Saturday, January 8, 2011

Vacuous Mumbling

For myself and a few others I know (for them and I), originality is a pursuit above all others, a goal to be reached, a success beyond measure. Synthesizing, creating, weaving together new ideas is our craving. It is, ultimately, our downfall, as we analyze ourselves and analyze our work and realize that everything we do is ultimately derivative of something, leading to a personal dissatisfaction and an unnecessary negative self-esteem feedback loop. "Why?" we ask ourselves, why can't we write like Melville, paint like Van Gogh, play music like Barry Manilow? Why can't we develop entirely new things, like they did? Why can't we revolutionize our field of creativity like them? Ultimately the secret, the things we forget to tell ourselves, the part of life that we ignore is that none of these artists were original themselves. No artist is. No person is. We are the sum of our experience, the output of our own lives. We are kaleidoscopes, twisting and repurposing everything we take in as our creative source. The concept of "the starving artist" or the "tortured soul" of an artist stem from an understanding of our kaleidoscopean natures. If we as people experience suffering or loss in an emotionally profound way, our art reflects the profundity of our emotions likewise. If we as people do not suffer, if we do not have any real depth of emotion to draw upon, our art demonstrates a lack of depth. It's not to say that tragedy (or bliss) is a necessary component of a good artist. What is to say is that emotions are a necessary component of good art. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the art.

Culture, specifically modern American culture, creates the drive for originality that plagues us, and to a larger extent plagues my entire generation. Originality is a marketing hook, a way to sell a product. Buy these shoes and express your individuality. Wear this hat, you'll be the most original on the block. Dang. I'm having trouble focusing on writing this, so It's about to get a bit looser.

Despite this common perception, however, culture (at least, pop culture, the culture sold on television) is a reflection of society and the individuals in that society. No one would try to sell originality if no one wanted originality. While there is certainly a large streak of people who want originality because they're told that people should want originality, the source (the egg) of the problem ultimately comes from people (rather, artists) themselves. Why would we become so driven by this concept? What changed between now and say, 100 years ago? Technology did. More people are yet again exposed to more art in more places than ever before. We preserve art in such vast quantities that it becomes impossible to honestly say "I've never heard of that" of anything in any field. The sheer amount of data is overwhelming and intimidating and ultimately the source of this anxiety. A thousand, even hundred years ago, the only music you heard was music made in the few places you could afford to travel. The only books you read (assuming you could read) were the ones that your local rich man or clergy or (if you were very lucky and lived near one) place of learning happened to possess. Ideas that were inimical to any of those sources were often kept hidden and relatively inaccessible. The only paintings you saw were again the ones in wealthy hands or in church. It was entirely possible to be original because every existing idea in the world wasn't more or less available to you for whatever purpose. As human beings are constantly driven towards novelty and invention, being shackled with the knowledge of every idea and being unable to develop anything new is a legitimate psychic fear. Who are we as people if we are simply re-iterating previous paths? How do we reconcile ourselves as having worth if all that we create is obsolete upon creation. It's no mistake that we're driven towards "consumerism" and defining ourselves by what we buy, because what we buy is one of the few things we have left to ourselves as expression. At least I can buy different things from everyone else, if I can't draw something different than all of them.

Have you ever visited tvtropes? Odds are, yes. It's a website with a reputation for addicting explorations in the categorization of "tropes" or themes represented in fiction. It's a great read, because it inspires a lot of the sort of knowing "aha!" that comes from making connections between works. Ultimately, though, it is damaging to our collective artistic psyches, because it emphasizes the salient point that nothing you come up with will ever have its own individual tv trope. Your creative output will be measured and analyzed and slotted into the website as an amalgam of all that has come before. Here, too, are the tools to unnecessarily analyze your own work even as you attempt to create it. May you never live free from your own insecurity. This is the reality we live in today; an endless spiral of feelings of inadequacy inspired by nothing larger or more significant than our own brains.

