Life in the Making (Free writing about meaning and story)

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I have a lot of random experiences in my life that could make for humorous storytelling. Some of them are less than flattering of my judgement and character. Other stories I could tell relate to some of the more tragic circumstances in my life; tragic only because I was putting extra effort into acting tragically. I don’t think I consciously worked at this, but the idea popped into the back of my mind occasionally that if things went really bad maybe I’d get a tragic Lifetime movie made out of my sad existence. Sad only if it had ended in the few spots where it seemed possible. A made for Lifetime movie would probably be the real tragic event, everything else being unnecessary or at the very least misguided drama.

Most of us probably have a few moments in our lives that could have been the end, or could have been the situation that resulted in everything following it being tragically altered. I’ve been in two rollover accidents in my life, both I walked away from basically unscathed. Then there are those various stories I could tell that perhaps will make it into a memoir but at this juncture would just border on TMI (too much information). Needless to say, we’ve all had those moments that when recollected take on the shape of good fodder for dramatic storytelling.

But that’s the thing, it’s not that these events inherently hold the weight that sometime later we infuse with particular meaning, it’s that story is one of the ways we’ve learned to make sense of our life and our world. This might be a worn topic, but it’s constantly coming up in my mind. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so much this year, mostly nonfiction. And it’s very interesting to see how people retell history and form plot threads. Good guys, bad guys, conflict, resolution, these things exist mostly in our mind and are matters of subjectivity.

Surely pain and strife will come upon us, and it’s not that the meaning we cobble together has no meaning, it’s that things happen for a reason because we later give them the reasoning for why they happened. Especially if they were unexpected or if things didn’t happen as we intended them to.

I suppose the question worth asking might be ‘is there existential utility in considering from time to time that our meanings are meaningless in the objective sense, and that our life stories are made up after the fact as much as they are in the moment of the making?’ Is it worth asking? I don’t know, but I still ask myself that question all the time.

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Talking Less (The non-art of my own self deception)

the-fool-front-e1380690847246Featured Image: ‘The Fool’ a sculpture by Caitlin Smith @ www.caitlinaudreysmith.com

Communicating with language is a vital but equally frustrating process. Over the course of human evolution, the human brain has developed the apparatus for learning and understanding unique and specialized vocalizations. It is undeniably crucial to how we’ve progressed as a species; a key component in the rise of civilization and the resultant age of technology. It is not a stretch to suggest that most modern marvels wouldn’t exist if we didn’t possess the capacity for communicating with such detail and specificity.

But on an individual level, I’ve often noticed how inadequate or limited the spoken and written word feels when expressing ideas and emotions. Language, for all its beauty and utility, is still secondary to consciousness itself. Our thoughts and impressions precede the words that eventually arise to describe and explain them. There is always bound to be varying degrees of disconnection.

I’ve often been told I am good with words, that I have a distinctive knack for communicating my thoughts in both conversation and writing. Though there have been other times where I get labeled a bullshit artist or called out for glibness. While I’ve managed to grow in awareness when it comes to the perils of eloquence, there have been countless experiences where I was oblivious of how earnestly and with singular motivation I might be weaving a tale. A counselor once used that word ‘glib’ to describe me. That’s actually how I know the word exists; and it’s a pretty damn good word.

He observed that my ability to intellectualize just about anything was keeping me in a pattern of self destructive behavior. My intellect for a good while had been hijacked in service of more selfish and misguided intentions. This is basically glibness embodied. He gave it to me straight, and – not to suggest that I had everyone else fooled – he had bluntly pointed out the disconnect from my actual life by serving up a heaping plate of stark reality. It was still several years before I took much of a hint. Paradoxically, it would seem, that I was highly self aware while also being insidiously self deluded. Growing more mindful of the ego’s tricks takes time; and a boat-load of humbling experiences.

This is not all that unique, however. It’s a human failing. As Will Storr spotlights in the book The Unpersuadables, people who think they are the truth tellers, who are certain that they are the exception to the rule with regards to delusional thinking, are the most deluded of all. If you’re thinking to yourself right now while reading this that you are the exception, welcome to the desert of masterful self deception. He states at one point with little need for tact that “a great many of the findings from decades of experimental psychology come to one grand shameful conclusion: we are all deluded egotists” and that most of us experience a “restless urge to prove that [other people’s] world, and not ours, is the illusion.”

