Ray Bradbury: "Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go.”
Since I’ve now gotten creatively unblocked, I think it’s moderately likely that I might set off a Hot Streak and publish new essays at a daily or near-daily rate. Now, the ‘sensible’ thing to do if-and-when you have a hot streak might be to ‘bank it up’ and then ‘release your material at a steady pace’. As a marketing guy, I know that that’s what’s ideal for growing an audience of casual readers.
But I don’t want to be sensible or pragmatic. I don’t want to do what’s ideal for casual readers, I want to do what’s ideal for me, as a creative. These are meant to be voltaic verses. I intend to crackle and crash in branching paths through the atmosphere. I want to get my motor running, fire all my guns at once and yeet myself into space.
So. What’s next? Let’s do a quick inventory-review of this Substack so far. The best essays are We Were Voyagers and Are You Serious. If you were to read only two of my essays, those are the two I recommend. The other thing I recommend reading that’s on my old blog is The Library Ethos. What comes next, when we sketch out this picture? The rest of the essays are Santa Is Real, I Don’t Wanna, Earnestness, Constraints, and Unpublished Essays. Oh, and Resonance. Does that tell me anything?
I’m glancing at my main blog for clues. What do I usually recommend that people read? I have lists of existing material… most shared, most visited… I tend to ask people to free-roam from there. But that’s not what I want to revisit right now. I want to break new ground. I want to go somewhere fresh, interesting, somewhere that I haven’t gone yet. Earnestness and Constraints in particular are examples of me working through my familiar old talking points, and I’m not particularly proud or fond of those essays. I’m happy to have gotten them out of my system, sure, but they don’t have that crackle-boom quality that I think Voyagers and Are you serious? have. That’s what I’m after.
VV: i’m pretty sure i’m gonna go nuts on this substack in the coming days, weeks, months. if you’d like to support my work, please consider subscribing!
Another way of looking for “what is deeply true” might be to start with “where’s the crackle?” – and the way I do this is by asking questions and throwing up ideas and noticing how they feel. I could talk about… social status? I know I have a bunch of notes about that, and that that’s always kinda iffy and contentious. Hmm… I’ll do it someday, but I don’t feel an immediate resonance with that right now. I could maybe dig deeper into it to try and find something, but I’d prefer to continue searching breadth-wise first, and look at other options.
What else could I talk about? Maybe projects and project management? Right away, I feel an ‘oof’. (Mommy, I’m scared!) That’s a great sign, annoyingly. I’m currently uninterested in most of the other drafts and notes that are strewn across my idea junkyard, but project management is a painful and scary one– it feels like it’s got some crackle-and-hum around it– because I’m not currently as good at it as I want to be. I’m not as sure of myself about it as I wish I was.
I might be a bit ahead of the right window of opportunity to write it. But better slightly early than too late. And I want to write something now. So let’s roll with it and see where it takes us. Even if it’s premature, it’s part of my current process to mess around and figure things out, and I’ll learn something from that, too.
project management is about enabling collaboration
(The etymology of the word “project” means “throw forth”. Think “project your voice”. Pro- as in “progress”, “proceed”, “proclaim”, and “-ject” as in “inject”, “eject”, “interject”. “-ject” has “ye-” as a PIE root, which I believe is also the source of “yeet”. So every project is a kind of yeeting! So “project yourself” and “do projects” could in a way be rephrased to be the title of this post. Which I thought was really fun.)
I’m very proud of my personal definition of “project”.
My definition of a project is “any undertaking that cannot be completed in a single ‘sitting’.”
If you can complete it in one sitting, that’s not a project. That’s a task, or a simple set of tasks.
A project has to be something that requires that you collaborate, either with others, or even “only” with your future self.
Doing 10 pushups is a task, doing 10,000 pushups is a project. Even if you could do all of them in one day, the person who started doing them will not be the person who is midway through them, and neither of them is the person who will have to see it through.
To collaborate is to labor together, which is humanizing. Again, this applies even if it’s only with yourself. If you can labor together with your future selves, you can trust your future selves, you can feel a sense of kinship with them. If you can’t, you’ll feel alienated from yourself, powerless, and that’s dehumanizing. And I believe this is at the core of why so many people obsess so much about productivity, and about personal knowledge management software, and all of those things. It’s about kinship, belonging, power, and a sense of humanity.
But the tricky thing is that you can get swept up in the letter of the thing, and neglect its spirit. You start out tending to the spreadsheet because you want to feel more alive— and the spreadsheet can be a fantastic tool for helping you better allocate resources, make better decisions, etc!— but if you’re not careful, you can end up fussing over the spreadsheet as a way to avoid your sense of aliveness. And now you just have this tedious habit that you don’t even seem to be getting anything out of, but you compulsively do it because it used to do something, sorta.
A lot of addictive behaviors are coping mechanisms like this. We use the tool – whether it’s a cigarette or a spreadsheet – to avoid facing painful and uncomfortable truths about ourselves. People can be remarkably industrious and effective at avoiding themselves for really long periods of time.
But at the end of everything, we always find ourselves waiting for us.
When I do encounter myself at the end of the road, I wonder what question will I have for me?
“why aren’t I collaborating better with myself?”
“Visa, you have so much to say about project management, you’ve helped so many people troubleshoot their issues – but what are yours? Are you happy with your projects? Why or why not?”