The only way artists will escape the whirlpool is through a tacit ability to ignore your self when creating art. To escape the need to innovate by escaping one's own mind. It's an attitude, ultimately. It's a state of mind that is wholly focused upon the creation and not even partially on the creator. The state of mind is often referred to as "being inspired" or "inspiration." Some people never feel this a single moment of their lives. Others are so frequently inspired that they're locked up in a facility for fear of them doing harm to themselves or others. It is yet another component of creating art, and one that has become all the more vital with the conscious brain achieving such greater heights in insecurity. Other than that, the only option is to either become so sheltered that every idea becomes innovative to you, or to be intellectually uncurious, so that the exploration of other's ideas becomes uninteresting and ultimately is avoided. There are other options, but none that escape the insecurity entirely. Some artists embrace the insecurity and self-deprecate to the point of absurdity, essentially becoming depressing vacuums of depression that are suspicious in that they've yet to simply kill themselves because they are clearly not happy and in the attitude they're in, they only promulgate further unhappiness by continuing to exist. It is to the point where you wonder whether or not they're sincere in their self-deprecation and why they continue to put themselves forth before the public if they really have that bad an attitude of themselves. Never believe and actor who claims they can't stand themselves, because there they are, in the limelight, on the big screen, pretending to be other people only so they can be seen. Certainly, they are other people, but in reality, it's still them, and so much them that they are recording them and showing them to everyone they can. Even further, don't listen to the people who claim to be honest and that their honesty somehow makes them that much better than those other guys who don't tell you that they're just selling a product. They're still selling a product, they're just smiling sweetly and informing you that their dick is in your ass while they screw you.

Well, ultimately I've come to the point in this essay where my internal voice insists that I balance it out by saying "I could be wrong. Maybe no one cares about originality but me. Maybe originality is actually sold by marketers and is not particularly prevalent in the populace. Maybe I'm just obsessive about this and the "human drive for novelty" is something that I and other obsessives created to feel good about ourselves. Maybe people in the past had just as much access to ideas, either through simple neighbors or just word of mouth proliferation. Maybe inspiration doesn't exist, and maybe art doesn't need emotions of particular depth to express something. I don't know. And ultimately it's because I don't know that I write. I'm trying to describe what I feel like a situation is. I'm trying to express a point of view. Ultimately, every part of my point of view could be wrong, but it still exists. Arguing against it does not destroy the viewpoint and will probably not change the viewpoint.

That is my method of evading my constant internal stream of argument. That is the only way I evade the stings of realizing that nothing I believe is founded in reality. I believe in the inherent worth and existence of every viewpoint, and I disregard claims of their disfactuality by emphasizing the inherent worth of every viewpoint as being interesting and relevant to the environment the viewpoint came from.

I can't really think of where to go from here, and I just read my last sentence and it seems pretty incoherent, so I'm going to stop. Baring the internal processes of my writing has more to do with me attempting to give my writing relevance by hoping that they help you, the reader, relate to me, the author, or at least me, the author at the present time I'm writing this. Hopefully that makes the work readable and relatable on some scale beyond the simple (extraneous, multisyllabic, imaginary) words in it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Dao of Jake

I'm feeling restless tonight, so I'm going to write up some self-affirming, biased "aphorisms" or possibly "moral standards" or maybe a "coda." To emulate the rather annoying trend of people using the word Dao literally (see: The Daos of Wu and Pooh), I'll call it the Dao of Jake, incidentally my name on twitter. (thetaoofjake)

These are things that I try and often fail to live by, and not necessarily things that have worked or will always work or will work for you. Ultimately it's yet another of my ongoing attempts at self-description, of understanding how and why I function while still functioning.

