Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stopping myself in my tracks.

The impulse is to do it. The obstacle is doing it well. It is so clear to me that to write every day is an important exercise; it seems that I must care about writing. When writing about a particular subject, the Google instinct is deeply ingrained. My now-15-year habit states firmly that someone must have covered this subject already exhaustively and I cannot approach it without first reading all that they have to say. I'm sure this is a common ailment of our age. There are clues, facts and insights that can only improve my perspective and there is analysis which must be studied. The mission stops there, paralysed by an infinite library. When writing more broadly, fashioning an Opinion Piece, I have a feeling that my thoughts could be more refined, better hewn by endless note-taking and restructuring. The mission draws to a close, stuck in development, fatally cursed by a sense of inadequacy.

As a result of what might be idealism, only two paths exist for me and my will to create. The first is a straight line of improvisation - automatic and instinctive, spitting my best of the moment, freestyling towards a vision of instant publication. I find it all derivative, childish even - a raw energy of motivation, pulling from wherever inspiration is found in the mind. It is a style of creation for creation's sake, music to absolve silence like words spoken to fill an awkward pause. The second is an attempt to create something wonderful, something worthy of an ethereal self-regard. It is a desire to represent some altogether imaginary true self and present it proudly to the world.

There must be a Third Way. There must be some form of creativity that straddles the divide - a way above, beyond or between these routes to, on the one hand, a sort of desperate babble and an evocation of what I once called "the unfettered democracy of the mind" and on the other, eternal research and a model of permanent creative dissatisfaction. The latter is the worse of the two, collation of content and perspectives extending the remit and pushing an end point ever further away as more ideas come in. The ambition grows with new concepts and the goal deviates toward impossibility.

Kurt Schwitters, a Dadaist and "assembler of garbage", said that "everything the artist spits is art". This stuck with me as I grew up and found all populist arguments on art stuck in the 1920s, the endless question, even at what should have been high levels of discussion, being "but, is it art?" Perhaps I gave up too quickly and resigned myself too easily to fighting with the popular paradigms of understanding. I have always found myself, from topic to topic, stuck at a point of puerile argument with the mainstream, debating the status quo. Free will? How could we base our society on it? Iraq? Why does the news report only the deaths of the paler skinned? Art? Why has its progress become so self-reflexive and contrary? How could any art be considered good or bad?

In trying to find a constructive place to think and work among all of these barriers and confusions, I have sought to disappear. In working exclusively with samples, in focusing attention away from myself and towards a screen full of manipulated video familiarities, I have lazily and expediently dissolved my self into a whitewash of culture. What better way to absolve myself of the responsibilities of expression and the commitment of ever stating anything? I used to say that to define anything was impossible, so to speak of it with more accuracy one must talk "around" the subject. The remaining negative space could then maybe give a sense of it. The idea that a word cloud of related topics and images is somehow a more accurate signifier that the name of an idea or object. That idea persists in my mind alongside the adage that "those who know don't speak and those who speak don't know". I want to yell and remain silent, argue and never make a point. I want to exist and create in the space between what is and what, by definition, can never be. I am a loathful product of mass media and postmodernism unwilling to engage, unable to mature. I long to find sincerity, expression and the long-promised post-ironic age and there and then begin the brave process of being involved, accepting truths and saying something I mean.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Automatic writing #1

I have been following the route of grasping, methodical creativity, of sticking to mechanical tricks of creation in order to release the sluices of the generative mind. Part of this has been practicing automatic writing. Typing fluidly and fluently into Evernote as often as I remember to. Publishing these randomly to a mostly unattended blog seems like a slightly bold and intensely contemporary addition to the process. The results, close to nonsensical, sophomoric and derivative, follow.


The bees are dying. No more beards of bees and we will have to teach children, as they come of age, of merely the birds. What have the birds to teach our young? Twittering and fluttering, flitting and flying. These are the not the cornerstones of our land-based life. No, we must teach our children of institutions, rocks and stones, steel and girders. Teach of the the makers and the made, the sellers and the sold, bringers of great peace and wagers of great war. Oceans were crossed, mountains were climbed. Learn all the names and some of the initials. History books must be torn up and all the proper nouns, state capitals and heads of state rearranged, scrambled, aligned with dates then used as kindling to start fires of imagination. Be like Plato, Alexander and Jefferson. Be like BJ, be like the Bear.


It is the strangest fascination, to have a sense there is a list of things to read, to watch, to download and peruse, only to satisfy that urge with searching for more items to add. To feel the weight of the unwatched in your Netflix queue, then find yourself browsing further, extending your internal obligations.


