Before I get into anything: I was going to post a newsletter today primarily talking about creative outlets, and then a treasonous coup was attempted by an armed mob less than 7 hours away from my house. I won’t use my small platform to talk about this — there’s plenty that’s been said already by people better informed than me — but I do want to acknowledge that it feels incredibly uncomfortable to publish content from my limited, privileged point of view about trying to do better as a human when so many people in America have not only given up on doing so, but seem to now believe that ignorance and brutality are somehow the right values to pursue. Let’s hope that the people ignoring this disheartening reality have finally taken notice and their actions reflect this. There’s nowhere else to go but up.
takes a breath
I’ve been working with a leadership coach through my employer. During one of my last sessions, we got into a dialogue about what activities I use to exercise the creative muscle I won’t stop going on about. I mentioned music, as I typically do in these types of conversations, but also the fact that I’ve struggled to see it as a purely fun endeavor. I expressed my need to write something, and over the course of the conversation we landed on the fact that I could start writing freely in the mornings to get thoughts down, and gradually they may evolve into more concrete ideas for newsletters, fiction, whatever they may be. These ideas could come from anywhere and solely exist as manifestations of small ideas I have. I’ve had a horrible habit of not writing things down throughout my life — I blame my excellent memory for details for this — and through this coaching session, I discovered that this may have contributed to my inability to feel creatively accomplished as of late. To quickly report: writing almost every day since that session has helped me center my mood immensely, and I have started writing this newsletter again as a result.
At one point during the conversation, as an example of a possible use of this writing down of things, the coach interjects his own creative outlet: Using Canva to create little visuals of quotes he likes, and then posting them on LinkedIn.
I’ll be candid: I reacted viscerally. Almost every word in the sentence made me cringe: Canva, quotes, visuals, LinkedIn. I’ve never been a visual person. I married a designer/photographer because she complements my strengths and weaknesses, and one of those weakness is visual thought. When we think of an improvement to our home, I am usually completely unable to visualize what it will look like; I have to trust her vision (and I am usually impressed with the result). I’ve never used Canva and don’t see a reason to start — it appears to be a tool almost exclusively for designing social media posts, and the simple fact that a business can exist on that value proposition makes me want to die inside.
I’ve never been one to, as they say, capture quotes that inspire me. I’ve never personally felt inspired by something someone else said. In fact, quotes often feel to me like a cop-out for both original thought and careful nuance applied to a given situation. Nuance is arguably the most important element to bring to human society & culture in 2021; quotes and platitudes oversimplify, and as a result, lead to overly simplistic thinking and solutions to deeply complicated problems.
Let’s talk about LinkedIn. I despise it. It’s the worst kind of social network: one centered around the cutthroat, fake-supportive, workaholic white-collar culture mostly bred in America (and bleeding overseas), in which professionals are directly incentivized to shamelessly spew platitudes, share mostly hollow wins that don’t improve our society, and half-heartedly congratulate their peers over all of it. Where Facebook and Twitter are cesspools of vitriol and Instagram is a scrollable billboard, LinkedIn is a virtual circle-jerk for the professional community. I don’t know whether the content shared on LinkedIn is done genuinely, but years of experience in the consumer & enterprise technology industry and other social media platforms have wired my brain to think that is not. I’m unhappy I have to use LinkedIn to get this read by people. I hope you sign up for my newsletter so you don’t need to use LinkedIn to find it.
Yet, for some reason, I visit it compulsively three or four times a day. My time on LinkedIn is truly a compulsion: I don’t want to go there because the content and underlying premise of LinkedIn makes me want to die but, subconsciously, something makes me do it. I think it roots to a former deep insecurity about my career prospects — I wouldn’t post, but I would seek approval and encouragement from others, or scour the job boards to consider my options. I also am reasonably certain that active contribution to the LinkedIn cesspool does in fact improve my chances of consideration for work posted on LinkedIn — that must be part of the algorithm, because it serves everyone (especially Microsoft, who — friendly reminder — owns LinkedIn).
My coach had me thinking: Do LinkedIn users post things as a creative outlet, or to shamelessly promote themselves, or both, or something else entirely?
On another dimension: Is a creative outlet intrinsically tied to promoting one’s work, business or the desire to generate income, or can one separate those two ideas from each other?
Do either of those questions even need to be answered? Obviously they don’t. Anything that one considers a creative outlet can be considered a creative outlet, even if it’s weirdly tied to a thing that helps one find or promote their work. It took me several days to understand how posting anything at all on LinkedIn — of all social networks — could be considered just a fun creative thing to do.
Additionally, I don’t need to be capturing field recordings for my next piece of ambient music, or brainstorming a work of epic fiction to be “exercising my creative muscles.” I could just write. I could even write something to post on social media — which by the way, as I already mentioned, I will have done with this newsletter. It’s not about the distribution method, it’s about the ideas being explored and shared, which can be as simple as thinking about and sharing a quote you like, or as complex as a collection of carefully structured ideas set to music. I don’t need to build creativity up to something more than it is the act of creating.