dance like somebody’s watching

You want advice? I’ll give you some advice. Get out there and upgrade those Zoom pants. (Assuming you’re wearing pants at all.) Let’s not kid ourselves: all our standards are sagging under the weight of months of lockdown. Time to shore them up! You’ll feel better and you’ll be more productive to boot.

Sure, this situation feels interminable, but it will terminate. Not every aspect of our current mess, of course—some battles are just beginning—but the coronavirus part, that is going to come to a definite conclusion. (Thank you in advance, scientists. Sorry about, well, a large portion of humanity. Forgive them—they know not what they do.) One day, months or years from now, someone will knock on your door with a vaccine (and, presumably, a Bill Gates mind-control chip) to welcome you back into post-COVID society.

When that blessed day arrives, do you want to come to the door as a dapper, composed Dr. Livingstone? Or do you want them to find you like Colonel Kurtz, lying on the floor, sweaty and monologuing? The other day, I realized that puttering around the house in my ragged PJ pants wasn’t doing my mental health any good. “The horror…” So I ordered a couple of pairs of the Wirecutter’s pick for lounge pants. Not all that formal, of course, but it’s black tie by comparison. Today, I feel like a new man. I may even start wearing shoes again. For important calls, anyway.

It’s the little things, folks. Long before coronavirus struck, Gay Talese made a practice of donning a suit before heading to the basement to write. Doesn’t matter if anyone else sees you. Acting like a pro has a way of putting you in a professional mindset, especially when all the external markers of your vocation go away. (Editors and agents can’t even do lunch anymore!) Without constraints, we must create our own frame or risk turning into a puddle of mumbling mush à la Marlon.

In a larger sense, I’m talking about maintaining yarak, “a falconry term meaning when your falcon is superalert, hungry, but not weak, and ready to hunt,” according to Patagonia’s founder (and avid falconer) Yvon Chouinard. Or, as the world’s second-most-interesting man liked to say: “Stay thirsty, my friends.” Creators need that edge. We can’t afford to get too comfortable. It’s the grain of sand in the oyster that forms the pearl.

They always tell graduates to dance like nobody’s watching. That is terrible advice. This is what it looks like when you dance like nobody’s watching. I suggest dancing—or writing, painting, composing, whatever it is you do—like somebody is watching you very, very closely. Stand up straight. Brush those crumbs off your shirt. Get that finger out of your nose. You’re a human being and, more important, an artist—are you going to let a little global pandemic rob you of your work ethic, let alone your hygiene? If you find it impossible to stay civilized without an audience, then get yourself one. It’s easier than ever. Throw up a Twitch stream and broadcast your writing sessions to the world. Why not? It’s not just for gamers anymore.

p.s. Some rare footage of Yvon Chouinard and his favorite falcon.

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