One might think that a period which, in a space of fifty years, uproots, enslaves, or kills seventy million human beings should be condemned out of hand. But its culpability must still be understood… In more ingenuous times, when the tyrant razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave chained to the conqueror’s chariot was dragged through the rejoicing streets, when enemies were thrown to the wild beasts in front of the assembled people, the mind did not reel before such unabashed crimes, and the judgment remained unclouded. But slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or by a taste for the superhuman, in one sense cripple judgment. On the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence — through a curious transposition peculiar to our times — it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the untimely death of Albert Camus, one of my favorite writers and philosophers. He perished as a passenger in a car accident on this date in 1960.
Camus said, in Lyrical and Critical Essays:
Accepting the absurdity of everything around us is one step, a necessary experience: it should not become a dead end. It arouses a revolt that can become fruitful.
In The Plague:
The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. There can be no true goodness, nor true love, without the utmost clear-sightedness.
The Daily Mirror blog has an image of the Los Angeles Times announcement of Camus’ death in this post, “Matt Weinstock, Jan. 4, 1960″. Scroll down a bit to view.
Much like for my favorite movies, here is a list of my Top 25 favorite writers.
- Vladimir Nabokov
- Ray Bradbury
- JRR Tolkien
- Kurt Vonnegut
- Douglas Adams
- Ursula K Le Guin
- Mark Twain
The rest in alphabetical order by last name:
- Charlotte Brontë
- Emily Brontë
- Albert Camus
- Raymond Chandler
- Umberto Eco
- James Ellroy
- William Gibson
- Spalding Gray
- Franz Kafka
- Milan Kundera
- George Orwell
- Dorothy Parker
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Muriel Spark
- Bram Stoker
- Jules Verne
- Edith Wharton
- HG Wells
- Jane Austen
- Robert Benchley
- George Carlin
- Philip K Dick
- Ernest Hemingway
- Jack Kerouac
- Flannery O’Connor
- William Shakespeare
- Mary Shelley
- Neal Stephenson
- John Steinbeck
- Bruce Sterling
- Hunter S Thompson
- Virginia Woolf
- Oscar Wilde
- PG Wodehouse
transitive |’transitiv; ‘tranz-| adjective
Grammar (of a verb or a sense or use of a verb) able to take a direct object (expressed or implied), e.g., “saw” in “he saw the donkey.” The opposite of intransitive. (from Oxford American Dictionary)
As you may or may not remember from those long ago English classes, a transitive verb is one that has a direct object for its action, either (as the definition above says) expressed or implied. This also means there is a subject acting on that object. Some examples:
- I read the newspaper.
- The Terminator scanned a motorcycle.
- Indiana Jones shot the Nazi.
- The poodle gnawed his squeak-ball.
It dawned on me recently when I was going over my todo list for an upcoming week that all of the actions I was writing down were transitive:
- Brush dog.
- Wash dishes.
- Write backup script.
- Update checkbook.
And when tasks were not obviously transitive verb phrases, I had to transmute or atomize them until they were.
Merlin talked about this a few months ago in Building a Smarter To-Do List, Part I in which he said,
“Framing your work in the physical world is easiest when you imagine what’s being done, and the best trick here is to simply phrase your task in a form like: ‘verb the noun with the object.’”
“iPod problem?” turned into “Research iPod problem” which then required refocusing into “Search Apple support for iPod issue.” Longer, yes, but an actual task that can be done. A direct object for my verb. “NaNoWriMo!” begat “Continue NaNoWriMo” which begat “Write Chapter 5″ — again, an actual action.
GTD theory talks about this idea of making sure your todo list consists of Next Actions, which is to say the next physical action required to complete a given project. Not “clean garage” but “buy trash bags.” Not “write novel” but “write character sketch.” Not “get car fixed” but “call for car appointment.”
Paying attention to the grammar of my tasks seems to help in that regard. If I cannot visualize the todo item, if I’m not able to see myself doing it, then there’s something wrong with it. What is the verb? What is the object?
And if you’re not the subject of your own task-sentence, make somebody else do it. ;D
Not to stretch the grammar lesson too far, but what about the alternative of a transitive task? Is there such a thing as an intransitive task? Absolutely!
