Our Creative New Year’s Resolutions

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, June Thomas, and I’m your other host, Ramona Allen, and would you believe it?

S3: There’s yet another host, Isaac Butler.

S2: That’s right. All three of us are here again, because this is a very special episode about our creative New Year’s resolutions. We’ll talk about our creative goals for the year, big ones and small ones, and we’ll talk about how to stick to those goals. First of all, Ramun and Isaac, do you usually make New Year’s resolutions, creative or otherwise?

Advertisement

S4: I do. You know, is that so square of me? I’m a bit of a square, I guess. A couple of years ago, I resolved to keep better track of the books that I read and I’ve done a pretty good job of it. I also resolved to eat more vegetarian meals. I’ve been sort of successful there. I think it’s kind of a nice ritual. What about you as a partner?

S3: Well, I just am loving learning that Ruman is a square. I didn’t think of Rumana as a square, but I also think if we could get like a sample of him saying that so that we could just like press a button and we’re just here. I’m a bit of a square. That would be great. Anyway, I am bad at habits forming, I guess, in some ways. And so my resolutions work like that. Some years I make resolutions, sometimes I don’t. It’s usually actually driven by my wife and will be like, oh, what are your New Year’s resolutions this year? And if she asks that year, I make some up and then I stick to them pretty well. But but if she doesn’t ask, they did. They just never happened, to be completely honest.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: Huh. All right. Well, let us move on to our specific goals for 2021 one. I’ll go first. My first creative goal is to maintain the habit of making art every day, which was relatively easy to adopt in 2020 when there was no going out. So I want to continue that even after there is at least some kind of socializing possible.

S6: And I’m also trying to be more optimistic, hence my certainty that we’ll be socializing soon. I know it’s easier to maintain habits that you’ve already established. Establishing them is the hard thing, but I do think that anything that we did in 2020 is, you know, it doesn’t count in some way so that if you started a habit in 2020 and the weird year that it was, it doesn’t necessarily carry over. So when things are a little bit different, it might not be daily anymore. I don’t want to beat myself up if I don’t manage to meet an arbitrary goal about something that doesn’t really matter or certainly not robbed myself of sleep just to, you know, make a bad sketch. But I also want to recognize that it has made me feel better, even if I don’t really understand why. And my plan for achieving it very important is mostly just to pay attention, to make time for idle scribbling or tinkering or gluing. It is very distressing and know that I know that I want to continue journey.

Advertisement

S4: I feel like you’re describing this commitment to creative expression, the way that some people describe going to the gym. You know, and when I had a personal trainer, the thing I remember him telling me was that it’s OK to take a day off to build a more sustainable practice of fitness generally. So I think you’re right not to be to arbitrarily rigorous and say, look, you have to do some sketching for 20 minutes before that, even though you’re exhausted. You know, maybe the occasional day away from that artistic outlet won’t mean that you’ve completely failed at meeting the real terms of your resolution.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I think that is a great point. I think setting reasonable goals, being kind and humane to yourself is a really important part of sticking to any habit. And I say that as someone who is not good at sticking to habits because I’m also very hard on myself. I think also that if the goal is to do it as regularly as possible, as close to every day as possible, that might be more important than the quality of what’s produced. Right. It’s the activity that might be more. Yes, right. So, like, I wouldn’t it doesn’t matter if the sketch is bad or not, just to not to critique your the one you talked about, but does sketches. Yes. It doesn’t matter if the sketch is bad or not. It doesn’t matter if the collage, you know, looks a bit of a mess. Right. It’s not. You know, Paul, Hollywood is not going to come and judge your collage. Make more’s the pity. You know, you’re doing this because you find it fulfilling and nurturing. And so I just think just keeping in mind that it’s just about the habit rather than the result. And being kind to yourself, I think is going to make it a lot easier. OK, I guess I will go next day. I’m Canadian now. My my first hockey. I know it’s just the rest of the services just to be kids. My whole reference. All right. So my first creative New Year’s resolution is to do more non purpose. All creative work, like I am a professional writer, and so it’s very difficult for me to see writing that doesn’t have a clear end purpose before I even start doing it as worth doing. Even though I know I know in my head this is something that is worth doing. It’s an important part of nurturing the creative practice. But I’m also like, I should be pitching something because like I need to make money as a writer, you know, whatever it is. And so it’s it’s very hard for me to make space in my day for it. And particularly once this book is in, like really in, I want to be making that space again. But it’s been a really long time and it’s hard to just like myself up to do it.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Even Isaac, I have a really good strategy for you. Yes, I am a really big fan of the arbitrary exercise. So here are some examples of things that I’ve assigned to students I’ve worked with. Write three hundred and thirty three words. Exactly. No more, no less. Write a story that turns another piece of art, like a painting or film into a story that you are telling. Right. The story of what happens in an episode of sitcom television that you know really well, but do it in the form of a children’s storybook, giving myself this kind of insane task. It’s like homework. It frees me from writing to make something significant or that I can publish because nobody wants to read your episode of Frasier written in the style of Dr. Seuss, but writing it might actually awaken something.

