I hate confrontation.
Most people aren't fond of confrontation, it seems too close to conflict. Someone's feelings could get hurt, and we all avoid that. People know me as a low key person, and that's true, I'm very nonconfrontational. The exception being if you’re someone I know on a deep level, or you’re a complete stranger that I don’t plan on seeing again. Maybe that’s one of those “all extremes are the same” things. In either case, you’ll get to see my anger problem.
An anger problem, at least in my case, isn't just an anger problem; it's an expression problem, and it affects all of my emotions. Anger is just the quickest to identify when it goes off the rails. Expressing anger is a healthy part of being human. Learning how to do it in a way that’s healthy, however, is very, very tricky. If love is blind, then anger is blind, deaf and mute. It has no interest in reason, being proactive about your situation, or doing damage control. When I’m angry, I want heads to roll.
That’s the reason I avoid confrontation. Even if I’m right and have perfectly valid, rational objections to what’s going wrong, the words I'll pick are pure emotional bile. It’s a phoenix in the fireplace. For the most part, that beast is contained and can even be wielded in my favor, acting as a kind of makeshift confidence I use when my own sense of self worth is lacking. Every once in awhile it blows out of control, then shrinks to ashes while I’m left to sweep up the pieces and rebuild.
It’s not a matter of if, only when, I lose it.
The world is full of complex people with problems of their own, and I'm not breaking any boundaries by having them myself. For the most part, we keep our emotions within socially acceptable range, but once in awhile, something or someone gets under our skin.
That's where I am now. It is a small and insignificant situation to anyone other than myself. For me, it's a frustrating waste of my energy. I find my own behavior childish, and despite the fact that I know better, I simply haven't figured out how to *be* better. There's an interesting correlation to being and behavior; one showcases the other. Having an intellectual nature doesn't stop you from being human or having human emotions. I haven't figured out how to bridge the gap; I can know how my actions differ from my rationale, but I can't align them. When I try, I feel more like a liar than when I'm genuinely lying to someone, does that make sense?
Maybe that goes back to the idea of belief; that a liar wants the victim to believe it. I don't really care if you believe my lies or honesty. I had to come to that in order to deal with my own life. But to try and behave in a way that doesn't align to the way I am as a human being, that feels like a dishonesty I want you to believe; that I want to believe. I haven't reconciled that yet, so that's just going to hang here.
I’m emotionally reactive about everything. If laughter is spontaneous and involuntary, so are my tears and insults. I think I come off as a relatively placid person because I have spent so much time trying to smuggle my time bomb around casually and leave before it goes off.
I only really started noticing this boiling behavior when I looked at it in terms of depression. Depression can keep you in a kind of stasis for a while, and likewise, you can contain it. Much like our firebird, that tidal wave can only be dammed for so long before it spills out into everything.
The only benefit I've ever had from having anger is that occasionally, it becomes a powerful motivator. My first ex told me I wasn't funny. For that matter, so did Jay. Friends of mine who I can't (or don't, to be fair) talk to have had all sorts of opinions about me and what I'm capable of, what I look like, and so on. Being competitive with my older brothers taught me how to harness those criticisms and make them an advantage.
There's other sources for that advantage though, namely encouragement.
So here's the thing about motivation from either source. Self awareness plays a pretty big role, as well as having a pretty good grip on how people perceive you. In terms of spite, you're proving people wrong. In reacting to encouragement, you're proving them right. Whether or not the person talking to you understands that is completely on them. How you handle it is on you.
About a year into comedy, I had hit the point that I think every new comic does where you start doubting if anyone is going to notice you're there. There's a lot to say about that, but I have to save it unless this post wants to turn into a novel. What I will say is that I had encouragement, not flattery. I had a comic I respected tell me I was "consistent". That doesn't say anything about how funny my material was, but it indicated that my efforts weren't being wasted.
There's nothing wrong with telling someone that they've got this if they keep trying. You don't need to blow smoke up their ass and say that they're already great, or that they're ahead of their time, that kind of bullshit. You don't even have to lie and say you like something that you don't, or tell them they have potential if you're honestly not sure they do. In fact, don't do that. You're hurting them more than "hurting the scene" because they can't get better if they're going off of purposeful misdirection in order to spare their feelings.
I highly recommend aiming for encouraging someone to be better over getting them to change out of spite; it's just more constructive and has a much lower risk of negatively impacting someone who's suicidal, which is very common in creative fields if not especially in comedy.
