Those of us who despise this tendency don’t have a voice, or a side, let alone anything like a lobby. It’s impossible to be heard when your whole position is quiet, now that all public discourse has become a shouting match. Being an advocate of quiet in our society is as quixotic and ridiculous as being an advocate of beauty or human life or any other unmonetizable commodity.
image credit Mr. T in DC/Flickr
I have never played darts before. I’ve never played any hand-eye coordination-intensive sport or game before. I am standing in front of a dartboard for the first time.
I do not have high hopes for my first attempt at throwing a dart. I just want to give it a throw and see where it lands, see if I like this game. I have no feel for the aerodynamics of such an interesting implement, and my arm’s feel for throwing accurately is limited as well.
My only hope is that I can get that dart to stick somewhere on the board.
When I throw the dart for the first time, I barely make the board, much less the circle I’m supposed to be aiming for to score points. I’m not even close to the bulls-eye.
While this darts scenario is far from something that would actually happen to me (I have been playing hand-eye coordinated sports for a long time, and god knows that any game I play turns into goddamn olympic-level competition in my mind), it illustrates well how I try to think about the things and people that I want have in my life. Often, I get stuck hoping to hit the bulls-eye on the first try, when really I should be aiming to get the fucking dart on the board. We all do this at some time or another - we expect to get things right the first time when we’ve never even thrown a dart before.
Much of the people, experiences and skills I want for myself are nothing but iterative. To have the desire to hit the bulls-eye is good for initial motivation, but detrimental thereafter. If we expect that we can step up with no feel for our own adeptness and hit that bulls-eye on the first try, we are actually likely to be moving ourselves away from hitting it in the long run. Unrealistic expectations breed unnecessary frustration, which in turn makes us less likely to follow through on working hard enough to hit the center of the dartboard some day.
For me, the biggest help in this process of reaching goals and fulfilling desires has been focusing on my net gains in a given situation and not seeking some unattainable (and often, nonexistent) ideal or ultimate level of deft understanding or achievement (or happiness). Without fail, I almost always find that as I become more familiar with a given situation (skill, person, relationship, etc.), I see there is no real consistent bulls-eye; it can be hit a few times, but never always and forever.
This is a really hard reality for people who inexorably expect the best of themselves (and I would put myself in that category). To use a mathematical analogy (that I’m probably going to botch), it’s hard to be ok with just a positive d/dx when all you want is the maximum value reached by f(x). But being aware of and appreciating that positive trend, that hard work toward a skillful approach to a given situation, can be the most important part of getting as close to that maximum as possible.
I try to take a few moments every day and remember that I’m still figuring a lot of stuff out. To expect the best while iterating is to expect nothing but a positive iterative trend.
I just want to hit the dartboard, so someday maybe I’ll be able to get that bulls-eye.
I had a conversation recently with a close friend who used to be much closer. In our conversation he/she (I want to maintain anonymity) asserted that in the last 4 years (the time since I had been away at college), they found that they no longer could “get a read on who I was”. This is not unusual when you go from spending a significant of time with another person to close to none at all. The sense of that person is no longer with you, so naturally that leaves a lack of clarity on their behavior.
The conversation resonated with me, though, because it made me think about how much I had changed in my time since I began college. Was I really a “different” person? What does it mean to have changed as a person? How hard is it to change one’s self fundamentally? Is it even possible?
I graduated two weeks ago today. In that time I’ve done a lot of thinking about what this means. The weirdest thing about graduating is that for the first time in my life, there is no road that is showing me the next step ahead of me. From a very young age, we’ve been given a prescription for how to progress as we got older. It started as young children, where our parents or nannies told us how to behave. We moved onto to elementary school where everything from our etiquette to our intellect began development through exterior forces - our teachers and peers (both older and the same age). In Middle School and High School, we were still confined to a schedule without our input - class every day, 8:00am-3:00pm (or thereabouts), and most of those classes were chosen for us as requirements for our next tier of education. Finally, in college, we were starting to be treated as independents. We could choose our schedules and our majors, our classes and whether to attend them. We chose whether we wanted to exercise or not, what we wanted to eat, who we wanted to hang out with, where we wanted to live and whether we felt like talking to our parents anymore (although this was a precarious choice if our parents were helping us out at all in paying for our education).
It’s not surprising then that when many young adults graduate college there is a certain degree of panic. Some mitigate this by going to graduate school. Not all people go to graduate school to avoid uncertainty, but some do. It’s another set path to follow. But still, many of us are left looking at a glaring question mark when we finish undergrad. We don’t know what to do and that scares many of us. But why?
