We are what we pretend to be

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be

It’s a quote from Kurt Vonnegut that I think about often. And I mostly thought about it in the negative. I spent my childhood pretending to be more hurt than anyone else, I spent my teens pretending to be a tragedy of limitless potential, I spent my 20s pretending to be a barfly, all the while thinking I was something deeper and truer than my behaviour. Meanwhile I saw a lot of people pretending to be hardcore, pretending to loved drugs, pretending to be little criminals for the teenage social carte blanche and now they’re mostly in jail and some are dead.

But it can work in the positive too. Think about bravery: if you can pretend to be brave when you’re afraid then that’s what bravery actually is. If you can act tough when you’re endurance is waning then that’s what toughness is.

It’s works well with a quote from Jocko Willink that I like, he says if you want to be tougher, be tougher.

This ideas builds character rather than building you into a character, which is what a lot of people do with their aspirations. They try to act like what they want to be, without going through what it takes to actually be what they want to be.

To paraphrase Jocko – if you want to be smarter, be smarter – but you can’t just pretend to be smart. That’s make you look stupid. If you want to be smarter you have to get smarter. You can’t, to use a phrase which disgusts me, fake til you make it; and in fact, faking it will ensure you never make it.

So if your ideal self is smart you can’t think of yourself as smart, you have to think of yourself as learning.

I read about a study with children who received good grades on a test. Half of them were praised for being smart and half were praised for having studied hard. The grades of the children in the smart group went down in the future. They expected to know things without studying, they got scared to admit when they didn’t know things, the persona of smart had expectations they couldn’t meet because smart isn’t actually a thing.

I get told a lot that I’m smart and I reminded myself that I’m not smart, I’m insightful, I’m curious, I’m patient about exploring ideas. Those things are all processes to go through not just a label.

Time for a squash analogy: If I play against someone and beat them easily because it’s there second game I get labelled good at squash, if I then play Karim Gawad and get crushed I’m not a good squash player. Therefore that ‘good’ label meant nothing. It doesn’t quantify my ability in any way.

And so it is with people who want to be smart, who think they can intuit any situation. Even if they’re right it’s only a coincidence because it isn’t built on anything.

They live behind a one-way mirror in their own lives, seeing through their own persona and hoping you don’t see the real them behind it. They’re trying to superimpose an ideal personality onto themselves and it doesn’t quite work because it’s apparent when they don’t have the foundation.

These people are highly susceptible to advertising. They want to be connoisseurs and they have no palette so they buy whatever they’ve been given the impression is fancy. They want to have educated opinions so they mimic the strongest sounding opinions they’ve heard.

With that said I think there is still a place for pretending-as-growth.

I sometimes wear bright colours, or colours at all for that matter, and it changes how I know people see me. And rather than telling myself this isn’t me because I naturally love dressing in solid black I tell myself that it’s okay to be playful, that it’s okay to be slightly someone else.

I think there’s a terrible danger in thinking you’ve found your true self because it limits your own behaviour. If you think I’m not a sports person then you won’t play sports even on the day you get invited and think yeah, you know what, something inside me does want to go throw a football around.

We’re under no obligation to be the same person internally or ex on any given day. Sometimes just some anonymity can tell you who you wish you were. As a meditation go to a bar where no one knows you are and ask yourself – what do you want them to be seeing when they look at you? What story unfolds in your head when you’re free from being the character you’ve been?

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Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pop Culture, Pragmatism

Be careful about narrating your life

There’s a tendency among creative, daydreamy people to narrate their lives to themselves as they live them.

When something good and interesting happens it feels like the start of something, the begin of a chapter, a turning point.

Which is never true and usually not helpful.

People prone to catastrophic thinking and unable to handle set backs are projecting everything forward like you would for an event in a movie.

And using a story arc as a metric for success is really bad.

In stories, anyone who loses 3 times is a loser period.