But even if encouragement is ideal, that doesn't make anger, spite, or negative drives disappear. I’m not really sure how to release my internal squall so it doesn’t consume me, but I think the healthiest thing to do with my anger is actually to force confrontation. The trick here is only to be confrontational when I also have empathy for the other person. If I can genuinely feel for the other person, even if I believe they’re in the wrong, I’m much less likely to go for their guts.
This has been a learning process, and I often miscalculate. I don’t realize how mean the words coming out of my mouth sound until they’re circling in the air like vultures. I’ve never been physically intimidating, and when I was bullied as a kid, I learned how to come up with words cruel enough to weaken a fist. I learned how to be the loudest not in volume, but in impact.
When I tried to stop that drive to insult as an adult,I forced myself to wait things out until I figured out how to say what I wanted to. Putting things off led to me not wanting to say anything at all, because I’d burned out for the time being and didn't feel like it.
Someone told me to express my feelings when I had them even if I didn’t have words to, which is both the best and most difficult advice I’ve ever tried to apply in my life. Verbal talons are only one side of having an anger problem; ironically, the other is the difficulty of expressing myself with words at all. It’s tough to formulate a calm, rational argument when there aren’t words in your head, just little pictures of explosions and war footage you’ve seen.
There is no “right time” to say you’re upset, and it makes very little sense to finally verbalize it when you don’t feel it. I get that this conflicts with the idea of “cooler heads prevail”, but cooler heads may not care, or diminutize the issue, or worse, dismiss it entirely. If you never address your anger, you’ll never really be controlling it. The misguided advice of “just let it go” is a platitude people tend to use without realizing that if you want to let an experience go, you have to experience it.
Sometimes I can’t do better in the moment than closing my eyes and telling the other person, “I’m Upset.”
I consider that basic sentence a huge leap forward from being able to look someone dead in the eye during the same rage and coolly saying, “Even when you’re trying your hardest, you’re still a fucking failure.”
I’m no longer looking to attack people when I confront them, and I think that’s why I’ve grown more comfortable doing it. As a result, even if it ends up being a long conversation, uncomfortably public or otherwise inconvenient. The opposite of Anger is kindness, but kindness doesn't mean you have to be nice.
Kindness comes from the root words for "kinship". The roots for "nice" are similar to that for "naive". Being kind to an angry person is expressing patience, not putting up with their bullshit.
I’m convinced that feelings are, and will almost always be, inconvenient. That’s sort of why they pop up, it’s your way of expressing your “being” in the moment. You have to recognize what it means to express yourself and attempt to be aware of why. Asking yourself why will teach you a lot. Trying to be more confrontational is my way of tending the fire. Maybe if I take care of it consistently, it’s less likely to blow out and leave ashes where some of my friendships used to be.
I might be screwed.
I quit my job, unceremoniously and in a way I regret. I had reached whatever breaking point I had felt coming for awhile and simply didn’t know how to verbalize. This culminated in a drinking session that I also quite regret, which left me vomiting blood and anything else in or near my stomach for the next couple days. I knew I’d been depressed, and I knew that for me, depression was the big red flag meant to block out everything from view until I figured out what my problem was.
Maybe I lack self discipline. I feel resistant on a very primal, physical level when faced with something I don’t want to do. I have an uncanny work ethic and drive when it comes to something I love, like joke writing, this blog, whatever, but my fight or flight kicks in when I’m bored, unhappy, feeling underutilized over overwhelmed. I could sneeze the wrong way and feel the need to drop all and run.
Likewise, stability is a tough concept for me. I recognize it and I’m sure I need it, but I’m incapable of creating it for myself or sustaining it for long periods of time. I don’t know what that means about me. I don’t know if that’s self fulfilling prophecy; what I do know is that my bouts of reckless behavior usually leave me feeling released from whatever tomb of depression I’ve been buried in. Currently I’m enjoying a peace of mind I haven’t had for months. High risk, taking chances, those are things I feel comfortable with. Maybe I should rephrase that; I’m not likely to gamble if I don’t think I can win, although that certainly seems to be waning given I have to figure the fuck out how I’m going to support myself now.
Since I’ve had plenty of time to do nothing but think, I’ve given the idea of jobs a good once over. I know why I hate them, and can’t sustain them. I also know how difficult financial security is going to be for people like myself; a job is what people can get out of you.
