Move toward joy. Move toward light. Play, laugh, rejoice -- and if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed for any of this, tell them to kick rocks
Remember: creative genius isn't a function of suffering; it's a function of wonder and play.
You know that cliché, “a diamond is just a piece of coal that did well under pressure?” It’s bullshit.
It’s just complete bullshit. Not only is it incorrect on the level of metaphor—my main point today—it is also literally incorrect on the level of rocks. No amount of pressure will make a piece of coal into a diamond. None!!! Who came up with this nonsense!
The only thing that coal and diamonds have in common is A Big Carbon Mood. Coal has a lot of carbon in it; clear diamonds are basically pure carbon. But there is no relationship whatsoever between the two of them beyond that.
Coal is compressed, fossilized organic matter. It exists only because because plant life on Earth existed first. Diamonds, on the other hand, are a kind of geological titan. They’re super common in in outer space and have been around basically as long as anything non-gaseous in the universe has. (In fact, some astronomers think they might have been the first mineral of any kind to form after the Big Bang.)
The way diamonds form is brutal and straightforward: pure carbon + unfathomable heat. Stars barf them out all the time. Uranus and Neptune are probably full of them. As for the diamonds on Earth? They can only develop far, far below the Earth’s surface, much closer to the furnace of the Earth’s core than any coal deposit. Many of them arrived on meteors. And those that have been dated by scientists are generally far older than plant life and therefore (of course) any coal deposit in existence.
Don’t get me wrong: ain’t nothing wrong with coal.
It has a cool terrestrial vibe going on, whereas diamonds are kind of protean space aliens. My only point here is that coal and diamonds are completely different rocks who don’t even know each other, Denise.
Please—please, God—never utter or believe in that “diamond = piece of coal that did well under pressure” malarkey EVER AGAIN.
OK, OK, the geology is wrong — but surely the spirit behind the metaphor still applies? Don’t pressure, suffering, and grim endurance make us stronger, more valuable, and more glittery over time?
NO. NO. NO.
That is not how human brains or emotions work, and it is the opposite of how human creativity works.
Oh my God, I just want to throttle whatever Puritan patriarchal asshole came up with this entire bogus narrative cockblock. The only reason anyone would tell a lie like this is to to keep others from achieving their full potential and power. I’ll leave you to speculate on why.
Strength, growth, improvement, endurance, excellence, genius: NONE OF THESE THINGS REQUIRE PRESSURE OR SUFFERING. In fact, all of them are best cultivated in the exact opposite circumstances: relaxed, nourished, airy, improvisational, aimless, joyful, and free.
Ask any neuroscientist (as opposed to a Malcolm Gladwell, who, by the way, not that I have a vendetta or anything, has a BA in history from the University of Toronto but didn’t have the college grades to get into grad school): human beings learn, create, and innovate best through organic wonder, curiosity, and play. This is no less true for adults than it is for children.
If you are serious about becoming the best writer or artist you can be—actually serious about your work, not just impressing other people with how well you perform “grind culture,” the twenty-first century equivalent of phrenology—I want you to substitute the following rock metaphor for the pseudoscientific coal/diamonds BS:
Human beings have tenebrescent souls.
Do you see that little purpley-grey rock at the center of the bracelet I’m wearing today — the one right over my pulse point? It’s hackmanite, the cheapest among just a handful of tenebrescent minerals on this planet.
Tenebrescence, also known as “reversible photochromism,” is the phenomenon by which sunlight—or some other kind of short-wave UV light—temporarily changes the color of a mineral. (We are reaching the limits of my science knowledge here, but my understanding is that short-wave UV light temporarily changes the molecular structure of these things, causing them to absorb more visible light and therefore appear to darken or change color.)
I am too lazy to go stand outside with my bracelet for 20 minutes so you can get some sweet before and after pics, but if I did that, that hackmanite stone would darken significantly and turn a more vivid purple for a few hours before receding back to the color it is in that photo. It’s beautiful. And any time I want, I can bring it back into the sunlight (or a UV lamp) and bring the color out again. The only way to destroy a mineral’s tenebrescent properties is by overheating it — or grinding it to dust, I guess.
(Even more beautiful than hackmanite, IMO, is Greenlandic tugtupite, which turns from blah to flamingo pink in the sun. It’s also much more expensive than hackmanite. But I digress.)
I wear this bracelet, as unbearably twee as this is, to remind myself that I, too, am tenebrescent in my way — and PS, so are you.
We deepen in light.
We transform into our best and most beautiful selves not in some nightmarish pitch-black subterranean pressure cooker, but outdoors and free on a clear and sunny day.
Human creative genius comes and goes like the tides. That’s okay. Sunlight, play, and free air bring our best selves out, and then they slowly recede, because profundity is not anyone’s default state. It will come back when you bring yourself into the light again.
That is — it will come back unless you scorch your profundity with punishing heat or grind it away to nothing with pressure. Putting on the heat and “grinding it out” are how you destroy your creativity, not improve it. They’re how the things that make you special go away forever.
Forces outside of yourself might destroy your tenebrescence this way; if that applies to you, I am so, so sorry. But the good news is that these minerals, and you, are not that easy to destroy. They can and do spend millennia underground — not improving with pressure and time, mind you, but also not losing what makes them so special. The mere passage of time does zip to tenebrescence. It’s only a matter of when the light can get in.
You are tenebrescent. You were made to deepen in light. In joy. In humor, connection, and play.
You are not coal, a lump of dead organic matter whose lot is to be mined and burned up for someone else’s use. You are also not a diamond, a crystalline and unfeeling thing from deep space, coolly uninfluenced by natural life.
You are tenebrescent. OK? So run toward your light.
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