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I like paint.

I don’t know really anything about painting as art. It’s always been one of those hobbies I’ve thought of as having an insuperably high entry barrier, like drawing, or auto repair, or Warhammer 40K. Which is, now that I think about it, tremendously dumb, because I quite enjoy painting not in the “canvas in a frame” sense, but in the “walls and trim and windows and boards” sense.

I like renovating things; repairing broken old tools or utensils, patching holes, dressing up and remodeling counters or windows or, basically, anything. I’ve spent many pleasant hours sanding and priming and painting and admiring the finished result. It’s nice to pick something up when it’s broken and shitty and then set it down again looking, not new, but renewed. And it’s nice to know that I am playing a role in preserving something useful. With regular, properly applied coats of paint (along with other kinds of maintenance), a house can endure pretty much any kind of weather, forever (unless “weather” includes torrential rains of pure mineral spirits, which would be unlikely). Painting is far from being a hobby without entropy, but looking at the end result of a painting project feels a little bit like turning back the clock. This isn’t why I like painting, but it is a thing I like about painting.

There’s also very definitely something to be said for a hobby where the results are objectively good beyond the shadow of a doubt. If I clean and sand and prime and paint a wooden door, that door is then well painted. Compare to my primary artistic outlet, writing, where things are a lot less clean-cut…well, it’s nice to be sure I’m doing something right. We talked about the looming spectre of impostor syndrome before, and painting is an area where I can put that ghost entirely to rest. But that isn’t why I like painting.

A third very admirable quality of painting; when you’re painting an object or a wall or a house or a commercial building, you can almost entirely eliminate any chance that you might fuck something up. With painting, all the time is in the prep–and the more prep you do, the lower your odds of getting paint in the wrong place. Now, no one ever actually reduces that chance to 0%, but, it is arguably, theoretically possible. This isn’t why I like painting either.

Painting is also something you can do for money pretty easily. You don’t need a degree or anything; as long as you can show up and be a little patient with your work, you can make a solid wage just painting shit all the time. Things always need to be painted. But, as is painfully obvious from the fact that I want to write for a living, I’m not really interested in things because of their monetary value. I’m not here to make smart decisions.

I like painting because it is physical. It grounds me in the physical. I’m forced to be in my body and act in my body doing something I’m comfortable with, something repetitive and challenging, but never quite boring. Painting isn’t ever quite boring. We’ll get to that.

I like painting because it is peaceful. I have to think about what I’m doing; I have to be mindful, if you will indulge me using that buzzword, because if you’re not mindful you can spray paint everywhere and somehow, some will always land on the exact spot you didn’t want it to. But I’m not thinking about what I’m doing too much. I can relax. Think about nothing at all, or think about one of my novels, or think about teaching, or about philosophy, art, Dungeons and Dragons.

I think of painting as something which is healthy for the ghost and the monkey.

This started out as a joke. I can’t remember whether I said it in person first, or wrote it somewhere on tumblr dot com. Just a little fun Cartesian joke.

“Remember, you are basically an electric ghost stuck inside a very nervous monkey.”

I don’t exactly believe this. This isn’t what I’d call a precise articulation of my theory of–well, we’ll get into that later. Suffice it to say that this, like many things, is something I say because it is funny, not because it is true. (there’s also something to unpack there; woof, lots to do, so little fucking time)

Painting lets me give the monkey a workout. That’s a good thing; we live basically domesticated lives, and we are very clever monkeys that crave enrichment. A major part of life is handling the requests of the monkey; if I don’t give it a banana once in a while, or let it exercise sufficiently, or give it enough water, that’s animal abuse, except the animal is me, and instead of shattering a plexiglass window, I’m going to waste a lot of money on grocery store pound cake.

Painting also lets the ghost relax. We live most of our modern lives relying on the ghost for basically everything. Willpower, emotions, social skills, executive function (well. not all of us); but the thing is, just like Captain Sean Connery can’t use the nonexistent physics-defying caterpillar drive on Red October if the sub is on fire, if the monkey is not well cared-for, the ghost can do fuck all.

Practical application of this half-assed metaphor: during daily (non-painting) life, when I’m feeling tired, irritable, anxious, I often ask myself out loud: “Ghost, or monkey?” Have I been working too hard, or did I just forget to eat breakfast? Am I really upset about something, or did I just not sleep well last night? Is this a nervous breakdown, or am I just drinking my fifth coffee of the day?

Painting serves both. When I’m painting all day, I can work until I’m pleasantly physically tired and have the welcome next-day soreness of building muscle. And, just as importantly, I have dozens of ideas when I’m painting. I keep a small notebook and pen on me while painting for this exact reason; some of my best insights have come to me while I’m balancing on a ladder trying to reach some lofty corner.

While we’re talking about it, here are some things I know about painting:

  • Make sure you have lots of air circulation. Remember the “ghost or monkey” question? Sometimes you’re poisoning the monkey.
  • If you don’t want paint on it, cover it. Paint is magnetically attracted to uncovered surfaces. Or possibly, repelled by canvas. Same thing.
  • You can theoretically get latex paints out of anything. Important note: the thing you’re trying to get paint out of may melt or change color in the process.
  • Use PAINTER’S TAPE.
  • Wash your brush and any paint-related tool as ASAP as possible when you’re done. It takes a few minutes to clean an average-sized paintbrush using only water when the paint is wet and about nine years to clean it with denatured alcohol when the paint is dry.
  • Paint doesn’t “dry.” It just becomes less liquid. Paint is never a solid. If anyone tells you otherwise, they aren’t being sufficiently pedantic. At 1 hour, you might be able to put paint over paint, but if you put tape on it–even painter’s tape–it will take the new paint with it. At 8 hours, you might be able to put painter’s tape on it, but if you let two freshly painted surfaces touch, you’re gonna fuck the paint. You know those ugly blotchy patches you see on the sides of almost every door ever? That’s from paint binding. Don’t do that. Painting a door or window or cabinet means that shit stays open for the next two weeks. 
  • CHECK YOUR FEET. YOU HAVE PAINT ON YOUR FEET CHECK THEM. PAINT ON YOUR FEET IS A FIXABLE PROBLEM WHEN YOU ARE ON THE TARP. IT IS A VERY NON-FIXABLE PROBLEM WHEN YOU WALK ONTO CARPET.  
  • Keep paper towels within arm’s reach. You can fix almost any paint-related fuckup within five minutes if you have a damp paper towel on hand.
  • If you can’t fix it within five minutes it’s probably on carpet or unsealed wood.
    • If it’s carpet, get as much up as you can (BLOT DON’T RUB) and then scrape the rest off with a razor. A shave razor if you have to, but ideally a straight razor.
    • If it’s unsealed wood, you are fuckdt. But, good news! You can buy a product which will remove the paint from unsealed wood!
      • Bad news: This product is lye, and it removes the paint by melting the wood and also, very possibly, your skin, and respiratory membranes.
      • Good news! Once you have removed the paint, you can easily sand the wood back into its regular appearance! It’s unsealed! Who cares!

