Consistency Originality Gratification
So I came up short last month - I didn’t publish anything [on substack]. Although I rushed to try and quickly cram together a few different articles, the result always felt subpar… sloppy even. So in recompense we have this: a letter from the editor, who also happens to be this newsletters only writer, in regular disorganized fashion. For context, I am finishing this on a bus on-route to Toronto, mid-afternoon.
Both fortunately, and unfortunately, I have various notes at different stages which lends intrigue and frustration on my part, on account of incompleteness. In particular, I was working on a piece detailing the concept of “Analogism” that I have, over the years, come to appreciate as an adaptive strategy to neo-manic modernity and the faulty attributes of my psychology. It is always in the valiant leap forward into battle with a new idea or topic - a full frontal assault, shield and pen in hand - that one begins to write; soon thereafter, they discover a sinking sand beneath their feet - there is always more than expected. This is also, all the while, in considerable flogging from one’s internal critic which takes on the character of the voices that the writer admires. Sometimes half to three quarters of working on a given idea is re-loading all the context into working memory so you can push the phalanx 3/4 of an inch forward. It can be the most degrading experience - whether the note is nonsense or useful.
Or as I prefer:
The pain of writing is the pain of improving your thinking.
There is something to the eternal dilemma between consistency and creativity, my dilemma that is. We yearn for novelty in production, but abhor any delays in our gratification of it. I know, in part, because I have found myself on the opposite side of the equation consuming wonderful novel series, television shows and music; always the booming voice for more. Such a voice, reminds me of the autobiographical recollection from Winston in George Orwell’s 1984:
One day a chocolate-ration was issued. There had been no such issue for weeks or months past. He remembered quite clearly that precious little morsel of chocolate. It was a two-ounce slab (they still talked about ounces in those days) between the three of them. It was obvious that it ought to be divided into three equal parts. Suddenly, as though he were listening to somebody else, Winston heard himself demanding in a loud booming voice that he should be given the whole piece. His mother told him not to be greedy. There was a long, nagging argument that went round and round, with shouts, whines, tears, remonstrances, bargainings. His tiny sister, clinging to her mother with both hands, exactly like a baby monkey, sat looking over her shoulder at him with large, mournful eyes. In the end his mother broke off three-quarters of the chocolate and gave it to Winston, giving the other quarter to his sister. The little girl took hold of it and looked at it dully, perhaps not knowing what it was. Winston stood watching her for a moment. Then with a sudden swift spring he had snatched the piece of chocolate out of his sister’s hand and was fleeing for the door.
1984, G. Orwell, Pt. II Chp. 7
On one hand, modernity offers us a poisoned olive branch; so much a-plenty, we hazard ourselves in simple everyday living: the consequences of gluttony and its ills jutting around every corner, waiting to snatch us up or mug us for our wears. It is trivial to drown in entertainment, addiction, or any manner of vice which you please. We can consume as much, and in many cases more than our natural satisfaction would deem satiating (A), yet still always have enough to “keep going”. In a comatose lethargy of Netflix binges and doom scrolling, we forget, often how challenging it is to create and produce. On the other hand, however, the reverse side of the aisle is the church of righteous industriousness - stewarding flags and songs of exceptionalism, raising hellfire down upon all, demanding: “Work! efficiency! regularity! It shall set you free!” As if shaving 13.23 minutes of the next production of drab, recycled content for click hits and vanity sake led to some sort of fulfillment; enjoyment, surely, temporary elevation of pride and status, undoubtedly, but deep satisfaction, I am a skeptical about. Naturally, I am speaking from an unwarranted height of condescension. Life is work, yes, but life is also play… (or so we hope) - oddly enough some of our most impressive ideas spawn at the tail’s end of play. Beyond the hustlers, there is then the commentators and critics who attempt prophecy with their pens - keeping their eyes wide in opportunism, seeing their time may not come again. Tearing down the bellowing walls and fortresses built by the optimistic creator with popsicle sticks and glue - stick by stick, step by step - their eviscerating words costing 1/10th the effort to produce of that which they destroy in gleaming sadistic satisfaction. It is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow to see how much joy humanity reaps from destruction. Finally, there are those who create from a place which we can’t help but be intrigued by; they are no saints, sinners the more likely bet, and do so for their vanity service too, surely, but they can’t help but create something.
“I believe that artists do not know what they can do best because they are too vain and have their minds set on something prouder than these small plants seem to be that are new, strange and beautiful and really capable of growing on their soil. Here is a musician who more than any other musician, is master at finding the tones from the realm of suffering, dejected, tormented souls and at giving speech even to the mute animals.
Nobody equals him at the colours of late autumn, at the indescribably moving happiness of a last, very last, very briefest enjoyment.. yes, he is the master at the very small. But he doesn’t want to be! His character likes great walls and bold frescoes much better. It escapes him that his spirit has a different taste and disposition and likes best of all to sit quietly in the corners of collapsed houses - there, hidden, hidden from himself, he paints his real masterpieces.. only there does he become wholly good, great, and perfect; perhaps only there.
But he doesn’t know it! He is too vain to know it.“
The Gay Science, F. Nietzsche, p 87
There is something about the omnipresent alternative that leads to a treadmill effect for creatives: running faster and faster just to stay in place. The artist wishes for their work to be admired, any counter to this fact is for flattery sake, and foolery the more likely. There is so much land up for grabs as the time-to-live of information asymmetries continues to narrow, with the velocity of information increasing in pursuit, that every person has the opportunity to capture a piece of celebritism. Who could not help but imagine the empire that lay at his or her hands, ready for capture, with but just a forceful series of clever tweets, consistent commentary or weaponized marketing for mass appeal? The hustlers declare, “let there be light!” and in consistency they hope to find their salvation. The unconscious rapt in a foliage of never ending content, intriguing gossip on a world stage and amplified arousal of all human senses, barely turn away from their screens to acknowledge our presence in commentary. The critics and commentators all babbling for supremacy of opinion and satisfaction in envy scream over one another in political ambition, not hearing either side of the story, eventually asking “what’s it all for anyway?”. The saintly sinners sit and pen a doodled dog in the side margin of a notebook, flipping pages to pass the time until the moment the band plays that evening - whose got the better end of the deal anyhow?
This is all in lengthy course to lead back to that debilitating platitude for “balance”. Balancing the critic with the creative and hustler with consumer, each facet in conquest for total domination. Yet, each time I clock-in yet another lap around this circumference - critic to creative , hustler to consumer, and some - I can’t help but chuckle quietly. Panting in excess with sweat dripping down the brow, I catch the sight of a comical Zen Roshi sitting, calm, composed, in the track’s bleachers. He looks at me briefly, smiles and laughs, then turns his head away to resume enjoying the rays of sun beaming down on his face.
Footnotes (A) For a view on this, listen to the Audible Series The Butterfly Effect recounting the consequences of increased availability of online adult entertainment.