That’s the difference between a job and a hobby, regardless of how serious you are about one or the other. A hobby is something you do for self fulfillment; it’s the reason I struggled in art school and ended up flipping the whole thing off. It’s also the reason I have no idea what to do now. If I sit down and genuinely think about it, what do I have to offer? What can people get out of me?
I guess the other part of this idea, of what I have to offer, is that I’ve hit a point where I don’t throw it all in, I’m going to have trouble attempting to later. The day job has become less of a life raft and more of an anchor at a point where I’m not happy. Trying to balance it with what I feel driven to do was also taking me to a very dark (and very drunk) place. Quitting my job is just following the same emotional road map that’s led me to where I am and where I feel the most content.
Maybe that’s a cynical way to think about passion. I pursue mine simply because I see no alternatives. There’s nothing but death in compromise. Gambling is literally my lifestyle. I’d rather take odds, get hurt and blow things out of proportion. I don’t know where it comes from, but I behave this way because there is something intrinsic in every part of me that firmly believes that I’ll be fine. Maybe all that means is I have a very low standard of “fine” and since I don’t require much, I’m reasonably confident I can maintain that base level.
Millennials and the subsequent Generation Z are faced with a peculiar economic condition. Tons of jobs are being outsourced, and now freelancers can piggyback on outsourcing by offering native speaking labor for less than what they’d be paid at a corporate gig, but with the benefit of more freedom. It also seems like we’ve become a customer service society. The bulk of jobs that are available semi-cater to this more flexible, less stable lifestyle that arguably most of my generation prefers. The caveat? Can we really be sustainable as an economy at large if most of us are driving each other around or making food? In some ways, we’re returning to a community based economic system, which is small scale and many ways my ideal, but I’m brought back to that question, what do we get out of it, what do people get out of us?
For a creative person, I’ve always been somewhat pragmatic; I struggle with what would appear to be inherent narcissism that comes with “trying to make it”. I wonder if it becomes a vicious cycle in which the mentally unstable consume themselves given the volatile and emotionally unstable nature of show business. We are trying to make something that fulfills us that matters to other people. When you realize how big and difficult that is, it makes sense that it could take a lifetime to achieve.
I really don’t know if people get something out of this blog, or my jokes or anything else that I do, because in that respect I know I’m hopelessly biased, just like most comedians. I have to believe they do because I do, and if I didn’t think anyone else did, I’d have to stop. I’d have to get a day job. I’d have to figure out how to not kill myself by doing something that other people want that I can only force myself to do. This logic applies to my feelings on most grand institutions, like marriage, school, family. I only see what other people would get out of my choice to pursue those things. There’s no part of me that thinks I’d feel fulfilled, and I’d be forced to look elsewhere for that sensibility. Given how much time those things require, I don’t know how I’d manage to do both.
So I’ve spent this unintended sabbatical thinking very honestly about what I have to offer. If I am brutally honest: Not a lot. I can write, and I can write quickly. (Not counting this sentence, this article spans 931 words typed in about 20 minutes.)I like to learn, and I can compile research and take notes. I’m funny, but if I’m being realistic I still have a lot to learn before I could do consistent performances longer than about 20 minutes. I don’t really know what the practical application of that skill is, but that’s probably the best one I’ve got. I can draw, and produce simple illustrations quickly. I’m not really sure where to go from there. How do I make those things valuable to other people?
I’ve hit some kind of point of no return but I can’t see what’s in front of me. I’ve been in this situation before and I’m always calmer than I think I should be. I guess finding a job is a lot like finding a place to sleep when you’re a stranger; you just have to figure out where it is and who will let you. Here’s hoping that answer floats down towards me soon.
I sometimes delude myself into thinking that January starts off so brightly, with everyone trying to better themselves, at least for the first couple weeks. If we go out and face the world and/or ourselves despite the cold, then we'll have proven something even more to ourselves because it was just a little bit harder. Then usually, the dust, or in this case slush, begins to settle, the resolutions taper off and we're still in winter. It's still cold, we're still fat or non-confrontational or unable to speak fluently in Spanish. Everything remains in its standstill.
I love the symbology of seasons; and for me the winter is the dead time, the sleeping time. I look forward to the spring and see all the great things that inevitably must be coming along with the new growth. In my mind, that's more of a new year than whatever the fuck January is. January is just extra last year. Or so I often hope.
I use new years resolutions every so often. This is the first year I didn't really have one; I made a decision to do certain things starting at the beginning of the year, but it wasn't a resolution; it just seemed to coincide as a starting date.