I am going to admit a bias here: I did not have the most positive academic experience in college. Bureaucracies, a large student body, and an institutional rigidity that prevented me from successfully completing a major that I was interested in (without wagering another $60,000 against my future) all marred my experience. But while I turned away from classes, requirements and majors, I began to spend more time looking at people, including myself, and attempting to decipher the cause and effect relationship between environmental/external forces and people’s reactions to them. I think this was a good thing. We spend all of our lives living around, interacting with, and compromising with people around us. However, we only spend our early, formative years in school. In the end, investing time in understanding and learning to work with people is something that has a longer lasting value. Though I am grateful for the lessons I learned in school about how to learn, study and analyze information, I think that my time observing and interacting with others has been the most valuable information I have gained in the course of my life.
I suspect that my love for and interest in people along with my souring experience in academics has made me more comfortable with this transition from a rigid academic life to a uncertain life in the “real world”. But the real world offers no solace on its own; it does not tell us who to meet and hang out with, what job to take (and more frighteningly, if you will even get that job), or where to live. This is the ultimate uncertainty. We are without the nurturing advice we have generally received since our birth.
But I think there’s a better, different way to perceive this phenomenon: uncertainty is potential. Unlimited potential. We no longer have institutional inhibitions telling us what isn’t possible within a smaller system. The world is our new system. Only a lack of determination and work ethic inhibits our ability, once we know what we want to do (which means indecision is the first hurdle to overcome). But all we need to do is think about what we like and what makes us happy. Everyone has likes and dislikes. And even if you don’t have a favorite job in mind, you will have something that you know you can like. With this knowledge, you can’t go wrong - all you have to do is try doing something in that field. Once you’ve tried it, you will know whether it’s something you like and want to keep doing or if it’s something you want to stop. If it’s the latter, you cut your losses, appreciate the valuable experience that helped you narrow down your interests and options, and move on. No harm done. Repeat this process until you find something you want to do for awhile, and suddenly, you’re back in a situation where you path is defined. You know what you want to keep doing for an extended period of time. And this kind of definition is more valuable than the kind we got in school because we are in control. There is nothing stopping us from changing our minds other than ourselves.
And to me, that is a beautiful freedom. We don’t have something that we are expected to do other than our own expectations to do something at all. For me, embracing the wonderful and nearly infinite unknown of this “real world” is exciting and promising. I have never had more opportunity in my life.
So when people ask me what I want to do with the rest my life now that I’ve graduated, I never have a short answer. I know what I want try in the next few years, but expressing certainty beyond that would be a lie to myself and to them. And I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
Dalton Caldwell, a writer who is a part of the Svbtle network, writes this interesting piece on greatness and its manifestation.
As I regularly read the book to my pre-lingual son, I began to take notice that it captured Truth about life. To be completely honest, during this difficult period, I got to the point where I had trouble reading the whole book to him without choking up. Sure, laugh if you want.
Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winningest winner of all. Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t. I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.
What is fascinating to me is that Great creation stories all sound surprisingly similar. Something along the lines of “yeah we went in the studio and put down some tracks, and they sounded pretty good, and we had to redo a couple of things, and then when put out the album.” Disappointing, right?
Except, it’s not. Because, as he points out, greatness is something that is a product of such drive and repetition, such refined precision and understanding, that it is often subconscious.
The main takeaway that I have been able to synthesize from all of this data is this: Greatness always comes from someone with a finely honed craft, a craft honed to the point of muscle memory. In baseball, you can’t be thinking about which hand goes where on the bat, and how wide your stance is, and where your feet are placed if you want to hit a fastball. All of those decisions have to be muscle memory, and you must have a clear head that is simply thinking about “showing up to play.”
Put more beautifully and succinctly:
You just need to have clear eyes, a full heart, and be ready to show up and play.
I’ve read a couple things today that reminded me about individualism and I thought I would organize my thoughts on the subject in general in the form of a post. By individualism, I mean listening to yourself, and only yourself, when facilitating the most important aspects in your life. These important aspects are almost always connected to the things we love to do (and on occasion, to the people we love; though I’ll take a second to note the inherent paradox of concern for other people when you’re trying to focus on the individual). Please also take a second to note where the constraints of this dissertation exist - For example, it would not be a good time to be individualistic when you need stitches. There are protocols in place for medical situations and frankly, I don’t want to be responsible for your dental floss holding your skin together because you thought you were being individualistic.
