25. Passive income for the soul

Enough is enough, part 2

In 1999 the two most significant things that happened in my life were watching Fight Club and hearing Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun for the first time. My life was a little different back then.

For those who don’t know, Sigur Rós is an Icelandic band that sounds a bit like whales singing over an orchestra played by a computer. Which is to say, totally awesome. Thom Yorke name-dropped Ágætis byrjun when discussing the change in Radiohead’s sound between OK Computer and Kid A. And since Radiohead was and is my favourite band of all time, this album took on a holy shine. I listened to it a lot.

Fight Club is a hasn’t-aged-well movie by David Fincher starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt’s abs. It’s based on a really-hasn’t-aged-well-at-all book by Chuck Palahniuk, which now reads like an incel training manual. It was my favourite movie at the time and continued to be for years and years, battling it out in a kind of mutant death match with the (far superior) (oh god so much better) (how was this even a question) In the Mood for Love.

Anyway, without going into too much detail there’s a scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt’s character, a kind of MMA Jesus called Tyler Durden, is taking Ed Norton’s character, a nameless schlub who, it turns out, is also Tyler Durden, through a tutorial on how to make soap from human fat. And before you can say “homoerotic much”? Brad’s placing a thick, sloppy kiss on Ed’s hand, then dumping lye all over it, causing, in Brad’s listless drawl, a “chemical burn”.

Ed thrashes around on the floor as one might in this situation, and Brad tells him he needs to experience and endure this pain because all life is pain or something or other. It’s been awhile since I watched it. But the next part I remember perfectly - when Ed says he gets it, Brad looks at him and says, ever so slowly, “No, what you’re feeling is premature enlightenment.”

It’s possible I’ve been feeling that. And it feels great.

We need passive income for the soul.

For those who don’t know, passive income is a term for money you make without actively working for it. Investments are a form of passive income. I once met a guy who had made millions with a website where people uploaded Flash games. To anyone under 35 that probably sounds like bullshit, but I swear this was once a thing you could do. The appeal of passive income is obvious - you fill up your bank account without any direct effort.

Now think about your mental wellbeing, or overall satisfaction, as a vault like in a bank. Some things put stuff into the vault, and some things take stuff out of it. Keeping your soul satisfied can’t be your full-time job. It can’t be something you have to work at all the time. Because then you’d be emptying out the vault as fast as you fill it up.

This is where passive income comes in.

Soul-based passive income is when something you do requires little to no effort but delivers a lot of satisfaction. And that requires two things:

  • repetition

  • an absence of goals

As some of you know because I wouldn’t shut up about it, before less precedented times kicked in I bought an iPad and started drawing. This differed from all previous attempts at drawing in two fundamental ways (I already just said them). One, the iPad gave me the license to do the same thing over and over again. (No paper! No guilt!) Two, I had no goals whatsoever in what kind of drawing I’d do, or level of draughtsmanship I’d achieve.

As any twelve year-old trying to nail a kickflip will tell you, repetition is how you get better at something. But normally the reason for all that repetition is to achieve a goal. So whut up wit dat?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ve tried a lot of things because you had some kind of result you wanted to achieve. And, if you’re anything like me, that was always why you stopped.

My life has followed a predictable pattern. I start doing a thing. Then, either when I realise I’m not “naturally” good at it or don’t reach the level I want to reach, I quit. My life has also involved a lot of therapy.

As I outlined two weeks ago, this global pandemic knocked me out of that loop. Maybe because there aren’t a lot of alternatives to just carrying on. Or maybe I’m high on my own supply. But I think it’s the absence of goals that’s given me an infinite capacity for repetition.

Behold! The field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and thou shalt see that it is barren. 

This lack of defined ambition has allowed me to do a thing over and over again until, at some arbitrary point, I become satisfied with my skill level. And then, and here is where this rather long newsletter FINALLY comes together, then when I do that thing I can just do it with nary a thought because I am certain of a satisfactory outcome.

It’s as close to passive as you can get and still be involved.

To continue with the awful economic analogy from before, this diversifies your portfolio. I now have several forms of passive income: writing, drawing, cooking, exercising, photography. Doing any of these things pays immediate dividends into my mind vault, stocking up the treasury for days when the world decides to go fully pear-shaped (or just my sense of the world).

Is this enlightenment? Some kind of Zen transcendence? I don’t know. It probably isn’t. Who cares!

So, to recap. Take a thing you like doing and do that thing a lot without a specific goal. Through repetition gain a certain mastery of it, allowing you to do the thing to a level that provides you with consistent satisfaction. (Thing!)

Passive income for the soul.™️


Wonderfully translated into Arabic.