My therapist aptly noted how I rely at times far too much on other voices to inform my own. What do we mean by “voice” in this case? For let us please be clear that there’s a difference between self expression and that which, by virtue of constant empirical repetition, is as probable a fact as a recurring tendency can be considered.
(An epistemological aside: not to sound cliché but if we can find any certainties do they not seem to be those that illustrate the context of our imperfections to find much certainty? By “certainty” I mean “knowledge” that such and such is “absolutely” a “fact,” as in, no matter what, this will ALWAYS NECESSARILY be so. We simply lack the capacity for such pure certainty. But, we have, to quote Hume from his book An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding–the edition published by Prometheus Books, in Buffalo, New York, 1988; on pages 144-145:
“ For here is the chief and most confounding objection to excessive skepticism, that no durable good can ever result from it”
“…All discourse, all action would immediately cease; and men remain in a total lethargy, till the necessities of nature, unsatisfied, put an end to their miserable existence…
“There is, indeed, a more mitigated skepticism or academical philosophy, which may be both durable and useful, and which may, in part, be the result of this Pyrrhonism, or excessive skepticism, when its undistinguished doubts are, in some measure, corrected by common sense and reflection.”
Or, this “common sense” gained from “reflection” – as he puts it in page 45 of the same book, from “custom” which he calls “the great guide of human life” and adds: “It is that principle alone which renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past.”
My point here is that while I don’t advocate for or think in terms of absolutes and certainty or assumptions of any perfect absolute objectivity, such things as tendencies or what Hume calls “customs” do occur and lead things thus to be most likely or quite likely a fact. Tob put it yet another way: “to the best of our knowledge”)
Returning now to this topic of “voice:”… what do I—Sean O’Connor—MEAN when I use this word “voice”–?
I suppose the context where voice seems most tangible to me as of now is in the realm of creative and/or free thought and action where desires come in, where we feel a intense motion within us somehow pulling us to some other subject of attraction or moving us away from some subject of repelling us from something. Maybe we can call this “personality”–? Those aspects of thought and action that make us distinctly ourselves as opposed to robots adhering to a staunchly defined set of standards. The inevitable complexity being how we distinguish the difference between moving in moral/ethical/virtuous/healthy/constructive directions versus negative/destructive/immoral/unethical directions.
I suffer from a fear that my personality is, for a lack of better terms, toxic…destructive…unethical and the like. Much of this comes from having been wrong so many times in the past that at a certain point I grew disillusioned with myself. Yes…if you knew me before I was 25, though still plagued by types of self doubt, I grew increasingly MORE doubtful of myself around this time. And then, around when I was…28, 29, 30…somewhere around then? Late 20s/early 30s as I can’t put a date on it, I grew yet even MORE self doubtful.
More concretely, by 25 I was poor, working a job I loathed, drinking too much alcohol, in a bad place with regards to certain familial relationships, and a book I’d written and self published, after a year of promoting, was going nowhere. Observing this, I saw myself as clearly lacking in basic credibility. I figured I clearly was not a good writer, I wasn’t good with people, and I didn’t know how to take care of myself or think critically.
This happened AGAIN around the time Trump became an increasingly successful candidate for president and Republicans were increasingly growing more and more exposed as morally depraved by supporting Trump despite his severe cognitive deficiencies, racism, and generally destructive disposition, insulting all that does not glorify him. No, I never supported him. But I had been a Republican…and passionately so. This was yet another indication of my failure in judgement. (The good news is I switched parties was even among the earliest people demanding Trump’s impeachment!)
This all ties back to staring at the expanse of fascinating aspects of life and not having enough confidence to hone in on a few aspects at least long enough to be constructive with it.
Yesterday I was showing how this problem of mine applied to the constant shifts and demises of my creative projects. I mentioned how I had started, for example, a video diary that I decided could no longer be called a “video diary” but rather a “vlog.” Within a month I’d decided I would not be a “vlogger” but rather a “podcaster.” I spoke a bit about my constant shifts of interest and action in a podcast I titled “On Mediums of Self Expression” ; I published it on YouTube on July 6th, 2019.
