In this museletter I espouse foolishness & fire. I also offer some thoughtful provocations to help you get back on track with the next chapter of your life. Ooh and also—the dangerlam has a new zine called ‘Life Happening’.
Sometimes I wonder if I should have collected your first name, so that these letters can open with a sense of pseudo-intimacy. But I know you’re smart enough to see through such. And besides: I’ll more than make up for it below. Meanwhile: hello to you!
Briefly, some news:
The dangerlam (my darling Kim) recently published ‘Life Happening’ – a gorgeous sequential art risograph printed concertina zine that explores themes of free will, selfness and death. A sublime delight.
I was interviewed on The Mojo Radio Show. It was a really good interview. I’ve much to learn from these guys—they caught me in a liminal space, and asked apt and personally profound questions.
I’ve also recorded and uploaded new podcast episodes:
A timely time for you and I (perhaps)
We are on the cusp of a solstice—June 22nd—which is as good a time as ever to pause and consider the trajectory you are upon. If, like me, you journal or introspect regularly, there’s a high chance you may have noticed recurring patterns in your life. Patterns that potentially hold you back from where you want to grow.
I am about to propose that we—warmly, and with great heart—set the torch to patterns that do not serve us. I’m going to show you just how. Hoho, but before we rain hell ‘pon the edifices that hold us back (for it’s actually much easier said than done)—would you like to unsubscribe? I say this because the tilt and tone of these museletters is shifting, somewhat.
Why? Well. I’ve been reading The Dark Forest Theory of The Internet by Yancey Strickler. To quote the author:
“The internet is becoming a dark forest. In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream... These [dark forests] are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments.”
This museletter—and, to an extent: my podcast—are my Dark Forests, to which you are most welcome company. Here you and I get to hang out and sup tea, behind the scenes to it all. It’s the quiet, cosy and warm candlelit speakeasy of my wizard tower, which rests in the heart of a dark forest with many owls, atop a floating island amidst the noösphere.
Why cultivate a dark forest? Personal sanity, I suppose. You know my espoused stance toward social media. I’ve eschewed it for some time now. But, alas: herein lies the danger.
To quote Yancey again:
“Should a significant percentage of the population abandon these [mainstream online] spaces, that will leave nearly as many eyeballs for those who are left to influence, and limit the influence of those who departed on the larger world they still live in.”
In other words, much as I enjoy my time in this dark forest with you, there’s a certain, uh, ‘responsibility’ I feel to the greater world. And this means: Dr Fox must once again dust off his cloak, don his wizard/dunce hat, sigh, tilt the head, smirk—and step back into the arena. It means THE INCREDIBLE DR FOX, ARCH-WIZARD OF AMBIGUITY (MOST FANTASTIC) must once again grace the wretched domains of social media and the wider public world—lest I become (more) culpable in the demise of society.
More on this farce later.
Meanwhile: not everyone enjoys the awkward glimpse into insecurity and depth I seem to regularly flaunt here—so if you’d like to jump ship, please do so with my blessings. You can unsubscribe here or at the bottom of any museletter in one click, forever.
<lights wizard pipe>
Righto, still with me? Hoho, excellent! And good riddance to the others, eh? Let them frolic amidst superficial platitudes. Hahar, I jest! (But let them.)
Now! Where were we. Ah yes: intimacy, darkness, and purging fire. This’ll be a good one.
My hope is that this museletter arrives to you in a timely manner. And that it might spur you to treat the upcoming solstice (June 22nd—or, failing that: June 30th, why not?) as an opportunity to cultivate a better cut to your jib. Because here’s what typically happens:
At the end of last year you took some time off with your family or friends (or simply by yourself to potter around the house and reflect a little). Sometimes, for some folk, their family and friends see you in only these snapshots—and thus their sense of ‘who you are’ is a combination of your reflection of the past year (and its observed patterns), and the projection of the year ahead (your intentions and/or aspirations). Or maybe you took some time in solitude to reflect what was and project what could be. Some people—like yours truly—have a habit of Choosing One Word each year to encapsulate the complexity and nuance of this intent (and to serve as a fuzzy contextual beacon should we wonder off track).
