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January 3rd, 2023
One concept explored on this blog is the idea of Rivalnyms. These are words or word pairs that in short seem like synonyms from one perspective and antonyms from another. A few examples are stubborn vs. determined, or Influence vs. Manipulation, or Loneliness vs Solitude. Both words in effect are two sides of the same coin, or concept. Their main difference is that one is connotatively positive and one is negative. We have these word choices for single concepts in order to flavor it with our emotion or opinion. If you approve of someone’s efforts you call them determined. If you disapprove, you might call them stubborn. It’s not an exact science, but that’s the thing with language: it’s a shifting ground of nuance. So the idea of a Rivalnym is more to point out the emotive way we conjugate our meaning when we say things or categorize them.
This sort of double-edge is present everywhere and culture is plastered with it. It’s perhaps controversial to say but much mental illness may have been beneficial in past cultural circumstances. Reading any ancient religious text with a secular mindset, for example, might make a person wonder if a schizophrenic may have been hailed as a prophet back in those times. Either the divine acts that people saw back then cease to occur today, or perhaps we just label the people who still see them a bit differently… This is the dark side of the double-edge I’m trying to point at.
A more positive version might be everyone’s obsession with “flow state”. This is the hallowed state of productivity that everyone is constantly trying to induce, experience, leverage and bask in. But a flow state is a little nutty. I have experienced the flow state many times, with many projects and endeavors, and on a very practical level I have to say: it’s absolutely horrible for your sleep. Countless times I’ve worked single-mindedly straight through the night only to be annoyingly distracted by a weird and unexpected brightness coming through the window. It’s only then that I realize I’ve accidentally pulled an all-nighter.
There’s something…downright manic about a flow state. At least in my experience the normal person I am seems to get swallowed whole by this completely other state of being. Tiredness, hunger… it’s as though these things cower in the corner of my being, afraid to disturb the raging beast hellbent at the controls of my person, charging towards that single point of success distantly imagined. The best part about it is that this single point of success is often something I’ve never actually done before. It’s an imagined point of success. And the hypnotism that characterizes this state is fueled by a conviction that is more like faith than anything else. It’s a faith that this completely imagined point of success actually exists. A faith that I can navigate the swirling fog of confusion and unknown in order to hurl a harpoon into that elusive creature and haul it into the light of now.
When a project is in full swing, these manic states of productivity can be nearly all consuming. Collapsing to sleep, waking up with next steps already lined up in the brain, as though it never stopped and being awake is just a matter of tuning back into the conversation.
These periods of life are - wonderful. There are few things better than them. So much seems to happen, even though it feels as though it takes too long, and achievement - actually getting something substantial and novel finished and shipped - it feels as though the precious life used up during that time was not wasted.
The tricky thing is that inducing such periods of manic productivity.. isn’t necessarily a matter of flipping a switch. I’m currently facing a looming need to cast myself wholesale back into such a frenzy of productivity and I find it not unlike the days and hours before taking a very strong psychedelic compound. There’s a foreboding, and a resistance from my body. The same that you feel as a child when approaching the top of a very tall slide or roller coaster. But unlike a psychedelic compound which is simply ingested and guarantees the ride will commence, a flurry of productivity can be tricky to activate if there’s no boss breathing down your neck. It’s a necessity of the imagination. The results might have very real implications for one’s real world life, but if it’s a novel project, it certainly still exists as a figment of imagination. Perhaps at that point it’s a matter of faith more than anything. Can that novel idea actually exist? It all depends on whether you can pull it off.
My suspicion is that it’s like anything else and it’s a matter of momentum. Just start, and do a little bit today. Do a little more tomorrow. And keep that up until sleep is the day’s only bookends, bursting with that project bloating those waking hours.
So. Here’s to getting a little bit more done. Tomorrow.