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.