Category archives: Snippets
I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately, for no reason at all connected to the news or the state of social media or the way we’ve constructed an economic sytem that allows petulant man-children to set billions of dollars on metaphorical fire because strangers on the internet made fun of him while simultaneously pretending that homelessness is an intractable inevitability that can only be solved by brutalizing the unhoused rather than taking away those billions of dollars from aforementioned megalomaniacs.
Sorry, where was I.continue reading →
Sometimes it feels like there’s no point to writing unless I have a competely original idea. This is an impossibly high bar to clear—there aren’t no original thoughts left, but they are exceedingly rare. Often I’ll discover while researching that the core of my idea showed up in three thinkpieces within the last two weeks alone, or more likely that Ursula Franklin already figured it all out the year I was born. This mainly means that I’m not immune to the zeitgeist and that no one is immune to Ursula Franklin, but in the moment it always feels like my words are derivative and pointless.
I don’t really have a good answer for why I prize originality above all else, above craft and emotion and consistency, other than ego. Some small part of me still believes in my weakest moments that words are enough to change things, and I want to be the one to find those words.
Of course, that’s not how change actually happens, even with truly revolutionary ideas (and I certainly don’t pretend to have any of those). It’s not like there can be one perfectly constructed essay that will stir hearts and minds and everyone will applaud and think to themselves how cool and smart and pretty the author is before they sally forth to implement her policies. Ideas take careful stewardship and tireless repetition over decades or even centuries to catch on and spur people into action. If I want the things I believe in to flourish, then being one refrain in the chorus matters even if I didn’t compose the song.
Dominant western forms of storytelling don’t do a great job of portraying that kind of collective sensemaking. Most of the stories we’re told from a young age feature one person or a small group of people who made the difference, one act of bravery we’re meant to emulate. This narrative bias is a barrier to progressive social change: it’s easy to become demoralized when individual effort doesn’t have the seismic impact it does in our stories, much harder to keep faith in the immense and diffuse work required to organize and sustain a movement in the real world.
My preoccupation with originality is part of that same problem. Ultimately, I suspect I care about being original because I want to stand out from the crowd, which is the opposite of the politics I try to practice. I believe that individual snowflakes can add up to an avalanche, but that means I have to be okay with being one speck of crystallized ice amongst billions. At least it’ll still be pretty.
At any given point in my life I’ve wanted to be spending more time writing. This includes the tween years in which I wrote and published fanfiction every afternoon after school, undergrad when I studiously scheduled three blog posts a week despite having very little of substance to say, and that year and a half when I ran a daily newsletter that took over my life.
I’m very happy I chose not to pursue writing as a career. I’m very happy with the career that I do have, and I’m very glad that I get to keep writing for no reason other than to write. I have never pitched a publication not because I think my words are in any way precious (I desperately need an editor) but because I didn’t want to worry about anything other than the writing. I can afford not to think about the profit incentives of publishing or the imagined audience of an institution, and so I don’t.
Writing as just a hobby, though, means that I’ve never figured out how to carve out a satisfying amount of time for it. It was a thing I did for myself, which means I could always find a reason why it wasn’t as important as something else I needed to do for someone else. And because writing time was scarce, I didn’t want to spend any of it frivolously, working through anything other than Deep Ideas I’ve already been chewing on in my head for months.
I like that my thoughts come slowly. I think the writing I produce when I’m using it to figure out what I think is leagues better than the writing I do when I’m broadcasting conclusions. But it does mean that there are lots of subjects I want to explore that I discard because they’re not worth 3,000 words wrung out over 8 months, and while that’s not exactly a loss to the world I do think that prevents me from growing as a writer.
Essentially, inside me there are two wolves. One knows that the only way to get better at writing is to write more, and the other doesn’t ever want to publish anything I haven’t obsessively thought through for half a year. The second one has anxiety and should not be listened to, which is to say that I’m going to try and write more short things that may not be fully formed. Please do not yell at the anxious wolf.
I know that practically every generation has thought that the end times were nigh, but it’s hard for me not to think that maybe this time we could be right. After all, we have Science now, more information than our brains were ever meant to absorb, and if I think too much about the bees and the coral reefs and the antibiotics and the cellphones in our hands and in our oceans and the borders and walls and cages and guns and bombs —continue reading →