Advertisement

S5: So now I’m curious if this kind of numb, purposeful, arbitrary writing that you both talked about, has it ever made its way into what you might call your real work? By which I guess I mean your published work. I mean, I can see the point of it in a kind of abstract sense, but I would love to know more about how that right brain writing intersects, if it does with your professional writing.

S3: I think some of it’s just about developing your capacity as a writer, your imagination, your ability to make intuitive links, changing up your sentences. Because let me tell you, you know, like I’m at the end of I’m rereading this manuscript of this book and it’s like, you know, every writer goes to this moment like I need some new sentence structure. I’m sure, Ruman, you’ve had this experience as well. So some of it’s just about developing those new tools. But the first thing I ever wrote, the first book length thing I ever manuscript I ever wrote, which is not been published, probably won’t be. I think I’ve kind of killed that project. But there were a lot of bits of it that started as kind of intuitive, arbitrary work and graduate school. And then I realized that I was constantly circling around the same thing. And so then I decided to write more and more and more about that thing.

S4: I have published, I think, for stories that are the result of this kind of arbitrary exercise. One of the exercises I give myself a lot is to write a story using the title of a song. And so I will give myself a song and then I will write a story that either works towards that title or somehow includes it. I’ve published two of those stories. Another exercise I did. It was to write a story in which almost every sentence began with the word maybe. I think that actually in the original draft, every sentence began with the word maybe. But ultimately in revision I sort of changed the strategy. But I did publish that story and I had another exercise, which was to write a story in five paragraphs or each paragraph as a one sentence. Long was a very long run on sentence, and I published that story also. So I do think that sometimes these I’m not sure I ever would have found myself to those forms organically, but I think it did actually give me something solid to work on and hone. And then I was able to publish them so I wouldn’t discount what this kind of thing can do. But I think Isaac is right. It is mostly like getting on the treadmill on a day that you don’t feel like, you know. Yeah. So my first creative New Year’s resolution for twenty twenty one is an embarrassing one to admit, but it is to be better at Discovery. I really need some help here. I’m so adept at figuring out what books to read. I really understand what it is I’m interested in intellectually when it comes to reading. But I am clueless about film, about theater, about music, about television. I mean television alone. I mean, I see people tweeting about things and I can’t believe their television shows like where is everybody hearing about these television shows? I’m really at a loss room.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: I know all I want to do is start to substract newsletter. That’s really just like TV guidance for one person and that’s you. I feel like I have a really good sense of what decent TV is coming down the road, and it might be from Twitter or my email inbox or even The New York Times is really great watching newsletter, but that’s because TV is my favorite medium. I know what you mean exactly, because I have become utterly, like, totally clueless at this point about music to the extent that I can. Every time I hear the name of a band, I wonder if the person is kind of trying to fool me, you know, the way that we used to when we were 12. And so I guess, well, that makes me think as a person who has given up on a whole lot of artistic genres is that maybe you just don’t care about TV and maybe that’s OK. You know, it’s OK to give up on entire streams of artistic output, maybe not. As a cultural critic, I know that can be hard. But, you know, you’ve watched a lot of TV and watched a lot of movies this year for for working alone. So I guess if you really wanted to know more about television, if you cared as much as you do about, for example, books with which you have no problem keeping up, you would. And so I think just let go, just watch what you watch. Just turn on to randomly turn on Netflix and see what was big a year ago. And that will be just fine.

