A few weeks ago I attended a networking event where the speaker recommended reading The Artist's Way in order to break out of a creative rut. "It's self-helpy," he said, "and it's a little cheesy, but it just might work for you." So I'm trying it out.
He is correct; it is most certainly a self-help book. But I think it just might work, at least for a little bit, to get me in a creative mindset again.
At the beginning of the book, Julia Cameron the two main methods for replenishing th artistic juices are "Morning Pages" and "Artist Dates." I don't know about the Artist Dates yet, since I haven't participated in one, but she describes them as "a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend again all interlopers." I'll try it out this weekend, but I don't know what it will look like.
But I have started the "morning pages," which she describes as "three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." It's been quite a challenge, even for my first week, but I think it's been beneficial. I mean, I'm writing this right now, right? Considering that I barely posted a thing over the summer, it's pretty nice to pump out a notes in the weblog for once. And chances are that my ability to write during the days starts with the fact that I've started each day with writing.
I've had journals before. I have a few unfinished ones strewn about the apartment. Sometimes I find old journals, read them, and shred or burn them. I know some people say that old journals show "how far you've come" or "how much you've grown," but I tend to only feel humilation from them, shame that I was such a fool. Perhaps if I was happy with where I'm at in life, I'd feel less shame. But my main feeling when I read my about old journals is simple: the person who wrote them is a neurotic, lonely fool whose ideas are not worth the page he wrote them on. So I destroy them.
But these are a little different. I'm writing them on looseleaf paper and I'm not trying to "be deep." I'm just trying to strew it out there. I'm not good at the stream-of-consciousness focus of this writing; I always write in full sentences and paragraphs. But these feel different than the average journals that I've destroyed before. Despite the paragraphs and sentences and semicolons, I don't think I'll have to destroy these.
Simultaneously, I've been seeing a counsellor who wanted me to "write down all the bad things you say about yourself and your life, then put them away for the day so you don't have to think about them all the time." But I couldn't seem to do it; it seemed to be kind-of out of my wheelhoue and flighty. A few years ago, a psychologist had once got me to write down all the things I was angry about, and that seemed to work at that time; this time around, however, the prospect was unappealing to me.
But now, with these "artist pages," I'm doing exactly what the counsellor ordered. And that feels good.
I'll post now and then about my progress with these, but so far it seems like this is the best journalling method I've ever used. So here's to hoping I can create some good stuff out of it.
I don't jive with memes. I remember back when people showed me the "I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER" memes a decade ago, but it took me quite a while to "get" them. For a while, I enjoyed them on Facebook or Twitter, but now when I see a meme-like image with a quote on it, I just scroll past it. They're not worth my time or mental investment.
However, my current English 11 class has confronted my habits and bias head-on: they are deeply involved and invested in meme-based thinking. Their quips and inside jokes are largely meme-ish. The class has pushed my mind into deeper thinking about how memes work and why I seem to sluff them off so much. I've found myself saying to the class, "Memes stop deeper thought," or "Memes end a nuanced conversation before we can get to the meat of it," or "Memes put down a flag before you've even reached the field," or "Memes make an in-out group mentality where it's not useful." I don't know if this sort of thinking really works, but it seems like my thoughts coalesce around "Memes stop thought."
While reading the print edition of The Globe and Mail last week, I saw an article that made reference to the following book, Memes and the Future of Pop Culture, by Marcel Danesi. It looks like it's gonna' be a good book.
The article from The Globe and Mail, "Malls, bowling alleys, and the places of our youth are disappearing. Where do we go for a nostalgic place?" by Odessa Paloma Parker, describes part of Danesi's book like this:
Danesi is the author of the recently published book Memes and the Future of Popular Culture, a work that explores how “meme culture” could bring about the end of pop culture – movie theatres, etc. – as we know it; he describes popular culture as “an experiment that may be coming to an end as we shift away from real spaces into virtual spaces.” If you think about what nostalgia means to a millennial, he’s on to something. Ferrao explains that the younger staff at Superflux have a twinge when it comes to older technology, much like she would catching a glimpse of shag carpeting or another symbol of a certain generation’s collective youth. Those even younger, under 20, might not even know how to ascribe a parallel set of emotions to a tangibly familiar place as to an evocative one, as Ferrao has done with the Barbican.
Hm. I wonder, perhaps, if my tendency to dismiss meme-thinking stems from my pop-culture stewardship. As I read the part of Danesi's book that's available through Google Books, I couldn't help but think "I get that," over and over again. But meme culture is something new, something that follows different rules, that exists in a temporal space different from my pop culture conditioning.
The thing is, I have no interest at all at playing with a culture that aims to score points by stopping conversation for a laugh, or for virtue-signalling points. So perhaps I don't belong in meme culture. I look forward to getting a copy of Danesi's book somehow.
And I have yet one more piece of data to support the following statement: I'm old.
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.
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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