Constraints

A while back, I saw a note on 37signals.com – I can’t find it now – but I copied it:

We’re always looking to embrace constraints. The presence of constraints make you creative. The more constraints you lift, the less creative you become.

The quote came to mind when I wrote my earlier post on “Craft”, because I was writing about the constraints around producing something really good. Excellence has long been an obsession, because for me, personally, it seems so distant: I feel constantly spread too thin, devoting my time to simply getting things out the door, moving them along, never taking the time to bring a project to level of excellence it deserves.

Which brings me to my next subject: interruption. I’ve written on my work blog about being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of email I receive; being overwhelmed extends beyond email into social media. Look at this list of Facebook requests from my profile. It’s absurd. Who has time for this? Life is short; if I want to write a handful of excellent poems, then the hyper-connected, always available, always interruptible life may not be for me.

If I want to pursue excellence, if I want to approach my work as craft requiring dedication, focus, intensity – then I need to insulate myself from interruption, seeing unavailability as one of my creative constraints. That old time solitude is what I’m talking about.

Obsessive media consumption – obsessive consumption in general – is a great avoidance tactic. (Avoidance of what? Anything real, hearty, or serious.) And now I’m discovering that obsessive social media consumption is also a great avoidance tactic. I am interested in the heart of things, in the “primary and elemental necessities”. I return to an old HG Wells quote (from Tono Bungay, written in 1909) that I have kept around for encouragement and focus:

But in these plethoric times when there is too much coarse stuff for everybody and the struggle for life takes the form of competitive advertisement and the effort to fill your neighbor’s eye, there is no urgent demand either for personal courage, sound nerves or stark beauty, and we find ourselves by accident. Always before these times the bulk of the people did not overeat themselves, because they couldn’t, whether they wanted to or not, and all but a very few were kept “fit” by unavoidable exercise and personal danger. Now, if only he pitch his standard low enough and keep free from pride, almost anyone can achieve a sort of excess. You can go through contemporary life fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elemental necessities the sweat of your deathbed.

Amen.

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