31 July 2014

On Iteration, Reiteration, and Trying Again

aesthetic fauna | NYC
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
Most people of my generation have been hearing this quotation all their lives. Most of us have accepted it without resistance, repeated it without much forethought.

After again witnessing this assertion rear up in a conversation recently, I felt uncomfortable at the prospect of trusting in it, an instinctive refusal to repeat it. Why? Because, isn't this what all creative people do every day? Take any creative endeavor, or, really, any endeavor. Writing. Photography. Baking. Tomato cultivation. Race car driving. Competitive cycling. Whether it's a physical muscle or a creative one we're flexing, in most ventures we must practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Until we're nearly broken, until we all but give up.

Before we become conscious enough to know where to improve, we learn by rote. Mechanical repetition. If we truly believed that we were insane for trying again and again, we'd never become masters of anything, admit defeat before the magic even had a chance at happening. It's not until the repetition becomes automatic, the same mistake is made several times, that the remarkable happens; we intuitively know where to change. This, my friends, is where we find sweetness. Self-reliance. Confidence. Happiness.

I'm tired of hearing insanity defined so certainly and applied inappropriately to everyday situations. The statement's origin is unknown, but its earliest mention is in 1981, in Narcotics Anonymous' self-titled text, for, you know, recovering narcotic addicts. It undoubtedly has a purpose, in the context of recovery, but I'm pretty sure they didn't mean for the phrase to appertain to the general population, to everyday pursuits, or to a collective understanding of the word insanity.

Insanity is not trying. It's fear of undertaking, fear of failure, and, ultimately, fear of fear itself. It is crippling. It is the opposite of trying again.

Unless what you're doing is perilous to your safety or health, try again. And again. And again. And again and again and again. And should someone imply that you are insane or that you should cease and desist, you keep going.



p.s. Did you know that, in most cases, the word reiterate is completely redundant? Iterate means to repeat, so unless you're talking about a repetition of a repetition (which iterate kind of covers anyway), you can drop the -re.

+1 for the grammar nerds!