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From yesterday’s newsletter comes a new acronym I made up: SHITT, or “Should I Try That?”
We know that social media can cause FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but reading about how other people work can cause a variant of FOMO we’ll dub SHITT — SHould I Try That?
A silly example of SHITT: You’re having trouble with your writing and then you read about how So-and-So only writes longhand and all the sudden you think maybe you should start writing longhand. So you spend the whole day shopping for pens and paper, only to sit down the next morning and remember you hate your own handwriting.
Much like FOMO, how susceptible you are to SHITT depends on your mental state, how tender and vulnerable you are, and how well your own work is going.
Read more here.
I had a shorter but still sweet interview with Jane Ratcliff on being (not) too weird to be popular:
I assumed everything I cared about was too weird to be popular and that I’d always have a day job. The fact that I have readers and make a living from the stuff I make is a blessing beyond belief and every week I try not to squander my luck.
Filed under: interviews
In his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, the Jungian analyst James Hollis recalls being asked to speak to women’s groups who ask him to help them understand men:
I have suggested that women look at men this way: if they took away their own network of intimate friends, those with whom they share their personal journey, removed their sense of instinctual guidance, concluded that they were almost wholly alone in the world, and understood that they would be defined only by standards of productivity external to them, they would then know the inner state of the average man. They are horrified at this notion.
They then ask Hollis if there’s anything they can do, and he replies, “No.” (It is up to men.)
Hollis has told a variation of this story in several audiobooks and podcasts I’ve listened to and his diagnosis always chills me. I found myself recalling it to a friend yesterday on my bike ride.
One thing I find hopeful is that I think you can reverse-engineer a to-do list from this diagnosis:
Easy peasy, right? Ha. (Cries.)
As for being a man, finding myself a member in a club I never asked to join: Whenever I think that we’re making no progress whatsoever, I think about the fact that I have two friends, grown men my own age, who, unprompted, within the last year, have told me that they loved me. And I told them I loved them back.
It’s a start.
John Holt in 1983, talking to WBOS-Radio, on how teaching is like gardening:
The most important person in the learning process is the learner. The next most important is the teacher… The teacher does not fill up bottles—it’s much more like gardening. You don’t grow plants by going out with Scotch tape and sticking leaves onto the stems. The plant grows. But the gardener creates as far as she or he can the conditions for growth—in the case of plants, soil, fertilizer, acidity, shade, water, etc. It’s simple with plants. With children, it’s more complicated. What the teacher does—and the parents at home—is to create an environment, which is in part physical—there are books, records and tapes, and tools—and in part emotional, spiritual, moral, intellectual, in which growth can occur. Now that’s a very subtle, very difficult, very interesting task. Nobody in any school of education that I’ve ever heard of would describe it that way.
So where do teachers learn to teach?
You learn to teach by teaching. I never had any educational training, luckily. I say “luckily” because I went into the classroom knowing that I didn’t know anything, and therefore realizing that if I wanted to learn something, I’d better keep my eyes and ears open and think about what I was seeing and hearing. The only way you learn about teaching is to do it and to see which of your inputs into this environment produce helpful results and which don’t, and maybe to talk about your problems with other teachers and say, “How are you making out?”
There’s a healthier way of thinking about creativity that the musician Brian Eno refers to as “scenius.” Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals—artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers—who make up an “ecology of talent.” If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.” Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals: it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.
You can read the rest of the letter here.
One fun part of putting this together was matching maps of scenius with maps of neurons in the brain.
Here’s how researchers Michael Muthukrishna and Joseph Henrich put it in their paper about how our social networks act as collective brains:
Innovations, large or small, do not require heroic geniuses any more than your thoughts hinge on a particular neuron. Rather, just as thoughts are an emergent property of neurons firing in our neural networks, innovations arise as an emergent consequence of our species’ psychology applied within our societies and social networks.
Filed under: scenius
Here’s the writer Alan Moore on why writers should read terrible books, too:
As a prospective writer, I would urge you to not only read good books. Read terrible books as well, because they can be more inspiring than the good books.
If you are inspired by a good book, there’s always the danger of plagiarism, of doing something that is too much like that good book. Whereas, a genuinely helpful reaction to a piece of work that you’re reading is, ‘Jesus Christ, I could write this shit!’ That is immensely liberating — to find somebody who is published who is doing much much worse than you.
And by analyzing why they are doing so badly, this will immensely help your own style. You’ll find out all of the mistakes not to make. ‘Why did this story offend me so much?’ Analyze that. Find out why you didn’t like it. Find out all of the examples of clumsiness or bad thinking that spoiled the story for you.
That will probably be a lot more helpful to your career as a writer.
Yes! Reading bad writing not only boosts one’s confidence, it can be very instructive.
What you want to avoid, I think, is mediocre writing, which neither thrills nor instructs.
This is what Nassim Taleb calls a “barbell strategy” in Skin in the Game: Read the best and read the worst, but skip everything in the middle…
Thanks to @__mariamuller__ on Twitter.
Related reading: Make Bad Art, Too
Today’s newsletter is about this recently-rediscovered list of notes to myself I wrote in 2014:
11. “If you don’t go to work, you never leave work.”
Wise words from my brilliant editor, Meghan Kleon.
12. Death + deadlines.
The little deadlines keep you fed and the big deadline keeps you pushing towards finding meaningful work.
Read the rest here.
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