Since I’ve started getting things in my life in order, I’ve had very little I’ve wanted to write about. Ideas, for sure, but the motivation isn’t there.
The discovery: my historical motivation to write was catharsis, rooted in the dysfunctions of my life. Either that, or I’ve been getting lazy, plain and simple. For the sake of writing this latest rant, let’s assume it’s the first one.
Reviewing some of the entries of months and years past, I see how just how much of my own motivation was rooted in angst, FOMO (fear of missing out), regrets at actually missing out, recrimination, or just some kind of unpleasantness. Then I chose to take the Landmark Forum and continued, without any major break, in that personal development and training for nearly two years.
Now, as start my first big pause in this education, I find myself so well versed in the tools of clear thinking, becoming present, and creating from nothing, that my regrets and recriminations don’t motivate me like they used to.
All of that sure sounds very good, but it comes with a cost: my historical sources of motivation to write are now depleted. It’s gotten to the point that even indulging in topics like my divorce, the trips I didn’t get to take in my twenties, the debts, the missed goals, lackluster health…none of it gets me down or angry like it used to. I’m not quite bulletproof – just catch me when I’m tired or overworked and I’ll flirt with going to the Dark Place – but I re-center myself very quickly.
For the first time in my adult life, I am at peace, and I have nothing to say. Or is that in and of itself a story?
The other part of it is my audience. I want the people in my life, in whatever close or faraway orbits they may have, to know me, to see what’s actually happening in my life, not because of vanity or Facebook celebrity, but because it’s easier. I like the idea of being myself with everyone that I run into, and the practicalities of daily living make this an option that I can’t always choose.
But who cares? Right? I mean that in the most literal sense: who cares what’s happening with me? Who’s interested? And if no one’s interested, why write? Why share?
Maybe that’s why lately I’ve spent my time pontificating on issues of the day or big ideas. There are always plenty of those to be bandied about.
Again, it’s not for lack of challenges, I still have plenty of those. It’s just that the drama around solving them is mostly gone. There’s an ease in doing what needs to be done. Ghostwriting wasn’t proving to be a business I was enjoying, so I rejigged my services to focus on editing, with “content creation” being an additional charge, and now it’s off to get new clients.
I’m 25 pounds overweight according to my recent checkup and it’s now simply making more time for cardio at the gym and slashing sugar from my diet. Even when I do freak out about overlapping deadlines that I didn’t plan properly, I know that it’s because I didn’t plan properly, or didn’t work the plan, so I just…well, stop doing that and finish what needs to get done.
Everything’s just so functional, and whatever isn’t working as well as I’d like is in the process of starting to work.
What do you write about when your life is good?
Maybe this is why so many of the self-help gurus write and re-write the same platitudes, over and over again in different forms, what Chip and Dan Heath call”semantic stretch”, the overuse and subsequent exhaustion of a term or expression (such as “awesome”). The constant recycling of words like “possibility” or “extraordinary” or “amazing” dilutes and devalues the significance of the words with each use, until eventually, they’re just empty slogans at best, neither stirring the hearts and minds of the listener nor invoking any feeling in the speaker. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be.
In “Garden State”, there’s a friend of Zach Braff’s protagonist who secured a patent for silent Velcro when he was still in high school. The residuals from the patent made him a multi-millionaire, and by the time we find him in the film, he spends his days living in a big empty mansion, doing mostly nothing.
Years ago, my math-savvy friend Michael told me that one of the consequences of applying the Nash Equilibrium to economics was that economic competition stopped altogether.
In Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” (the book, not the movie), Johnny Rico is dropped on a planet that’s only evolved the most basic lifeforms – grasses and mosses, mostly – because of low levels of radiation that would have otherwise caused evolution. The planet’s growth was “literally retarded”, according to Rico’s description, in the absence of widespread cell death and mutations.
At the end of the film “Maverick”, Bret Maverick leaves a bag with half of his hard-won poker money near his tub in the spa, far away from his gun, knowing that Mrs. Bransford would come to steal it. The reason? He was excited at the thought of winning it all back again.
In “Babylon 5”, it’s revealed that the ancient race colloquially known as “the Shadows” would go to the worlds of younger, evolving races and cause strife and war. They described it like “knocking over an anthill”, solely done to spur on evolution, as most of their hapless victims would rebuild stronger than before.
All of these share a common thread: how we react to balance. It seems that the successful attainment of one’s goals brings two results: a blissed-out and resilient mental stillness and satisfaction with life coupled with a lack of creative drive to do more.
Maybe this is why some rich people keep seeking to add more millions to their fortunes, or why Bohemian artists who struggle to pay bills or eat actual meals somehow become prolific with their works, but never get ahead.
Creativity comes from struggle, not necessarily suffering – which can be distinct from struggle – but definitely from not having all one’s needs met. The rich and successful seem to intuitively understand this, which is why they know the thing to do upon achieving anything is to set a higher goal than the last one. Poor broke-ass buggers like me, meanwhile, do the opposite: when we reach equilibrium, we then find ways to sabotage what we’ve already achieved – missing a bill payment, procrastinating until the last minute, getting lazy – so that we can experience that sense of drive and purpose all over again.
And as much as I am enjoying my current respite, it may soon be time to step things up, to start trying for something again. I only nominally care about achievement or status at this point: my creative destiny may depend on knocking myself out of equilibrium again and getting into struggle mode. The last time I was striving for something, it was to find a new home to live in with my rescue dog Bella, about a year ago. I haven’t had any new or grand challenges since.
This time, like last time, when I do knock everything out of balance, I’ll aim to fall upwards. At least then I won’t only be doing it for the story that would follow.