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4 Stupid Ways To Have A Better 2022
“You can't get a suit of armour and a rubber chicken just like that. You have to plan ahead.” - Michael Palin
Hello! This is Everything Is Amazing, a newsletter that stupidly dares to ask “if I stare at my own reflection long enough, will I lose my mind?”
I hope you’ve had a recuperative holiday break. I’m a little late in getting rolling here, thanks to what was either the worst head-cold I’ve had in years or The Virus Whose Name We Shall Not Utter. (I tested negative throughout, but - who knows?)
Either way, I’m currently on the mend. Hope you’re OK there too.
I’m embarrassingly late in saying it, but thank you to Mary Trump for using a quote of mine about the importance of curiosity as a discussion prompt in her newsletter, The Good In Us. Being extremely English, it’s taken me this long to recover from the compliment. This cartoon more or less explains why.
And employing this as a masterful segue, let’s turn to today’s topic, which is about another thing we Brits excel at. I think it’s one of the greatest and most inspiring traits in our national character. It’s the very, very best of who we are, what we do and what we’re capable of achieving in this life.
Yes, I’m talking about what colossal idiots we are.
I’m a big fan of stupidity.
No, not the aggressive, self-righteous kind that makes no effort to consider the welfare of others - I think we’ve had quite enough of that stuff over the last few years - but the silly, playful variety that’s always looking for a wry angle, even on the serious issues. The kind that can wake a room up, in almost entirely the good way. The kind that makes folk laugh, then sticks in their memory in a way nothing else does. The kind that can finally make people think.
But of course it’s about perspective. To anyone employing this kind of stupidity, they’re not being “stupid” - they’re just having fun, enjoying flexing their social imagination (it takes a decent amount of empathic curiosity to make someone else laugh) and maybe trying to make an important point without being an insufferable jerk about it.
This version of “stupid” therefore becomes what other folk call anyone doing something unusual, original, strange or surprising. (Another word for this is maybe “Art.”)
This especially applies if the confused observer can’t see the point of all that silliness. Why would you make a total fool of yourself in this manner? Well - aren’t we all fools already? And hey, we’re suddenly paying attention to this thing now, right? How interesting! And hey - why the hell not?
(If your explanation for pursuing some creative endeavour has ever been Well, why not? - then you are magnificently stupid and I admire you endlessly for it.)
I’m a big fan of this flavour of foolishness, and I think it can make the world better, or at least more bearable. And it can do wonders for your curiosity - which is another way of saying it makes the world more bearable.
With that in mind, here are four suggestions for how you can gently, constructively enstupid your 2022. Please proceed with just the right amount of idiotic recklessness.
1. Make A Stupid List
When lockdowns started back in 2020, a lot of people - many with good intentions in mind - leapt onto social media and started saying things like:
There’s no excuse now to put off writing The Great [insert your country here] Novel. If you don’t do it, maybe your problem all along wasn’t a lack of time? Just saying!
Ready to get in the best shape of your LIFE people? #jazzercize #shakeweight
I’m going to bake every scene in Tiger King and sell it on the blockchain. What are YOU doing? #crush2020
Today, something of a follow-up trend is emerging:
You can certainly yell at these people! That’s always an option.
But far more satisfying is beating them at their own game without exerting any effort whatsoever.
This is actually a rehash of something I wrote on my blog a decade ago. It proved so popular that someone even turned it into a poster. And it is, of course, immensely foolish. I’m a fool for writing it.
But here’s the thing I’ve recently realised: life is mostly stuff like this. Most of our days are filled with these tiny, silly, seemingly inconsequential moments, so they’re most of the hand we have to play with - and, in an absurdly low-grade sort of way, they’re satisfying, even fun. They land us in the present, they engage all our senses, and for one delicious moment, they make us pay closer attention to things we normally overlook. What’s not to love?
So, please: make your own stupid, stupid list of amazingly achievable things. Make it fatuously easy and supremely doable.
That’ll show ‘em.
2. Be Stupidly Enthusiastic
Every year for the last decade, Brendan Leonard reposts this essay at Semi-Rad. And every year, it’s needed more than ever:
“In 2022, I urge you to notice when something is awesome, as it often is, and exclaim or murmur or just make a mental note of it. Isn’t it just goddamn fantastic that you have your health, for example? Or running water, or electricity? Or that you have enough money to actually pay someone else to make you a cup of coffee? Or if you want ice cream, you are at any time in America probably only 5 or 10 minutes away from a place that sells some form of it? (Trust me on that one.)”
Enthusiasm, though, looks stupid. It’s cool to be cynical and aloof and blasé and disinterested, and it’s deeply, shamefully dorky to be enthusiastic. One just doesn’t, darling.
The problem here is how quickly this attitude corrupts your ability to appreciate other people’s joy and eventually your own, creating a feedback loop that makes everyone feel terrible:
So, bollocks to that way of thinking. Please, go forth and nerd out, freely and loudly without shame or self-recrimination. Lots of people will think you’re being stupid. They’re absolutely correct - and they’re missing an important point about enjoying life properly.
Best of luck to them.
3. Stupify Your Tech
A few years ago, I went walking with my friend Al in the hills adjoining the North York Moors. We were fighting through thick snow, with more on the way - but Al wasn’t worried, because he was carrying a Totally Crap Phone.
I on the other hand was furnished with a Samsung Galaxy something-or-other: at the time, the most advanced & expensive phone I’d ever owned. It could do everything. I showed Al a number of amazing things it could do, and he was impressed.
“You must be worried it doesn’t get damaged in all this damp.”