In stories everything gets to a final confrontation immediately after things look the worst. Whereas in life we tend to get better slowly, we lose at things for years before we pivot and get good at something else. No victorious final confrontations, just realizing you moved on.

In story things happen to the protagonist at first, something unexpected kicks off events. Even in biography we frame things that way. Springsteen dedicates 8 pages to the miracle of seeing Elvis and the Beatles on Sullivan and 2 paragraphs to how much he sucked when he first tried to play guitar. An entire chapter to the hopeful struggle of getting out to California and one page to coming home tail between legs.

We love potential, we love single turning points, people who find religion later in life tend to find it really strongly because they’re tired of slowly struggling to build an identity and religion gives them one ready-made.

I wrote a long time ago when I discovered the concept of resume virtues and eulogy virtues. We’ll I also think there’s narrative events and character events in one’s life.

In story an act change comes when a character makes an irreversible decision. Character is developed when a character is tested and doesn’t change.

We live in a time obsessed with meaning because everything is so clearly meaningless and we try to create meaning by making strong, irreversible choices. Everyone wants to quit their job and do Europe, do yoga, fuck someone half or twice their age, get tattooed, become a chef, and golf with Bagger Vance.

It fits our love of immediacy.

What we can’t fathom is that you can be living your story, becoming someone great, by adapting to flourish where you are. That’s what back ground characters do.

The thing is, you are a background character in life. When you die all you are is described. In fact, in life most of what you are is described because you are telling yourself the story of yourself 10 times more than anyone else is talking about you.

And background characters aren’t less. All the best characters are background. Good back ground characters have to grab you in 2 seconds and never fully explain themselves.

People think they don’t matter because they don’t arc, they don’t beginning middle end so we can love them but we won’t identify with them.

Everyone tricks themselves into wanting to be a good story instead of wanting to be a good person all along, we’re taught that goodness is something that comes after, comes at the end of trial.

But the turning points don’t really come, we don’t change by revelation, everyone falls off the wagon. And the story you’re telling yourself about the future starting now isn’t going to jive with the story you tell yourself about the past when you look back.

Keep a journal for a while. When you read it back years later it won’t tell a story, each entry will be written by a different self part way through a different story.

This will feel like everything is meaningless. Because it is. The plot points of life only make arbitrary sense looking backward, while the character tests of life are happening all around us and we’re failing them.

So stop trying to live the story of your life and start being the character you hope other people think you are, let the narration take care of itself.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

A dream of a world with authentic advertising

Cheese is bad for you and it’s delicious. I think it’s important to say and instead of but because the statement ‘cheese is bad for you but it’s delicious’ causes you to focus on the word delicious and excuses and downplays the first half of the sentence.

That’s what I would think of as an authentic advertisement about cheese.

So it’s sucks there’s a billion dollar industry and a million livelihoods dependent on people eating cheese as much as possible, or at least buying as much cheese as possible. There’s a fucking cheese ‘council’ which is just a marketing gimmick designed to make people think there’s something official and governmenty about cheese.

I was in a drunken argument this year where I declared that laundry soap should look like poison and not be marketed half like candy. Of course I was met with the counter argument that it’s the consumer’s responsibility to keep poison away from children; and furthermore, that everything is the personal responsibility.

This notion seems so obvious that people don’t look into it’s underlying assumption, that advertising is like the weather – it simply exists uncontrolled and uncontrollable and wisdom is in adapting to it.

Which, considering the number of people killed every year by irresponsible, uniformed use of consumer products, is kind of like taking an eh, shrug, it is what it is approach to the Nazi’s in ’39.

From guns to porn to cleaning poisons to foods-that-are-technically-poisons we take it for granted that no one has your best interest at heart, in fact, we assume they’re out to fuck you and we let it slide because we’re each convinced we’re wise enough to overcome and get to look down on anyone who isn’t.

