Monthly Archives: June 2012

Oversimplifying

So, this may well be way too reductive.

But I’m still thinking about the issue of my total lack of confidence. Trying to determine whether confidence is supposed to be naturally-generated or if it’s a learned behavior based on enough positive reinforcement. I am totally not able to naturally generate confidence, but this very awkwardness and reticence often comes through in what I do, and actually quashes others’ inclination to give positive feedback. I know it’s only priming people to be critical. So, even if I’m motivated by external positive reinforcement, that very desire is its own undoing.

The deeper concern is that confidence just seems so dishonest. I can’t claim I’m capable of doing something successfully, because Shit Happens.  I can’t claim I’m capable of rolling with the shit that happens, because Shit Happens. And while I feel like it’s far more honest and realistic to be self-critical and self-doubting, it’s also a loop that keeps me from ever acquiring confidence. I don’t get how people can look at themselves and choose to be confident – how they ignore what they ignore, or forget what they forget, or whether they’re just synthesizing some fake-confidence in the form of Pride or outright Delusion that works well enough to get them through life without much incident.

Given all that…. I wonder if, ironically, I need to give up on the idea of having confidence or faith at all.

Just acknowledge the fact that, even though I’ve earned a sense of self, that doesn’t mean I matter.  Or should matter.  Not even to myself.

And then, knowing that I don’t matter, and therefore surrendering any concerns about whether I feel deserving or capable or disingenous, JUST DO THINGS ANYWAY.

The few times I -have- dared to do things without feeling ready, it was scary and stressful – but, with persistence, they really helped make me who I am. Which is odd, since I was originally 100% positive that they couldn’t possibly overlap with my life. For whatever reason (okay, occasionally a booze-related reason,) I just turned my brain off and pushed the Do It Anyway button — and whaddaya know. Things that aren’t part of your life can become part of your life if you just DO THEM.

Courage isn’t the condition of feeling fearless, but of facing one’s fear.  Maybe confidence isn’t the condition of feeling self-certain, but of facing a challenge to your identity and seeing it through.

Maybe I’m forgetting that there’s no certainty in anything, no matter what you do. That things can become unpredictably complex because of simple changes, but those changes ARE, themselves, simple. For all the hemming and hawing about What to do, Why to do it, How to do it, When to do it, For Whom to do it, the only certainty there can be is that, if you DON’T do it, it doesn’t get done.

Yes, things get complicated later on, in ways I may or may not be equipped to deal with.  But still, it all starts with a choice between Create Something and Don’t Create Something.

Perhaps I just need to remind myself:

Maybe it’s better to err on the side of creation.

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Overthinking Overnalyzing

After the last post, and the general ages-long analysis-paralysis delay in posting anything, I was digging around and trying to determine more about Why That Happens.  I enjoy analyzing things just because it’s intensely satisfying to find patterns and to make things make sense — even, hell, especially when it’s pareidolia.  Whether it’s an optical illusion, a mashup, a metaphor, or a joke, I love implausible juxtaposition that calls on the brain to make some synapse between utterly unrelated neurons.  I don’t think I could still Be Me if I didn’t enjoy that – which means that my tendencies to analyze things and try to seek patterns aren’t, in themselves, problematic.

What IS problematic is how I react – or don’t – during the process.

For all my fondness of weird, juxtaposed, implausible, chaotic things and the strange kinds of harmony they can produce… in most of my behaviors, I’m painfully rulebound.   It might be due to upbringing, to a large degree – one parent thought anything not planned was not worth doing; the other was more spontaneous, but much more fretful about change.  Throw in the fact that the only thing I’ve ever excelled at was school, where everything is Right or Wrong, clearly defined, and any mistake you make carries through your entire school year to affect your final grade or GPA, and I quickly internalized a mindset of If You Can’t Plan It, Predict It, Or Perfect It, DON’T DO IT.  Not doing things was always better than doing them wrong.  And as for “learning from your mistakes,” well, learning didn’t matter.  Grades weren’t based on how much you improved over the course of a year, after all. They were just the aggregate of how many mistakes you made.  Start with a perfect A+, and subtract all the fuckups you made over the course of 9 months.

So, a miserable stasis was always more preferable to making a mistake in the name of ‘progress’ or ‘hope’ or ‘learning’ or whathaveyou.  Trying my best was only adequate if it correlated to an actual objective reward.  Getting a C was as good as an F, a B was a C, an A was a B, and an A+ was “Expected,” not “Exceptional.”

