Monday, April 19, 2021

NYTimes's Adam Grant on Languishing : When you've lost that (writing) feeling

 At first I didn't click on Adam Grant's "There's a Name for the Blah You're Feeling" because I thought it was my friendly companion "meh." But it really does have a name: Languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.


    Last summer, the journalist Daphne K. Lee tweeted about a Chinese expression that translates to “revenge bedtime procrastination.” She described it as staying up late at night to reclaim the freedom we’ve missed during the day. I’ve started to wonder if it’s not so much retaliation against a loss of control as an act of quiet defiance against languishing.


That means we need to set boundaries. Years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. When engineers managed the boundary themselves, 47 percent had above-average productivity. But when the company set quiet time as official policy, 65 percent achieved above-average productivity. Getting more done wasn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.

I don’t think there’s anything magical about Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.

This makes a great deal of sense, especially with a phenomenon that I've been thinking of as "running out of steam." Say you're excited about Project A, you do the homework on Project A, you set aside the time to work on Project A, and then  . . . nothing. 

It's not like usual writing procrastination and anxiety, which are still there for some things. It's more like the excitement dissipating when you have to conjure up the energy to actually put those words down. The energy vanishes.

It's also important to note that not everyone in academia has the luxury of languishing--parents of little kids, overworked instructors, etc. etc. etc. Tanya Golash-Boza of GetaLifePhD wrote on Twitter had published "75 books and articles"* because she sleeps 8 hours a night, writes for 1-2 hours every workday, and doesn't "get in her own way." 

There was swift backlash, and she later revised it to acknowledge her academic privilege of a low courseload and good research funding--and attributed her success to not hanging around Twitter [except to promote her brand] and spending the time writing.

Her basic point, though, is the same as Grant's: set boundaries. Give yourself time to write, and then do it--i.e., get out of your own way. 

In other words, don't languish. Get past the "meh."

 *Edited to add: I just realized that this reminded me of Bachman in Silicon Valley, when he lumps his  his money with Bighead's and announces that their company has $20,013,000, never specifying that the the $20 million belongs to Bighead and the 13K to guess who.


Monday, April 05, 2021

The function of criticism at the present time, or how not to behave, NBC

 No, this is not a Matthew Arnold fan post. It's about meanness for the sake of meanness on the interwebs.

You may have seen this a few days ago:

In it, a writer called (checks notes) Jeff Slate* takes the occasion of Paul Simon selling his back catalog (as Dylan and countless others have done, let it be noted) for megabucks to slam Simon for no clear reason: 

  • "Always a ruthless operator, Simon no doubt saw the sale by Dylan to the rival company as a golden opportunity."
  • "It may feel as though he's saying "screw you" to all the folk-loving fans** who grew up with him (who are no doubt listening to his recordings on Spotify — which pays him pennies, of course — in their Audis), but Simon has never worried about what anyone thinks of him. "
  • "That means Young and Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen and, of course, Paul Simon — all giants in their day — will be no more than footnotes, at best, to Dylan and the Beatles, if only because history is a blunt instrument and doesn't have room (at least not in the broadest sense) for subtlety.

    "So, Paul Simon, who is essentially an also-ran '60s icon on a centurial or millennial scale, is making a rational calculation. "

    Wow. I don't hold any particular brief for Paul Simon or know anything about his life, or whether he's a "ruthless operator," or "broke Art Garfunkel's heart," or any of it. 

    I know some of his songs, but I'm not a drunk music bro in a dorm somewhere at 2 a.m. arguing about the relative purity and worth--and worth because purity--of 1960s musicians, so I'll let that relative worth argument lie there.

    The reaction on Twitter was damning, and the ratio, lovely readers, was satisfyingly long. The comments were along these lines: 

    • Jeff who? 
    • Did Simon reject his demo tape, or something? 
    • JFC, what is wrong with this guy?

    My bigger question is this: why did NBC publish a screed like this? What's the point? There's no information in this article. There's no informed music criticism. There's nothing specific at all. There's nothing but what Charles Dickens would have called a bit of spleen.

    Now, 19th-century writers loved to tear up fellow writers; Poe in particularly was known for the savagery of his reviews.  But his reviews had a point, and this  . . . has none except the writer's animus toward Paul Simon. 

    We've gotten used to internet meanness along with items like The New Yorker not knowing the difference between "discreet" and "discrete" in a headline. (I have a screenshot!).  

    And I've seen some snide and pointless swipes even from music critics like NPR's Ken Tucker, aka a Derry Murbles wannabe for you Parks and Rec fans. 

    But Matthew Arnold told us that we could do better, even if no one clicks through.  Do better, NBC. 

    It is of the last importance that English criticism should clearly discern what rule for its course, in order to avail itself of the field now opening to it, and to produce fruit for the future, it ought to take. The rule may be summed up in one word,– disinterestedness. And how is criticism to show disinterestedness? By keeping aloof from what is called “the practical view of things”; by resolutely following the law of its own nature, which is to be a free play of the mind on all subjects which it touches. By steadily refusing to lend itself to any of those ulterior, political, practical considerations about ideas, which plenty of people will be sure to attach to them, which perhaps ought often to be attached to them, which in this country at any rate are certain to be attached to them quite sufficiently, but which criticism has really nothing to do with. Its business is, as I have said, simply to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas.

    *I wondered at first if this is a pseudonym, given Slate's reputation for full-on snark in most of its articles. 

    **Same argument was made when Dylan went electric at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965. Get. Over. It.