Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wanna Do Right, but not right now.

Gillian Welch:

Oh me oh my oh, look at Miss Ohio
She’s a-running around with her rag-top down
She says I wanna do right but not right now

Gonna drive to Atlanta and live out this fantasy
Running around with the rag-top down
Yeah I wanna do right but not right now

Had your arm around her shoulder, a regimental soldier
An’ mamma starts pushing that wedding gown
Yeah you wanna do right but not right now

Oh me oh my oh, would ya look at Miss Ohio
She’s a-runnin’ around with the rag-top down
She says I wanna do right but not right now

I know all about it, so you don’t have to shout it
I’m gonna straighten it out somehow
Yeah I wanna do right but not right now

Oh me oh my oh, look at Miss Ohio
She a-runnin’ around with her rag-top down
She says I wanna do right , but not right now
Oh I wanna do right but not right now.

Hanging Back (and Being Okay With It)

Social situations that involve more that one person are often predicated on an almost hyper-social aggressive stance, competition of talking, humor, sarcasm, and wit.  It isn't so much the wit itself, but how much weight those around the person speaking give that wit.  Hyper-competitive social surroundings are thus simultaneously stimulating (everyone's trying really hard, and this is worth something, in the vein of learning) and defining, exhaustive and relentless.  The appearance of not trying hard is important, and takes a lot of effort.  There's a fine line between apathy and pedigree, in that regard, and people almost always answer the questions they want to answer, or disagree with the opinions they want to disagree with, instead of listening to what is said.

I personally hate the sinking feeling of being left out socially, but I also realize that, over time, social groups are quite fluid, and that even exclusion has benefits.  Which isn't to say so much that I'm just okay with it, but that in social situations these days, I'm more inclined to hang back, i.e. not become too emotionally involved if I can help it, and listen to what's being said. I also try hard to start sentences with a summary of what's just been said, first. One thing I can't stand, though, in that I have very little tolerance for it, is when people speak in a completely referential way, dropping the names of thinkers, authors, et al, and don't bother clarifying, or even, generally, saying something specific enough that it matters in any case.  Drives me nuts.  Just say what you want to say without references, please, until we know that we're on the same page.  Otherwise, you might as well go to your bathroom mirror and give a speech to the masses that wait for you there.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Success and Longevity: A Paradox (and a note on Adultery)

First truth: Success is at least partially predicated on one's willingness to commit to a singular activity--and stay committed through time at the behest of choosing other options.  By sheer will power of commitment alone, other people will drop out of the competition and your chances of reaching success will increase.  Query whether the costs are worth it later.  For now, the important point is that commitment over time does yield success, or at least, increase the chances of it.

Second truth: Figuring out what you're good at by trying a lot of different things, failing, and then revamping what you're trying to focus on new things (Trial and Error) will help yield success.

Ugly Truth:  We might not want what we want.  That is, we might only want the benefits and not the costs.  For instance: education. We might love the idea(l) of becoming a highly educated person, highly revered, that is, but dislike the cost of school and the labor it takes.  Who we truly are, that is, regardless of what we tell ourselves, comes out within a constrained system like this.  Constraints matter, because they shape decisions.

Example. Men (and woman, okay) often have conversations about who they find attractive, and who they would desire to engage sexually with, if...  Many of these statements follow a line that goes like this: "If there were no consequences, then . . ."   The problem is that there are always consequences, and consciously disregarding them doesn't get rid of them.  It might work to justify certain behavior "I slept with her but it didn't mean anything" means: "I slept with her but I consciously disregarded the consequences," which also means, "I slept with her but had no intentions of committing to her in any other way."  Which also means, "I am really committed to you, even though I slept with her." Which makes you wonder what "committed to you" means.

Anyway, the distance at which we see our restraints, temporally, usually defines how seriously we'll take them.

And I'll go out on a limb and say that the distance with which we see potential benefits defines how seriously we'll take them.  That simply means that we are very bad at holding simultaneous conflicting views of cost in our heads--we seek moral clarity and that means we see linear narrative about our actions.  The lottery ticket is worth it today, because of the possible benefits (but when we analyze how much it costs per year if we bought it every day compared to the chance of winning, this perspective shifts).

So, commitment can yield success, and trial and error might yield success, too.

Which one yields more success, faster?   Damned if I know.