For some time, my chief delusion was thinking I was one of the few who truly had my eyes open to the nature of things. I was pretty good at convincing myself, and on occasion others, that this might be true. In retrospect, however, I see that I was just good at making other people leary of correcting me. Not because the convoluted defense I had for my troubled life was difficult to poke holes in, not because the logic was ironclad, but because it was too mind-numbing and laborious to attempt addressing me on a rational or emotional level. I needed Rafiki from The Lion King to come out of the underbrush and just smack me in the head with his staff.

Looking back on this floundering chapter in my life – this time of wrongly assuming that I traversed some inevitable path of sagacious self destruction – I now see the fundamental conceit by which I allowed this delusion to persist: I often talk way too much. This realization  has led me to consider the merits of talking less. In the past, even though I questioned myself endlessly, I still couldn’t manage going long before whipping myself into a frenzy with another facile philosophy of superficial wisdom; either soaring hope for improvement, or contrarian despair masquerading as iconoclastic and warped asceticism.

For a good portion of my life, and to a larger extent in the last 5 years, I never REALLY shut up and considered that maybe I don’t have the answers. Or if there are no concrete answers, at the time I didn’t possess  the will or resilience for cobbling together a method of gaining personal fulfillment. I built a model of reality that justified my failings. Seriously, what I needed was to shut the hell up for more than a little bit. And – at the risk of sounding overly metaphysical about it – I needed to listen to what life, the world, the universe had to teach me.

What’s intriguing about taking on this more humble approach to understanding is that, ultimately, the wisdom gained will still be one’s own. By talking less, by foregoing pontification and forcing less and less ego onto reality, a vision of what we want and need more naturally takes shape. And, remarkably, it will be far less rife with notions of self importance. I suggest that this kind of self discovery comes from letting your ego talk less, and not so much about the literal act of talking less. It’s still something we create, but is much more conducive to allowing life’s lessons to sink in.

From my own experience, still being in the early stages of ceasing my self-righteous destruction, diligence is key. Even with vigilance, my selfish desires and self doubts still creep and nag and look for ways to make themselves manifest in bombastic fashion. Only by remaining mindful of what triggers my more troubling tendencies am I able to see how that self-sabotage sneaks up. Am I listening to people? Am I listening to myself? Am I listening to the more subtle hum of peace that seemingly eluded me for so long? These questions must be answered before I talk; before I act. Without this habit of self inquiry, the charismatic ego can lead me in quick like fashion like a lemming off the cliff of sanity.

Mindfulness and Meditation (Finding benefits despite a distracted disposition)

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Meditation has been “in” for awhile now. But it seems 2014 has produced an even greater surge in the practice’s popularity and with those who tout the benefits. In his book, Waking Up, Sam Harris addresses meditation and mindfulness in lucid detail. Waking Up proved effectual for me in many ways, so much so that I emailed Harris expressing my appreciation for his work in the volume. Much to my surprise, he promptly responded — which was pretty freakin’ cool. I was particularly influenced by his knowledge regarding Vipassana meditation. The practice, as presented in the book, is fairly straight forward, and Harris demystified the contemplative approach for me by grounding the concepts firmly in the language of science and overall intelligibility.

In the past, I have mostly approached meditation with skepticism. This is not to say I doubted its potential benefits, I simply struggled sitting still and thought myself incapable of the necessary patience and commitment. Hearing a lot of misinformation and some of the peculiar rhetoric from committed proponents of the practice also contributed to my reticence. My own biases were certainly hedging up the way. Concluding that there was just too much weirdness surrounding the concept and practices of mindfulness made it far easier to be dismissive. “I’m a self aware dude, I don’t need this esoteric jibbery jabber. Meditation just isn’t for me.”

It remains my opinion that meditation is not very well taught or explained because it is more often being proselytized. What resolved my doubts, or rather frustrations, was having the discussion brought into the realm of secular understanding; learning about the real and proven effectiveness of contemplative rituals. Not only this, but reading about and pondering the theories of mind as well as the neuroscientific principles at play when it comes to meditation. What became clear was that I was knowingly denying myself, and remaining ignorant of, a distinctly powerful aspect of human experience; one that didn’t require much effort to partake in if I could merely discard my stubborn preconceptions.