Final word on painting: I’ve never found anything so much fun for self-decoration as water-based latex paint. Smiley faces. Cool geometric designs. Weird patterns. An essential part of the painting process is getting paint all over your hands and arms. Don’t forget to moisturize afterwards. I’m no Jonathan Van Ness, but I suspect scraping all that shit off your skin is uh. Not great for the pores.

Have fun, make good choices, and don’t forget to take care of the ghost and the monkey.

Obligatory joke: 

I’ve been under the impression for a while that the way we talk about “love” is insufficient to cover all of the different definitions, and sort of generally inadequate when it comes to the task of capturing all the different kinds of things that seem to fall under the love umbrella.

First of all I’ve got to start with family. Because there’s something you have to understand about me off the bat, and that is that I am a product of my family. Except, not, because the idea of a product implies that I am a thing separate from my family, and really, it’s more correct to say that I am my family.  I grew up in my family environment, and I re-iterate that environment in the world around me anywhere I go. I’m me all of the time, but I’m more me when I am with my family–which means all the good parts of me and all the bad parts of me. They’re rock bottom, north star, guiding light.

Is that love? It’s the kind of love that is built as well as grown; my family and I love each other because we learned how to treat each other well, and also because we spent a lot of time locked in the same house and had no other choice but to learn to have fun together. We love each other because we are fundamental to each others’ experience of the world, and because there’s nobody else who gets that the same way that we do.

I hate talking about self love. I think we’re obsessed with the self in the west, with ME, the EGO, the one who’s thinking about things and has opinions and believes it’s in charge. But I don’t think that’s sufficient. I’ve written about this: Trust the Monkey, for example, is an incomprehensible post about the biological component of our lives. We’re more than just the self, so why on earth would we stop at loving the self? And for that matter, why does the self think it’s necessary for it to be loved? Consciousness is only a part of me, albeit a part I use to take care of a lot of irritating details like taxes and grocery lists.

The other day while I was talking with my friends, I made fun of Emma Watson for using the term “self-partnered,” and I reiterate that here because, (1), Emma you know we all love you, I didn’t mean it, (2) come on though, it sounds like something I’d say in an empty room on Valentine’s Day alone while eating the last of an entire box of chocolates I’d bought for myself, (3), I love the phrasing, absolutely love it, because it captures the weird incompatible complexity of taking care of myself. Love isn’t just something I feel with my family, it’s the emotion I feel when it’s been a cold, lonely, boring day and I sit myself down with a warm drink (yes, eesh, you know what it is) to listen to my favorite song.

Love, then, is also a word we use for that guarding, nourishing, caretaking relationship we have to our bodies, our selves, our entire complex weird ghost-and-monkey existence. Living on my own has taught me to value this kind of nurturing tremendously, and I think this is something we are rediscovering as a generation; to take those moments of peace, to be content. I’m not experiencing a tremendous spiritual high when I sit in bed and listen to rain on the window. I’m not aligned to my guiding angel’s purpose and calling when I make myself a delicious hot bowl of stew.  Me listening to my favorite song for the 8th time on a Sunday night is not when I am my most high-functioning. But I am serving different parts of myself, offering care and love to different needs, and I use that word love very intentionally. It’s important to love our lives when we can.

Friends, obviously. I love my friends. They’re so wildly different from me, like every other human being on earth, but we’ve somehow decided our differences are compatible enough to make it worthwhile to separate each other out of the thousands of people we’ve met in our lives. Some friends I’ve met by chance, some have drifted away, and some I never go 24 hours without speaking to. But I love them all, and in true quantum-entanglement fashion, we carry little bits of each other around with us.

You can see it, you know. If you pay very sharp attention to how you talk and how you act, you can see your friends, their habits and their turns of phrase, their jokes and expressions and pet peeves. As we learn to care about and listen to each other–really listen to each other–we grow into each other’s worlds in the same way that the roots of a forest form a network beneath the soil. People I’ve met are inextricable from me, and they grow more so the more time we spend together.  

Within this category I also include exes. People who I was once very close with, close enough that they were nearly family, bedrock, relationships where we chose each other out of all the people we knew and all the people we liked and spent a little bit of time learning about each other. People who have left their marks on my life in a different sense, some deeper, harder to forget, and some shallow, so quickly forgotten now that I don’t see them any more, but striking when I remember that once, I couldn’t have imagined spending a single day without it.

Here we finally get to the point, and the crux of this post. I think love is in some ways a recognition of ourselves as distributed beings. We aren’t just one thing that is alone. This is what I meant in my Weird Depressing Valentine’s Day post:

We aren’t alone. We’ve never been alone. We can’t ever, really, be alone. That’s our secret weapon.

Have you ever made a reference to a joke made by someone else? Another person you saw on television or on youtube or on twitch playing dungeons and dragons every thursday at 7pm CST? Have you ever used an expression or tone of voice or gesture that you saw one of your family members use, or one of your friends? Have you ever been able to understand something because one of your exes was an absolute genius about this one specific Netflix series? Or noticed something because a family member you haven’t seen in years would have noticed that?

We’re never alone.

We are connected and interconnected by the relationships we’ve had to others, good and bad. We carry echoes of each other forward through our lives, even if sometimes we would prefer not to. But those connections, those ideas, this substrate psycellium which links us to everyone else on Earth, they are forged most strongly with love, and just like firing neurons strengthens the connection between them, so love between two people is the force, mechanism, intelligence, emotion, mechanism, tendency, to deepen and enrich their sharing, make explicit the connection between two souls.

Mercenary Metaphysics: Did you know that if you throw money at my ko-fi, I will write 1,000 words of my trademark free-associating mysticism about it? That’s what happened here. That’s why you’re reading this. Don’t blame me. One of you asked for this.

 

Your body has been alive your whole life. Our bodies have been living and seeking nourishment for millennia. When in doubt, put your faith in that. Trust the organism. There is an old and patient intelligence in our bodies which is entirely uninfluenced by the “mind,” from whom so many troubles arise. Eliminate environmental stresses and serve the needs of your blood and bones. Then handle the ephemeral and incomparably small issues of ego, society, reason.

Trust that the acorn knows how to become a tree. You are driven to self-actualize, your ultimate, terminal, natural drive. You are driven to exuberance. Tend to the organism and walk the path intrinsic to it. Everything is connected, and you are the thread. There needs to be no grander design than this–but also, it is all part of the grander design. 

The drive to human-ness. Old idea. We want to be good at what we are. We want to be ideal–and those ideals can vary. Altered by and attuned to culture or upbringing or temperament. But the broad strokes…we want to be good at being human, when our wanting is healthy. That’s a very old idea.

