Strewth! This week’s introductory paragraph has an Antipodean theme! Welcome back to this flamin’ barbie [newsletter] called Sheila [the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes], a weekly bush tucker trial [interactive notebook project] from flamin’ drongo [comedian] Joz Norris. If you’d like to leave Australia [stop receiving the newsletter], you can get on a plane [unsubscribe] any time. And if you’re still roaming the outback [subscribed] then read on for this week’s Tape! [These themed intros are straining credulity, if we’re being honest]
How To Disappear Completely
Regular readers and responders may have noticed that last week there was no Fruit Salad Therapy Tape – cripes! Criminy! What the bloody heck? Where was it? Where did it go? Sorry for all the distress I’m sure I caused – it was Miranda’s birthday last Thursday, and we had various things planned and it felt easier to take a week off from the newsletter than to try and rush it out on top of everything else. Not only that, but taking a break from it gives me an opportunity to talk about something that’s been on my mind for the last couple of weeks, which is exercising the right to disappear. As ever, I always love reading through your thoughts and responses to this newsletter, so this week’s question, which I’d love to hear your answers to if you’re willing to send them along, is:
How important is it to you that you are visible to others on a regular basis? How has Covid affected that? Does the impulse to be “seen” by others come from your work, or from somewhere else?
I’ve spoken about this a little bit in this newsletter before, specifically about the tendency I have to think about my life as though it’s a story other people can see, and how choosing to perform for a living tends to exacerbate that way of thinking. Particularly after a year of limited social contact, it feels more important than ever to make ourselves visible, to go out of our way to remind people that we exist, for fear that we fall out of the memories of the people we care about. Speaking personally, a lot of this impulse comes from my work – the fear that if I’m not semi-regularly popping up on social media with a new project, a new thought, a new idea, then I limit my own ability to be offered work in the future and continue making stuff for a living. But at the same time, I’m aware that an increased tendency to pop up and say “I’m still here, by the way,” increases my own addiction to what I’ve learned is called “short feedback loops.” There’s a really good article by Lee Krasner about short feedback loops versus long feedback loops here.
Training For Long Loops
Comedians are proficient in an art form which provides an instantaneous feedback loop – we have an idea, we try it out onstage, we immediately get a laugh or we don’t, and our sense that we’re making progress and making good work is founded on the immediate reaction of an audience we can see and hear. Social media is a good surrogate for this – a tweet or a sketch can provide some level of instantaneous feedback in the form of likes or shares, while Zoom gigs do their best to replicate the instant feedback loop of a live gig, even if the laugh might have a slight delay. But over the last few years I’ve learned that it’s important every now and again to train myself out of my reliance on short feedback loops and to impose longer loops on myself. My old housemates used to find this very frustrating, because I would periodically declare to them that I had “retired from gigging,” that I wasn’t going to do it any more and was going to concentrate on longer-form stuff. These periods of “retirement” usually lasted 3 months or so, and then I would start gigging again, and they would say “I thought you had retired?” and I would mutter something about it being a “sabbatical,” and then lie down and roll under the sofa so they couldn’t see me any more.
All faux-seriousness and posturing aside, the avoidance of short feedback loops tended to result in all the bits of work I was proudest of. When you’re working on something that isn’t going to offer you any validation or reward for weeks or months, it can be quite a painful thing to train your brain into accepting when it’s used to being given an indication of whether it’s moving in the right direction more or less immediately. When I find myself embarking on a project which I know is going to involve weeks of waiting for notes, decisions, developments and so on, I often find myself exercising what I’ve come to think of as the right to disappear. I try to remind myself that my own “visibility” to others is an illusion, that if I really want to commit to making this thing then I have to invest in the process of nurturing it, and to limit my own need to make parts of that process visible to others.
It’s a difficult mindset to maintain, because it runs counter to a lot of contemporary advice about being creative in a digital world. Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work effectively suggests that if you’re making stuff today you need to be sharing bits of your process online every day to maintain your connection with your audience and to maintain the momentum of the process itself. It’s a principle I understand in theory, but I’m sceptical about following that advice to the letter – a blog post or a video or whatever it might be every single day maintains our constant connection to the need for instantaneous feedback and reward, and I ultimately think that’s an addiction that has to be curbed in order to produce really great work. A lot of the best films, podcasts, radio shows, TV shows etc that I’ve discovered have been authored by people I had almost completely forgotten about in the months and years they were making them, because they made them more-or-less invisibly, so that when they were eventually ready to show them to the world they had benefited enormously from that person’s commitment to what that project needed from them. Of course, several of those projects were also authored by people who had already established devoted followings and so had the luxury of being able to disappear without the fear that their audience would forget about them and move on, which is a greater fear for those of us further down the food-chain, as it were. So I understand that visibility and documenting process is an important thing for carving out your place in the world and maintaining your own ability to keep going. There’s a balance to all of these things, I guess. But I think it’s telling that, in any moment where I feel like I’m struggling to maintain that balance, in either direction, the direction that always feels like the preferable one to move in is the one that ends with me turning everything off and walking into the woods for a week. It will never not feel like the best possible option.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – I’ve not seen them yet, but here are a couple of links to two new comedy shows on BBC Three which everybody is raving about and which I can’t wait to watch, Adjani Salmon’s Dreaming Whilst Black and Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Point 11 on this 10-year-old’s election manifesto.
Album Of The Week – Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. Still working through a bunch of 90s albums I missed, and I’m finally finding some which are actually really great. This is fantastic. My current favourite joke is to put “Ironic” on at random moments, and then tell Miranda that it’s really ironic that I just put it on. I don’t think this joke makes sense, or is original, and she doesn’t find it very funny, but it’s been keeping me entertained.
Book Of The Week – He Used Thought As A Wife by Tim Key. I hate to say it, because Tim spends the majority of the book talking about what an important historical document this will be and that he’ll be looked at as a modern-day Samuel Pepys, but I think in years to come this will be an important historical document and Tim will be looked at as a modern-day Samuel Pepys. It’s a collection of poems and conversations documenting his experience of the first lockdown, which he spent alone. The chronicles of banana bread and haircuts and all that stuff will be the stuff of historical interest, I guess, but there are some really unusual imaginative flourishes to it that really made it stand out from the more familiar lockdown content we’ve all seen already. I particularly loved his conversation with the mouse that’s been tormenting him, and his falling-out with his own proofreader.
Film Of The Week – Despicable Me 2. Last week we watched Despicable Me and it was ok but I found the Minions infuriating – I didn’t understand why Gru had hired them when he obviously wants to be perceived as threatening and high-status, considering how immediately they lower the status of everybody around them due to their silly antics and constant farting. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the fact that in Despicable Me 2 I found them utterly adorable. I think they just make more sense in the context of Gru having softened a bit. A very sweet film.
That’s all for this week! What did you think? Let me know your thoughts and, as ever, any shares with friends are much appreciated! You can even encourage people to subscribe if you want.
Hope you all have a great week, and all the best,
Here’s an artwork we went to look at last week for Miranda’s birthday that I really loved. It’s part of the Stephen Friedman Gallery’s Threadbare exhibiton: