Monday, August 24, 2015

More than Nice

I know very little about music. I have favourites that come up and I love, but my collection is a mess and I often don’t know the song or band names. I have actually given up on building a collection since the arrival of iTunes, and then Spotify. My approach has just been to ask my friend Stuart for new recommendations every now and then, or to spy on Spotify buddies. I added asking Twitter recently, and the recommendations were great. 

I also don't know much about coffee. I only started drinking it about 18 months ago. Until then, I had only had about 4 cups in my life. All of them had been in social pressure situations where someone had made me a cup, and I felt it would be rude to not drink it. I was a teenager with a half formed back bone. There are people who get as much pleasure from coffee as Stuart gets from music. Actually, I think Stuart gets as much pleasure from coffee as he gets from music. I like it now, but more in the sense that I like music. I like the atmosphere of coffee shops.

The fun side of coffee

There are plenty of things where all the individual flavours blur to the lay tongue. Before putting in a bit of effort, you can kind of get it, but really getting it requires a deep dive. I recently started writing 100 word blog posts, and requesting guest posts of the same length, on the subject of ‘happiness and learning’. I received some criticism that this was an attempt to reduce something as beautifully complicated and personal to 100 words, and demeans our understanding of a complex emotion. More specifically, was this ‘an endorsement of every lament on the shallowness of modern culture in general and social media in particular? (or maybe we can just post memes of lolcats)’.

I don't agree that modern culture is shallow. Steven Pinker talks of the ‘good old days’ delusion where as we get older we remember the past better than it was. Older generations have always looked on new ways of communicating derisively. Socrates didn't write, because he thought the modern invention would turn people into lazy thinkers. Fortunately his student Plato did.

The intention of my 100 word posts isn’t to reduce. Like fine music, coffee, wine, chocolate, food or anything truly complex and interesting, I think you have to try isolate individual flavours first. Once you know what real vanilla smells, looks, and tastes like, you can start to recognise its part in complexity. Subtlety. Hints. Aftertastes. The individual parts can then form elaborate, layered plots full of intriguing characters. If you are a music and coffee philistine like me, you don't get to experience the full story. You just get to look at the cover. You may know it looks, sounds or tastes nice. But nice is a word that drives English teachers nuts for a reason. There is more.

Starting small doesn't mean you can't go deep.
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