But no, I’m talking about listening to our own minds when it comes to the things that make our hearts stir and remind us why we’re happy to be alive. Writing is a good example of this (for me and for discussion’s sake), particularly because it can potentially impact other people. People who write to an audience and let that audience dictate the spirit of their content are going to resonate less deeply with that audience than a person who writes for themselves but writes so specifically and with such passionate accuracy, that it will move their own soul in a way that matters. The deeper and more specific your expression, the more likely it is to dig deeply at another as well. Smart people know when something is thought-out and writing is a particularly transparent form of expression that is prime for depth of evaluation. Now I suppose it is different if you write for a living and your writing depends on mass, cursory appeal, and if you don’t write with that intention then your choice for dinner next week is whatever Taco Bell decided to spurn into the depths of its dumpster. In that case, don’t listen to me. Because remember, I’m not writing for you, I’m writing for myself.
The inherent contradiction of my thoughts as I’m writing this is that this will probably be read by other people (and you grammar nuts are probably noting my constant use of the second person as well) and so how can I be writing for myself if I am knowingly posting on a platform which it is prime for other people to read my thoughts? The answer is twofold: the first fold is that I am not deluded enough to think I am the only person in this word struggling with individuality, and the second is I use Tumblr as a somewhat online documentation of my thoughts and writing things down helps reinforce and organize them in a way that is better than just opening up a Word document or slapping sentences on a piece of lined paper. And what I’ve noticed about myself and other people is that we are all looking for something to make us as happy as possible. And yet, often we turn outward grasping at everything and sampling each experience, each person seeing how it makes us feel and comparing that with everything else that’s strong enough in our memories to validate just how happy those experiences and people make us. It’s sort of like blindly trying a bunch of restaurants hoping to find your favorite food instead of thinking about how much you love chicken and hot sauce and then going out to target the best buffalo wings joint in your neighborhood. You’re going to save yourself a lot of time, money and energy if you listen to yourself first when seeking happiness instead of pining through external potentials.
Another irony about my writing here is that I’ve found the best way to measure what makes me happy is not by breaking it down analytically, but by gauging the visceral response to a experience. Were you uncharacteristically happy when you were painting that scene of your backyard? Were you free of inhibiting thoughts when you were climbing that rock edifice in Yosemite? Did you feel like it was only you and the water and nothing else in the world while you were surfing in Hawaii? These are all examples of potential realizations of how much something means to you. I’m speaking more of activities and experiences here because they can be fundamentally enjoyed by just you. Things that involve just you and an activity also happen to involve the fewest variables - which means that you are much less likely to get a marred signal about how you feel about it. The more people you throw into an experience, the more dependencies you’re banking on to replicate that feeling again.
The activities that should mean the most to us are the things that are done with only ourselves. Last I checked, there is no one else in this world you can be other than you (however, if a real-world Being John Malkovich is out there somewhere, please refer me to this portal because I’ve always wanted to see someone else run around with their hair on fire). And because you are you and I am me and there’s nothing we can do to change that we should get pretty good at being who we are. To me, this means knowing what I like to do when I’m the only party involved. Because we’re always the only party involved with our own lives. No one else controls it. That should be empowering and freeing, not frightening or frantic.
Long read in the NYTimes this week. The story documents a family of a 9 year old named Michael who exhibits signs of psychopathy. The story is wildly enthralling, especially for someone who finds differing forms of insanity as intriguing as I do. Michael, the child in question, is not only unempathetic, but markedly manipulative. The most fascinating behavioral pattern of Michael (and his peers mentioned in the story at the psychological summer camp that Michael attends) is their ability to delay gratification in order to achieve the ultimate goal they seek. An example is highlighted when the reporter interacts with Michael directly:
Glancing down a second later, he noticed my digital tape recorder on the table. “Did you record that?” he asked. I said that I had. He stared at me briefly before turning back to the video. When a sudden noise from the other room caused me to glance away, Michael seized the opportunity to grab the recorder and press the erase button. (Waschbusch later noted that such a calculated reprisal was unusual in a 9-year-old, who would normally go for the recorder immediately or simply whine and sulk.)
The thing that stands out about all of the suspected psychopathic children in the story is how intelligent they are when they’re uninhibited by empathy. They only document cause and effect relationships, measuring what actions yield what results, never held back by worry of the ensuing human consequences. It’s a somewhat unbridled and insidious curiosity that drives them rather than a measure of social feedback. Their psychopathy produces a sense of simplicity and purity, where their lives are not colored or distracted by their fellow humans. It’s a frighteningly solitary existence to live, but also remarkably free. I found the piece to be well worth the several thousand words.