You then commenced this year, and it started off reasonably well. But then entropy, apathy, habituation, anxiety, self-sabotage, distraction, unforeseen events—and myriad other forces—do their work on you. What started as a bright and bold attempt at the next iteration of ‘you’ has hence become fleeting and ethereal, and harder to grasp amidst the fog of busyness.
And now: here we are—slightly battered and a tad numb, staring at the cusp of the midway point to our year. In many ways, this is where the real journey begins. It’s where we ask ourselves my most favourite question: ‘What are we pretending to not know?’
I’m not sure if you chose a Word or had a clear intent for this year, but now might be a good time to review your life in weeks (read this too). Plot your life in a grid, and then cross out all the weeks gone by, so that we might look at things from the perspective of the meta.
The sands of time keep pouring through the hourglass of our lives, bringing us ever closer to our inevitable demise. What shall we make of this time? What does the second half of this year—this chapter of your life—entail?
That’s… a hard question to answer precisely. It’s not something we can force. But it is something we can sense into, ‘intuit’ (meta-rationally), ‘long for’ and coax into our world. Or at least: pretend to.
It needn’t be a devastatingly grand aspiration or longing. Sometimes the subtlest of shifts are the most profound.
To offset the sanctimonious nature of the Sage Advice that I shall soon unfurl, let me describe things to you via my own imperfect narrative (fallacy).
A story so far
This is ‘The Year of The Fool’ for me. Foolishness. I have to say ‘foolishness’ because people think I am saying ‘Full’. Gosh dash it, it’s fool, you fool!
Anyhoo: why Fool?
I didn’t quite proclaim my Word at the beginning of this year—despite it being something I generally encourage in others. Hypocrisy is my strong suit.
Last year was The Year of the Wizard, the chief intention of which was to make deep work the chief priority—to shut myself off from the more distracting elements of the world, so that I might contemplate the cosmos and Write My Next Book. There was also an intention to sharpen up aspects of my character (to embrace more eccentricity), and to cultivate a better relationship with time (more antifragility). But then someone I was super close to passed away in the middle of the year after a long and challenging battle with cancer. Suffice to say: it affected me deeply.
Part of the charm of choosing One Word is that is forgiving of (and antifragile to) life’s curveballs. Unlike a narrow/rigid and (deceptively fragile) quantitatively-anchored mission or goal, a Word is open/fluid and remains qualitatively open to interpretation. It is a fabricated ‘reference point’ to which we can ‘make sense’ of the world, so as to cultivate a richer narrative (fallacy).
(I keep adding ‘fallacy’ whenever I say narrative, just so that we don’t grip too tightly to the stories we tell ourselves. The fictions we weave are truer than true, and at the same time not.)
Anyhoo: I found that I had accrued some rather dark and melancholic humours, and that my bitterness for my own industry (of fellow ‘expert motivational thought leadership authorities’)—and the business model/cage I had built myself—only intensified. It was time to do something Foolish.
Hence: The Year of The Fool.
I thought that, as an Inverter of Paradigms, I would reject the conventional world and live on the fringe—embodying philosophies that might be considered ‘foolish’ to those ensnared by convention (even if it meant being laughed at). But now, half way through the year I realise: this is actually much the same trajectory I was on anyway. To really be foolish—to be true to my intent, and bring about new beginnings—I need to invert my own paradigm. Hoho—it’s not ‘them others’ who are fools—it is me. I am The Fool. Though not foolish enough, yet. I shall amend this.
And so, after a year and a half of relative seclusion, palatable bitterness, and self-sardonic depth—it’s time to bring some lightness, meaning and mirth back into the mix. To step back into the arena; to play the infinite game once more, with a glint in the eye and a spring in the step.
There’s an echo here, for me. Lightness, paradox and play were the key intentions behind the Word ‘Jester’ of several years ago. At the time of choosing the word I had a relatively ‘heavy’ business and a swathe of commitments that were weighing me down. And so, once more, I find that I have accrued unnecessary ‘heft’ into most what I am doing.
It might be the same for you, too. And so, if you relate: here are some thoughts.
How to Unlock ‘The Next Chapter of Your Life’
You may have arrived at the mid point of 2019 weighed down and somewhat lost again. Or too busy and exhausted to even realise. (Or neither.)