Advertisement

S3: I think that part of what’s going on here is that writing is your life, books are your life. I mean, you know, obviously your husband, your kids and this podcast are your life. But you know this. But writing is your life and you’re surrounded by that life, by books. You know, you’re an incredibly gifted novelist, an incredibly gifted book critic. And and so, you know, you as just a result of being those things have had to define a sensibility and taste for yourself in that arena that you haven’t been forced to define in all of the other realms. So it can feel like when someone makes a recommendation, you’re like, I have no idea. Whether that’s going to be a giant waste of time for me personally, because I haven’t developed that sensibility yet or whatever is what it kind of sounds like, but there’s no way to do it but to do it right. So, like, I think the thing that might be your friend here is lists that, you know, just when you read a thing on Twitter where someone’s like someone who you respect is like this show gave me life or whatever, you just write down the name of it. And then sometime later you sit down and you check it out and you either like it or you don’t seem to give an example. I am on a group chat with a bunch of other writers, most of whom are actually novelists. Right. And any time they speak highly of a book, I write it down on my notes. But it’s like at some point I’m going to be a or magic looking for a new book and I’ll just look at the list and get one of those. And I do a similar thing for for film. I don’t do a similar thing for TV because, like, there’s there’s so much of it out there. It’s not that hard to find a new TV show to watch. Right. But in terms of books and film, that that’s what I do. And in particular, I try to pay attention to the, you know, the films that directors I like talk about in interviews or, you know, whatever it is and go from there. And then I think eventually you actually do develop a sensibility and a curiosity towards that sensibility. And the problem just kind of takes care of itself after that. That would be my particular advice for solving that problem.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: No, Rahmon, just just give up. Well, we’ll check in in June and see where I landed. All right, cool.

S3: We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be back with more of our New Year’s creative resolutions after this.

S2: Hey, working listeners, we want to remind you that you can write to us or call us any time, not just at the end of the year, cause any time with questions, concerns or quandaries, we especially like quandaries about creative work. Give us a ring at three or four nine three three w o r k r drop us a line at working at Slate dot com.

S1: And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcast.

Advertisement

S5: OK, let’s move on to our next round of creative New Year’s resolutions for 2021, my next creative goal is to make use of the research that I have been pursuing in a slightly self, deceivingly low key way for the last couple of years. I’m aware that I need to do some serious thinking to figure out even what the ideal shape of a project would be. And it’s really easy to say that, but it’s hard to implement. Isaac, I’m guessing, and that’s all it is, that the method was something you’d been reading about noodling for a long time before you sold a book on the topic. Um. How did you go about making the shift from, you know, it would be a great boost to I’m writing a book about this great subject. How did you do that?