One of the best compliments I ever got was from my oldest brother. I don't remember what we were talking about or if it even came to fruition, but he told me,
"When you say you're gonna do something, I believe you."
I think about my brother saying that to me, though I have no idea what we were talking about at the time. I didn't view it in a "woman of my word" context, because I'm not. I'm flaky with friends. I have a tendency to pile on too many tasks and then fumble as I try and get them all done in some half assed way before I get in trouble. I'm not really sure where I got that mentality, but I'm sure I'll overanalyse the fuck out of it and write about it later.
What I took from that compliment is that I do things with purpose, even if they don't work out. That's why I've always thought New Years resolutions tend to fail, or any other change you try to make. If it lacks purpose, there won't be much of a reason for you to do it. Likewise, if you're doing it for the wrong purpose, you're likely to become discouraged and unmotivated.
This brings me to some thoughts I've had about standup, about success and failure. All three of those things are pretty closely knit to purpose in my mind.
I had some very cool things happen for me in Denver this year; I got drafted for ComedyWorks' Funny Final Four (That's a comedy competition show thing for those outside of Denver--thankfully I'm not on a competing team), and I got nominated for an award for Favorite Newcomer by Sexpot Comedy. Both of those are awesome and I'm happy and grateful that somebody thought of me.
That being said, for the first time since I've been doing this, I realized that had I not been recognized for either (I actively avoided the nominations because I didn't want to get invested), I would have been fine with that. Or, I should rephrase, nothing would change for me. I would still go out to open mics, tell jokes and work to get shows and hopefully make some money so writing becomes my pitiable but manageable living.
I would have felt some disappointment if I'd been overlooked, and even now if I put my demons to it I could find reasons to be dissatisfied. I completely empathize with anyone who's pissed that they didn't make it; this is rough and competitive and you're working hard. It sucks not to feel recognized for it. And those negative thoughts, while not healthy in large doses, can be very powerful motivation, that's why we root for the underdog, to spite everyone else that made it with seemingly less effort, or at least less recognition.
That feeling of spite can't be about wanting awards or recognition though, not if you want it to work for you. You can't only tell jokes, paint pictures, sculpt whales or bake pizzas because you want awards for doing those things. You have to do those things because they give you a sense of purpose in and of doing them. If spite motivates you to spend more energy on what gives you purpose, you're doing it right. Recognition is a perk, and a damn nice one, but it doesn't really matter. Same with failures.
Last year I entered into a contest and got knocked out in the first round. I was wrecked about it; I'd had a bad day to begin with and I'd felt like I needed the validation of at least advancing in order to feel good about deciding to do comedy over any other walk of life. I didn't get that sense of validation, and I may have faltered a little but I didn't stop performing. I also got a chance to feel closer to some other people in my field who also didn't make it. Failure, in its own weird and less flashy way, was strangely comforting.
Losing didn't give me validation of a comic in terms of talent, but it did in terms of finally having a peer group that I felt good to be around, and that made me want to work harder. I got a lot out of losing and while this might be cognitive bias talking, but I wonder, had I even so much as advanced, if it would have went to my head and I would have held on to that sense of entitlement that would make recognition seem more important and failure more foul. I might have made efforts to distance myself from "lower peers" or something disgusting like that. I don't know, it didn't happen. I know I'm not above hubris, though.
I don't think I've been doing what I have been long enough to be able to impart any sort of wisdom or advice on how to make it work. If anything, take this as encouragement. If you find what you want to do in life, consider yourself very lucky; not a lot of people get that. We're not told to look for it; not if it doesn't fit the norm. I hope you do whatever it is that you're doing because it gives you a sense of purpose and not because you want validation from it. The farther you can distance yourself from that the better, and, unless my experience is just an illustration of coincidence, the farther you distance yourself from validation, the more of it you'll receive.
I don't know if that's one of those concepts someone can just say to you and it sinks in. I think we all come to that in our own way and time, but maybe the more places you see it, the more it'll ring true for you. Be deliberate, have purpose; there's no way to lose if you do.
If you resent the fuck out of being told you're not getting shit done because you don't have the right mindset, don't worry, I have some other, more practical thoughts, too. Organization certainly isn't my strong point and I have a tendency to get overwhelmed and freaked out pretty easily. Here's a few things that have worked for me, some practical, no bullshit advice that helps me do what I need to. These are in no particular order because I don't find any one more valuable than the other; they're just helpful.
