inside out

Hey there

If you're reading this via email or RSS then it means the migration to the new system worked, huzzah! Although testing seemed to go okay you're never 100% sure something is going to work until that first real-world experience — to say I've been nervous would be an understatement. Despite thinking that I had reached a fairly static position with the new site I've been making quite a few changes recently so it just goes to show that a tinkerers lot is never done.

It's been surreal to think that England has just passed the one-year anniversary of going into the first Covid lockdown. Who would have expected for us to still be in this position a year on? The vaccine rollout continues apace but there's still a long way to go and, even when the majority are vaccinated here, the discrepancies between different countries are still going to make the world feel like a strange place for a good while yet. The rush to book summer holidays, just because we'll be out of restrictions is premature because we don't know what the position will be in popular destinations. Still, people are just clinging to the promise of normality rather than the current reality.

Truth

That leads me on to recently writing Chapter 9 about how writing gets to the truth of things, with or without your abettance.

I was detailing how writing when not fully awake allows the subconscious to emerge — when we are not fully compos mentis and in control of our thoughts. In the context of the Write365 project, this normally occurred late in the evenings or at night when trying to get the daily post out if I had not yet written something during the day.

These moments of vaguery are not limited to late nights which is why morning pages are so effective — three pages of writing first thing in the morning before you do anything else. Early morning writing, as Dorothea Brande referred to it in her 1934 book Becoming a Writer, is a place of feeling and emotion rather than logic or manufactured thoughts. There are no airs and graces, just a literal translation of what is on the inside. Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way, sowed the seeds for the more esoteric modern purpose: to unburden yourself from that which weighs you down before the day begins, to free your mind such that you can focus on the duties of the day.

Brande's original purpose was a creative one where the "excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet. As a matter of fact, you will find more value in this material than you expect" — in her view "what you are actually doing is training yourself, in the twilight zone between sleep and the full waking state, simply to write." We can, however, be far more relaxed about it allowing the words to take over, revealing what they will. We don't find out who we really are and what we can achieve until we are willing to bare all — metaphorically speaking — and expose our vulnerabilities.

In writing this, things took an unexpected turn: the idea of not knowing what is on the inside or what may emerge during such times made me think of former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's 'known knowns' response at a press briefing. To paraphrase: there are known knowns, known unknowns, and, also, unknown unknowns.

From a psychological perspective, known unknowns arise when we are aware that something is affecting us and our behaviour but are not quite sure what. Unknown unknowns, however, are those things that we don't realise impact us until we suddenly come face to face with them. I think both can emerge during the times when we get out of the way and let our subconscious take control.

A quick bit of research later and I discovered the term 'unknown unknowns' is derived from the Johari Window — a concept created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955. The 'window' is a 2x2 grid upon which the way you see yourself and how someone else sees you are placed. The grid's four quadrants are:

  • open — things known by both yourself and the other party
  • hidden/façade — things known to yourself but not others
  • blind spot — things known by others but not realised by yourself
  • unknown — those things not known by either party

The balance between the four quadrants will change over time and, by sharing or receiving feedback, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of yourself. I found it interesting that examples of things that live in the 'unknown' space include:

  • a fear or aversion you don't know you have,
  • repressed or subconscious feelings, and
  • conditioned behaviour from childhood

All examples of things that might emerge over time given a significant period of self-reflection, perhaps by way of writing. It all starts to fit together and, after writing this, I've gone back and re-written part of that chapter.

It definitely wasn't a direction I envisaged taking and is a perfect illustration of why I love writing — the way that thoughts and ideas completely change the way you look at things.

Reading

I'm now about a third of the way through Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism and, as I wrote on the blog, the first section of the book really feels like preaching to the choir. It's a bit ironic that I should say this when I spend a lot of my time looking at my phone screen but it's not just about how much you do it, rather what you do with it and whether that benefits you in some way.

One passage, however, that has really struck me is where Newport references Michael Harris' book Solitude in which he is "concerned that new technologies help create a culture that undermines time alone with your thoughts, noting that it matters enormously when that resource is under attack."

This reminds me of Blaise Pascal's Pensées 139:

"I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber."

When referring to a hypothetical King, who would appear to have everything he could ever want, Pascal says "if he be without what is called diversion, he is unhappy and more unhappy than the least of his subjects who plays and diverts himself." The human propensity to dwell on our shortcomings, maybe even our mortality, when left to our own devices is, he argues, the root of our misery.

There is an inherent conflict; on the one hand, we need time alone with our own thoughts but actually getting that time, and not being able to deal with them, can cause us to be miserable. We have become so used to distraction that we cannot adequately commune with our inner selves. The more we refrain from doing so the harder it becomes until a point is reached where we no longer even try.

The connection between this and revealing our unknown unknowns is obvious and clear — writing, even on my phone, is my way of spending this time alone with myself. It can be wonderfully rewarding but also incredibly hard.

And that's it...

With luck and a following wind, you will have received this without any problems.

I was reading a post from Andy Nicolaides' new blog on 'Hey World' where he remarks about the newsletters he subscribed to:

"Everyone of these, and the others I follow, have things in common. They are well researched, well written, and incredibly thoughtful. They are never any old post that’s pushed out into the ether ... They seem to understand that pushing something into someone’s inbox, whether they invite it or not, is altogether a different story to just posting something to your RSS feeds and hoping someone reads it."

Sometimes I worry that I'm pushing out any old post into the ether. I try to make these letters more ... considered, especially lately with the move towards discussion of the writing project. So I just wanted to say thank you for sticking with them, or for joining us if you have done so recently, it means the world to me.

Until next time.
Colin.


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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog