I’ve been trying over the last year to unbreak my brain. By unbreak, I mean recover some of the focus, depth, and concentration that dings, pings, and rings have taken from me. Just like the way my brain got broken in the first place, I didn’t set out to fix it intentionally. A co-teaching colleague, on our walks back to the building after class – aren’t those talks always the best? – kept talking about infinity loops on smart phones and how to create the “distraction-free smart phone.” Okay. He got this idea from Make Time. My 76-minute commute mos def affords time for audiobooks, so I grabbed it, fell down a bit of a rabbit hole, and listened to each of these:
Deep Work by Cal Newport Make Time by Knapp and Zeratsky The Shallows by Nicholas Carr Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport Indestractable by Nir Eyal and Julie Li
I’ve gathered such useful insights about technologies, health, and digital habits from these works - though they’re in descending order above for a reason. I’ve eliminated some practices and adopted new ones, and I can feel my brain starting to come back. One of the biggest insights I’ve gotten, however, is that I needed to change how I used some platforms, like The One that might decide the election. Networking artists into the community initiatives I organize is a centerpiece of my life. It’s a crucial application of my core values: connection, creativity, and collaboration. But it’s only through the Evil Platform that I connect with some of these artists. We flow in and out of one another’s lives, and oftentimes the “in” (or the back in) is through Le Book on the Web. I can’t stand that it’s wedged itself into our lives as such, but it has, and I use it to act on those values above. So what this means, for me: one of the only reasons I log on is to message my fellow community artists. It’s a specific operating protocol that still upholds the value for which I leverage the platform.
Let’s be clear, though: Dan Charnas’ Work Clean, is still the undisputed champion of this genre, both for its writing, style, and practical insights.
Speaking of distractions, more ways to make music on your keyboard.
Reading: I love the rhythm of satire in Paul Beatty’s The Sellout – even at the sentence level. A few chapters in, I can feel myself anticipating the zing and twist coming at the end of a statement or seriated list. Like when Marpessa whistles for the kids at school to listen to the narrator: “Two hundred kids quieted instantly and turned their attention deficit disorders toward me.”
Teaching: It’s writing week in #BreakbeatLit. That doesn’t mean us going off into our separate corners in isolation. It means a new space, some specific writing goals, timed writing sessions – not for pressure but for healthy constraints – and accountability check-ins.
Listening: Have you ever listened to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN backwards? Not the Hell’s Bells backwards way my parents warned me about growing up, but reverse the order of songs. There are clues all throughout the album that it’s a palindrome (“We gonna put it in reverse!!!”). I’ve been tuning into the album’s progression of sonic intensity in its reverse order.
Writing: I was wrong last week: complexity theory is not the way out the door. One of the challenges I often encounter as one who works across disciplines is how deeply I need to go up front framing my writing. I mean, do I need three paragraphs or three pages on complexity theory? What about assemblage vis-a-vis your faves Deleuze and Guattari? Typically I have to read and write my way to the answers. That answer came to me this week: none at all. Hanging this piece on design instead might let us make the more robust argument about what teacher education should look like in the 21st century. We’ll see. It’s progress either way.
Community: Now these are the kinds of emails I like getting:
Yes, yes I can.