We want to be confident and comfortable in ourselves, our bodies, our identities. What does that mean? Whatever constellation of traits we possess, physical and internal, whoever we are, we want to be good at that. As good as possible, given our circumstances.

Of course again we have to come back to this question. How can we judge if someone is being as good as possible in their given situation if every situation is ineffably unique and particular? We can’t, not really, not with any degree of “precision.” Right?

And yet we do. And we can. How? Fuck. Who knows, dude.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, you poor single bastards. I hope you’re having a good one. Do something fun for yourself.

I want to talk about Valentine’s Day, and, more broadly, about us. As, you know, a civilization. I believe in setting achievable goals. Opening thesis:

Modern life can be lonely.

Statement of intent/bias; when I say “modern life can be lonely;” this is a blog post about a civilization with which i am familiar, at a high level of abstraction to make a broader point with greater rhetorical power. I am writing as a young adult within a particular culture and from a particular background. I draw on certain resources to make this argument.

I want you to understand this assertion which I am advancing for your consideration, and in pursuit of that goal I will reiterate in a more forceful fashion:

Modern life is loneliness.

In the year 2000, a book called Bowling Alone traced a series of phenomena which indicated an ongoing and worsening decline in social fabric, the ties and connections and networks which make up our individual social circles. Cultures with more social fabric tend to feature frequent social gatherings, continual contact between individuals, and regular events even among individuals with weak social ties. In the United States of America, the book reported, the frequency of regular events among individuals with weak social ties–acquaintances, if you will–was declining. These are not your friends. These are the people you see at the bowling alley once a week. Hence the title.

Allow me to also present:

  • A 2006 sociological study which bears out the book’s prediction that social networks are shrinking, suggesting that on average, people in 2006 had fewer friends than people in 1996.
  • A May 01 2018 study by a health insurance company, which included the following conclusions:
    • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
    • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
    • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
    • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation. 
  • A 2018 survey from the Henry J. Kaiser family foundation, which asserts:
    • One in five Americans also, in this study, report that they feel lonely, or that their relationships are not meaningful, or that they are isolated.
    • Two-thirds of respondents indicated they had “few or no relatives or friends living nearby who they could rely on for support.”
    • Interestingly, this survey also adds figures from the U.K., which nearly match those from the U.S.A.; One in four adults in the U.K. also report being lonely or feeling isolated.
  • This 2019 article about loneliness in Europeans. Here we see the impact of a culture with more surviving social fabric: an average of 7% of adults in European countries feel lonely. This number does fluctuate a lot by country, as well.

If you look for studies on loneliness within the last year, you will find several hundred U.S. articles which all cite the first study by CIGNA (the insurance company), and a lot of articles which suggest technology is to blame, and more which suggest social activities you can undertake or habits you can change and absolutely none of that helps, does it? 

Look. I’m the first to say there is a kind of bittersweet value in loneliness. In Tarot, two of the wisdom-associated cards include solitude, loneliness, a sojourn.

Especially when we talk about loneliness in the context of Valentine’s Day, in the context of romantic partnership. You have to learn how to be self-sufficient. We will never be socially stimulated all the time, and it’s unrealistic to expect to be with a romantic partner at all times to the exclusion of all others. You have to be asleep sometimes. And even the most outgoing and spontaneous of our kind needs to recharge once in a while, to have some peace and quiet, to focus, to reflect. But reflection and isolation are two different sides of two very different denominations of currency.

We are monkeys; comparatively, as a concept, monkeys have spent much more time living, sleeping, breathing, and eating together, within arm’s reach, than we have in this new modern age where the nearest person is ten feet away through solid concrete. We are, literally, not adapted for this. And so the people who report being the most well-adjusted are the ones who (1) manage their monkey-half well by eating, sleeping, and exercising in a way that works for them, and who (2) are able to manage the social part of their monkey by seeing and talking to people every day, and every day engaging in some kind of social sharing / trust activity.

I’d assert the following as a should statement:

It should not be difficult to tend to our social health. Imperatively. I believe it should be easier than it is. In many cultures it is easier than in mine. In others, more difficult. But bring it back to the opening: Modern life is lonely. It should not be.

Whenever anyone presents any problem, conceptual, theoretical, philosophical, ethical, my answer is always the same: So what are you gonna do about it? 

Sometime’s there’s no answer. That’s fine. Sometimes it is enough to be aware that there is a problem. Some problems are grave enough that answering the question “what are you gonna do about it” with “literally anything” is satisfactory. But I think I have something to say and, further, I’m going to say it.

We have two advantages as a species, which are critical here.

  • One: we are cultural animals. We are habit-driven. We become what we repeatedly do. We learn very well from each other, and we especially learn anything that we do over and over again in each other’s company.
  • Two: We are conscious animals. We can formulate complex ideas beyond ourselves and then apply them to ourselves. We can literally domesticate and train ourselves.

These two advantages are combined in this following assertion:

We are beginning to enter an era of human society in which we must become self-aware and intentional about the way that we create new culture and knowledge. We are, as a species, facing existential threats, and we are, as individuals in large swaths of the species, facing individual crises of meaning and identity.

Further assertion, bear with me.

The existential threats to our species and the individual crises of meaning and purpose are directly related, and the solutions must be connected, too. 

What does this mean? It means that feeling alone and isolated in your society is not something you resolve by eating more broccoli and going for a jog once a week. Feeling alone and isolated in your society is a symptom of a problem that affects 65,800,000 people in the United States alone. The complete resolution of this problem is beyond you.

But it is not beyond us. There are a lot of us.

Reach out. Connect. Build traditions. We’ve spent so long erasing culture under the corrosive forces of modernism and modernity. Make your own culture. The causes of our problems are societal, and you need to get that. This isn’t something any of us will fix alone. But that’s the whole thing: we aren’t alone. We’ve never been alone. We can’t ever, really, be alone. That’s our secret weapon.

This is the pivot point of this blog. I’m not just writing for fun. I’m not just clarifying concepts. I’m trying to build something. An idea, maybe. A theory, maybe. An orientation to the world, maybe. Whatever you call it.

I think it’s so essential that we build something. I think it’s part of becoming a human being. This theme will recur in the coming months. But know this. However lonely and isolated and cut off you feel? That’s real. That’s a real, definite, in-the-world problem, and it is external like rain and pollution and your toaster, and the actions we take to control isolation and loneliness are not restorative. We are not in the mode of healing, we are in damage control. We are managing a sick society like you manage a chronic illness. We are running the pumps on a ship that is taking on water. We are in triage.

But we can still survive. We’re still here, and we can carry on.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Don’t take this as an indictment of happiness; if you’re in a thriving relationship, if you have a loving family, if you have a strong social fabric, then thrive in it. It is a wellspring of energy and it sustains us like fresh water.

And if that isn’t what your world is like? Survive. Read Bowling Alone. Read these studies.

And build something.

See you next week.

HELLO AND WELCOME TO TOOLBOX

Today in the toolbox we’re talking about metaphors. Why? You’ll find out!

What is a metaphor? A metaphor is a way of communicating meaning through comparison. A metaphor is like a simile in the way a painting is like a photograph. A metaphor can be text, like, “All the world’s indeed a stage, and we are merely players.”  (if I really need to tag this citation I don’t want to talk to you), or a metaphor can be a symbol, a piece of art, a series of events in a play or movie, a way of structuring the prose of a book.

Why the fuck am I explaining what a metaphor is? You all know what a metaphor is. If you’ve ever used an expression like “hindsight is 20/20”, “silver lining,” or “black sheep,” if you’ve ever described someone as “hot” or “cold,” or talked about “looking back” to the past or “looking forward” to something in the future, congratulations! You have used a metaphor.

Why do we use metaphors? 

One reason is that they’re efficient. I could say, “my friend is intelligent, has good judgment, and has the ability to respond quickly to new information.”  Or I could say “My friend is pretty sharp.” Do I mean that I could use my friend to slice tomatoes very thinly? No. But the metaphor of sharpness, the ability to “cut through” misinformation, has connotations which express all of that in one word.

(Bonus connection to last week’s Toolbox: me using the expression “pretty sharp” also communicates social knowledge about where I’m from and how formal I am being in this particular situation!)

Let’s look at the famous metaphor from earlier. “All the world’s indeed a stage, and we are merely players.” (clearly these are the lyrics to the classic 1981 song Limelight, by Rush)

When we say this about the world, we are using one thing (theatre) to describe another (reality). But theater does not exactly transfer to reality; there are ways in which it is similar, but there are places where they are different. When we use this metaphor, we are highlighting parts of reality that make sense in the comparison. This sentence downplays the ways in which the world is not in fact a stage (for example, I don’t get any kind of monetary compensation for my existence in the world, whereas if I was on a professional actor on a stage, I would probably be getting paid like $50 to be there, and if the world was a stage, we would value set designers more), and emphasizes the similarities (we are always performing things, such as gender, language, nationality).

So far nothing groundbreaking has happened in this post. And nothing will. So the question: why, out of all the words that need defining, is metaphor among the first?

Because metaphor itself is analogous to theory. I’ve written about theory before; here’s a quick, shitty definition: Theory is an idea we construct in order to help us highlight, understand, and predict something in real life. A good theory like night-vision goggles; it doesn’t show us reality; it shows us something useful and usable about reality.

But night vision goggles only highlight an aspect of reality, not all of reality. Just as metaphors only highlight an aspect of the thing they are describing-by-comparison, not all the aspects of the thing, and theory (even if it’s a fantastic, well thought-out theory), can only explain, understand, and predict aspects of reality. Not all of reality itself.

(This is a very definite philosophical stance for me to take but it’s so complicated that I barely fully understand it; the point I am here tacitly suggesting is that theories are something humans construct, and that those theories are, as a rule, incapable of fully describing reality; even me using “aspect of reality” as a phrase is not-quite-right, but I frankly cannot be fucked to refine and I shan’t elaborate)

Another reason to use metaphors: The right metaphor, properly chosen and properly presented, can be an incredible teaching tool. What exactly the “right” metaphor might be depends on you, on your audience, and the thing you’re trying to describe. But if you can find it–it works.

I am a wordy bastard. And in my quest to make sure I have expressed exactly the thing I wanted to express, I often use shotgun clusters of metaphors. I go absolutely apeshit for metaphors. Hog wild on metaphors.

If you’re interested in thinking about this in more depth and in the context of language, highly recommend checking out the work of George Lakoff, who wrote a pretty approachable book about metaphors in the English language, called Metaphors We Live By. 

And that’s today’s Toolbox!

Toolbox: A series of posts where I go into greater depth about words I use too goddamn much and actually explore them with something resembling nuance for fucking once in my life, so that in the future when someone (possibly me) complains about it I can just link the post instantly without having to have even the smallest moment of self-awareness.

social construct is something that is socially constructed. 

What the heck do we do with that?

We can do a lot with that.

First of all, right out of the gate, let’s put on the postmodernist’s beret. There are a hell of a lot of assumptions in “A social construct is something that is socially constructed.” Let’s disintegrate this sentence. Grab your merlot glass (it’s the tall one).

First of all, we’re asserting that a social construct is a thing. It has significance and an effect on our lives .It can be contrasted with like, fleef-flaffers, which is a word I’ve just made up, which does not exist, and so doesn’t effect us

It is a discrete idea, object, symbol, or complex (complex in the sense of like, a parking complex; a group of things that are all connected, like the distinct floors of a parking complex). Now, you’d have to be heart-stoppingly pedantic in order to want to argue with the idea that things which affect people every day do not exist, but that’s sort of the space I exist in most of the time, so I’m sure we’ll end up there eventually. BUT FOR NOW:

Moving on. Socially constructed. So we are asserting, by means of this statement, that society (the medium in which we are social; fish are fishy in the ocean. social animals are social in society) can construct things.

Specifically, when we talk about social constructs, we use the word knowledge. Knowledge, which in this context means, something we can learn, understand, discover, and teach through experience. Later on, when I livestream myself trying to read Kant, we can come up with even more complicated definitions for “knowledge,” “learning,” “understanding,” “discovering,” “teaching,” and “experience.”

Short words.

By stating that social constructs are socially constructed knowledge, we are also subtly asserting that social interaction can create knowledge, society can create knowledge, and knowledge created by society has an effect in the world. 

A lot is happening. But okay. Baby steps.

CREATE knowledge? Knowledge isn’t like a shirt. Right? To talk about knowledge as something created rather than “””””””””UNCOVERED””””””””””” is uh. Alarming. And yet, anyone who’s ever talked to a 4 year old can see that they are creating knowledge about the world. Sometimes that knowledge doesn’t exactly line up with reality, but boy they are creating it at a hell of a pace. And when I read a book and learn a thing and write that thing down again in a blog post, I, too, am creating a knowledge. Someone else can read that knowledge and learn it.

(This lines up with the ominously looming Kuhn post that I still haven’t written yet and am at this point procrastinating, because I have to read A Theory Of Scientific Revolutions first and I don’t want to finish Outline Of A Theory Of Practice, because dear god, reading that book is like eating a cinderblock with chopsticks, what the fuck, Pierre)

Gender is the stereotypical example of something that is socially constructed. What the fuck does that mean? Great question.