Hypnotized by Gillian Welch

Last Saturday I saw Gillian Welch at the Beacon (first time).  For a while afterward, I couldn't express in words what I experienced--but I'd say now that it was hypnotizing.  I cried multiple times from the sheer beauty of it, the way she mixes pleasure and pain, and how she shows hard won insight while remaining light-hearted in spirit.  If you haven't listened to her before, or don't know of her, consider checking her out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Self Doubt--

Self-Doubt is healthy.  The problem arises only when it paralyzes.  One of the paradoxical ways out of this paralysis to realize our utter, incomprehensible lack of importance.  I think it helps to do this for two reasons.

1) The quick emotional reaction to self-doubt is often, whether internal or the result of a conversation with friend(s), assurance.  Assurances that we're already where we should be might take away the motivating factor that some self-doubt can provide.

2)If we're not important, then doing something perfectly--that is, trying, failing, learning, and trying again, isn't put on a pedestal (given an audience), and we might actually create something--be involved in some project--without first thinking about how it will be received, or whether we're doing it right.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Closure Matters

If we seek something universally besides the feeling of fairness, it is closure--that loose ends will tie up at the end of the day, and that ambiguity will be manageable. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Submerged vs. Explicit

As a running theme that things might not necessarily change when we begin to understand them, here's another issue:

Successful communication seems predicted (defined?) by the reception of a message as that message was intended.   A tautology if I've ever written one (oh, and I've written a fair amount of them, and they are almost as senseless).

But what about those moments when we have "inter-subjective" i.e. "mutual" understanding with very few words?  What about moments when we have a lot of words and not a lot of understanding?  Who is the arbiter of such moments, besides the parties present?

There are a few people in my life who I don't understand (despite adamant pleas of clarity on their part), and who also drive emotional daggers into me.  I can't help but be sucked in by what I think they are saying, and I'm almost always wrong.  Yet they impact/ed me more than a host of other people who had boring easy messages.

So partially, we don't communicate as well as we could because we want to leave open the possibility that what we're communicating encompasses what you (listener) want to hear.

Another reason is that we aren't in fact in touch with our true intentions and beliefs, and because it might take work to unearth them, don't do it (i.e. we are mentally lazy)--that's okay, in fact, average, and mostly acceptable.  It isn't always a pretty picture to see.

Another reason is that we think we're more effective communicating with less actual explicit communication because the truncated version is actually more accurate.  This to me is the most fascinating: thorough, comprehensive, and concise.  Somehow both.

Final reason why we don't communicate as effectively as we could: we don't want to rule out open possibilities in the future--i.e. we're mini-politicians, and what we say sticks to us (to a lesser extent perhaps than we think).

Marker For Today

Keeping track of one's mental state may seem circular, but perhaps provides a way to quantify it and see patterns.  Hence my brand new excel sheet.  I'll give you a graph in a month.

Note as well that breaking away from absolutist rhetoric is a must for successful living--nothing must be, at least nothing that I care about.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hardest Things: Guitar and Marriages

Two related thoughts (I assure you): it is hard to realize that you must learn to play the guitar by learning an immense amount of patterns that, if broken, sound bad.

It is also hard to realize that the ideal so often romanticized, that we have a true and singular "meant to be" significant other, is not true.  We don't.  We can't just pick up the guitar and make up the rules, just like we'd like to but can't copy a foreign language without learning it first (and by the way, once you learn it, you lose that damn cool essential foreign aspect, because you know--almost all of a sudden--what people are saying, so it goes from tremendously romantic to tremendously mundane, although still intractably special in a different sense (and I have a lot left to learn, no doubt)).  Every guitar solo follows a pattern.   And every relationship is hard work--worthy hard work, that is, to turn someone into a special someone, although less like a drug, and also hard work to open oneself to that other person.

And even though I haven't changed my guitar strings in years, I was only a little out of tune just now, when I picked the old instrument out of the case and strummed it into merriment and balanced [idiosyncratic] bliss/== my own.

Think You're Unique, or that the World is Full of Violence?

Here's an interesting read on uniqueness that says everyone else thinks they're unique too.

And here's an interesting read that shows violence at historically low levels globally.

Seeing Is Not Changing

No matter how clear we can see a personality trait, social problem, or relationship dynamic, whether in ourselves or in other people, actually changing it in some meaningful positive way is much more difficult.  Unfortunately, it is really tempting to think that comprehension is equivalent to conclusion.  It isn't.  And it is frustrating to see a problem clearly and be able to do precisely nothing to stop it. 

Simultaneously, somehow, we need to be careful that we're not deluding ourselves into the trap of clarity, and note that we only see a fraction of any reality in front of us.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Being What You Are.

