I believe that one of my greatest strengths—a willingness to play the advocatus diaboli ( Latin for Devil’s Advocate) also is one my greatest weaknesses, making me vulnerable to abandoning, quitting on a proclaimed “dreams,” career aspirations, passions, long term career goals, potential fields of expertise; a handful of those close to me who also play the advocatus diaboli with me in the form of life navigation critics, they persistently remind me when I change course from that dream to move to California…no…New Hampshire… well, actually Texas, then Hawaii, then St. Thomas, somewhere in Europe; they remind me how I changed course from that aching and passionate desire to be a movie actor, or president of the United States and if not, a political commentator, but then there was that dream of being a philosopher, and then a news reporter, then a lawyer, then that dream to be a creative writer—one whose passion is novels…no wait, the personal essay, no…no…wait again…the prose poem…the rhyming poem, the free verse poem, the prosimetrum…and then there were the “video art” phases, the video blog and podcast phases…once I tried to learn guitar…one time (and this is one of the more destructive and irrational plans I ever temporarily pursued) I tried to hold on to a few hundred dollars and most strategically purchase a heap of lottery tickets! (In hindsight, at least I can say I felt a little more like one of my favorite novelists, the great Dostoevsky, who struggled from a debilitating gambling addiction; not that this affinity specifically should make me proud of myself but…silver linings where one can find one, you know?) And to supplement the lottery ticket plan I was going to become an investor. I started reading a few books, the Wall Street Journal, took mini-courses on the Ameritrade website. Alas, as someone who has twisted and turned down so many of life’s sometimes very tangled labyrinth maze of paths that can be taken, in the concrete, it would have been nice to have felt one had something of social-cultural value to show for it. (I say concrete, because abstractly, my…shall we call them, almost multidimensional (?) experiences, my constant shifts of prospective long term focuses…true to what I ultimately specialized in throughout my undergraduate years: “Liberal Studies” (interdisciplinary studies more or less), perspective wise I feel quite blessed, for in a culture so “NICHE” oriented, with so many specialists (which I am not saying is a “bad” thing. Who would want a generalist performing a complex brain surgery which the specialist would better understand though for all I know, quite ignorant as I am of medicine, there’s more to say on this than I know and I am being hasty. If so, please leave a comment and if you would be so kind to forgive me…)… yes, in this specialist-niche culture, those “generalists” with “wide” and “broad” ranged, holistic, “big picture” views—(the sort of perspective which I would argue best suits artists, leaders, and scholars of interdisciplinary studies and their impact on cultivating skills in creative thinking was this not the purpose of a liberal arts education? To…in other phrasing, preserve a legacy of cultured citizenship?…I at least enjoy my consciousness having developed this capacity for a mental flexibility which I believe is a sort of figurative likeness to the dancer, the gymnast, the yogi and the figure skater. (Alas, broad based as I have been, I still need to cultivate my bodily flexibility and strength much more). The downside of this benefit, advantage, silver lining, is that however much one finds a mindset, a psychology, a philosophy, an ideology, a perspective, point of view, et cetera, to provide immense spiritual and intellectual fulfillment, without at least some sort of central focus to serve as North Star, as ship in the sea or spacecraft in the cosmos/heavens, without some gravitational force, well, it makes achieving anything substantive quite a challenge and can obliterate parts of one’s self esteem, interfere with trying to earn and save income, and though nobody should bend to critics simply to be liked or receive compliments, there is such a thing as credibly earned or withheld credibility, and when those critics closest to me form a chorus singing of my constant changes and ever shifting phases when all the while I am bemoaning my frustrations along the lines of career, finances, sense of social isolation at times even, well, as it happens to align almost uncannily and poetically with precisely my latest course of action, which is keeping diaries (one private and one public) one motif of which is self improvement, this is precisely one of those not perfectly helpful qualities I’m delving into, like a scuba diver into the deep sea, to try and make greater sense of the context and the course this setting and environment has taken.