Which, firstly, seems off balance to me. Advertising pits millions of dollars, teams of top psychologists, the power of repetition, the force of celebrity, and social pressure, all against your lone will power and the insight no institution has encouraged you to have.

No institution except Concerned Children’s Advertisers, that is, with their beloved House Hippo and drug puppets.

Predatory advertisers want access to you from the minute you’re born and we as a culture sort of try to protect you from it (and sort of act like advertisers have a right to advertise to babies, which I also find insane) because we’re fully aware that it’s brainwashing; and yet, as adults we don’t do anything to protect ourselves from something we all consider a nuisance.

because they’ve already swung your parents and your parent’s parents the other plebs will criticize your integrity if you don’t believe yourself infallible in the face of this enemy.

This seems like a trite waste of will power on both sides. Before advertising even gets the consumer the business itself thrives on coercing employees into poisoning their own minds and motives. Imagine working for coca cola. Before convincing other people that useless poison sugar water is something they should drink multiple times a day, you’d have to convince yourself that they wanted to, that you wanted to. I can barely think of a stupider way to pigeonhole a human mind.

But everyone accepts that it’s just shit all the way down and we have to fend for ourselves because we believe nothing besides capitalism ‘works’ and therefore it gets to do whatever it wants.

The marketing landscape has changed a lot though, from the death of television and radio especially. You’ll notice you don’t see commercials for a lot of new companies. You don’t see TV spots for Uber. The anonymity of mass marketing became a liability. It became so ubiquitous that parody lost its impact and humour had to become completely absurd, and complete absurdity has the most diminishing returns of all humour.

And speaking of comedy I think it (the art of comedy) heralds the way forward. The comedy of the 90’s was all insincere, the jokes came from characters saying one thing while thinking another. That captures everyone on Fraser, Friends, and everyone on Seinfeld except Kramer who was the crazy oddball for acting inline with how he felt and what he wanted. Nowadays characters in comedy are all sincere weirdos. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is the sociopathic Seinfeld of our time and even they have to play the audience’s desire to see people actually feel things.

And since commerce imitates art advertising will have to somehow go that way too. Like a deodorant ad that said:

This is mostly phosphorus, it won’t make you happy, it’ll make you not stink. It won’t make you cool, you’re already cool in your own way.

That’s a free idea, someone in marketing take it.

Posted in Pop Culture

Pushing Myself Artistically

I heard a theory expressed that the reason artists lose their soul when they give up drugs is that they’re scared of exploring highs and lows.

Maintaining sobriety is a balancing act and throwing yourself into serious lows for creative purposes isn’t helpful to that process. One bad day of writers block can make a person feel like their whole existence is an insult and that hit to the self-esteem mixed with a yearning for drugs isn’t going to end well.

As I get older though, I wonder if the artistic highs and lows are just exhausting – even without being a recovered addict.

I’ve been working so hard on life – literally being alive and not hating it – that I get squeamish playing old songs. Songs people love like I Wish I Knew because I’m just so tired of staring into that abyss; and frankly, it’s dumb of me to reinforce those feelings when I’m holding on and need every bit of balance and positive motivation I can get.

I simply don’t hate myself right now, I don’t feel like beat myself up. Or if I do it comes out in a blog post talking about beating myself up which is more specific and helpful to my and my respective audience.

I think the really big delay in songwriting currently is that I’m trying to write for myself and there’s so many other things, easier things that I do for me already. Writing songs is like pulling teeth and telling myself over and over that I used to enjoy it and I’m supposed to be enjoying it now whereas playing squash or working out, making videos or working on the novel, is simply fun for me. They are gifts I give myself.

I do remember when I wrote songs for others. When working on a song I’d inevitably think of someone who was going to love it when it was done and that got me to finish it. The album I’m planning now is, at worst, me trying to grant meaning to things that felt important at the time. Trying to catalogue feelings from an awful time because otherwise they were totally worthless. Writing about it feels like risk with no reward and not writing about it feels like shirking responsibility.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism, Songwriting

Best band in the world

The phrase you could be the best band in the world but… gets thrown around a lot. Usually in the context of the hustle, the grind, the dick sucking everyone thinks they have to do to make it.

