If man were wise, he would gauge the true worth of anything by its usefulness and appropriateness to his life.
“Never a day without a line,” is what I was taught when I was an architecture student. What it says is that a good architect (or a soon-to-be good architect, in my case) need to draw everyday — and this line could be anything from an actual line denoting a wall in a blueprint to a line in an abstract sketch on a tissue paper. Many good friends have warned me against putting up this blog. Some of their concerns, which I’d like to quote them verbatim are: “You’re just finding another reason to distract yourself from writing what really matters — your dissertation”; “You should not be writing anything — anything at all — except your dissertation”; “I have no idea why you are doing this to yourself — just write your dissertation, mate,” to give you a few examples. Despite my respect for all of these friends and colleagues who are genuinely and deeply worried about me (not finishing my dissertation), the writing of this blog is justified. The reason I am starting — and continuing to maintain — this blog is, simply, to give myself the much needed opportunity to reflect upon myself: not just my dissertation, but also my being in the particular place and time. What am I doing? What have I been writing about? During the writing process in the past few days, what kinds of emotional realm have I been in? What else have I learned?
In addition, I also miss “writing about writing” so much — something that I’d always like to do on the side to help me reflect on this tedious but rewarding process of writing my dissertation as a whole.
So, in a way, creating this blog is sort of a ritualistic exercise to help me get from point A to point B. To be fair, at the time that this blog begun, I was in the middle of these two points already. I have a few chapters written and I only need a few more to make a complete dissertation. But, on the other hand, I hope to derive some understanding of “why we write,” by first understand the most trusted source (i.e., myself), by reflecting at the end of everyday what exactly did I learn from writing about a community of 3,000 residents in Shanghai. As the 16th century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne has taught us, nothing is more meaningful in learning than to conceive the process itself as gauging the true worth of what we want or about to learn by its usefulness and appropriateness to our life. So what? And who cares? At the end of the day, I don’t want to be one of those people who simply write without reflecting, and then go on to teach without reflecting, and therefore making the world a much worse place than it was before because of the unexamined knowledge derived from their unexamined thoughts. “Never a day without reflecting.” In fact, writing about your day is actually good for your brain.