How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Reader Response Theory

One thing that used to bother me as a writer is that I would always have a point I wanted to make, and not really know how to make it.

My attempts to be obvious were heavy-handed and artless, and when I was subtle I found that the stories I wanted to tell didn’t say what I wanted to say.

This was the cause of no mean frustration for me, since younger me wanted to make a point with everything, to the point of ultimately giving up and writing either stuff that I considered meaningless drivel or stuff that was so chock-full of symbolism and heavy-handed ideas that it lacked any real development or originality.

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The Importance of Reading

Since beginning a voyage of self-improvement in March, I’ve read 200 articles and at least 10 books just for the sake of reading more.

I spend at least one hour every day dedicated solely to reading, and I spend a fair amount of time reading stuff written by people who are wrong disagree with the beliefs that I hold.

And I’ve noticed a few positive trends in my life.

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Learning from Barbara Bush

This past week, First Lady Barbara Bush passed away. Her passing has left a major impact on the news cycle, but also in the hearts and minds of many Americans and even people overseas who have come to realize what a legacy one woman had on the nation and the world.

I’m not someone who writes about politics very often. I’m pretty apolitical, at least in public, so I don’t want this to stand as a striking endorsement or condemnation of any policy. In any case, I have no living memory of the Bush (senior) Administration. What I am writing about is based strictly on my reflections on the accounts of people who knew Barbara Bush during her life.

What I write is based on what I have heard her character described as, but the reports are so consistent and so broad that I have no doubt in their veracity.

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Principles: An Antidote to Deception

I was reading an article on Vox this morning about the  advent of realistic and easily accessible “fake” tools, which allow for the creation of altered video and images with relatively high rates of accuracy, relatively low resources required, and the vast expanse of the internet with which to spread them.

This is a very real concern as we head into the 21st century. Our lives have become controlled by society (whether we like it or not), and if society is controlled by deception, what chance do we have to really have to live our own lives in a good way?

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Happiness

While I was drinking my tea today (apple, if anyone’s interested), I had an interesting realization.

I have been happier in the final weeks of March and April than I have been at any other time in my adult life. Probably more so than at any point in my adolescent life, either.

Some of this has to do with a spiritual re-awakening, since I’ve been more involved in my church and the Scriptures, but a lot of it has to do with simple changes to my life.

I write about two to three thousand words a day on average. I’m more or less equally productive on my previous projects, but I have taken up blogging regularly.

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Learning from Man’s Search for Meaning

I’ve been reading Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (affiliate link) recently and I’ve been struck by how powerful his account is. I was turned off by the foreword of my edition, which I found fairly stuffy and difficult to process.

Once you get into Frankl’s work, however, the power of it is incredible. He is honest, open, and incredibly transparent in what he felt. He does nothing to diminish his own guilt or paint himself as a hero, but instead acknowledges with clinical precision how he acted and felt during the Holocaust and the horrors that had enveloped him. Although a prisoner, he refuses to be a victim.

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Living in History

Life does not exist in a vacuum. Every living organism is the product of complex chemical and biological mechanisms that we are just beginning to truly understand.

Minds, likewise, do not exist in a vacuum. Our days do not unfold in a vacuum: they are not sequences of events disconnected and disengaged from each other.

Yet we live, for the most part, like our actions do not connect to reality. We pretend that the events that unfold around us are something that we have no control over.

We pretend that we have no history and no past, because it lets us shape our future according to our whims and our fantasies.

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The Writer as Stoic

Stoicism is an important philosophy in the founding tenets of the Western world; it is frequently tied into Christianity owing to the religion’s nature as part of a Roman tradition (albeit one that grew to outstrip the political entity that eventually adopted it).

Stoicism involves the pursuit of morality and virtue above all else (which certainly helps explain its appeal to Christian scholars who saw a link between it and the teachings of their faith, leading it to be preserved for centuries with a great deal of fervor as a sort of secular proof of the rightness of a moral life).

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Overcoming the Self

I looked at the scale, and I knew intuitively that my weight was going to kill me. I had been having problems sleeping because I couldn’t get comfortable. I was dealing with minor, but persistent, pains that were impacting my life choices. I wasn’t happy with how I looked.

I knew something had to change.

Of course, I’d try changing before, so what made this time different?

Well, for starters I was reaping the full consequences of my actions. Homer Simpson-esque jokes about pitying my future self were less amusing when I found myself as the butt of the experience.

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In Defense of Capitalism

As someone who owns a (very) small business (obligatory self-promotion), I sometimes find it frustrating when people talk about capitalism solely as a tool for the greedy. Capitalism exists as a replacement for old systems that weren’t working as society became more complex, and remains a valuable way of running society.

I must first acknowledge those who have said these same ideas more eloquently and more profoundly, most importantly Hayek, whose books on the nature of the decentralized economy and the history of economics are terrific resources for understanding how capitalism works. I am not a professional economist, but I find myself on occasion engaged in conversation with people who have no understanding of the basic notion of capitalism, and who indeed feel that it is a great social ill. I find the exact opposite to be true: capitalism, when kept free of corruption as all systems must be, is an enabling tool for progress.

Why is this? Because capitalism is built on the notion of demand. There will always be times when people rely on cronyism or malice to get an unfair advantage (a problem likely more for ethics and governance than economics), but the fundamental reward of capitalism comes from service.

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