One observation I mention in this podcast is that Jean-Paul Sarte intrigued me with his multi-genre productivity, writing in a wide variety of literary mediums all the while identifying as a “philosopher.” To put this in a frame of thought I learned about more recently: Sartre produced writings beyond a binary sense of himself as either a philosopher or a creative writer.
Hybrid identity has for a long time made sense to me but applied to occupation/career aspirations it often makes me either paranoid–haunted by that saying: “a jack of all trades is a master of none”—or disoriented because in a culture and economy where specialization is crucial one thus needs enough specialized knowledge to be credible and useful and exceptional in what one has to offer by way of appealing to an employer or consumer of your service/product.
As a writer then, there was always this paranoia surrounding these shifts of interest in poetry versus fiction, versus creative non-fiction. But one of the things I’ve not yet done which I’m starting to do now is take a much more up-close and focused look at factors and contexts I associate with shifts of focus on this or that, politics or film, poetry or acting, history or podcasting, et cetera.
This examination reveals some unflattering truths about myself. For example, if you listen to around 8:36 in the podcast I’ve embedded in this blog and that I’ve been referring to, we find that one of my motives for shifting from a “vlog” focus to a “podcast” focus was a working hypothesis that the “podcast” would lead to a larger audience and thus a quicker ride to money for my product.
What this means is that focusing on expressing my honest thoughts was not my chief motive. Finding a way to make money posing as someone sharing thoughts…eventhough more so unconscious I think than conscious…comes across to me as the more clear motive.
Also, this brings us back to how I allow other “voices” or insecurities or factors to overrule or drain out my own honest thoughts and feelings and desires.
So often I have allowed a wide variety of paranoid pressures manipulate whatever plans I presently concoct.
This reminds me of a David Foster Wallace story—from his short story collection : “Good Old Neon.” The protagonist and narrator begins the story as follows:
“My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much of all I’ve done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people. Mostly to be admired. It’s a little more complicated than that, maybe. But when you come right down to it it’s to be liked, loved. Admired, approved of, applauded, whatever.” (141)
Alas, I relate. Consider how I fell so deeply entrenched into politics. Yes, I had a genuine interest and passion but also when I began more assertively spouting my political thoughts it seemed as though people came to like me more than how I was before that. The more I brought up political news and added my own opinion the more generated rapport with others and felt LIKED by others.
In those days I worked at the grocery store at the cash register. Customers would ask me how I was doing and I’d say I was upset because Obama did X or happy because Senator Rand Paul said Y. Even when they disagreed with me they engaged. They seemed to find playful debates with me amusing. A coworker of mine was so taken by my political passion that he suggested, since I hated my job as a cashier, to see about running for political office. Well…since nobody was saying “give me a copy of your book” or “tell me all about your philosophy” but was telling me to run for office, I clung to this expression of someone’s view of me as being able to run for a political office. And once I pursued my first run for office I began making friends when for years I’d gone without really making any. And people started watching my YouTube campaign speech videos. My mother said she was “proud” of me after years and years of clashing between us. I clung to politics as a means of artificial confidence.
But when I lost I didn’t go back to it. I decided I didn’t want to be a politician after all. No. No. I wanted to be a “video-artist.” (That whole brief phase is its own loaded story.)
My need to feel approved of and liked was so pathetic that for awhile during that first run for office I told you about… I slightly feigned a Christian identity out of paranoia that being a non-Christian would lead to severe chastisement and no chance. (I couldn’t say I was an “Objectivist.” I would be thought too radical and everyone would hate me. ((To be fair to myself this was not the only factor. Around April of 2013 as the beginning of my campaign was picking up steam and I was just contemplating life in that context while at the grocery store standing by the cash register during slow periods, I would think a lot about Christianity and how certain aspects of it resonated with me… I agreed with, and still agree with certain Christian ideas. (Forgiveness/love, the power of prayer, the beauty of the Psalms).
But everything had to be binary for me in those days. I was either a Christian or not a Christian. And I let the excitement of a new found affinity with certain Christian ideas carry me away. And it wasn’t all a matter of agreements either. I remember thinking that Christians seemed to be the most powerful group on Earth. It’s awful. But I really thought that. It was Christians who had the strongest militaries. It was the Christians who dominated politics. It was Christians who seemed to make so much money. Christianity came to equate an illusion of pure and mighty power. At that place and time I supposed…if Christians seem to be the global life-winners, maybe it’s because they were on to something. They in fact had God’s force behind them making them life’s winners because they were the one who were “right” about life’s deepest metaphysical and cosmological questions.
A similar shallow and pathetic distortion also contributed to my initial fascination (and brief obsession, alas) with Ayn Rand. (Again…to be fair, Ayn Rand makes remarkable points, especially on the vital role of logic even if she didn’t apply it correctly). I can recall walking one day in the wonderful suburban development we were living in for awhile in West Windsor, New Jersey, on a warm spring morning and asking myself… “okay, if I really want to be a good writer, one who is both revered as brilliant, and who sells, who should I look up to?” And in my notebook I made a list of names of authors I believed fulfilled this criteria.
Ayn Rand’s name, in this context, seemed to be worth looking into. As I saw it then, the woman had written a book (if I went by Wikipedia’s number…) that sold some 65 million copies. I figured…most hastily…that I should follow her lead. (Why not J.K. Rowling? If money was my motive? Because money wasn’t my ONLY motive and I couldn’t think of anyone else who managed to combine philosophy and fiction with so strong a point of view and influence as Ayn Rand)
Also, Ayn Rand wrote things that happened to strike me at the right way at the right time (or the wrong way we might say, ideologically). By that I mean, I was reading The Fountainhead at the same time I was first dipping my feet into the waters of politics, reading the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and watching CNN and Fox News. Ayn Rand wrote about the ideal of freedom and I was reading her defense of this ideal at the same time congressman Ron Paul was going on about legalizing heroin on the basis of one’s right to freedom.
From an uncritical point of view, what is so wrong with freedom? Made sense to me. Why shouldn’t a person be allowed to follow his or her soul? So it happened that just as one should be free to think whatever one wishes should not someone by extension be free to keep all the money they earn?
Unfortunately (beyond the severely and dangerously oversimplified evaluation of Ayn Rand’s ideas) I also noted a sense of what seemed like a strong self-esteem in Ayn Rand. She believed in the self in a most abstract sense and she believed in her self. And she could even talk her readers through the processes of her asserted self-esteem. I remember one of the examples she gave me that most impressed me was how she said she was able to explain the essence of her philosophy in like 90 seconds and any attack on her idea she could come back at with a strong defense. (As I delved deeper and deeper into her I explored her responses to critics). So say what one might about her, but she was at least thoughtful enough a person that she could explain her world view with exceptional confidence and elaborateness. That’s not a mediocre feat as I still don’t know that many people who discuss the nuances of their “philosophy” in thorough terms.
Moreover, she came to America with practically nothing and illustrated that “American Dream” narrative, rags to riches. Miserable poor writer to rich and getting her book made into a Hollywood movie. She seemed, superficially, like a sort of “winner.”
My point right now is not to speak to the merits and flaws of her philosophy and writing but rather to illustrate how the shifts in my focus – the MOTIONS OF MY THOUGHTS—were so lacking in self confidence that…to bring up Nietzsche again, where I saw paths of potential EMPOWERMENT or where I saw a way I thought I might be able to be more liked, I jumped on that wave and rode it. Unarmed with even a real capacity of critical thought, in some respects could it not be argued that I really was in some respects at the wrong place at the wrong time, the way I was so taken when I was so defenseless against such an overly simplicity and idealistic philosophy and moreover, my shifts from creative project to creative project…they would suffer from this similar flaw…