Pomp and Pride

January 24, 2011

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from William Shakespeare, and I have used it on here before. “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Since reading “As You Like It” many years ago, this phrase has stayed with me as a fact. It resonates strongly with my life paradigm, and reinforces my suspicions about most people I meet. It has inspired me to fill my life with fools, and to recognize my own incapacity to know it all.

I love to learn. As a child, I enjoyed school, devoured books, and relished tales from my grandparents. New knowledge is like food for the brain and spirit. It can change your whole perspective on things.

What I have come to realize, however, is that this seemingly insatiable desire for information is, in fact, hindered by my reluctance to be taught. My distinct inability to surrender the platform of knowledge upon which I stand, and simply go with the flow.

Human ego is a two-sided coin; both our species’ best and worst quality. Ego allows us to be self-aware, motivated, and conscious of societal concern. On the flip side of that, our egos are fragile little pieces of ourselves; parts we work hard to establish and then militantly protect. When creating– whether it be visual art, music, poetry, performance, food, software, whatever– the ego is in it’s glory. As humans, we tend to take some level of pride in the things we do: this is ego.

Throughout my childhood, I recall being asked by nearly every educator to provide two copies of a body of work– one copy of the finished product and, the other a “rough draft.” I presume that this rough draft would provide our teachers some sort of insight into the creative process, thusly ensuring that our spongey little minds were, in fact, the ones producing such masterpiece analyses of “Lord of the Flies,” US governmental structure, and the first world war. I assume the other benefit of such documentation would be to chart a student’s progress between initial thought and end result.

It is only in retrospect that I’ve come to realize that I never handed in a legitimate “rough” copy of anything. At least, not that I can remember. Instead, I wrote (as I do now) neurotically working my way through, obsessively analyzing every word the first time it was used, and created one copy of something I was very proud of. I threw away the scribbled-upon pages of college-ruled note paper as garbage– never something I would consider handing in with my name on it. Once finished, I would carefully contrive some “rough draft” to hand in alongside the final product.

No joke. I just couldn’t bring myself to hand in the real thing– the roadmap to my thoughts. Something about this seemed to violate my creative process; seemed a voyeuristic request on the part of my educators. Nope. What my teachers were handed was an even more carefully crafted version of my final– they read my “raw thought” and, in my mind, were perceiving exactly what I wanted them to. Move a comma, switch a sentence around, draw a few arrows– yes, dear fifth grade teacher, look at all I learned between the first time wrote this and the second time. What a good job you’ve done!

The truth of it is, writing is the only thing I’ve ever felt very confident in creating and, as mentioned before, creation is the physical manifestation of our egos. Inviting another to assess this creation is, in and of itself, an invitation for open season on this prideful sector of self. While this strange unwillingness to subject my thought process for review may not have negatively impacted my word-smithing, I’m able to note increasingly how it has affected other aspects of my life.

For instance, as someone who is almost constantly surrounded by musicians, I have only once, and only for about 3 hours, earnestly attempted to play guitar. With much anxiety, I sat in a room of my friends, most of whom were paying no attention to me whatsoever, and apprehensively took my first and only “lesson.” After a while, I thought to myself “nobody wants to hear me play bad guitar for hours” and never played again. I’ve spoken several times since about purchasing my own instrument and teaching myself, but I’m fairly convinced music is something I am simply not good at– especially in light of how incredible some of the people I know are. It sounds like a defeatist attitude, and perhaps it is just that. But I’m coming to realize that maybe it is my insane inability to forego the preconceptions that I’m supposed to be prideful of something before I allow another to bear witness to it. The old “rough draft” problem.

In light of all this, I suppose it’s high time I at least make an attempt at reforming this aspect of self. Pride and ego stymie creativity, not encourage it, and the more we put out into the universe, the more we are to receive. I know it’s no simple thing– old habits die hard, and my writing will always be a soft spot– but making a concerted effort to be more absorbent of the vast information available to me can only be beneficial to my worldview. Regardless of what value I determine something to have, there is no harm in allowing another to exert their egotism and “teach” me.

I mean, who knows, I might actually learn something?

This experience is not a costumed run-through for some well-polished performance of Life.

This is it. The real thing. All we get. Right now.

This is life, it is short, and we are using it up more quickly than we realize. Our ultimate non-renewable resource.

The seconds, the hours, the weeks, the years. Every moment of every day, humans are providedopportunity. We need to stop waking up in the morning and giving that opportunity to someone else. We need to stop worrying about judgement, or repercussions. The future always seems so far away until it’s the past– then all we want to do is hold it closely, whispering of all the ways we could have done it differently. Foregoing our “right now” for another glimpse at yesterday. Reveling in a bittersweet nostalgia while more opportunity slips away. Slips away. Slips away.

