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#340: On Turning Down the Volume to Hear Your Own Voice, Meet my Co-Author, Scott, & Behind-The-Scenes Manic Sketchbook Process
Plus! Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell, the New Yorker Softball team VS. Paris Review, and Morris says "Hello!"
I hope you’ve had a tremendous week so far…
This past week a lot of readers reached out to ask where the idea for the book came from. Well, to answer that question, I shot a quick video with my co-author, Scott, to discuss that very genesis:
Thank you to all of you who ordered the book. I’m really happy with how it came out after years of working at the drawing board.
LIMITED OFFER: Become a paid subscriber for just $1.25 a week and I’ll send you a signed copy with a custom cartoon for free! (Offer expires June 30th, US/Canada only.)
The book is available in US/Canada only for now, but please drop me a line if you’re interested in getting a copy, and I’ll see what we can figure out!
My Guest Article is now out in Writer’s Digest!
Here is an excerpt below. (you can read the rest on their website.)
“You can’t really hear yourself until you’re
able to turn down the volume on everyone else.”
— Cal Newport
There’s something to be said for immersing yourself in the marketplace of ideas and being exposed to what your contemporaries are doing. There is, however, a very real danger that in doing so, you become the kind of creative individual that does more on-looking than creating.
This is a concept I’ve returned to again and again after various bouts of dipping my toe into the soggy morass of social media. I’ve never quite felt at ease using any free products wherein, due to their very free-ness, I become the product, and give away small chunks of my soul in the process.
The ability to yank yourself out of the endless slip-stream of ‘content’ and quietly explore your own ideas is one that should be cultivated above all else. That is, unless, you like the idea of mimicking everyone around you by osmosis and wondering why nobody is noticing your work.
As Cal Newport, author of Deep Work succinctly puts it,
“…we’re constantly connected to a humming online hive mind of takes and urgency and quantified influence. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told I was missing out because of my absence from this scrum. I needed to “build my brand,” or be exposed to more interesting people and important ideas, or plugged into the tick-tock of the big events of the day.”
Technologist Jaron Lanier also discusses this phenomenon in his long, seething essay on the modern music industry being devoid of imagination, courage, faith, or vitality. It is the result of everyone listening to, and echoing each other in the creative marketplace which has become a dearth of memorable, generation-defining art. In its place lies the scattered miasma of sonic copycats that become indistinguishable from one another. The dreaded “prevailing compositional fashions” loom to stifle innovation. You can see this same pattern in the writing of streaming series, hit singles, and superhero films that are tailored to an algorithm to ensure investor satisfaction and maximum virality.
Artists only languish when their primary drive is to merely strive to keep up with what their peers are doing. If they are only exposed to the contemporary trends of their art form, their ideas will reflect that limitation. But, this isn’t a new problem. As long as art has been created, it has been mimicked and iterated on to the detriment of true originality.
For example, in 1801, Ludwig van Beethoven was lamenting the fact that he was slowly going deaf. By 1800, his hearing was in full decline. He was 30 years old. Over the following years, he had to accept that there was no hope of remission and would have to live the rest of his life without the ability to properly hear a musical note. He told people that without sound, his life would be meaningless. But, what happened as a result, changed the world, and holds a lesson for us more than two centuries later.
By Age 46, Beethoven’s deafness was complete, so music only existed in his imagination. During that period, Beethoven was unable to hear the popular compositions of the day. Across the decades, while others were busy replicating each other with slight variations on the same themes, Beethoven was in his own mind, writing the music that he alone wanted to write. This ability to work in a creative silo culminated in his greatest work: his famous Ninth Symphony, which would define his unique style, change music permanently and make him one of the greatest composers of all time.
With that in mind, here are 5 of my best pieces of advice for turning down the volume to hear your own unique voice:
1. Become comfortable with Silence.
Becoming comfortable with silence is one of the hardest skills to cultivate in the modern world, but it is the most important. It’s made even harder with a seemingly infinite amount of ways to disturb the silence. We’ve become so used to cramming ‘content’ into our audio and visual senses at all waking moments that we’ve lost the capacity to just be.
