100 Tapes! 100 Years!
It’s been brought to my attention that last week’s Tape crossed the threshold of 100 of these emails/essays/bits/whatever these are. It had kind of passed me by without my noticing, despite the number being right at the top there. I like to think that the coming and going of that milestone reinforces what this project set out to do, which was to orient myself around processes rather than outcomes, but now I’ve realised it’s been and gone, I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to reflect on what this project has taught me over the last 2 years, and what I hope it might continue to teach me going forwards.
But before I do, thank you so much to all of YOU! The readership of this newsletter isn’t world-beating by any stretch of the imagination, but it is significant enough for me to feel very grateful and honoured when I read through all your replies. You guys are the only reason I keep doing this. If I felt like it had no value to anybody other than myself, I would’ve stopped it long ago, but reading your replies every week and getting to use this community as a sort of barometer for the fluctuating creative moods out there in the world has meant a huge amount to me. I’m humbled by the stories and projects and ideas you’ve shared with me, and I just hope my own ramblings have been of some use to all of you with the things you’re making, or processing, or figuring out. Thank you to my readers, from the die-hards to the casuals and occasionals, you all mean a huge amount to me, and have helped me to build a little corner of the internet that doesn’t feel horrible every time I poke my nose into it. That brings me onto my first lesson looking back over the last 100 Tapes:
Using The Internet To Resist The Internet
As I outlined way back in the very first Therapy Tape back in early 2021, one of my intentions when I first started this project was to build a space on the internet that actively resisted what I felt at the time were the most concerning hallmarks of an increasingly online culture. I think this original mission statement is why social media and its various virtues and ills crop up so often in what I write about here – because the very reason I started it was to train myself to think outside of the instant gratification, constant distraction and short feedback loops created by our consumption of online content. During the pandemic, the internet became more crucial than ever in keeping people connected and inspired, and giving them things to hope for. Our over-reliance on it also caused a lot of really important creative muscles to wither, in my opinion – the ability to be bored, the ability to wonder, the state of not knowing, the pursuit of a creative practice that doesn’t deliver measurable results in the moment. I’m not naive about the internet – I understand that it’s a crucial tool in how we connect with our audiences, and that choosing not to engage with it full stop is pointless. I also do believe in its ability to connect, create and inspire without having to give into those more reptilian impulses for an instant feedback loop, and I set up this community as a way of exploring that.
To this day, that’s still very much the role it plays in my weekly routine. Plenty of the ideas I’ve sat down and written about in these newsletters have gone nowhere – they’ve bounced around my head and fallen out again, while others have gone on to become live shows, radio shows, short stories, short films, and so on. What matters to me is the act of sitting down every Monday and trying to sift through whatever I’ve been thinking about over the past week to see if I can parse it into something of vague interest to other people. The act of doing it feels like it services all those muscles that we’re using less and less frequently these days – the sense of putting something out into the world that’s unfinished or messy or half-formed or imperfect, the sense of taking time to question something at length without reducing it to the most digestible beats. Having a way to dedicate myself to those senses every week reinforces my knowledge that this is the process that leads to the making of good work, and that trying to short-circuit those results by doing something quick and simple will deliver gratification of a kind, but will also be somewhat compromised. There’s no “right” way, of course – both approaches are valid – but in a society and a creative culture where the opportunity to go into “deep work” mode is rarer and rarer, this weekly effort to explore an idea at length has fundamentally rewired the way in which I engage with the world and with ideas, I think. I’m very grateful for it, and hope it might have played some small role in all your own Deep Work projects too, even in the form of just having an accountability buddy of some sort.
Mr Fruit Salad, the namesake of this newsletter. Don’t know what he’s up to these days
The other big lesson from building this community over 100 instalments has been the realisation that, as creators, we must all let go of our need to be in control of the meaning or significance of the things we make. There’s a great chapter in Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act, which I wrote about last week, in which he explains that when creators aim for sincerity, the end result is saccharine or contrived, and that sincerity must always be a byproduct, never an intention. He explains that the true purpose of a creative act is simply for the artist to express themselves, never to create an intended effect in the audience. That rang very true as an idea I’ve come into contact with over the course of writing these newsletters. I’ve often got to the end of writing an instalment and thought “I’ve got no idea what I’m on about here, this is nonsense and doesn’t really mean anything,” and would sometimes question whether it was worth sending it. Time and time again, I was really surprised by the extent to which sharing this stuff seemed to mean something to other people, no matter how confused and muddled I myself felt about the ideas I was expressing.