Around 12 hours into our 26-hour ordeal - sorry, ‘adventure’ - my phone ran out of power while I was trying to update Facebook using zero bars of signal (because, dying battery). Al was building a fire at the time. He saw my frustration, laughed, and pulled out his Nokia 3310.
“I only charged it yesterday. The battery will last for at least a week. And look - 3 bars!”
Later we stretched out our sleeping bags and slept in the snow, and my burning resentment kept me warm all night.
This isn’t a mean-spirited story about bitterness, though - it’s also about jealousy. I was actually jealous of Al’s piece-of-crap phone. I was jealous that it could still do something. Worse still, it could still do the most important thing we could possibly need, aka. call for help if anything went dramatically wrong.
This adventure taught me a number of important lessons.
First: always carry an external battery pack for your smartphone so you can keep bragging about it without power-related interruptions.
Second: it’s too easy these days to use tech in the way it’s already designed, instead of deciding in advance what we need,and then seeking out tech that does that job in a manner that feels most satisfying to us.
This is a complicated idea, and something of an offshoot of this well-made point:
In Al’s case, he does a lot of mountain-climbing and he knows his way around a paper map, so the best mobile technology for him is something that lets him ring people, never runs out of power, and is tough enough to survive anything short of an asteroid impact. As the famous meme says, the Nokia 3310 is a perfect fit on all counts.
It is also a ‘cheap,’ ‘worthless’ piece of ‘garbage’ that only stupid people would be seen using in public.
If you use one, you’ll embarrass the hell out of everyone you know. Some may even stop speaking to you. Ugh. What’s wrong with you? Where’s your DeLorean parked? The Eighties just called and they don’t want you either.
At this point you could casually mention the battery life, or how much your phone cost when you got it on eBay, but really, its biggest benefit isn’t about either of these things (and they still won’t get it). It’s actually about creative constraints. The less your tech allows you to do, the more creative and curious you’re going to behave in order to wring the results you want out of it - which is the exact reverse of what’s happening with Google Search questions right now.
What’s the absolute minimum tech you need to get an interesting thing done this year?
Hey, maybe it’d be fun to test those limits and find out.
Further Reading: writer David Charles has some interesting thoughts on ‘Minimum Viable Technology’ here.
4. Stupidly Waste Time Outdoors
It must have been really hard being a writer in the olden days. Just think of it: you’d been at your desk for hours (writing by hand, ye gods) and you needed to stretch your legs, so you flung open the front door, took a great gulp of fresh air, bellowed something like “BY JOVE, THIS IS JUST THE TICKET!” and set off down the road at a brisk trot.
Then after five minutes you got bored, so you pulled your phone out, popped your headphones in and listened to Spotify, iTunes or Audible.
I mean - what did they do back then, without all our favourite apps? How could they walk for hours without going utterly mad with boredom?
Dickens was from childhood an avid, even compulsive, walker. He once wrote. "I think I must be the descendant, at no great distance, of some irreclaimable tramp." Scarcely a day went by that Dickens didn't flee his desk and take to the streets of London and its suburbs. He routinely walked as many as 20 miles a day, and once set out at 2 a.m. to walk from his house in London to his country residence in Gad's Hill, Kent, 30 miles away. As several of his walking companions described it, he had a distinctive "swinging" gait. And, like many a serious runner of today, he "made a practice of increasing his speed when ascending a hill," according to his friend Marcus Stone.
- “Frisky As The Dickens,” Merrell Noden, Sports Illustrated.
What they did, of course, was nothing. Nothing but walking along, letting their thoughts drift or be triggered by whatever they encountered - which, these days, we tend to call “doing nothing.”
This sounds like heresy in today’s productivity-obsessed world. It sounds like privilege. Who on earth can afford to take half an hour out of their day just to do nothing? Rich people, that’s who! And idiots. (And idiotic rich people.)
Unfortunately, all the evidence says that the idiots are onto something. A 2014 study by researchers at Stanford found a wealth of evidence that walking improves creativity. Going for a walk helps you work better when you’re supposed to be working. And of course there are around eleventy billion articles out there about famous writers, thinkers, artists etc. who all went for long walks to bolster their brilliance (I’m sure you’ve read a few of them). You could also read books by Annie Murphy Paul, Jenny Odell, Florence Williams or Antonia Malchik on the mindboggling value of “just” going for a walk.
But here’s another reason, and I hope you’ll think it’s a bit stupid.
The best reason to go for a walk is so you can hang out with one of the most important people in your life: yourself.
No, really. This isn’t staggering narcissism. How often do you really, really think stuff through? When do you ever have the time - or give yourself the time - to do that? How often do you stop reacting to everything and just sit with what’s already in your head, turning it over and over to find new ways to look at it?
“How do you listen to yourself? We have all these thoughts going around, and most of us just distract ourselves from all of that, because it's noisy and messy and confused and full of emotion. But can we allow ourselves just to sit with it? And really pay attention to ourselves?…
If we're losing that ability to not interrupt ourselves, how can we give that to our work?”
So I reckon this nothingness is a good thing to occasionally schedule into your day. Occasionally, mind. (Sometimes I just want to listen to a podcast while absent-mindedly blundering into potholes or shrieking my way down unforeseen railway embankments. Nobody’s taking those joys away from me without a fight.)
But I reckon the walking bit is important (or any kind of physical activity), because it’ll excite your body and get your blood pumping around, and since your mind is part of your body it’ll also get worked up, yet have nothing to feed on except itself. Allow it to get to work on things that have been quietly bugging you for ages. Let interesting insights bubble up, as they always seem to do when you’re doing nothing much at all.
Let it all happen, and don’t let anything else get in the way.
Wasting time is for idiots. I honestly can’t recommend it to you enough.
Happy new year!