On Kludges

[I’m finally picking up a thread I started a few years ago, eventually posted here, it being the third in a long series of posts which became this blog. -ed]

kludge or kluge

n. Slang

  1. A system, especially a computer system, that is constituted of poorly matched elements or of elements originally intended for other applications.
  2. A clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem.

[From ironic use of earlier kluge, smart, clever, from spelling pronunciation of German kluge, from Middle High German kluc, from Middle Low German klōk.]


We all have serviceable jobs. However, from a worldwide perspective, only a very (very) tiny portion of us make a living which converges with who we really are and what we really believe in, whether this be political, spiritual, therapeutic or what have you.

What we (the majority “we”) want to do outside of the constricts of these so-called irreconciled longings – what we really want to do with our lives, in other words – turns out to be a cliché when you look at it from a rather cool, pragmatic point of view.

I want to be a stock investor.

I want to be a painter.

I want to have my own business.

But it’s a serviceable cliché. Clichés are the kludges of creative logic. We plug something into our jury-rigged formula which sounds derived and worn, and yet it’s necessarily there because without it our goals would be vulnerable without a better substitute in the short term, and let’s face it, even a better short term substitute would still be a kludge. Everything we do to substitute the wisdom of experience in order to find an intelligent, if temporary, solution to an existential problem (whether it be driven from an agnostic, partisan, or ephemerally creative impulse) is a kludge. Get used to it.

During the hey-days of the late 90’s/early 21st century “dot com” stock craze there became a rather fashionable meme* on the website Slashdot which continues today, mind you in a more cynical context which is meant to demonstrate the shortsightedness of wishful thinking. An example of which is:

1) Create automobile out of plastic bags
2) …
3) Profit!

Which is to say, when it comes to what we really want to do with our lives, we have the idea and we have the motivation, but quite often we know sweet nothing about what happens in between them.

When people who aren’t writers (let alone novelists) think about writing a novel, they are essentially thinking:

1) Hey, I got a good story in my head.
2) …
3) Fame!

Trust me. I speak from the perspective of someone who has heard this in many frightening ways.

However, lest I appear to cast scorn unduly upon a tiny fragment of people (or even a single profession), this situation applies to anybody who wants to get involved in anything they have absolutely no experience in, yet which they feel inexplicably motivated to follow: plumbing, tango dancing, astrophysics.

The trick is to fill in the “2)” with something which works enough so that when you know better, you can revise it. So, if step 2) on the path of someone who wants to open up a bistro is “find a storefront”, you can be sure that it will be revised soon after they make the commitment with the likes of “…and get a bank loan, find a contractor, file permits with the city, draw a floorplan, tell your wife you won’t be seeing her for several more hours a day for the next year…”, etc..

Not only does the kludge which glues the first and third items together (as a plan, dream, goal) expand and contract the more we involve ourselves in the initial commitment, the goal itself (whether it be fame, fortune, or a more Buddhist sense of completeness) is informed and thus evolves as the task itself expands and contracts through the process. In other words, aside from the initial idea, everything after it is but a temporary placeholder, marking time until such a point where we can re-evaluate the situation.

Kludges, aside from their current and (rather too) strictly technological definition, are substitutes for the reality of experience: wisdom. And yet kludges never totally disappear, regardless of how much we accomplish or evolve through the process. We refine them as our initial naiveties are refined. As a result, the kludges become smaller, less detrimentally crutch-like, and less embarrassingly round pegs in the otherwise squared holes of knowledge.

[* I want it noted that I’ve gone 2 years and 227 posts without using the much abused term “meme”. It is my hope, however, that “kludge” will be saved from a purely technical threshold of meaning -ed]


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