When we say gender, what does that mean? What are some genders? Since I live in a country with a “this OR that” idea of gender, the genders are “men and women” with two smaller, secret categories of “men, but I had to think about it for a minute” and “women, but I had to guess.” Since there are two categories, we talk about this as a gender binary. Each of us is being perceived as one of the two genders. (now in some places we’re starting to complicate this binary, but that’s another post for another day)

How is it that people perceive (for example) me as a man or a woman? Let’s think. What do we look at to figure out what gender someone is? We look at what they look like, what they wear, and what they do. 

  1. What they look like. For example, which gender is someone who has short hair? Easy answer, right? Why is that an easy answer? Back in the 1600s, everyone had long hair.
  2. What they wear. What gender is someone who wears a dress? Easy answer. Why is that an easy answer? Sami people from the far north traditionally all wear dress-like or skirt-like clothes (cause it’s cold as heck up there).
  3. What they do. What gender is someone likely to be if they are a judge? A stay-at-home-parent? A construction worker? A babysitter? A president? A pilot? A bartender? A nurse? A teacher? Hmm. Why?

The answer to all these Whys is: Because we all sort of know and expect that these are the ways people act, the things they do, and the ways they look, if they are a particular gender. Common knowledge.

Who is it common knowledge for? 

People in isolated Amazonian tribes don’t know what gender is commonly associated with being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. They might have a different set of gender-things that people do and look like. So there’s something about this knowledge that is related to which society we live in. Further, people in Fairbanks, AK, might have a different conception of what a man “looks like” than people in Vienna, Austria. Would there be similarities? Yes. Would those ideas be more similar than between, say, Vienna and the Sentinelese tribes? Probably.

Something about this knowledge, these expectations, these actions, is related to where we live, and who we are. (there’s a lot happening in this sentence at once; i’m sort of tacitly assuming that where we live is related to and part of who we are, and building that together.) (this builds nicely and tacitly off my Toolbox on Reflexivity, earlier)(Well. it was tacit until i fucked it up just there)(poop.)

How do we learn these things? Did someone sit you down in school and teach you everything that men do? Did you take a 16-week course on how women dress? Did you go to community college to take remedial gender before you started trade school? No, obviously not, that would be wack. We didn’t need to take a class to understand our culture; we live in it. We learned by seeing what the world was like, what people did, how they dressed, and what they were.

And then we picked a side, right? Have you ever done something because you wanted to seem more or less like a gender? Changed the way you wore your hair, the clothes you had on, the things you did? Obviously. We all do. As experts in our culture, we play gender like a concert pianist; sometimes louder, sometimes softer, depending on the song and the venue and the mood. (one day when i finally finish reading Bourdieu, I’ll come back to this idea of culture as piano, and then you’ll be sorry) We build the set of things we want people to notice about us, and other people in turn create their own expectations and ways of behaving. We learn those new things as we encounter them; within our binary example, I see a person who I can recognize as one gender or the other wearing their hair in a new way. I am now given a new piece of knowledge: people of that gender can have that kind of hair. When you see a new piece of clothing, how do you know what gender it’s for? How do you know if it’s universal? If it’s formal, semiformal, professional, slutty, modest? This is all social knowledge.

More than that, this is socially constructed knowledge. Nobody decided the meaning of gender. There’s no International Gender Association (I checked when writing this post). We construct little pieces of the meaning of gender every time we interact with the social world. 

Gender is a social construct. 

Some other social constructs: (not an exhaustive list) Marriage. Language. Art. Dancing. Music. Greetings (handshake?). Science. Government. Society. The self.

What does this mean? 

Some or all of the above are partially or totally socially constructed.

This does NOT mean that these things are not real. Remember; social constructs have existential weight. They are SIGNIFICANT. Language, Gender, Art, Government, Science, all are huge parts of our lives, of society. We rely upon them for everything. They are as real as the tides, as wind, as the weather, and they are just as changeable.

A final note:

Social construction is ongoing. I am always presenting my socially constructed identities (like gender, nationality, ethnicity) to others, and they are always presenting theirs to me. Language is an excellent example; through language I am always conveying information (Where am I from? What slang do I use? What social class am I? What kinds of words do I know? How comfortable am I with “formal” language vs. “informal” language? how “correct” is my grammar?), and through language others are always conveying information to me. It is “always on.”

There’s a lot more we could say about this subject, and about all the different ways things are socially constructed! But don’t worry! We will!

Toolbox: A series of posts where I go into greater depth about words I use too goddamn much, and actually explore them with something resembling nuance for fucking once in my life, so that in the future when someone (possibly me) complains about it I can just link the post instantly without having to have even the smallest moment of self-awareness.

“Reality may exist in distributive form, in the shape not of an all but of a set of eaches, just as it seems to be.” –William James, A Pluralistic Universe (1909)

Perhaps the key is not a global theory of “an underlying reality,” as seductive as that idea is. Rather, perhaps the key is a fierce defense of the particular. Perhaps what matters is not the conceptual unboundedness “beyond” forms and appearances, the “truth” per se, not a unifying theory of dark and light matter, but the opposite. What would it be to think of the world this way?

What matters is this breath, this mouthful of food, this joy, this moment, and nothing else. Just a valorous appreciation of every instant, fully enjoyed, as it comes, not only of my eaches but of all eaches, so far as they are mutually compatible.

Perhaps this is the next articulation of a kinder and more equitable sort of individualism. An each-ism? Maximize eachness? 

Not so simple. Even to concieve of the maximum of a value as good is cultural. But then what? Quality of eachness? Diversity of eachness?

If we are the universe seeking to understand itself, as mystics have said, then a diversity of eachness preponderates. What matters then is not merely quality or number, but distinction, particularity among eaches.

What, then, makes a good “each?” Magnitude of divergence? If so, the most valuable lives are those which diverge from normalcy the most, but (1) we must also find a way to consider life valuable for life’s sake alone, (a concept of life must connect simply with how good it is to be alive)(fight me); and, (2), normalcy as a concept is inherently anti-each; i.e., “normal” as an idea is only possible if we can somehow compare particularities, which defeats the entire purpose of this wacky thought experiment.

So then. Every life must be considered as a snowflake or a crystal formation. Unique in value and circumstance, self-justifying, but alike somehow in kind.

Old question: how do we evaluate a life? For us as agents the answer must be subjectively satisfying. For us as helpers, the answer must be objectively useful. Maybe it comes back to that guy Aristotle. Maybe what matters is not how we evaluate life so much as it matters that we possess the wherewithal to do so. 

Might it be the case that for many issues, we have no theory so robust, so potent and ironclad, that it can replace the measured and unique competency of a practiced individual? What does it mean to entertain the idea that there might never be a theory so complex and user-friendly that it can be deployed in every scenario constantly without ever contradicting itself? What can we learn from considering how a practiced and experienced expert can appear to contradict themselves while still behaving correctly in both cases?

