I wish S-Club wasn’t stuck in my head

For the first time in a while, I’ve been feeling consistently okay about being.

Not “being” anything in particular, just being. I exist, I wake up every day and have a plethora of interactions. I learn more about the world around me. I’m finding it easier to put intention towards areas of choice. As if empowered somehow to rediscover who I am and who I want to be. It feels like a gift of sorts, standing in stark contrast to most of the past few years. The joy in simplicity isn’t hidden under layers of emotional debris. It’s sitting right there. At worst, I dig a little to find deeper meaning, or the inane complications hiding amongst the mundane. It’s not a struggle to look at the expanse of years ahead of me and crumble under their weight. Yep, pretty okay.

One of the defining harbingers of this mindset has been the ability to redefine my lens. When something goes wrong, if I can’t simply brush it off I’ll balance it out. Sure, I may have an initial negative response, but I cast my net a little wider to examine why that’s happening. Is there something about the situation that’s conflicting with my values? Are my values relevant in the given scenario? Or is it worth shifting my expectations, giving more leeway to the notion that things don’t have to work out in my favour? That people are more often ignorant than malicious, and being generous towards their intentions helps both of us cope? Assuming more of others, that things are less likely to be about me than I think? In short, the hallowed advice of “don’t take it personally”. It’s helping.

Coupled with the above mentality has been a willingness to accept that there’s probably more to everything than I see. That opening myself to opportunities instead of hiding behind a pre-generated negative mindset is helping more than it’s hurting. That things are scary/challenging sometimes, and that’s part of the process. As Chris Gethard reiterated many times in his book “Lose Well” (I’m shilling hard for it, but it gave me a lot. The only good thing to do is pay it forward), nothing will replace hard work. There’s no shortcut or quick fix, and things won’t come to you without it. Sometimes, even with it.

I’m sure this all sounds very lofty, but in so many words I’m on an upswing. I’m doing exponentially better than I was. Taking medication for my depression has lifted a lot of the strain and allowed me to take my life back. I stepped away from it for a while, and I’m uncovering so much that I left behind when I did so. I have a back catalogue of catch-ups that’ll see me through to next year. I have places to go, things to see, people to hold closely. I have stories to live and all the time in the world to tell them. I have another shot, and that didn’t seem like an option a few months back.

So I’ve got a lot to feel okay about.

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When rats see a Garfield shaped pizza, they eat it without question. I have so, so many questions

I’m going to prom tonight! So I’m getting this out of the way tout de suite (tout de suit?).

I forced myself to watch another documentary last night. I don’t know if it’s a matter of being responsible, disciplined or self-loathing, but making myself consume more educational content out of fear and guilt is working. If that ain’t success- wait, I’ll stop myself there. I clearly don’t know what success is.

The documentary I watched was on creativity and the human brain. I think the presenter was a neuroscientist or something. Clearly I wasn’t paying that much attention. All I know is that he had an eerily plodding delivery and the script was a little on the nose. Aside from that, it was quite interesting. It was simply worded and didn’t get overly technical, which was a boon for a science dummy like me. What captivated me? Let’s see.

One of the more fascinating examples they had was a scientist who dealt with nanotechnology. She was facing financial restrictions, given the difficulty of working on microscopic hardware. She simply didn’t have the budget to do the work she wanted to, in order to advance her understanding. From what I gathered, it’s really fucking expensive to do precise programming and engineering on such a small scale. She thought back to a childhood toy of hers called Shrinky Dinks. I didn’t know about them, but they’re basically polystyrene sheets that can be coloured, then heated. When they interact with heat they shrink dramatically. She discovered that she could apply the same principle to her nanotechnology, even with trace amounts of metal. What this meant was that she could work on full sized hardware before shrinking it down, retaining all of its qualities. She eliminated her fiscal issues by thinking outside the box. Isn’t that ridiculously smart and creative? I thought it was downright clever.

