“These actions are not essentially difficult; it is we ourselves that are soft and flabby.” — Seneca
The Human Distillery
When you take a step back, the greatest of people in history are a distillery. The most talented and hard-working of people often produce only a handful (or even just one piece) of great work or events that are noteworthy. The rare and devoted few actually go through a great person’s minutiae — hundreds of thousands of small pieces that were completed daily to work towards that great work.
There is a deep conviction required for this. To spend hours per day working towards something bigger, something that might instead fail quietly. As well as the remarkable forethought to understand what needs to be worked on, and in what order.
Though, perhaps there isn’t such planning. Rather, these great works instead are conjured up organically by a repeating persistence and habitual work. Regardless, the conviction is still there.
Living on fire without putting yourself out — and cherishing the heat.
“May you live in interesting times.”
English translation of a purported traditional Chinese curse.
My good friends! I would like to say hello, once again. For the past three years, I have written a birthday post. A sort of thematic idea that is supposed to encapsulate the idea I would like to live out this year. Small self-experiments just for fun. My fourth one, however, it is very late. My twenty-third birthday was almost a year ago now, with my next birthday now creeping in.
Death, Meaningless Ideas, Timeless Work, and Paper
Perhaps the first thing that I’d like to write after the obviously required navel-gazing of yesterday is more navel-gazing today — but of a different flavor. Perhaps a bit more morbid.
I enjoy the metaphysical writing about writing, as though if I meditate on the topic enough, I’ll somehow garner the skill to masterfully execute it. As though I’m trying to bend the spoon with my mind, just looking at it. I don’t think it’s truly any sort of specialty, though.
Yet, despite the fruitlessness of particular topics — such as this one — writing does help me in a multitude of ways.
As I’ve written in the past, I often think about the legacy that I’ll be leaving behind. What sort of impact am I having on the world, if any? And if I am making a dent in the universe, is it for the better?
Contrary to what you might think, those questions are irrelevant. Trying to setup all the pieces of a future you aren’t apart of is a fool’s errand. There’s no point in hoping for the best, because that doesn’t change what’s going on.
Instead, there’s only right now.
“Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.” — Robert Kiyosaki.
Sometimes I find myself worrying what’s ultimately become meaningless in a few months or less. When I do, I try to take a step back and look at the larger picture. That’s where meditation on death is both important and helpful.
If I only had a few months to live, what would I do right now in this moment?
Though I am nowhere in comparison with such a gifted man, I’ve felt a near-identical pursuit since I wrote my real first post: To write standalone essays on — what I believe to be — important topics. But what exactly are important topics? And how am I supposed to separate my good writing from my bad writing?
Trying to answer those questions is, again, just a fool’s errand.
Everything I have inside of my heart and inside of my head needs to be written down — without prejudice. It is a well-known fallacy within programming to try to optimize prematurely. The act of trying to fix things before anything is even completed. I take a similar approach to writing.
The act of iteration. To publish multiple revisions publicly. To publish what could potentially be drivel. To turn past mistakes into better futures.
That’s why I’m writing right now. Two days ago, I didn’t really know what I was going to write about this month. I had no clue how I was going to reach 50,000 words by the first day of December! But now I have eight different articles already in the works, and it’s only day two. You can push yourself far harder than you realize. And actually throw yourself out into the wolves.
“Ideas” & Suck
You might think you can, but you actually aren’t able to see inside your head. Ideas you let linger for too long without writing down will eventually fade away. It’s akin to the longer you stay in bed in the morning. It gets harder and harder to finally get up.
Ideas are cheap, anyways! Anybody can say that they’re an “idea person”. It takes far more skill, far more discipline, and far more patience in order to be a storyteller. To take the seeds of concepts and germinate them in the real world, and let others see what you’ve made. It takes deep vulnerability — a lot of would-be storytellers have too much pride to start. Because when you start, you tend to suck:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass
Current Events vs. Timeless Work
The world is volatile — we live in interesting times. The exciting — and at times terrifying — hyperactivity of information and happenings seem endless. But they really are not. It’s only a matter of time before things start to settle again. Whether the bar is raised or lowered, new normalcy always finds its place. We will adjust to a new paradigm in politics, and we will adjust to our science-fiction technology.
This is important to note, because so much work is created that only makes sense in the context of right now. An endless stream of often-times white noise that is only valuable for this week, or just today. Good work is work that can stand on its own. Good work transcends trends and current events. While past and topical content might invoke a nostalgia in some, it ultimately becomes foreign and faded.
As we see an evolution in differently growing media, a new era of democratic art, we still look back at the good work that was created centuries and millennium ago. Understand the difference between writing a shallow piece that tackles onto something popular, versus engaging it. Make great satire, critically analyze, share emotion. The important thing to remember, though, is a sense of universality. The commonality between all of humanity is the secret — and clearly simple — ingredient.
In order to finish this arbitrarily long and disjointed post, I want to talk about paper. Paper is truly a magical thing, and I think that — more than anything else — it best answers the question of why I exactly I choose to write:
“Why do you write?”, they ask. I pause for a moment before answering.
There are times where all I have is a few pieces of paper. Paper that understands me — that can understand things that I don’t yet. Any mistaken ink I spill on this page results in no consequence.
The paper listens carefully — it does not throw harsh insults at my stupid thoughts. The paper just lets me be. In return, I give it a story — an identity. And when it is finally and totally filled-up, I know there will always be more.
There will always be more paper, so I will always have to continue writing.