Self help sucks. Triteness and repetition will always bring the creative mind, longing for individuality, down. How do they know there are seven habits of the highly effective? How do they know how effective these people are? Might they not be abusing their kids? Why stop at 42 ways to feel better right now? Why not make yourself endlessly feel better writing the list onwards and onwards, a meta-self-help vortex of ways to feel better right now. Why feel better at all? What's in it for the cynics, progenies of Diogenes?


To do lists are confusions. Getting on the horse feels more like getting on the cow. Every list another scrawl in a worthless journal of the damned. Is the noise getting to me? The children, needless of education, always shouting; everything is important to them. Numbers on my lists, mocking my lack of motivation. I don't want to get to number 14, I want to crawl away from number 1. The kettle is on, the tea ceremony is unlikely to live up to any sense of meditation or pageantry. I want a cigarette, but a dollar saved is a dollar earned and I need a job. Automatic writing can be pretty grim when your mind is weary. Let's see if the horse can wake me.
As soon as I commenced the list, I noticed on the bathroom floor a hairband, twisted once into a sideways figure 8. I immediately contemplated the infinite. Or rather, I immediately contemplated the contemplation of the infinite and enjoyed a benign and tiny coincident pattern.
People are eager to talk about doing things that make you uncomfortable in order that you might have a more complete, coherent and satisfying life. I sometimes shy away from even the tiniest discomfort. And a restless lonely state pervades. Humans around offer no succor. Is it a desire to coincide or one to connect? These are all real people, but their socialization pushes them away from the different. I am the same, mist of the time, but I seek the opposite; I seek the direct.


We have to learn to let go. We grip too tightly to our presuppositions, possessions, needs and drives. Identity is a construct that we nest in; every principle we cling to a comforting addition to the nest. Believe in yourself say pundits and posters; have faith in lack of reason. Nihilism is no refuge.


And here it goes, round and round. The days merge into each other, mimicking more fraudulent behaviour. It's at very least an anachronism, seeing what comes out, like vomit. Please, we cry, please let it be just this. Just this and nothing else. If it is more, then we are bereft, failed and wan. Go to your congressman, plead with him to limit ambition, to take away the pain. Here it comes again, an over-hyped tornado of truth, blazing a trail towards bethlehem, to die. Here it comes again, wanting to be felt as truth, not absolute truth, but a basic human truth, plaintive and embarrassed to be considered. Descartes wanted more, Plato wanted more - it's okay, kids, calm down, be still. It's all good, as they used to say. How can a phrase so well-meaning become passe so quickly? I write as I breathe, in short bursts, with the only purpose being to stay alive.


I do love the way the words come, flowing out, grabbing the sediment of half-remembered references with them. Staccato samples of speech, movies, comic books, blending with the infinite and the ether, spewing themselves into arbitrary yet expressive shapes. I love the way they come, oodles, bundles, bushels of words, weaving and warping, subtle and unbidden.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I have of late, but wherefore I know not, been chasing happiness.

I raced through The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth In Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Project, Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. Haidt was a fortuitously great first choice. He supplied the scientific, blended with a fair whack of ancient wisdom and he skillfully drew pleasing and unpatronising connections between the two. Rubin came off as a little spoilt, bless her, but gave me laughs and real insights too. In dipping into these and quitting smoking weed (something I have done almost every day for nigh on 15 years), I realised the severity of my problems. Mine was not so much a Happiness Project (a la Rubin), but a What-The-Fuck-Just-Try-To-Stay-Alive Project. Taking cues from both, I moved onto an approach that befitted my personal pathology of Severe Depression.

Vibing off the concepts of positive psychology, a reassuringly new branch of psychology referenced by both Haidt and Rubin, I picked up Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life, David D Burns' Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and Stephen S Ilardi's The Depression Cure: The 6 Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs. Seligman's book was a grim read for a while, as the first two thirds consist of recognising the true extent of your life's awfulness, should you be as thoroughly brain-wrong as it turns out I am. The DSM IV's diagnostic criteria for depression, our first step in misery accountancy, have me down as "severely depressed". He lays out the excellent tests, much like familiar Cosmopolitan multiple choice quizzes, for "pessimistic explanatory style". I did not score well. My explanatory style, the filter through which I experience both positive and negative events, is not merely pessimistic, but permanently, pervasively and personally pessimistic. I reached the latter part of the book with some relief, having noticed my life becoming less bearable while stuck in the grisly-realisation section. The last third covered solutions, focusing primarily on the benefits of cognitive therapy.

I have found myself unable, so far, to finish David Burns' Feeling Good. The version I have is printed cheaply and reminds me of books I would peruse in the 1980s that felt somehow worthless and irrelevant by virtue of their printing. The book has a lowest-common-denominator style and comes across as patronising and lifeless, like a Allen Carr stop-smoking pamphlet on the matter of the human condition. It outlines the techniques of cognitive therapy, stopping negative thoughts and methodically completing written exercises for each one until you reach the unconscious competence level and no longer have to scribble down every self-hating reverie. I made it to chapter 3, though I will return to it, out of necessity rather than any enthusiasm.