Here are the myths that needed to be dispelled for me:

1. Meditation is about relaxing

Meditation is often work, or effort, or whatever word you’d choose to describe a not entirely comfortable experience that requires training the mental faculties. It is work making myself sit down and do it; something I still frequently struggle with. It’s often strange getting settled, consciously disengaging with the activity of the day, to only sit and breath and do little else. It’s initially discomforting. For me, the use of guided meditations helped significantly for engaging something so novel and outside my normal realm of experience. It provided some structure. I used Sam Harris’s on SoundCloud (9 and 26 minutes depending).

Fair warning, when looking for guided meditation audio, just know that you will find funky ones. This became clear while looking for some other options on youtube. I don’t like the accompaniment of floaty music or poetic instruction that tries to guide my thoughts towards imagining sensation as a fire that represents the force of my being. This kind of esoteric approach might appeal to some folks, but it is not my particular cup o’ metaphysical/contemplative tea. What was important for me was having a voice prompting and reminding me to bring my thoughts back to breathing, for helping me engage the immediate sensations and contents of conscious awareness.

2. My mind can’t wander during meditation, if it does I fail.

This isn’t true, although it is part of the challenge when meditating. What becomes interesting, once feeling less frustrated by a wandering train of thought, is discovering what made the mind wander in the first place and what patterns emerge when learning how these distractions occur. When disciplining myself to notice thoughts as they arose, and acknowledging them as thoughts and potential distractions, the moment grew easier to stay in. This keener momentary awareness also afforded more patience, comfort, and with time, a desire to meditate longer…the length became less and less important. It wasn’t a fight with boredom or restlessness anymore, although this ease only comes when the habit is being kept to steadfastly. It’s a tool that requires constant use, or the mind gets quickly reoriented to the more distracting nature of everyday life.

3. Meditation is going to blow your mind and expand it into the multiverse

While I’ve had some meditation sessions that I came away from feeling pretty damn good, I’ve never noticed a third eye on my forehead or come away from it sensing that I was floating on a new plain of existence. I can attest that my later and longer sessions led to a more distinct and welcome calmness — both of mind and body. The “spiritual” or “mind expanding” quality of meditation I would more appropriately describe as gaining an understanding for the workings of ones thoughts. With meditation, we can learn what habits of thinking try incessantly to tear us away from the moment, and develop a capacity to guide our awareness back, or rather stay in the present; so much so that the experience in meditation becomes something of a thoughtless state, where guiding and redirecting ceases to be of necessity because the mind is literally in a state where what is being thought is immaterial to the mere sensation of present experience…as it has been described, this is what pure consciousness is. This is the more difficult but rewarding quality that meditation can provide.

Humans are really bad at being able to sit and embrace a calming sense of everything being okay just because it is okay. We always seem to believe we need reasons for it, or that we need to be working to achieve a better situation for ourselves, a situation that likely does not exist. This immediate moment that I am in right now CAN be okay and I CAN feel okay about it being okay.

4. That I should “know” when it’s working
Although meditation works, it isn’t something that must be or even can be made/forced to work. Certain conditions are more conducive to having an effective session, but thinking too hard about whether I’ve done it correctly or deliberating with myself about whether I’m in the proper mindstate will basically defeat the purpose of the practice. Just by making a habit of meditating, I was able to slowly get past the nagging concern of whether I felt like it was working or not. It was indeed weird for me to just sit in a room and breath and do very little else. That awkwardness also dissipated as I continued to just do it, and do it daily. Know, within yourself, that sitting still for 4-5 and later 10-20 minutes is quite impressive for a modern human being in a consumerist society. Later on, the “working” quality — the benefits — become apparent without having had to think about it very hard.

5. That I could not sit still long enough to succeed at meditation

Yes I could, and I did. I just simply had to do it.

To sum up my sentiments concerning meditation: it’s been quite the departure from what I normally participate in, but it’s that very foreign quality that was probably essential for me. I needed to be shaken from my normal frame of mind, from my normal day to day scrambling — and scrambling is often what I am doing. Although, with new habits taking shape in the area of exercise and mindfulness, scrambling has been less of a problem for me. But recently Caitlin and I packed up and moved from Lakewood, WA to Emmett, ID, and I’ve let the meditation habit grow more sporadic. It is something I’ve seen benefits from if and when I’m committing myself to doing it daily, and regardless of any anxiety or a busy brain. Writing this blog is my manifesto for declaring the goodness of meditation as well as my recommitment to making it a daily habit again. Here are some resources for getting started if perhaps you were interested at giving it a shot:

The full text and audio of Waking Up Ch. 1, of particular relevance being the section on mindfulness

