In Praise of Being a Weirdo

I wish I’d been weirder. No, really…

Reading that, you might be thinking – particularly if we’ve known each other for some time now – “Don’t worry, Ol, you’ve been nothing but a weirdo ever since we met.” And to that I would say “thank you.” But I can’t help feeling like I could have done more.

To be clear, I’m not talking about weirdness for weirdness’ sake. That’s a real thing, and I’ve most certainly been guilty of that from time to time. The world doesn’t need any more of that, for that’s just as phoney as normal for normal’s sake. No, what I’m talking about is those times when I feel something very true inside me, and I go full steam ahead with it no matter how much it might set me apart from the crowd. Those are the greatest moments of my life.

You see, the more you dare to express that which is unique about you – and the more unique that thing is – the more you risk showing yourself to be unlike the “average” person. And to almost everybody on the planet, the fear of not belonging to that crowd of the “average” is so great that it’s enough to keep them shtum their entire lives.

There’s just one problem with that: if you want to do anything of any worth in this world, you are at some point going to have to break away from the crowd. If you have a dream and you set out to make it a reality, you will encounter obstacles. And since most people give up on their dreams at the first minor inconvenience – if they even set out in the first place – then merely by facing these obstacles, you are by definition a weirdo.

It’s too much for most people to stomach to be thought of as “different.” This is why the vast majority don’t even try. It boils down to the way you see the world.

People don’t like it when the view of the world they’ve become comfortable with is challenged. And when you express what is unique about yourself, you threaten that view. Remember: THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. I cannot stress that enough. If something you do happens to trigger somebody else and remind them that they are not living the way they should be as they should, they won’t thank you. They’ll see you as a threat and an enemy and they’ll call you a weirdo.

What they hope is that you will hear “you’re a weirdo” as a sign to crawl back down into the bucket with them and all the other crabs. That you’re doing something you shouldn’t be. That you’ve gone too far and you need to rein it in. That the point of life is to conform and go along with the herd and to stop thinking you’re so damn special.

And guess what? You are as free as Friday to do just that. Or the exact opposite – here’s what they don’t want you to hear “you’re weird” as:

As a sign that you’re right – that there is something better outside the bucket. That you’re onto something. That you’re living with courage. That you’re making your dreams more important than their egos. That the point of life is to share your gifts with the world.

I hope you can see that the problem is not that you’re a weirdo, or even that people are pointing it out. The problem is how you’re hearing it. Take it as insult and it will destroy you. Take it as what it is – the highest form of compliment – and it will be the fuel that takes you to the highest point of heaven.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

If You Want It, Go Get It

I like to listen to music when I write. More than anything I like to put the same album on repeat, so that whether I’m at my desk for half an hour or for four hours, there is an endless loop filling the room with the same continuous vibe. Today it was Strange Days, the second album by The Doors.

But what I’m finding more and more is that as I’m about to write, and I’m scrolling through the albums I have saved, nothing is quite hitting the spot. It’s not that I don’t like the albums I’m confronted with – I love them – but there seems to be this growing chasm between what I find my ears craving and what I know already exists.

I don’t know how to describe it. A tone. A vibe. A sensibility. A combination of elements unique to my own tastes. What I do know, though, is this: If I ever want to hear it, I’m going to have to get busy trying to make it myself.

And that’s my point today. If you feel something is missing from your world, what should you do? I see three possible paths.

One) Deny the feeling. Ignore it. Pretend the world’s fine just the way it is.

Two) Complain. Whinge to anybody who will listen about the sorry state of the world. Crucially, stop short of ever actually doing anything about it.

Three) Do what you can with what you have. Try to make what you want a reality, even if you’re taking the tiniest steps imaginable.

You’re free to take any of those paths at any moment in time. You already know which one I think is the best.

If you want to hear the music you crave, start making it yourself. If you want the people around you to be more generous with you, start being more generous with them. If you look in the mirror and wish there was less of you, start taking a photo of every meal you have for a week.

Do something. And do it yourself.

Don’t Break. Bend.

“The oak that resists the wind loses its branches one by one, and with nothing left to protect it, the trunk finally snaps. The oak that bends lives longer, its trunk growing wider, its roots deeper and more tenacious.”

Robert Greene – “The 48 Laws of Power”

You feel pretty good one day. Sticking out your tongue, you notice that life tastes just that little bit sweeter than you recall. The next day, sweeter still. Maybe you coast at this fresh altitude for two or three more days before BAM! You’re back down again, even lower this time than you remember being in the first place.

Nod along if that ever happens to you.

I go through it all the time. And it never stops sucking. In fact, it happened to me yesterday. Almost a week of noticing myself in a slightly elevated mood with each passing day, and then as if on cue, it all just vanished. Where to? For how long?

The annoying thing is that I don’t know. The more important thing is that I don’t give a shit. I’ve taught myself not to care about it. Moods come. Moods go. The more I try to stay out of their way, the less they seem to mess with me.

It’s not that I enjoy feeling crap, or worthless, or demotivated. No, no – it feels just as horrible as it sounds. But – and this could just be the perks of being a seasoned traveller between these ups and downs – I’ve slowly pieced together a way to be okay either way. It’d be a huge stretch to say that I feel good about feeling bad, but I at least know how to feel less bad about it.

You see, I’m not that unusual – I feel good when I get things done. But for most of my life, I knew about only one source of fuel – my feelings. And if I was having a good day, then that worked just fine. I breezed through things. I felt like I was on fire. But I suppose you’ve already guessed what happened the moment I felt anything less than supremely motivated, haven’t you? I got bugger all done and felt even worse.

When that happened enough times, I began to wonder which was worse: was it my original low mood, or was it the way that my reaction to it would make me spiral? Because I couldn’t see any difference, as far as I was concerned, between the way I felt and the kind of day I had and the things I managed to get done.

But the truth I came to – one that took years to glimpse, I should add – is that one thing doesn’t have to equal the other, and in fact, believing that it does is the real problem. Feeling like a worthless turd is one thing. And it’s horrible. And I wish nobody ever had to go through feeling like that. But deciding to let that feeling define your day, or your week, or your month? Well, that’s a completely separate issue. And what’s more… it’s a choice. Your choice.

The big thing with feeling depressed – whether for a day or a year – is that you don’t feel much like doing anything. Either you can’t see the point, or even when you can, you feel as though your insides are physically stopping you from taking any action. This presents quite a problem, because, in life, you have to do certain things, however you feel.

Well, the question that finally worked on me was this: “What would I do with my day if I knew for sure I was going to feel terrible?”

And that question led to drastically revise what I expected of myself. Because it all comes down to expectations. I didn’t realise it, but I’d been designing my life around being at my best 24/7 – always firing on all of the cylinders all of the time. And the moment I wasn’t able to do that I was incredibly frustrated. Cue spiral.

But the problem wasn’t my moods. The ups and downs didn’t help, sure, but the real problem was my expectations. If you expect yourself to be at your best all the time, well then it’s just basic maths that you’re going to be disappointed most of the time. On the vast majority of your days, you are capable of performing at your average level. Some of the time you’re capable only of your worst. And an equal amount of time you’re capable of your best.

If I set the bar low enough that I can hit it on my worst days, do you know what happens? I hit it and no matter how depressed I am in general, I can at least feel good about that. Do you know what happens if I set the bar so high I can only hit it on my best days? I hate my life.

Even on your worst days, you’re capable of something. Measure yourself against this “something” and you’ll find that even your foulest moods lose their power to completely derail you.

Remember: There’s a very big difference between letting something slow you and down and letting something stop you.

Beating Writer’s Block (or indeed, any block whatsoever)

“No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.”

Seth Godin – “Talker’s Block”

I don’t think I’ve ever once disagreed with Seth Godin. Some of his ideas, however, border on the revolutionary, and this is one of them.

He’s right – nobody gets talker’s block. So why do we get writer’s block? (And you can of course replace the word “writer” with anything else.) Unless you have some obstacle where you physically cannot write or type, there is nothing blocking you from writing but yourself.

The easiest place to point the finger is perfectionism, which is just another way of saying that you’re afraid. Writer’s block is basically just being so afraid of what you write not coming out perfect that you choose – perhaps unconsciously – not to write.

If you’ve never thought of it that way – that the only thing stopping you from doing good work is your fear of doing imperfect work – then your mind might be blown right. But if like me you’ve that before and it hasn’t stopped you getting blocked from time to time, you might be thinking “Great, I know what it is… now what can I actually do about it?”

Well, speaking as a writer’s block veteran of sorts, I have learnt three ways to dig myself out of this particular hole. Enjoy.

The first is to lower the stakes: Use frequency and repetition to your advantage.

Whatever some part of you is afraid to do, devise some way of doing it regularly where the results are not important – where it is getting in the ring, rather than knocking out yor opponent, that counts.

This is why I blog every day. Do you think I want to blog most days? Of course I don’t. And do you think I like what I’ve written on my blog most days? Not really. But I’ve tried. I’ve gotten in the ring. And I’ve lived to tell the tale. And that’s enough.

The second way is to actively distract yourself: Do something – anything – else.

For a lot of people, that thing is exercise. Ryan Holiday wrote a brilliant article a few years ago about the timeless link between writing and running. I can’t do it justice here, but what I can do is agree with him wholeheartedly. I don’t run because it keeps the pounds off or because it’s good for my heart. I run because it’s only when I do that the world makes any sense.

But when it comes to writer’s block, just switching channel from what I’m struggling with to something unrelated helps. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat here swearing under my breath at my laptop because I just cannot express in words what I’m thinking and what I want to communicate. To calm myself down I pick up my guitar and noodle away on it, forget that I was in the middle of a blog post, and sometimes after just a minute or two the perfect solution to it just pops into my head.

The third way is to research: pick apart the way somebody else did it.

If you were trying to write a song, for example, and it wasn’t going anywhere, you could pick one of your favourite songs and pick it apart like a surgeon.

Write down all the lyrics. Write out the chords. Work out the structure. List all the instruments you can hear and when they enter and when they exit. Note down where they’re each panned in the stereo field.

And as you do this, I guarantee that at some point something will grab your interest. You’ll get some kind of idea or inspiration for something you could try to do – so go do it! Don’t worry if you didn’t finish picking the song apart – the point was to break your writer’s block, and that’s what you’ve done.

To say that writer’s block doesn’t exist because it’s “all in your head” is as stupid as saying that happiness and sadness don’t exist. When you’re in the throes of it, it sure feels real, and for all intents and purposes, that’s enough. Denying it is just a way to avoid dealing with it.

No matter how blocked you feel – and again, this doesn’t just apply to writing – there is always something you can do to try to alleviate it. Getting into motion is the first and most important step.

So next time you’re feeling blocked, humour me – try one of these tips – and let me know how it turns out. Of course, if you’re one of those people who is never blocked whatsoever from what they want to do, then I will give you the keys to my website and email list because you clearly have a better handle on this than I do!

The Proverbial Needle in the Haystack

Nikola Tesla, who spent a frustrated year in Edison’s lab during the invention of the lightbulb, once sneered that if Edison needed to find a needle in a haystack, he would “proceed at once” to simply “examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.”

Well, sometimes that’s exactly the right method.

Ryan Holiday – “The Obstacle is the Way”

Every now and then, you’ll find yourself in a jam. Something needs solving. Fast. And by you.

When that’s your situation, when a failure to act immediately will likely have ruinous consequences, when it feels like that moment in Skyfall (and about five other Bond films) where you’re in a tunnel or a basement or a ventilation system and flames are chasing at your back…

Then do what you need to do to get out of dodge.

But I want you to be honest with yourself. How often is that true? How often does your very life depend on you making the right decision at this very second? Unless you are James Bond, the only answer I will accept is “very rarely.”

When there is no emergency, and no advantage to stressing yourself out and imposing artificial deadlines, don’t. Will you find a needle in a haystack any slower by slowly and methodically inspecting each one than by throwing hay everywhere in a mad and frantic search for it?

I doubt it.

“Eureka!” Moments

“I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down.

Then ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down.”

John Lennon, Playboy, September 1980

How often does this happen?

You get some idea in your head – something you really want to do. You don’t quite know how, but you’re willing to learn along the way, and so you dive in. You try this, and you try that, and you don’t seem to be making any headway whatsoever.

You decide you weren’t trying hard enough before – the solution is to redouble your efforts. But in doing so you seem to provoke the opposite response – the harder you try, the further away the goal seems to get!

Eventually, you hit a wall. At the end of your tether, you ask “What’s the point? It’s never going to work.” You give up. Maybe you go have a shower, to wash the failure off you. Maybe you pour yourself a whiskey, in the hope of forgetting a day or a week or a month of wasted effort. Maybe you decide a career change is the only way you can save face…

And then suddenly, EUREKA! A solution pops into your head. Not only that, but it works! Hurrah! I’m the king of the world.

