thoughtwisps One commit at a time

an end in itself

It’s almost midnight here. The clocks have given us an hour’s mercy and induced mild horological confusion. Not that it matters to my brain anyway. Saturated with images of Primark hauls and the latest scandalous beauty community eyeshadow palette review, my brain has had some trouble going to sleep at the right time.

I probably should be brushing my teeth and flossing right now, but instead I’m running the hoover to un-gross the latest victim of my millenian weekend laziness: the kitchen floor while keeping half an eye on the banana bread in the oven (an attempt to rescue yet another victim of my laziness: overripe bananas that have been sitting on the kitchen counter for far too long).

These monotonous things which mostly run on autopilot and don’t require much thought are dangerous, because they leave my brain with space to ramble into spaces which I’ve neatly sealed into the attic of Randomly Accessed Memories and so to keep it occupied, I’m feeding it on a steady diet of backroung noise.

The selection is almost unlimited. Right now, my preferred background noise choices are 15679098727576th rerun of all three seasons of the Bold Type, an infinite playlist of Primark hauls or a selection of the best in the beautyguru drama episodes. None of them feel right for this quiet evening of last-minute chores.

So I go to my newest obsession: watching interviews with Jia Tolentino so I can get new insight into my millenial anxieties (her writing is very good).

The first thing that I find on YouTube is an interview with Tolentino and Doreen St. Felix from the Books Are Magic YouTube channel. Towards the end of the interview, an audience member asks Tolentino a question. The mic is very low so it’s hard to make out what exactly the audience member is asking, but based on Tolentino’s answer it must be something about “how to make it in a precarious industry constantly teetering on the edge of automation”. Tolentino prefaces her response with a disclaimer. Something of the “I don’t know if this is good advice” sort. At the end of the day, no advice is ever good advice, probably. The grains of salt, the survivorship biases, the hidden advantages and privileges are hiding behind well-intentioned advice.

You can't control anything about this industry. 
You can't control if you're going to get paid well.
You can't control whether you'll get paid.
You can't control whether people are going to read you.
You can't control what they think when they do.
What you can control is the amount of pleasure you can generate for yourself within your work. 
If you can make your writing fun and hard for yourself in such a way that even if nothing comes out of it,
it will be worthwhile to have done it. It will probably be the thing that makes you write well.
And that will probably be the only thing that can steer you in this industry.
I just think your writing has to be an end in itself."

In many ways, this “don’t do it for the external rewards, do it as an end in itself” sounds like something that belongs in the same sentence as unpaid internships and unbridled hustle culture in which we are posting and liking and swiping and tweeting in the hopes that the next little bit of ourselves that we project into the Machine will the one that will catapult us into the influencer heavens. But this would be an ungenerous reading of Tolentino’s advice. Instead I’m reading her advice as an optimist’s choose-your-battles-carefully resignation, an admission that lots of things about success are ultimately a crapshoot and beyond one’s individual control. And in this system, the only thing that is in one’s control is the thing itself, the writing.

There are lots of analogies here, lots of parallels I’d like to make with coding, with my own time in the tech industry, but I’m going to save them for another time.