Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


When There's Nothing To Say

Napa Valley, California, USA

Fourth of July, 2014



"Think before you speak is criticism's motto; speak before you think, creation's." ... Edward Morgan Forster

This essay, When There's Nothing To Say, is the companion piece to Writer's Block.

It is also the eighth in a group of nine written on the Fourth Of July:
  1. Anticipation: Accounting For An American Love Affair
  2. Independence Day
  3. I'd Rather Be With Me
  4. Do It For Nothing
  5. The Only Way Out Is Through
  6. Under All Circumstances
  7. Word Power
  8. When There's Nothing To Say
in that order.

I am indebted to the ideas of Werner Erhard who inspired this conversation, and to George Swan who contributed material.




There are so many, many aspects to this ongoing experiment titled Conversations For Transformation making it what it is. Perhaps the one aspect which is paramount in shaping whatever it is these Conversations For Transformation call forth, is there's a commitment, a promise, an intention in place to publish a new conversation to the internet every Sunday night at midnight and every Wednesday night at midnight. Other than marking the times Conversations For Transformation are published, how does adhering to a twice a week schedule shape whatever it is Conversations For Transformation call forth? In other words, how does it give them their context?

Conversations For Transformation aren't created on a whim. They don't come from that kind of creativity. They aren't written then published to the internet whenever the mood strikes  (so to speak) ie whenever I feel  it. Even if the mood doesn't  strike, even if I don't  feel it, I'm committed to publish a new conversation to the internet every Sunday night at midnight and every Wednesday night at midnight. I've promised to publish a new conversation to the internet every Sunday night at midnight and every Wednesday night at midnight. I intend to publish a new conversation to the internet every Sunday night at midnight and every Wednesday night at midnight. That's what shapes them. That's what gives them their context.

<aside>

To be sure, there's nothing wrong  with creating on a whim. There's nothing wrong with being creative whenever the mood strikes ie whenever you feel it. There's also nothing wrong with Jack Kerouac-esque stream of consciousness  creativity.

These Conversations For Transformation however just don't exist in that order of things. They're an experiment in giving my word I'll be creative - that is to say they're an experiment in committed creativity, which includes the commitment to being creative on time. They're written and published intentionally twice a week in what you could say is scheduled creativity.

The question is: is it possible to be creative on schedule? Is it productive to schedule occasions for being creative? Indeed, is it even possible to deliver on any  promise to be creative?

So far, nine hundred and fifty one Conversations For Transformation later, what this experiment reveals is not only is it productive to schedule occasions for being creative, but that scheduled creativity may actually produce more creativity than "on a whim"  creativity, more creativity than "whenever I feel it"  creativity, more creativity than stream of consciousness creativity.

<un-aside>

The world of transformation is a vast, vast  world. For new Conversations For Transformation it seems unlikely there could ever not  be something to say - even if I publish a new conversation like this more than a hundred times a year. Yet creativity and inspiration being what they are, there are those times when my committed publishing time is mere hours away ... and I have nothing to say. In other words with a deadline staring me in the face, there's nothing leaping out grabbing me by the throat, demanding "Write me!".

Even against that disconcerting (and, given my commitment and my promise and my intention to be creative on time, unnerving) background, what I know with certainty is soon after midnight on Sunday and Wednesday, I'll have something new published to the internet - I just don't yet know what it'll be.

There's a platform I've gotten to own while being around Werner which I've come to trust implicitly (I'll get to it in a moment). Given this platform, the way to proceed when there's nothing to say, is to start writing even though there's nothing to say. That's right: start writing even though there's nothing to say. OK, what happens then? And well you may ask. But wait: I'll get to that.

As it turns out in this all too common scenario, having something to say is not  a prerequisite to start writing creatively - as counterintuitive as that may sound. Rather, the prerequisites to start writing creatively (and if not the prerequisites to start writing anything, then at least the prerequisites to start writing these Conversations For Transformation) are threefold: the commitment to write, the promise to write, and the intention to write. Anything more than that obfuscates being creative and creativity itself (if not misconstrues them entirely) given that real creativity is bringing forth something out of nothing.

This is the platform I've gotten to own while being around Werner: when I'm speaking, when I'm leading a week long technical seminar for example and I'm stuck for what to say next ie when I can't think of what to say, I open my mouth - just like that. Similarly when I'm typing, when I'm creating these Conversations For Transformation for example and I'm stuck for what to write next ie when I can't think of what to write, I flap my fingers at the keyboard - just like that. And notice to set up the point I'm about to make, I've now deliberately blurred the line between speaking and writing.

My point is this: I intend "When I'm speaking and I can't think of what to say, I open my mouth" to include  "When I'm typing and I can't think of what to write, I flap my fingers at the keyboard" - after all, both speaking and writing are expressions of languaging, yes? No, they're not identical. In fact it's critical  to keep them distinct. However in this conversation in which both speaking and writing are expressions of languaging, blurring the line between them is good enough for jazz  and actually makes the point more getable, which is: I intend "I open my mouth" (speaking) to include "I flap my fingers at the keyboard" (writing).

So:  when I'm speaking and I can't think of what to say, I open my mouth. Whatever falls out of my mouth  at that moment (and something always  falls out of my mouth when I open it, given who I am is my word in the matter)  is what I intend to say - I just hadn't realized it yet. Similarly: when I'm typing and I can't think of what to write, I open my mouth. Whatever falls out of my mouth at that moment (and something always falls out of my mouth when I open it, given who I am is my word in the matter) is what I intend to write - I just hadn't realized it yet.

On those occasions when I can't think of what to say, it's easy for me to discover what I intend to say: I listen to what I'm saying when I open my mouth and something falls out: what I'm saying is what I intend to say. On those occasions when I can't think of what to write, it's easy for me to discover what I intend to write: I read what I'm writing when I open my mouth and something falls out: clearly  what I'm writing is what I intend to write.

We all know this goes against the traditional approach which recommends thinking about what you're going to say before you say it. Instead it's an example of starting to speak even without knowing what you're going to say, and then listening as whatever you say reveals itself. This is definitely not what I was taught growing up in school. Growing up in school I was taught "Think before you speak" (who we are is our thinking). Instead this is "Speak before you think" (who we are is our word in the matter).



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