Now if I could only get that EUREKA! moment without the agony that went before it, I could really make something of myself…

If you’re alive today, you’ve been lied to. And if you’re under 30, then I’m afraid you’ve really had a number pulled on you. More than one number, actually, but life is short and so I just want to talk about a specific one today.

The big lie you’ve been told is that you can – and should – expect to “have it both ways”. All the gain without the struggle. All the good without the bad. All the rainbows, none of the rain.

First they told you could write ‘Nowhere Man’ and avoid the five hours of depression and struggle and feeling like you’re getting absolutely nowhere (if you’ll pardon the pun). Then they told you that if you couldn’t, it was because there was something wrong with you. AND THEN – after diagnosing you with a disease you never had in the first place – they tried to sell you the cure. A new car. A new wife. A new nose.

You don’t need any of that stuff. (And I should know – I was recently told that my nose looked like one of those fake noses you can buy that’s attached to a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a moustache.) You just need to realise three things.

Firstly, you are not broken. If you cycle between feeling good and feeling bad and feeling like God and feeling a worm… you’re functioning correctly. You’re meant to feel shit when things go wrong for you – if you don’t, you’re a psychopath. As Napoleon Hill once said, “Most great people have achieved their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”

Secondly, if you want something out life then sooner or later you will have to pay a price for it. That price almost never has anything to do with money, and almost always has to do with perseverance in the face of discomfort.

And thirdly, if none of us makes the brave choice to pay that price and journey through discomfort and failure and out onto other side, then nobody designs beautiful buildings, nobody figures out that E=mc2, and nobody writes a tune like Nowhere Man. That song came out almost 55 years ago and it still shits all over every weak excuse for a pop track in today’s charts.

In closing, here’s something I learnt from David Brent and carry with me forever: “If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain. Do you know which ‘philosopher’ said that? Dolly Parton. And people say she’s just a pair of tits…”

Curiosity and Obligation

If you don’t mind being the priest then I’d like continue to treat this daily blogging thing like it’s some kind of public confession. I want to tell you about another stupid thing I do all the time because you’re probably doing it too and what I have to say might help you stop.

“Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others experience.”

Otto Von Bismarck

Here’s my confession: I keep turning things I love into things I hate.

I always starts off innocently and with the best of intentions. Perhaps I’m in the kitchen, the open window allowing a gentle summer breeze to tickle the hair on the back of my neck. I whistle a little melody as I chop the onions; I stitch together a couple of lyrics as they hit the pan; by the time they start to brown I’ve started orchestrating the damn thing.

Now, some part of me knows full well what will happen if I simply allow myself to follow this curiosity. If I let it, the idea will take me on an adventure, and the natural conclusion will be a song. A song will exist where no song existed before. It might be the best thing I’ve ever written. It might be the worst thing I’ve ever written. Who cares? The point is that I will have been somewhere and come back to tell about it.

Now, if we imagine this as a James Bond film, the scene would cut here to Blofeld, in his lair, white cat on knee, watching me go about my day on some kind of primitive iPad. Except even Blofeld isn’t dark enough – let’s make it the Devil. The Devil that lives inside every one of us.

As Charles Baudelaire pointed out, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us he didn’t exist. So, eager to find a way to stop that song coming out of me – but clever enough to cover his tracks – the Devil takes form as a voice in my head that says: “Right, this is clearly something important. You don’t want to waste this idea, this opportunity, this gift. What you want to do before you do anything else is get organised. Make lists. Define action steps. Be as ruthlessly efficient as you can.” And just in case I didn’t buy all that, he appeals to my vanity: “Of course, you could just see where the idea takes you but… oh, Oliver, you’re much smarter than that…”

And what I’ve found time and time again is if I realise – in time – where that voice is actually coming from, I can happily say “Fuck you, Devil, nice try,” and get back to work.

But – and it pains me to say it – I’m more often too weak and too gullible and too easily deceived. I find the advice – that I think is coming from myself – reasonable. I go along with it because it seems like the sensible thing to do. And when I realise what a terrible mistake I’ve made… it’s too late. The song’s gone now.

I don’t get this right very often. But I get it right more often than I used to. And the difference when I get it right is this: I see clearly when I’m being guided by curiosity, and when I’m being guided by obligation.

If something an obligation – which means some part of me doesn’t really want to do it, but perhaps I feel I don’t have a choice – then everything the Devil suggests is right. I should get organised. I should be ruthlessly efficient. I should try and get it started as soon as possible, and off my plate as soon as possible. My natural going-with-the-flow will not produce the results I feel I need to produce.

But if it’s a curiosity, then all that shit flies out of the window.

Because when I’m driven by curiosity, I’m not trying to be “done” as soon as possible. I want to swim in it. I want to explore every nook and cranny of it. I’m not in it for “the results.” I’m in it for the journey, the adventure. And curiosity is such a powerful source of energy that it will take care of a lot of the things that need doing without your conscious help.

Without curiosity, you need all the help and discipline and order that you can get. But with it, all that stuff serves to do is strip the experience of the joy and wonder that inspired you in the first place.

My life works when I follow my curiosity, not when I try to control it.

Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit

I finished reading the book. I laid back and I stared the ceiling and I smiled.

It’s all going to come together, I thought. I do not know how. I do not know when. But somehow, sometime, I’m going to make something I can be proud of.

And that was enough.

Over the last decade or so, a handful of books have appeared in my life at the perfect moment and given me a swift kick up the arse. Tyler Cowen, by way of Ryan Holiday, calls these books “quake” books, for they shake you to your core. One of my quake books was consumed in a single sitting early one morning in a friend’s bedroom in Rome. The writer was Steven Pressfield and the book was “Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.”

I wasn’t an au-pair any more. And other than being newly in love with Emma, my life had no direction. Oh, I knew where I wanted it to go: I wanted to write. I wanted to write songs. I wanted to write stories. I even wanted to write non-fiction to help and inspire people. But the shameful truth was that even with all the time I had on my hands, I wasn’t. Most of the time I wasn’t even trying. And on the increasingly rare occasion I mustered the courage to try, the disappointing fruits of my labour made me regret bothering.

So when I heard that Steve had a new book coming out, I was really excited. Not only was I was desperate for advice, I was and still am a huge fan – I’ve lapped up his War of Art, Do the Work, Turning Pro, The Warrior Ethos and The Authentic Swing, and as of this moment in time have read each one at least a dozen times.

But then I heard the title of his new book and immediately got depressed. “Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.” Well, duh, I thought. Tell me something I don’t know. The last thing I wanted was yet another voice competing with the ones already in my head telling me night and day that everything I try and create is a bag of wank and it always be and that’s just the way life is so suck it up and get a job you hate like a normal person…

I almost didn’t bother reading the book. Of course, the second I started it I realised just how incorrectly I had interpreted the title of the book. Because the book has a subtitle. It’s really:

“Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It.