1. Do things when you think of them.
This is one of those modern age-isms that wasn't available before. When you remember that you haven't called someone, paid a bill, or whatever little task it is, do it at that moment. Even if you're at work, or out at a bar or masturbating, whatever you do with your free time. I find this helpful because if I don't put off doing things when they pop into my brain, I've effectively given myself the outlook of doing things when I sit down and want to do them. You're less likely to let your mind drift off and wind up doing nothing at all.
Chunking is something that helps you commit information to memory, but the system is insanely effective. One of the classic methods is pomodoro, where you work on something for 25 minutes, take a short break, work for 25 minutes, take a long break, and so on and so forth. This sort of sets your brain up to be willing to work on something, because yourself out before you wind up fatigued and uninterested in doing it any more.
Personally I do sessions of about 20 minutes, then give myself 5 minutes to dick around; I've never found the long breaks useful, personally. I also like to have a rotation of different things to do; IE 20 minutes writing articles, break, 20 minutes doing art or something completely unrelated, break, etc. It helps me feel stimulated and I want to go back to working on each thing because none of them dominate the time.
3. The right friends are worth a thousand day planners.
I feel insanely lucky to have met so many great people. I may take them for granted and my friends can tell you I'm hard to pin down; I'm flighty and I can seem almost exclusively self motivated (I usually am, unfortunately. I'm working on it); but I choose my friends very carefully. I try my best to surround myself with people who are motivated and driven to do what they want; it doesn't matter what your craft is, if you're pushing yourself, you'll motivate other people to pursue what they love, as well. The fear of seeming like an idiot in front of your friends is a great way to force yourself along.
4. Write shit down.
Some people voice record or use their phone, but I find that I'm never more inclined to stick to finishing something than when it's written down. Maybe that's not the most environmentally friendly option, but it's the most effective. You can make lists or not, but usually this ends up in the same category of "do things when you think of them." If you write down the seed of an idea or something you want to do when you think about it, you've given yourself incentive to keep working on it.
You'd think there'd be more than four, but those are the only real rules of productivity I follow. And that being said, sometimes you don't win. I'm not a superstar about it by any means, but maybe it'll help you out. I guess this is just some basic existential nihilism with a bit of lifehacking at the end, but strong conclusions are for suckers who aren't about to go to their day jobs. Have fun my friends.
I don’t know if the feeling I have right now counts as writer’s block, maybe it’s just down time.
This is the feeling anyone creative is familiar with. It’s expansive and opaque, and feels a lot, I assume, like you’ve stuffed your skull full of laundry. Affectionately known as writer’s block, drawing a blank, the creative wall; it’s the end of a road, for one reason or another. A brief trip to the planet Google suggests that people have broken down writer’s block into no less than ten categories. In short, calling a lack of creativity a writer’s block is about as thorough as diagnosing a pounding headache as sickness thumps.
According to the sources, these are the different forms of writer’s block, more or less. I cherry picked these lists to give you the ones I come across personally.
1. Having no idea what to write about.
2. Not knowing where to take an idea
3. You don’t have the words to say what you want, or you don’t know how to say something originally.
4. You get distracted by friends, kittens, or a burning desire to knaw your toes off.
5. There’s too many ideas in your head, but they’re not sustainable.
6. You feel unmotivated.
7. Nothing you write seems good enough, which, similarly, leads into a feeling that…
8. You’re afraid you’ve hit your creative peak a long time ago and now you’re slowly spiraling down into a pit of mediocrity.
Now, I’m writing about writer’s block because that’s what I’m experiencing right now. My dog is trying very hard to regain my attention by throwing a piece of rubber that used to be a soccer ball in the air. Poor dude works so hard to rip my attention away from this computer screen. That last sentence proves how uninterested in what I'm doing at the moment.
So what you’re seeing, by the end of what you may not be able to call an article, is my attempt to push through it. I'm not sure how well it'll work, but I need to know that I can force my way through it like a boxer with blood in his eyes. I’d like to attack the problem more psychologically; the internet is drenched in snake oil cures for creative loss. Let’s face it, the fear of never finding that spark again is terrifying, because a lot of us creative types are pretty sure without that talent, we’re basically useless.
One site suggests that a lack of creativity comes from a sense of apathy, another suggests it’s stress or anxiety. Research indicates more creative problem solving tends to happen when we’re tired, hence the trend of creative types also being night owls. After browsing the many theories available on the topic, I have come to one conclusion.
