During the mad phase, when everything was a tweet or a share or a retweet, one of my favourite discoveries was the Change This website, strapline: ‘We’re on a mission to spread important ideas and change minds’. Key to the site’s appeal is that they actively encourage readers to share, post and repost their materials (as long as it is not for profit). It is a tweeter’s (and Twitter-addict’s) playground. These come in the form of their ‘Manifestos’, free pdf downloads that usually take no more than 15 minutes to read, and frequently much less. To give you a flavour of what I mean, here is one of my very favourites, ‘Brainwashed’ by Seth Godin.
The very first Manifesto I read came across is still the one I like the best, even more than Seth Godin’s. It’s called ‘How to be Creative’ by Hugh MacLeod. I realise there are one million and three articles on the internet with the same title, but this really is the only one you need to bother with. (It’s funny what my memory did before I looked it up and posted the link for you. I could have sworn it was called ‘Ignore Everybody’. It turns out this is the first subheading in the twenty-six listed in the book. He has a full-length book by the same title. I don’t blame him: I love it too.) MacLeod, in case you don’t know, has made a career (he might debate that term), of drawing cartoons on the backs of business cards. For what it’s worth, I think this is irrelevant: Heading 23 is titled ‘Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time’. I trust him utterly.
I have thought a lot about that phrase, ‘ignore everybody’, since leaving Twitter at the start of September. (I still can’t get used to typing that sentence.) MacLeod’s thesis, that to do the work we need to do we need to ignore what is going on around us, has particularly been on my mind. A word of clarification: he is not saying we should ignore artists and individuals who inspire us. He means we should abjure the advice of those who think they know better than us but are not doing what we do: ‘The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you’. This is right up there with: ‘Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside’ (13) and ‘Avoid the Watercooler Gang’ (18). The simple and brutal truth is: to get stuff done we need to get rid of what we don’t need.
Right now, for me, that’s Twitter (and FB). For now at least.
The corollary of MacLeod’s argument is that we need to be totally absorbed in everything at the same time, that is, in our work, its influences and surrounding culture and tradition. But not to the extent that it prevents us from making a start.
Just this week I have been putting this to the test by beginning to read two marvellous books of poetry, The Door to Colour (Enitharmon) by Myra Schneider, and The Best of All Possible Worlds (Shearsman) by my neighbour Damian Furniss. They could not be more different from each other than my left foot and a concert pianist. But I am slowly learning, in the absence of Twitter, to absorb them, fully, and with delight, into my fibres. Absorbing everything, while ignoring everyone:
Silence is that small place
we come upon, the patch we clear to be with our selves
in shop, train, lane, doctor’s waiting room – anywhere. [Myra Schneider, ‘Finding Silence’]