They also talked about why human beings are able to be creative, and it has to do with input/output receptors. In a rat’s brain, for instance, the input/output receptors are right next to each other. A rat will recieve input signals (say, looking at a piece of food) and the output impulse is to eat the food, which they do. There’s no real processing, just instinct. In a human brain, the I/O receptors are separated by billions of neurons. This gives us the capacity to receive an input signal, process and examine said signal, before reacting with an output directive. In the same example, we could see food, consider whether or not we want food, and decide what to do with it. Maybe we’d take the food and save it for leaner times. Or contemplate different ways of preparing the food that’d be tastier. Perhaps we’d look at the food and it’d spark a memory. The colour palette could stitch together with latent thought to give us design ideas, linguistic notions or create humour. Our ability to discern before acting was a major game changer in human evolutionary success.

The other thing I took from the documentary were a few linked notions. Our brains run off fuel (food) and often seek to run efficiently in order to make that fuel last. It’s why we often seek the path of least resistance in our activities. The more we’ve done simple tasks, the less effort we need to put in to accomplish them subsequent times. We want things to be easy, because it draws on instincts we honed when food was scarce.

At the same time, we seek novel experiences. We want to light up our brains with the thrill of something unexpected. We get used to stimuli we’ve processed again and again. It stops becoming exciting and grows dull. To clarify so far, we want new things, but we don’t want to put in effort to get those new things. Path of least resistance, right?

Being creative means pushing boundaries. It’s a ton of work that may not pan out with obvious or immediate benefits. It’s hard. Furthermore, to achieve mastery over something, it’s often repetitive and tedious. You don’t become a virtuoso without practice, but practice is boring. The thrill of the new or novel is hard to find when you’re retreading the same space. It’s not to say that hard work doesn’t yield new or exciting things, but it takes time and focus to get there. Time and focus are the antithesis of least resistance stuff. Once you get to that point, you’ve got the fear of failure to contend with, and that’s a whole new obstacle. Do you see why it’s so hard for many of us to take the first step? Being creative means considering all of those prospective struggles along the way and opposing your natural instincts to chill out. It feels like you’re acting against your best interests, when it’s entirely the opposite.

No wonder I find it hard to make myself learn in the first place.

Design of the times

I did it! I beat my deadline by a week!

I can’t be bothered linking yesterday’s post. It wasn’t anything worth linking. I did, however, set myself a task. I said that, since knowledge was everywhere, I was gonna get me some of it. I proclaimed that by next Wednesday I’d come back having learned something. Whether this was picking up a new skill, or just forcing myself to watch a documentary. I took the path of least resistance and watched a documentary. I say “least resistance”, but it took work to push myself into not just zoning out on my own. I’d played some Magic out of habit and was basically just refreshing my Facebook feed/Reddit. We all have those loops where we look up the same handful of sites, right? Much as I figured I wasn’t getting anything done, pushing against the default isn’t a walk in the park (unless your desired task was a park stroll). I probably did the Facebook/Reddit/Magic loop at least 3 times while trying to decide how to attain learning.

I watched an episode of Abstract: The Art of Design on Netflix. Sure, that may be a leisure activity for some, but for me it wasn’t. I have very little visual acuity. I love words and sounds, but it’s rare that visual components spark my synapses in quite the same manner. In order to push my boundaries a little, I opted to watch an episode on graphic design. It’s something I’ve rarely looked into. Of course it’s interesting, but without much acquired vocabulary it often goes over my head. I figured if anyone could translate for me, it’d be a Netflix doco made for general consumption.

I lucked out. The graphic design episode featured a designed named Pala Scher, who seems to be a longtime fixture in the New York scene. Why was that lucky? Because typography in particular was her specialty. WORDS! One of my two favourite things! It was literally visual language, and her style was totally captivating.