- Sleep 8 hours.
- Bicycle on Sunday.
- Run until I can’t feel my legs anymore.
Of course, there are also ambitransitive verbs, which are transitive or intransitive depending on if you include the optional object.
Stative Tasks: Being Things Done
If you think about it, our Things are never really Getting Done. Sure, you might complete a given todo list, but there’s always more to do. That project might be out the door at last, but there’s always another right after it. Still, most of us accept this Sisyphean existence as an inherent aspect of leading a productive life.
Less easily handled by all the productivity schemes are non-actions.
There is a class of verbs called “stative” — they have no time component, no action per se.
- I believe.
- You think.
- She knows.
States of being, in other words. How do you get your belief done? How do you atomize knowledge?
Most of the time, so-called productivity gurus add a puffy clip-art cloud to their PowerPoint slide and label it “The Big Picture” and leave it at that. Oh, and be sure to add a todo item scheduling a “strategic planning” session.
There is an old adage in music about the rests being at least as important as the notes. A purposeful pause in a speech can lend multiple levels of unspoken meaning.
Silence is golden. Sometimes it isn’t about what you get done, it’s what you are. Or aren’t.
Can you add stative tasks in iCal? Will Remind remind you to be?
There are 10 kinds of people in the world…
A computer is good at some things. Computing, mostly, although all that math is often disguised as web browsing, image manipulation, music playback, and other human-stimulating activities. Emotional computers would probably like todo lists with their binary checkboxes. It’s either off or on, incomplete or done, zero or one.
Stephen Hawking likened asking what happened before the Big Bang to asking what’s north of the North Pole. Since the question is without meaning, there can be no real answer. How do you compute living? The answer is that you don’t because you can’t.
Everybody out there raise your hands if you’ve recently felt guilty about not getting things done. Assuming you don’t work in one of the life-saving professions, why? Sure, there are some big items you have to get done, but why feel guilt over not picking up the dry cleaning today?
What’s north of the North Pole?
One of my favorite writers, Albert Camus, wrestled with meaninglessness in his famous essay “Myth of Sisyphus.” Absent some external meaning like religion, he wrote, life is fundamentally meaningless — given this, what can we grab onto instead of self-destruction? Camus rejects both faith and a humorless existence, instead reveling in the absurdity inherent to the Sisyphean myth, as a metaphor for modern life. Sisyphus pauses at the top of the hill, content before the boulder rolls back, then returns down the slope, absurdly happy.
It’s not the boulder that’s the point, it’s the moments when you aren’t pushing. The effort makes the rest of it worthwhile. “There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.” If it wasn’t for all the work, the downtime would be worthless.
What does all this highfalutin talk have to do with productivity?
In a post on the 43folders board, a user asked about the necessity of blogging, whether it took too much time away one could use “more productively in other things.” I asked her how the question changed if she substituted the word “write” for the word “blog.” “Productivity,” I said, “is not the end-all be-all of existence.”
That’s not to say that productivity or utility or whatever other Protestant-Ethic noun you want to use aren’t important. Of course they are.
But sometimes, it’s best to turn off the computer, close the Moleskine, toss the Hipster PDA on the counter, and leave the office or house with as little guilt as possible. And just maybe with some absurd happiness that even though you’ll be back at it tomorrow, nose to the boulder, you’re going to enjoy the trip back down the hill. Stative tasks — ones without a checkbox.
Two weeks ago at the time of this writing, my stepfather passed away after a long illness. And even though I miss him terribly, he is no longer in terrible pain — so by any real measure, he is better off now.
Late in life, after a long, successful, productive career, he found new paths to go down that led him to be happier than he ever had been before. A new career, creativity and an artistic side, relationships, peacefulness. Just like in other ways, the changes he made inspired me to look at my own life, at what it was I was doing and why.
He was still very much “productive,” but it became only a part of life… not a reason for living. This is a distinction that is easy to forget when the stress (both internal and external) is up to your neck and rising.
Life, the cliche goes, is short. Make sure yours is also to the point.