It’s taken for granted that you could be the best band in the world but if you don’t network, socialize, hustle, promote, it wouldn’t matter. Those things are more important to a career than being excellent.

This sets up the unfortunate paradigm that quality doesn’t matter at all. If you establish that being good doesn’t matter than neither does being bad. That’s why all our social media is clogged with awful bands. They think musical greatness will sort itself out over time but shameless self-promotion has to happen now.

I hear talk about the hustle all the time but I can’t think of anyone pointing out the notion that if you suck all the networking in the world will only get you as far as filler pity slots on weekday shows.

I see everyone wanting to be in a band for themselves, because there were bands they loved they imagined it would life affirming to be in.

What I don’t see is anyone asking if they actually have something to offer. To the audience, to music, to their own band.

Except of course for the few great bands I know of in town who just bring greatness to every stage, love the doing rather than wanting to get somewhere else.

Because I think if you were literally the best band in the world and all you did was play in your garage people would flock to that garage. If your band is any good people want to support you, they don’t have to be asked or cajoled.

Posted in Pop Culture, Pragmatism, Songwriting

Schedules Vs Priorities

I don’t put a lot of stock in schedules. I think of schedules as a way to plan to achieve your goal. If it’s going to take 3 hours then you’d better put three hours aside. But if you’re late you can catch it up and if you finish early you might as well leave. The schedule is a frame work for the goal and frame works are flexible.

For some people schedules are a matter of character though. The schedule itself is the goal. These are the people who say on time is late and other bullshit. Being super early because you know you have a lot of work to set up is good, being super early when you’re already totally prepared is a waste of people’s time. But for some people it’s a signal of virtue, they want it to say something positive about their character.

This idea is beaten into us as kids so it’s pretty hard to get away from. We have adults basking in the subconscious imaginary praise of teachers and principles as they bore each other with tales of how early they like to be. Those school schedules fucked us all though, it stuck kids who weren’t in ideal mindsets to learn with adults who weren’t in ideal mindsets to teach. Blah blah my usual rant about public school destroying learning blah blah.

Rather than a schedule I like to have a priorities list. There’s a difference between things we want done and things we want to do. I want the kitchen cleaned, I want to be playing videogames. One is trying to live in the past tense of something that hasn’t happened and the other is totally present and enjoying the moment. The Done vs Doing problem.

In that situation I’ll write down all things I want done and pick the one I want to do least to do first, otherwise it never gets done. And lists don’t matter if you have no sincere intention of completing them so suddenly nothing gets done. Thinking you can start with the easy ones and build up to the tough one doesn’t work, it just causes you to think you’ve done enough when you’ve done the two easiest things and nothing actually important.

Making schedules is just procrastinating procrastination. You put off something by scheduling it for later and you wait until then to put it off completely. I loathe that kind of inefficiency. I flake on everything I’m going to flake on all at once and get on with my life.

To accommodate our schedule driven world I’ve been focusing on raising my baseline levels of energy and motivation. I think it’s a shame of our culture that jobs are so narrow. I often think of retail customer service jobs because there’s maybe 4 days out of a year where I’m excited to be helpful and gregarious. I’d be fantastic at that job during those bursts and truly, truly, awful at it all the rest of the time. That feels like a teeny tiny waste. I think the world would be fantastic if adults somehow got to try on professions like children do, like when we pretended to run an ice cream parlor for an afternoon.

Instead we’re forced to pick narrow jobs that suite us as high a percent of the time as we can manage. Maybe you’re in the ideal mood for your job 48% of the time and the rest of the time you’re just slogging through it. That doesn’t seem like human flourishing to me.

