Adventure is the form art takes when it cannot find expression. Hence the many adventurer artist types you find, especially in the modern era. I am thinking today about the connections between art and adventure, bearing in mind that these words have a rather loose and probably personal definition for many.
Micromastery - learn small, learn fast and find the hidden path to happiness will be published by Penguin books (UK) in May 2017. It will be published in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany and South Korea in the months after that.
While walking out of the subway I found a tattered piece of paper fluttering in the sudden breeze of a passing train. I picked it up as I have sometimes found amusement reading lost pieces of homework and letters from creditors etc. This piece of paper was covered in a neat handwriting which I have transcribed below.
“I have grown to hate and loathe the computer on which I work and on which I depend for music, entertainment, connection to my friends. When I get a request ‘to skype’ I immediately try and think of excuses- yet when this first appeared it was like a wonder to me: free phone calls anywhere in the world! The same with movie downloads and blog sites laden with good articles. Now all that just makes me sick. I don’t ‘surf’ the net anymore – I use it for the more insidious role of ANSWERING EVERY QUESTION. It is like a square black prosthetic brain and I hate opening it. The day has both begun and ended at that moment. On the rare occasions I go a few days (maybe two at most) without ‘logging on’ I feel a pathetic gratitude to the machine for being such a storehouse of goodies. But what are these good things – just dumb facebook posts, recycled news, bargains on ebay. I think I could cut down to simply buying a few things on the internet. I think I could cut down to doing that on a machine in a library or something. I am aiming for the day when I can boast of no email and no twitter. When I am free. Why? Because I hate the way I have to type to get anything. I want to speak or use a pencil or pen. I don’t want to be MODERN if that means suckling all day on the teat of the internet. But mainly I anticipate the complete corporate takeover of the net in the next few years so that things like blogging (except mediated by facebook or twitter) will cease to be of interest to anyone. Raising money? Maybe. Selling things? Maybe. But part of me would prefer to drive round the country doing pop-up sales, relying on other people to let the world know what I am doing. I would become a digital parasite rather than a digital nomad, slipping between the interstices of other people’s online presence. It is not that I can’t see the utility of the internet – I can. I just think it exacts too high a human price to fully participate in its use. I think it foments madness…I think it is the swirling brain of some satanic being, mankind’s worst creation…"
I wonder if dropping pages in the subway is this author's new method of publication....perhaps it is already working...
About is not it. It is it.
We all have a tendency to talk about, make stuff about, the thing we think is important. It's a very left brain thing to do. Instead of making art we write about it, collect it, curate it.
You see a problem in the world and you do stuff 'about' it.
But the solution- if that is even the right word- is to find the 'it' you should be doing.
Some of the most successful people I know in the ordinary sense of being productive, happy and able to make something happen that earns praise and/or money- often money- describe themselves as 'grafters'. Not 'hard workers' which has overtones of Boxer in Animal farm, a hint of martyrdom, work for the sake of it- but grafters- people who do the work when the work is there to be done. They are often self-effacing to the point of putting themselves down about their intelligence, art and skill. Which may be no bad thing as thinking you're smart is usually the first step towards folly...but being a grafter is a more solid self image. You have to produce evidence of it. you have to live up to the image in a very obvious and public way. You can't really con yourself.
I just got off the phone to A-on- a cut price energy company which has terrible reviews on the net- deservedly. Anyway- the woman grilling me asked if I wanted to give my email- I said no. She then asked if I wanted to receive 'email news of offers that will save me money'. I said no. She then asked if I wanted to receive other information by email. I said- 'You haven't got my email so how can you send me information by email?' She replied, 'I just have to ask these questions.' But that's mad, I said, you're acting like a robot etc etc generally blowing off steam. But I realised that even a robot could be programmed to not ask email based questions once it was established there was no email. Robots also do not go mad, unlike humans- me- driven mad, her- acting insanely. So now we have the unhappy, and so common it is hardly remarked upon, experience of humans reduced to behaving worse than robots...bring on the singularity! Roll out the androids!
We think of basic life skills, if we think at all of them, probably as things we'd wish we'd known how to perform when we started out in adult life. How to speak on the phone. How to negotiate. How to get along with people. How to curb emotional excess in situations made worse by such excess.
But I think more and more that basic life skills have the largest overlap with what used to be known as virtues: courage, honesty, self-reliance, generousity, selflessness, compassion, objectivity. But virtues have had a pretty rough ride in the last couple of centuries. For one thing they've been hijacked by every deplorable regime, cult and self-appointed messianic figure to have walked the planet. For another, they have been tamed and trimmed by polite talk in the nursery and lost their cutting edge.