  1. The first step in being able to do anything is to believe that you can do anything. The moment you tell yourself "I cannot do this" is the moment you are not able to do this. This is not to say that you can actually do anything. That would be impossible. But you can do nothing if you do not believe you can. Do not listen to those who would tell you that you cannot do something because until you try, you don't know and neither do they. Remember, until you prove otherwise, I can fly and shoot lasers from my eyes.
  2. Don't be afraid of what other people think of you. People are always going to dislike you no matter what you do. Literally. There is no legitimate way to get everyone to like you if they actually know anything about you. There are simply too many people to reasonably manage an entirely successful public image. So many politicians and celebrities have tried, but all it takes is one person who can't stand either to ruin it for them. So accept it. Embrace it, and do whatever you feel is best without the fear of what other people might think is best. Inhibition is just society's way of trying to control you, but you know the secret, society is just a perception of reality independent of actual people. Remember: the people who think you're an asshole or a weirdo or a nut are not the sort of people you would want to hang out with anyway and if you meet enough people, you're certain to find plenty that support you in every aspect simply because you're you.
  3. Everything is transitory. This is the "this too shall pass" line. Nothing is permanent. It's not a reason for concern, but a cause for celebration! All sorrow, all hurt, all wounds do heal over time. Or they don't because people nurse them and feed them and turn them into purposes for existence. Letting go (see: detachment) is the most important part of transcending pain or sadness. It really is no coincidence that the "wise holy words" of nearly every popular religion happen to mention this. It's the point and focus of Buddhism, which takes it to a bit of an extreme. It's mentioned a few times in the Judeo-Christian bible. It's sort of mentioned in a somewhat indirect way (the direct way follows) in the Dao De Jing. I tend to summarize it in "sooner or later we're all going to be dead. There's no point in wasting time on that sort of thing anyway."
  4. Don't take anything personally. Nothing is really personal anyway, because no one else can really understand you (cue linkin park) because their perceptual reality is entirely different than yours. Ten times out of ten, when someone insults you or insults something you cherish, it's more out of a reaction to something that bothered them than an actual assessment of your character. To take it to an absurdist extent, when someone calls you a motherfucker, they really don't mean that you go out and fuck mothers. They're just using terms that the disembodied "society" point of view labels as "vulgar" and "crude" in an attempt to irk your societal appreciation portion of your brain. (no, I refuse to mention Freud) If they're yelling it at you, then they're also trying to irk the threat elimination portion of your brain and cause you to back down and flee or escalate into a conflict which they hope they'll win. Again, they don't actually think you're a motherfucker. And this applies to everything, even stuff that sounds like legitimate criticism. The key to this entire section is detachment. In order to successfully avoid falling into the trap of reacting on instinct, you need to approach a situation from a non-emotional level. Emotions are great and fantastic and a big portion of being human, but in many cases they cripple people's ability to work together effectively and harmoniously. Detaching in these situations is the difference between, for example, thinking of an entire population of people versus a few people. Morally, or specifically socio-morally, detachment occupies a weird oscillating viewpoint of either being bad or good depending on the event, the time of day, the economic climate, whatever. Often detachment is viewed as a negative approach to life and considered being essentially inhuman. Robots are often presented in movies and novels as being essentially monsters for lacking compassion or remorse or a sense of horror that society tends to assume would strike the average person. Characters in fiction are rather often presented with a choice between who lives or dies; a loved one and, say, an entire planet. The heroes always (e-mail me with exceptions, I'll read/view them) choose the particular survival of the few or the one over the greater whole or the many. It's an essentially selfish choice based primarily on emotions, but the hero is always lauded for his strong moral compass and his ability to choose what's most important (themselves) and incidentally they manage to save everyone else too. A detached, rational analysis would posit that given the choice of the two with no likely alternative and no guarantee that you're living a Hollywood movie, the logical answer (and honestly, the legitimately moral answer) would be to sacrifice that which is important to you so that others can live and have things that are important to them. Sometimes, the opposite is presented, as a character can prove his/her moral triumph through sacrificing themselves so that others may succeed, but never are the characters asked to sacrifice someone they love or, say, their family. (again, exceptions emailed to thejakeman16ATgmailDOTcom) So overall, it's a fuzzy space to be in. It's really one of those things that will make people either love you or hate you, which ties back in with the not caring what other people think of you. Personally, I don't think that detachment necessarily entails a lack of compassion. I just think it means that at the moment in time when you are detached, you are letting your (brain) pre-frontal lobe think things through rather than letting your (heart) hypothalamus think things through. If you are truly compassionate, your brain will consider that first, without having to go through the emotional turmoil where you feel sorrow and remorse and anger and fear wracking your brain and insisting on a choice that may not actually be compassionate or at least considerate. Of course if you're already a dick, your brain will be working out how to benefit from a situation with or without emotions. It really depends on where your loyalties lie and not on whether you're detaching from your emotions.