Guided meditations:
9 Minute
26 Minute

Further information:
Dan Harris and Sam Harris talk mindfulness and meditation
Wherever You Go, There You Are
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14096.Wherever_You_Go_There_You_Are

Course Corrections (On choosing what our missteps and detours mean)

Change-Your-Path

The day came for posting a new entry to the VO Review, and it passed by while I balked on my weekly commitment. Though it’s not too late, as this now posted just a few days following. I had my original concept prepared and basically written out, but while doing the edits, my enthusiasm slowly and depressingly waned. I chose not to use it; not now anyway. I was still determined to get something posted in an effort to remain true to my new habits and goals

Good creative decisions require knowing when an idea or project must be shelved, or axed completely; and finding the thin lines between procrastination, lost causes, misguided perseverance, and giving up too soon. In this situation I knew that the original article just wasn’t ready yet. It had not reached the level of desired cohesion. But publishing and sharing is vital to growth as a writer. For this entry, I want to describe the course correction I made with the hope of illustrating an overlooked element of the creative process.

As creators, writers, and artists, we make choices that determine what our efforts or lack thereof will eventually mean to us. If we aren’t making these choices with awareness, external or subconscious forces will take up the slack, and before long what we intended originally with our efforts is mired in a narrative of doubt or inauthenticity. It’s the way our minds work. We imbue past actions and choices with post-hoc interpretations and rationalizations for why we did things and in describing the bigger picture we hope we’re apart of. Without diligent awareness, it’s easy to take on a self serving bias or a victim mindset. A narrative starts forming that excuses or construes the meaning of our inevitable mistakes and detours. By deciding that the post I was working on wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I consciously determined to write something else and to decide what that meant about for my developing goals and writing habit. But these decisions did not come without doubt and dissonance.

It’s difficult not to allow self doubt, insecurities, or outside pressures color what it is we believe about our actions and decision. Sometimes we unconsciously surrender the freedom to shape the story ourselves. “I’m a quitter, a procrastinator, a model of inconsistency”…this could easily be what I said about my first post not coming together quite right. In fact, I did say these things to myself, and believed them momentarily. The question I had to ask myself about how to label my creative decision, action, or lack thereof, is this: are these labels and interpretations my choice or are they the identity I’ve allowed uncertainty and external forces to impress upon me?

There were both subtle and simple reasons behind my decision to write this post, in an effort to keep me on a disciplined creative track. I had doubts when I felt that my other write-up hadn’t taken on the desired shape. I started telling myself, “nobody cares if I post this week anyway” or, “how can you feel so good about something one day and find it to be utter nonsense the next?” However, I chose a different train of thought. I consciously discarded this old habit of fixating on my inadequacies. Something that could easily derail me in the past.

I’m not faking it ‘til I make it, or making excuses for giving up, or browbeating myself for being a few days late on posting. I made the willful decision to take action in a different direction, rather than hold myself to the impossible standard where every action must result in brilliance, and that it must go according to the plan or I’ve failed. And with this willful decision, I’ve written another blog entry for the VO Review. Here she be!

 

Quick hits

Thoughts on the Marvel film universe (after viewing Guardians of the G): the more bloated the installments get, the less I care about the paper thin plots and any impetus for the conflicts. They’re basically visual roller coaster rides. I enjoy them and move on.

Things I’d forgotten: how cold the winters get, how hard habits are to form and how easy they are to break, how smart people still do plenty of dumb things (mostly speaking for myself).

Rediscovering for the first time: the value of lists and keeping notes

Awesomeness of the week: seeing our cat use the stuff we’ve packed in boxes as her personal jungle gym and sleeping perch.

New shows for me: Broad City, Hell on Wheels

Books I’m enjoying or enjoyed: No Country for Old Men, Founding Brothers, Dataclysm

Albums to give a listen: Divisionary by Ages and Ages, Room 93 by Halsey, Wildewoman by Lucius

New irrational appreciation: Vintage sodas in glass bottles (chiefly Root Beer and Cream Soda)

Fuzzy Boundaries (The merits of intentionally getting lost)

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I recently started reading a gem of a book entitled ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’ by Rebecca Solnit. Sometimes I get lucky enough to stumble on a book like this; the sort of book which defies any solid genre distinction. Solnit’s work here reads as a collection of biographical essays but is more a philosophical contemplation on the concept of ‘being and getting lost’. It’s rife with existential fodder…and I am loving it, because I’m apparently psychologically masochistic like that. Other books that land in this fuzzy, challenging category are Colin Wilson’s ‘The Outsider’, John Gray’s ‘Straw Dogs’ among others — these kinds of books often end up in the favorites column. I’ll likely also recommend them insistently to my friends; both those who read and those who don’t.