And yet, for all of that, I’ve never been too much of a control freak.  I want to understand things, sure, and plan things when I can — but my crap self-esteem has ensured that I rarely think I have adequate control over anything.  I’ve always been far more inclined to just go with the DON’T DO IT answer by default – knowing that I’ll plan wrong, make bad predictions, and generally fail, which gives the less-practical, more-emotional corollary of YOU DON’T EVEN DESERVE TO DO IT.  And, at times, the doubling-down of YOU DON’T EVEN DESERVE TO WANT TO DO IT.

I’m more than willing to concede the fact that the world works as it works, there’s not necessarily order or structure, our perceptions of such are largely illusory, and “control” is another term for the delusion of confidence and competence. It’s also not an illusion of control, because I never feel remotely in control of anything. Including and especially those things I should feel most in command of. It’s like there’s some sort of psychic maintenance involved – every artificial thing I’ve tried to impose on myself, I have to try to keep functional, all on my own, while being besieged by all manner of external forces that only even feel like a siege at all because I tried to fortify myself against them in the first place.

No, all this analysis and reticence and paralysis isn’t for a sense of control. Just a sense of justification. Just a sense that, in some respect, whatever I’m thinking, planning, doing, not doing, or doing-by-not-doing (to get all wu-wei on things) is Okay.

Even though it never works out like that, and I know it.

The closest I ever get is: “You’re making a constant series of mistakes, and you’ll never be able to fix them. You may or may not have done your best, and even if you did, that may or may not have been good enough, and it may or may not even matter. So… it is what it is. Do stuff. Or don’t. Or something. You may or may not find out, in the end, whether or not it was right, wrong, acceptable, or immaterial. So it’s all on your head, Sparky, and so is figuring it all out.”

I think I just need to make myself a little more aware of when I’m obfuscating myself. When I’m holding myself back. When I’m telling myself that something – whatever it is – just needs A Few More Things or Just A Bit Of Refinement before I call it Done. When I’m caught up in worrying about what other people might think, or how well it might work, or whether what I want to do is acceptable to do or even acceptable to want.

Because I suspect that what I’m really saying to myself is, “This thing is probably actually ready. I feel like I’m not. I will not do anything until I feel like I’m ready. This thing, and everything and everybody else, therefore has to wait for me to stop feeling like a failure before it can be done / shown / shared. The very fact that I don’t feel ready yet makes me feel more like a failure, which makes me feel more unready, which makes me feel more like a failure.  Therefore, this should never be shared.”

And by the time I do feel ready to share something, time and growth have made me just a slightly different person than the person who made the thing.  Which makes it a little too distant to be be relevant to me.  A little too much a relic.  A little too much an anchor. And if I’m ready, in principle, to share, but the thing itself is no longer representative or meaningful or relevant, then how can I claim it should be of worth to anyone else?

So I don’t share things.  Or even make things.  Or try much.  Or challenge myself, since feeling like something is a challenge is, to me, a sign that you are inadequate or inadequately prepared for it. But, because I don’t challenge myself, I don’t allow myself to make mistakes – which leads to poor coping skills when I do make mistakes. Therefore, my parameters for what is a surmountable challenge tend to stay the same – not only because I haven’t made the mistakes to learn what not to do, but I haven’t learned enough coping skills to make the very act of mistake-making feel like anything short of utter unacceptable doom.

When I’ve made a thing, when I’ve gotten myself to the point where I feel it’s done, it still never really feels good or right.  I just feel like there’s nothing left I can do with it, and that this is my own fault. Maybe I’ve made the thing for its own sake, or for others, or even if it is for myself, all I end up seeing is how it’s still not right, still flawed, in ways I can’t fully articulate or fix.  It’s an overwhelming feeling that this would be better if only it were somebody else doing it.

And yet, the more I try, the more I feel like I’m irresponsible.  There’s only so much time and energy, you know, and there I am pushing myself against some essay or poem or story or whatever as if I could EVER be good enough to make it what it deserves to be.  As if there’s not something else in the world I could be doing, something practical and purposeful, that would directly help me or someone else.  So I get torn right  in pieces between feeling energized by the idea and desperate to realize it in some way or other before the inspiration’s gone forever, feeling completely incompetent at this idea that’s burning in my brain, and feeling selfish and pompous for spending time on it at all.

