"I write this not for the many but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other."
Serendipity. It's a funny old thing. You'll be going about your days and then something wonderful strikes you. An idea, a discovery, a realisation. You look back at that moment and think, "Man, life would have been poorer had that not happened." The good kind of sliding doors.
Serendipity has struck two times in the past couple of months.
The timing was perfect. This delicate punt of ideas from one person to another landed in my lap at precisely the right time. I had started putting my site together after many (many!) years of false starts and procrastination. I was in need of a boost to upload the thing and actually start writing. I had been feeling particularly lonely and disenchanted. Channeling Sivers, I thought "Hell, yeah!" and joined.
It turned out to be a good move. The little community of other people who also joined up - brought together on Marc's Slack group - are remarkably amiable and like-minded. We share many interests and seem more similar in our outlooks than not. Warm, friendly, open-minded; there are so many positive adjectives that can describe the people of this community. It takes me back to the early days of the web, where you almost felt like you knew everyone, and everyone was doing something interesting; when it all seemed so much more calm, humble, considered, and innocent.
The stark contrast, of course, is modern Twitter and other social networks which feel more like a narcissistic grind than a pleasure. Everyone frantically shouting, desperate for attention.
I still read blogs which have a hint of the community of old, but, since comments died a death, it has not felt the same. The people once joined by blogs and a few high-quality mailing lists seem to connect more via conference and Twitter these days. Those of us who are not fortunate enough to be able to attend conferences, who are too poor on time and geographical positioning to be able to attend meetups, and who are not important enough to be noticed on Twitter, can end up feeling a little excluded. Unless you're doing something amazing, you're nothing. Or so it feels. So there's a scramble to be amazing, to make a name, to be loud. Most of us aren't amazing. Most of us are pretty average. It would be paradoxical if most of us were not average. The result is a helluva lot of noisy average and it's difficult to know what is good.
The egalitarian promise of the web has faded a little in my mind. If you want or need to connect with other like-minded people, the internet now seems one of the more challenging places to do that. It's an environment for the digital extrovert to shine, and the introverts among us to wither.
But it still surprises. It surprises me the way in which it surprises. Giles's quiet newsletter of offbeat links leads to a quiet little project consisting of quiet, yet enthusiastic, souls connecting and sharing. We share good posts and experimental posts. We share the arcane and the broad. We share personal stories and interesting links. We talk. We commune.
When you stop, listen, and look up, the average becomes amazing. It's a wonderful thing.
The second moment of serendipity was just yesterday. I commented on a quote in Marc's latest post.
You only need an audience of one to make an impact.
That's a profound statement. And it's true.
In response to my comment, he shared another quote; the one from Epicurus at the top of this post.
Although I had heard of Epicurus I didn't know much about him or his philosophies. So I looked him up. The first thing I looked at was this five-minute video.
We think happiness comes from sex, money, and luxury. But it doesn't. I have known this for a long time now. You probably know it too, deep down.
Instead, Epicurus suggests these three things will yield happiness:
- Have friends and be in contact with them regularly.
- Slow down and do work that has meaning to you.
- Be calm. Spend time alone. Read. Write. Meditate.
So, hang on a minute. Wasn't I just saying how I miss the web of old where you knew people and called them friends; where the work and communication had real meaning and wasn't just shallow braying; and weren't we all more calm and thoughtful? Wasn't I just saying how Marc's writing community has these very qualities that Epicurus extols? Granted, I've probably caught a bad bout of nostalgia here, but still.
The philosophies of Epicurus seem aligned with what so many of us are seeking right now: the interest in writing, in mediation, in exercise; the frustration with social media; the baring of souls in search of something better, and the hope of delivering something valuable, even if only to an audience of one.
So this discovery of Epicurus comes at a time when it resonates deeply. Serendipity. It confirms things I have felt but not articulated properly before. I still feel there are many avenues to explore and questions to be answered, but it feels like a weight has been lifted.
Happiness lies not in being amazing but in quiet contemplation, as my Dad would say. It lies in a small number of friends and family. In sharing. In being humble. In working hard on things that matter. It took confirmation from a philosopher struggling with exactly the same issues over 2,000 years ago to feel at ease with this idea. It also took a great bunch of folk sharing their words on the internet with each other in a quiet, humble, vulnerable way. It's been a communion. Epicurus would, I think, be pleased.
This post is probably my last of the 30DWC. I'm happy with how it has gone. I have written nine posts including this one. Not the towering achievement of some, but a small triumph for me personally. Perhaps more importantly, I've uploaded my site and made it live, which is something I've not been able to accomplish despite nearly 20 years of trying, and despite it being a deeply important thing for me to do. I always was a late bloomer.
My hope is that I'll be able to continue. In true Stoic fashion, I have to expect the worst and assume something terrible will happen and, well, that'll be the end of it. But for now I can bask in a spell of true satisfaction and, indeed, happiness. I have achieved something and it feels good.
Cheers, 30DWC crew. I salute you.