S3: Well, in the case of the method, you know, that book is edited and was acquired by the editor of The World Only Spins Forward, the first book I did. And he said, I would like you to write another book. And I said, here are some ideas of books I’ve wanted to write. And he said that, one, try to write a proposal about that one and see if there’s a book in it. And I did. And that turned into the method. So in that case, it was actually an outside authority with very hands on and saying this is the thing. If if after you’ve pursued it, you think there’s a book there, you know, let’s try to make that happen. But you’re in a different position, which is another one. I have also been in like I am interested in making something out of this. I don’t even know what genre or form or medium I want that thing to be. I think that the issue is that this kind of problem is not cognitively solvable. It can only be solved through actually taking action. So in this case, I don’t know what the subject matter is or what you’re thinking of doing with it. So I’m just going to speak through my own hypothetical. If you’re if you were thinking about writing a non-fiction book on the subject, I would say, OK, you’ve spent a couple of years noodling around, actually try to write a book proposal about it and see what happens. And over the course of doing that, you will learn a whole bunch of things about the project. What you might learn about the project is actually it’s a series of 20 collages you write. It is not a book. It’s a series of 20 collages. And I want it to be in an art gallery or whatever, and then you’re just going to have to change or do something to pursue it in that direction. So so I think you’ve been at it long enough that it’s time to just, like, pick a concrete path for it and try to do that and see what happens. And you’ll learn a lot about the project and what its eventual form, etc. is from that process.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Yeah, I think that’s really good advice. It can fundamentally change your relationship to the thing once you give it some shape and some scope. Right. You transform it from this nebulous dream into something that you can actually accomplish with respect to a book. Or even if it were podcast’s or, you know, a film proposal, you need to make something. It’s like an outline, which is just a promise to yourself, but it can help you understand what this big, hard thing is. And, you know, you could begin it and maybe someday finish it. For a future episode of this podcast, I spoke to a scholar who spent years on a work that ended up being about a thousand pages, and it’s absolutely insane. But she did do it and it really can be done. And I think that’s really important to remember that once you start thinking about it as a task and not just sort of a nebulous idea, however big that task is, it can be accomplished. Thank you.

S3: All right. Here is one of mine, which is that I really feel like I need to diversify my cultural diet, which is not to say I actually read and see things that are fairly diverse, but they’re all in English originally and usually by American or British or immigrant to America or Britain, writers and artists. And I want to get out of that comfort zone a little bit. Right. I feel like, you know, America’s part of a bigger world and I as an artist need to need to have some experience of that. You know, I feel a little cloistered. And so I don’t know that I’m looking for advice on how to do that, because really, let’s be honest, the trick is to just do it right. It’s like choose the subtitled movie by the book in translation, you know, et cetera. So it’s less about that than more than like what are some recent works, whether it’s TV or film or whatever, that the two of you have encountered. That meant a lot to you that were maybe in translation or from another culture you didn’t know a lot about?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: My own reading is, you know, as parochial as you’re saying yours is, because that’s how this country functions. Unfortunately. Two books that I read this year. One is a book called Tokyo You Station by You Murray. She actually won the National Book Award and translated literature in this country. I read that book because I was reviewing it and I’m really glad that I did. It’s a really interesting artifact of a very Japanese sensibility. I also was reviewing another book by the Kenyan writer and Guarch Hongo called The Perfect Nine, and it was a great opportunity to read a novel written in verse about, you know, the founding of this particular tribe of the Kenyan people. And to read his memoir, I think it’s just as you say, you know how to find these things, whether it’s just a matter of going to McNally, Jackson and walking. Into the part of the store where African literature is shelved and picking up something that feels totally unfamiliar, it’s really just about holding yourself accountable and forcing yourself to engage with the products of a culture to which you weren’t born.

S5: Yeah, I also I don’t have any specific recommendations right this second, even though I used to for a short time, many years ago, I ran a company that published the works of women writers in translation, lots of Norwegian, because the Norwegians are very generous with subsidies for translations. But I would say to you know, it’s very hard to go to a section of a of a bookstore and just say, OK, I’m going to like find something that you have a specific interest in, whether it’s a place that you visited, whether it’s a subject matter, and then kind of see where that takes you. I think. I mean, you’re a very smart guy. I know you wouldn’t just be like, I’m just going to randomly pick a book. You would not do that, but just kind of allow yourself that that thing that we’ve, I think become so familiar with on the Web, which is like, you know, following links, we allow ourselves to go down rabbit holes on the web in a way that we tend not to in quote unquote real life. So whether it’s a particular place, a particular subject matter, just kind of take a direction rather than just this big general, huge subject matter.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: That’s a very worthy resolution, though. And I I applaud your I applaud your desire to really think about the syllabus that you’re working from personally. My second creative resolution for twenty twenty one is to develop a relationship with my I you know, I can’t draw at all, although my kids are constantly asking me to draw monsters and skeletons and flamingos and cars. Should I take a class, you know, am I supposed to take a collage like if I want to paint do I need to blow a thousand dollars on supplies and then owning them will somehow force my hand and make me Daboll like or will it just be more garbage that I’ve wasted money on? Like I feel like I spend all of my time with books and I want to do something other, but I don’t really have a good next step in mind.

