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#042 Close To the Source, Contribution, and Thinking Smaller
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One of my favorite pieces of creative work is the fourth album by Blood Orange, Negro Swan, where it’s obvious that Dev Hynes felt like he needed to create conversation around obstacles in his life that I imagine stood between where he started and where he is today. He also used the project to give a voice to others, which feels like an overlooked opportunity that many of us have where there is such pressure to be completely original.
Toward the end of the opening track, Orlando, Hynes introduces Janet Mock. Mock, an American Writer, Director, and Producer has spent a career developing work that covers topics like adversity and acceptance particularly from the viewpoint of a Transgender Activist. She book-ends the song with a monologue, emotionally delivering a bit of thought that she continues to revisit throughout the project:
You know, it's an insult we often put onto
A lot of folk is, like, oh, you're doing too much
So like, a couple years ago I was like
You know what? My resolution, my internal resolution will be to
To do too much
A few tracks later, Janet comes back at the beginning of Jewelry to continue the momentary thought with a stumbling of words that are unclear at first but come together toward the end:
So, like, my favorite images are the ones where
Someone who isn't supposed to be there
Who's like in a space, a space where
We were not ever welcomed in, where we were not invited
Yet we walk in and we show all the way up
People try to put us down by saying
"She's doing the most," or "He's way too much."
But, like, why would we want to do the least?
While I think Mock and Hynes both are trying to say a number of things, the through-line is that effort is cool.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that anybody who appears to be impressive at something is actually trying really hard to do so. There’s an obsession in our culture to be good at something but to also look like you don’t give a fuck at the same time.
Skateboarding feels like a good example of this. If more skate videos showed the amount of contact that people make with the pavement, hundreds of times before landing the trick, we’d all probably just think skateboarding is more insane than it is cool.
The facade of skaters smoking cigarettes and wearing cool clothes masks the inexplicably difficult trial and error that many of them put themselves through.
Like most things, we only see and glorify the result. Process is often hidden. Out of sight, out of mind.
Four things I’m thinking about today:
Effort is cool.
It’s impossible to look good while trying to get better at something at the same time.
The faster we can accept #2, the sooner we can take action without worrying about what others think of us.
The people who I look up to are giving more effort, practice, and patience than I give them credit for.
Ideas from me
I. CLOSE TO THE SOURCE
A remote work culture says that location is a nullified variable, but what do we lose when we sacrifice proximity?
Zoom calls are limited by time, email removes our ability to deliver with human emotion, and compared to sitting with somebody at dinner, you lose the in-between moments—the moments of wonder, clarity, and breakthrough.
Without limitations, nuance surfaces.
You’ll learn infinitely more from somebody while chatting in the car, drinking a coffee, or going on a walk because the spotlight dims and the filter fades away. If you want to do anything, identify the people who are doing it well, and get as close as you possibly can to them.
A simple shift for intentional and meaningful action is to replace productivity with contribution.
Instead of asking yourself “How am I being productive?”
“What or who am I contributing to?”
III. THINKING SMALLER
Working on something for 30 minutes a day for one week is more time spent than a single 3-hour work session the day before it’s due.
Give yourself more chances to solve the same problem, and more time.
A quote from somebody else
“When we choose growth over perfection, we immediately increase our shame resilience. Improvement is a far more realistic goal than perfection. Merely letting go of unattainable goals makes us less susceptible to shame. When we believe “we must be this” we ignore who or what we actually are, our capacity and our limitations. We start from the image of perfection, and of course, from perfection there is nowhere to go but down.” —Brene Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”
Links worth sharing
😌 A short story by Caleb Nelson Azumah that introspects on freedom, faith and joy, The White Review
🏃♂️ A documentary short film on athlete Sha’carri Richardson, meditates on the mysterious concept of time.
M👀D is an endless moodboard compositor designed to set the mood for meetings IRL or virtual.
🪞 Seventy One Reflections on 2021, S/FJ
🧩 When your For You Page cycles, Embedded
Thanks for another week!
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