For the last few months, paring down my possessions has been on my mind. I've always liked having stuff, and I've always carried a lot of things with me in life. But lately, the sheen seems to be dying away on some of my collecting habits and I actually catch myself thinking to myself, "Maybe that... or that... or that... I don't need it anymore."
A few weeks ago, I went through loads of old documents I'd been carrying with me and I shredded loads of them, saving only the things I thought I might need in the future. I had bought a loveseat a few months ago, but it filled my space too much and I sold it this weekend, not thinking to replace it with anything. I've found myself looking at certain "collectables" and wondering why I've collected them. What insecurity led me to think these Funko Pop figurines? When will I ever watch these DVDs? When was the last time I looked through these hockey cards? It's a classic list of male-collector stuff.
However, to be honest, these aren't the things that really cause clutter. Most of these collections are sorta' packed away in one way or another. The Funko Pops and DVDs are in drawers; the hockey cards, coin collections, and stuff like that are in bins; the CDs and records are on dedicated shelves; the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 are in bins, waiting for a time when they can have their own dedicated space. These collections, the classic things that would be "easiest" to get rid of, aren't causing the mayhem in my life. And I really enjoy having them in my life for now (except for the Funko Pops. I feel like I really gave in to a consumerist craze to pick those up. I think... I think they need to go.)
My lack of desire to throw things away was a tension in my marriage. I didn't think we had too much stuff, but my ex thought we did. It was a constant battle between us in regards to the messes that would appear in the house, since most of the "stuff" could be linked to me. And I still think back on many of the things we disposed of with a little pain in my heart, mainly because I felt I often had to re-buy the item later on, usually at a lower quality. However, this was largely a matter of the circumstances of how we were raised: she moved around constantly in her childhood, so she got used to disposing of things; I spent the first two decades of my life in the same house, so I expected to put something somewhere and return to it in a couple years if it was useful. It made it so we both looked at the same types of objects with different eyes. And as we moved from house to house, many of those objects never found a tidy place. I still carry some of them with me, and still they haven't found a tidy place.
There are odds and ends, things that I acquired with the intent to use them, but they never found a place: a small television antennae, for example, or my heavy duty rain gear, which I haven't used since I moved into an apartment. There's the seasonal stuff that sometimes goes without use for a season or two: a basketball I bought when I coached basketball in my first year of teaching, for instance, or maybe my squash and tennis racquets. There are things that simply won't be used as long as I live in a rented apartment: decorations for the walls that haven't been mounted since our first house, for example. And all the odds and ends that a junk drawer can handle. Chances are a lot of these things could disappear without me hurting too much for it.
The most discouraging clutter is the stuff that I love, but it doesn't have a space to "belong:" the darkroom equipment, the musical instruments, the tools. These collections of objects are things that bring joy to my life, but in my one-bedroom apartment set up for a family of three, they might as well be clutter. One day, I might have a hobby room for them to belong in, but for now they live in easily accessible, yet cluttery corners of the house: my bass tends to sit beside the stereo; there's an accordion beside a bookshelf; the cameras sit in a tote bins on the makeshift pseudo-pantry shelf. What I'm saying is, the things I love the most, since I want them available, and since they don't have a space of their own, are the things that cause the most untidiness in my living space. What's up with that? What makes that fair?
The zeal to clean up our lives has Capitalist consequences. Some people can make loads of cash off of our desire our simplify our lives. This article describes a television show that capitalizes on it, and programs like Hoarders use shame and disgust to make people feel like they have too much stuff.
But sometimes minimalism, no matter what the gurus tell you, no matter what the meditation apps and Instagram-ready aspirations tell you, is more a product of your class than your state of mind. If you can afford to store all your stuff in the places where they would belong, if you can afford to rebuy things down the line, if you can afford to upsize and downsize as you need to, then you can be happy.