I have a hankering for getting lost in reading and more generally in the experience of discovery. I typically delve through art and information that cannot be readily categorized or otherwise covers a swath of stimulating subjects (psychology, philosophy, physics, social criticism, etc). The Pacific Standard (website and magazine) is particularly notable for this kind of content; the Brain Pickings blog being another. I encourage myself in this sort of thorough, even scattered, approach despite being somewhat anarchic and occasionally without direction.

My music listening habits follow this form of ‘looking to be lost’. In building an extensive playlist of new music from 2014, I’ve been aiming for the deep end hoping to find the unexpected. It’s an ongoing project of perusing the web for albums I can add regardless of whether I have heard the artists/bands before; then later, semi-randomly picking a release, often unsure of what I’m about to get myself into. With these efforts, I’ve almost exclusively listened to new music and new artists this year. I can say that its been largely worthwhile. Some of the best music I’ve heard in several years I found via this process — the process of intentionally looking to get lost.

I’m an enthusiast for taking walks. This interest unfortunately eluded me for decades. But now circumstances are such that I have little choice but to take part in this simplest of activities. I was please, however, in finding out that I truly enjoy walking. And even more so, wandering. The A and B of my treks would often be determined, but there were always alternative paths to take and strange corners to behold. Where I currently reside, there is a strange patchwork of Pacific Northwest greenery, suburban homes, retail strip malls, semi-urban apartment complexes, as well a few historic and longer established fixtures. I wouldn’t qualify it as mind blowing by any stretch, but it is unpredictable. Once again falling into that not so neat category of defying distinction.

A key point that Solnit establishes early in ‘Field Guide’ is that being lost is OKAY if that is our desire and if we are equipped for it. Because people crave certainty, and seemingly require the formation of narratives and memories that bolster this sense of certainty, getting lost becomes of particular importance for self awareness and spiritual/emotional well being. There is too much in life that we will never know or be able to fully understand. An appropriate means for exploring the fuzzy boundaries of reality is essential. Without a healthy methodology for ‘getting lost’, people are prone to drift into madness, despair, or rigid and dogmatic thinking.

“Touching the edge of the unknown…sharpens the senses,” she suggests. The wording here could be interpreted several ways. Are we touching the edge of the ‘unknown’ as we stand still within our personal area of the “known”? Or are we always within the ‘unknown’ and we discover its edge where we manage brief glimpses of the realm of knowledge? Is putting knowledge and understanding into geographical terms utterly facile? I could easily be over thinking this simple quote, but it felt relevant to explore the paradoxical ways it could be read — which highlights the paradoxical nature of knowledge altogether.

Could it be that we are better served assuming that we are already, and always will be, lost? And knowing how to be lost well, accepting this fundamental characteristic of being in existence, is how we can stay sane while also finding joy in the uncertainty. Awe and wonder are undeniably some of the most sublime of emotions that anyone can experience, and they both seem intrinsic in this act of discovering — or ‘being lost — when we are going about it with the appropriate reverence for the elusiveness of reality.

I once wrote in a poem/meditation “let go of what I cannot control / embrace and have reverence for mystery / always aware of that uncertainty / but inviting towards the possibilities of each new day.” Personally, I have long felt that much of life was beyond my control. I easily could and have used this as an excuse to put little effort towards having control in my life — to eternally “go with the flow”. Those who drive their sanity into the ground seeking control in every aspect of their life are equally misguided. As is true with most things in life, balance and moderation are critical to emotional well being. And key to our balance is knowing that nothing is ever completely balanced, or rather, such harmonious states are never known or felt by us as individuals. If ever they are permitted to us, they’re gone before we can fully comprehend the purity of such moments.

For awhile I assumed that it was not up to me what my moods were going to be from day to day or where my motivation would be at. I left it up to chance. Or, I was so convinced that chance was in charge, that I took more drastic measures in trying to “feel” how I wanted to feel. The reality was, I could DO a lot more than I realized in helping myself wander through this inexplicable conscious experience, but it required work, willingness and discipline. Maybe extra work for someone with a mind and disposition such that I have. Regardless, it takes time for that work to demonstrate its benefits, and that’s where I struggled mightily. I didn’t want to wait, I didn’t want to believe in the process of self mastery and discipline. I wanted to believe these were a fiction, or at least wholly beyond my grasp.

