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#056 Why Write?
Common Discourse is a project designed to help others (and ourselves) think through creativity, focus, and intentional work—from Alex Tan & Alice Otieno.
Every Tuesday we share words from a journal, a few ideas, a quote from somebody else, and links worth sharing. On Fridays we invite a guest to share images from their camera roll and a sound that resonates with them.
I frequently have conversations with friends about what we’d do if we weren’t in client services. It feels like fantasy to think what art practices we could participate in that would give us the potential to dictate our own pace and demand. Making things for other people and helping solve their problems is quite fun and rewarding, but being an artist for oneself feels like the ultimate achievement.
While Mackenzie and I were in New York last fall, we Citi Biked up to the Noguchi Museum. The only thing you can think about while circling the building, trying to find the entrance, is why the hell there is a giant Costco right across the street from it in the Long Island City neighborhood. I would assume that many people strolling back to their cars with bulk paper towels and chips have little knowledge or interest in the magical nature of Noguchi’s work that is right in front of them.
Mackenzie daydreams often about being a sculpture artist since the day we left the museum. I encourage her to do so, not only because I think she’d be quite good at it, but because it’s quite healthy and important for everyone in a creative practice to find ways to express themselves without limitations and arbitrary timelines.
I think about this for myself as well. In a conversation with a friend the other day, I mentioned that hopefully Common Discourse opens up a path to writing a book. He jokingly responded, “How will you make money?”
And he’s right, to a point. People don’t read anymore. Neil Postman predicted this in his 1985 works, Amusing Ourselves to Death (highly recommend!)
“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”
I overhear people all the time talk about how much they learn from TikTok or YouTube, and how ultimately it’s a much quicker and convenient way of consuming information. Things like financial advice, cooking, or sex health related things that are probably not even true. If I wanted to make a lot of money, I’d probably funnel the efforts of Common Discourse into something more easily consumable. Like something you can listen to while you drive, or flip through quickly while you’re distracting yourself from something else.
But instead, I write, requiring people to spend their undivided attention for 10 minutes which feels like a lifetime in 2022.
I choose the more difficult path for a few reasons, but mostly to help myself think.
Writing about anything will usually show you that you don’t know that thing as well as you thought you did. When we say things like, “I can see it in my head” but it doesn’t make sense to anybody else, the question remains: Does it make sense at all? Is it a complete thought or idea? Would a stranger be able to grasp this?
Ideas can feel complete. It's only when you try to put them into words that you discover they're not. So if you never subject your ideas to that test, you'll not only never have fully formed ideas, but also never realize it. Putting ideas into words is certainly no guarantee that they'll be right. Far from it. But though it's not a sufficient condition, it is a necessary one.
Additionally, a lot of people get away with using charisma to compensate for truth. We see this every day with people in the media who so beautifully say something or look hot enough that nobody is even listening to what they’re saying. On the other hand, when text is published, we’re able to more critically and analytically observe the content of what’s being said which ultimately holds the author accountable.
Aside from using writing as a thought processor or a measure of accountability, what writing most beautifully does is taps into our experiences and memories as humans.
I’ve become recently fascinated with the invisibility of subvocalization and how we assign familiar voices or tones to the words we’re reading. You know, like reading something in a specific voice even if the characters are fictional, or even if we don’t know the writer personally. We naturally connect their human-like traits to strangers, friends, or family we’ve come to know in life or in passing that hold similar characteristics.
Molly Mielke says it better than I can,
Part of what makes writing good is when the style is so distinct that even if you don't know what the writer's spoken voice sounds like, your mind conjures one up by mixing memories of people who spoke similarly — creating an altogether original voice that feels vaguely familiar.
Lastly, and more simply, a lot of us are going through the same experiences and often think we’re alone in them. The things that feel most personal are the most universal. Whatever you have to say is likely helpful to someone else or can help them feel seen or understood.
So this is why I write. And I think you should too.
A few ideas
I. SIDE STEPS
When working iteratively through anything, don’t erase progress. Push an idea forward, set it to the side if you have to, but never delete.
16 art boards, 5 unfinished drafts, and 8 different edits on a photograph are stepping stones, not failures.
It’s almost always better to step side to side instead of backwards, until an obvious path forward reveals itself.
II. WHO WAS LISTENING?
Every single thing in the world has already been thought of, said, or worked on.
But since nobody was listening, you have the opportunity to make sure they hear and see it.
III. GENUINE DESIRE
When was the last time you passed on liking something online because you know somebody else might see it? Or the adverse, liking something just so somebody else might see it.
The obsessive approach to designing our appearance online and masking it with authenticity may leave us forgetting what it is like to have genuine desire.
A quote from somebody else
Sometimes the viewer may not understand your work and their perception of it is very far from what you intended but it serves as a buffer or medium leading them to something else, and that is just as noble. To be an indirect catalyst, a threshold space. — Evelyn Bi
Links worth sharing
👾 ASCII Art Generator converts pictures to text
📻 Radio Garden allows you to tap into radio stations all over the world. For when you have decision fatigue.
🔍 The Public Domain Review is an online journal holding out-of-copyright material that everyone is free to enjoy, share, and build upon without restriction.
Thanks for consuming!
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