You see, the mistake I’d made – not my first, won’t be my last – was taking the title of the book personally. I presumed that the “shit” in the title referred to everything I had ever or would ever create – my past, my present, my future. Nobody wants to read my shit. Of course they don’t – I don’t want to, and I’m the one writing it!

But Thank Christ that’s not what it meant at all.

The “shit” in the title refers in fact to the stuff you as a creator make on your way to making the brilliant and unique work you are more than capable of making. The work in its unfinished, embryonic form. Nobody wants to read, or listen to, or watch, or experience that. And can you blame them? There’s a reason screenplays get drafted and redrafted before they’re made into movies. There’s a reason The Beatles took over 700 hours to record Sgt Pepper before they thought it was ready. And there’s a reason it took Steven Pressfield himself over 30 years of trying to get his first novel published.

What comes out of you when you first start out is just raw inspiration. It’s not yet art. To become art, it requires molding. It requires time. It requires taste. It requires patience. Leave out those things, and all that you will have to show people will be your “shit” and as we’ve made abundantly clear, nobody wants to read that.

So if they don’t want to read your “shit”, what do they want? They want your “work.” Your finished work. That you have sweated over. That you have cared enough about to write and rewrite and rewrite again. That you have held up to the light, asking “Is this as good as it can be?” before going back to the drawing board until you can honestly answer “yes.”

To be clear, this is not to advocate perfectionism. Your work will never be perfect. But it needn’t be. What this is about is the enormous difference between just tossing something off and beating yourself up because nobody seems to like it, and really putting in the hours to make something special, no matter how imperfect the final result.

As you can tell, I found the book incredibly inspiring, and every time I reread it something new jumps out at me. Give it a look. You won’t be disappointed. I’ll leave you with an extract from Chapter 4.

“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You realize that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates her time and attention, which are extremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give her something worthy of her gift to you.

“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every phrase and every sentence: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is he bored? Is he following where I want to lead him?”

Steven Pressfield – “Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit”

The Things That Don’t Change

Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, coined a great phrase a couple of decades ago when he told his employees to “focus on the things that don’t change.”

He meant it in a business sense. For example, people are always going to want free shipping. People are always going to want fast shipping. People are always going to choose convenience. Etc… and I guess you could say twenty years on, this line of thinking worked out pretty well for his back pocket.

But I think that to interpret his words as only being useful for doing business is to miss their greater meaning: From the beginning of human history to the present day, most of the things we do, have, and want, are exactly the same.

To quote Marcus Aurelius: we marry, we raise children, we get sick, die, we wage war, we throw parties, we do business, we farm, we flatter, we boast, we distrust, we plot, we hope others will die, we complain about our lives, we fall in love, we put away money, we seek high office and power…

And then it’s over.

Sure, the specifics might change from era to era and culture to culture. And that variety is a God-send, making all our lives richer. But the broad strokes? The outline? That hasn’t changed for thousands of years, and it isn’t about to any time soon.

I find that incredibly comforting.

People doing the exact same things:

Marrying, raising children, getting sick, dying, waging war, throwing parties, doing business, farming, flattering, boasting, distrusting, plotting, hoping others will die, complaining about their own lives, falling in love, putting away money, seeking high office and power. And that life they led is nowhere to be found.

Marcus Aurelius – “Meditations” Book 4

All Through the Night

Sleep, my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels, God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft, the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale, in slumber sleeping,
I, my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

While the moon, her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night.

Love to thee, my thoughts are turning
All through the night
All for thee, my heart is yearning,
All through the night.
Though sad fate our lives may sever
Parting will not last forever,
There’s a hope that leaves me never,
All through the night.

An old Welsh tune called “Ar Hyd y Nos”, English lyrics by Sir Harold Boulton (1859-1935)

Sleep tight.

The Blank Page

Writing is hell. Anybody who says it isn’t is either a lying sack of shit or not doing it properly.

But do you know what the easiest part of writing is? Stringing the words together. The actual “writing” part.

The hardest part? The blank page.

Unless you’re an idiot or masochist, you don’t come to the blank page because you want to have a good time. If a good time is what you’re looking for, there are pills and casinos and whorehouses and Kardashians available, for a whole lot less hassle.

No, you come to the blank page because you’ve run out of options. You’ve nowhere left to turn, and even pleasure isn’t pleasurable any more. You thought you could get what you want without sacrificing, without going to the end of the line, without pushing up against your demons… You negotiated with life for weeks, months, maybe years, desperate to avoid doing what you knew you should have been doing all along.

Hitting rock bottom is a good thing – the only way is up.

And so you sit down to face it – the blank page, that is. As you stare it down, you could swear – though nobody would believe you – that it is staring right back at you, daring you to stand up, to walk away, to quit. You’re not imagining it. The blank page brings to life the fire-breathing monsters inside you that will do anything – and I mean anything – to make you quit.

So how do you defeat the blank page?

First, you see those monsters inside you for what they are: Con-artists of the highest order – the kind that make even Donald Trump look tame. And one word at a time – or one phone-call, or one push-up, or one kind word to a stranger – you tell those evil fuckers to go to hell.

There is no way out but through. If you want to live any kind of life, you are going to have to come up against one blank page or another before long. And whilst grappling with the unknown and facing off against the forces within you that wish you evil might be painful and uncomfortable, it’s the price of admission.

Like I said, you don’t come to blank page to have a good time. But baby, when you beat it – for today, at least – there’s no better time on Earth.

What Don’t You Miss?

Five weeks ago a bunch of things were suddenly removed from your daily routine. Poof. Gone. Just like that.

I’m sure you miss a lot of those things. But what don’t you miss?

I ask you this because, in an as-yet-undetermined amount of time, you’re going to be allowed to do more than you are right now – lockdown is not going to go on forever – and left to your own devices, you will be tempted to simply add back in everything that was once there.


This is the perfect opportunity to stop doing things that hold no meaning for you. Add back what you miss. Leave a blank space where what you don’t used to be.

He Was a Lithuanian

He was a Lithuanian and he claimed to have never read the same book twice.

His was a fierce position, and at first glance his argument seemed reasonable. He maintained that since life is short, and there are so many books out there, to reread one of them would mean sacrificing the reading of another. For whatever reason, this was something he could not abide. He went as far as to say that people who do anything more than once are time-wasters.

