There is a collection of colour coded books sitting in an attractive line across my desk at home. It is as much a personal piece of artwork as it is a storage solution for a small apartment in a busy city. Always on display and usually the first feature noticed when visitors walk in. But it is not for them, it is for me. I like them arranged that way. In an era where we can put our opinion out into the world in a short second; where our professional advancement is something to be liked and commented on; where our identities are performed online for others as much as for ourselves; our interests and growth are now a public act as much as a private one. Whether it is in front of 300 followers or 3 million is not important. What is important is to hold on to the small choices we can make – as insignificant as the arrangement of a bookshelf – for only ourselves. Everyday rebellions in a world that values self-promotion. But this, of course, is much bigger than books.
As our lives are increasingly public, the room for others to influence what it means to be us, is only looming larger. When we seek validation and approval, we also open ourselves up for scrutiny, and we are consequently forced to play out our lives navigated by the algorithm of what others like and dislike. This impacts some more than others. And with this as our rudder, we dance down the dangerous territory of losing ourselves, but the antidote is here. It lies in the advice of American dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham. Her style, which soon became known as the Graham technique, reshaped American dance forever, and there is a paragraph from her biography that influences many others, including the author Zadie Smith. Smith revisits it often before she writes, but it does not just translate from dancer to writer. It translates to everyday life as well. “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique,” Graham said. “And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
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