After giving myself some time to winch out what appears to be a bit of muffin (which should surprise no one) from below my key, I set a timer. Timers have always been helpful for me in getting over the creative hump, because I’m not allowed to stare blankly. Even if I do, it’s not for very long. If you're wondering why the fuck limiting yourself is helpful, it's because I use the timer as a sort of force-element of novelty. I think somewhere in Psychology 101 there's a section about chunking and committing things to memory. I don't know if approaching an uninteresting task is any different in terms of commitment.
I’m not sure what research supports my own theory of writer’s block, but I bet there’s some out there. Also, fair warning, everything from here on out is speculation and I haven’t done any research. It’s my thought vomit you’re taking as advice here.
I think that by nature, humans are near-addicted to novelty. It has some type of evolutionary logic, which you may see as something of a trend in my conclusions about human nature. By constantly seeking out things that are new, we’re often rewarded with better ways to do things. The first person to explore a cave was eaten by a bear. The second one learned how to kill a bear, had a warm place to sleep and eliminate sexual competition.
I guess I’m just anticipating some kind of argument to my own logic, but I hope you see my point. Without trying something new, nothing is gained. Even failure has some value, though maybe not to you. Creativity is based on trying new things, or being forced to try something new after the accepted methods don't work. I think a lot about failure at this point in my life, because I’m not experienced with success. I don’t like admitting that, but I do, and admitting that gives me the freedom not to dwell.
Back to writer's block.
I think this creative rut we often find ourselves in comes from the honing of raw interest. We start doodling because it’s new, therefore we enjoy it. After awhile, we focus, we have a task and we decide it’s in our best interest to be good at it. The discovery phase waxes until we consider ourselves talented, in which we face a waning of interest. Whether or not we also wane in talent is something up for debate, but not something I have enough opinion on to address right now.
So what do we do when what we love becomes the same old, same old? Can you cheat on your creativity? Absolutely. When I have difficulty writing I tend to turn towards art or music. Music holds a special place for me, actually, simply because I’m not very good at it, and by actively not pursuing it, strange as that sounds, it’s always fun. The same can’t be said for my other creative endeavors.
Maybe the cure for writer’s block is novelty, maybe not. According to one neuroscientist, our stressed out brains will actually shut down the non-essential areas of our brain where creativity, sex drive and digestion all live and focus more energy in our limbic system, which is dedicated to running for your life.
We all tend to agree that intelligence and mental illness are brain buddies, so maybe it’s just a simple matter of brain chemistry. Maybe we shut down our own abilities simply because we become refocused on surviving in our anxious, depressed and otherwise fucked up minds. If that’s the case, could it actually be that happy people would be the more creative, instead of the long held assumption that happy people are dumb and ruin everything?
I don’t know. Anyone creative takes a sense of satisfaction, maybe even happiness, from what they do. Honestly, that makes me think yet again of the idea of novelty. Doing the same thing over and over is tedious and by definition not a lot of fun, but we’re also given the slightly flawed assumption that doing things over and over makes us better at it.
So what are we supposed to do, should you trade off enjoyment for talent? Are these things mutually exclusive, really? If it’s not true, and you should only pursue your creativity if it makes you happy, I guess the answer to writer’s block is pretty simple.
Calm the fuck down and enjoy yourself.
Seems like it addresses most of those dissected categories of it, anyway. I don’t know if it’s as easy to apply that logic when you sit in front of your blank canvas, admittedly. It’s that whole Buddha logic we all find so frustrating in its simplicity. So maybe, by framing it a little differently, we could think of conquering writer’s block this way; if it’s not enjoyable, and you don’t have to be doing it right now, then stop doing it. I don’t know if I believe in barreling through writer’s block by sitting down and madly smashing the keyboard until what should be beauty comes out. Maybe that works for some people, but even if it did, I wonder if that would only serve to leave me more frustrated later.
Gosh kids, I never end these with the neat packaging I want to. If I accomplished anything though, it’s that I persevered through my block. I don't know if this is the most inspired thing I've ever written (it's not), but I made it. Hopefully you can find a reason to make something out of your laundry-brain, too.
There are so many things I want to do with my life. Ambition has always been a strong suit of mine, even if follow through is something I'm still learning. I don't think I'm alone in this, either. Most of my friends want to start their own businesses, grow their own food, build their own lives from the ground up. In part, I think this is out of necessity, and for some, the drive to create stems from a sort of mad desperation not to be forgotten in an age where the impact of everything you produce is diminished by sheer exposure to how many other people also produce it.