I listened to him and nodded along – I am if nothing else a polite young man – but I soon found that like so many people’s arguments, his shared two things: it was well-rehearsed, and it was complete horseshit.

Of course, I didn’t tell him I thought that. Whilst I don’t claim full responsibility for Anglo-Lithuanian relations, whatever I can do to help our cause…

But back to his argument, which I bring up today because he was not the first or the last person to express something like this to me. Where it falls apart is quite simple: the hidden assumption that life is about a desperate cycle of novel consumption from cradle to grave. And if that isn’t horseshit, then I don’t know what is. I just don’t believe that.

Yes, life is short. Or rather, life is finite. You’re never going to read all the books. You’re never going to have all the jobs. You’re never going to live in all the houses… But this is not a bad thing. This is not cause to spend your life desperately trying to cram in as much as possible and never stopping to smell the flowers.

You see, the point of life is not to read as many books as possible before you expire. Nor to visit as many sunny places as you can. Or to kiss as many boys as will kiss you.

No, it is to really do whatever it is you do. To engage as fully and deeply as possible with those books that you do read. To soak up every last ounce of those sunny places you do visit. To savor every last drop of saliva you share with those boys that you do kiss.

So sorry Mr Lithuania – I wish I could remember his name – but I respectfully disagree with you. In all things, go for depth first. Go for quality over quantity. And if, as you do so, you accidently end up prolific, inadvertedly being someone who has read lots of books, been to lots of sunny places, kissed lots of boys… then you can treat that as the side-effect of a life well-lived, rather than as your raison d’etre.

Everything Is a Joke

“I see everything as a joke,” I said, trying to impress the leggy blonde before me with the oh-so-impressive size of my… intellectual detachment. Even at seventeen, I knew how to get a girl going.

“You’re an idiot,” she replied, without blinking.

Shortly afterwards, this girl became my girlfriend.

I try not to have regrets. Accordingly, I have plenty.

The one that stings the most, though, is how somewhere around the age of seventeen, I found myself falling for a pack of lies I’d somehow managed to keep my guard up against until then. Things like:

“It doesn’t matter whether or not you can live with yourself; what matters is what others think of you.”

“If you don’t treat every little thing as life and death, tragedy WILL befall you.”

“Enjoyment is not a right, it’s a luxury, and you’re only allowed it if you first give your time and energy to the capitalist machine that sustains us all.”

I could give you more, but those three sum up the attitudes I somehow absorbed during that time – don’t believe in yourself, take everything seriously, and subsume your subjective experience of life to the holy “economy” – and that I have been trying to shed ever since. They took me from being a fair chill teenager to an incredibly confused and anxious adult. I’ve been thinking about that time recently alongside my exploration into the craft of storytelling.

You see, a story starts with an Inciting Incident. This is a moment where something outside of the protagonist upsets the balance of their life, launching a desire to get back to their previous equilibrium.

JAWS: The shark eats Chrissie Watkins, launching Martin Brody’s quest to find it and protect his sea-side town.

MONSTERS INC: A little girl called Boo enters the Monster world, launching Sully’s quest to try and get her back to the human world safely.

GOLDFINGER: Bond returns to his hotel room and finds Jill Masterson dead and painted with gold, launching his desire to defeat Auric Goldfinger.

The Inciting Incident of my little tale was simple – boy meets girl. Specifically, the fact that I fancied her enough to let her way of viewing the world replace one that had been working just fine for me up until that point. And whether I knew it or not, I have spent over a decade trying to find my way back to where I was before then.

And feel free to laugh at me for taking over a decade to realise that – I’m sure as hell laughing at myself – but there is no “getting back.” I can’t be who I was when I was seventeen. Nor do I truly even want to. That’s just not how the world works. You are who you are right now. That is who you have to accept.

But even if I don’t want to be exactly like I was back then – because I was in many ways a moron – I can at least steal my favourite aspect of my personality from back then: the firm belief that everything is a joke.

“Everything about life is a joke. Don’t you know that?”

Kurt Vonnegut – “Bluebeard”

An Eternal Decision

Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).

Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting than just wanting the noun.

Austin Kleon

Something wonderful happens when you stop giving a fuck about the result of every little thing you do – when you stop needing the world to validate your efforts and start validating yourself.

When you make an etnernal decision simply try to improve a little bit each day – like an army gaining centimetres of ground at a time – you find that not only does the score takes care of itself, you shed the stink of urgency that kept joy at arm’s length previously.

If the result is everything to you, then I honestly hope you never win, because the day that you do will be the most depressing day of your life.

Find something you can never complete, and give your life to it.

Do Less and Get More Done.

The more I try to do, the less I get done.

And so I am forever trying to find ways to do less.

When I succeed at this, I know I am doing so because, paradoxically, I actually get a lot done.

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another—intensity defeats extensity every time.

Robert Greene – “The 48 Laws of Power”

The Land of the Free?

The land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy.

Rage Against the Machine – “Know Your Enemy”

Did you know – because I didn’t – that the American flag should under no circumstances be allowed to touch the floor?

I suppose after Geri Halliwell squeezed herself into that Union Jack dress sometime in the nineties, most of the British flags I’ve seen have been decorating the living room windows of tubby, bald, red-faced men. And given that I’ve made a conscious decision to make my life choices in stark opposition to theirs – excepting our shared enjoyment of Stella Artois – the most honest way I could describe my feelings towards the flag would be aggressively indifferent.

So you can imagine my confusion when, on a summer camp in Germany many years ago, this American – who I found annoying to begin with – got really agitated with me when I moved a bunch of things off a table and onto the floor, one of which just happened to be a folded up American flag.

He barked at me to pick it up. I had no idea what he was getting so red in the face about, but just the way that he was ordering me to do something made me instantly not want to. I asked him what was wrong. There was no getting through to him. He just kept telling me to pick it up, getting more and more worked up by the second. I didn’t.

When the penny finally dropped that if that flag was ever going to go back on that table it would be because he and he alone put it there, he did it himself. And then he walked off in a huff, shaking his head and muttering about disrepectful people. He was remarkably unpleasant to me for days afterwards.

I considered apologising to him, I really did. But I snapped out of that delusion pretty sharpish. After all, he had been far more unpleasant to me than I had been to him. If I were the petty type, I would have demanded that he apologise to me. I had been acting out of an innocent ignorance. He was the one who treated me as less important than a piece of fabric.

But the main reason I didn’t apologise – and I stuck to it – was because I felt like I would have been enabling his bullshit. It spooked me just how strongly he felt about that flag, and I wanted no part in encouraging him further. Had he asked me politely to do it, I think I would have gladly obliged. But no, it was the strength of his emotions that made me feel like he had a lesson to learn: the rest of the world doesn’t give as much of a shit about your country as you do.

