FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY

Ai Wei Wei answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your favorite journey? My favorite journey is a journey which you walk alone but at the same time you know somebody is waiting for you at the end. It’s the perfect journey—it doesn’t matter how difficult, how dark, or how protracted, as long as you believe there is someone waiting for you there. That makes a journey different. Our life has no purpose unless we believe there is someone waiting there.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? I never did anything unforgivable. Whatever I did can be forgiven.

FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY EIGHT

Originally written on Twitter, now saved here:

I think it’s kind of out of fashion to talk about discipline—creative, ethical, athletic, intellectual. It’s the kind of thing you can write off as an internalized productivity myth—a bad capitalist habit. But the people I admire most have an awful lot of it. It runs so deep.

There’s something about intentionally cultivating your ability to do the hard thing. These people will tell you that their goodness is only by practice—that it is difficult, not intrinsic. They make commitments to their better selves, and hold their lesser selves accountable.

The people I know like this are a bit quirky. They wake up early, stay up late. They have obsessive spreadsheets to track their runs. They paint every day. They are meticulous in their work. They have habits. They accomplish incredible things, they resist incredible pressure.

They do the difficult-right thing, routinely. They climb literal and figurative mountains. They drag their ass to the lab, the studio, the dojo not because they always want to be there, but because showing up serves their higher purpose.

And because they want to be the kind of person that shows up.

Coaches, like dads, have favourite sayings. “Discipline is all you have when motivation runs out.” “You can’t fake practice.” “Sit in your discomfort.” These are probably as close as I’ll ever get to personal mantra.

And maybe this is why I often feel at odds with the corporate take-it-easy dogma of “self care,” which can feel individualistic, indulgent, almost narcissistic. Like it’s selling you something.

(Of course it can be so much deeper and important—but this tendency is undeniable).

Because there’s also something very radical about looking inside, finding what wild thing it is that you are intrinsically motivated to do, and then doing it. Challenge isn’t inconsistent with self care. It’s the dimension of self care that is self-actualizing, that is self-work.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this except to say that I admire these things in other people, and wish there was a richer conversation in public life about what makes them—without getting written off as a misguided Protestant work ethic or latent self-loathing.

FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN

From Erik Spiekermann, via Jocelyn K. Glei.

Question:
The meticulousness of typographic work seems to require an obsessive attention to detail. Would you describe your work in typography as an obsession and, if so, why does this particular discipline require this level of engagement?

Wrong question. Every craft requires attention to detail. Whether you’re building a bicycle, an engine, a table, a song, a typeface or a page: the details are not the details, they make the design. Concepts don’t have to be pixel-perfect, and even the fussiest project starts with a rough sketch. But building something that will be used by other people, be they drivers, riders, readers, listeners – users everywhere, it needs to be built as well as can be. Unless you are obsessed by what you’re doing, you will not be doing it well enough. Typography appears to require a lot of detail, but so does music, cooking, carpentry, not to mention brain surgery. Sometimes only the experts know the difference, but if you want to be an expert at what you’re making, you will only be happy with the result when you’ve given it everything you have.

I strongly believe that the attention someone gives to what he or she makes is reflected in the end result, whether it is obvious or not. Inherent quality is part of absolute quality and without it things will appear shoddy. The users may not know why, but they always sense it.

FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE

Exercise, by W. S. Merwin, via Matthew Ogle’s Pome (also available via Poetry Foundation).

Exercise

First forget what time it is
for an hour
do it regularly every day

then forget what day of the week it is
do this regularly for a week
then forget what country you are in
and practice doing it in company
for a week
then do them together
for a week
with as few breaks as possible

follow these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract
it makes no difference
you can change them around
after a week
both will help you later
to forget how to count

forget how to count
starting with your own age
starting with how to count backward
starting with even numbers
starting with Roman numerals
starting with fractions of Roman numerals
starting with the old calendar
going on to the old alphabet
going on to the alphabet
until everything is continuous again

go on to forgetting elements
starting with water
proceeding to earth
rising in fire

forget fire