S5: I have advice for Yarraman. Get me to YouTube. There are like really a lot of artists, really good artists making videos, some of them that are like explicitly tutorials, some of which are just them painting or drawing or doing whatever it is that they do. But I have found that just watching people draw demystifies the process in a way that helps me to just go ahead and tackle it. And, you know, drawing is definitely something that you get better at with repetition, though, by better. I suspect that what I really mean is that, like, you develop your own style. I have been trying to draw more from for many years and how I’ve tackled that has changed. Like I began by watching a lot of tutorials and trying to mimic them. And that was that was great. Some stages. And now I just sort of sometimes just kind of sit and twiddle, as it were. And what I’ve learned is that I shouldn’t try to, like, be as good as these people that I admire. I should just try to draw something that gives me happiness, that makes me happy to look at. I’m you know, I’m never going to draw a photo, a realistic portrait, and that is fine. But I kind of like drawing people who I am looking at on my television. And it’s like a weird thing that I just do. I have these red and blue pencils that I I very specific pencils that I just sit there on the couch drawing the people on TV. And it’s a weird thing that I do, but it makes me happy.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I actually have a question because you said you wanted to develop your eye and then you started talking about drawing class. So I just didn’t know if those two things like you want to learn how to draw or is it to a specific specific end goal that drawing serves. That was the thing.

S7: No, I think my my I think I have a sense that I use my brain a lot. Right. I read a lot and then I write, but I don’t have this other kind of I have a sense that a visual form of expression, whether drawing or painting or collage or whatever it is, is a little less intellectual. I mean, it’s not that it’s not intellectual, but that it’s sort of more connected to how you see and to a feeling when June describes sitting on her couch and sketching, what she’s talking about is sort of something, a feeling that I want that writing does not give me.

S3: Yeah, OK, totally, that that that makes sense, um. I think that the YouTube advice is absolutely great. I would not plunk down a thousand dollars to buy a bunch of art supplies, but buy some watercolors, turn on the sun in the park with George original cast recording, go at it. No, do not do that. Do not do that. But I also think it might be worth taking a class just to force you to do something for a certain number of hours a week. You know, I wouldn’t be able to recommend someone, but I know I’m sure you have friends who could recommend a good a good person, whether it would be one on one instruction, which is what I would need because I get very embarrassed during group classes about anything. And then that will just force you to spend a certain number of hours a week or a month or whatever doing it. And I think that would just like really help get over that initial hump of, like, I am utterly incompetent, you know, at even tracing this thing. What the hell am I doing? You know, I do know that you’re someone who loves visual art and I do know of soulless out of it. And I wonder if part of this is a bit of a reaction to our inability to go and access that art right now that, you know, we can’t go to the Guggenheim or whatever and go stare at a show and then cry, you know, so you’ve got it. You’ve got to, like, make it if you’re going to experience it.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: Yeah, it is one of the ways in which twenty twenty does really will continue to inform what we do into twenty, twenty one. I think you’re absolutely right. I’m missing. There’s a particular kind of transcendence that looking at something provides that reading something cannot provide for me and I miss it. But maybe YouTube can provide it. We’ll find out totally.

S8: All right, we’re going to take a quick break and then we’ll be right back with more of our own creative resolutions.

S5: All right, let’s move on to our final round of creative New Year’s resolutions for 2021. My final goal is to read more. It’s so basic or should I say fundamental? I’ve always been a reader. That’s that’s what’s allowed me to have a very different life from all the previous generations of my family. It’s like my identity. But in the last year, despite not going out, I haven’t been reading as much, and certainly not just for fun. Whatever that means partly is the loss of the commute, though I’m very lucky to have a short commute even in normal times. But I think it was mostly that it didn’t go away on vacation when I did take an out of town break just for a few days in November, I read something like three books in four days, you know that. So I know I haven’t lost my capacity. I’ve just gotten out of the habit. So since I can’t single handedly bring back vacation travel, I will at least reinstate my own habit of reading being the last thing I do before falling asleep.