What did I learn though? The doc focused more on her legacy and work than necessarily technique. Still, I think I took soft inspiration from seeing the range of concepts she evoked. Typography is always something I’ve passively consumed. The way she used words was truly an artform. Sometimes it’d be sparse and minimalist, with a subdued aesthetic. Then other pieces would be utterly crammed with words. Words jammed into almost every inch of a poster, framing the subject by the use of negative space. They’d vary in font, colour, shape, size. Y’know, the usual stuff designers do with words. But I swear it was impressive. She often negated formal structure in lieu of style, with words disregarding ease of reading in favour of visual metaphor.

If this doesn’t mean much, one piece really stood out. She’d taken a self portrait she’d drawn, then chronologically overlaid different stages she’d gone through. Her face, for instance, had lines listing illnesses she had at different ages, free flowing at all different angles. She’d written her various hairstyles through the years, flowing down in waves like strands. I’m doing a terrible job at describing it. Just look for yourselves.

Look, it might be a stretch saying I really learned anything valuable, but I was quite taken by the way she interpreted the world. Lots of out of the box thinking, dynamic visuals and bucking conventions. I noticed that as I was watching all these stylistic choices, my brain was translating them to audio effects, the main design work I’ve done. I’d look at certain angles and consider how that’d be represented in EQ. A representation of “R”s of different sizes brought to mind speed, and how that could be varied within a sentence itself. Shadows made me think of multi-tracking, and colours corresponded in my head to pitches. I don’t know why this was all happening in my brain, but it was curious that I was completely sober. I do wonder what kind of inspiration has been planted, and if that’s something I can harness. Y’know, I could always watch another episode…

Oh, maybe I learned that learning isn’t so bad?

You gotta know too, understand?

It’s really not that hard to learn stuff these days.

That doesn’t mean I’ve gotten better at it. HOLEEEEEY shit I’ve become increasingly lazy when it comes to acquiring knowledge. I was just talking about family Passover with someone and tried to trace my family connection to the meal. Pretty sure that it was the family of my second cousin once removed. Pretty sure, but not certain. Then today in my Reddit browsing, r/coolguides had a diagram about familial connections and their names, etc. I did not click. I thought about clicking, for sure. Then I clicked something else. Upon clicking something else I considered my decision. “It’s okay to admit you don’t know something, but if you have a chance to learn something at low cost, isn’t that just value added to your life?” I mused. I agreed with myself wholeheartedly, then continued to click links other than the useful one. “Y’know, I can go without knowing this today. If I really care a ton I can just look it up another day.” Learning is abundant and of low value, apparently. Or my faith in technology is all too high. If the Y2K bug has been waiting to strike in 2020, I’m all too fucked.

I think I’m from one of the last generations that grew up without The Internet. Kind of. I’m one foot in, with my first internet experiences occurring around age 10. So I learned hard skills before software. Half. I had computers as a kid, but I thought the sentence sounded too neat not to use. We grew up with a slow 80s IBM. I still loved it, as I did technology of any variety. It was kind of ideal, but I’m sure every generation thinks that. Our encyclopedia, Encarta, sure felt powerful at the time, and somewhat primed us for seeking online information. I mean, it probably would have if I wasn’t solely interested in playing games. I was so desperate to game, that I even played Mind Maze, Encarta’s in house trivia loosely disguised as fun. I thought it was gonna be Doom 2, but with knowledge. IDDQD did not work, so I got nowhere. I probably just went back to playing Star Control 2 without really knowing how that worked. Treasure Math Storm it was not.

As an adult I fully recognise how amazing learning is, and still there’s a bunch of horse to water reticence going on. With the overabundance of opportunity to pick up captivating info online, I have trouble more than half-arsing it. So I guess you could say that in terms of a burning desire to learn, I’m half-arson it. Dumb. Which it is, for me not to upskill in my leisure time. It’d be in my best interests to upskill, but my stubbornness makes it hard. If there’s not a direct line between knowledge and success, it’s a hard sell to push myself. That ain’t smart, true as it is. How about this? I’ll push myself to take in some knowledge by this time next week. Anyone want to check in and keep me accountable? It could be watching a documentary, picking up a new practical skill, going through a Lynda.com style tutorial. Anything that pushes me to gain knowledge. You have my word and best intentions, that I’ll come back next Wednesday with brand new brain food. Have we got a deal?