But still, if you want good employees, get virtuous ones. If you want to succeed, in the only sense worth considering, be more virtuous. The only thing the last few centuries of left brain wrangling have taught us in this area is: there is no direct 'material' justification for virtue. If you don't get it, forget it...
But lots of people do 'get it'. They sense the value- intuitively not logically- in being courageous, generous, less self-centred. So how do you learn these things? In the same way as you learn anything: by watching and repeating and monitoring progress.
I realised that inadvertantly I had used micromasteries in all of these areas to make real progress. The first being generousity. Like most students I was a notorious tightwad who viewed the acts of generousity by others as mere evidence of their ill gotten wealth. I was happy to receive the benefit of such generousity, less keen to provide it myself...But meeting a truly generous man changed this. I saw that he always paid the bill for small things, stuff I could easily afford. When I started to copy this, make paying the bill a default setting, I found myself appreciating better how to be generous. Note that I'm not offering any justifications for being generous- there aren't any that stand up to logical battering. But we all know it's a worthwhile thing to be. Actually I can offer one, a paraphrase of something written by Idries Shah- the generous man may not be wise, but unlike the miserly, he has the means to attain wisdom.
A micromastery employs entry tricks so that you can make rapid early progress and it identifies a rub-pat barrier, a place where two skills pull against each other. With generousity they are the requirement to give matched by the greed to be generous. You see men in the middle-east almost fighting to pay a bill. On one level that's kind of sweet, but really it's being greedy. A micromastery for generous behaviour would hope to avoid this. It would also need to be repeatable, small, rather humble and acceptable of being a test-bed for experimentation.
The obvious one for generousity is so small and unpretentious it might pass unnoticed- but it has merit and it works. You WILL learn what generousity is by practising it and watching your reactions. Do this: everytime the transaction is for a trivial amount, for coffees, snacks, cheap drinks- pay. Be quite robust and sneaky about getting in there with yor cash first. Watch your own reluctance and relief when someone else pays. This habit of self observation allows you to experiment. What happens when you pay and no one knows you've paid and you don't tell them? Harder isn't it? But that is the aim of generousity- to do it whether people know or not, with a distinct preference for anonymity.
The indirect benefits of generousity are vast of course, but probably best not to dwell on them too much...
There’s always a standard way to learn everything. Even tree climbing…I had been climbing trees since I was a child and was pretty good at it. I had later become a keen rock climber and learnt how to use ropes and other climbing aids- simply by reading, talking to others and watching. Years after that I discovered there was a whole sub-category of climbing devoted to topping out on super tall trees. This time, instead of following my nose, picking things up along the way, reading the odd book and just trying, I decided to do things the ‘official way’. I carefully copied from a ‘professional manual’ the way tree climbers arranged protection in trees and rigged up ropes. Instead of using my instincts- the right brain, I was following procedures- my left brain. I became so wrapped up in the correct method that I lost sight of the overall aim- don’t fall. Helping another climber secure himself (when he was already secure enough really) I fell about fifteen feet to the ground and injured my wrist. A wake up call if ever I needed one- learn YOUR way not the ‘official’ way.
Sports in schools are not actually taught really. The kids who are talented ‘get it’ straight away, the rest just kind of muck around and try and follow the rules the sports teachers yells at them. Left brain types- those, who, in the coordination of the detailed with the holistic, tend to favour the detailed- I include myself here when under public scrutiny- fail to learn things in the conventional manner. That you can change your whole learning style just because someone is watching and judging should be an incredible fact, but it’s all too true. As a child I had trumpet lessons- at which I made miserable progress. Then, during the winter holidays I thought it would be nice to learn some tunes- so I did- lots of them- all on my own in my bedroom. But when I went back to regular lessons in class I just stopped learning again.
I had a good memory, though, so I could learn left brain biased things like academic subjects. Anything where there was a greater need of right brain integration I failed at unless I did it ‘my way’- which I now see was a way of circumventing left brain bossiness.
A micromastery- which could be as simple as shooting basketballs at a hoop on the garage wall- is a stripped down skill that the slightly pompous left brain can’t take too seriously. You remain relaxed and open and experimental- and that’s how you learn. Maybe you watch a few videos, get a few ‘entry tricks’ to help you progress quickly in the early stages. An Entry Trick is a shortcut or cheat (as far as the left brain is concerned) but it supplies the all important motivational boost when you need it. With this low key approach you can learn in your own way.
Once you have learnt several connected micromasteries in one subject area- say cooking or painting or gardening- you have a firm foundation of success. You can pick what you need from the 'official way of learning' now, and eschew anything that doesn't work for you.