was hosted by Craig Kilborn. Most of the schedule was filled with things like aggregated years-old stand-up bits, heavily edited movies from the 80’s, and SNL reruns. There was also Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. I loved this show. It had a totally unique visual style. It had guest stars like Louis CK and Dave Chappelle. Many episodes had only the faintest hint of a plot. It was amazing.

The premise of the show was that the eponymous Dr. Katz would have comedians as his “patients” and they would do their comedy bits as therapy. There would also be some kind of story involving Dr. Katz’s layabout adult son Ben and receptionist Laura. It turns out that many episodes are available in full on YouTube. Everyone should watch this show. Here’s a pretty good sample:


Anyway in one episode Ben decides to write his memoirs. The title of one of the prospective chapters is “The Pensive Years”. And that is where I got the title for this blog. Of course Ben never actually wrote anything, and I already have TWO posts. Things are looking up.

This is my blog

11 Oct

My opinions are important. Everyone wants to know them. I am very interesting. I have stories everyone wants to hear. This blog will undoubtedly become very popular. You are lucky to know about it now. You are the hippest hipster on your block. Congratulations.