Example. Gift giving. Bourdieu said this better than I could; theories dry out the moment, collapse gift giving and reciprocity into a single instant, leaving out all the variables–infinite variables. The time between gift and reciprocation. The power levels of giver and receiver. The space between their dwellings. The history of their families. As an object of analysis–especially as an object of human analysis–human interaction is infinitely deep, because humans are infinitely capable of projecting meaning. We are imaginal creatures. We are images all the way down.

This exchange is impossibly complex. To create an unwaveringly precise theoretical model would take centuries. How long would it take a human to learn how to give and reciprocate at an expert level? A decade, maybe.

What implications if theory–philosophy, psychology, medicine–have more in common with ballet? What if we think about intellectual and theoretical academic practice as a practised skill like carpentry, learned through experience? Certain rules apply.

  1. A sufficiently skilled expert might be able to articulate set of rules. But these rules, designed for the consumption of outsiders, simplified and made palatable, will always be incomplete and divorced from the actual activity. Imagine trying to explain your favorite sport or pastime to someone who’s never heard of it. How well could you capture all its details?
  2. Some scenarios will arise for which only an expert can devise a solution in their given context, where no universal rule is possible or where standard universal rules are violated. Ordinary theories of practice would apply; rules are routinely and methodically violated by expert actors in order to enforce larger sets of rules.

But this is all intolerably confining, to say that only experts can devise the right solution. We intuitively can draw connections between disciplines. Priests and therapists. Philosophers and physicists. Cooks and chemists. How do we resolve this conflict in two value systems? How do we decide who has Aristotle’s starting state of “good education?”

The answer might be, we have to ask an expert. 

Ask multiple experts, who may return contradictory answers! Then we improvise within them, like any actor. You also become an expert at being alive.

Our–look, idealists tend to bemoan this fact, and I’m one of them. We live in a society. We exist in a context. We have a culture, a society, organizations of training and education. But this is to our advantage. We have experts, many of them quite skilled. But we really ought to be better at listening to them. And recognizing them.

Hmm. That’s the question, isn’t it? How do we say who’s an expert? Boy. Too much for me. I’m out.

Boy, where do I fucking start. Didn’t I write about this already? 

Anthropology used to be easy. You’d pack up your big Jimmy Stewart suitcase and roll out to New Guinea or darkest Africa or “exotic” Siam or, and this was the real treat, the Caucasus mountains, where (it was widely agreed) all the hottest women lived (historical side note: eventually all these horny western european academics decided, after much “research”, that these were definitely ideal “specimens” of “their” race, aka, “the Caucasians,” and white people have been a Problem ever since) (this is a gross oversimplification and possibly unfair to the inventor of the term, who I think is a Mr. Blumenbach?, but it’s funny and close enough to the truth to piss people off, so I’m leaving it as is)

ANYWAY. Used to be easy. You go to an island, you take your sulfa pills, you shit like a river, you watch the natives do their dance, you write about it, maybe do the nasty with one of the locals, go back to Switzerland and lecture about their footwork for thirty years until some fucking grad student named Nietzsche is awarded your position as department chair.

Where did it all go wrong?

Possibly in 1954, with a woman named Laura Bohannan. You see, Laura was an anthropologist. They let women do that back then. (Franz Boas had been dead for over a decade, but that kooky geographer’s legacy of obstinate progressiveness persisted in the discipline) (more about Franz Boas and how he was anti-Holocaust before it even happened on another date). But Laura had a problem. Not an unusual problem, mind you; a pretty common one in academic disciplines: Laura was just an individual single person with a limited point of view and specific cultural background, and she felt she could better represent her “field work” (boy, I’d better do a toolbox post on “field work” too) if she could present her findings not through the scientific passive-voice lens of an “objective” report, but as a subjective account of daily life in a community very like the one she had been a part of. (Bourdieu claps loudly in the front row. he is the only one clapping. no one else has read his outline of a theory of practise)

So Laura wrote a book called Return to Laughter and published it under the name Elenore Smith Bowen. And then all the anthropologists realized that they, too, were people, and that, being people, they all had inherently limited perspectives, and since then, anthropology has been a fully self-aware discipline without any quarreling over methodology.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

Reflexivity is a jargon word. But we’re going to define it and pin it down, because it’s more useful that way. Words are sort of the opposite of bugs; they’re much more useful when you nail them in one place.

The “reflexivity” of a person or theory henceforth refers to that person or theory’s ability to be self-referential. 

Example. Say I have a theory about how people from monotheistic cultures tend to be drawn to myths about brilliant, divinely inspired intellectuals, and how we can examine the features of a myth to learn more about the culture. I’m from a culture which is (secular, but monotheistic), and which has a number of myths about brilliant intellectual individuals (side note: fuck Tony Stark); therefore, I can reflexively apply my theory to myself, and analyze the mythical figures of my own culture, the legends of my own upbringing, to draw…I don’t know, whatever conclusion, X mythical figure means this culture is 69% authoritarian. Something like that.

The ability to be “reflexive” could also be referring to my ability to be aware of my own bias and limitation as a narrator. We are all unreliable narrators, we know this for a fact. Our memories trick us, our psychological biases trap us. The last blog post I wrote on the subject was, frankly, brilliant, so I shan’t over-quote it here. Rather, I’ll rephrase:

Reflexivity is my ability to ask the question: “How is who I am related to what I write?” 

We are constituted by our reality, (99.999%). Our existence has ripples and echoes, and necessarily entails a path of destruction and assimilation. I flitted around the edges of this idea when we talked about Georges Bataille, but now we get away from blood and into metaphysics: we are influenced by every single atom and energy and idea that we consume, and that influence leaves its mark on all that we produce.

example: language. I learnt how to write a certain kind of English. When I write a text, an e-mail, a tweet, an essay–that affects my grammar, the kinds of words I use, how likely I am to use present perfect vs. simple past, which modal verbs I employ. Who I am and where I am from thus affects what (and how) I write.

Reflexivity: as a concept, can be applied to novels, theories, people. Synonymous with “self-awareness,” but has a different connotation, one of putting that self-awareness to work. Utilizing it. Because the things that are different about me let me see different things than other people. The tiny, sonorous Alan Watts in my head reminds me that putting something to work is also a cultural concept; part of the get-up-and-go American pragmatist tradition, which I am? tentatively part of? I think? I like what John Dewey says sometimes? is he a pragmatist?

But now we’re getting into theory and phenomenology and personal insights it’s 1AM and I have to wake up at 7 tomorrow and this post is closed. Cheerio. Ta for now.

Toolbox: A series of posts where I go into greater depth about words I use too goddamn much, and actually explore them with something resembling nuance for fucking once in my life, so that in the future when someone (possibly me) complains about it I can just link the post instantly without having to have even the smallest moment of self-awareness.