These were just ways in which I chose to crumble in the face of perceived futility. I’m now beginning to see the journey for what it is. A journey that is inevitable but rife with possibility for joy and satisfaction. It’s an active process learning how to ‘be lost’. Part of that process is continuing to seek out the unknown and uncomfortable so that my mind avoids the lull of complacence. Always watchful for that fallacious sense of thinking I know the nature of things. A habit of thought that led me to assuming all was futile was in fact that exact fallacy — thinking I had the universe figured out. I had forgotten how to be lost.

When I listen to music with a concerted effort towards keeping it fresh, and when I take a walk with the intention of wandering, these are small measures for reminding me how to be lost. They may seem mundane or even trivial when it comes to contemplating the existential nature of my very being. But, in fact, they are essential to being at peace with the strangeness and inexplicability of it. What better way is there to face challenges then to always be uprooting our perceptions of art, society, self, and reality itself? So watch a movie you maybe wouldn’t have ever thought to, start a journal if you’ve never recorded your thoughts, play a video game if you’ve never tried. Is this getting self helpish? Meh… whatever, it’s sound encouragement. We spend too much time convincing ourselves that we don’t believe the good advice and ideas that we are often freely given. I meditate and jog now even though I never used to and thought I’d never be able to make a habit of it. Let’s continue surprising ourselves.

Quick Hits:

A fitting dialogue exchange, given this blog entry, from the film ‘Boyhood’ between Mason (the boy in Boyhood) and his father Mason Sr. (played by Ethan Hawke)
After discussing graduation, breakups, and other ‘normal’ things Mason inquires: So what’s the point?
Mason Sr: Of what?
Mason Jr: I don’t know, any of this…everything?””
Strange stare from Mason Sr, unsure if the question is a joke: everything?! Befuddled chuckle. What’s the point? I mean I sure as shit don’t know…
Mason Jr smiles and roles eyes in a ‘aww geez Dad’.
Father continues: neither does anybody else, okay, we’re all just wingin’ it, you know. Shrugging and look around, looks back at Mason Jr: I mean the good news is your feelin’ stuff, you know, and you gotta hold onto that.

By the way, watch ‘Boyhood’, easily one of the years best.

Currently in excited anticipation of: Viewing of Insterstellar in IMAX on Saturday No. 8th
Thing I’m cutting it close on: my 40 book goal for 2014, currently at 23 with 2 months to go
Simple pleasure I appreciate: Having the perfect pen around that glides well and writes dark and makes me feel like a boss when I write with it.
Activity that makes me feel surprisingly awesome: Running in brisk autumn weather while wearing dorky wool socks and listening to my ‘Get Pumped’ playlist.

The Antipathy Prone Millennial (A critical review of labeling something as “overrated”)

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I would like to propose a thesis, and it might just be pure conjecture. But it’s something that seems to crop up online with relative frequency, especially in the age of linkbait. I’m speaking of a common trend in blogging, journalism, and opinion writing; that trend being “overrated” lists and articles. I would imagine they are easy to write and stir up a good amount of traffic. I see this driven by 2 major factors: millennials (people my age) enjoy saying stuff is overrated — it makes us feel like iconoclasts — and websites exploiting this fixation. They are easy to write because basically all that needs to be done is finding something that has often been considered “classic” or held in high regard and proceed to suggest that the praise is unwarranted. Pepper it with snark, smugness, and a properly contrived sense of contrarianism.

My conjecture is that this particular phenomenon has become increasingly common as the social media generation flowers into adulthood. Something about seeing the “overrated” tag in a headline seems to spike an emotional response one way or the other, and we must click and find out what sacred cow is being desecrated. The manifestation of this trend in music writing and journalism is particularly insufferable. And I use strong words here because I have been just as prone towards this fixation of wanting to come across as iconoclastic. But often times it’s more demonstrative of an ‘overwrought’ and antagonistic disposition.

