Daoist advice

The Big Idea woke me up after less than six hours’ sleep. Hey, what’s the big idea? I asked. You’re about to find out, it said. Put down your sleep and follow me.

Me: Go away and leave me alone. I need a new project like I need a hole in the head.

B.I.: There’s a hole in everything. That’s how the mutagens get in.

Me: Spare me the bad Leonard Cohen paraphrases. Hell no, I won’t glow!

B.I: Thirty-year-old bumper sticker slogans won’t save the earth, either. But I just might.

Me: Hey, whoa! The track record for ideas saving the earth is really, really poor. Just about every time people have tried that, they’ve ended up providing cover for new systems of oppression instead. Look at Marxism, Fascism, Christianity. We don’t need any more of those kinds of big ideas. Go away.

B.I.: I am not that big! Besides, I am much too whimsical to inspire sociopaths like Stalin or Constantine, and you know it. I would be at best a part — a small part — of any solution. Just one of many things that could help bring about a subtle but significant shift in the global consciousness…

Me: “A shift in the global consciousness”?! Jesus fucking christ. Take your goddamn simplistic New Age babble and get the hell out of my head!

B.I.: So you’re content to go on drifting through life as a tinkerer, a putterer, an intellectual dilettante? You don’t want to contribute to something larger than yourself?

Me: I contribute every time I capture an insight on paper — or in pixels, as the case may be. And it’s not like I’m completely self-centered, either. Well over half my energies these days are already directed toward promoting other people’s work. If I decide to put you into practice yet, that will not only eat into these other commitments, but leave me with hardly any time for my own creative work. Not to mention rob me of sleep on a regular basis, give me ulcers, and lead in all probability to an early grave.

B.I.: But I could make you famous! Then your own words would have an astronomically larger audience. And eventually, once I’m well established, you could pass the baton to someone else and go back to what you’re doing now.

Me: Get thee behind me, Satan.

B.I.: Well, who’s got the messianic complex now? You see — you do want to save the earth.

Me: The very idea that we should aspire to “save the earth” — that any one of us, or even any group of us, could possibly begin to comprehend what the earth needs — it’s total hubris. It’s nothing but the old colonialist, white-man’s-burden bullshit times ten. The earth doesn’t need to be saved, it needs to be left the fuck alone.

B.I.: That’s a very convenient belief for someone who happens to own thousands of dollars worth of stock in evil transnational corporations. Come on. Give up everything you have and follow me.

Me: Don’t try to sweeten the deal. You know what a masochist I am. Look, the fact is I am not the right person — not your Saul, if we want to keep playing with this ridiculous New Testicle analogy. Even the best idea, if brought into the world by the wrong person, will either be still-born or die slowly and painfully after a few, heart-wrenching years of life.

B.I.: But nobody else would love me as well as you do! And you do, admit it. Why else does anyone wake in the middle of the night? What you lack in connections and technical expertise you could more than make up for in passionate commitment.

Me: Tired. I’m so tired.

B.I.: People would literally come out of the woodwork to help. O.K., figuratively. But build it — build me — and they will come.

Me: O.K., that’s it. When an idea depends on clichés from sentimental baseball movies to communicate its importance, it is officially NO LONGER WELCOME IN MY HEAD. Get out! Get out!

To be continued. Or — in all likelihood — not.

16 Replies to “Exorcism”

  1. Vell?

    I’m also tired: tired of small ideas.

    From the WSJ interview of Cormac McCarthy, age 76:

    WSJ: How does that ticking clock affect your work? Does it make you want to write more shorter pieces, or to cap things with a large, all-encompassing work?

    CM: I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

  2. What a delight. “Build me” just slays me. It’s a day’s exercise just laughing. I hope you don’t follow up. I couldn’t take it.

  3. Too funny. I’m glad I’m only trying to capture vague ideas for my next art work during fits of insomnia, not fighting off tempting demons! But hey, you did get a great blog post out of it.

    1. Thanks. Actually, your blog post transcribing the nocturnal note-to-self was pretty entertaining, too. A funny coincidence that we both decided to open a window on the perverse workings of our minds yesterday!

  4. Dave, there must be relatives of your BI floating around because I have exactly the same conversation (awake or asleep or in between) with them on a regular basis. Feels like you’ve been listening in! Sometimes, I have even given in to their promptings and I have the scars (and the voluminous files) to show for it. The thing is, some people who followed those ‘voices’ to the ends of the earth (one-track minded, of course) actually did achieve something worthwhile.
    Are you going to reveal what your BI voice was suggesting?

    1. No. That’s just what it wants!

      Natalie, I’ve often thought that your descriptions of your creative process and work habits sound just like me: the procrastination, the sustained bursts of energy, the tendency to do my best work while actively procrastinating on something else…

  5. You and Neils Bohr! The biggest ideas that ever wake me up are grocery list items, knitting patterns, and recipes. Still, I look forward to the Next Small Idea, and I’ve never had to argue with one yet.

    1. Well, contrary to my friend JMartin above, I do believe in the profound value of small ideas — not least because, as you suggest, they’re pretty tractable.

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