Getting There

When I leave for work or class, I tend to leave pretty early ahead of time. Some might say earlier than I really have to. We’re talking early enough that I arrive 20-30 minutes early. Now, it might sound reasonable to do this to avoid the possibility of being late and experiencing the consequences thereof… but that’s not why I do it.

I mean… maybe it SHOULD be, but that’s besides the point.

The reason I leave so early is that being on my way somewhere but not in a hurry is one of my FAVORITE things in the world. Just being able to take everything in, enjoy the however many minutes I spend walking somewhere, maybe while reading a book or even just being alone and able to process my thoughts in absence of video games, TV, internet, or what have you. On top of that, the lack of stress over “oh my gawd did I leave early enough, am I gonna be there on time, oh what happens if the traffic is slightly heavier than usual aaaaaaah” is absolutely fantastic. It gets to the point where I actually fear the stress of being late over the ACTUAL consequences of being late (which is interesting in and of itself).

As I was heading to campus to do some work tonight, I was thinking about this whole thing, and how it might be useful to apply it in a more abstract way to my writing, creative projects, or whatever it is I happen to be working on at the moment. It’s kind of a more complicated version of the whole maxim of “it’s the journey, not the destination”, but I think that going at least one layer deeper helps grant a deeper understanding of why thinking in such a way is so valuable. For instance, with respect to procrastinating.

In the “leaving for class/wotk” example, if I leave earlier, it alleviates that worry that I won’t get some place when I’m expected or “supposed” to be there. When I procrastinate, it’s like the existential dread version of the same fear. The later I leave something, the more I get anxious that I won’t be where I’m supposed to be (a certain skill level, a career goal, whatever yardstick you want to use for successful adulthood) when I’m supposed to be. By the same token, if I “leave earlier” (get started working right away), it’s valuable not simply because I’ll arrive to my adulting destination “on time” (whatever that means), but because when I decide to leave early, it frees me up to not be thinking about that whole endgame in the first place. Instead, I can take my time, free up my mind to process and appreciate the whole progression of whatever it is I’m doing. Therefore, it’s almost as an accidental side effect that I end up enjoying the consequences of starting early and often.

So, by ceasing to care about the outcome enough to just start whenever, you actually end up getting the outcome you want HAD you cared about it in the first place.

Brains are weird, you guys. Well. At least mine is.

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Thoughts on A Philosophy Blog? (And Philosophy in General, I guess)

So, I’m a philosophy minor. More than that, I’m a big fan of thinking about things (sometimes too much, as the number of posts on here about anxiety will attest) and picking them apart. However, one thing that bugs me about mainstream philosophy (if there is such a thing), is how…. limited in scope it is.

I find as I ascend in years at university, I find the questions get smaller and smaller. For instance, in a Theory of Knowledge class I had, the question that the entire semester revolved around was that of what the professor called “Epistemic Akrasia”, or the question of whether or not you could rationally do something that you were aware was against your own self-interest.

Now, to me that question DOES sound interesting. But the class, as philosophy often does, devolved into minutia about questioning the definitions of “rationality” and “what we could define as ‘awareness’, as well as the usual questions about free will that normally seep into many a philosophy class like a gas leak (and potentially just as explosive). That in itself isn’t necessarily BAD per say, as one of philosophical thought’s most valuable traits is teaching the ability to tease out people’s assumptions about meaning and put them to the test. The problem I had was the heavy feeling I had in the pit of my stomach after the class was done. The feeling of “Where did we get to? What was the point of this?” and the general dread that it felt like a pointless exercise in nigh-masturbatory nitpicking.

I feel like when we engage in philosophical questioning, a good thing to do might be to take a step back and also ask “Why are we asking these questions?” “What are the implications for operations within the real world for the things we might glean from their investigation?” Too many times I’ve read a philosophical paper or essay that included the statement that “Answers to question X may have important implications for A, B, and C”, but then fails to go on and give any kind of detail as to what those might be. For a sub-branch of philosophy as potentially useful as epistemology for affecting how we relate and engage with one another both individually and societally, to spend hours and hours quibbling over the definition of “aware” not even in general, but for the hypothetical purpose of a single PAPER, seems like a tremendous waste of mental energy.

Meanwhile, so-called ‘serious’ academics scoff at what someone might disparagingly call “self-help” philosophies, notably the rise in the interest people have in scholars like the greek Stoics. As if it’s a sign of weakness or intellectual frailty to look to philosophy for ways to live a good life, to improve our outlook on the world, or deal with its pain and difficulties. I feel like I have to ask: if philosophy isn’t making peoples’ lives better, what GOOD is it? Having dealt with the usual assumptions from people outside the field that we’re all a bunch of closeted eggheads with interest only in pointless discussions, views such as the above make me shake my head. Is it any wonder that universities defund philosophy programs, or that people don’t want to even talk to philosophers, when all we talk about are topics that have exactly ZERO relevance to the average person’s existence?

It’s in this line that I’m wondering about making a dedicated philosophy blog. I use “dedicated” in the loosest possible sense, as I mentioned above that I’d want to keep it as open as possible in terms of topics and ideas. Philosophy is something you can do with ANY topic, no matter how personal, cultural, or global, and it can help provide comfort and healing in times of darkness, perspective in times of confusion, and a potential path forward when the road seems muddled and confusing. I just… don’t want to start it, and then be afraid to start writing because of potentially having an audience. Ugh.

October 12th, 2015

I couldn’t come up with a title for this post. But I realized that isn’t a good enough reason not to write.

Neither is the fact that I haven’t updated this blog in about a year.

Neither is the fact that I’m not even sure if I want to keep this blog around, or move the content over to a new one I’m sowing the seeds of an idea for.

It’s not a good enough reason not to write that I have a bunch of other projects that I’m working on, nor is it that my work makes me tired and feels unfulfilling compared to what I want to be doing. It’s not a good enough reason that I don’t know if my latest project will come out worth anything, or look anything like the vision I have in my head.

I’ve had a couple of kicks in the existential arse in the last couple days. The idea that the job I have right now, even though it’s full-time, wouldn’t be enough to start paying back my student loans and keep a roof over my head once I graduate being one of them. As is my beginning to follow the Writing About Writing Blog, and in particular my reading of the article 20 Guaranteed Ways to Sabotage Your Reading (of which I currently subscribe to at least a solid dozen). As well, the reading of Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception, and the unceremonious writing of a book that I began in the middle of the night last Wednesday when I couldn’t sleep.

Basically, this confluence of events and actions have combined to help me realize that despite my being terrified of my future economically, existentially, artistically, career-wise, relationship wise, and even health-wise, is insufficient reason for me to not only not create art, but not create art EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

If anything, it’s the best reason in the world to start.

What to Write About (When There’s Nothing to Write About)

I want to make writing in here a regular practice, but I have this problem of not knowing what to write about when I’m neither in the middle of a full-blown meltdown and need to do the creative equivalent of venting nuclear gas (bonus points to those of you who, like me, got a mental flash of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes morbidly obese), nor inspired by a particular idea.

Though many people use their blogs as a digital journal, which is totally fine, I kind of want this to be something more than that. Given, a big part of the content is me talking about the emotional comings-and-goings in my head, but I feel like that’s such a huge part of what goes into my creative work that it’s something beyond a simple “Dear yawning abyss of the internet, today I X’ed…”

“What to write about when there’s nothing to write about.” Hm. I mean, that in and of itself is an interesting topic, given how many creators (myself included) have a crippling fear of a blank page. It’d be easy to ascribe that to a human fear of the unknown and be done with it, but I feel like the comfort of unused potential is a particularly artistic flavor of psychosis. It’s like… so long as the page is blank, I lose nothing. But the moment I start putting something down, trying to realize something in my head, or even just noodle around in my sketchbook, I make myself vulnerable by simple fact of engaging in the artistic process.

I feel like that’s a big part of why it’s so difficult to be creative or artistic when you’re intentionally TRYING to be. It’s like TRYING to be happy, in the sense that it’s something that happens out of the corner of your eye when you’re not expecting it, and then suddenly “I accidentally a whole editorial.” I forget the person who said the quote (it occurs to me I could take two seconds and Google it, but I’m on a roll here), but the idea that “the moment you ask yourself if you’re happy, you cease to be.”

I think a similar sentiment could be applied to art. I mean, in some sense you have to make a conscious decision to start drawing, or writing, or filming, or whatever, sure. But when you’re in the middle of the process, the moment you start second-guessing yourself, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt while you erase that eyebrow 50 times because IT DOESN’T LOOK QUIZZICAL ENOUGH, DAMMIT.