It’s reminded me that, really, what we intend when making something isn’t really relevant, and the less we can think about it the better. The actual ultimate meaning of a piece of work isn’t necessarily what we intend for it, it’s the message that’s received by the audience, just as what we mean by our actions are ultimately less important than the way they make other people feel. Tuning into the ways in which those things differ, and paying attention to where they diverge and why, is important work both as a creative and as a human, I think. Often an audience will perceive things in our work that we didn’t intend. Often, something in the work will connect with something in the viewer that the maker couldn’t possibly have known about, but the collision of the two will end up creating a greater meaning almost by accident. I’ve seen and felt this quite a lot over the course of making this newsletter, and have been really surprised and inspired by the ways in which readers have taken half-explored ideas I’ve written about, connected them with things in their own lives, and created new meanings and stories out of them. It’s reminded me that creative work is always collaborative, even when you’re working all on your own at your computer – the collaboration is with the audience, and the meanings you make together. It’s also been amazing reading your updates on your own creative projects as they connect and resonate with the things I’ve been talking about – I count myself lucky to have so many amazingly imaginative, creative souls in my audience!
As I’ve said, this newsletter has become an important part of my creative routine, so I intend to keep it going in exactly the same way going forwards, although I have one question for regular readers going forwards – would you like to see me explore ways to make more of the collaborative, interactive elements of this newsletter? Is there any potential in the idea of sharing some of the readers’ more exciting or interesting or unusual approaches and ideas in the main newsletter, or do you like the fact that when you reply to me it remains a private conversation? On the one hand, I think the idea of somehow gathering readers’ responses into some sort of dynamic whole (anonymised, of course) is an interesting one, but I also realise that the potential for people’s responses to be shared more widely might put pressure on the act of replying, and make people feel more self-conscious about what they send me, so perhaps maintaining the simplicity of it as a two-way exchange is the better idea. Let me know if you have any thoughts! Would you like more insight into the wider conversations this newsletter opens up? Or would you feel like you would contribute and reply less if you knew people besides me might read it? I will probably just leave it as it is, but I’d be curious to hear what people think!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The brilliant Stuart Laws recently released his comedy special Stuart Laws Is All In on Youtube. He’s a very funny guy with a brilliant mind, give it a watch!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Yesterday, while filming a short taster for an idea I’m working on, I tried to crack an egg with one hand and had no idea what would happen. Chaos. Absolute chaos.
Book Of The Week – I’m reading Hegemony Or Destruction by Noam Chomsky, which is about America being a big bully. Not sure why I’m reading it, to be honest. I was given a free copy, and it felt like it might be an interesting read. It’s a good insight into the narratives people decide about themselves, how people get to decide what is “right,” what constitutes “terrorism,” what constitutes “aggression,” and so on.
Album Of The Week – Fuse by Everything But The Girl. These two are the sound of my childhood, specifically the album Amplified Heart, which I think is a masterpiece. This is their first album in 24 years. It continues in the direction towards electronic/downtempo music that they took after Amplified Heart, which they’re very good at, although in my heart my favourite work of theirs is the earlier, jazzy-folky stuff. But if anything, Tracey Thorn’s voice has somehow become even cooler over the decades, and it’s just lovely to hear them making music together again.
Film Of The Week – The only film I’ve seen this week is Renfield, the new Nicolas Cage Dracula movie, and it’s absolutely dreadful. How you can mess up the casting of Cage as Dracula, and the brilliant concept of exploring Dracula and Renfield’s dynamic as a modern-day toxic working relationship I’ve no idea, but this film is weighed down by one of the clunkiest scripts I’ve ever seen, which consistently assumes you’re a moron. It’s mostly action sequences, which seem to think they’re being outrageous but which actually become mind-numbingly dull quite quickly. There’s one good bit where Cage does some funny reaction shots, though.
That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know what you thought, and if you’ve enjoyed the newsletter, please feel free to send it on to a friend, or encourage others to subscribe. Take care of yourselves until next time, and all the best,
PS Look at these guys I met in the park yesterday. Nice little guys.