Well, Visa. Since you asked. I do have a lot of projects. You could say I have a meta-project that’s full of other projects. I have at least a couple of projects that are, no kidding, some form of “go through all the other projects and see what comes up”. And what comes up? More projects. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Am I happy with my projects? Kinda. From one angle, it looks like a kind of failure. I do notice that there’s a part of me that seems to take pride in the sheer sense of volume, and there’s a strain of workaholism in there that I’m… conflicted about. I think it’s certainly less-than-ideal, but also… it’s part of what’s gotten me this far, hasn’t it? Oh boy, there are lots of complicated, conflicting feelings in there.
I think… I probably get a little too attached to my original formulations of my projects. I say all the time that we ought to make plans and then discard the plans, and the reason I feel a need to remind myself of that is… in practice, I tend to cling on to my plans. It’s probably because I still regret some of the things I lost a long time ago. And as I say this I find myself thinking… yeah, I can renegotiate things with myself. That’s okay. We can delete or put away things that don’t feel salient, compelling, things that don’t crackle. That don’t Spark Joy, as Kondo would put it.
There are some emotions here that I wasn’t exactly planning on feeling, lol. There’s some grief at everything that has been lost and wasted. There is sadness and all that wasn’t done. I’m recalling how from time to time I would discover something like the ruins of an earlier attempt at some project, and I would just… despair? That’s not the right word. I’d just be… overwhelmed, at how much effort my past self put into trying to make something work, that I had somehow forgotten about.
In that moment I find that I’m somehow feel simultaneously like I’m too harsh on myself, and… “not harsh enough”? I notice that I feel bad all the time that I’m not doing enough… and that feeling is based on a misunderstanding! But why do I have that misunderstanding in the first place? Part of it is because I had not sufficiently signposted what I had done, for my own reference. I somehow overestimate and underestimate myself simultaneously in different dimensions, which suggests to me that my self-image is delightfully distorted through a funhouse-mirror of my fixations.
There is a silliness and a humor to this, which I am grateful for. I recognize there’s a loop similar to the mindfulness/meditation loop, where getting mad at yourself doesn’t help, the thing that works is to be patient and kind and notice what comes up. And to continue to talk with other people. And to write, which is what I’m doing here.
To revisit the questions directly: Why aren’t I collaborating better with myself? Because I’m too harsh on myself, because I’m anxious about some things— mostly about how some things went wrong in the past— and I’m overindexed on these ideas I have about how things are supposed to be. My cup is too full of thoughts and ideas and I don’t make enough space– gosh… I don’t make enough space for me. Which is sad, but also really funny.
Like, imagine being me. I have this guy, Visa, that so many people praise as a really fun and clever guy to work with. And yet I hardly let Visa work with me at all. It’s like I put him on the bench and lecture at him instead of allowing him to do what he’s naturally good at. Why do I do this? Again, mainly I think it’s anxiety about how some things went wrong in the past. So I’ll probably get a lot of therapeutic value out of revisiting old pains, frustrations, disappointments, feeling those feelings again fully, and allowing myself to release the tension that I’m carrying in my face and body as a monument to loss.
all my engine-revving is me building up to talking about what I think people are doing wrong
“How long has it been since you wrote a story where your real love or your real hatred somehow got onto the paper? When was the last time you dared release a cherished prejudice so it slammed the page like a lightning bolt? What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” – Ray Bradbury, Zen In The Art of Writing
I hear all the time from people commiserating about how they start projects without finishing them. I don’t mean to be too dramatic – if you did this to me in person, I would probably be cordial, gracious and play along, and mean it too – but when I really sit with how I feel about it, it makes me sick. I abhor the idea of people using each other to validate their incompetence. And I know those are strong words. And I also know that I have some soul-searching to do about my ideas around competence.
That’s one of the big challenges, you know, like- how do you live with strong feelings amidst regular people? I imagine vegans must deal with this all the time. They witness something completely ordinary and commonplace – other people eating meat – which strikes them as barbaric, hideous, immoral, wrong. This clearly drives some vegans a little bit insane. Others find a way to be somehow measured and patient about it, maybe by seeing the bigger picture and focusing on what they can influence and so on.
I feel like I should write about “what I believe everyone is doing wrong”. This haunts me, compels me, stresses me, excites me, overwhelms me. It’s real shit. But I’m also afraid of doing that, because… that’s the kind of thing that might actually attract unpleasant attention. I’ve busted my ass for so many years to build an audience that supports me… surely I can just take some time to enjoy it? But as I say that I know in my heart and in my body that the time for that has passed. I have had a great time lounging with friends. But I’m meant to do something bigger and bolder. I know it in my stomach. I can’t keep running from it.
I also ought to think about the potential upside – that the resonance I would experience with the people who do get it, would be so potent, the shared understanding would be so powerful, I would feel right at home with them, more at home than I’ve ever felt. I have 55,000 followers on Twitter right now. If I lost 91% of my followers for writing essays about what I think people are doing wrong… but lets say 1% of them became more resonant… I would make that trade. 550 bad motherfuckers? Sign me up!! Do you want to increase your follower count 5% YoY or do you want to live fucking gloriously? The name for this Substack was in part chosen in relation to the general idea of “high voltage living” and Ted Hughes’ letter to his son, to “live like a mighty river”. Let’s live up to the name.
It’s this great tension that’s I’ve been struggling with for months, maybe years. I’ve been repeatedly bringing myself to the brink, and then shying away. Who am I to tell people what to do? Who am I to NOT tell people what I think, what I see, as a matter of conscience?
Half the challenge here is… writing well. Writing with sensitivity and tact and grace and kindness. With sufficient finesse and heart, you can say anything. I have had a lot of practice cultivating that.
And the other half of it is simply that I have to yeet myself out the fucking window.