The following is an excerpt from my new book Offline Matters: The Less-Digital Guide to Creative Work, which can also be found in the current print issue of Amsterdam Alternative newspaper.
Shock Me. Please.
On Pervasive Boring Creativity
Who knew living ‘a creative life’ would feel so arid? Where is the joy, the excitement, the risk, or the shock? Nothing is shocking besides the diminishing sense of possibility – and the working conditions. The work is safe, predictable, and supposedly ‘predicted’. All conforming to predetermined directives.
It’s not a matter of standing out, it’s a matter of fitting in and doing that very well. Future Shock. Present Shock. The Shock of the New. Do we even know how to feel shock anymore? We’re talking real shock – confused, challenging, discomfort-at-oddity shock. Not the shock one is ‘supposed’ to feel. Not the play shock that follows looking around and see others acting shocked, then following along accordingly – hazarding a guess that it’s simply the correct reaction to be done.
Except, nothing is being done. What are we really doing here? What are we even creating now? More ‘engaging content’ to exasperate the masses, complicit in the contemporary zombie condition? More riffs on past styles, never-ending re-runs of previous cultural moments? More distractions and ever-cooler ways to say ‘spend, spend, spend!’ without quite saying it? Boring. …
This edition of my COVID-19 Diaries features a two-part
anecdotal poem on ‘not working’, combining fragments of conversations and dialogues collected over the past three weeks.
1st July 2020 – PART ONE
“I hate work.”
“I love working.”
“I love work but it’s killing me.”
“I hate work but it’s saving me.”
My friend is 30 and being awarded her ‘Ten Years of Servitude’ new year from the bread company she works for. “I don’t know what it means”, she said.
servitude /ˈsəːvɪtjuːd/ Learn to pronounce
1. the state of being a slave or completely subject to someone more powerful.
“you’ve got thousands of years of peasant servitude to make up for”
The Freelancer is receiving ‘Ten Years of Serfdom!’ from Fiverr. A special badge, shaped like a gold star and bursting with shards, that they can put on their platform portfolio to make it “really stand out”. For ten days it will appear as the top search result. After that, it’s back to the whim of the algorithm.
Last week I received two emails, which felt like obtaining the two pieces missing from a 2000 piece puzzle sitting before you. The first was an issue of the bliss of the spam, a casual newsletter from radical curator Dalia Maini, and the second a shared article by economist Niko Paech.
Imagine being a teenager nursing soldiers during the 1918 pandemic. It’s near impossible. Six months ago, such a task of the imagination would have been of no interest. Just as an online exhibition held in early 2019 by the National Archives (USA) titled ‘The Deadly Virus’, which surfaced a letter from a 19-year old nurse named Lutiant Van Wert, would have been far less interesting. Or relevant.
In this edition of my COVID-19 Diaries I try to cyberflâneur, only to end up at lofi beats. Again, and again, and again.
5th April 2020:
“Our very existence has turned into a question mark.”
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”
― John Cage
The future is cancelled. We know this by now. It’s not ‘postponed’, that sweet word being politely touted in exchange for the hard truth. Here in Zurich, posters remain in loom for a festival put on by a youth theatre that was to run from January until June – ‘The Future is Cancelled’ they jest in their title. These word still hang on the empty streets. When they were designed last year they would have appeared rebelliously tongue-in-cheek. Those who concepted the title may have felt antagonistic and playful. Running on the funny provocations that ‘youth’ knows it is allowed. Imagine that? What we thought was our future has been broken into fragments of oblivion. Eaten away until it doesn’t even matter. No need to ponder too hard on it. It’s gone. The slow cancellation of the future was not slow at all. …
Our view of the US at present is obscured by the news, from our position in Europe. Here are dispatches from across the city of Los Angeles, reporting from life on the ground as the skies clear and the initial panic-dust settles. For now.
In this edition of my COVID-19 Diaries I question the possibility of silence, design the sound of our resign, and pay attention to deliveries.
29th March 2020:
‘… when you’re buying books, you’re optimistically thinking you’re buying the time to read them.’
― Arthur Schopenhauer
Bought time. COVID-19 is the gift that keeps on giving. All the deadlines have been extended. Tax returns, application dates, returns and special offers. If you weren’t a procrastinator before, you’ll be a convert to the bliss of delay now. Wait long enough and you’ll be afforded an alleviation. Like those clocks that were an hour behind before, overdue tasks that sat undone long enough to come back around nothing wrong.