Anyway, schedules and baselines…. I’ve been getting up earlier and earlier these days because if I’m going to get any writing done it has to be before work – I have no creative energy after work. At work I aim to get everything that needs to be done in the afternoon done before lunch, really attack the day, because I read that tasks tend to swell up to fill the time allotted. If you have 8 hours to do 8 tasks we humans tend to make the tasks take the time. So nowadays I prioritize and smash so there’s time left to find the tasks that got missed, or to look for inventive new tasks.

After work I know that if I relax for a minute I won’t do anything but relax for the rest of the day so I’ve got to dive into something. Then I prioritize relaxing a few hours before bed in order to get my best possible sleep and do it all over. It’s not about schedules and not even that much about routines or discipline, it’s about not talking yourself out of your priorities.

Posted in Pragmatism

Don’t be a fair weather friend to yourself

I read that phrase this morning and it got to me.

I notice an unproductive, unhelpful habit of beating myself up often. It’s hard to explain the difference between pushing oneself with motivation/discipline and beating oneself up. I thought when I put myself down for everything I did I was motivating myself and then failing to responded to motivation and beating myself up for that too.

I never took the patience to encourage myself, or let myself be myself, I was being a fair-weather friend to myself, only liking myself when things were effortlessly easy and good.

In the last year or so I’ve really worked on being more than accepting of people close to me, I’ve been trying to be truly loving, trying no just to “accept” who they are but make room for them to flourish for who they are, to empower them to change ways they want to change.

And I realized I wasn’t doing that for myself.

When I wasn’t happy with myself, when I haven’t lived up to my own expectations, I’d try to distance myself from myself. I’d think about how I never really liked myself to begin with, I’d wish I wasn’t around.

I was on my own shit list. I decided a long time ago that I was going to give all my social energy to people I care about and who care about me, and not force it out in dribs and drabs on being pleasant to who are just a drain. I believe we’re either good friends or we’re not friends, no need to clog up my short life with a lot of half measures.

When a close friend does something out of character you ask what’s wrong, where the problem is coming from, you sympathize and try to guide them. When an acquaintance is annoying you leave or wait for them to leave then you shit talk them.

And I suspect a lot of people are actually doing to themselves, they try to get away from themselves by going back to sleep, or going online, or anything else to zone out, rather than handing themselves a cup of tea and sincerely asking what’s wrong, buddy?

My negative self talk started so early in the day, literally when I woke up. The alarm goes off and if I laid there for an extra few minute I’d start telling myself I’m losing. Lose the morning, lose the day. Lose the day and you’re a loser for life, always have been always will be. That’s a pretty big thing to hang on oneself at 8:15am.

I chose to switch my thinking – what conversation would I have with a friend who said they’ll hate themselves forever for getting out of bed 15 minutes late and not wanting to go jogging? Besides the idea that going jogging seems a lot easier than hating yourself forever, it actually is the path of least resistance.

When my friends have a problem I always try to have sympathy then try to give them a plan, a back up or a hail mary if need be, so that the project isn’t over. And with myself it was always yeah, you failed ’cause you suck.

I had something of a revelation about this when telling a friend I’d missed a morning jog and my three week stretch of hitting my fitness goals had come to an end. And just by hearing myself say it out loud I realized all I had to do was go jogging after work that day. Problem solved, streak saved.

Really it started last November. I told myself I had to decide to kill myself or decide not to kill myself. Hard line, no back and forth, no wiggle room, no wanting, no wishing. Having survived my deadline I told myself to treat myself with kid gloves, to switch from thinking Ihavetofixmyentirelifeandselfasquicklyaspossiblebecauseitsalreadytoolate to it’s okay, a little patience, a little sympathy, if this were happening to a friend of mine I’d be proud of them for any little bit of hope or progress and I’d never criticize them for the lack of it.

I knew what I needed in a friend so I just did the DIY punk thing and became my own best friend because no one was going to do it for me.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism