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Ben Werdmuller

Open morning pages: starting a new routine

5 min read

There's an artist's technique called morning pages, where you clear your head every morning by writing three pages of free-associative text. It doesn't matter what you write down - wherever you go is where your head wanted to go. I've found it a valuable technique, but finding a quiet, safe space to take out a notebook is sometimes hard.

There's a service that lets you do this online called 750words.com - but I'm all about what product developers call "eating your own dogfood". Use the product you've built yourself for the purpose it was intended. We've built this great tool for self-reflection, so this is the first post on my free-associative 750 words a day Known site. (I'm keeping it separate from my main site at werd.io because I don't want to feel the pressure to write about technology or my business. I just want to write.)

I think I'll up the ante a little bit by also posting a selfie wherever I am every day. So here I am in my open-face kitchen. You're welcome.

I've been thinking a lot about music lately. There are a few bands I viscerally dislike, and I've been trying to figure out why: bands like U2 and Coldplay. It's easy to dismiss them as corporate blandwave, which is of course their musical genre, but there's something more primal to it. On the other end of the spectrum, I really like the Moldy Peaches, a band whose only album mostly consists of one-take songs. The phone rings in the middle of one, and somehow this is additive. I mean, it's sloppy, but the sloppiness becomes part of the package, and makes it feel real (because it is real). The heart is on show, whereas in Coldplay, and U2 and a thousand other big-label bands it's been forced away from the surface by production. And unlike pop, which is also produced within an inch of its life, it's not up-front about what it is. It's pretending to be rock music.

I feel that way about lots of things. My friend Owen coined the word "blandwave" years ago, specifically to describe Coldplay, and I think it's a great term for middle-of-the-road culture as a whole. Mainstream culture was created to sell us things - we're easier to market to if we're all part of a monolithic demographic. But that's not what we are as human beings, and to break us up into demographic averages is to erase our individuality, and gloss over the amazing cultural diversity we see across people. Homogeneity is inherently uninteresting.

I really object to the homogeneity we see in software interfaces (uh oh, I'm talking about technology again) - I'm not sure I want to see a blandwave web. It's not awesome to see over a billion Facebook profiles that, at their core, all look the same. That doesn't represent us as people, and it falls far short of what a network of everyone on earth should look like. Designers were not amused, but I really liked the glitter amateurness of Geocities and MySpace pages. It's okay that they didn't look perfect - in fact, it's better that way. It's more human. Granted, it's a much harder problem to empower people to own their own spaces (really own them, visually and structurally as well as legally) when everything is an app, because the web is far more personal. Nonetheless, a bunch of very well-off twentysomethings in Menlo Park shouldn't be the ones who get to decide how the world conveys themselves and communicates with each other.

I like it when people take risks with what they make. I feel the same way about cooking: I think it's far more interesting to use the kitchen as a kind of experimental lab than to intricately follow instructions set out in some recipe. I mean, sometimes that's important too, but I think mostly to help you learn the base skills that let you experiment more freely.

Of course, going wild in the kitchen, or on the web, or in your art (or all three) requires that you either have people who are receptive to your experimentation, or that you have a finely honed sense of not caring what other people think. Maybe it's a little bit of both: you need to have people around you that will be supportive (or, okay, let's bring this home: I need people around me who will be supportive) and you need to not dilute your intention in order to try and appeal to a wide audience. If it's interesting, and you want it, the wide audience can come later.

And I think that comes to the meat of what I really think: being perfect is far less important than being interesting.

This has been refreshing. More tomorrow, then.