From where I am standing, that is my biggest fear. Regret. Remorse. A perfect view in hindsight of a life I could have had.

Somewhere along the way, it was planted in my fertile little mind that I could be anything I wanted to be. After 24 years of going through the motions, I’m realizing that it’s no longer a matter of “what do I want to be *when* I grow up;” the question is now “what do I want to be *since* I’m grown up?” And it’s a pretty legitimate question, no matter what walk of life you are in. Are you who you want to be?

In a world where comfortable survival were guaranteed, monetary pressures were irrelevant, and society passed no judgement on you: what would you do?

In my mind, whatever answer you provide to that question is what you truly, deeply desire for your life. In asking others this question, I’ve noticed several things. Firstly, many people cannot even fathom existence without money as their motivator. In contemporary culture, money = survival.

Another observation is that many people turn, then, to procreation. They would, in a simple world, expend reallocated energy on family. This led me to conclude (perhaps obviously) that our species understands survival. Without the concern over making it another day, I think many would feel a sense of purpose-less-ness.

Which brings me to my second point– that feeling of purpose-less-ness is what I experience every day. Money motivates me only insofar as doing what I’m “supposed to do” is concerned. It keeps the collectors from calling my mom to pick up my tab, it keeps my dog fed, and having a job gives me something to talk about at social functions. I went through the education system, the higher education system, and now I’m working in an office. It’s all very linear and logical. I get a gold star on my chart, cultural approval, and I get to pat myself on the back every other Thursday, while standing in line at the bank.

As far as breeding, it just doesn’t feel right for me. It has never felt as though a family could be my “purpose,” nor has it ever been my desire. Perhaps some women *can* do it all– the career, the kids, the social life– but I don’t think I want to try the balancing act. I am not a jack-of-all type of girl; I’m something of a perfectionist, and feel disappointed in myself if results are anything short of praise-worthy. I get anxiety over starting something I don’t have confidence in my finishing well, and raising kids is a complex objective art. Time-consuming, to say the least.

In a world without any necessity for labor, I would travel and write. This has been my answer for as long as I can remember. I would see the world, learning as much as possible, then synthesize and regurgitate this information with others. Words thrill me. They always have. Thrilling others with my words– bringing them to a time and place where  I stood, and trying to share a feeling– that is the greatest gratification I find in life.

I’m realizing that I am my own biggest roadblock. I have created the wall of “what if(s)” and “but I could never(s)” that separates me from the life I want to live. I adopt a defeatist attitude before I even enter the ring and face my opponent. I am excusing away my opportunities, as though the ship set sail long ago. No more.

It’s time for me to take action on a number of things. First and foremost, giving myself credit where it’s due. I am living one version of my dream. In little bits and bites. In fragments every time I post a blog, and x-number of people intentionally digest the contents of my mind. I am a published author; even if it’s one tiny corner of a vast sea of information. I started something from nothing, and I am getting back what I put in. It may not be the most monumental “something” of our time, but I’m not finished yet. And I AM learning about the world. Every single day, I encounter a new person, place, or bit of information.

So what more do I want?

That has become, for me, the most essential inquisitive. Who do I want to be? That’s step one to getting there.

Something spectacular. That’s my answer; the only thing I will settle for. I have this whole life to get there, and not starting today is inexcusable. More and better tomorrow. More and better the next day. The only thing holding me back from possibility is myself– pride, ego, and fear. In the end, I am realizing, it is better to have a long track record of phenomenal failures than to have taken no risks at all.

Are We There Yet?

November 12, 2010

Recently, feeling down on myself (bummed about the change of seasons and creatively frustrated, among other things), I sat down with a notepad for a bit of self-analysis.  My blank page immediately became–

Things that suck about you:

Good Qualities:

In that order. Just like that. And I started to fill it out.

The last time I made a list like this was when I quit drinking, which was definitely a low point for me. My sobriety list inspired a complete reorganization of my personal agenda. As a language-oriented person, as well as a brutally honest Sagittarius, I find it advantageous to put thoughts into words. Throughout the years, I’ve composed a number of these self-evaluations, and like to consider myself a pretty actualized individual.