S7: Ramon, you’re such a reader, I mean, I really do, I completely understand where you’re coming from. I really miss all of the time that we spend knocking around the city right in in waiting rooms, on subway trains when you’re early at a bar to meet a friend. I get a lot of reading done in those moments a lot, despite the fact that I do have to read so much for work. I very, very rarely read during the day. As you say, when I’m on vacation, it’s a completely different thing. And I’ll read five books in the matter of six days because I’m spending all day reading and doing nothing else at the moment. I read at the end of the day. And so what happens is that I often stay up way too late because some of that reading just has to get done. I was up until one last night reading because I have to read this book that I’m reviewing. So maybe this goes back to why I watch basically no television. Right. You know, and maybe what you should do, John, is just sort of set a firm bedtime for yourself and account in that bedtime for 30 minutes of just reading. And I’m someone who can’t actually fall asleep without reading, even if I’m exhausted, even if I have come home drunk from a party, I will read for ten minutes before I fall asleep. And once you sort of become habituated to something like that, it sort of takes over. And so I think maybe you just need to get back to that place of being habituated to it.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Yeah, I completely agree. And I miss the subway, which is where I did an enormous amount of reading, particularly in my 20s when I was temping at Condé Nast. You know, I would read the subway ride up in the subway ride back was when I did a lot of my reading. Yeah, yeah. You just I mean, the big thing is to make time during the day for what I find personally, because I do read every night before I go to bed. It’s the last thing I do for sure is I can’t start a book that way, though what I find personally is that the mental effort it takes to understand the basic logic of a book and what it is doing, I can’t actually do that at the end of the day. So there’s a weird thing where if I’m starting a book, I have to set aside time during the day for an hour just to like get through the first hump, you know, and then at night I can then do whatever. So it may not only be bed time that you need to do it, but I just think once you once you’ve set aside some time, you’ll start to get you’ll start to get really into it. May I also add, if you are trying to develop a reading habit, because my wife over the past couple of years has been trying to read more and more despite having an increasingly demanding job. And so we’ve talked about this a lot is grow very comfortable with abandoning books if they’re not doing it for you, because if you stick with a book that like really, really what you do is you’re on your phone for an hour and then you read one page and go to sleep or whatever, that’s because that book is not doing it for you. And you should just be if you’ve read 50 pages of it or whatever the threshold is, just be like book. You are not the one for me and and and find a new one. And there’s no shame in doing that. There’s always more good books to be read.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: That’s really smart. You know, actually, I’m going to be a little kind to myself and just note one thing that I sort of not really taken on board. Like my eyes are sometimes tired at the end of the day, that’s something that I’m aware of. But I have recently I finally signed up for Audible. I’ve been listening to I guess we call them I was gonna say books on tape, which I guess just a very old person I am to audio books because there was one specific books that book that I’ve always wanted to read, but I just don’t get on with big books. So I really wanted to read The Powerbroker. I listen to it on Audible and I’m like, Oh wow, this actually is a good and I could read at the end of the day without reading and I have kept my membership. So yeah, that that’s something that I can do without wearing out my eyes and it’s reading, but I completely disagree that that’s not read.