Knowledge shared is knowledge halved, or something.

I’m the Good Charlotte of motivation

I know it seems like I’ve lost my way lately, but after a lot of coffee in a not long period, I’ve decided what to do with my life. I’m gonna become an Instagram motivational guru.

I’m sure at the offset this sounds like a curious vocation for someone in the depths of depression, but I’ve got this. If David Avocado Wolfe can peddle nonsense pseudoscience to scores of desperate white hippies, then I can 100% take advantage of the same demographic. It’s clearly the right thing to do, and I’ve run out of other options. So let’s go, time to motivate the fuck out of some Equinox gym members!

Why do people care so much about gold, when nothing shines brighter than a mother’s love?

You know what money can’t buy? A ray of sunshine. Be the brightness in your life.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it uses fewer muscles. Happiness is literally the path of least resistance.

Sure, antioxidants are great, but why be so negative? Try being pro-oxidant for a change.

Regret creates negative ions that dry out your skin. Being happy produces quarks that send your body into a constant state of flux, eliminating impurities.Why argue with science?

If you really want to start your day off right, try a bowl of pine cones. They’re nature’s granola, but without all that sugar.

Music is the fruit of love, so never go without it. Silence leads to the void, and that’s how sadness gets in.

People spend so much time worried about what happened in the past, that they forget tomorrow is a new day. Identity theft is only a crime if you get caught. Just be someone else.

Take five minutes a day just to stretch and feel in your body. Buy a rack. Hire a personal torturer. Elongate your limbs and soul.

If you have trouble sleeping at nights. Try staying awake for five days at a time. It’ll kickstart your metabolism and refresh your entire system. The night terrors can’t catch you if you never rest.

Your body is the greatest vaccine of all. To set yourself up to fully realise your dreams, take a shot of a deadly disease every morning. Become a professional bug chaser. Trust your body. It will take care of the rest.

Real beauty comes from within. Your organs are where your true light shines. Try inversion surgery today, and find your inner splendour.

Now all I need is to pay some Instagram models to repost me and I’m set. Why was I ever worried about my future, when it’s literally this easy?

Inner gut o’ avoiding, baby

A friend of mine posted a quote on Facebook that was along the lines of “always trust your instincts. If something deep inside of you tells you something isn’t right about something, trust it.”

Don’t worry, it was probably better written than that, I was just paraphrasing.

I read it, thought about it for two seconds and thought hey wait, what? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my gut instincts have shit for brains. If I trusted my gut instincts, I’d never leave the house. My gut instincts are 1000% risk averse. They’re not reasonable in the slightest. They barely register context clues or a wider perspective, they’re an animalistic auto-response to stimuli.

My gut instincts tell me that anyone and everything is a threat. I am constantly in danger at all times, and my only recourse is to overanalyse the fuck out of each miniscule interaction I’m a part of.

My gut instincts have mislead my first impressions of people innumerable times. As it turns out, I often need to warm to people through understanding what smaller aspects of their personality mean as part of a larger whole.

My gut instincts tell me to run and cut ties as soon as I have an inkling of doubt in any relationship.

My gut instincts tell me that if I intervene in any public disagreement, it will result in being physically harmed.

My gut instincts tell me that any time a figure of higher status wants to talk, it’s because I’ve done something wrong.

My gut instincts tell me to solely eat fatty, protein dense food, as if we’re still living in the ice age and food scarcity is a valid concern for the vast majority of people who earn a decent wage.

My gut instincts tell me that every unknown woman sees me as a threat, and that it’s always better to wait until they engage rather than making the first move.

My gut instincts tell me that nobody is attracted to me.

My gut instincts, despite infinite evidence to the contrary, tell me not to go every time I have tickets to see live music.

My gut instincts told me not to live with my girlfriend.

My gut instincts told me I’d hate Paddington (2014).

My gut instincts tell me never to try at anything, because it’ll all just blow up in my face.

