Wikipedia Greatness

Having recently completed my two biggest goals in life–to get a PhD and to have something I’ve written published–I’ve decided that my new long-term goal (aside from living on every continent for a year) is to achieve Wikipedia Greatness.

Wikipedia Greatness is defined (by me) as doing something notable enough that someone else creates a Wikipedia entry about me–and that entry doesn’t subsequently get deleted by the site’s editors. The key point here is the someone else. It’s important to stress that in order to achieve Wikipedia Greatness, other people have to think I’m great.

As opposed to just me thinking I’m great. Or my mom.

Of course, there are different levels of Wikipedia Greatness. The first level is to simply have a stub. Basically, just my name and a brief, almost apologetic explanation of why I have an article in the first place. At the bottom it will say something like, “This article about an Unimportant person is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.” But why would you want to? You have better things to do.

It’s beyond this first level (the stub-level) that things really get interesting and Wikipedia Greatness really comes alive. Pictures, detailed biographical information, subsections, controversies, links, references, and so on. The possibilities are virtually endless, and the level of detail is directly proportional to how important other people think I am.

But I don’t care about any of that. I just want a stub. I simply want to plant my feet firmly on that first step of The Wikipedia Ladder of Greatness. Or maybe it’s an escalator. I’m not really sure. Metaphors were never my strong suit.

So what exactly is Greatness anyway, and how can it be achieved? Naturally, Wikipedia has an article on Greatness which goes into some detail, but I’m not going to rehash it all here. What I did find interesting though was at the very bottom of the article, a guy named Bill Dorris did an extensive study of individuals throughout history and came up with a complicated argument for how Greatness is achieved (although ironically he does not yet have a Wikipedia article of his own).

Having just now done an extensive study of glancing at a few pages on Wikipedia, I’ve come up with my own theory for how Greatness is achieved. And while Dorris’s argument has the advantage of sound research and professional-sounding terms, mine has the advantage of being easy to understand and not requiring a whole book to explain.

So according to me, the three keys to Greatness are: talent, opportunity, and hard work. Now I don’t know about the exact proportions, but I think some amount of each of these things is required. And yeah, maybe if you have a lot of talent and a great opportunity you might not have to work so hard, or with a lot of hard work and a decent opportunity you can achieve greatness even if you don’t have a lot of talent, but I think at least some amount of all three is required for Greatness.

If my goal were to simply make enough money to live comfortably, I think I would be just fine with a career in science. But if my goal is Wikipedia Greatness, I’m going to have to do something else. Because while I do have some talent for research, I just don’t know what direction to take in order to discover something Great. Plus, I don’t want to work that hard because I’m just not that passionate about it.

But when it comes to writing, I feel like I can see an opportunity for myself. I think I could achieve a minor level of Greatness as a writer/philosopher. I have a lot of stories in my head–more than 60 at the moment–and I have a way of looking at things that’s slightly different compared to most people. And while I may not have an exceptional amount of talent for writing, I think I do have an adequate amount, and I’m willing to work hard. After all, I’m not looking for a Shakespeare- or Aristotle-sized Wikipedia entry.

I just want a stub.

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More on Going for It

One of my friends here in China tells me I’m indecisive. I like to think that I’m simply just really good at clearly seeing both the positives and negatives of each potential choice in any given decision, and therefore I weigh my options carefully before I take any irrevocable action.

But that’s a bunch of crap. I really am just pretty indecisive.

Most of the big decisions I’ve made in my life have been on a whim, or a coin toss, or on the advice of someone else—basically I let them decide for me. But the decision to put my career in science at least temporarily on hold to go to Australia to finish my novel was one I made all on my own.

At first I was going to let Fate decide. I applied for a postdoc which I was reasonably qualified for in Melbourne, and I figured if I got it I’d take it, and if not I’d go to Australia anyway on a “Work and Travel” visa, which lets me stay in Australia for a year, but forbids me to work any one job for more than six months.

But then I got to thinking about what a friend of mine in the Peace Corps told me: “If you want to pursue your dream, you can’t have a plan B; otherwise it will become your plan A.”

I don’t know if that’s true in all cases, but it was certainly true for me once before. When I left Africa in 2004 I wanted to be a writer, but I decided that getting a PhD in chemistry would be my plan B. Well, six years later I have a PhD, but I still haven’t finished my novel. I think that pretty much says it all.

So I made a decision. I decided that I was going to stop putting in a half-assed effort, and finally commit my whole ass to something. I decided to intentionally and willfully give up on the postdoc, and just focus completely on writing. That decision made, I went ahead and applied for the “Work and Travel” visa.

My mommy helped me pay for it.

The thing is, once I made that decision, everything in my life seemed to snap into place. I was granted the visa in less than a week, and didn’t even have to show them any supporting documentation. My friend mentioned the book she was writing, and I agreed to edit it—and in doing so, my own writing and even my perception of writing has improved. I feel energized and inspired; I feel like I have some direction in my life, and I’m finally doing what I’m really supposed to be doing. I am, unfortunately, a rather tense, anxious person, but lately I’ve been feeling a lot more relaxed and happy. And while I can’t say for sure, I like to think that I’m feeling better now because I finally made a decision to do what’s best for me to do.

