one small thing
by Gerhard Richter
I’ve been traveling too much lately. Right now I’m pretty bad at maintaining my daily routine when I’m away from home—my sleep schedule gets messed up, I eat out and go to too many bars, I meet a flood of new people. When I travel I’m always reminded of how vast the world is, and I end up feeling like I’m not doing enough.
Thoughts that go through my head: should I learn about the creator economy, since I’m apparently part of the creator economy? Should I learn about NFTs? I order 15 things from Chewy every week and buy DTC human-grade dog food, should I learn more about that? All my friends can talk in-depth about the serotonin 2A receptor—am I ignorant because I can’t give you an on-the-spot explanation of how tryptamines work? Self-help seems overplayed—should I analyze tech companies instead? I’m curious about the world, and sometimes there seems no end to what I could be doing, what I could be researching, what my attention could be focused on.
When I’m overwhelmed by the range of possibilities, I try to remember that all I really have to do is to commit to one thing. You can get a million small things wrong, but as long as you get one meaningful thing right, you’ll be okay. But getting something right means staying engaged with it again and again over a long period of time.
I want to choose one small thing, and choose it fully. I’ve been thinking lately about how often what we call love is really pretty shallow. It’s often based off the feeling of a moment, a passionate sense of pleasure and rightness. But when the moment passes and we have a deeper knowledge of the thing we love, we’re discouraged. We’re looking for perfection—when we inevitably fail to find it, we turn away. But I think real love involves full acceptance of someone or something through its entire lifecycle.
One of my favorite lines about writing is Isabel Allende’s“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” Which I read as: prioritize engagement over mood, convenience, everything. I know showing up is all there is to it, and yet some days I’m like, jesus, I really don’t want to. I don’t know where this is going and I don’t know if it’s any good. But then we return to the point above: if I really claim to love writing, I have to stay meaningfully engaged with it. I have to choose to do one small thing again and again, instead of the thousands of other things I could be doing.
When I put it like that, I guess I’m talking about faith. After all, when I say that I know something is worth pursuing, I’m really just talking about instinct and intuition. There’s never any guarantee that what you put your time towards will yield an emotionally predictable result. Which is the fun and terror and dread of it, I guess: not knowing, but believing. Choosing as a result of your belief. Choosing over and over again.
What we feel the most can’t be articulated. I often ask myself why out of all the things in the world, this—why out of all the people in the world, you? But I know what I love, the one simple thing I choose to believe in. I still think that repetition that will save us when all else turns to dust.