A bag of mixed nuts

You need to think of a word, a very strong one. As if time machines existed. But they cannot send entire people traveling through time, only their words. And only one word at a time, to your past or future self.

The word you need to think of should have this kind of weight. And allow for all the other words and ideas and pictograms and drawings and scribbles to attach to it, emerge from it, and grow from thereon forth. This is the word you need to write in the center of a blank sheet of paper, and draw a circle around it.

I think that’s how a „Mind map” is started. Popularised by Tony Buzan, or at least I learned it from a book of his. I’m not a fan of it, although spider diagrams do have their use cases. For example, it would be great for today’s blog post. Instead, I have to write a list (I committed this blog to text only):

  • More than a decade ago I saw an interview where Louis CK confessed that he has no idea what is funny and what isn’t. He said he needs a live audience to test his ideas. The audience is a vital part of his creation process.
  • Last week I read an article where David Sedaris said the same thing: he has no idea what works in his essays and what doesn’t. He also needs a live audience to test his ideas.

Okay, that was a rather short list. Good that I didn’t waste that sheet of paper.

„American author and humorist David Sedaris, author of books such as Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, says the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed him of a key part of his creative process: the laughter and feedback of a live audience. The pandemic has meant the author can’t use live audience reaction to hone his stories. »Let’s say I write something like eight or nine times,« said Sedaris, »I go on tour and I read it out loud and I think, Wow, that is actually not funny at all, or, Boy, that went over better than I thought!« Sedaris uses that live feedback — what audiences like and don’t like — to rewrite these unpublished stories as the tour progresses. When it ends, he sends the final versions to his editor. »And my editor will sometimes say: Oh, I think we can cut this — and I love being able to say that’s actually the biggest laugh in the entire essay.«” – quoted from CBC Radio, December 08, 2020

It’s exactly the same for me, live audience feedback is the key. Before I film a movement sequence I test it on myself, and on my students. This can be any group or number of students, online or in class, as long as they are real people. With real reactions. It’s not about laughs though; it’s about learning, insight, feeling better. I need to see that students benefit. Only then I dare to film and upload.

The way I read David Sedaris, in the end it’s not that different; people find their lives improved. At least that’s the way I see it.

Let me add more building blocks to my list:

  • „Although several of my stories had been Xeroxed and stapled, none of them had ever been published in the traditional sense of the word.” – David Sedaris, „Me Talk Pretty One Day”
  • „If you read an essay in Esquire and don’t like it, there could be something wrong with the essay. If it’s in The New Yorker, on the other hand, and you don’t like it, there’s something wrong with you.” – David Sedaris, „The Best Of Me”. David Sedaris knows how to pet and groom the hand that feeds him.
  • The New Yorker seemed to be a vital component in David Sedaris’s career. Being featured in The New Yorker means exposure to millions of eyes and hearts, creating momentum, finding audience. But it also is a step towards longterm financial security.

One more quote:

  • „To get better at writing you need to read more.” – David Sedaris, interviewed by Neil Pasricha on Youtube

I grew up on the countryside, a beautiful stretch of land in the west of Austria, sharing a border with the uber clean landscape of Switzerland. The place sits on the foot of a mountain, next to a lake. I was one of 2,600 people in my town, at that time. The state capital had 82,000 inhabitants, the next town less than 3,000 and so forth. It was not just countryside, but a place of industry and wealth. Back then there were many millionaires, which are now billionaires. These are the people who own most of the land, most of the buildings, sit in politics, and have a say in about anything that happens – or doesn’t happen – there.

It was a place where a whole lot of people practiced self-reliance, physically as well as spiritually. They didn’t like the trends that came from the big cities. They didn’t like foreign brands. Actually, they didn’t like foreigners altogether, or anyone that was not from their particular town. But then, they didn’t like their neighbours either. Very particular folks. Maybe it was part of their very strict, multi-layered, time-consuming trust-gaining process, because if you earned their trust and respect they were the most loyal and true friends you could think of.

They believed in hard work. In family, solitude in nature, and in drinking, and in going to church twice a year (Easter Sunday and/or Corpus Christi, Christmas Eve). Being able to speak the local accent of the particular town you were living in was vital to gain social respect. I never bothered. I preferred my accent-free, standard Austrian German I picked up on TV.

  • The last three paragraphs were actually just branches in this post’s missing „Mind map”, three points when transposed to a list.
  • They are just floating there, part of my flow of thoughts. Either to be used later, or enveloped, stamped, posted to a good Psychologist for further analysis. Untried by a live audience.

Here’s a genuine (albeit unproven) assertion of mine:

  • Movement is like language.

Here’s three last, loose quotes by the psycholinguists Frank Smith and educational researcher Stephen Krashen:

  • We improve writing through reading.
  • We improve speaking through reading.
  • We improve primary as well as secondary language acquisition through reading.

How do we improve movement then?

I think it’s time I started working on a movement sequence, on a read-able but also do-able movement inducing essay worthy of the The New Yorker. „Turn your head to the left, but your eyes to the right.” Could be a new genre. What you say?