Where does this sense come from that time as been protracted? Where there were not enough hours in a day before now stand an infinity of days, weeks, months(?). How long we will be here we do not know. The unknowing is the infinite. The ongoing. ‘I’m taking an extended break’ is what they say in offices. Code for a longer-than-usual holiday. Or for when somebody doesn’t know they’ve been fired.
Take It Easy Baby
In this edition of my COVID-19 Diaries I interrupt empathy-talk, question the romantic power of streamed TV, and learn about ‘Explainerism’.
29th March 2020:
If I stage that drama inside me,
all it does is make me difficult to live with.
– Dougald Hine on living in Sweden during the corona crisis.
Empathy is everywhere. Except, not really. Today when I was trying to play Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon in full on YouTube I had to wait for an ad by Masterclass, who seem to be really capitalising on the stuck-inside-moment. This one was for Natalie Portman’s acting classes. Learn to act with Natalie Portman! “Your job is to imagine somebody else’s life. It’s the act of empathy” she tells us amateurs. I knew empathy was trending.
Later on Twitter I see Ms. Portman is interrupting the lives of others. @jesslbergman ‘instagram explore, brimming with satanic energy in the best of times, will not stop showing me videos of natalie portman preparing awful bird meals in a professional grade kitchen’
Goodbye To All That
In this edition of my COVID-19 Diaries I traipse from a viral theory of the earworm, through new possibilities of doing nothing, into an account of my first ‘Pair Up’ call.
24th March 2020:
I went to the supermarket with a wheely suitcase today. I don’t have one of those grandma shopping bag/carts, so one must be resourceful with what one has. Nobody else seems to be doing this that I have seen. Perhaps because the sound of those suitcase wheels is so disturbing you have to play music through headphones on the way there and back just to drown it out.
Another recovered word; piety.
Devotion. Strong belief in a religion that is shown in the way someone lives. A conventional belief or standard.
Corona piety? We are renunciating and we are trying to love thy neighbours. Never before have so many smiles been exchanged with those in the surrounding apartments. The virus is making us nicer.
There is a poster on this wall that is starting to really bug me. The previous tenant left it here. It’s by a Swiss artist, and he said we could take it down if we want. There are days when I don’t see it, and days when it is all I see. The phone bothers me far more than the penis. That gross device manifesting all over his naked languid pose and pointing towards the room. I should really take it down but every day I tell myself ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. There are lots of procrastinations now. Because now (which is really no different than before) we have an excess of healthy tomorrows to put task to. All the time in the world to do chores or make work or achieve those niggly actions that one avoids until it’s too irritating to bear. This poster must not have become totally unbearable yet. Perhaps soon enough it will be too much a part of this room, and this time, to say goodbye to. ‘Goodbye To All That’, Joan Didion’s title for the last piece in her Slouching Towards Bethlehem collection of essays. Those four words ring and ring in my head like an earworm.
This is the third post in my Premonition series.
Premonitions are a series of critical foresights by Ruth Les. The scenarios and ideas are concerned with possibilities, not probabilities. ‘…We should not be confined by the probable. We should discover the possibility hidden in the present.’ – Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi
Permission for Pessimism
‘PERMISSION GRANTED. BUT NOT TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT’
– John Cage
‘Two kinds of pessimism: “The end is near” and “Will this never end?’
― Eugene Thacker
A Premonition for Pessimism
In our emergence from life during COVID-19 we will see new found respect for Pessimist thought. Long thrown from the scene, Pessimist philosophy will be taken seriously, and prior tyrannical ‘positive thinking’ taken in bad taste.
When we all became precarious cognitarians, freelancing our lives away in knowledge work, the abstraction of our worlds was all consuming. Though we were workers, we were not standing in lines of industrial production. What we produced was immaterial, and abstract. The main thread of capitalism’s own evolution is ongoing abstraction. We communicated not offline or face to face, but through abstracted means. The angle of this communication took pronounced ‘positive’ positions. Something Positive is a site set up during the pandemic to present solely positive news about it. Click the button ‘More Positive Vibes’ for continuous hits of feel-good developments; Apple says contractors will be paid during COVID-19 shutdown (Wall Street Journal), or, A rockhopper penguin at Chicago Shedd Aquarium makes unlikely friends with three Beluga whales (The Guardian).
Particularly speaking from experience in the creative industries, to not be explicitly positive was an employment death sentence. In the social scene too, negativity was not allowed. Who wants to hang around with Negative Nelly when you can be with Optimist Oli?