Obligation

January 6, 2017 ➳ Word of the day

Is it ironic that I’m moving my words to Medium a day after their announcement that there’s a crack in the foundation? I’m more of a renter than a buyer anyway. I’m not staking a financial future on these words. I’ve showed up thanks to good old-fashioned Obligation. This is the first word of the day.

My friend (and personal DJ) Ben has challenged his tribe to scribe with regularity. I’m signed up, but I’m nervous. I’m not particularly skilled at the “Are you there blog, it’s me V” literary format. I generally produce words in exchange for money:

That kind of thing. I make a living conveying other peoples’ ideas; it’s been a while since I’ve decoded my own.

One problem is my need for a system to propel my writing. A clump around which to form the nacre. When I worked for Yelp it was the stupid pun I included in each review. But the gimmick worked and I wrote a review every single day. Yes, this was technically (and medically) Too Much Yelping, but the daily sweat was exhilarating. Some nights after my head hit my pillow my eyes would spring open again.

I still need to write a review. It’s 11:37pm. There’s time.

Squeezing through fatigue and resistance, I would scribble, pump out a dumb pun, push send, and go back to sleep. It sucked sometimes, but I did it every single day.

It wasn’t that I was inherently more creative in those days. I was obligated be more creative. My job was to write or perish. And after a while, my writing got better. (Who knew?) When obligation is harnessed to form a habit, the results can be remarkable.

But who wants to hear that? I’d rather tell myself that I haven’t yet: found the right software, or meditated enough, or assembled the right nootropic stack, or committed the precise ascetic act of throwing my iPhone in a fishbowl full of bleach, or any other kind of take-two-and-call-me-in-the-morning treatment. As though “one simple trick” could unleash creativity the way nasal spray liberates a sinus cavity.

What motivates is obligation. The word is from Latin: ob + ligare meaning “to bind.” It’s not enough to want to do a thing, we must feel as though we have to. We must, as Ben has pointed out, “Tie ourselves to the masts.”

The knot is tied. As an aficionado of systems and words, my system shall be just that. A word of the day. My goal is daily, and my obligation is weekly. I feel successful having started, and I’ll be happier having never found the end.