Never mind: I have a solution for you. It involves fire.
1. IMMOLATE THE EXTRANEOUS
If you were to keep a time diary for a few weeks—a simple notebook that tracks your 100 blocks a day—I wonder: where does your time go? Is it invested—directly or indirectly—toward ‘meaningful progress’? Or are we potentially indulging in a rich delusion of progress? (A pet topic of mine).
Of course, this requires that we ask: “What is meaningful progress?” In a business sense, it may be ‘that which brings us closer to future relevance’ (which itself begets more questions—which is a good thing). But in a personal sense, the question of meaningful progress might have something to do with values, congruence, eudemonic fulfilment, and the evolution of your own narrative and self-concept. Any attempt to answer this question will brush up against confounding complexity, nebulosity, ambiguity, paradox etcetera and so on—which is a good thing.
Now I’m the last person to advocate an ‘optimised’ life. (Partially-optimised is enough, for we want to leave plenty of room for entropy). I don’t think it actually helps us to view things simply through the lens of productivity (much as capitalism pressures us to). Hence I suggest the ‘100 blocks a day’ lens simply as a means to access a somewhat ‘objective’ sense of your days. To augment your perspective, so that you may get a fuller picture.
If you’re journalling/introspecting regularly, chances are you’ll have an awareness of the patterns or narratives that help or hinder your own progress. These may take the form of ‘unquestioned defaults’—the options we choose automatically, in the absence of viable alternatives.
Well, heck: it’s time to question these defaults.
But the predicament we find ourselves in at the middle of our year is not typically the result of a few large and distinct decisions—rather, it’s the result of many little ones.
We accrue complexity through the meandering course of our days. Such is life. We’re nice and reasonable people: so we say yes to things, we offer to help, and we take on small projects and tasks and things that—individually—do not seem to amount to much. And yet collectively—in how they distract and detract—they are the siren choir that lures us away from where we need to be.
This impending mid-year solstice, therefore, can serve as an inflection point. The parabola to your parable, as it were.
So: take stock. Wind up projects. Quit the skirmishes, the petty battles and the finite games of ‘being right’. Submit your apologies. Relinquish ground. Wave the white flag. Eat humble pie. Use the excuse of the ‘End of Financial Year’ (if that’s applicable for you). Claim you have a mid-year holiday and that you’re trying to ‘wrap things up’ before then. Do what you need to do to shake away the strands of commitment that bind you.
The same could be said as to how you approach the things you are committed to. Is there a smarter way? A better system or rhythm? Is it time to ask for help? Or is it time to retire some projects—gracefully—that aren’t serving you any more? To put them to rest? Use this mid-year solstice as an opportunity to reduce (or better: release) unnecessary complexity.
2. DESECRATE THE PAST
The Internet haunts you. It remembers everything you share, and it loves to remind you (and others) of your past. (It watches you, too).
I have disturbingly old videos on YouTube that others have recorded of me, which people still watch and see as their first impression of me. In this way, the detritus of my past shapes and warps who I am today (at least: in the eyes of the beholders). Likewise, people read my first book—The Game Changer—and tell me it’s good. (It’s okay but my recent work is better*).
* (On that note: I contend that if you’re not at least somewhat embarrassed by your past self, you probably aren’t growing. There’s a backhanded kindness in this, somewhere.)
The Internet therefore encourages a kind of rigidity to your identity. A petrification of your past, and a fixedness of ‘self’ (encouraged by meme-ideals of ‘authenticity’ and ‘truth’). You can’t simply travel overseas for a few months and come back a changed person anymore—the Internet will follow you the whole way. You’ll check into places, document what you eat, and keep in touch with all of those around you—unless, of course, you ‘go dark’ and retreat into your Dark Forest—but even still: some things can’t be undone.
But hohohoho there are still plenty of things you can do about it. You are not your LinkedIn profile, your feed. You are not your work. You can set the torch to your online profiles, and to the all the photos/videos/articles you’ve uploaded and shared in the past. (Or: most of them.)
Light it ablaze and clear the way for that which may come.
It’s what I’ve just done.