And all of that combined means that even when it’s as Done as I can get it, I still feel like I can’t share it.  Because it won’t live up to the idea, or it will have too much ME in it.  It’s too raw and ill-defined, while at the same time being so dense, so solid, so untouchable.  But I can’t generate my own justification or validation, and I feel instinctively that neither the thing, nor I, deserve it from anyone else.  And yet, if I don’t want others to enjoy it, or even approve of its existence, or even grudgingly accept it, and if I can’t generate those things myself, and if I’m unsure whether or not it really speaks for itself or not, is it really done?  Should I even have made it? Why did I bother? What’s the point?

I guess that’s the appealing thing about faith. It cuts all those issues short. Whatever you do, you’re not doing for the thing itself, or for yourself, or for others; you’re doing it for Insert Metaphysical Entity Here.  Maybe not even a capital-G God.  Maybe just a muse. Maybe anything outside of yourself that you believe in. You don’t have to explain why you’re doing it. Insert Metaphysical Entity Here inspired you!  Regardless of how you feel about it, and regardless of how anybody else reacts to it, you can assume that Insert Metaphysical Entity Here is pleased! And you don’t have to worry about how things seem in hindsight, or all the infinite possible spiraling potentialities. Insert Metaphysical Entity Here decides what happens, so any results – good or bad – are its will. As long as you can justify yourself to Insert Metaphysical Entity Here — a process which, from my viewpoint, appears alarmingly similar to the self-reflection echo chamber — you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to doubt. You don’t have to be afraid. Well, unless you have one of those Insert Metaphysical Entities Here which like you to be worried and doubtful and afraid, and like to be judgmental. But you know what you’re in for with that, too.

It just sounds so trite to say that I should have faith in myself.  Besides, I’ve lived with myself all my life; I know better than that.  And my thoughts on faith of any kind is another heap of blather entirely, though it boils down to an idea that faith is a learned behavior that operates independently of evidence, which can be used as anything from a temporary psychological stopgap to a sort of outboard ego through which one routes some, or all, perceptions, judgments, and thoughts.  One can have faith in a deity, or oneself, or another person, or any other ideological thing.  But, all too often, the thing you have faith in isn’t what you think or believe it is.  And you end up having to have faith that the object of your faith even functions as an object of your faith.  You have to have faith about your faith about your faith, giving up bits of your ego with each iteration until there’s almost nothing left.  Faith is what you have when you are too unaware of yourself, the world around you, your abilities, or your limitations, to have a rational understanding of cause and effect.

At the same time… cause and effect aren’t always so clear-cut.  That’s chaos theory for you – even the most minute changes in initial conditions can lead to vastly different results in later conditions, and it takes superhuman abilities to even guess what swath of possible results might be more likely.

It’s a fact that I love.  And have loved forever, since before I even knew there was a term for it.  And then I discovered Discordianism back in high school, which – for being rather tongue-in-cheek – was still an encouraging and ennobling target of at least some sort of faith.  Even if the faith was just that, yes, there are other Weird People in the world; yes, trying to make things more orderly often fails; yes, it is a Good Thing to be creative; yes, the world is silly, and it’s okay to be silly yourself.

Also, I guess that’s why faith in an external metaphysical entity — even one almost completely fabricated — seems less stupid than faith in myself:  I know enough about myself to know that having faith in myself is only writing myself a check that I can’t cash.  I rationally KNOW I’m not a viable target of faith.  Something that doesn’t exist can’t be such a failure.

But for so long since, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between ruts of destructive order and destructive chaos, forgetting that they’re not really as opposing as I make them out to be.  I’m quite possibly the world’s only lapsed Discordian.  But I’d do well to remember some of these formative things, the things I thought I’d hold to as an adult.  The more I feel I’ve failed as an adult, as a person, as an anything, the more I try to seek order and stability and things that are predictable and known.

But perhaps this is me just trying to retreat into some “safe” and ever-besieged world of known failures,  regularly scheduled crises, and rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.  Perhaps I should be reaching toward those things I’ve always been most drawn to, when I dare draw or be drawn.  To art-ish things, and writing, and storytelling, and gods help us all maybe even poetry.  The things that I try to tell myself are frivolous, pointless, impossible, that require too much of me, that are more than I could handle, that are for Other People, Better People, Funnier People.   The things I bribe myself with — “Okay, just do the things you have to do, and then you can do the creative things you want to do – never mind that the moment will be long lost by then.”  I keep telling myself somehow that, if I get a good stable job, or otherwise earn worth or wealth, then I’ll be allowed to be creative again.  Nevermind that the times when I have jobs like this are also the times when I’m most stressed and sapped and unable to summon the energy or effort or inspiration to create.

