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Being Basic

Being basic as a virtue:

When most people think about doing creative work for a living, they picture all the fun stuff that comes with it: the flash of inspiration in the shower, the scribbling of notes in the middle of the night. But when you’re working in a system that thrives on the extracting and refining and trading and transacting of ideas, the daily practice of toiling in the mines can feel more mundane than serendipitous.

Lately I’ve been feeling sort of exhausted by the familiar dance of idea propagation that manifests over coffees, dinners, Twitter, and parties in my corner of the world. Asking a stranger what they’ve been reading or thinking about lately feels like the new equivalent of asking someone where they work. Our words are filled with whimsy–after all, isn’t learning so much fun?! Don’t you just love to think?!–but our faces are smeared with coal dust, our eyes somewhat dulled by the knowledge that we’ve done this many times before, and are about to do it many more times tomorrow.

…Sometimes I think about committing information suicide. Everyone’s got an escapist fantasy: mine is disappearing to Montana, or perhaps the Palm Springs desert, and living a quiet life working in a little shop, or as a florist (I like thinking in textures). A late friend and gifted programmer once told me his most creative days were spent working in a bookstore. The work wasn’t challenging, but it was meditative, and it gave him space to let his mind wander.

In my typical iterations of this fantasy, though, it’s mostly about getting away from San Francisco, but continuing to write and share things online. Sometimes it feels like I can’t think in here, because people are constantly asking me to externalize my thoughts all the time. I’m not ready to externalize everything I think about. Sometimes it takes years for me to articulate what I’m trying to say.

…While I think my writing has gotten sharper over the years, I also can’t help but feel it’s gotten worse somehow: invoking the things I hear other people say, instead of the things I happened across in dreams, hazy days that slip away at the park, or reading some dumb fiction I found from a free box that I picked up on the side of the road. I’m not sure it’s that I want to disappear from the internet, but just to get some distance between me and the existential “publish or perish” treadmill of mining each others’ brains for pithy insights that fit into 280 characters.

…to be basic is to deny awareness of the deeper workings of the world whatsoever. Being basic is a state of innocence and simplicity, Adam and Eve before the apple. It usually provokes pity or derision from those who do know better, which is why I find it appealing. Being basic signals that I’ve shut my brain off. It’s not quite like committing information suicide, but maybe it’s like giving myself an information lobotomy.

I’m quoting a lot of this post for my own future benefit, in case the original disappears from the web, but the entire piece is worth reading…

I stumbled across Nadia Eghbal on Twitter of all places (I know, I’m not really on Twitter) and I don’t know a lot about her as of yet, but I suspect this won’t be the first bit of her writing that moves me to so quote.

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