Self Opposition

I want you to see me; but I want to be left alone. I want you to call me; and I don’t want to answer the phone. I want you to knock at my door; and I want to hide under the covers. Invite me to your party; so I can tell you I have other plans. Give me a job; so I can spit in your face and tell you I’m entitled to more. Let me talk to you through a computer; so I don’t have to look you in the eye. Let me forget what it is to be alive; so that I can escape into a lush dream where I can control when the sun sets.

Cover Letter.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am formally applying for the position of goat herder within your company. Do you have a company? LLC? I couldn’t find any mention of you on Google. No matter either way as I am still interested.

Unfortunately, I currently do not have any education or training within the field of goat herding but, you see, I’m looking for a new line of work and since I don’t really know where to start, I figured I might as well try to do something that looked fulfilling from a movie I saw once.

Plus I like goats. Or at least I think I do. I think I petted one once at a petting zoo when I was ten and even though that was — years ago it was a defining moment in my formative years I like to think.

Maybe you’re confused as to why someone with my formal corporate training in marketing and advertising — twelve years of graphic design and art direction, an excellent portfolio working for some of the best brands in the business — would want to leave that salary and herd goats?

Well, you see, this isn’t the future I was promised and since, as it seems currently, that all bets are off, I figure I might as well put all my talent and drive into something a little more fulfilling. Something that has a lot of hours outdoors, working with animals, enjoying the elements. Because if I have to sit in a chair for eight hours one more day I’m afraid that I might implode or spontaneously combust and when they’re selling museum tickets to my mummified room and tourists are standing outside just beyond the velvet rope they’ll see a little charred artist’s recreation of me and the Tour Guide will say:

“He never left.”

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

— J.

 

 

Forget Everything You Think You Know About Greatness.

“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”

– Miles Davis

***

Is there a way to quantify the moment when someone transitions into greatness? Can we package it up and brand it? Sell it to the masses or create some vocational school centered around breaking personal creative barriers?

Want to be the next Jackson Pollack? Justin Timberlake? Rihanna? Well you’ve come to the right place.

In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell went ahead and tried to quantify it with his ten thousand hour rule. We all know the cited example of The Beatles playing in Germany every night of the week for several years, carefully and painstakingly honing their craft before ever setting foot on American soil and becoming the international sensation forever etched into musical history.

And so, according to Gladwell, ten thousand is the magic number where ordinary transcends into greatness.

I mean it sounds good, comfortable, even “doable” if you’re prone to the occasional manic episode such as myself; amped up on a delicious chemical imbalance, a mental Molotov cocktail of grandiosity and delusion.

Ten thousand hours. That’s all it takes. All I have to do is pick something I’m good at or something I enjoy doing and plug away at it for eight hours a day, every day of the week for three and a half years and I’ll graduate from the Gladwellian School of the Arts destined for greatness.

But Gladwell is a master marketer, and a goddamn fraud.

He presents you with something rather benign and then he raises his nasally voice and says, “Everything you ever knew about that thing you thought you had figured out is wrong!

Your mind is now, effectively and forever, blown.

You lean back in your chair with your eyes wide open and your hand smacks your forehead and you say to yourself, “Oh my God he’s right! I don’t know anything. Please Malcolm, tell me. Tell me now, dammit! TELL ME!

Gladwell is brilliant at catering to one of the most fundamental characteristics of human nature: the need to know. It’s the essential building block to any dramatic situation in story telling: you present a juicy-enough question and the audience is hooked. Will Ross kiss Rachel? Will Walter White get away with it? What does Jon Hamm have in his pants?

The Media use this device every day, except they ratchet it up with a heavy dosage of fear to guarantee viewership. Is this the storm of the century? What you’re eating could kill you. At eleven.

At the same time Gladwell presents you with something that is utterly preposterous yet simultaneously juuuuuuuust out of reach. If Gladwell had said, “These are people you’ll never be like because you’re simply genetically and mentally inferior,” he’d never get close to bestseller numbers. This is a marketing and mass-distraction phenomena Noam Chomsky discusses in his book “Manufacturing Consent” but unfortunately we don’t have the time to get into that because it’s usually around this point I really start to feel the need for an editor.

“Bring it on home, Joe!” she’d say to me, slightly seizing from mainlining a Venti Triple Shot Mocha and tapping her watch.

Exhale.

Gladwell’s not entirely wrong: There’s merit in taking the time to learn your craft. But my problem isn’t with the hours, it’s the assumption that greatness follows.

I’m not sure I know what it means to be great or when, as a culture, we went from striving to live a good life to striving to be the best at every goddamn thing we do. I do know that I’ve tried my whole life to be great and fell short. Over and over again. And that rift between what I expected of myself and reality created more pain than I’d like to remember.

But maybe it’s not even about being great at all.