All I know is, it sucks to feel simultaneously that you have no purpose in all the world but to Create Something — while knowing that you have to make a living, and you have to earn the right to be alive, and that even fulfilling your purpose of Creating Something isn’t enough.  If you’re particularly low on marketable skills other than Creating Something, there is almost nothing you can do to make you deserve things like food or shelter, or the money to afford such things.  The time you spend doing whatever scraps of things someone will pay you to do, is time you spend not doing what you feel made to do — and, in fact, time you spend dessicating and burning away everything in you that makes you capable of Creating Something at all.

I guess all we can do is choose creativity.  Even as we’re growing old and slowing down and drying up, even as we’re inching further into the gutter, all we can do is keep thinking, keep making connections, keep creating new ideas from the patterns we see (or create) in the chaos all around us.  Accept that it doesn’t matter, and we’re going to die alone and broke and ugly and from something probably depressingly preventable, and nothing but a burden on everyone we’ve ever cared about but maybe, before we’re shoveled under and forgotten, we’ll Create Something that lasts.  It won’t make up for anything – nothing can – but it will be Something.

“To choose order over disorder, or disorder over order, is to accept a trip composed of both the creative and the destructive. But to choose the creative over the destructive is an all-creative trip composed of both order and disorder. To accomplish this, one need only accept creative disorder along with, and equal to, creative order, and also willing to reject destructive order as an undesirable equal to destructive disorder.” ~ Malaclypse the Younger, KSC

And that, if nothing else, is something to stop and think about.

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Persistent Hesitation

I do indeed still exist.

I don’t have an exciting reason for the prolonged failures to update.  I don’t have any clear, solid reason for it at all, honestly. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have murky and nebulous excuses. But, since this blog is for nothing if not for overanalyzing things, I might as well write about that very lack of writing.

While it’s not exactly as if that last post took the Internet by storm, it did indeed get read more than I’d expected.  A lot more than I’d expected.  I’d been content, and in fact outright impressed, by a maximum of eight whole viewers one day.  After all, I knew I’d only sent the link to two or three people I knew, so that had to mean that at least one Actual Other Human Being had read something without having been pressured or obligated in any way, shape, or form!  Astounding!

Then I went and blathered about the Right Reverend Jerkface, and bam – 139 views in a day.

Having never had a Proper Blog before, or even any shambling excuse for one, I tried to do it proper.  Check back for comments.  Reply to everyone.  Read at least one thing from everyone who’d commented, comment on them if I could.  Realize my comments were probably too long; fret about being long-winded and self-important.  Realize other comments might be too short; fret about appearing terse. Watch as the comments died down.  Go about my business.  Wake up the next day.

And wonder what in all hell I should write.

It wasn’t a case of writer’s block.  I had a bevy of things that seemed interesting.  A few bits of new scientific awesomeness, particularly artistic videos, humorous news, personal ponderings.  There were a few drafts that I began and just couldn’t finish, couldn’t flesh out.  Other things that I just wanted to submit without commentary, but after what I’d hoped was a long and nuanced analysis of news and society and so forth — a post which (amazingly) made some people want to follow me — how could I just plonk down something so different?  What if that wasn’t what they expected, or what they wanted?

I felt like I’d painted myself into a corner – that whatever I wrote would have to be socially-conscious SRS BSNS.

“Or what?” said some bold but quiet backend of brain.

And then the Justification Trainwreck occurred.

It went a little something like this:

“If I don’t write something that’s long and thoughtful, anyone who followed me for Thoughtful Things will be annoyed and feel bait-and-switched.  But if I can’t think of something long and thoughtful, anyone who followed me with the expectation of being able to, y’know, read more actual words sometime would feel even more displeased – better something than nothing, right?

But, then again, that’s self-entitled as all hell — if I hold to that, then I could just start plonking down whatever half-cocked ninnyhammery I liked, claiming that anyone who didn’t like it could just unfollow and scram.  And what kind of dick move would that be!  No, no, I need to Know My Audience.

But I have people who like the science posts, and people who like the art posts, and people who like the personal posts, and people who like the social posts, and unless I were to personally conduct a sociological experiment and interpret the data through painting somehow, there’s no pleasing everyone.

