You know how a lion tamer keeps his deadly cat-beast from attacking just by holding up an old chair? The chair’s legs that confuse the lion; its brain detects four individual points in motion, and they can’t figure out which to focus on and kill. It’s the paralysis of perpetual distraction. (I learned this from watching Errol Morris’ Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control like a dozen times. You only need to watch it once to pick that up, but still, I recommend watching it and the rest of the Morris oeuvre like a dozen times.) Sometimes I feel a lot like that lion. This wouldn’t be so bad, except I also feel a lot like my own tamer.
The chairs I hold in my own face take many forms. Right now, I’m staring at the chair that is Firefox, its row of tabs presenting six effective legs. When I go home tonight, I’ll face my bookshelves, absolutely bristling with the distinctive legginess of yet-unread reading material. All the time I spend today thinking about the things I should be working on will feel just like being surrounded by chairs, all of different shapes and colors, their legs seeming to bend and spin unpredictably.
Surely you’ve been in similar psychological situations. Ultimately unpleasant, definitely, but damn, they’re kind of addictive, aren’t they? When something’s always there to distract you, you don’t really have to address anything in the short term. Why, you could call it an opiate; opiates are distractions almost by definition, I’d say. Perversely, the more I’ve got to do, the more distracting chair legs I desperately seek out. ("Oh, that thing that failed? Not my fault. I was really distracted.") Which is a hell of a danger when you, like me, are specifically into working on a bunch of different things at once.
Asking around the tubes for recommendations as to how to improve my nonexistent self-promotional skills — to, uh, make them exist — a noticed a certain theme in the replies:
- You probably don't want to narrow your
interests, but I think if you want to market yourself you need to get
yourself more narrowly identified, and then pound the public with that
- You seem like an interesting guy, but I don't
know how I would describe you to my friends: he's a
urator? If you could only talk about or do one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Pick it then concentrate on that.
- If I were you, I'd
find a common thread among my projects and unify them, build my brand by
creating reliably new content in one outlet.
- If you
want to move into some kind of work for these things, you gotta pick one
area you want to move into, and work on promoting that. Are you gonna
be a writer about film, or a musician or what?
- Not to
say that you can't do a million goofy side projects, but pick the area
you want to be the go-to guy for and put the lion's share of your energy
into that. Otherwise you're trying to build several different careers
at once, or in Seth Godin language, you'll have an unfocused and muddy
- It seems to me that you are essentially
a critic, working in a variety of media, as well as a sometimes
filmmaker/DJ/producer of field recordings. That's not a laser beam
focus, sure, but it's not as scattered as you make it out to be. I guess
my advice is: present yourself cohesively.
- Become known for one of these things, let the rest follow.
Yet these suggestions are also quite helpful, because they point to a strategy I hadn’t thought about before. Despite having gone on and on about the importance of thinking in terms of the “thin end of the wedge” in getting yourself to work on stuff, I’ve never applied the same principle to self-promotion. This is promising: don’t be a laser, be a wedge. Become known for something very specific, but make that the thin end you use to hammer the rest of what B.S. Johnson would have vividly called your "enormous totality" into the public consciousness.
While this would unfortunately constitute insufficiently immediate recognition of my status as a Gen-Y unique snowflake, I suspect it has some application. The trick, if you’re so inclined, is to figure out what specific thing you do makes the best most penetrating tip of the wedge. Someone suggested that I might make a go of “cultural tastemaker.” That still feels a little itchy compared to “cultural stuff-maker,” but if I can make it work, I will branch out to “self-help author” by writing an awful book entitled What Tips Your Wedge?