Now that I think of it, though, it's a matter of the space you have. I look at all the "stuff" I have right now and I realize that, if I had a typical three-bedroom place for a three-person family, my home would look barren. I have three people's worth of stuff in a one-bedroom space, and I don't have a storage locker for tools and nicknacks. And I won't be able to afford higher rent any time soon. So I need to come to peace with a bit of the chaos that I already have.
I don't have an aspirationally-friendly home: my bed sits in the living room and there's a wall of Rubbermaid totes. But for me, well, it works.
At the same time, though, there's certainly some junk that can just... go. Maybe even today.
There are no "could've beens." There were choices we could have made differently, but nothing could've been that didn't happen.
I get caught-up in could've beens quite often. In high school, I wanted to go into photography. I took business and entrepreneurship classes hoping some of it would rub off on me. I imagined I could go to BCIT or some technical school and learn the ropes. I thought similar things about working in radio and broadcasting. But when I graduated, the prospect of working for myself genuinely scared me out of it. I felt incompetent and unwanted and just wanted a job that someone would pay me at. So I defaulted to teaching. I'm ok with teaching, but it's hard not to fall into could've beens about photography and whatnot.
On a similar note, I entered into marriage when I wasn't ready. I felt nervous about it, but I also felt nervous about not doing it. I made the choice to get married since I knew I'd have reservations and regrets either way. I trusted the wrong intuitions. And as much as I imagine what could've been with that relationship and the thousands of choices I could've made differently within and without it, it doesn't matter. That alternate timeline is just one of thousands of possible fictions, mere fantasies in my imagination. Sure, I could've made different choices, but who knows what those choices would've led to.
Could've beens exist in a false narrative, in the stories we tell about our own lives, in the myths that help us make sense of our decisions. We make a choice and imagine, or project our hopes onto that decision. When we think in could've beens, we project our current mindset to a person in the past and create a myth that the person we are today matches with the people we were in the past.
I only have one true narrative, the one that contains the choices I made. And I am the result of those choices. I might imagine that I could have become the person I am now without those experiences, but that's not true.
There is no 20/20 hindsight for an alternate story, because that story doesn't exist. I can lament the choices I made in regards to my career or relationships, but only so far as the choice itself. After that choice, the timeline never started. Only one timeline started, and that's the only timeline worthy of my reflection.
There's a funny thing about some of the sadder portions of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four. While O'Brien tortures Winston, he says,
Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes:
In this context, O'Brien gaslights Smith into believing something he does not perceive. But the gaslighting hangs on a truth: that our heads' perception is the only perspective thhat constructs our reality.
I would like to break out of the "could've been" thinking cycle. I've tried counselling and therapy, religion and art, learning and activity, but I still seem to sink into the pattern. I imagine the pattern's preponderance in my thinking stems from a deep dissatisfaction with my current way of life, despite my numerous blessings and good things.
As I write this, I get the feeling that it comes down to gratitude. I need to practice gratitude for my good life, for the things I have, for the things I've learned, and even the obtuse way I've learned those things.
A basic self-improvement meme that's nonetheless pertinent:
I don't know what to do with this one. I listen to and read self-improvement content, I've finished a Master's in Leadership, and I still don't know what to do. I'm 37 and filled with the same angst that I sustained in my early 20s. What to do?
I've lived in fear for a lot of my life: I was afraid to take time off from school to try to make music because I was afraid that I couldn't find a job; it took me until I was 28 years old or so to finally let go of the religious faith that held me in fear for years and years; I never pursued music because I was afraid that nobody wanted to hear it and that I'd humiliate myself; I let fear of hurting people get in the way of different relationships and experiences that most people in those early 20s do; I let a fear of being taken advantage of keep me from entrepreneurship and setting off on my own; I let a fear of failure keep me from teaching ESL overseas; I let a fear of being alone lead me to choose to get married before I felt ready; I let a fear of divorce and whatnot hold me in the relationship when I probably-maybe should have just realized it was done. Essentially, I've let fear keep me in my comfort zone for practically every major decision I've made so far.
