The Third Something

006 / The Sleep Consultant

Robin Sloan asks a critical question for creators — what does it mean to love something on the internet today?

On Thursday morning, a strange salmon-coloured sheet of folded paper arrived in my mailbox.

Covering one side was a large postage sticker, printed with a customs declaration. I peered at the “detailed description of contents” and it read: “One-page work of fiction”.

I flipped it over to reveal the title: The Sleep Consultant by Robin Sloan.

This is a very Robin Sloan thing to do, but to understand why I need to tell you about Robin Sloan.

I first discovered Robin back in 2012 when I serendipitously stumbled upon a blog post he had written that took economic theory and applied it to creative work. It was called Stock and Flow and if you are an artist of any stripe making and publishing on the internet you have probably seen it already. If you haven’t, read it! It’s brilliant.

Soon after Robin released a tap-essay called Fish. Fish no longer exists (which, as you’ll see, is very Robin Sloan); but the message of Fish had a lasting impact on me.

It asked one simple question: on an internet where people ‘like’ things all the time, what does it mean to love something?

A photo of “Fish” by Robin Sloan on a phone screen © Robin Sloan

His answer: when we love something, we return to it. The book we re-read, the movie we watch over and over; the album we still return to years after hearing it for the first time - that’s love.

Tapping through Fish, I realised then and there that I wanted to make things that people love.

For me, that meant work that had taken me a long time, that was a creative risk, that was ultimately positive in nature - or at least, honest; and work that put serendipity, generosity and delight at the centre.

That all felt like it would be work worth coming back to, over and over.

It was because of Robin Sloan that I stopped trying to be snarky on Twitter and dedicated my time to making difficult videos about things I was fascinated about, one or two of which, I think people love.

Robin is now a successful novelist and has a weekly newsletter which deserves your time. Follow his writing and you will see a fascination with the intersection between analogue and digital, with a dusty bookshop in a dystopian future; with stumbled-upon “artefacts”, things that are real, get damaged, break, almost as if they are from the past and the future at the same time.

So a few weeks ago, Robin Sloan asked his readers if they would like to receive a new piece of fiction from him, in the mail. He had written and printed it himself, and would be mailing it out himself. But there were only limited copies and then it would not be available again. For this, he asked for just $1.89.

And that’s how The Sleep Consultant arrived in my letterbox this week.

I won’t tell you what the story is about, but I will say that waiting for something in the post, the contents of which you know nothing…the anticipation is worth the experience alone.

Adam Westbrook holding a copy of “The Sleep Consultant” by Robin Sloan

An artefact that feels like it’s from the past and the future at the same time, that’s available mysteriously and ephemerally and then it’s gone - that’s very Robin Sloan.

I’d love to try something similar with you guys one day. Maybe it could be a fun new way of sharing my ‘unsharable’ work?

Now: due to a mixup with the shipping (I thought my copy had gotten lost in the post and Robin kindly sent a new one for free!) I actually have two copies of The Sleep Consultant. This seems like a perfect opportunity to practice some serendipity and generosity and delight.

So! If you like the idea of receiving a mysterious piece of salmon-coloured card through your letterbox, labelled “One-page work of fiction” then reply to me right away with your postal address. I will forward my extra copy to you for free, wherever you are in the world.

Be quick, it is literally first come, only person served!

Not everything I make passes the test of being worth loving.

A video I produced for The New York Times on Monday and has been described in the days since as “brutal”, “savage” and “ruthless” by various people.

I don’t think it’s that it quite deserves those words (like, it could have been about 10x meaner) but you can make your own mind up! It was fun to make, at any rate.

Until another Sunday soon,

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