S3: I really think that that’s reading. And I thought that even before I started liking audio because I normally audio books for me are for long drives. Right. Like that’s the only time I’ve ever used them. But since we got our new dog, I listen to audio books while walking her because it’s exactly enough physical activity to keep me from getting bored while I’m listening. And I’m listening to Rebecca right now. Oh my. And and loving him before that, I listen to Dennis Johnson’s Train Dreams, which is a truly brilliant audio book. Will Payton reads it and you know, it’s reading. It’s the same thing. It’s the same thing through a different means. And so I don’t I don’t think that’s that’s nothing cool. All right, it is time for my third creative New Year’s resolution, which is to be a bit less extremely online when I actually find this one very difficult. I mean, I already I’m not on Facebook anymore. I mean, my account exists, but I don’t check it because it’s destroying the world and blah, blah, blah, blah. I was destroying my psyche, you know, etc.. But, you know, I do find it hard to be less online because I’ve actually made a lot of important friendships and relationships via social media stretching back to running a BBS in high school. You know, like like I’ve met a lot of people that were June you and I first met on Twitter. And so, you know, and also, like, once the book is in, I’ll be freelancing more again. And frankly, keeping up with what’s going on in the kind of social media conversation is somewhat important to effectively pitching pieces. But at the same time, I don’t want to feel like social media is defining my interests or that it’s become like my assignment editor. Like you reach these moments. We’re like every website. Magazine is talking about the same thing. But that thing that they’re talking about is just some bullshit that happened on Twitter. And I just don’t want to fall victim to that, you know what I mean? And so I want to be able to to take a step back while still being involved enough that my professional and personal life is enriched by it. And I find it very challenging. But I know that, for example, Ruman has a has is a Twitter power user. So you know how I figure you guys might have some good advice.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: So what an embarrassing way to talk.

S3: I mean, I don’t think I don’t think of you as someone who’s completely absorbed into that Borg collective. But yet you use it, you get stuff out of it, you write good jokes on it, you know, et cetera and so forth.

S4: Yeah, I do want to just defend social media as like part of the larger as an aspect of contemporary life that is, you know, like I think it can be very interesting. As you said, I’ve met really interesting people there. I’ve had really interesting professional opportunities come my way there. And I’ve entertained myself and I’ve discovered books or, you know, I hear about television shows that I think are real, but I can’t tell because I don’t know anything about television. So it is it is very useful. And I think what you’re really what you’re fundamentally asking about is how to exert some discipline over yourself and how to avoid something that is designed to be like a bag of Doritos is an endless bag of yours. And it’s very, very difficult for the individual psyche to stand up to that because, of course, teams of people have designed it so that you can’t. I think if you find a particular thing psychically damaging, as I know many people find Instagram right, because you’re seeing visual evidence of a life that looks better than your own, then I think you should just avoid it. You should just take it off of your phone.

S3: The other thing that you can do, I think and that’s to be clear, sorry to interrupt, but to be clear, that is what I did with Facebook. I was like, this is destroying my psyche. I need to get it out of my life. And I think that’s good. Other things, media, I’m like, this is a good thing. A lot of the time, actually, for me, it just gets out of balance.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: It gets irritating sometimes. I mean, I do think that like those apps like Freedom, which curtail your ability to access certain things, can feel silly and can feel like you’re sort of like putting this arbitrary. You’re putting it into a lockbox for no particular reason but freedom, which in case you don’t know, it’s like you set time limits and you restrict your ability to access certain things. It could be useful in this particular sentence. Like if you say I’m not going to look at Twitter between the hours of nine and two because I have this thing on and it’ll be a pain in the ass to, you know, put in all of the codes and deactivate freedom. Maybe something like that will just put the constraints on your own use rather than having to summon the discipline from within.

S5: I have what might be a crazy. Idea I was I was about to say solution, then I even before it came out my mouth, I pulled it right back. One of the things I was thinking about doing this year, and ultimately I’m like, no, I probably wouldn’t do it was to like write letters to people like I’m online all day, but I don’t really connect with people outside of work or like a significant way. I work often. And so it’s like, OK, just write one letter, two to one old friend or new friend or whatever every month. Well, maybe that’s a bit weird and too specific, but just to do something analog every day, you know, to to do something that doesn’t take you off social media, because I can tell you’re not demonizing social media, per say. Just sounds like is Remon says you just want a little more discipline. You want something that just kind of takes takes you out of it for at least some time every day. So maybe it’s a matter of just making some explicit time for analogue activities. I mean, obviously you’re spending time with your family. Maybe that’s enough time away from social media. But just just to take a break from it.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Great. Thank you both. Let me know how that goes. You can you can DM me on Twitter and let me know how your social media discipline goes to. My final New Year’s resolution isn’t actually really that creative. It’s much more practical. But I am doing a lot. I’m hosting this podcast. I’m writing a column for The New Republic. I’m reviewing books. I’m writing a big magazine profile for the first time. I’m writing a short story, a really long one, as it turns out, and I’m writing a novel. I need a system for managing us with the caveat that I’m an idiot when it comes to technology. I can barely manage our household Google calendar. How can I stay on top of these different endeavors besides scrolling lists and like sticky notes to myself all over every available piece of scrap paper Ramun.

