Notes to No One (Part 1): The World Is a Fiction and So Are You
Brief writings arising out of meditation, reflection, and inner listening
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Sometime last year, I realized that I had been using Twitter off and on in the same way that I have traditionally used my journal. Maybe this came clear in association with my decision to publish 30 years of private journal entries. Whatever the case, I looked back over my tweets since 2019 and saw that, along with quotations from books, links to articles, announcements about my own publications, retweets from other people, and the like, I had produced a slow and intermittent stream of brief reflections, meditations, and Hugh Pratherian “notes to myself” over time. Except instead of writing them privately, to myself alone, I had written them in public. And instead of being notes to myself, they were really notes to no one, not only because they felt half directed at myself and half-directed at a semi-generic public “audience,” but because, as stated in some of them, one of the realizations coming clear through the very medium of the notes themselves concerned the virtual or fictional nature of both my own personal/egoic identity and that of “others.”
As with my journal proper, this all took the form of momentary expressions of thoughts, realizations, moods, and insights that arose within me and shaped themselves into words. Sometimes, especially beginning in late 2021 and continuing into 2022 (see the next paragraph below), these were articulations of things that came up during morning meditation. Sometimes they conformed themselves to a single tweet, following Twitter’s length limit. Sometimes this very restriction helped me to articulate them more clearly and pointedly. Other times they spooled out to create extended threads.
I also noticed that their frequency had increased in 2022. From 2019 to 2021, I produced 20 such items (three, five, and twelve, respectively). In 2022 that number was 38. These latter entries also showed their overall tenor and content to be tilting ever more decisively in the direction of spiritual advice, not so much as a matter of self-advice about what to do or how to do it, but as a matter of pointers, like the Taoist finger pointing at the moon. In other words, short statements to help maintain clarity of vision, directness of seeing/knowing, and depth of centering in the only self-evident truth there ever is or ever could be.
I ended up extracting all of these tweets and saving them for myself. Then the thought occurred that I might as well share them here, with you, in the spirit of continuing to make this blog, newsletter, or whatever it is into an all-encompassing stream of anything that is happening on this side of the keyboard and feels like being shared.
I have divided these notes into four parts, in the interest of making their length manageable and their contents more invitingly readable. The first part, which appears below, encompasses entries from 2019 through 2021. Parts two through four, to be published as separate posts in the near future, encompass 2022. In some cases I have added paragraphing by combining tweet threads into paragraphs for ease of reading.
You will notice that some of what follows is written in the second person, addressing a generic “you.” Bear in mind that this means it is speaking as much to me as to you or any putative “other.”
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If you’re a writer or other creator, never compare your gift to that of others. Your particular gift of vision, subject matter, passion, skill level, style, approach, and the life circumstances in which these all exist and unfold neither gains nor suffers through comparison.
In the interest of being the change I want to see, I hereby adopt an attitude of radical skepticism toward all my own beliefs. I doubt all my beliefs and believe only in my doubts. We’re presently glutted with dogmatists on all sides. I long for a renaissance of uncertainty.
There is no uniform philosophical or spiritual progression in history, no general ascent toward some collective perfect way of aligning to reality. Each age and culture has worked out the problem of life in its own idiosyncratic and complete way.
Strictly speaking, there is no way of drawing directly on past wisdom to solve life’s challenge. Any attempt to do so ends up lifting a past solution out of its native context and (in)fusing it with foundationally alien worldview-level assumptions.
In light of this, I can’t help wondering what kind of philosophical/spiritual solution the present culture of digital technopoly and surveillance capitalism will ultimately arrive at, and what people of a later, different culture and era will make of it.
A couple of days ago, I perused an online book sale labeled simply “history.” Literally every title on the list was about a war. Methinks this says something not just about bookseller categories but about the Joycean nightmare that we all collectively inhabit and propagate.
That thing where you reread a book or rewatch a movie or relisten to a song from long ago, and it conjures a vivid and strangely melancholy memory of who you used to be, what you used to think, how you used to feel, and what you used to expect and anticipate from life.
Something struck me this morning: I can’t play the piano. I’ve been a musician for 41 years, but I still can’t play the piano. I can play a piano. But to play the transcendental Platonic form of “the piano” is probably permanently beyond me.
I've come to the realization that the books and movies I cherish most are ones that make an impact on my worldview, ones that somehow affect, enhance, and/or alter the way I see and understand the world, myself, other people, life, and the nature of reality. This explains a lot.
Thesis: Creative writers who engage with social media run the risk of squandering the intrinsic pleasure and energy that would otherwise fuel their work. The dopamine rush can be wasted. We should be addicted to our work, not to the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
This also applies to compulsively checking email, page/post views, Amazon and Goodreads reviews, and the whole gamut of digital distractions and addictions that are exquisitely calibrated to hijack our focus, sap our passion, and divert us from our actual work.
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