What does it mean to be erudite? Who the fuck uses words like ERUDITE in this day and age? (In what day and age??? it’s what year?) What is the quality of erudition? And why am I asking so many god damn rhetorical questions?

erudition

For a minute, we’re going to go hurtling back through time to 2010. I’m in college. And I am constitutionally incapable of shutting the fuck up about a dead French guy whose essays I’ve been reading. Good to see how much I’ve changed over the years.

The college: [redacted]

The French guy: Michel de Montaigne. A well-known figure even during his lifetime (in the late 1500s), he is singlehandedly responsible for inventing “the essay” as a literary genre. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But he wrote a lot. He locked himself in his attic and wrote a billion essays. Maybe not a billion. Less than a billion, but more than a hundred.

The essays Montaigne writes cover every conceivable topic; child psychology, anthropology, philosophy, statecraft, ethics, theology, friendship, loss. He is a sprightly and incessantly curious interlocutor, and reading the Essais feels not at all like reading a book and very much like having a fireside chat with some improbable time traveler.

Flipping through the pages, you notice immediately that each essay is absolutely jam packed with quotations. Ideas from Latin, Greek, Italian, English, Spanish, German, and French thinkers are scattered throughout–and those are only the quotes that are set apart. Numerous nods and references to classical literature and Renaissance contemporaries occur within the prose, unmarked and unremarkable unless you are already familiar with the thinkers of the time.

Montaigne did not wrap himself up alone in the tower. With him was a huge library–and, even more important than the library, he had with him the accumulated knowledge of a very demanding scholastic upbringing. A library is only useful if you know how to use it–and to properly deploy a library covering so many different topics, to create a work like the Essais, required that knowledge. Required erudition. Genius? Ha. Montaigne would be the first to tell you he wasn’t a genius; his motto was the 16th century French equivalent of “–but what the fuck do I know?”

Fuck Tony Stark, anyway. No worthwhile genius ever dreamed up anything useful in a cave from a box of scraps. If great works were ever made, it was because their roots had been deeply set in the works of others.

(more about my deep hatred of Tony Stark another day)

French intellectuals are an excellent example of this. Let’s take the surrealist movement, Peaky Blinders era through to the present day (though they lost a little steam after WWII, surrealism is still around). I’ve talked previously about a French surrealist, Georges Bataille, though as with many surrealists, to call Georges merely a “surrealist” is to do him a disservice. Georges wrote surreal things, and made surreal art, sure. But he also wrote about philosophy and economics and social theory, politics and mysticism, wrote novels, poems, manifestoes. The work that I made a ha ha good fun joke about; Acephale, his secret society: was also the name of a public literary review magazine which he formed and edited, which among other things ran unedited Nietzsche texts.

(CONTEXT: at a time when Nietzsche’s sister was trying very hard to make her dear brother’s work seem like an official nazi philosophy of superiority, they ran the unedited text of a Nietzsche essay. And, because surrealism is rarely subtle, Georges also published a downright vitriolic editorial dunking on Nietzsche’s sister [her name was Elisabeth] for (1) marrying a man so anti-semitic that Nietzsche disowned her and (2) presumably also because Liz was a nazi.)

Nietzsche’s a great person to talk about here. He’s a “genius.” He came up with some unique, acerbic, and innovative philosophical ideas before he was even in his forties, which, in terms of the life timeline of intellectuals, is wack. For context: Mircea Eliade was just getting warmed up by the time he hit fifty. Nietzsche created pillars of work as if he knew his time was limited; he died at age 55, in Weimar.

Genius, right? A god damn Tony Stark of philosophy. Nope, fuck Tony Stark:

Nietzsche was a classical philologist. A prodigy, yes, but nonetheless a classical philologist. If you don’t know what that means–and really, no decent person should know what that means–being a “classical philologist” is a “job” which entails reading Greek and Latin “literature.” All of it. All the literature that we have that is from classical Greece or Rome, that’s the literature that philologists read. In Latin. Or Greek.

Common thread: Nietzsche, like Montaigne, and like many others, had a classical polyglot upbringing. He learned to read at least five languages, including among them a sufficient command of Latin and Greek to become Chair of Classical Philology at one of the oldest universities in Europe at age twenty four. The dude was erudite as a motherfucker. 

Faster, now, since we’re already dragging on and I have a point to make. Let’s talk about Mircea Eliade (not for long, I promise): an intellectual with far-ranging interests and strong fascist political opinions, he was notoriously fluent in multiple languages and could read more languages than he spoke. Highly involved in the political scene of his home country (Romania), he was also connected to other prominent intellectuals of the time, and worked in many different disciplines at once.

(I have a larger point to make about multi-disciplinary work, but–as I so often say–we’ll get to that later)

EVERYBODY’S SEXIST: 

“Wait a minute,” the feminist at the back of my brain says, through loudspeaker feedback. “You’ve presented only men as examples! That’s a little bit philosopher-kingy of you, isn’t it, you fucking patriarchy cuck? Why don’t we wheel Plato’s dick into the room and whack it off a little more? Then you’ll be ready to join the writing staff of Young Sheldon.

Well, fuck, brain, you’re right, I sure did that.

Distaff Interlude:

Let’s wash Eliade out of our mouth (hmm. poor choice of words) and go for a palate cleanser: Hannah Arendt. Frau Bluecher (horse noise) before it was cool. I’m not even smart enough to remember all the different disciplines Hannah wrote in, and she was influential in all of them. An absolute fucking champ and boy, sharp contrast to Eliade, Hannah hated her some fuckin’ nazis. Same. Relatable content.

Hannah’s mom was a raging Goethian, which anyone who knows anything about Geothe (spoiler: that isn’t me) knows will have a dramatic effect on your child. Mama Arendt tried to raise her kid just like Johann would have wanted–which included making her read Goethe. All of it. Also, seeing how she was a fucking whiz kid who functioned at 100% maximum no chill, Hannah studied other philosophers, like Kant (woo!) and Kierkegaard (yuck!), studied Greek and French, and was generally an absolutely titanic nerd and ice-cold killer.

Bonus Round: I’m going to gesture vaguely in the direction of Simone De Beauvoir. Highly educated. Widely read and just. unstoppably horny. Maths. Philosophy. Novels. Sexual assault allegations.

What do these people have in common? They were wildly, crazily well-read.

That’s it. That’s the post. Remember this when you read Nietzsche or Leibniz or Hegel, Jung or really, any intellectual whose name you vaguely associate with the smell of decaying book spines. One of humanity’s most formidable tools is our accumulated knowledge–and while it’s impossible to know everything, I’d say it’s possible to know enough. To know what you need to learn, where you need to turn for the answer, who has asked the questions you’re asking, who has tried to solve the problems you’re stumped by.