S5: I am struggling so hard to contain myself here because I’m one of those people who are so obsessed with planners and planning that I spend a good chunk of every December in a process known in Japanese as Tetrarchy, which is when you figure out how you’re going to use all the planners that you’ve bought for the next year. I have five twenty, twenty one planners thus far. There’s still a couple still a little bit of time, not including my own dated work planner, and that includes one that I ordered directly from Japan. So I know you’re not going to go from no planner to five planners. It’ll probably be six by the time you hear this. But I do recommend something like a G1 Tacho, which is a Japanese planner, which a few US retailers stock just to get organized. Very straightforward, but it’s not about like a special system. You just really need a place to keep track of tasks that you need to accomplish and when they need to be done by. So it doesn’t need to be over. Complicated, simple notebook will actually achieve that. But I really do think that whatever it is, you have to do it. My God, you have a lot to do that the more clarity we we have about it, the easier it is to get done, but also the less stressful it seems. So you are not going to turn into one of these people with six planners. You’re much more sensible than that. But all you need is a notebook. Yeah, yeah.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: You know, it’s interesting, I June hit on something there, which is that I do think of you as someone who’s probably allergic to, like, systematizing thing. I am. Yeah. Like like, you know, and I sympathize with that for I am that way too. I think that if managing software is not going to do it right, then go analog. If having a complicated system is not going to do a keeper system, really simple and dumb, you know, just like play to your strengths, because if it’s too complicated or digital or whatever, you’re just not going to do it right. So it’s like you have to trick yourself in the way to trick yourself is to just admit your weaknesses or your weaknesses and and create a system for that. I would also say, like, you have a lot a lot going on. You’re not even mentioning that you have two kids. Yeah, right. And that you’re parenting, you know, two two school age kids during a pandemic, you know, et cetera. And it might be time to hire someone to help you with this stuff. You know, I might be this advice. It might be time to not have a full time personal assistant or anything, but it might be time to have someone who, like, is your personal assistant five hours a week or ten hours a week. Yeah. Like that. You essentially need, you know, in the theater world, you need a stage manager. Right? You need like a stage manager. You know that. And I actually think that that’s what you need to do, is that you have too much going on for you yourself to organize it. And you actually need to hire someone to help you do that and to manage it for you and with you and to figure out your.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Or together, I do have this fantasy of like the project manager slash dominatrix who’s just going to come in here and say, like, OK, this has to go, this has to go. You’re going to do this next Tuesday. Stop answering your email right now. Like, I just need someone to tell me what to do because I do feel like I’m sort of grasping at straws. And I think, like, some of it is just the tyranny of contemporary office culture. Right? Like, it’s just like email after email. They pile up all of these tasks. And I just need I just wish I had this sort of like mythic person who had come over and say, here’s what we’re doing today, you know?

S3: Yeah.

S4: I mean, I think you need a part time personal assistant is actually I think I need I need a Japanese calendar wielding part time personal assistant. Exactly.

S2: Or or a very bossy British matron.

S3: What was that show where the where the bossy British matron would come in and nanny your kids and supernanny?

S4: I need I need a super nanny for work. That’s exactly. Exactly.

S2: We hope you enjoyed the show, if you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll never miss an episode. And here’s my Slate plus pitch slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero odds on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. And more important, right now, you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s only thirty five dollars for the first year and you can get a free two week trial right now at Slate DOT working.

S3: Plus, thank you all so much for listening here as we start our second year of the new creative process, focused, working. And thank you so much to our amazing producer, Cameron Drus for consistently whipping all of us into shape.

S7: Thank you, Cameron. We’ll be back next week with my interview with Heather Clarke, the author of a new biography of Sylvia Plath. Until then, get back to work.