3. FILL THE VOID
Wunderbar. You’ve cleared the way—now what?
Nature abhors a vacuum. If you want to attract new opportunities and work—clear your desk and calendar. In the absence of deliberation, there can be no liberation. There’ll always be a new distraction that emerges.
Fire has been used by Australia’s First Peoples for tens of thousands of years to harvest food and regenerate ecologies. There’s a kind of ‘antifragility’ to the practice. Of course if one were to take this process to other ecologies, there’s a high chance the system wouldn’t recover—that only weeds will come to occupy the fire-cleared land.
And so hence, after all this clearing and burning, here’s what you can do to ensure the best kind of things emerge in your wake.
Actually, heck: I don’t know what is appropriate for you. Just do something. Or, more specifically: just do 5omething—50 days of something. Get in there, before the weeds take root.
I love the notion of just doing something—anything—for 50 days, because it shreds away the typical excuses I manifest to stay in the safety of my dark forest—‘thinking deep thoughts’, writing long articles that are never shared, etcetera. The pathetic solace I find in the pursuit of perfection. Bah!
And so: here’s what I’m doing.
My website is secretly undergoing its own process of transformation. This fox is working with a talented owl to bring about a new platform that’ll make for more ‘effortless’ sharing. (Every post currently requires herculean effort, which is why they manifest so rarely. This will change, in time for spring.)
Of course: the above is due to my own proclivity for long-form. So! Come the solstice I shall be commencing 50 days of writing hundreds (but not thousands) of words each day. I don’t want to chafe against too specific a parameter, but suffice to say—it’ll be 50 days of writing 750 words or less.
And I’m hopping back into the arena. My writing shall be housed on medium whilst my primary website undergoes its metamorphosis. And I’ll probably share it on ’social media’, too. (Wtf? I know right.)
You have no idea the depths to which the above proclamations make me feel uncomfortable. I like my esoteric obscurity—the hidden temple of my website, that only attracts the smartest, wisest and most curious of followers. And I loathe most short-form; the sanctimonious vibe it begets, and the inanity it promulgates.
Internet thinking is insidious and pervasive. People don’t read at depth any more—they skim the surface, scan for ‘tips’, and stick to the shallows.
I’m not giving up on long form or depth—far from it. I have the curse of knowledge (in some domains) alongside the humility of knowing that I know nothing... combined with the fact that occasionally I like to pretend I do. It’s an odd alchemy. But I am going to make a conscious effort to make things a tad more accessible. Such is the magnanimous nature of Dr Fox.
I don’t know quite what will manifest during this ‘50 days of something’. I know short form requires more pointedness (in order to make a point). But this can often come across as sanctimonious and arrogant. I usually offset this with self-depreciation and insight into my own uncertainty—but short form does not allow for such indulgences.
Ergo: f–ck it. Sometimes one needs to cast a shadow. I shall manifest and share this ‘short form’ as Dr Fox, Archwizard of Ambiguity (Most Fantastic). This persona fits me well, and allows me to channel a hubris that is otherwise hard for me to hold to.
I’ll come back to you in these museletters and my podcasts simply as ‘Jason’ (whoever that is), and together we can reflect upon the meta-depth, and other matters of subtlety and salience.
Dear goodness—enough of me!
<fans face gone read, fluttered>
How did this happen again?
In summary, my friend: immolate the extraneous, desecrate the past—and then fill the void with intentional making. The questions you might ask yourself at this opportune time of year (should you value your own character development) are as thus:
Where (who) are you in the unfurling story of your year?
Where (who) might you like to be?
What might this require you let go of (immolate/desecrate)?
What might this require you to do (be)?
And... if you were to lean into 50 days of doing a small something each day—what might that small something be?
It’s easier, of course, if you’ve put the thought into choosing a Word. Even if that Word is something you’re beginning to outgrow—it heralds the new theme awaiting to emerge.
Wow: how ‘woo’.
Hoho, remember though: this is all narrative fallacy.
Fabricated truth made real.
But still: we can make believe.
Thanks for joining me once again. If you like these museletters, please share them with likewise curious folk, and encourage them to subscribe. A personal forwarding with an encouraging note could be a wondrous deed.