The absurdity of it all

When I sit down to journal, it's usually most productive for me to be prospective; to record my observations on my past actions and thinking with the intention of setting out ideas and plans for self-improvement. But sometimes, right in the middle of a large train of thoughts, I'll veer into this stream-of-consciousness recording of all the things I did in the previous day. It's usually a mind-boggling list. And it's usually only a small portion of the stuff I'd hoped to get to that day. Day after week after month after year this appears in my journals. It's absurd. I'll never finish even a fraction of what I daily hope to do. And yet, every day I continue to expend tremendous energy just to appear normal.

It would be easy to conclude that an absurdist view of life rules out happiness and leads anyone with any sense to despair at her very existence. And yet in his book, Camus concludes, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” This may seem impossible, but in fact, this unexpected twist in Camus’ philosophy of life and happiness can help you change your perspective and see your daily struggles in a new, more equanimous way.

~ Arthur C. Brooks from, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2023/03/finding-joy-happiness-in-absurd-boredom-stress/673248/

Fortunately, it's clear to me that I'm not alone in thinking what I'm doing is absurd. (For example, Jake Gyllenhall touches on it in a great conversation with Sam Jones.)

Vulnerability

Vulnerable is the only way we can feel when we truly share the art we've made. When we share it, when we connect, we have shifted the power and made ourselves naked in front of the person we've given the gift of our art to. We have no excuses, no manual to point to, no standard operating procedures to protect us. And that is part of our gift.

~ Seth Godin

Empathy

Previously I've mentioned David Gross who's written a long series of articles on virtues. It's worth discovering his Notes on Empathy.

The basis of empathy is being able to see things from someone else’s point of view. Empathy lets us ‘walk a mile in another man’s shoes’, look at the world through the eyes of another, or any number of other now-clichéd phrases. But while that perspective-taking seems intimately tied to the emotion of the thing – you walk in someone’s shoes to feel their pain, look through their eyes to understand their feelings – it need not be. As recent research suggests, there are times when becoming too emotionally involved actually stifles our empathetic capacity.

~ Maria Konnikova from, https://aeon.co/essays/empathy-depends-on-a-cool-head-as-much-as-a-warm-heart

I wonder the ordering of the following shifts in my experience, and how these shifts influenced each other: The decrease in the frequency, duration, and intensity of anger I feel? The realization that the anger I was feeling was not—certainly not as often as I believed it was—righteous indignation, nor even true indignation? The understanding of what petulance is and feels like? The increasingly frequent experience of empathy and the emotional experiences it enables? The shift to experiencing frustrations (in the noun-sense that a door is a frustration to movement) as opportunities for further exploration, rather than as blockades and existential crises?

Creating something

I'm the obsessive type. I'm ordered and process driven to a fault, but not quite (or at least, only rarely) to the point where this affects my ability to function. I'm continuously thinking about things like can I carry something else if I'm going in a certain direction— which is fine when heading out to run errands with the car, but which can stop me in my tracks, and cause me to turn in circles in place, before moving from room to room. I'm also obsessive about doing things. I'm the guy you want physically setting up your complex computer systems and networks—physically arranging everything. I'm the guy who got really into roller skating, bicycling, skiing, Aikido, scratch-building radio-controlled gliders, sailing… there's a much longer list.

I learned one lesson on my own over the years and many obsessions: Do or do not. I am unable to "spend less time" on an obsession. I have to lean into it, or let go of it. Many of my obsessions paid off either as income or simply being useful to my personal growth. Being able to assess when continuing an obsession is not going to do either of those things for me is a hard-won skill.

But there are some heuristics you can use to guess whether an obsession might be one that matters. For example, it's more promising if you're creating something, rather than just consuming something someone else creates. It's more promising if something you're interested in is difficult, especially if it's more difficult for other people than it is for you. And the obsessions of talented people are more likely to be promising. When talented people become interested in random things, they're not truly random.

But you can never be sure. In fact, here's an interesting idea that's also rather alarming if it's true: it may be that to do great work, you also have to waste a lot of time.

~ Paul Graham from, http://paulgraham.com/genius.html

Graham's point about creation is a second lesson about obsession. I agree, and I think an obsession's being about creation is critical. I stumbled really near this lesson a few months ago when I wrote Being Genuine for Open + Curious where I wrote…

A great conversation is one where we (and our partners) feel the joy of creation, even if that's while discussing a contentious topic. We have little chance of being creative if we know, or think we know, where things are headed.

Creation is critical. I need to imagine the world differently, and then try to go and create that new world.

Cooperation

Our world is an ecosystem in which our only real chance at survival as a species is cooperation, community, and care, but it's being led by people who believe in an ego system, run on competition, power, and self-interest.

~ Austin Kleon

What to do with twenty minutes

I recently realized I've wasted 23 years. Way back in 1990 a good friend gave me a CD of MCMXC A.D. by Enigma. It was mind bending, and remains so; to this day, I use it when I really need to zone out and not quite sleep, but rest. It's an album which I have never once listened to a single track separately. I've only ever started at the front and gone straight through.

The other day, I thought: I should see what else Enigma (the brain child of Michael Cretu) may have done since 1990. Followed by my ordering all of the other seven albums. I buy the CDs used, and that means they tend to trickle to my doorstop over a few weeks. Oh. I've turned into a lunatic, listening to music far too loud in the house. I've recently done this with other artists and suddenly I'm up to my eyeballs in great (in my opinion) music.

So, why 23 years wasted? The Screen Behind the Mirror was released in 2000. I've therefore wasted 23 years worth of opportunities to play it.

Basically I had just aged myself by twenty minutes. Two virtual cigarettes, and not even a fading buzz to show for it. I learned nothing, gained nothing, made no friends, impacted the world not at all, did not improve my mood or my capacity to do anything useful. It was marginally enjoyable on some reptile-brain level, sure, but its ultimate result was only to bring me nearer to death. Using my phone like that was pure loss of life — like smoking, except without the benefits.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2023/02/most-phone-use-is-a-tragic-loss-of-life/

I've no idea if you like Enigma. (You can thank me later if you just discovered Enigma and do like it.) But there simply must be some music that you do like! …find which music it is, buy a copy of it in whatever medium you prefer, and spend that twenty minutes—and the next 23 years, if you're lucky—leaning into that stuff.