“The first calling of any piece is to express a single concept.”
The hummingbird’s beak
Collects nectar, like a straw,
Design from limitation.
The Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry inspired by a series 17th century philosophers. The standard formula includes 17 on (usually translated as “syllable”) organized across 3 segments, classically organized in a 5-7-5 metre. Traditionally the usage of the haiku was for commenting on parallel’s between the natural world and whatever the writer wants to discuss. In the modern era, the haiku isn’t expected to fit into the 5-7-5 structure and modern writers rarely force themselves to even use nature as an allegory. The basic formulation is such:
- Nature-related imagery (5)
- A cutting statement intended to tie the nature imagery to the subject of the third line (7)
- The subject of the writer’s intention (5)
Theory, Intent, and the Single Core
The intended audience for this haiku is “me”. I put the word “me” in quotes because I am referring to a more archetypal “me” than the literal Haile Uchenna Deen Carson.
I wrote this haiku for fellow designers. Not only is this haiku a bit of advice, it is also a challenge, a reminder, and an indictment of my practices before taking this English composition course.
I have a theory that I use when designing games that I call “Single Core” design. Most developers, when planning a game, think of features they want such as the ability to jump, shoot, aim down a sight, climb, sprint, etc.. This often results in a game that has all sorts of cool knick-knacks but lacks any real coherency.
I am currently playing a game that has this issue called Tearaway : Unfolded. When I play as a designer (which is different than just playing a game) I can tell that they started the game with an aesthetic; they wanted an adventure that took place in a papercraft world (Wikipedia). To go with that papercraft world they gave you a few related abilities, the ability to draw on your character and customize him/her with pre-defined and user generated graphics. When you first load the game you are asked to choose your sex, gender expression (huzzah for inclusivity) and allowed to design a face for your character.
Beyond that mechanic, which is really well built (I don’t even like doing graphical art and yet I have spent hours making sure my character’s tiara looks just right), the mechanics of the game (see Post-write note #3) get a bit slipshod. You can shine a flashlight on vandalized art to restore it, you can roll into a kind of paper ball, you can use the wind to blow away scrap, but none of it feels like it has a greater aim. I find myself asking “What does this add?” every time I get a new ability. Yes, I can press a button and make my character bounce but none of that has anything to do with the primary mechanic. None of this lets me plug cool new features into the core mechanic (see Post-write note #3). It’s fluff! Window dressing! The game hooked me on the papercraft and then didn’t know what else to do so it just started throwing superpowers at me. 90% of the game is spent exploring the papercraft world but none of that time is spent, for example, making a cardboard staircase or designing a hang-glider.
As anyone who has read my blog in the 4 years it has been up might guess, my style had the same issue. I would start on 1 subject, wander through about 5 or 6 others, then scramble at the end to explain how it all ties together. As a game designer, I often advise others in what I call “single core design”. In short, figure out the one mechanic your game is “about” and slug that bad boy out of the park before adding bells and whistles. My writing requires similar advisement. This assignment is actually 4 pieces, each with a “single core”. Part 1, the haiku, gives a summary of what I have learned in this English composition course as it’s “single core”. Part 2, the history summary, has as it’s “single core” a brief explanation on what the Haiku does, how it works, and it’s history. Part 3, where we are right now, intends to provide the reader with why the piece is necessary, which is it’s “single core” feature. Part 4 is a breakdown of my work. Part 4’s “single core” provides a step by step on my interpretation (which is by no means absolute) of the work.
I want to briefly discuss Billy Collins (Collins). I don’t want to bring up any single line as much as the entire speech, which is a 13 minute assault on how commencement addresses typically work. From him I learned word counts and duration are less important than content. The “single core” of the address is a discourse on the ridiculousness of the commencement address genre.
I need to stick to single subjects. Mutations (See Post Write Note #3) can be added later. I must learn to put the important stuff at the front seat.
Evolution and Theory of Writing
I’m going to level here, when I first started this class the concept of some unified theory of writing sounded a bit dubious. I understood concepts like theme, tone, and audience but I never really tried to connect them to my writing. When I wrote I would be mindful of word count, falsely assuming more words were better than less. I wouldn’t go out of my way to pad length but I wouldn’t hesitate to halt a major argument mid-stream to elaborate on phrasing I worried might be confusing.
Now I am just as convinced that some unified theory is kind of a silly idea; how could a single concept or series of concepts cover all styles of writing?
Well, now I realize it doesn’t have to. Now I understand that this theory just has to cover my style. I understand my writing can reach a new level of quality with a more narrow angle of focus. I don’t have to wander aimlessly for decades attempting to stab vaguely at a concept and getting distracted every time a new thought crops up.
This final paper is actually 5 different papers combined into a single post. Each heading, with a little extra tweaking, can be read alone or as a quintology. Sections 2-5 each focus on a single concept provided in the first section. My new theory of writing holds that if a concept has to be split into 4 or 10 different short essays I should go and do that. The first calling of all of my writing needs to be the expression of a “single core” theme. if that means I need to break it up, so be it.
“The first calling of any piece is to express a single concept.”
I don’t know if those 12 words are enough to provide the requisite explanation of my theory but I think that’s at least all it needs.
I do not believe in intelligent design. I do not believe in a universe built and guided by a careful hand.
I am a deist.
In short, I believe there no directed purpose for the universe. The hummingbird’s beak is the result of a runaway reaction between a literal googolplex of chemical influences (that’s 10^100^100. In short, you write a 1 then continue writing zeroes until heat death of the universe).
And yet, that one thing it does, collect nectar, is done so perfectly that it looks intentional to the uninitiated.
In my haiku I provide a shorthand for my theory of writing. I chose the hummingbird as an example of what my writing will hopefully become. My writing cant be everything to everyone; when I try to do that, the message can get lost in the fog of elaborations.
I have a theory when I design games that I call “Single Core Design”. When designing any piece, be it a book, a videogame, or a think piece, one must first figure out the one thing that piece is supposed to do. Once that is done, you can add auxiliary features. An example is the smear-piece I wrote in the style of Talking Points Memo for Major Assignment #3. First, I figured out what the piece was supposed to do. From there I decided on features that such a work would have. (See Post-Write Note #2).
Which brings me back to the Haiku. I chose the hummingbird because of the imagery it elicits. The hummingbird is a small, delicate bird with small wings that collects nectar and assists in the spread of pollen. Like all forms of life, it’s body has a “single core” purpose: propagate the species. To that end it has developed a unique ability among birds; it can hover. It offsets the energy requirements of that ability with a tiny, light frame, a skeleton featuring air-filled cavities and a hibernation-like torpor state (Ehrlick, Dobkin, Wheye). In the service of providing calories for it’s hovering ability it has evolved a beak suited for slurping liquefied sugar like a straw.
I want to highlight the importance of making sure the Single Core of any piece I develop as clear as possible, rather than muddy the water with in-line explanations of every single term (hence Post-Write Note #3).
The reason I chose the Haiku is because I intended the audience to be myself and I wanted to send a message about brevity and efficiency. I saw the traditional haiku as the purest distillation of what has been wrong with my writing, something that had eluded me until maybe a week ago (I think it clicked with the Infographic lectures).
I’m sure you have noticed my pattern of speech carries a similar flaw, I tend to over-elaborate on every single point I’m trying to make instead of getting it out and letting it stand.
This is due to a neurological disorder that I have struggled with my entire life.
I understand your concern that the haiku feels like a sort of escape from having to do extra work and, when I first considered it I was worried that it would look like that. When I first read this assignment I considered some grand work, something that would really showcase my more esoteric knowledge on a series of subjects. After all, I’m writing a thesis and thesis discourses should be detailed.
That is when I realized I had completely missed the point.
The purpose of this class isn’t to show off, I’m a more skilled wordsmith than half of the student body but resting on that would have completely ignored the most important lesson I picked out of this course.
Art works best when brief.
That doesn’t mean treating everything I design like a Pollock painting with smears of data tossed haphazardly on a campus; it means using shorthand and imagery.
This is why I chose a haiku.
I wanted to force myself to paint with broader strokes, to try to distill a single concept into as small an area as possible. I understand this is solipsistic but I think that this is a very important lesson I need to learn.
After studying dozens of fake news articles I noted a basic anatomical arangement for the type of work I wanted the op-ed to emulate. Steps 2 and 3 are sometimes reversed or mixed together but this is the general makeup :
First there will be a primer statement, this is intended to set the pace and tone for the rest of the piece.
ex.: “Muslim Prayer Rug Found on Arizona Border by Independent American Security Contractors” (Pickett)
Second comes the statement. This is a declaration of what the reader should feel and, while this is intended to sound factual, it rarely contains citations and the few included citations are usually to other in-network sites.
ex. “We walked over there and I didn’t really want to pull at it not knowing what was on it. I poked a bit at it with a stick and noticed some of the Arabic writing and was just like, ‘Oh boy.’ I snapped a couple of photos and then went on our patrol.” (Pickett)
Third comes the rationale. This part is a basic explanation of why you should feel the way the author does on the subject. This part has very few citations, like in part 2 because most fake news sources know that the only part of your brain that can override the primal, fight/flight, lizard-brain instincts is your logic center, and the writer wants your lizard-brain running at full steam before he gives you facts.
ex.: “The border patrol parks up there with a surveillance vehicle that has cameras and flares on it. The problem is with flares, you can’t see down into washes. You can see people crossing the border, but the second they get into the washes, border patrol lose them. So, when they told us that, we decided we would patrol those areas by the washes.” (Pickett)
Fourth comes the fluff. In this part you will find a series of “alternative facts” intended to get your logical brain to make a series of connections. The point here isn’t to provide a narrative (though that may happen), the point is to make your brain sculpt a narrative. This is where all the citations will be located, though they will usually loop back to in-network articles. If there is an authentic, credible source it will be buried under so many click-through links that most readers will lose interest in favor of the next panic-worthy issue.
No example for step four because I would just be copy-pasting the entire article and I’m not sure if my soul can withstand ignorance of this magnitude.
Note #3 Game dev terminology
Mechanic – things a game lets you do. The means through which you interact with the piece.
“Single core” mechanic – what is your piece about. For example, Mario is about jumping, the jump is it’s “single core”. Everything in a mainline Mario game is about mutations on that single concept.
Mutation (game design) : A subtle change to a pre-established mechanic, for example, the long-jump or ground slam in Mario being “mutations” that allow Mario to do new things with his Single Core mechanic.
Collins, Billy, Colorado College, 19, May, 2008, http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0135-Billy-Collins-Gives-Brilliant-Witty-Commencement-Speech-Address-At-Colorado-College-2008.htm
Ehrlich, Paul R.; David S. Dobkin; Darryl Wheye (1988). “Adaptations for Flight”, Birds of Stanford, Stanford University, 13 December, 2007
Pickett, Kerry, “Muslim Prayer Rug Found on Arizona Border by undependent Security Contractor” Breitbart, 9, July, 2014, https://www.google.com/amp/www.breitbart.com/big-government/2014/07/09/muslim-prayer-rug-found-on-arizona-border-by-independendent-american-security-contractors/amp/
Wikipedia, Wikipedia, “Paper Model”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_model