I don’t know what lies that flag represented to him. The home of the brave, the land of the free? Didn’t seem so brave. Didn’t seem so free.

Me? I slept like a baby that night. I didn’t have a flag to worry about.

What Is the Theme of Your Life?

And then it was Conor’s turn to ask me a question.

“Do you believe in natural talent?”

We were about an hour into a conversation we were recording about music – music itself, the music industry, being a musician – and I was stumped. I knew what I wanted to express, but I couldn’t do it. I don’t remember exactly how I responded – you’ll hear it when we publish the conversation – but after we were done I thought about it some more and so this piece is a further exploration.

You see, I am of the opinion – inspired in no small part by Steven Pressfield’s work – that whether you’re a musician or a crack dealer or a horticulturist, you were not born a blank canvas. You cannot be simply moulded or shaped into just anything, or programmed like a computer. Of course, your environment and your experiences influence who you become, from the day you’re born to the day you die, but the exact way that they influence you is determined by your true self.

(If you want a simple piece of evidence for this way of thinking, just think of any sets of twins that you know. Should they not by rights be way more simliar to one another than they are, having had more or the less the same environment and circumstances to grow up in? The ones I know might compliment one another nicely, but they are completely different people.)

Take me, for example. I’m finding – as I rack up more and more days in a row working on story craft and fiction – that there’s really only a very small number of things I’m interested in writing stories about.

It turns out that you can only write so many scenes and chapters – that you at best print out, read through, scrawl with red marker pen and throw in the bin, and at worst give no more than a cursory glance before holding down the backspace key until the screen is white again – before the pieces of crap your imagination keeps serving up start to look awfully alike.

The same characters popping up, with different haircuts. Getting themselves in the same sorts of scrapes, and out of them the same sorts of ways. Caring about the same sorts of things, appreciating the same sorts of members of the opposite sex, feeling righteous indignation over the same sorts of injustices…

And many of the things that bubble up out of me and onto the page seem to have been straining to come out for years – completely against my will. At the end of 2015 I wrote the first draft of a novel long-hand whilst Brando the baby slept in the afternoons. It was fun. But it was also crap. I never did anything more with it. The reason I bring it up is that five years on, no matter how hard I try to write anything else, I keep basically rewriting the same story.

When I first noticed this happening, I didn’t like it. It spooked me into thinking that I must just be a one-trick pony, that there was no point in me trying to write anything because I seem only to be capable of telling this one story and I can’t even figure out yet how to tell that one well. And I wondered whether I should just give up before I disappoint myself again.

But passages like this inspire me not to:

Generally, great writers are not eclectic. Each tightly focuses his oeuvre on one idea, a single subject that ignites his passion, a subject he pursues with beautiful variation through a lifetime of work.

Hemingway, for example, fascinated with the question of how to face death. After he witnessed the suicide of his father, it became the central theme, not only of his writing, but of his life. He chased death in war, in sport, on safari, until finally, putting a shotgun in his mouth, he found it.

Charles Dickens, whose father was imprisoned for debt, wrote of the lonely child searching for the lost father over and over in David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations.

Moliére turned a critical eye on the idiocy and depravity of seventeeth-century France and made a career writing plays whose titles read like a checklist of the human vices: The Miser, The Misanthrope, The Hypochondriac. Each of these authors found his subject and it sustained him over the long journey of the writer.

What is yours?

Robert McKee – “Story”

You don’t need to be infinite. You merely need to find your theme – the one subject you can “pursue with beautiful variation.”

What is your theme?

You might not be a writer, nor have any intention of ever becoming one. But you’re something better than that – a human.

And the things you do every day are not random, no matter how much they might seem so. Your actions which make up your days, which make up your life, are not a mess of unrelated impulses. There is a thread. Just because it’s not obvious doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Find that thread, start pulling on it, and never look back. Forget about all the things you thought you should have been or could have been. And start expressing who you actually are instead.

To me, this is the definition of natural talent. A common thread that runs through your veins. A proclivity. A potential. Something that means one thing lights you up and another leaves you cold.

But of course, discovering it is just the first step. Because will knowing what your theme is make you happy forever after? Of course it won’t. No matter how clear it is, you’ve still got to live it, haven’t you? I might know the theme of my story, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to write itself. I’ve still got to put my blood, sweat, and tears into it.

Knowing the theme of your life might not make life any easier. In fact, the opposite will probably happen. Life will be harder, because you can no longer plead ignorance – whereas before you could say you didn’t know any better, once you discover your theme, you have nothing to hide behind any more. You know what you’re supposed to be doing, and not doing it hurts.

But I will say this: even as somebody still very much on the bottom rung of the ladder of living his theme, the bottom rung of the right ladder is infinitely preferable to the wrong ladder, or to no ladder at all.

I hope you enjoyed this. And I hope if nothing else it inspires you to be more compassionate to yourself. Who you are is more than enough… but only if you accept yourself with open arms.

It’s Not the End

You know that feeling you get at the end of Return of the Jedi, where there’s music and dancing, and there’s hope for the future once again, because after an incredibly long and thankless struggle against the Empire, good has finally triumphed over evil?

I feel that way every time I think of Jesus’ last few days.

I mean, I bet the devil really thought he’d finally got Jesus beat, didn’t he? Threw everything but the kitchen sink at the poor guy. Almost had him. And what does J.C do in return? Comes back to life. Pisses all over the Devil’s metaphorical bonfire.

Proving John Lennon – the man who said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus in the mid-60s, only to in the late-60s do everything possible to physically resemble the son of God himself – correct:

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Happy Easter.

You Were Doing Your Best

I meant, I meant…

If only, if only…

If only me auntie had bollocks, she’d be me uncle.

David Brent – The Office, Season 2 Episode 3 – “Party”

I was round for tea at my girlfriend’s house one day when her mum relayed to me a quote she had come across earlier that day. Since this was thirteen years ago, I hope you’ll forgive me for not remembering the quote verbatim – or indeed the reason why she felt she should pass it on to me – but here is the gist of it anyway:

“Whatever happens, remember that you did the best you could, at that moment, with the tools you had at your disposal.”

At the time it struck me as remarkably stupid. Really dumb. Inane, even. Annoyed me. I nodded my head politely and wolfed down some more lasagna, but I couldn’t see how that kind of shit was of any relevance. To anyone. I was sixteen, after all – I knew everything there was to know. I gave it no more thought.