Were these people smart? Sure they were. Fucking brilliant. But they were something else, too. They were erudite. Intelligence is one thing. The rational faculty, problem-solving capability, the ability to integrate multiple ideas into one idea. But these are just the mechanisms of intelligence. Intelligence needs input to be useful. A genius problem-solver is only as impressive as the problem they are presented with.

And a good or even average problem-solver, equipped with the combined accumulated solutions of problem solvers from 3,000 BC to the present day, is pretty fucking formidable. This is why we use citations.

(more about citations, genius, and erudition later…but for now? Take a minute to read about one of these people. They were much smarter than I am and you should absolutely spend your time reading about them, not me.)

What is impostor syndrome?

“Formally,” in the “discipline” of “psychology,” impostor syndrome is –okay, you know what,here’s the source material, the original article by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, two scientists who are much more qualified than I am to talk about this. Go read it. Don’t rely on some random fuck on the internet for your information. Any interpretation of data is selective, and alters the data being observed. Don’t settle for secondary sources. Don’t allow me to define what a word means f

abstract high achieving women

GOD DAMN IT

Lately, and by “lately” I mean “since 1978,” there have been many articles on the subject of impostor syndrome. I did a half-assed google search before I started writing this blog and I found like, a billion. Although the original article was about seven habits of highly effective women, the parameters have been expanded, so now everyone can feel like a secret failure! Hooray!

But there is good news! Now, thanks to advances in the “science” of “psychology,” we’re more certain than ever about the shape impostor syndrome takes. Let’s run through a few of the greatest hits, courtesy of this article from Time Magazine which was the third search result when I started looking for citations. 

some kind of syndrome

(in another blog post I’ll freeassociate incoherently about what the fuck a “syndrome” is but, it’s very convenient for me to use here without expanding, so, fuck it!)

  • “Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.
  • “Experts” feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or trainings to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or speak up in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.
  • When the “natural genius” has to struggle or work hard to accomplish something, he or she thinks this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily, and when they have to put in effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
  • “Soloists” feel they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
  • “Supermen” or “superwomen” push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.   –(Young, The Secret Thoughts Of Successful Women, 2011)

symptoms

Now that we all understand one another, let’s break one other facet of this super fun “syndrome” down. (METAPHOR TIME) Just like tennis elbow might flare up during a doubles match, impostor “syndrome” can “flare up” in “different” “contexts.” For example, when I talk to my mom about a cool fish i saw on tumblr dot com, I might be very confident in my ability to correctly convey that information, but when I’m called upon to say something authoritative about my actual career to other professionals who work in my field, or when I have the opportunity to reach for a position at a higher level, I am suddenly full of doubts.

problemsdisorder.PNG

A fight is going on inside of me. It is a terrible struggle and it is between two wolves. One wolf is doubt and fear; my “impostor” “syndrome,” my depression, my sadness. The other one is my need to talk as often as possible.

As you know, nonexistent reader, I free associate like a motherfucker. Which means I’m never lost for something to say. I’d get caught up in whatever I was talking about and talk on and on and on and on and on. When I was younger (well, and also now, but less), I used to question every single addition I’d ever made to any conversation, revisiting the things I thought were “cringeworthy” over and over again, wondering how people could stand to carry on talking to me. (still not sure) (remember, i promised i’d talk about cringe later. i will)(that is a threat)

want everyone who ever lived.jpg

For me, what has helped and still helps is hearing other, incredibly successful and talented people talk about impostor syndrome. I watched a heartfelt and intense interview where one of my favorite celebrities talked about how he hated the sound of his own voice (minor issue; he is a voice actor), and how he struggled with feeling like he wasn’t good enough to be holding literally any of the jobs he’s had.

That was mindblowing for me. Have you ever had one of those moments where the world realigns itself, ever so slightly, and suddenly something that bothered you before, makes total sense? That’s what happened. I’d heard of impostor syndrome before; everybody, I think, kind of has “heard about” it. But I’d never heard another man so clearly articulate his struggles with the “syndrome.” (especially a personal role model, one of the uwu soft bois i aspire to be)

I’ll talk another time about my absolute favorite author, Diane Duane. But for now I’ll nod to her as I state that there is a lot of power in a name. Having a name lets you share an entire experience with someone. Taps you into that feeling of having made a connection that you could not have anticipated, but which touches some deep chord, and shakes you to the core. And it works the other way, too; when someone describes a feeling, a struggle, a sharing, something you know, and then gives it a name, it’s like learning that your own mind had a secret name this whole time, and you’d only just learnt it in a moment.

That’s how I learned the name of impostor “syndrome”, and, just like a demon in a Wildbow story, learning the name of something gives you a power over it. Not necessarily a power that will automatically overcome the demon…but every little bit helps.

Knowing that someone else has seen the same demon as you…a demon that sometimes looks like feeling unworthy, sometimes looks like quietly closing a browser tab with an interesting job opening, sometimes looks like staring at your queued blog posts, wondering if you should just delete them. Knowing that there are others like you who have faced the same demon and done well.

Time helps, too. Learning how to do things better. Making better friends who remind me continuously that I am in fact good at stuff and desirable to be around.

Certainly as time has passed, I’ve grown more confident in myself, and in the things I believe, and I’ve had less and less hesitation when asserting something I know to be true and right. I’ve had to learn, in tandem with this experience of putting a name to the demon, how to strategise around its presence. How to develop a “fuck you, it’s not my job to decide if i’m unqualified” mindset when applying for jobs. To be able to stop and interrogate myself and ask, am I hesitating because I think I must somehow be not good enough, must be faking it, must be making it up for attention?; to ask, am I justified in saying this?

I’ve spent a lot of time being quiet because I didn’t think what I had to contribute was good enough to be worth saying. I’ve written about this before, specifically as it relates to my writing: “All that time I spent thinking about it was time in which I wrote way less than I could have. And time in which I am writing less is time in which I am not getting as much practice at writing as I could. (…) In other words, time wasted.” (me, here, 2020) (sorry about the epistemologically flawed citation format, but i can’t figure out how to make footnotes in wordpress yet)

This idea is a critical implement in my ongoing struggle to feel good enough: to ask myself at every moment, what am I missing out on? What am I depriving myself, or my coworkers, or the world of, when I hold myself back? Could this be a moment when I have something important to add? Or a moment when I can learn?

At a later date, I’ll expand on this. There isn’t really a point about this post? Maybe it sets frame or context for what comes after, or what came before. Perhaps it’ll be of interest only as a biographical note for some poor bastard who wants to put together a coherent account of my incoherent worldview. But ultimately, for me, it comes down to two words. Two powerful words which help me not to set aside my fear, not to escape my doubts, but to leave them behind for a moment, to get respite, to have long enough to act. Words of wisdom. Of bravery. Of confidence.

fuck it!

 

 

 

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