What is the fear of being forgotten, and what does it have to do with ambition?
We live in a very strange time. For one, the dissolution of the traditional family in America is on the rise, if not at an all time high. We crazy ladies can do all sorts of things like vote and have careers, and for us it seems like there's added pressure to have a thriving professional life and a couple of kids--but I'm going to talk about goals and stress another time.
What we're looking at right now is ambition, and our desire to change the world. I think that's been something hammered in to my generation; we need to make an impact on a personal level on as large a scale as possible. With the introduction of the internet, being the best guitar player your friends have seen isn't going to make you Nirvana, because every town has their best guitar player and the competition has become widespread.
But despite being typified as lazy and apathetic, my generation is rabid about their dreams, I know I am.
So here's where we depart from the chaos, my fellow dreamer. Start small.
I want to be a comedian. I'm not really shy about saying that any more, which was a big step for me, because I was pretty bummed I didn't want to do something more humanitarian or lucrative. I also want to start a podcast, and a venue, and record an album, and go on tour, and start some local shows, and launch a TV show, and run some sketches, and pump out articles every month, and have cartoons ever month and-you can see where I'm going with this, can't you?
'And' is one letter shy of being a four letter word, which for some reason is how I classify profanity. There is no conceivable way I could do all, if any of these things by the end of the year. I wonder if part of the reason we load our expectations so damn high is because we're afraid that if we do one of those things, and it doesn't seem the way we play it in our head, we have somehow failed.
No matter how much you tell yourself life isn't like the movies, some part of you still believes that you're the exception to the rule, that you'll be able to pull off all this crazy shit and still probably start a family later and be known as the greatest person because you achieved a bunch of things. But, that's crazy. You need to start small.
It's so easy to let ambition carry you, to think that you're reaching the apex and doing it faster than anyone, but typically that's just setting yourself up to fall from a great height. Rather than try to barrel through life, pulling together all of the pieces and claiming you can do everything, start small.
The first part of starting small, and this is a modicum (I used the word modicum in an article about smallness, ha!) of practical advice, is to pick a central objective. For me, this year, was writing. All I'm trying to do from now until December is write two articles for this site a month. That's it.
The internet can make our accomplishments seem so huge! We can look at our friends and marvel at how they home cook all their meals and seem like they've got all the answers woven together, their lives packaged neatly in the wrapping paper of doing-better-than-you-itude. But we don't photograph our burnt dinners or post to facebook about our nine hour staring contest with the wall while we contemplated what people would say at our funeral.
I've tried to do more than that. When I do, I typically stress myself out and fail.
Starting small seems like it would be the enemy of ambition. After all, go big or go home, right? Or maybe it's even simpler than that. Maybe by starting a small thing, we're acknowledging that we're going to start something and starting things usually leads to other new experiences, which is more dangerous than daydreaming about where we'd like to be because it means that things might not actually be as good as we think they are. It would be like deciding to run a marathon and finding out about 5 minutes in that your skeleton is made of vomit and jello. We're all afraid to live up to our potential, because potential is a vague nod to what it's assumed you're capable of, and we dread not living up to this imaginary standard.
Someone told me once that perfection is the enemy of good. This has been rattling around in my head a lot recently, because I've realized how scary it is to realize you might not be as talented as you think you are. I think I'm pretty intelligent, but to be humbled (or humiliated, as the case may sometimes be) is a common and unavoidable experience I find myself having. What's strange is that I rarely think less of myself by meeting someone who's smarter, I just acknowledge that I am imperfect..
There is probably some evolutionary imperative to be better, faster, stronger, and to believe that we are the most viable members of our species. To assume that we're not worthy contributors to our species, even if it were the truth, would have a crippling effect on humanity as a whole. There'd be no reason to attract or impress a mate, and let's be honest, a hell of a lot of what we do is just fanfare for doin' the nasty.
Maybe there's even more to it than that; when you accomplish something small, it's hard to believe it will have any real impact; I have that insecurity with writing all the time. I worry that what I'm doing doesn't matter, that it will be forgotten, that I'll have wasted my life and contributed ultimately nothing to the human race. On a planet that suffers from overpopulation and apathy, I worry that I am meaningless.