I have numerous classic fears: I fear losing my friendships or good standing with people; I fear disappointing my kids and parents; I fear breaking out of being an employee; I fear that I will lose my relationships with my kids; I fear that if I try something new I will lose my means of sustenance; I fear that I will humiliate myself in front of people and make my life even more isolated than it already is.
I have done things in the past in order to get out of my comfort zone: I took time off from university in order to go on Katimavik back in 2000; I moved to Hope BC for my first teaching job, which was still way out of my comfort zone, even if it was also a natural progression; I married a woman who was distinctly out of my comfort zone because I loved her and because I enjoyed how she pushed me out of my comfort zone; I moved out of the comfy house in Hope for a few years of transience with my family, which even included a year in Egypt; I tried out alternative relationships and activities within my marriage, even when I wasn't comfortable with them. So it's not like I have always stayed in my comfort zone. It's just that, right now, despite those decisions and steps out of my comfort zone, I feel like I have nothing to show for it for me. My kids seem happy, and that should be all that matters, but I'm still unsatisfied.
Right now, I'm rather reluctantly living in my comfort zone. I'm still in the midst of the divorce-separation process, so I can't really fiddle with things that would mess with my finances. But the angst is getting stronger and stronger. The comfort zone is getting less and less comfortable.
But I don't have a goal to get out of the comfort zone. I don't know which way to step. I don't know what to do next. And I'm afraid to take any chances to do it.
Let's take things on a small scale: last Saturday night, after my gig, I took Rosita for a walk in Harrison. I passed by some women heading to the only bar-ish thing in town. I thought, I could get out of my comfort zone and practice all these self-improvement things I've been told to do, I could actually go try to engage with new people, as if I'm worth something and as if people might think I'm worth engaging with. I am enough. I thought so much about it that I didn't go. I went to bed instead.
There's a degree of self-training that's led to this sort of thing, a degree of comfort with cognitive dissonance that I had to acquire in order to hold on to my religious faith for so long when I had so much trouble really believing it. When I was faced with a reality that didn't mesh with my faith, I always found a workaround. University's social program exacerbated that ability to achieve cognitive dissonance: if I was told something that didn't seem to match the reality I perceived around me, I'd find ways to justify it despite everything. I became a master of bending ideas and reality to make them fit... until I couldn't see myself at all. It was like being wrapped in cellophane, layer by layer, until the clear image beneath was just a silver-grey cocoon. And I felt kind-of safe in that cocoon.
Partly, it was a matter of misplaced persistence, motivated by trying to stay in my comfort zone. In Alfie Kohn's The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Kohn derides the way we can misplace our persistence in relation to the popularization of "Grit" in parenting and education. Kohn writes,
Just as the effects of displaying unqualified grit may not always be optimal, the motives for doing so raise important psychological questions. What matters isn't just how long one persists, or at what, but why one does so. Do I remain at a soul-sucking job because of a realistic concern that I won't be hired anywhere else? Or is it because I'm loath to admit defeat or afraid of being thought a failure? Do I continue trying to master French cooking or golf (in the absence of evidence that I have any gift for it) because I have a passion for the activity? Or does my persistence reflect an inability to change course, a compulsive conviction that one must always finish anything one starts? (The fear that I'd be labeled a quitter may not be unrealistic if a strong social norm supports persisting no matter what). An accumulation of declarations that "grit is good" may help to create and reinforce just such a norm, thereby contributing to unhealthy reasons for persisting.
I felt that if I "persisted no matter what" in marriage, schooling, and religion, that I 'd find the satisfaction I sought. But it never happened. Because that's just not me.
I think my parents really struggled to deal with me as a kid and teenager. I wasn't fitting in much of a mould. They encouraged my brothers to go into engineering because they had a mathematical aptitude. I, on the other hand, had none. And I had no real ambition or self-confidence. As a result, anything I achieved seemed like a success, even if it didn't really make me happy or if it meshed with my character. I became a teacher, for example, and that was a success because it was something. But it's not something I've ever really connected to. And it's something that seems to be zapping my creativity on a more and more consistent basis.
And there are plenty of coulda-shoulda-wouldas in everything. I kind-of wish I put off the Master's degree, for example, and just stayed in Egypt for a while. Perhaps I could have a achieved some better success over there. Perhaps my ex would have found a place where she could succeed as well if we'd stayed there longer. But since then, despite finishing the Master's, despite all the ways we tried to work through our issues, I've been decidedly unsatisfied. The only thing I take comfort in is that my kids seem happy and kind and capable. I believe in them and believe that they will find their place. And I feel like my ex is finding her place.
But I don't feel like I am. I feel utterly... misplaced. And I want to break out of my comfort zone, but I don't know which way to go.
In this rambling entry, I've kept going back to music over and over again. Perhaps that's what I need to do. Perhaps I need to just light a fire under my musical butt and get doing what I should have done a decade or two ago, before my looks really start to fade, before the youth of my music seems incongruent with the person who's delivering it.
I can't find it, but I've talked about Imposter Syndrome on this blog before. I deal with it constantly. I feel, at almost all times of day, that I'm a fraud, that somebody's going to call me on it, and that I'll end up living up to the negative things I say to myself. And I know intellectually that I don't need to do this, but it's still hard.
This summer's been particularly bad for it. I've had a lot of time to myself. A day after my last entry, my car's motor gave in on me and I had to replace it—with my parents' gracious help. I've spent pretty-much the rest of the summer at home, or occasionally taking trips down to Vancouver, just to save money so I can get by for the summer and hopefully pay them back at some point. I don't know if I got a good replacement vehicle, but I tried. And I've spent a lot of time at home as a result of this change.
I've tried filling my time with activities: learning Hindi script, trying to write some more songs, trying to learn to read music, reading a couple books, and whatnot. But still, it's been way more time to myself than I expected. I've had way too much time to talk to myself, ruminate on the past, and ream myself out for my numerous mistakes over the last 20 years. It's been tough.
And now I see myself anticipating a new school year and I feel like more of a fraud than ever. I have no idea how to make this curriculum work. I used to be able to get the steam going, but the last two summers, nu-uh, and this summer's no better.
This leads me to the real core of all of this. I think it's safe to say that I'm a creative person. I love creating things. I love creating music, lessons, photographs, etc., but I'm just not feeling it. I can take artsy-fartsy photographs like I have this summer, but I can't really say my heart's in it. I'm going through motions, but with weak results. Same thing with songwriting... of all the songs I've written this year, they're OK, but geez they're just not enough. I'm going through the motions of a creative person while not really being creative.
*Imposter Syndrome kicking in hard there.*
I set high standards for myself. I expect to bring meaningful curriculum to my students, music to my listeners, photos to my viewers, and parenting to my children, but right now I just don't feel like I'm living up to any of them. I'm a fraud. I want to believe I'm good with money, but then how come I needed help to replace the car? I want to believe I'm good with relationships, but then why did I spend so much of my summer alone? I want to believe I'm an adequate teacher, but then why did I end the year feeling like my students learned nothing from me? I want to believe I'm a good songwriter, but then why don't I seem to want to share my songs? Because I'm a fraud, nobody cares, and...
... fricking Imposter Syndrome.
I don't know where it stems from. I'm old enough and professional enough that I shouldn't be stressing about authority figures coming through the door and yelling at me. But between the constant "You are nothing" messages I got from religion, and the "We don't really know what to do with you" messages I got from childhood, and the messages that I embraced from my marriage that lead to its demise, it's tough to break out. I keep doing the things I'm supposed to do to keep the Imposter Syndrome at bay, but it keeps coming back. And I know it shouldn't, but it keeps sneaking up on me.
That's all. I know it's stupid. And this isn't a reaching-out-to-the-void thing. I know I'm a competent, creative person. I know people care about me. I know my kids love me and that I'm not the world's worst person. I know I'm not a fraud. But deep-seated beliefs are tough to shake. And I'm getting tired of fighting a mindset that's so childish.
Enough. Here's to hoping I can get that creativity bug before the school year starts.
Although I'm not out there playing the dating game at all, I keep Tinder on my phone largely just to maintain my URL and swipe right or left now and then. Lately I've been a little stunned at just how many people simply love camping. I mean, I like camping, but I don't love it. I'm not likely to do it without good company. I will choose music and culture over camping pretty-much every time. If I could live the "aspirational lifestyle," it's unlikely that I'd spend too much of it camping.
After getting kinda' disillusioned by all these supercamper profiles, this article in McSweeney's made me laugh out loud numerous times.
The satire is dead-on.
My intricately braided hair looks perfect even though I haven’t washed it in three days, and although I’ll tell you I love getting dirty, you will never actually see dirt on my person, unless it is artfully and strategically placed in a cute spot like highlighting my perfect cheekbones. I live in yoga pants and my activewear fits as though it’s been tailored because I did, in fact, get it tailored. I don’t dress like this because it attracts every amateur rock climber, mountain biking van lifer, kayak-wielding weekend warrior, and sentient pair of Chacos in a 15-mile radius. That’s just an unintended side effect that I happen to enjoy. I also love wolf dogs and being in the woods because no one can hear you scream.
I understand that people love the outdoors and some people really, really live for it. But the sheer prevalence of outdoorsy profiles makes me feel like getting to spend time outdoors is a matter of status, much like the ability to travel is, or perhaps one's gorgeously sculpted body, or perhaps their app-driven meditation routine, or perhaps their tanned skin, or the way their children are in clubs or on teams for every moment of the waking day.
There's something that discomforts me about filling so much time with deliberate activity. It's as if we've taken the way we've lost our ability to be bored and replaced that boredom with the image of personal completeness. As long as I can fill my time with being outside, I will be happy. And I can post this to my Instagram feed or to my dating profile and I will be happy. I can't quite put it into words, but it's a tone that feels... just a little dishonest.
Or I'm just a dick because I don't live that lifestyle. I mean, I guess I kinda' could: I could find venues where I could play music every night, for example, and finally get my songs recorded and presentable. That would likely be what my own aspirations would look like.
And perhaps then... I would pummel my own feeds and dating profiles with my life goals.
Susanna Emerson, in her article about the Aspirational Lifestyle, which may have been the first place where I jived with the term, writes,
Political implications aside, featuring “the aspirational lifestyle” on an Instagram feed isn’t about sharing joy. Authenticity is missing. It’s not a case of, “I’m having so much fun, and want you to be able to join me in my glee” or even “I just got a Vespa and it’s the best thing to happen to me!” It’s more like: “Admire me for the things I have.” Or better yet, “jealous, aren’t you?” There’s a sinister undertone to the story the aspirational character is telling, and it’s is the same one underneath most advertising campaigns: “Just in case you hadn’t realized, you’re not good enough.” In ad campaigns, a product swoops in to solve your problems and make you good enough. On Instagram, there’s usually not always option for immediate relief, but aspirational posts sure do beget copycats (hence the ubiquity of yacht shots and acai bowls).
When I see all these dating profiles that just say "camping, camping, camping," I can't help but feel a little bit of that jealousy—for a lifestyle wherein one has enough time to go camping regularly—and I long, just a little bit, for that sort of freedom with my time.
And that time may come. I recently finally invested in a tent and sleeping bag for myself, so I'm on my way there. I'm on my way to being able to say "yes" to camping.
As for choosing to go out on my own... I'll still choose a good gig.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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