But then how do I decide who to focus on?  Who do I write for, who do I try to satisfy?   But then again, doesn’t that make a work hollow, if its sole intent is to appeal to some arbitrary demographic?  I hate to read that kind of writing, and I hate to write that kind of writing, so why would I think that anyone else would want to read that kind of writing from me — even if I WERE capable of having such specific appeal?  However, don’t I basically have to choose between niche appeal and broad appeal? On the other hand, who am I to think that what I’m writing would actually satisfy anyone anyway!  That’s awfully pretentious of me!

But then again, isn’t it better to be pretentious than to convince myself that the best course of action is to write only appealing pablum?   And do I really think that I’m even in touch enough with society to be -capable- of writing appealing pablum?  But if I’m not writing this for other people, then I’m only writing it for myself – in which case this shouldn’t be a public thing in the first place.

But then again, there’s a difference between tailoring writing for a specific and totally-constructed “type” of audience or “type” of reader and just making writing available for any and all audience or readers to enjoy.  Moreover, it’s not like I even have a big sample size to begin with!  If I change my writing now to appeal to my current readers somehow, then what kinds of audiences might I potentially be missing out on by not writing other things?

But then again, if I’m having this bad of Choice Paralysis after a hundred views and a handful of follows and comments, obviously I can’t even handle a wider audience anyway!   It would be selfish to assume that made it okay to alienate current readers OR hypothetical readers – but then AGAIN, if I’m going to be fretful over whether I’m bothering or alienating someone no matter what I write, then shouldn’t I at least write about things I personally want to write about, because there’s no way to ever know if I’ve satisfied anyone but myself?

But THEN AGAIN, if I’m already presuming that I’ll fret over how others perceive what I write and fret about my writing’s objective merits, isn’t it the case that I will inherently never be satisfied by my own work anyway?  And doesn’t that obligate me to instead do my best to serve someone other than myself, because trying – even in vain – to satisfy others is always more valuable than certainly satisfying myself?   But where would that end, because if it’s a utilitarian argument, what if the writing that would please others most is the writing that would please me least?

BUT THEN AGAIN, do I even have any right to care about how pleased I am with my work, because I only deserve to be pleased if my work pleases others?

BUT THEN AGAIN, aren’t more powerful works often more discomfiting?

BUT THEN AGAIN, isn’t my work just amateur halfassed crap, not anything that’s even in the same room, building, or continent as Works Of Art?

BUT THEN AGAIN, if it’s crap and I have no business aspiring for better things, isn’t there no point at all, for me or for anyone, in pursuing it?

BUT THEN AGAIN, since writing is the only thing in my life at which I feel even remotely competent, if there’s no point in creating these writings, isn’t there no point in ANYTHING I do?

BUT THEN AGAIN, isn’t anything better than nothing, because no matter how horrible or vapid or pointless it is, it’s still some small creation spitting in the face of the void?

BUT THEN AGAIN, and this is perhaps the summation of the entire previous mess, AM I NOT JUST OVERTHINKING THIS, AND BESIDES, WHO THE HELL CARES?”

This, or variants of this, is what my brain does whenever I think about doing much of anything.   Moreso when it comes to writing or other acts of creative whatnot that I think about sharing with others, of course.  Writing is one of those few things that has always been important to me, even when I was at my nadir of self-esteem.  But almost any major choice or change tangles up a similar Gordian knot.

But why?  That’s the big question.  The answer to it is something I’m always pursuing.

And, truth be told, I did have a big examination coda thing at the end of this.  Trying to come up with some sort of answer.  And it’s been dangling here, waiting for The Reasons, since the end of last month.  Living up to everything it was trying to analyze.

The core of it, so far as I could find, is that I’m trying to seek justification.  Sometimes I’m trying to control things that I can’t control, sometimes I’m trying to not do anything until I feel certain about the outcomes, sometimes I’m just trying to avoid making mistakes or looking stupid, but it all boils down to the idea that I want to convince myself that whatever I’m doing is okay.

I feel that this is still unfinished. That, even if and when I do post the bit I chopped out, the bit where I explore the process of those doubts and motivations (and failures of motivation,) it will still be unfinished.  That, even if it were finished, it wouldn’t answer anything.  Or help anything.  Or matter.

But maybe that’s okay.

Maybe.

 

But then again…

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