I was reading a post by jtotheizzoe about synaesthesia, particularly an article that details some people who experience the phenomenon, and their unique interactions with color. I first knew I had some kind of color association with certain data types when I was very young. My parents would ask me about events on certain days, and I noticed that when I would recall the days with which the events were associated, my memory would automatically generate a color association with the time period. For example (and this still stands today), when asked about something that I would recall happened on Wednesday, I would arrive at the information by knowing that the warm feeling of a soft yellow (with complimentary hues of blue) was associated with that date.
As I learned more and more about the world as a I got older, I began to notice patterns with color. My friends would comment on my unusual ability to memorize phone numbers, addresses and birthdays, but it was all done because each of these entities had their own distinct color that I associated with their identity. As I became more self-reflective on the phenomenon, I found that there were distinct patterns of color association - for example, rounder numbers and letters, such as “g” or “3” were more likely to be associated with warmer colors such as orange, red or yellow. Conversely, sharper and more angular characters, such as “4” or “N”, were more likely to be associated with darker, colder colors like deeper blues and greens (not much unlike the colors of tumblr!).
The whole idea was somewhat exacerbated by my OCD, where I found emotional resentment for groups of shapes or characters that did not work well with one another’s synaesthetic color scheme.
Perhaps the oddest notion about all of this is that I had no idea what synaesthesia was until a few years ago (I am now 22) when I stumbled upon the definition after discussing my color association with a friend. The friend had not heard of the behavior before, despite being a psychology student, which inspired me to google something along the lines of “color and shape association with letters numbers and memory”. After perusing some of the results, I found the definition. It had never occurred to me before that moment that it was something unusual. If you think about it, one’s internal thought process is something that rarely gets brought up. It would be a little like trying to explain Chinese to someone who spoke only English, in Chinese. The way we think of things is just a way of how we see the world - there is nothing perceptibly interesting or explicable about it, it’s just what we automatically do.
But since learning of it, some of my behavioral patterns make a little more sense. For example, there are certain word combinations that elicit a type of clarity that I only know exists based on the color combination/association of those words. When one of these phrases is uttered, the feeling to me is so specific, so radically intrinsic to the meaning and shape of the words, I get a sense of satisfaction having used them with such accuracy. The same goes for combinations of physical/artistic shapes and colors - when I draw or design a set of shapes together, I know that I have done them in the way that feels right based on the mental synaesthetic feedback I get from their aesthetic.
I was happy to see the post in my feed today because it’s a topic that does not often get discussed, but is something that is very personal to me and my experience as a human being perceiving the world around me. A special thanks to jtotheizzoe for providing that interesting post.
You are sitting on your couch watching a movie. The movie, you’ve heard, is interesting. You’ve seen parts in the beginning of it, and understand them, but you want to watch the rest. You try to focus on the storyline, the visuals, the dialogue and yet they are being drowned out. The soundtrack, no matter how beautiful in its accompaniment of the movie, is much louder than the words and actions on screen. The music is supposed to be background noise, and yet, for some reason, it is completely overshadowing everything else happening. You reach for the remote to specifically target the background noise. But there’s no option to turn down just the music. You look around confused, panicked. I really wanted to watch this movie. But you can’t. The music is too loud.
You like the music; it’s fascinating, complex. But it’s distracting. How am I supposed to follow anything with this much noise? You are losing an uphill battle. But the movie is the only thing you have to do. It’s the only thing you know of at the moment.
You look around at the room. I wish I weren’t watching this movie alone. It would be nice to have someone to watch the movie with. Ideally, someone who’s seen parts of the movie you haven’t. They can help fill in the holes. But even they would be distracted by the music. They can’t fully concentrate on the movie either. But perhaps, in spite of the distraction, you could still share details about the movie that you each already know and piece together what might happen in the rest of it. You may be missing a few seconds of the movie to talk about it, but the comfort of having someone else watching with you is overshadowing this concern.
And yet, you are still alone. The movie playing, the music drowning it out. You have the option of turning down all sound from the movie, but then you would be missing a big part of it. You would be viewing it based solely on assumptions of what’s happening - a visual autopilot. You’re far from a qualified lip-reader and the sound adds such an important dimension to what’s going on. You are stuck in a situation where you have 3 choices: try harder to ignore the music, turn off the sound, or turn off the movie. The first option is the hardest to do, but the other two would leave you without the whole reason you came into the room in the first place.
So what do you do? It’s up for you to decide what you can handle. You can let the music drown out the movie, give up on the movie entirely, or you can do everything in your power to recognize that the music is only a part of the movie, a part of your life. How much the music impacts the quality and meaning of the movie is a product of how much your allow it to stew in your mind. If you let it get too loud, you’ll miss the movie. And unfortunately, there’s no rewind button.