A lot has been made of the idea of Flow, the state where you’re utterly lost in the moment of whatever task you’re participating in. I find it a useful concept, and it gels well with the readings on Zen and Taoist philosophy that have informed my current worldview. However, I do find myself having trouble reconciling it with the necessity of conscious practice to develop skill. When we (or… I, I suppose I should just speak from my own experience) feel stuck and unable to create, there’s a good chance that it’s because I’m thinking too much about it, and just need to breathe, go with the flow, and see what happens. The thing about practice, though, is that you NEED that conscious self-reflection to process the new techniques you’re acquiring. To refine them, straighten out any kinks, and to truly connect the dots and gain a deeper understanding.

So how do you Flow enough to get out of your own way, but be present enough to get everything you can out of it?

Anyone?

Seriously, I was asking you, because I’m still swamped by the question as much as anyone.

Well, if I can just spitball here, maybe that letting go is crucial to the INITIALIZING of the creative process. Like, if you’re scared that no matter what you put on the paper, it won’t look as good as in your head, that you don’t have your ideal materials, or workplace, or you don’t have enough time… something will ALWAYS find a way to get in the way. So that’s the point where it might be useful to take a breath, set out your tools, and see what happens. When you’re in the midst of making something and you hit a roadblock, or something isn’t coming out the way you want, maybe then it’s time to put away the artist brain for a moment and ask yourself why. Is it a perspective problem? Plot? Characters? Inking? Deconstruct it into as simple components as you can, try different things, access some resources online or otherwise, whatever. Try looking at it as a puzzle instead of proof that Uncle Gary was right all along and you’ll never amount to nuthin’ tryin’ to draw them funny pictures.

Do I know if it’ll work? Not even slightly, but it sounds at least plausible. At the very least, it’s better than sitting in a steamy stew of existential dread, staring at a blank page.

The quote was John Stuart Mill, by the way.

Vince Smith is an aspiring writer, podcast host, psychology/philosophy student, and dyed-in-the-wool geek of all trades. You can check out articles and Let’s Plays by him over at The Rogues’ Gallery, or drop by his Facebook Page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman for other musings from the catacombs of the Internet.

Post-moving reflections Part 1

I’m not entirely I’m doing sure what I’m doing here yet. That could be a defining statement for both this blog and the state of my life in general at the moment. Don’t take that as a depressive, “woe is me” statement though. One of the best revelations I’ve had in the past few months is that I’m okay with not knowing everything that’s going to happen, and not being afraid of the unknown. I don’t really know how to define myself aside from general trends that denote the types of thoughts I often have. “Driven”, “Introspective”, “Geeky”, sure, these are all things that describe me at certain times. But not at others. At others they’re downright wrong. I suppose it’s like that for most people, but for so long I’ve attempted to answer the question of “Who am I?” as a self-concept in the same way I’d attempt to internalize a subject of academic study: by stripping it down to its bare essentials and understanding it as a streamlined concept. But I’m beginning to realize how misguided of an attempt this is.

I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from Taoist philosophy as of late, particularly the passages referring to the idea of fluidity in the self-concept. To many taoist philosophers, it is a mistake to believe that you are the same person for more than an instant, with each moment’s worth of life experience changing the intrinsic elements of who you are, bit by bit, second by second. It’s like the old transhumanist thought experiment of “If I replace your neurons, one by one, with a computer that did the exact same function”, at what point, if any, would you stop being You? If any?” To me, the takeaway truth to this, and to life in general is that it’s pointless to be afraid of changing too much and losing yourself, because your “self” is not a static concept. There is such a thing as making the mistake of trying to be someone you’re not, but so long as you’re being driven to progress and change by ultimately internal motivations, the person you become will be just as much you as the person you were the moment before that, or the moment you made a certain life decision. It’s just you v1.1, v1.2, v1.3, etc. Sure, some of the new versions might have bugs. Or parts that don’t work quite as well as they could. But there’ll always be bug fixes.

So I’ve stopped focusing on the “being” and more on the becoming. Rather than being scared by change, I want that amorphous craftsmanship of character to be my self-definition. I’ll become what I want, and when I tire of that, I’ll be something else. Like steel being melted down to be shaped into something new. Sometimes individual, sometimes as part of a greater whole. Steel does not reject the flame, and as such, I accept the heat of the kiln as an agent of change, and welcome the adventure of what it is I’ll be next with the comfort that regardless of the heat and the pressure exerted upon my character, I will always be steel.