Maybe greatness is just another marketing tool, a distraction, something to strive for. Maybe it’s about something else entirely. Maybe it’s just about being the being the best me.

***

Truthfully, I think Miles said it best:

“Man, sometimes you takes long time to sound like yourself.”

Oh and I just totally Gladwelled you.

 

30 Days Without Television? Am I Insane? 

I’ve decided this morning that I need to go thirty days without Television.

Well, the idea actually popped into my consciousness during my meditation like a microcosmic big bang[1] so I don’t know that I can fully take credit for such a novel and totally unique idea.

“Why would you ever?” You ask with jaws agape and brows furrowed like Mark Wahlberg beaming judgement upon me from your third eyes, “There’s so much good TV.”

And you would be right.

Even amongst my screenwriter and cinephile friends, “The trends are moving towards television,” they say, “That’s where all the good writing is these days.” Pause, exhale, inhale and finishing with, “Movies are all franchises and superheroes, television is where the stories are. If you’re gonna get a job, I’d look into television.”

And they would be right, too.

And I would be lying if I said I didn’t love television but here’s the thing:

When does so much good television become too much good television?

At what point do trends reach their tipping point and become obsession? Obstruction? Oppression?

I’m truly asking because I don’t know the answers.

***

I stare at a computer screen for a living. It’s what I’ve done my entire adult life. College—just before the social media explosion—was maybe the last time in my life I was able to go a day without looking at a screen. Since then it’s been all-screens all-day-long and now I routinely shuffle between my Macbook Pro laptop, iPhone 7+, and 42” Vizio that I tell myself isn’t really a screen because it’s a television and TV screens have been around forever so that’s really okay. It’s been grandfathered in, I reason.

But then yesterday while doing work on one of the aforementioned screens I had what’s called an ocular migraine. I had to look it up because, although I’d experienced this phenomena in the past, I never knew what the hell was happening. It went down like this:

Suddenly, without any warning, my vision went askew and a jagged bright spot that looked kind of like a circular version of Zeus’s lighting rod appeared in the center of my vision and I couldn’t see anything directly in front of me. I couldn’t read or do my work. It was painless, however, semi-alarming. Google gave me an answer that was sort of satisfactory, but then I started thinking about how most nights, by the time I’m ready to try and fall asleep[2], I’ll have a dull throb behind my eyes where the retinal wall meets the optic nerve. And then, almost predictably, that existential itch arose in the back of my brain:

What if this was more than just an isolated incident?

***

Luke Storey, in his illuminating health and wellness podcast The Lifestylist, talks about eyesight in several episodes. In his interview with James Swanwick, they discuss the effect that blue light (screens) have on our eyes and brains. And in his discussions with Nadine Artemis they talk about the necessary health benefits of Sun exposure, Sun gazing, and even the Sun’s abilities to heal certain ailments.

So what am I getting at?

I’m just spitballing here, but I’m starting to think that maybe we weren’t engineered by nature to sit in front of a screen all day. Is it possible that we evolved as creatures of the sun and the moon and that by denying ourselves that relationship we’re doing damage to ourselves?

I don’t know. But here’s what I do know:

I do know that screens give off blue light and blue light tells my brain that it’s daytime even if it’s nighttime and if I stare at too many screens before bedtime I can’t sleep because my anxiety levels are raised and if I can’t sleep my body and mind aren’t restoring themselves and when I’m not restored I’m tired and when I’m tired I need energy and I can’t focus and my mood plummets and my emotions become volatile and I end up drinking too much coffee and too much sugar adding to my anxiety levels and my head and chest will start to hurt and—

Point made.

***

Okay so let me try and tie all of this together.

I need to earn a living so I can’t stop looking at my computer, and I need to answer the phone when it rings so I can’t eliminate that screen either. At least not entirely.

I can, however, decide not to watch television for thirty days to see what it does. Just as an experiment. I can decide to go outside for that hour and soak up some much needed sunlight or read a book or maybe even have a conversation with someone.

Mostly, I want to do it because I have no idea how I’ll feel after thirty days of unplugging from it all. Truthfully, I don’t even want to do it and I even have a strong, however irrational, fear that says I can’t do it and that it’s simply impossible and I’ll be missing out on life.

These days I find myself averse to all forms of addiction and when I become aware of them I try and build some mindfulness around them. The idea of needing to see the latest episode of Whatever-the-fuck isn’t a virtue I’d like to nurture.

And getting back to that existential itch:

Maybe I just don’t want to be addicted to someone else’s story anymore.

Maybe I’d like to invest that time into my own.

[1] Yes, I’m referring to my ideas as miniature big bangs. No I don’t really understand what the Big Bang theory really is but as a writer I reserve the right to use whatever is floating atop the cultural zeitgeist as I please. In other words, get past it.

[2] Sleep is another topic altogether we’ll discuss at some point in the future.