Except that I must have done, because it has stuck with me for thirteen years now, and I slowly came to see that my girlfriend’s mum was completely right. I mean, I can’t give her all the credit – she didn’t invent the quote. But if her only role in this tale was that of the messenger, she did a bloody good job.

Which brings me onto my real point: How many things have you fucked up in your life?

I can’t count mine, there are so many. Some bigger than others. Some more embarrassing than others. And yet – perhaps because I’m having such a nice day today and I can look out at the blue sky and I can smell the barbecues everybody has decided to have wafting in through the loft window – I honestly don’t think I’d change a single one. Because what would be the point? I’m here, now, aren’t I, for better or for worse? And I’m here, not in spite of those fuck-ups, but because of them. Seen in that light, it… sort of makes it hard to continue seeing them as fuck-ups, no?

Yeah, it’s easy to look back and think “If only I’d have…” But life’s too short for that. You didn’t. Whichever words you choose to end that sentence with, face facts – you didn’t. So move on. A hell of a lot easier said than done, of course. But no less crucial if you want to avoid living in a hell of your own creation.

If only you’d held your tongue. If only you’d held your fist. If only you hadn’t pussied out. If only you’d had just a little bit more time to weigh up your options, you’d have come to a much wiser conclusion and acted thusly…

But you know, and I know, that that’s complete bullshit. You did your best.

It might be painful to admit, much like looking at your own soul without sunglasses on, but everything you have ever done has been the best you could have wished for in that moment.

Now, you might not be able to go back and fix the past. In fact, there’s no “might” about it. You can’t. End of. But that doesn’t mean you have to despair, or try to awkwardly forget your past. Use it instead. Learn from it. And try to make your best a little bit better every day.

Most of all, forgive yourself for the fuck-ups. You really were doing your best.

So Use It

You don’t know the half of it.

But so what?

You know everything you need to know.

So use it.

And if there’s something you don’t know now that you end up needing to know somewhere else along the way, rest assured it will come to you when the time is right.

And if it doesn’t, that’s because you didn’t need it.

Have a beautiful weekend. And if you’re going to go for a walk in the glorious sunshine, promise me you will coat your inner thighs with vaseline. Let me be the example, the martyr, a cautionary tale of those fools who think the rules of nature don’t apply to them.

Because I can barely walk and it’s all my own fault.

Let Yourself Be Bored

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal

I try to prove him wrong sometimes. I sit quietly in a room, alone. Not me, I think, dripping with hubris. I’m the exception to the rule.

Only I’m not. It takes a minute or so, but before long I’m swimming in a sea of discomfort. I’m looking into the abyss and the abyss is sticking its middle finger up at me.

I see two possible solutions. One is to avoid this at all costs and distract myself every moment of every day. The other is to learn to sit quietly in a room, alone, trying to go longer each time, if only by a second or two.

It might be difficult, but the payoff is more than worth the effort. For if you can enjoy your own company, you’re set. And, as Jean-Paul Satre said, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”

Don’t Change. Blossom Instead.

CHARACTER IS DESTINY. So said Heraclitus. But what did he mean?

It would be presumptuous of me to tell you what he meant, but I’m going to anyway. Besides, what is Heraclitus going to do about it? He died about 2500 years ago. I’m not too worried about pushback.

What he meant about character being destiny is that people don’t change. A person’s nature – just like that of a tree, or a fish, or a single strand of solder – is what it is. Whoever you happen to emerge from your mother’s womb as, all wet and red and crying, that’s who you are on your deathbed, and at every moment in-between.

So people don’t change. Well, good. We shouldn’t want them to. That’s not what they’re here for. They’re not here to change. They’re especially not here to change into what you or I wish they were.

No, they’re here to blossom. If you don’t believe me, read this, from Steven Pressfield in The War of Art:

In other words, none of us are born as passive generic blobs waiting for the world to stamp its imprint on us. Instead we show up possessing already a highly refined and individuated soul.

Another way of thinking of it is this: We’re not born with unlimited choices.

We can’t be anything we want to be.

We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.

If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.

If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.

Do you agree? I certainly do. We are not here to change. We are here to blossom.

Why I Gave Denzel Washington the Benefit of the Doubt

Denzel Washington used to really piss me off.

It wasn’t anything he did. It wasn’t anything he said. And it wasn’t the quality of his acting. I know this because I hadn’t actually seen him in a film until my mid 20s.

No, the reason Denzel Washington used to really piss me off has to do with a weird little quirk I’ve found in myself.

Basically, whenever I hear about something over and over again – an actor, say – and I for one reason or another stay ignorant about it, I find that I hate it more and more and more as time goes by.

And I wouldn’t mind too much, if not for the fact that I’ve been caught out by this hundreds of times now. I’ve gone years avoiding a band because they were popular, only to realise they’re pretty good when I actually give them a listen. I’ll assume a film isn’t my kind of thing because I heard about it too much when it first came out, only to love it when I finally get round to watching it.

So now I have a rule for myself. I don’t let myself have an opinion on anything or anyone without direct experience. I’m allowed to assume and predict what I will and won’t enjoy. But I’m not allowed to claim as fact that I dislike something if I don’t have first-hand experience of it.

You might not be so irrational as me. But if you are, and you find yourself getting annoyed when you think about something you’ve never actually spent any time with, carve out half an hour and spend some time with it.

You can’t lose. Either you do hate it, and you’ve proved yourself right (which is always delicious) or you like it, and now you’ve found something new to enjoy in the future.

How To Master your Craft

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Bruce Lee

Is there something you want to be really, really good at some day? A craft, of which you wish to become a master?

For me, it’s storytelling. I find the more I give, the more I get – the longer my feet spend dipped in the water of this ancient and formidable artform, the more I want to chuck my whole body in. What am I aiming for? Novels? Screenplays? Rock operas? I don’t know, and at least for the moment, I’m enjoying learning far too much to give a shit.

But it’s not all smiles and roses. I might have a burning desire to master this thing. I might not care if it takes me a decade to come up with something I can truly hang my hat on.

I still don’t really know how to proceed.

Moving beyond the clichés

If you’ve been reading my writing for a while, then you’ll know already that I’m well-versed at all the clichés. I’ve probably passed them on to you several times apiece. Show up every day. Do your work. Practice makes perfect. Sit at a typewriter and bleed.

Now, that’s nice advice. But it’s about as helpful as Anne Frank’s drum kit.

Back to you. What should you do if – like me – you’ve been fortunate enough to find something you’re willing to devote years of your life to in search of mastery, but you fear that, without some kind of strategy, you are liable to just spin your wheels and run in circles for the next decade?

Well, first, breathe. Because, clichés aside, you will get there. Whilst it might not be enough to have nothing but a burning desire for mastery, you’ll get nowhere without it. So let’s not put down passion, let’s not discount motivation, let’s not pretend it’s all about practice and being a nerd.

But then let’s look at how to practice and be a nerd.

A skill is not a craft. A craft is not a skill.

A skill, according to Wikipedia, is the ability to carry out a task with determined results often within a given amount of time, energy, or both.

A craft, on the other hand, is a beautiful mess of dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller skills, that combine to produce results exponentially more powerful than the sum of their parts.

Cooking is a craft. Sharpening a knife, chopping an onion, sweating a leek, and seasoning a sauce, are all skills.

Songwriting is a craft. Rhyming a lyric, structuring a song, recording a demo, and seducing somebody into listening to it, are all skills.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here is the most important difference for us between a skill and a craft:

It is impossible to work directly on a craft. But it is possible to work directly on a skill. So…

Focus on the skills

It goes like this:

  1. Pick a skill that forms a part of your craft.
  2. Find the practicing sweet-spot – not so easy that you’re bored, and not so difficult that you’re frustrated.
  3. Practice the skill over and over and over until it’s easy.
  4. Move onto another skill.

There is magic in this process. As you’re busy focusing on your skills, something wonderful is going on behind the scenes. You are mastering your craft.

It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but the way to get master your craft is largely to ignore it. Instead, pour your undivided attention into some small aspect of it.

What about trial and error?

Well, yes, of course. If you simply “just do” the thing you want to master for long enough, you will eventually master it. Unlike most approaches, trial and error, over an infinitely long period of time, actually guarantees you success. You can’t lose.

There’s just one problem with that: you don’t have an infinitely long period of time. You have your life. And life is nothing if not finite.

So maybe you have the time to waste on trial and error. I don’t. I want to master the art of story… in this lifetime. And if there’s a way that can help me to do that, well then I’m going to prioritise it over trial and error.

And though, because I am a fool, I have only limited experience of this approach, I can tell you that every time I’ve applied it, the results – in my best Brian Butterfield voice – have been… incredible.

We Don’t Need Another Dirty Boulevard

This room cost 2,000 dollars a month.
You can believe it man it’s true.
Somewhere a landlord’s laughing till he wets his pants.
No-one here dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything.
They dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard.

Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor – I’ll piss on ’em.
That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says.
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death,
and get it over with, and just dump ’em on the boulevard.

Get to end up, on the dirty boulevard.
Going out, to the dirty boulevard.
He’s going down, on the dirty boulevard

Going out…

Lou Reed – “Dirty Boulevard” (second verse and chorus)

When this shit stops spreading, and it’s time to go outside again, and it’s time to rebuild our world, we will have in our hands an opportunity most generations never get: to choose what we want our new world to be like.

We have a choice. You don’t just have to accept what gets served up. I’ll make my point clear by way of repetition: WE have a choice.

Not somebody on your TV screen, not a slogan-happy Etonian, not Tango-Man in the White House, not big data, not the Murdochs…


We don’t need another dirty boulevard. We don’t have to build another dirty boulevard. We can do better. Something more humane. More beautiful. More artful.

A home.

Courting the Forces of Antagonism

Here’s the book I’m studying from each morning:

And here’s the important thing that I learnt today from it, and that I designed myself an exercise about:

THE PRINCIPLE OF ANTAGONISM: A protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.

Robert Mckee – “Story”

But isn’t this true of life, too?

Are the interesting people you meet the ones who seem to have bumbled through life, never really being forced to go up against anything, never really facing any kind of difficulty or antagonistic forces?

Or are the interesting people in fact the ones who have, in one way or another, been challenged by life, been forced to make difficult choices, or had precious things taken from them?

Having to deal with antagonism is no fun. And I know that just from the incredibly minute amount that I have had to deal with in my life. I can’t even imagine what millions of people face on a daily basis. So I’m not going to pretend that it’s fun, or that it’s something to be desired and invited into your life. But then again, isn’t it?

Well, sitting on my bed and typing this to you right now, I say both yes and no.

If you are happy to live as a shadow of who you really are on the inside, then no, antagonism is not desirable. Run from it. Hide from it. Keep looking over your shoulder.

On the other hand, if you want to live the most meaningful life you possibly can, then yes, antagonism is extremely desirable, and you must court it at all costs.

Court antagonism, and you will have no choice but to rise to meet the challenge, becoming stronger in the process. You’ll hate it, and then you’ll be glad you did it.

There’s Room for You, Too

“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”

Frank Zappa

Life is a vast playground, with plenty of room for each and every one of us to stretch out our arms as wide as we can, no danger of hitting another in the chest.

Alas, most of us are congretated next to one tiny little ant-hill by the sandbox in the corner. We’re fighting over it too, because we’ve crowded it and we’re all stepping on each other’s toes. We’ve become so precious about our few square milimetres that we can no longer see the rest of the playground.

It doesn’t need to be like this. All it takes is one person to take one step in a different direction. That person could be you.

Perhaps at first, nobody will copy you and go off to their own bit of the playground. That’s to be expected – human beings generally do whatever they see other human beings doing, and most are still at the ant-hill by the sandbox.

But maybe after a while somebody gets tired enough of being so close to the crowd and, inspired by the unique direction they see you taking, go off on their own somewhere. And then it could be that somebody sees their defiant stepping out, and follows suit themselves. And so on, and so on.

The world will be at its most beautiful when every single person is living their truth. We might never get there, sure. But that doesn’t matter. We can inch closer. And that inching starts when just one person demonstrates the courage to be true to themselves.

Your Gut Is Pure

You may be tempted from time to time to ignore your gut. You may suspect it of feeding you lies. You may accuse it of being on some kind of secret mission to confuse you and to make your days difficult.

I assure you, you could not be more wrong. For if there is one thing your gut cannot do, it is lie.

Your gut doesn’t care whether it tells the truth at a convenient moment, whether its truth puts you in an awkward position, and especially whether or not the people in your life will understand this truth, and the actions that burst forth from it. Your gut is pure – those things never even crossed its mind.

Trust in your gut, and you risk losing a bunch of stuff that never meant anything real anyway. Trust in everything but, and you risk losing the only thing that ever was real.

One’s own free, untrammeled desires, one’s own whim… all of this is precisely that which fits no classification, and which is constantly knocking all systems and theories to hell.

And where did our sages get the idea that man must have normal, virtuous desires? What man needs is only his own independent wishing, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky