Resisting Safe Mode

In lockdown, how can you set your mind, and your ambition, free?

Hey V&V fam ✌️

Last week I sent you The Minimum Viable Metaverse, 3k+ words about the pandemic experience, the future of spatial software, and the phenomenon of internet worlds and new media audiences colliding. In other words, the first V&V drop was a thicc boi. Thank you so much for sharing the essay — it’s been getting great traction and we now have 30+ new subscribers with us this week.

Today’s Vivid & Vague is one of the “quick hits” I’ve promised. If you’ve found your way here but haven’t subscribed yet, join in👇

Resisting safe mode

I don’t know about you, but this was the week I had to run a quick Control-Alt-Delete on my own fucking brain. The repetitions of quarantine and my far-off staring into the ocean of uncertainty ahead finally started to fray my wires. I’m sure we’re all feeling this in some form, in between Zoom meetings and the sourdough rising.

Some specifics: In early March I tried to time the market and got rekt (v small-scale rekt, but it hurt). Later in the month my toddler daughter broke her leg and we found ourselves in the ER, just as the hospitals were going into full-on pandemic protocol. Then, at work, the pressure got cranked up and I’ve been hustling alongside my team every day since to prove we can turn the corner in a souring economy.

I started to interpret everything as a signal to batten down the hatches. My thoughts got cloudy. Overwhelmed, I slipped into my version of a panic room: I went to the bookshelf, grabbed a few of the worn paperbacks I’ve marked up over the years, and began to turn pages in search of direction and comfort. Good move. As they do, the books brought me out of the doldrums.

I knew I needed to reboot, but not to safe mode. And not to a superficial state of optimism either, at least not in the sense of “everything will be alright, everything will be amazing.” Instead of optimism, I was looking to regain openness. A rejection of closing down as a strategy. A resolution to not be the animal that relies on its shell to survive. Something along the lines of, “I don’t know what’s ahead of me, and that’s OK, that’s good actually. We’ve burned the script. Time to write a new one and feel more alive while doing it.”

The truth will not set you free

I’d convinced myself of these “truths” over the last several weeks:

  • there is no good in this situation, it is wholly bad

  • I’ve made bad decisions so far in 2020

  • the outlook is bleak

Then I picked up a passage from philosopher John D. Caputo. To unfreeze myself I had to recalibrate my relationship to truth. What was true about my year so far is not The Truth™, because truth is always developing, unfurling:

“Truth is always a process, always in the making, a forward repetition, so that truth flourishes under conditions which promote the future. The sense of truth, therefore, lies precisely in the open-endedness and availability to change, where the accent falls on novelty, on the power of the event for invention and reinvention…think of truth as an event, as something still to be made or done, as what lies ahead, as still in the making, and hence as a promise/risk…

Having hope goes hand in hand with acknowledging that things are under threat. Threats and hope depend on each other conceptually. We realize our hope may not be underwritten by a divine warranty or pure Reason but will depend instead on us.” -John D. Caputo, Truth

This also means that the truth can’t set you free, it can’t unlock your future, because it resides in your future. “Truth is always in the making.” Maybe that leads down a philosophical rabbit hole, but, for me, it’s actually a really clarifying thought as I move into the immediate future. “Our hope may not be underwritten…but will depend instead on us.” We have agency when it comes to what is and isn’t true about our lives.

When the game is on the line, do you want the ball in your hands or not? To be honest, my answer to that question isn’t always an unequivocal “yes” — but I do know that I’m at my happiest, my most productive, and my most loving when it is. As compelling a strategy as it might seem, I need to remind myself that I’m nowhere near my best when locked down into safe mode; I need to continue exploring, risking, getting obsessed with things and remaining open to their potential.

Instead of locking down, lock in. Get obsessed with something(s). Truth is an event yet to happen — make sure you’re there.

“Obsession dispels depression: the third law of psychodynamics.” -Edward St Aubyn, Some Hope

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