Process is Part of the Project

Québec’s response to the pandemic seems to be working. This is great news, but it’s also a sign that over the next few weeks there will likely be more of the quarantines and shutdowns that are keeping the pace of new infection so low. With this in mind, yesterday I decided to try to get some work done.

The dull anxiety of the past week — low-grade and barely noticeable, but there like a spare battery (remember those?) weighing down your backpack — had deadened my mind too much for serious reading. So I opened up the TBX file I’ve started for my new book project and decided to piddle. 

First off, I knew I wanted some notes that will serve as the starting point for some mini-analysis on early materials. I created them — simple titles with no text— and slipped them into my “To Be Filed” container. I’ll get back to them when my mind’s working better. 

From there, working in outline view:

  • I decided to organize some of the chaos in my initial bibliography. There are a couple topics I need to know more about as context. Book and article notes about them currently clutter my sources container — I can’t see anything else — but I know that they are quickly going to get lost as that container fills up with other things. So I created a note for each of these topics and went through my sources container making links to the notes for each of the sources that speak to those subjects. So I now have single note “index” pointing me toward sources as a starting points for when I’m ready to use them.
  • For the index note on the topic for which I have a lot of reading to do, I organized the list of links into sensible groups and then sequenced the groups in a sensible order. Now I have a reading plan ready when I eventually return to this.
  • As I was organizing the bibliographies, I went back to my mini-analysis note on Miramax and dropped in a couple links for important sources I’d remembered when I ran across them as I was working. I also decided to add a few sentences to the note explaining to myself what my interest in the company was (and wasn’t). Because I risk becoming seriously distracted and want at least some marker for later of what I initially thought it was I was doing. Then I jotted down some basic technical information I had at hand so I’d have it later without looking for it. It probably goes in its own note, but I’ll sort that out later.
  • I looked at some links between films, realized they were pointed in the “wrong way” — not that I’d made a mistake when I made them but that when I made them I’d been thinking badly about what they’d show — so I swapped them around. As I was doing this, I noticed some comments jotted in a few notes about allusions between some films and novels. Sorting out the direction of the mistaken links helped me see how I could formally link the notes for these alluding texts without “just linking everything.” So I made those links.
  • Curious, I selected one of these notes and switched to Hyperbolic view. As I poked around what is still a very limited link network, I noticed that some notes I expected to see there were missing. Switching back to the outline, I added links tying these notes into the network and then switched back to hyperbolic view. Now things were a mess — everything was connecting with everything — but I wasn’t sure how to fix it (or if it’s actually broken). So I left things as-is and went back to my outline.

Suddenly, my phone dings. My brother’s texting. I look at the clock and have been at this for an hour and a half. I scroll through the outline I’m working on. There’s still lots to do and I’m not sure how to go about it. However, things are better than when I opened the file in the sense that I’ve made some headway on clarifying my initial research questions and plans.

So I call it a day.

Outlines and the Terrible Beauty of Maps

After years of relying on map view in my TBX files, I’ve gotten to the point where I generally use outline as my default. The problem I have with maps is that they cue an aesthetic response that overrides other concerns, and I have trouble setting that response aside. A map is either beautiful and this creates a barrier to revision, or it is ugly and making it attractive becomes my priority. If I leave it ugly, then I find it hard to work in the file unless I stop using the map. Outlines short circuits this enormous weak spot in my mental make-up.

So when do I use maps now? Usually only when a file or project has developed to the point where I know what it is and how it’s working. I then create maps that operate either like a publication of key aspects or like an interface for interacting with attributes that change over time. In both cases, attention to aesthetics becomes an asset rather than a distraction because a beautiful map will likely be legible while being dense with information. Colors, shapes, borders, badges, even shadows can be used to communicate content at a glance, and in this context, attention to aesthetics makes them communicate clearly.

What this means in practice is that generally maps are for “reading” my materials, while outline and attribute browser are my work views. And hyperbolic view? I’m intrigued by it and flipping to it more and more, but I haven’t quite wrapped my head around what it does for me yet.

Crosspost: And then there were permalinks

I thought I’d wait to deal with permalinks, but I had an idea while taking a walk and decided to give it a try. Five minutes later they’re done. I always forget how crazy simple HTML export is. The key is to start with nothing and only build the things you understand. Then go from there.

I’m also not messing with an external CSS stylesheet. I just have a CSS note in my TBX file and a line in the page-head element of the templates that pulls that note’s text in as internal CSS for each page on the site. So I have all the advantages of external CSS when I’m working locally, but I don’t have to keep track of a stylesheet on the server. It’s the best of both worlds.

Crosspost: An Earlier Blog Experiment

I tried to run a blog from Tinderbox once before, but in that case, I tried to duplicate the look and functionality of my fairly complicated WordPress set-up. This meant building a TBX file that was a big hairy monster of a machine. I’m proud that I got the thing working, but running it took too much energy, and I wisely retreated to the CMS version of the blog after only a few days, lesson learned.