Ilardi's The Depression Cure is solid and sits somewhere between the two. It outlines and advocates Therapeutic Lifestyle Change, with an emphasis on clinically proven changes one can make. It picks out light exposure, Omega-3s, exercise, engaging activity, sociable behaviour and avoidance of rumination as the keys to escaping depression. Little bits of wisdom like getting molecularly distilled EPA/DHA capsules to avoid "fishy burps" are actually really valuable. I now have a colossal tub of fish oil pills next to my Centrum multi-vitamins and have been sticking to the doses. Ilardi's empirical attitude was convincing enough for at least that. The light-box is not as religiously used, but I'm getting there.

While bouncing back from my reaction to Burns' crap writing and daunting cognitive techniques, I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a quick and easy read. The tone is familiar from Castaneda and I needed a hippie to help after Feeling Good's lifelessness. Ruiz channels the ancient smarts of the Toltec, referencing magic and sacredness, qualities I need to access so badly in among the cold analysis of more rational approaches. Though it seems I shouldn't try to be the perfect person while trying to fix all the broken pieces, it's good to have someone talk about values in among the necessities. He speaks of our lives as dreams and while caught in all the habits of the world, they are dreams of hell, which can be escaped by "agreeing" to new and better paradigms. Be impeccable with your word, he says, cast not black magic with your thought and speech. Take nothing personally, for it is a route to suffering. Don't make assumptions and do your best, remembering not to judge yourself and thus make yourself a victim. It's a good little book and Oprah loved it.

I have often described, in the worst depths of despair, how it seems that there is an entity, resident somewhere in my mind, that wants my demise. It's a simplification to characterise the feeling that way, but an expedient one. In response and at a loss in such moments, my other half bought How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying To Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention by Susan Rose Blauner. It's a book for psychological emergencies and I sadly recognise many of the impulses, distortions and confusions that she describes. It's far from a light read and can be overwhelming, but her delineation of approaches when she is overwhelmed can be really useful. I can't seem to dip into this one as I have the others - it's very much focused on extreme trauma and it can be tough to admit that level of mental fuckedness, though I experience it daily. Having had a rougher past than even mine, she describes reveling in suicidal ideation in a way I can't really relate to. I haven't managed to get to the halfway point in Blauner's book, but I can see much value in her crisis lists, deep breaths and rational positive reappraisal in the moment.

I watched a Will Smith interview with Tavis Smiley on YouTube where he mentioned Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. Despite Oprah's championing of the book and my aversion to the populist, I swallowed my cynicism and grabbed that too. So far, I am disappointed that I must have a Personal Legend in order that I might follow the guidance of the old king, the little boy and whatever else the fable might entail. Lack of a Personal Legend clearly is a barrier to success. So that gives me a task for the scary weeks ahead in my What-The-Fuck-Just-Try-To-Stay-Alive Project.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Going back to your hometown can be the experience of a disappointed tourist. We want it to open up and reveal itself as never before, to show the magic that we believed in back when we had faith and blind hometown pride. It is not the job of a great city to convert its children back to the fold, too busy impressing everyone else. So I walk across the Thames, I marvel gently and briefly at the incongruity of Wren among the concrete, of the Eye looking down at Westminster.

I stay in an apartment just north of the Tower. It exemplifies the phrase "business traveller". Th CRT TV is 16:10 and oddly small. The doors don't fit the frames, scraping on the imitation floor. The deafening bed seems designed to give lower back pain for the duration of the conference. There is a cheap Picasso print above, mocking iconoclasm. As much as a flat can be lack personality it does.

It is a grim place, one of the dark places of the earth. Eastenders' relentless overdose of misery seems an utterly appropriate standard-bearer for the fallen faces and grey skies. Bless the fashionable, the weird and the rebellious for bringing a little light to it all - London without an edge would be a sad place indeed.

The Tories have done their Tory thing. Massive cuts blended with some PR obfuscation about owning your own society by selling it off. They call it the coalition, which might a whimsical reference to Iraq. Politics seems a younger game and I long for Healey, Benn, Foot and Heath, if only for the sense that they were taking it seriously. William Hague, who appeared to be playing the Foreign Secretary on the telly, represented the best of gravitas. That has to be a bad thing. Cameron, the ultimate result of the Mandelson plan, a being of pure spin, walked the streets of Cairo. Pretty ballsy for a man touring a fucked-up part of the world with his arms-dealer mates.

So, England. I love you. Maybe we're not compatible right now.