And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. You have the ability to make art.
And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Hello, hello, hello. This week's newsletter will be a short one, and next week's probably too because damn, I am busy! Also, I seem to have messed up the numbering last week. Sorry for that.
I am working on something new, and I'm hyped, excited, slightly stressed and — as usual — my imposter syndrome is kicking in hard. Punch in the face, boot into the stomach style.
The only solution I have to fight this is to keep working, working, working. What am I working on, you ask? A new newsletter!
My new project is called... drumroll please... overkill.wtf (I love that name). It's a weekly newsletter summarizing the best in the world of tech and gaming. Here is what I wrote in my introduction post:
Every Saturday, I will send out an email summarizing the most important/interesting/hilarious/weird tech and gaming news of the week and tell you why you should care about them. Or, probably more importantly, why you shouldn't.
And who is this for, you ask? Well:
The tech world moves fast. Really fast. It can be overwhelming at times, and not everyone has the time to follow daily what's happening. I'm writing for these people (and, of course, anyone else who cares about this stuff).
You can sign up for free now, but I will start the whole thing in a week or two. I first need to finish some setting up, get a nice logo to sell stickers and t-shirts (Joking! Or am I?), and change a few things on the backend.
I am excited to start this. I've wanted to write about tech and gaming again for a very long time. So I am scratching my itch here by (hopefully) helping you save some time (and maybe, money).
P.S.: If you have that one uncle constantly nagging you to ask what's new in tech, feel free to send him to overkill.wtf.
You have to write. A lot. Constantly. Daily would be the optimum.
Most of what you write will suck. A lot at first, less after a while. But it will never not suck. You have to get used to it. (Which is you write daily. If you write so much, you have to get lucky from time to time.)
You get to a good piece of content by editing. Editing so much. Editing is what makes a writer. A written piece of content only starts to be something in the editing process. To quote Verlyn Klinkenborg: "Most of the sentences you make will need to be killed. The rest will need to be fixed."
For some more practical lessons:
Write the first draft, without interruption, without looking at what you wrote, just write write write. Don't change anything while writing the first time. Let it flow.
Let the piece rest for a few days before you edit the living shit out of it. Again, don't edit while you write, and don't edit immediately.
Edit by removing. Revise toward brevity. Writing long sentences is easy. Writing clear, concise, short sentences is hard. Opt for hard!
Write slow (by hand?) if you need to think deeply during the writing process. Write fast (by keyboard?) if you just want to vomit all over the paper (or screen). Speed is a tool in your writer's kit.
Have a growing list of ideas, and check this list daily to figure out what to write about.
I have previously published another blog post on being a better writer. I wrote down quotes and lessons I regularly get back to. If you liked this post, you'd like that one, too.
I have two wolves tattooed on both of my forearms. If you glance at them, you wouldn't perceive any difference. But looking at them in detail, you'll realise that while similar, they are not identical.
The wolf on my left arm, the side of the heart, uses lighter shading and has a gentler face. The wolf on my right arm, my guiding hand, is darker and looks slightly meaner, stronger.
The idea for these tattoos came to me in a dream I've had several times in the past: In this dream, I was standing on a vast field with both a white and a black wolf to my left and right.
I believe the inspiration for this dream came to me because of a story I've read when younger.
“A fight is going on inside me,” a grandfather said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
While this parable is often attributed to the Cherokee, it is unclear if this attribution is correct. It is sometimes also attributed to American evangelist Billy Graham (Which would make it much more racist in its origin).
The lesson in this parable is something along the lines of "you have to feed the good inside you yadda yadda yadda". But I don't like that.
That lesson is boring. Too obvious. Too ehem "seeing the world only in black and white". And I wouldn't be me if I didn't put my spin on it. But first, we need to make something clear:
I don't like that one wolf is considered evil. Wolves are not evil. They are simply wild animals. While I was in kindergarten, our teacher read us some random Brother Grimm fable, where the antagonist was a "big, bad wolf". My parents, at the time proud owners of two huskies, absolutely hated this story.
They went so far as to show their disdain for the "wolf = bad" lesson. How? By bringing both dogs to my class and showing the other children aged 3 to 4, they had no reason to be scared of the "wolves". Though, honestly, there was nothing scary about the Kali and Yasko, they were big lap dogs, and cute as fuck!
In my version of the story, no two wolves are fighting. There isn't even an evil wolf, to begin with. There are simply two wolves inside me, one representing love, friendship, empathy, etc. The other represents raw strength, grit, courage, resilience, ambition, etc.
But I'm human, and I am not perfect. Neither are the wolves.
The white one is overprotective, sometimes jealous, tends to be suffocating to those he loves.
The black one is sometimes aggressive, angry, narcissistic, temperamental.
Then, which one do I feed? How can I feed anyone if they show negative traits? Wouldn't it be better to starve them and replace them with lambs, chickens, or cats?
I feed both. Because they are both a part of me.
See, I don't believe in extremes. I try to live life in the middle lane. According to my world view, there is no black and white in life (except maybe for the colour of the wolves). There are only an infinite amount of shades of grey (definitely, more than 50!). Being extreme in your thoughts, has the tendency to close you down to other points of view.
Which doesn't mean I don't have opinions. I'm very strongly opinionated. Not having opinions means you lack a spine. But I follow the mantra "strong opinions, loosely held".
I will voice my opinion, but I am willing to replace it if someone shows me a better one. There is a French saying I like: "Il n'y a que les cons qui ne changent pas d'avis." ("Only fools don't change their minds.")
And so far, it served me well. I believe (I hope) I have been able to keep an open mind.
I feed both wolves because I try to embrace my dark sides – the inner shadow, as Robert Greene calls it.
This is hard. Because early on, we are taught to hide this side of us, to mask it, to become a saint-like caricature of ourselves. But in the hard times, if you lack the proper training, the mask will fall. Your ugliness will show its face, shocking those around you.
Embracing your shadow teaches you to be fully self-aware. To know your limits and weaknesses. Don't hide them from others and yourself from them. It can only lead to suffering.
Knowing I can be so overprotective to the point of suffocating, or so full of myself that I have a tendency to look down on other people (mixed with the few misanthropic traits I have) certainly isn't fun.
But knowing my weaknesses, knowing what I don't know, I can work with it. Use it to my advantage. I can use my aggressiveness with resilience and grit never to give up and pursue my goals.
My jealousy, mixed with ambition and empathy, will help me understand how other people succeeded and emulate them instead of hating them.
My overprotectiveness, combined with my ability to listen and be compassionate, allows me to be present for other people and share their suffering (and maybe take some of that pain onto myself).
Next time you lose your temper and one of the wolves shows its teeth, don't simply classify it as a faux-pas and try to cover it up.
Look at it in detail, try to understand what happened there. Pet the damn wolf, and learn to share your inner world with it. You'll be a much more complete human being and can use what you perceive as a weakness to your advantage.
And you don't even need tattoos to do this.
Did you like this post? Then you should know I have a newsletter called the Letters of Clio.
It's weekly, published on Thursdays, sent to your inbox with love, sweat, sometimes blood, and a lot of self-irony. Click here to sign up.
Atomic Habits by James Clear is a classic. A classic I've read before. If you want to know anything about habit-forming, this is the book you read. And because this year I wanted to dive deeper into some new habits, it's the book I reread at the beginning of January. And I might do this yearly now.
This year's habits are: learn Japanese, write and read daily, exercise twice a week, journal heavily, and meditate daily.
I read several books, collecting a bunch of essays on writing by different authors. (Which is why I could read seven books in the first place. Most were short.)
Zen in the Art of Writing is part memoir, part writing guide. I liked the autobiographical anecdotes, but the rest, while sometimes inspirational, often felt too far away from my writing life. You got to hand it to Bradbury, though. He is a fantastic writer, but I don't have the same problem he has, I guess?
I finished this book on Monday (January 31st), so my thoughts are still a bit too raw for my liking. I tend to wait at least a few days before forming an opinion on anything.
Alas, I understand why this is a classic. And while it follows a similar style as Zen in the Art of Writing (part guide, part memoir), this book felt closer to my turf. Maybe it's the whole "writing is like meditation" stick; perhaps it's just the way Goldberg writes, but I enjoyed this slightly more than Bradbury's book. It's also a bit less author-centric.
Ever heard of the phrase, "this could have been an email"? Well, this book certainly should have been a blog post!
While reading, I kept wondering when the introduction was going to end, and then I've realized I was halfway through. The only positive thing I took from this book is a mantra I already follow religiously and try to teach other people: "If you write, you are a writer!"
Several Short Sentences About Writing is slam-poetry in book form. It's a decent, weird book. It's short. Finished it the same day I started reading it. Though, I skipped the last chapter as I didn't care much about the examples of good and bad writing.
So many memoirs this month, and Everything Happens for a Reason is another one. Kate Bowler was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at 35. Throughout the book, she tries to figure out why bad things happen to good people? Why her? Is this God — or someone — testing her? Does everything happen for a reason? (The answer is in the subtitle of the book.)
Good read, although sometimes slightly random. (Why does she mention over and over again how hot her husband is?)
Oh, damn! George Saunders. Such an incredible writer.
Until recently, I had no clue who he was. Then Saunders launched a (paid) newsletter, my Twitter timeline went berserk, I looked him up, subscribed to this newsletter, fell in love with his writing, got this book, read it, adored it, and ended up writing a whole Letter of Clio inspired by that book. I wrote::
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders is a book on writing. Russian writing. It contains seven short stories by Russian behemoths like Chekhov, Tolstoy and Gogol, with interludes by Saunders analysing what makes these stories great (or not so great). When Saunders goes into the details of these stories, telling his readers why an author did X and why it makes us feel Y, he manages to excavate things we subconsciously feel but didn't (know how to) put into words. Consequently, you get to love the stories even more and feel a deeper connection to fiction and fictional storytelling.
Next month's reading topic will be philosophy. I want to refresh my knowledge of Buddhism and Stoicism and get deeper into Existentialism.
I'll try to mix in more fiction this time around, though. I nearly burned out during January if it wasn't for Saunders saving me from writing-guide-exhaustion. Also, reading about writing is not writing, and I prefer to do the thing instead of talking/thinking about the thing.