One very fundamental and crucial principle of my philosophy is that I frame my ethical/moral sensibility, my ultimately optimistic psychologically, and my aesthetics on the concept of CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT. By this to mean, except for when I sink into the worst episodes of depression (when I have felt suicidal for example) or the worst panic attacks (when one feels as though one is dying), I do not characterize life as “bad.” I don’t even go so far as calling it “unfortunate.” I am not a pessimist. And I am also not a self-deluding sort of optimist or manipulative reality denier. I tell myself that one of the bitter-sweetnesses of life is that THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO IMPROVE. Which actually I think is a nice thing. A good thing. In the grand scheme of things. Yes, I don’t always enjoy that which I am trying to improve, and those circumstances in greatest need of improvement, as I struggle to figure out a reasonable course of action, when I can’t find that course of action, it can feel very depressing! Sometimes it’s even outside one’s control. The Covid pandemic for example. We can control how we practice social distancing and advocate for such measures but we can’t control how and if others will follow suit. That Trump is president is another example. We can identify one of the fundamental roots of the problem being the electoral college which overrides the actual plurality vote, and gerrymandering which turns the American grand of district politicking into extremely corrupted elections, and we can make it as blatantly clear as we can, but we can’t force those who can’t understands it to therefore…understand it. That life in America feels hauntingly on the edge of a sprouting autocracy, Russian/Putin style… I mean, it’s not only depressing, it’s frightening. But…
But…life is not 100 percent misfortune. And thus, let us at the very least, when we are rock climbing up those rugged mountains of frustration and most needed improvements, let us reach for those things which KEEP this life from qualifying as 100 percent misfortune. I think when Positive Psychologists, for example, recommend, highly, to write gratitude lists, and review/revise them every morning and night, that’s part of the point. It keeps one from succumbing to a purer pessimism. In my case then, I spot considerations which keep me from falling off the mountain and continuing in my climb.
Even some of the most inspiring geniuses understand and empathize with just how one ends up struggling with committing to long term occupational goals. Even some of the most inspiring geniuses have been there and done that. I’ll actually start with my example of the ladder.
One of the newest additions to my slate of heroes, or heroines, or sheroes, as I have mentioned in recent posts, is the neurologist Tara Swart,
author of the recently released book The Source.
Just speaking in terms of her intellectual capacity, Tara Swart has earned herself TWO doctorates: an MD and a PhD. That’s an amazing achievement in of itself. Just on the surface one can glean that 1) the has a tremendous capacity for persistence in the midst of very long-term grueling academic endeavors; 2) she clearly has the capacity to learn well; 3) just as she obviously can comprehend in an impressive manner, she can likewise comprehend and retain a lot if information, knowledge, facts.
Of course I have learned to do my best not to idealize someone, I don’t take anyone’s word on faith, and I don’t turn my heroes into goddesses or gods or religious figures. But, as I was writing earlier about “CREDIBILITY”… I am willing to put some trust in the idea that Dr. Tara Swart, psychiatrist and neurologist and writer, has some credibility when she talks and writes about her education, research, and personal reflections. (No comment though on the praise she received from Dr. Deepak Chopra as I want to research some of the criticisms lodged against him)
In page 217 of The Source Tara Swart writes:
“I started to become interested in mindfulness meditation in my mid-thirties when I became disillusioned with my work and life and felt a lack of direction and focus…My attention was easily distracted by the next new and interesting diversion and deep down I knew I was drifting away from who I really was and what I wanted to stand for.”
I relate to this almost verbatim. And it’s eerie, uncanny, and poetic how close to exact her own description reminds me of my own thoughts and feelings at the time.
I wrote in my personal diary on Friday, July 17, 2020, “How is it that even our own motives can be so mysterious to us?”
And I want to supplement this concept/notion with something I read the other day in my new studies on yet another recent hero/heroine/shero of mine—Anais Nin—because I believe it relates to this difficulty that Tara Swart so eloquently described. (And how did I mislocate this quote. It’s one of those I was so sure I jotted down!)
“Why cannot I express the fundamental me?” (page 11; The Diary of Anais Nin Volume 1 1931-1934: Volume 1 1931-1934; Kindle Edition)
Let me now attempt to begin addressing this. (Therapy session on Wednesday, so I’ll have something constructive to bring up if I get to it)
There are, in my opinion, two fundamental dimensions to the context concerning my almost (?) compulsive shift from focus to focus without a major sense of career advancement to speak of. One context is more external and the other internal. I shall start with the external as I believe it would help illuminate the internal a bit more. I would also like to point out, while almost all of these diary entries are essentially spontaneous (with a few changes before posting) the thoughts are not all entirely spontaneous. One of the reasons why I keep a private diary is to think ahead of time about things I’d like to address in this public diary. What follows is something that struck me before going to bed last night.
First of all, from a purely cultural-philosophical point of view, please let us consider a pervading ethos which only within the last decade or so seems to be significantly shifting: POSTMODERNISM: As Garry Potter and Joze Lopez write in the 2005 book they edited, After Postmodernism: An Introduction to Critical Realism:
“One of the central planks of postmodern theory in its myriad variants was the alleged discovery of the irreducible complexity of the natural and social world, of language and meaning. For some the complexity was such that any attempt to encapsulate it would fail; thus much postmodern theory became content merely to reflect complexity, or become complexity itself.” (page xiv; the underline and bold for emphasis is mine)
In other words, as I interpret it, between roughly 1945 (as in post world war II) until arguably sometime in the middle of the 2010’s or perhaps still sizzling out sometime in the early 2020’s… the prevailing way of thinking, at least in the “Western/ Liberal-Democratic” world was the attempt at RESISTING any fixed, specific way of thinking. Though belief in ever changing reality has been around since the ancient days of Heraclitus and the Sophists (is president Trump not the ultimate textbook sophist just without the typical cleverness and “sophistication”?) it does seem specifically around the cultural explosion of the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION alongside THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT when the masses began resisting certain assumed axioms and habits of “The Enlightment” especially concerning a change from emphasis on logic to one of intense feeling, emotion, the mind, the self, psychology, subjectivity (discounting though the naturalism and realism of the sorts like Tolstoy) and this is when the FEUDAL SYSTEM began seriously breaking up and why, in the factories, absent the old feudal guilds the LABOR MOVEMENT began as part of a resistance against CAPITALISM… religion was also widely rejected at this time, et cetera. Perhaps (?) Nietzsche is the greatest poster child or icon or symbol of that great change from around the 19th century into the new millennium. (If his spirit persist “on the other side” or what have you, perhaps he is getting a thrill out of this now?)
My point being especially by the late 1980s, the world was far from the sort of simplicity, and straightforwardness that societies used to endure—no longer were people as elaborately forced to do X, Y, AND Z, and PROHIBITED from doing or even THINKING A, B, C and so on.
One does, I believe, or may likely, get a sense of the later half of the 20th century especially, and especially if, for example, you consider art a reflection of the human psyche, (I mean, you have jazz, rock and roll, abstract expressionism, Dadaism, just to offer a few examples), get to see a leaning towards intellectual chaos.
Consider even President Reagan: a former Hollywood actor now president of the United States. WHAT!??
Now, I don’t know what your family life was like, say, around the late 1980s, through the 1990s and even into the earlier 2000s but mine (for the all criticisms I receive for my weaving in and out of “phases”)…my upbringing was one of IMMENSE CONTRADICTIONS—not just the more inevitable sort, but immense contradictions of values, major changes and many of which all hit at once. So let us now start at the beginning of it.
One of my parents was an atheist who nonetheless embraced Catholic holidays, though not the spiritual aspect, just the gift giving and decoration and family get togethers and the Santa lie. To a young mind this makes no sense and may appear like hypocrisy or may appear as a most confusing commentary on religion, philosophy, metaphysical assumptions, et cetera.
One of my parents came from a Jewish background but did not express any actual belief in Judaism or any religion, did not offer a scientific or reasoned perspective of whether or not a god might exist (probably not the worst thing ; a benefit of agnosticism is that it puts no pressure on children, perhaps, to conform to a parent’s gung-ho fundamentalism).
Two of the non-religious parents married Catholics so how much then did these so called “religions” out there in the world matter? On the one hand, it illustrated a beautiful sense of tolerance, diversity, acceptance. On the other hand, it suggested (and I mean only “suggested”) that none of these four parents necessarily felt so passionate about their assumptions that they would be spiritually, psychologically, practically, etc, best served if stood the grounds of their convictions so insistently as to marry only within their philosophical proximity.
And what about this concept of “marriage?” One of my parents was married three times, was supposedly an expert on marriage but lamented to me that this parent could “not figure out” this person’s failed marriages. What does marriage mean to one whose vows end up as either lies or false declarations of their COMMITMENTS? Now… to be clear, I do not condemn any of these divorces. In fact, I think they made sense. But my point is, what do you think the impact on a very young mind is when the mind is impressed upon by vows that ended up false, religions that were hypocritical or even confusing regarding the role they played, more over, they impress on the young and vulnerable mind, that everyone has a theory on the fundamental realities of life and no one can feel confident in these claims and so some of truth may not be knowable. (And that does seem in fact, true, but it does not the less suggest to a mind bombarded with so much inconsistency and contradictions that is hard to have much confidence in the capacity of one’s mind and what one CAN credibly believe or know the mind can do.
Now, you have not only these divorces, but in some cases initial marriages themselves and relationships that make absolutely no sense. Take for example, the marriage of the atheist and the Christian. The Christian was also a Republican. The atheist was apolitical but defaulted as liberal. The atheist is overly, publicly, extensively and even loudly sexual. The Christian, upon hearing the word “sexual” leave my mouth, said “don’t you ever say that again.” Wtf? Then why are you married to someone whose personality is so elaborately and publicly sexual? Care to explain? No explanation. The Christian acted as a sort of “neat freak” and often accused me of being “fresh” and “rude.” The atheist when mad just said things like “come here so I can hit you” or “you pussy shit head jew” or “get out of here!” or “eat that sandwich” that fell on the dirt ground at the outdoor restaurant, “if you don’t ______ then you won’t get anything for Christmas or your birthday” (whichever it was). And yet this pair is supposed to be pro-love between the Christianity and marriage counseling expertise. I mean, it doesn’t really make sense.
And, when some of the days you sleep over at one pair of parents’ house and then other days at the other, and when both households have contradictory fluctuations of strictness and leniency, encouraged to make your own breakfast at one place, terrified to do it at the other, when one environment is extremely rural and you can roam about up and down hills along two acres of land and gaze at the massive horse farm out yonder and the other seems like pure suburbia, when one parent takes care of you suggesting that this is the role of a parent, but the other parent more or less neglects you except for maybe every other weekend, and even then, cannot be said to provide for you (despite being handed a twenty dollar bill at the shopping center and being told “now get out of here”), when one parent tells you they love you all the time and the other barely says it all, when one parent tries to make up for neglect by saying “you can achieve your dreams” while another parent, trying to protect you from what might happen if your dream is not achieved, gets mad, and insists that’s most likely what’s going to happen, at one place there are pets, at another none— look, I’m NOT complaining or even CRITICIZING any of my parents per se. I am pointing out the establishment of a metaphysical and psychological and epistemological paradigm that was, for better or for worse, hammered into the depths of my psyche—my consciousness and my unconscious/subconscious.
So, at the very least, if it seems I have a predisposition to live life in the form of varying phases and focuses, constant mind changing, and perhaps even fear (?) of being so entrenched in one thing to fail to note potentials outside that dart streaming towards the bull’s eye, the paradigm in which I was raised certainly suggests reasons why, in part (how often things are, after all, complex, and consisting of many different factors) that happened to be the case.
Not to say, especially once one grows increasingly aware of what used to seem more like a inexplicable tendency, that it is anyone’s “fault,” that one’s parents should feel guilt, or interpret my remarks as an attack on what may seem as though I’m implying are their shortcomings, but I am merely saying, when we examine something, when we seek to self-improve, let us identify some key contextual facts and see what connections can be drawn.
And anyway, I still have the problem of my inability to commit to try and solve. I feel so impassioned and determined that I even created a aphorism flash card I read at least twice a day: “I am committed to my diary; I am always true to this commitment.” And this is good news because this is proof at the very least that I am prioritizing my pursuit to improve this thing which I want to improve which my critics have reiterated to me is something I indeed ought to improve…
|↑1||though for all I know, quite ignorant as I am of medicine, there’s more to say on this than I know and I am being hasty. If so, please leave a comment and if you would be so kind to forgive me…|
|↑2||was this not the purpose of a liberal arts education? To…in other phrasing, preserve a legacy of cultured citizenship?|