Escape Velocity is the concept in astrophysics (specifically, celestial dynamics) that refers to “the minimum speed needed for a free, non-propelled object to escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body…” I actually often think about writing long-form fiction the same way. After a while, you work up a “speed of writing” (word count per day) and a certain momentum. But dozens of projects will plateau early, run out of steam, and then languish on the vine and die. You lose interest in the characters or the story eventually meanders and you lose it. Every so often though, once in a blue moon, a project –its ideas, story, characters, setting– will have such enthusiasm behind it and possess an undeniable energy that it’ll escape the dreaded Orbit of Failure and escape to the promised land. This is when you’ve got something.
David Foster Wallace, Philip K. Dick, and many others have commented that when they were writing well, not only were the words flowing easily, but it was also as if they themselves were not originating those very words. This may sound mystical and far-fetched but there’s genuine debate on where ideas and inspiration come from. Are we, humans, really the source? Or is there a higher source simply channeling our bodies as mere vessels? Every era has had their own name of this theory– Socrates and Aristotle called them “creative muses” and Mozart and Beethoven called them “angels.”
My personal belief is that it’s a combination of both. I think higher powers existing makes sense. However, they’re necessary but not sufficient. As I’ve mentioned before, I firmly believe that you need to meet the Universe halfway. It means putting in the hundreds of hours, but it also means taking care of your physical body and spiritual self. Eating right, finding love, maintaining hobbies, and exercising. We can only be vessels of divine inspiration and receive when we are emotionally, physically, and spiritually ready.
Emoji Dick. Man, I don’t even know where to start with this. On one hand, it is certainly a grand testament to the power of human imagination and the aggregate efforts of crowdsourcing. Together, there is no obstacle too great, including Herman Melville, that we cannot surmount and overcome. On the other hand, it is rare I discover something I so genuinely, sincerely consider useless. Generally, I pride myself as an open-minded individual. I consider it a strength that I can usually find merit in just about any project, human, or argument.
But good lord. Emoji Dick– this one I really needed to stretch for– it’s a real reach.
I first discovered Emoji Dick on the a16z podcast hosted by Sonal Chokshi. (For what it’s worth, by the way, Chokshi is excellent. I curate my podcast playlist very carefully and have listened to many voices over the years. The way she thinks about “insight per minute” and information density is the absolute best. I really love listening to her interview and show run the a16z podcast.)
Anyway, emojis were something I had for the longest time never cared for. I’d considered them childish and was enormously snobbish about them. I consider myself “grammatically proper” and refuse to shop anywhere that doesn’t use “ten items or fewer” for its express checkout queue. So much to my surprise, there’s an entire hidden political war in the world of emojis. For example, as Chokshi raised in the episode– does Taiwan get an emoji flag? For China, that was a no-go and would have huge implications on the Unicode standard (for in which there is a Unicode Emoji Subcommittee). And were there sexist implications of the “woman emoji with bunny ears?” And how would each vendor (Microsoft, Google, Apple, LG, Samsung, etc) choose to implement those Unicode emoji standards on their own platforms? It was a fraught and twisted web.
So fast forward to now and I’m wholly onboard. The emoji ship has sailed. I’ve decided to take life much less seriously (especially after meeting Bagel). We only live this lifetime once… might as well use some emojis. 🚢👋🍰🚀