Be honest with yourself; can you remember the last time you left your house without your earbuds? Or got in your car without turning on the radio or a podcast, an audiobook, music, or something else to fill the dead air?
It can be tempting during quiet moments to simply play some soft background music, or some white noise, or even a loop of a crackling fireplace or some rain, but it is essential that your mind benefits from the absence of any sound whatsoever.
Silence can become your best weapon against everything from creative challenges to procrastination. Like negative space in a room creates balance from clutter, silence in your mind creates a similar balance. A 2013 study published in the journal Brain, Structure, and Function has discovered that silence may even help us to grow new brain cells in the hippocampus.
Bonus points: Meditation is a good skill to master if you are avoiding silence because of your own intrusive thoughts.
Here are some behind-the-scenes snapshots of the above illustration for Writer’s Digest. You can see the maniacal process that led to the final concept.
Each week the New Yorker softball team meets at the softball diamond in Central Park and plays people who work at other magazines and media organizations based in New York. I am probably the least valuable member of the team, with the pitching arm of an old chair and the knees of a septuagenarian. That said, I do bring the beer…
Each week for this season I’ll give you a brief update on how the game went.
06/13: The New Yorker VS. Paris Review
Last week The New Yorker softball team was pitted against our longtime rivals at Paris Review. Despite having about a million people batting, we lost. Again. This is becoming a habit, and I take full responsibility.
That week’s MVP Johnny DiNapoli made Baseball Trading Cards of our players this last season. Here is mine…
06/20: The New Yorker VS. The Drift
Last night The New Yorker softball team was pitted against The Drift: a magazine of culture and politics… and incredible shoulder flexion.
At one point I was convinced their pitcher was Jason Bourne. This was a professional softball team masquerading as a magazine. There was a softball-shaped hole in our only bat, and that was only after the first inning.
Making matters worse was the fact that the Editor in Chief of the New Yorker, David Remnick, was the interim third base umpire, mainly throwing (light-hearted, ironic) shade at the opposing team’s far outsized abilities. It didn’t land well, if you catch The Drift.
We were mercifully relieved of the relentless slaughter by a small woman in a golf cart from the Central Park Conservancy, zooming between the dugouts on Fields 2 and 3, telling us to “Get the f_ck out, now!” because it was past 8 pm and they had to close the gates.
We pretended to be disappointed, took a team photo, high-fived the opposing
elite seal softball team, and shuffled out of the park amid the fireflies. It was a little unnerving that we lost so resoundingly that even our editor decided to switch teams and take the photo of the winning team.
If you’d like to come and cheer our motley crew one Tuesday night this summer, our Season for 2023 will be as follows:
05/30: New Yorker vs. WNYC 06/06: New Yorker vs. Rolling Stone 06/13: New Yorker vs. Paris Review 06/20: New Yorker vs. The Drift
06/27: New Yorker vs. New York Review of Books
07/11: New Yorker vs. Slate (@ Prospect Park)
07/17: New Yorker vs. New York Magazine (@ James J. Walker Park)
07/25: New Yorker vs. Eater
08/01: New Yorker vs. Vanity Fair
As always, thank you for being a subscriber and reading my very silly cartoons.
Crossed legs. Side Saddle.
Ready for treats.
If you enjoy my work, then there’s a fair chance you might like the people I enjoy too. Each week I will be sharing a new person who tickles my fancy.
One of my favourite New Yorker Cartoonist pals and fellow-Substackers is Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. It’s hard to sum it up in a paragraph, but her autobiographical cartoons are the epitome of an ‘authentic voice’. If I had the capacity to draw and write as prolifically as her I wouldn’t have so much trouble falling asleep at night… Reading her cartoons sometimes feels like someone drew the thoughts racing around my monkey brain into a comic.
She also happens to be a comedian— we have toured together in Pennsylvania, and done gigs and mics in the city; I’ve never seen someone take to stand-up so easily and quickly. It makes me so mad. I hope it makes you mad too. Go see her teach cartooning, do stand-up, or draw live at an event, or check out her cartoons on the New Yorker.
And her dog, Margie.