Out of practice

When I’m in that state of having nothing to read but not enough motivation to do work, I really need to spend the time writing rather than searching for more reading. For example, I just read in the New Yorker that there olive oil industry is rife with counterfeit oil; it is often cut with sunflower and soya oil (and sometimes treated to mask the flavour of the offending additive) for inevitable greater profits. That makes me wary about oil, I guess. Oh well; in cooking, I can hardly taste the difference anyway.

Now, the New Yorker is great. I bought a paper copy of it in an airport a few weeks ago to gauge whether I prefer it in print to online, and online wins hands down. It’s a whole magazine of current affairs and articles of interest, which can vary from fascinating to completely off-wavelength. Buying the print version gives you a good mix of both. But online, it’s easy to skip the chaff, and this makes it a much more valuable reference. Of course, I’m a huge fan of keeping articles I like in softcopy for future reference, and hardcopy just clutters up a garage in the end.

But undirected reading is hazardous to my time. I’ve hardly got time to do the dishes these days, so why should I spend time reading about how some olive oil isn’t just made from olives? Even worse, RSS readers transform collecting reading material into an imperative task: 45 unread news items! What have I missed? On the other hand, stopping by newyorker.com every week or so can easily be skipped. But my will isn’t strong enough to avoid checking my news in RSS, and I dread avoiding them for a week and coming back with hundreds of items that just might be interesting enough for me sift through the whole lot for.

I’ve cut down a lot recently, you must understand. On a typical day, I’ll only have a few tens, max, of articles to read or links to follow. This takes me less than half an hour, I’d guess, to wade through and discard those that I don’t feel inclined to consume. I haven’t measured it, really.

And back to my first point: I’ve become out of practice in writing here myself, although I have been doing so more on my actual research. (The thesis is very far from complete, however. It’s early days yet. But don’t tell anyone!) The pity is that I really like writing. If I forced myself to write every day, I’d be a lot better at going on at length in an interesting way — and of course my ego thinks I’ve interesting things to say in the first place (although I’d be inclined to disagree on occasion). But my interests can be rather myopic at times, for others at least, and I’d rather not harp on about news that is transitory at best and of dubious interest at worst. (Hey, did you hear there’s new iMacs? They’re cheap and pretty and great! I will probably buy one in a couple of months!)

So here’s to my literary career. Ahem.