I don't know myself as well as I'd like to know myself.  Fact is, I'm upset with myself for being so conservative, biting, cynical, and, more days than not, reserved in a way that does not bolster future prospects for action.

What I mean, precisely, is that, up until about a year ago, I held myself in disregard.  Instead I told myself that I possessed certain traits.  I was environmentally friendly.  I was left of center.  I was open and understood different cultures, and mostly found them more interesting than my own culture.  Most of that just isn't true, at least not at first.  The frustrating truth is that those items drive much more my consumption patterns than they matter externally for any of the issues I'd hope to impact with my beliefs.  As a matter of policy, my ideas about racial segregation don't matter.  My choice to purchase certain goods (real estate) do impact this topic, but they are mostly marginal--I only count for one extra unit.  That's damn frustrating for someone that has spent a lot of time studying racial segregation. Like me.

What's also frustrating is that, despite the mountain of repetitious thought/studying/dogma/mantra that I've been telling myself, it remains a fact that I do get uncomfortable around people--not just people of different races, whatever that might mean--but anyone, period.  And I've utilized my aggressive openness  about culture to ignore who it is I am.  That's not saying that I don't get to know people, adapt, relax and eventually learn how to have fun, though it is a process.  I feel like a kid in my life generally lately, learning all the basic steps again, or for the first time.  There's always a difference between living something and saying something--between understanding something conceptually and understanding something from experience.  Sometimes the conceptual understanding folks can talk a good game, and the experience understanding folks cannot, so policies are made from concept and not experience.  I hope that experience in concepts doesn't pass for real experience, but I also think that we've got to face some facts: the world is too complicated for us to synthesize, and we must rely on other people to navigate it.   Because someone out there has been where we are now, and faced the type of problems that we have now (or can reframe our problems for us), and we need that person.--to survive.


Being overt about our needs might not be the most direct route to getting those needs satisfied.

And yet.

I have been too flexible.  Sometimes being an asshole gets needs met better than being an accommodating doter.

Anyway, maybe my biggest fear is that the "newer" truths that replace older truths are still lies, and that I'm not getting any closer to knowing my true self (while recognizing that my true self is not totally static, or that, perhaps, chunks of narrative cannot encapsulate my entirety, and all that other fluff).  I do think that we're flexible.  (Hard work produces results.  The sheer will to adapt and get better at something impacts performance.).  Our flexibility has limits, though, and trial and error (actually performance mistakes in real time) is beneficial, even thought it stings (and makes one feel like an enormous failure, and produces a severe uptick in cortisone, etc).  One of the many pervasive narratives I have to warn myself against is the feeling that everything will be explained to me at some point, that there are pieces to a larger quilt that I cannot see, and generally that there is a strong level of determinism in the direction of my life.  Feeling that way might help my motivation in the short term, sure enough, but it doesn't actually help me, because it makes me lazy (because it allows me to ignore aspects of the world that don't fit my personal narrative).    Perhaps I'm being too hard on myself, but  I don't see a giant thermometer of self-cruelty sticking out of my ass that's about to blow, so I wouldn't know.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Culture: How to Reveal Emotion

Culture, at the root, is about how we learn to reveal our emotions, how we learn to synthesize other people's emotions, and how we find expression for the subjective world in relatively objective means (i.e. in a way that can be readily understood by another person or communicated).  It is also how we utilize the outer world to refine our inner thoughts. 

Sure, "emotions" might be a sloppy word to encapsulate the lived experience that we in fact experience.  My only point is that how we learn to reveal what it is we're comfortable with, or uncomfortable with, is contingent on the culture we're exposed to, and signifies, to a large extent, our willingness to associate with certain types of other people.   More refinement on this soon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I'm not a numbers person.

Except that, maybe I am, and I've been deceiving myself for a very, very long time, because it was easier not to be challenged.

What are you not? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I don't know.

I don't know how my life will end up.  Even if I can think about it, and I can, it doesn't matter. At that point, I'll be toward the end of it, after all.  Maybe it'll end tomorrow, and I can think about how my life will be toward the end of it (sitting in a room with a computer and a cat?).

Unless post-life experience is made up of pure thought, and therefore my thought alone determines my existence.  If that's the case, then I can think I'm dead and be dead, but somehow, still be alive. I can also go to my own idealized version of heaven, or hell, or nowhere. 

It is a funny thought experiment, to allow the notion that post-life exists in a way that mirrors what we think it will be, especially if we couldn't reflect on the lives we just left behind.