I’m not saying they’re always wrong, but it’s far less likely that they’re right than not. I don’t have good instincts. I was supremely lucky to have been born as a human being, in a time without daily life-threatening obstacles, because I’m not primed to handle adversity. Now, I’m not a total idiot. My brain can parse context, and use past experiences to gauge how likely future ones are to be threats. I’m very, very fortunate that I was taught how to analyse situations and weave logic into my decisions, because I have very little in the way of innate wisdom.

For instance, my gut instinct tells me not to write these every day, and look how far we’ve come.

The best offence is a good defence, right?

Kind of as corollary to yesterday’s post, the discussion with my friend about comedy, punching down and causing offence continued. A bunch of it is too specific to be of use here. One thing that stuck out was my friend saying that in his opinion, being offended is a choice. I disagreed.

“As for “being offended is a choice”. That stance is a luxury that not everyone has. As far as the two of us go, we have enough cultural capital to inoculate ourselves from a ton of stuff. We’re both white dudes from affluent, supportive, loving families. We didn’t have to struggle with issues of inequality in the same way others probably did. We weren’t beaten or relentlessly tormented for who we loved. We never had to fear for being shot because of the colour of our skin. It’s very easy to be unaffected by issues that don’t affect you, y’know?

At the same time, just because I don’t feel personally attacked, insulted or used as a punchline by a lot of comedy that punches down, that doesn’t mean to me that people can’t or shouldn’t be. I’ve got no place to judge how others react to anything based on their life experiences. If someone feels hurt by something, I’ve got no right to say that they’re not allowed to feel that way. I haven’t been in their shoes. For a lot of people it’s not a choice, and I don’t think it’s charitable to judge other people based on our own metrics.

As for being offended, it’s rare that I really am. What does happen though, when I hear lazy, sexist, homophobic, racist, etc etc etc content, is that I get disappointed or disheartened. I feel shitty for the people who feel like their struggles are being mocked by someone who has never lived them. I feel sad that people don’t understand the inherent power structures in our society and care more about trying to get cheap laughs by catering to the uncaring majority than considering how to more adeptly structure what they’re saying. Because that would require too much thinking. That’s lazy.”

The thing is, this is all a learned response. It’s not like most of this would be apparent unless someone pointed it out. Has anyone ever done that to you? Made you aware of something that you then couldn’t ignore? A friend once told me that Matt Bellamy, the lead singer of Muse, inhales sharply while singing. I couldn’t help but notice it every goddamn time after that. I’m not gonna say it ruined their music, but it definitely changed how I experienced it. This desperate gasp at the beginning of every sentence. How could you not?

Look, I’m a big ol’ loudmouth know it all. It sure is fun to spread your opinion all over the world wide web in a feeble attempt to get Internet Points. I’ve also, as I’ve aged (rapidly), learned a lot more about what feels worth speaking up about. Comedy, language, and progress are important to me. I’ve put a ton of effort into recalibrating my views on the world and figuring out where the disparity between my perspective and others’ lies. I know that there’s a heap of animosity between polarised political ideologies and, while I’m generally heavily left leaning, I don’t think anyone is totally right all of the time.

There’s a phenomenon we see in progressive circles quite often, where someone will learn something, then turn around and chastise others for not knowing what they themselves just learned. I don’t know what part of this is tolerance or progress. It directly feeds into the notion of holier than thou, ivory tower academia and it’s serving nobody. Learning isn’t always a one way street. Having conversations enables us to teach one another by sharing perspectives the other may not have considered. For this to work though, we have to be open to our own fallibility and view this as a strength.

The thing is, that’s hard. So much of society teaches us that to succeed, we need to be confident. For many of us, we take that to mean steadfast obstinance. If you don’t believe in yourself, your growth will wane. In reality, confidence includes openness to criticism. If you’re confident, you’ll know not to take it personally. That adaptability is a huge strength. That criticism is not an insult, but an opportunity. It’s difficult to hear that you’re not always right, y’know?

Be pensive, not defensive.