Yeah, I finally made a decision for myself. Go me. Seriously, my mom picked my college for me, a friend suggested I go to Hawaii, I let the Peace Corps choose Tanzania, I went to England for a girl, I came to China to get as far away from—nevermind. The point is, I’ve always let Fate or other people make my choices for me because I’m indecisive, but this time I’m actually making a decision for myself. And it feels pretty good.

Oh yeah, and I got an email last week saying I was turned down for the postdoc anyway, so I guess that settles it.

Go forit

One thing I can certainly say for myself is that I’ll never wonder what would’ve happened if I had just gone for it. From traveling to different continents, to getting a PhD, to chasing random girls, I’ve never let the fear of possible consequences stop me from pursuing my dreams.

Of course, this isn’t always a good thing. Especially the chasing girls part.

Yeah, pretty much every romance I’ve ever pursued has ended up going horribly, horribly wrong. But while it wasn’t always funny at the time, it was always interesting. And it definitely all seems funny to me now, so I guess maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.

For the past fifteen years I’ve talked about wanting to be a writer, but I’ve never really done anything about it. I’ve never submitted a short story to a magazine, or tried to get a novel published. I’ve always felt like the thought of being a writer was just a stupid fantasy, and I should focus on something tangible and obtainable, like a career in science. The only trouble is, I just don’t have a passion for science.

A close friend of mine recently finished the rough draft of a novel, and I offered to help her edit it. Editing a full-length novel of a novice writer can be extremely tedious, but she’s a very good friend, and I know how much I would appreciate it if someone would do the same for me if I were in her place. Plus, the story is good, and with a little help and practice she’s going to be a damn fine writer.

The funny thing is, I actually found the editing process pretty enjoyable—much more enjoyable than doing my research. In my attempt to make her work as publishable as possible I was forced to look up things like how to use semicolons and dashes correctly, the difference between “lay” and “lie”, and whether the comma should come before or after quotation marks in certain circumstances (it depends). And in learning these things, as well as other guidelines for structure, narrative and description, I realized I could easily apply them to my own work as well.

But leaning isn’t always easy. Some of it was like a slap in the face. I’d always imagined that I could be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling because I have these really great story ideas, but the fact is, there are thousands—if not millions—of other people who think the exact same thing. And most of them have ideas that are just as good as, or better than, mine. And even if the story is good, most published writers can expect to get around $5,000 or less for their first book. Making a living as a writer is not easy.

That was kind of a reality check. But at the same time, I found inspiration as well. As Holly Lisle (a published writer and font of useful information) writes on her website, there’s no secret to becoming a writer of publishable quality; all you have to do is learn basic punctuation and grammar, and then just write a lot. Some of the most successful writers today aren’t especially gifted, or have something intangible that the rest of the public lacks; they’re merely the ones with good stories to tell who went for it, kept at it, and didn’t give up.

As I write this, I can’t help thinking about an episode of Saturday Night Live, a Celebrity Jeopardy parody, where the Alex Trebeck character is checking the Tom Cruise character’s final answer. Then Trebeck says, his voice dripping with utter disdain, “Your answer? ‘Go.’ And your wager? ‘For it.’ Go…for it. You certainly have.”

Then the Tom Cruise character giggles obliviously.

Critical Awesomeness

The problem with naming and defining your belief system is that as soon as you do that, as soon as you give it a label and start saying what it is and what it isn’t, you give people something to fight about.  Something to be assholes about.  Regardless, I’ve decided that from now on, whenever someone asks me what religion I am, I’m going to say “Critical Awesomeness.”  Just to be funny.

But in my mind it works, because it’s sort of a combination of Critical Thinking and the Awesomeness of Life.  It’s the point that you can be scientific and rational and reasonable and still be spiritual.  They’re not mutually exclusive.  And you can be scientific and spiritual and still have a sense of humor.

Heh, I did a quick Google search just to see what ‘Critical Awesomeness’ would yield.  According to the webcomic Geeks with Swords it’s the point at which people or events are so awesome, things start exploding.

This absolutely guarantees that I will use ‘Critical Awesomeness’ to describe my religious and philosophical beliefs for the rest of my life.

Briefly, my spiritual and philosophical beliefs are as follows:

I believe that the purpose of our lives is simply to have experiences. That’s it. And therefore, everyone in the world is doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

As far as the specifics of how to live life, I try to use science, critical thinking, and Buddhism as guidelines.  Buddha himself once said, “Believe nothing, no matter who said it—even if I said it—if it does not agree with your own reason and common sense.”  So I’m trying to be nonjudgmental, I’m trying to not be attached to things that are inherently impermanent, but it’s not always easy.  Because I’m human, and I have emotions and flaws.  And a really weird sense of humor.

I started this blog because mainly because I want to improve my writing, and I strive for a higher standard of quality when I have the delusion that other people will read it, as opposed to writing in a journal that’s only for me.  Also, I want to develop and expand upon my current ideas, and this seems like a good way to do so.

Now for the record, I’m not saying that my ideas or opinions are awesome, but rather it’s the awesomeness of the world we live in that inspires me to write.  A lot of things are frustrating and depressing, but taken as a whole I think this world we live in is pretty damn cool.

And I enjoy writing about it.