Man is the creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the picture —Iris Murdoch
What are we doing when we aspire to change? Why do our actions in the present sometimes run counter to our future goals? Why am I writing this newsletter late on Saturday night when I should have started it on Wednesday?
All good questions.
The first answers rush in and are hard to dispel — that I am dumb, lazy or poorly organised. This vein of self-criticism is both self-defeating and self-reinforcing, but nothing out of the ordinary. Why do these criticisms feel like obvious explanations, though I know I am capable of working hard, intelligently and effectively when required? I think that it stems from disappointment. Not a disappointment with myself per se, but a sense that my actions have separated the real me from my self-image. When Iris Murdoch says, ”Man is the creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the picture”, it makes me think that we don’t stand within our self-image, but instead it walks ahead, just out of reach in our future. We are the shadows of our self-image. We are tethered to it in perpetuity, a two-dimensional shade, painted across reality’s pavement, the result of our towering self-image blocking the light.
To follow in the footsteps of this aspirational image isn’t always a bad thing — we need a paragon with which to compare ourselves and to strive to surpass. In this vein, I’ve found that James Clear’s maxim that identity change is the shortest route to behaviour change to be helpful when building new habits and ditching unhelpful ones. It’s a lot easier to establish a meditation or exercise practice by replacing “I have to…” with “I’m the kind of person who…” To adopt the identity of someone whose conduct I admire uses my subconscious desire to decrease the distance between me and my idealised self to my advantage. However, I’m careful to keep my identity small. You’ll note that in the above metaphor, my self-image stands between me and illumination. The larger my identity, the more I resemble an inhabitant of Plato’s cave, watching shadows play across the wall, blind to the complexity and nuance of the real world.
I am drawn to activities like photography, reading, meditating, which help to free me from the tyranny of self-image and self-perception. When I fix my attention on a changing stimulus: the composition in the viewfinder, the words on the page, the in breath and the out breath, I can push my internal critic out of awareness. When I read a book, I don’t have to think about my performance against a benchmark or how I look to the world (except when I was a teenager reading Russian literature on the tube). There are many more activities that lend themselves to flow — from the traditional, like prayer or playing music; to the contemporary, like computer games or applying makeup while lipsyncing to hip hop on TikTok. (I haven’t tried the latter, but it looks like it requires concentration.)
Flow states are powerful because they move you towards your goals while shielding you from the wrath of your internal critic. Though it’s helpful to see where you’re lacking; this information is hard to act on if it’s delivered with a whip tongue. The goal is to take action and course correct as you go, not berate yourself into inaction for every misstep. I’ve found this to be as true for creative work as it is for ethical living. When you are in the process of creating, you need to set the voice of the editor aside. I still find it helpful to cultivate and aspire towards a self-image that is kinder, more empathetic and more effective than it’s yet possible for me to be. However, I try to steer in its direction with compassion for my present failings and while celebrating the small wins along the way.
A genius is the one most like himself —Thelonious Monk
PSA: the current Sunday release date is destroying both my weekend and my sanity, so I am going to experiment with a weekday release for the next few weeks. A Thursday late afternoon / early evening drop is the frontrunner at the moment.
Is it an instrument or a lengthy marble run constructed in a Japanese forest? Perhaps both?
I Recommend Eating Chips
As smart and elegant as it is dumb and charming. Short, but sure to brighten your day.
Introduction to Alexander Technique – It’s Not Posture
I have been playing with some of the expanded awareness practices from this article when I walk in the park or around the block with the dog. Subtly trippy and very relaxing. The title is aimed squarely at me — I thought AT was all precision sitting down and balancing books on your head — turns out it’s much weirder and deeper than that. See Michael Ashcroft’s Twitter for some excellent threads if you want to explore AT further.
Inside Silicon Valley’s Dangerous Game of Occasionally Not Eating
I’ve been intermittent fasting for a while and am now experimenting with 24 hour or longer fasts once a month. This article gives some of the backstory to the practice and current state of the research
UK Hip Hop and Grime edition
PYSCHODRAMA — Dave
A stone cold masterpiece — intelligent and devastating
The Worst Generation — Che Lingo
Smooth flow, killer hooks and effortless lyricism
Send Them to Coventry — Pa Salieu
Sparse and twisted production, dark, aggressive and exciting
Where Have You Been? — Jaykae
Birmingham’s finest – storytelling that goes hard
23Winters — Kojey Radical
Moody and introspective, a dream-like haze of sampled voices and woozy beats