  5. Love everyone. Everyone else is a living being, something that is so rare and so extraordinary that somehow we ended up with a staggering number of us and it's now considered mundane. Some crazy underwear-on-the-outside stuff when you think about it. Each of these living people has their own perspective, too. They're all out there, experiencing a version of the world that you will never experience yourself because you are too busy experiencing your own version of reality that no one else can share. Sometimes this concept is considered tragic and ultimately dividing and separating us all in our own little words so that no one can truly understand us (cue: linkin park and heavy doses of neon genesis evangelion), but that ignores the reality of the situation and places reality in a WIIFM ("what's in it for me?" thank you Ms. Merlin and DECA marketing) situation. What's really important here is that there are this many other people and they do have entirely different experiences and worldviews and this is amazing and you should love them all merely because they exist and are so different and are unable to understand us. Marvel at the concept of culture and the idea that despite ostensibly the same language being spoken between you and another English speaker, each word means something different to them. It's a crazy and poorly-understood-and-often-overlooked facet of life. Wasting your time hating or disregarding or ignoring these other points of view is the real tragedy here.
  6. No one is wrong. Factually, someone can be wrong. A person can be demonstrated to be wrong about certain things, like the claim "the earth is flat" by being sailed around the world going more or less one direction and shown that the earth is in fact a globe. However, most people don't have that point of reference because they've never experienced for themselves whether or not the earth is a globe. All they know is that a lot of people say that the earth is a globe, so they take it on faith that the earth is a globe. Even having sailed around the world does not grant a person the knowledge that the earth will always be a globe. Because reality is entirely unpredictable, perhaps the earth becomes flat for a fraction of a fraction of a smaller fraction of a second every year without anyone noticing. Perhaps the earth is physically a globe, but behaves in two-dimensional space as a cube for some inexplicable reason. There really is no logical way to disprove these claims. In fact, there is no logical way to disprove anything. All people really go on is faith, either in their own experiences, or in other people's assertions of reality. And that's everything. Even the concept of the words I'm supposedly typing on a computer is entirely subjective to my own assumption that I'm experiencing this and not, in fact, dreaming it or imagining it or simply a mindless automaton trained to believe that I'm expressing myself but I'm actually slaving away for Big Government/Corporation/Boss. I cannot say for certain any of these experiences are real. There's a popular Phil 101 concept wherein the universe was created last Thursday, with everyone suddenly having all of the memories and ideas and belongings that they assume they always had and there's no way to disprove it, which should also prove that it's pretty much pointless to take any further philosophy classes. I'm a practical man and the practical application of this isn't to despair at the entire uncertainty of existence, but to apply it to the appreciation of differences in existence from one person to the next. It is entirely true, for example, for a devout man in Kabul that Allah is the lord and the only lord and he insists upon the rules that he gave to his prophet Mohammed, just as much as it is true for me to believe that all of us are a part (specifically, tiny reflections) of a greater being that is comprised of the entire universe and the source of all things. There is no real way to logically disprove either of us, and our views are entirely contradictory, but neither of us is wrong, because our perceptions, our very versions of reality are different. Extend this to every other belief (which is everything) and you should understand.
  7. Rules are made by people. This one is a tad less philosophical and much more practical. We live in a world full of rules. We actually live in a world full of exponentially increasing rules, because rules have become pretty popular these days. I saw a news report on some new device that will allow parents who purchase a new Ford set limits not only on the speed their teens can drive the car, but on the specific Sirius radio stations they can listen to. Honestly, horrifying, but followed by a report on new rules for teens to earn a full license, which is literally a license to follow more rules. Also I keep misspelling license "liscense" because I can't spell. (Secretly I'm not literate either. I just read magazines and porn novels.) Rules are actually important, though, because they define reality and give it a sense of legitimate predictability. Rules are enforced upon children in hopes of instilling some sense of discipline or moral values on them by granting the universe a sense of legitimate consequence for being a little jerkface. It doesn't matter that the consequences are totally unrelated (take candy from your brother and you'll be made to stand in the corner for five minutes), what matters is instilling the vague sense that reality itself (id est: your parents) will punish your transgression. All of this is an amazing sort of abstraction created by people to obscure the ultimate truth that people are making the rules. Ignore the man behind the green curtain, focus only on the razzle-dazzle of applied karma. It doesn't matter that the consequences are usually out of whack with the actual actions (Anyone feel like rolling on E for 30 years of imprisonment? Maybe you can get caught three times and be put away for life in California), what matters is that reality is defined and controlled. The practical application of this knowledge is (surprise) not anarchy, but understanding that talking to the right person and not being afraid of the rules goes a lot farther towards getting you through "the system." A lot of the time, it won't work. There are probably a thousand people who are totally bought into "the system" for every one reasonable person. What's important, though, is that you don't give up on something just because the rules say you can't do it, which hopefully ties back to my first point and wraps this damn thing up.

I'm not perfect (though I believe the first step towards being perfect is believing that you can be) and these might not be the best things to do for you (though in my version of reality, they totally are). I don't always follow them and they don't always work for me, but I think just defining and describing them says something more about me (I'm pretty egocentric) than before, and I hope they way you react or interpret what I said helps you understand a little more about yourself.

Happy New Year.

Damn. I should write a self-help book. Watch the fuck out, The Power.