All that said, one persistent trend– more important, in some ways, than the actual traits on the lists themselves– is that my negatives list consistently dwarfs the positives. No matter what. In fact, I even ran out of room under my “Things that suck about you” and began annexing the “Good Qualities” space for such traits as “Insistent,” “Brash,” and “Impatient.” I had well over a dozen bad qualities written before I even so much as considered penning a nice thing about myself.

Then it took me a minute. Maybe even two. Before I put down “OK Writer.” Yes, just OK. And another minute, maybe two, before I came up with “Nice rack.”

Honest to Icculus, people, the second “Good” thing I could come up with about myself is my breasts. Shame on me. For real.

So, I made this list. And I cried. But, to be fair, I was pretty depressed when I started the damn thing, I wasn’t really doing it for the uplift. As I re-read my carefully selected adjectives, I added “Harsh Critic” to the end of my “sucks” list. Then wrote it again at the end of my positives.

And then I got stuck.

Suddenly my cleverly divided list wasn’t so black and white anymore.

It dawned on me that the “uncensored opinions” from the “Things that suck about you” analysis were the same opinions that made me “always truthful,” which had seemed a Good Quality. The “over-analytical” negative trait, in another light, becomes “socially observant,” an aspect of myself that I embrace.

Well, shit, I thought to myself. Now what? My intention in compiling an evaluation had been enacting positive change. A year ago, I was incredibly productive using this method. I recognized a number of undesirable qualities and was able to eliminate some degree of self-loathing via personal growth. I can actually pinpoint milestone moments and epiphanies. I consider the last year of my life, in that regard, a smashing success.

Why, then, was I sitting a year later at the same kitchen table crying over an equally lengthy bullet-point analysis? How successful is that? Where did these additional Things that Suck come from?

…Again, I am a “Harsh Critic.”

Of other people, yes, but most of all myself. I tried to remember the last time I felt really awesome about anything I had said, written, or done… and quickly I was left questioning how “awesome” anything I ever did really was…

I am my own worst enemy. I know I am not alone, either. Lots of people in the world are insecure. Lots of people think everything they do is garbage. And, most importantly, lots of people are absolutely sure that they will never be good enough. Good enough for what? It honestly doesn’t matter. It’s an insatiability. The feeling that there is room for improvement. It goes beyond “positive quality” or “detrimental trait.” It’s human. It’s a civil war of the ego, and it’s nothing unique to any of us.

If none of us ever felt like monumental failures, would we be motivated to progress? If we all walked around, confident in how we look, act, and present ourselves; confident that we were always in the right; confident that everything we did was top-notch– what encouragement would we have to improve?

At the end of the day, it became evident that although my “Things that suck about you” list was nearly double the length of the “Good Qualities,” many of these divergent characteristics were rooted in the same damn personality traits. It’s unfair to myself to count “conversationally dominant” and “doesn’t know when to shut up” as two separate negative qualities, while considering “easily social” as something I like. They represent the exact same characteristic displaying itself in different contexts.

Failure, success, perfection, hard work. All relatively defined terms. In our universe void of inertia, none of these words mean the same thing from one moment to the next. Weighing ourselves against these slippery terms is like attempting to measure love in yards.

Not to say there is no room for self-improvement, but, in the scheme of things, I have taken enormous strides toward becoming the person I want to be. The next evening, feeling a little less depressed, I sat down and, instead of creating contrast, I re-composed the exact same list of characteristics into one list titled “Things I Know about Kat”

[[Nice rack is still on there]]

Move Me Brightly

August 20, 2010

Inspiration is the holy grail of human existence.

That moment where the proverbial lightbulb illuminates is almost indescribably priceless.

It is like the first rest stop after a very long road trip– instantly relieving. Primally satisfying.

When our creative minds culminate in such a revelatory burst, it feels like a release. Like we’ve finished a puzzle, solved a riddle, or discovered a new planet, inspiration leaves us with a child-like, or perhaps even post-coital joy. I believe the gratification we get from our own inventiveness stems from a deeply psychological place; a place where the innocence of a new idea can be fostered before it is exposed to the world. We cradle our little flash of brilliance like a newborn, admiring with a private smile. We feel good about it, if only for a moment, before we share it with anyone else.

At least I know I do.

To expect a constant flow of inspiration is pretty idealistic. Sure, there have been some impressive minds in our time with the ability to consistently crank out well-composed, thoroughly engaging art or ideas, but we call those people prodigies. They are anomalies. Exceptions, not the rule. For the most part, I think the human condition is nothing if not a search for the next big thing: fire, paper, guitars, and computers. The rest of the animal kingdom surely teems with envy at our mere ability to conceptualize, nonetheless produce, such commonplace phenomena.