One particular example of this was a “most overrated bands” list I found during past inter-web perusals. These are often written under the guise of “hipster hating” or some other nefarious form of high-mindedness, and oddly, the most hipster sounding articles now are the ones hating on hipsters. Anti-hipsters are the new hipsters. Back to the example; what this fellow chose to do was dig up 20 or so of the most respected or appreciated indie bands of the last decade (The Black Keys, TV On the Radio, Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, etc) and contrive the most facile ways to insult them, or more so insult the listeners and their fashion choices. It was almost admirable in its troll-like nature. But if a reader had never listened to these bands, they might actually think this guy knew what he was talking about. And that’s why this trend of internet monologuing and entertainment can’t just simply be dismissed. Nor should we seek it out. However, it would behoove us to understand the generational and cultural context behind this sort of rhetoric; hoping that we gain a greater understanding of why we like to basically make fun of things.

Parody and trolling are too often looking exactly the same nowadays, which is ruining the art and utility of parody. These “overrated” articles apparently work, but they’re lazy and serve no higher purpose but to generate clicks and frustration. The frustration is key as often people will turn to their social media outlets, even sharing the link, voicing how appalled they are (I’ve done this). Or the reverse, posting smugly and declaring “HA, I’ve always told everyone those flannel wearing neckbeards listening to Arcade Fire ARE out of their mind” as though one article confirms this theory in their mind; a theory which is largely based on the individual’s insecurity. I am being critically harsh here, and I feel warranted in doing so as I have done both these things — being smug or feigning outrage. It’s emotionally satisfying…word of advice: RESIST!

What are the motivations behind what we post or what we choose to click on and subsequently share? I find it useful to ask myself this question with frequency and have avoided considerable consternation as a result. The purpose of this kind of writing was often just about riling people up. It’s the nature of the linkbait beast.

I can only hope we are starting to move on from this hijacking of our reactionary natures and seeing it for what it is — shallow distraction serving as a veiled form of status seeking. If I can say such and such is overrated, I demonstrate my superiority…right? On the contrary, I’ve made it obvious that my identity felt threatened.

So I’ll end by simply suggesting that millennials have much to offer, but their fixation on what is “overrated” seems very clearly overrated. The larger attitude being one of rebellion and iconoclasm; which can be wholly healthy and necessary. Just not so much on Buzzfeed threads or a Tubmlr blog while aimed at suspect and trivial targets. Its become an unfortunate distraction that co-opts the passions driving individuality, jettisoning them off in a dubious scatter shot of forced big words so it still has the veneer of clever individualism. We feed the beast this way. Self awareness is called for. I continue to try, and I hope we all do.

PEACE

Quick Hits

Album that surprised me greatly: Goddess by Banks

Album of the year watch: Run the Jewels ‘RTJ2’, Kate Tempest ‘Everybody Down’, alt-J ‘This is All Yours’, Sylvan Esso ‘self-titled’, EMA ‘The Future’s Void’, among others and much more to listen to.

Observation from rewatching Lost: Season 3 has been better than I originally recall, stuff actually starts happening! The fact that it is often ambiguous or inexplicable, I’ve better understood this time around, is key to the themes that run through the entirety of the show.

Observation about the Pac Northwest: Wow! You easily forget how rainy the rainy season is. Lakes in the parking lot, that about describes it.

Random Quote:  “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (there were a variety of different translations of this, quite interesting to see how many different ways it is presented)

-Rainer Maria Rilke

A Personal Meditation (Mindfulness Reminders)

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I wrote this over a year ago at a time of serious self reflection. Questioning, doubting, and working towards more patience and compassion with myself (something I think we all struggle and face with regularity). I wanted to share it here as many of my friends at the time that I wrote this said that they had found the words comforting and helpful. I know I haven’t revisited the words enough and that is what they are designed to be for. So, I hope they can resonate with another as they had and continue to have deep significance for me.

Petitioning the Deepest, Authentic, Inner Self

Allow me to give of myself that I might find myself

Help me see more the good around me, and in myself

Turn away from any secrecy in my actions,

and the hiding of my feelings and thoughts

Be present

Accept the past

Have curiosity, not despair for the future

Remain patient when hope ebbs

Realize that someone is there to listen

Reach out if someone else is struggling

Understand the power in sharing our human experience

Remember that I am never alone

Help me be diligent in offering and acting with natural goodness

Find where my talents can be beneficial and edifying for others

Give freely and do not revel in praise or recognition

Maintain vision,

And if I lose sight, call to mind where that can and has taken me

Let go of what I cannot control

Embrace and have reverence for mystery, ambiguity, the undiscovered

Being ever aware of that uncertainty,

But inviting towards the possibilities of each new day