Either way, I don't know.  I especially don't know what a thought-contingent post-life looks like when I don't know.

Kind of scary to think that I'm deluding myself--like I could be dead and not know it, or I could be alive and not know it because I think I'm dead.

It is also scary to think about a thought-contingent world.  I don't want that.  I want something to exist, even if it is big and complex and I can't grasp it.  I want to have a large scale order and meaning.  I probably won't ever get that either.  I'm just not that talented at thinking about it.

Instead, maybe I'll go for small level order, and accomplishing what I can accomplish, even thought it kills me not to strike out for that which is gigantic. 

Yes, that sigh you hear is the rush of my ideals out of the window.

Intelligence and Emotions

Here's a shitty thing: someone is highly intelligent, but also has a hard time showing it.  Like, for instance, that he or she cannot communicate in front of more than one person effectively, or cannot find around nerves when presenting a subject to a group of people (or a boss), such that the person, however extremely talented in the substantive area of endeavor, is ineffective at becoming more specialized in that field, and perpetually unhappy or dissatisfied.

Should we require that all people conform to basic norms of behavior in order to exhibit their skill-set, however undeveloped it may be because of lack of interaction?

Is the question precisely backward?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Raw and Strategic

I long to be raw and strategic, a cut-to-the-chase kind of person.  I'm endlessly forgiving and accommodating though.  I wonder if that is a genetic trait. Even when I tell myself, even in the moment before an unexpected interaction, that I will be self-serving and raw and won't accommodate, I turn right around on my inner self and smooth everything over. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Evoke Emotion (if you're trying to make it as an artist)

Whether we like this pedestrian idea or not, evoking emotion is the primary aim of artists (whether acting, painting, writing, joke telling, etc)--the trick, of course, is twofold/

1) different people learn to reveal emotions in culturally contingent ways, so class status, and background variables will impact how and to what extent they'll be able to reveal emotions

2) your own personal struggle put into art (i.e. your own emotional development) might not resonate with large sectors of the population.  that's why artists hate "commercial" artists who pander to a broader section--primarily because those first group of artists fancy themselves to reveal to a higher level of taste, whereas commercial artists are more like politicians.

BUT, if you're a struggling artist, it would be a good idea to look outward and think about whether what  you're doing resonates with other people and not just with your own sense of accurately portraying your internal self, however interesting to you.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Verbs over Adjectives and Adverbs

It is obvious to me that, at least in fiction writing, verbs matter more than adjectives and adverbs.  Instead of saying:

"He quickly walked out of the house, the cold air a tonic to his miserly fatigue."

"He slithered out of the house, the cold air a tonic . . ."

It evokes a different image without adding to the density or complexity of the sentence--it essentially builds character through action, rather than separating out the two. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Ignorance Problem--My Own.

Here we go.  Economics.  I have always struggled to grasp their slippery seal concepts (however cute).  There's a lot to grasp, and my brain is limited. 

However, here's one problem I've been exposed to recently: the low cost of labor.

If I'm an economist, I can think this is good, because, in short, the cost of goods will be cheaper, and our net collective savings will come in the form of our dollars going a longer way in our respective baskets.

Still, when we consider poverty, we basically come up with a set of standards that we find unacceptable. And when we chose low-cost labor (such labor that, annualized, returns less in income to participants than poverty rates dictate), we have a subset of the population living in standards that we have collectively deemed unacceptable through a poverty rate.

Now, how to solve poverty?

One way would have to be an attempt to universalize labor standards across the world.

Another idea seems to me to be to raise the price of goods to internalize all externalities.  To the extent that goods can be made cheaply because of other costs (deferred) we can chose to (i.e. regulate, I think is the only way) some of the costs of doing business.

Obviously, we can prop up those in poverty until they are in an acceptably un-impovereshed state through direct welfare type benefits as well.  However unpalatable to the political right, we actually spend more in welfare-type benefits than before welfare reform, if we include food stamp expenditures in the analysis.  The trick is that there are work incentives attached, so it doesn't seem unfair to the outside observer (forget about the daily experience of what this means).

Anyway, assuming we view jobs as a fundamental way to better our living standards, out of poverty, as a society, we would have to wrestle with the extremely low-pay, low-status jobs, jobs that exist, after all, because there is demand for them (there's just a LOT of unskilled supply too)--and somehow internationalize pay scales across currencies.  This is partially covered by the market in the form of returning cheap goods, but I don't think it is fully covered.  I don't have the numbers to back this up, though.  I don't have the time to find them right now because I have to go to work!