When inspiration strikes without warning, it’s just that much better. As a writer, and friend to many artists and musicians, I am all too familiar with the struggle to create. I have experienced firsthand the frustration that accompanies artistic obstruction: when a writer is not writing what, then, are they?

For many years, I kept my output high by working under pressure. As a journalist, it was easiest for me to contrive the (admittedly often banal) content when I was on a deadline. It prevented me from overanalyzing my opening sentence, my verbiage, and the placement of each comma. When generating articles for a news-type publication, it was best to stick with the facts, to be engaging but not controversial. That type of writing was, for me, was like a marathon runner hitting up the gym. It kept me in shape, kept my ego sufficiently stroked, but it wasn’t personally gratifying. It felt good, because it was words (mmm words), but it wasn’t truly inspired. It didn’t have any soul.

Then I stopped writing.

For the first time since I could put letters and phrases together, I just didn’t have the desire to do so. Initially, I felt a relief at the lack of pressure, lack of expectation, lack of mandate to do something I had once so greatly enjoyed. I felt a “good riddance” emotion toward my former passion. I was bitter toward my lack of inspiration, and frustrated by the robotic quality of my creation.

In my mind, it was better to not be writing at all than to be writing only blurbs, yawn-worthy local news, or mundane blog posts about (what i felt to be) my mundane life. I rationalized the unimportance of my art. Convinced myself that nobody would miss it, not even me. Of course, I realize now the role of perspective in all this. I wasn’t down on my writing as much as I was just down on myself.

Recently, after a nearly two year hiatus, inspiration and I were reacquainted. We fumbled for a bit, like awkward lovers, but I have discovered that our romance is not only still alive, but hotter than ever! It started sort of slowly, but now I feel back into the swing of things. I have been filling up notebooks and journals, I have been blogging and writing prose. There is no financial or physical reward, and it’s almost better this way. Satisfaction is derived solely from pairing nouns with their congruous adjectives, assigning actions their befitting descriptors, and telling stories with the flair of drama I see in even the most platitudinous events.

I have found my muse and unearthed the dormant artist within. I am feeling more like myself than ever before and that, in and of itself, is a truly inspirational thing.

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things. [[Ray.Bradbury]]

The last few months, I have undoubtably driven those closest to me insane with my incessant talk of mediocrity. It has been “mediocre this,” and “meh that.” As a matter of fact, I even declared the title of my unwritten autobiography to be “Accepting Average” … compelling, I know.

In my usual densely-skulled fashion, what I failed to immediately realize is that I was not only sounding absurd and defeatist, but I was probably offending everyone in my life. All the far from mediocre people who enrich my day-to-day. It took my wonderfully patient gentleman caller a hundred repeats of “you can’t be mediocre as long as you’re with me” for me to grasp it… I was getting downright insulting.

Why all the talk and talk of average? Well… I suppose when all was said and done, it was a cop-out for not pursuing more. The past year has been a series of lessons and turbulent growth on my part. This winter, my first booze-free hibernation, marked one of the deepest depressions I’ve experienced in years.

The mediocre declaration was my way of saying “I’ve done nothing noteworthy, probably will do nothing noteworthy, and I am just going to be okay with the way things are.”  On the tail end of some very real change and self- reflection, I found myself confronted with a paradox of sorts.

A friend whose opinion I hold in rather high regard relayed to me, during this whole “average dilemma,” that she considered mediocrity and contentment to be one in the same…

This left me wondering: if being satisfied with your situation leaves you stranded at average; the pursuit of happiness is, therefore, a wholly fruitless endeavor. Do we settle for good enough and be complacent? Or do we remain insatiable, dissatisfied, and working always for something more?

While it seemed a little disheartening and sent me back to the existential drawing board, I’ve begun to accept my friend’s more important message: you are only as mediocre, complacent, and/or irrelevant as you allow yourself to be.

Accepting average, then, is a self-fulfilling prophecy for pseudo-satisfaction. Its the reason seemingly-happy men-in-suits leave their cars running in the garage on some unassuming Wednesday morning. It’s why people have affairs; go sky diving; or spend their life savings on a material whim. Escaping the cycle of monotony. The drone of scheduled encounters, sales at the grocery store, and weekly lawn mowing. People waking up, for only a moment, and saying “this isn’t life!”

So… Perhaps instead of forfeiting the pursuit of happiness and setting up xanax camp in Averagetown, USA, I should keep hiking this trail. While dissatisfaction seems to inevitably linger, I guess when you keep moving, at least it doesn’t get boring, too.