Strange that a need for meaning could prevent us from wanting to do anything meaningful at all. But here's the terrifying, freeing irony; nothing that you do in life matters. You are not significant, neither are your successes or failures. For every flub you have, every race you win, there are millions others that are doing the same. You will impact a few people close to you, but it's doubtful you will be recorded in eternity.
If you find this perspective disconcerting, I am sorry for you. It seems like such a huge task to do something that matters, especially on such a scope as impacting the human race. Maybe this is pedantic, introductory nihilism, but any school of thought that takes interest in the "eternal now", to borrow a phrase, is tugging at a loose thread in our tangled idea of meaning. There's such a huge pressure not to die alone and forgotten, as if somehow our rotting bodies will be filled with regret as they decay. What we really draw meaning from are the things that make the moment we inhabit meaningul.
Imagine your life as walking on a clay road, one that can only stretch so far into the past, the future, and now. To spend to much time clinging to what's behind you will make it impossible to reach your future. To spread it to far ahead will make you lose your footing and plummet to a chasm of uncertainty below you.
But what if we were to take that clay, and instead of spreading it around us, we use it to sculpt the space we were standing in? Wouldn't we have gained a stronger footing, have more ability to appreciate and create the moment that's around us? There is a past and a future, but there's little we can do to harness them productively. It's only the current moment that we can build upon, and it's only the current moment that you'll find any kind of meaning. To assume that there's more to it than that...I don't know. If there is, you won't be around to see it anyway.
Ambition is just the will to recognize that you can move forward. It isn't the assumption that you've mastered life; if you had, what would be the point in trying? You'll fail and it won't matter. If you want to find meaning in life, you have to take part, and embrace what you're doing instead of how well you're doing it. If there is any improvement to be made, it will only be discoverable through the moments in the future where you're present, which doesn't do you a lot of good to harp on right now, does it?
Yes, this is more of the same 'it's not the destination, it's the journey' kind of tripe, I suppose. I may take it so far as to suggest that there is no journey, because that suggests that you're going to end up somewhere. As anyone who's tried to achieve a passionate goal can tell you, there is no end to what inspires you. There are only more layers to peel back and explore. So find what it is you want to do with your life, darling, and start small.
Happy New Years! Got resolution?
So let’s say you do, a shiny new goal. Something you’re going to do this year. Something that’s going to put all the other years before it in a box that you can donate to Goodwill, where someone can relive your gently used, hand me down piece of shit year, while pretending they’re not bothered by the weird stains.
That metaphor was clunky and unworkable, but, just like any undertaking, I committed to it through to the bloody end.
You have something new, something you can only get once a year, a whole new calendar year to make a change. Because no other arbitrary date followed by 365 consecutive days is recognized as a legitimate way to achieve a goal in our culture. That’s okay, you’re on the boat now! You’re going to be a better person! What are you going to do, learn a new language, eat more muffins, become president of Nanking?
Well, I have some bad news, you’ll probably fail.
The problem with new years resolutions, no matter what they are, is that there is no difference between who we were before the binge drinking and after. Once the hangover wears off, we still tend to be insecure, assholes we were last year, distracting ourselves in every way possible in hopes that we won’t actually have to do anything, and therefore, we’ll never fail. Why do we do this? I don’t know, but I bet someone in science has a study about it somewhere. Arguably it’s not the fear of failure, it’s the fear of change, because any major change, be it learning something new or changing you physical appearance for better or worse, is a change, and once you change, your circumstances must as well.
But maybe my cynicism hasn’t scared you off. So here’s what I know about resolutions.
There are only two pieces of advice to achieving any goal, making resolutions a reality: One is that you have to do it, the second is that you have to sacrifice something else.
The truth behind becoming, learning or doing anything is that you have to start doing it and continue. This piece of advice has been frustrating to many a travel-hungry college student who is jaded to the idea of massive student loans and losing prospective jobs because backpacking through Europe isn’t the greatest way to market yourself on LinkedIn. Often times when famous people are asked how they got where they are, it’s an ambiguous and unhelpful answer something to the effect of “I just did it.”
They are then sued by Nike for royalties.
Anyway, we usually chalk up other people’s success to knowing people. Because that’s the only way to get ahead in the world, is by knowing the right people. Because it’s bad, in our mind, to have to be socially adept in a field full of people passionate about the same thing you’re passionate about. That bizarre social anomaly aside, think of it this way; those ‘right people’ saw these successful people doing what they loved. They kept playing music, juggling swords, whatever, and they did it wherever they went. In doing so, they eventually came across people that enjoyed doing this too. By alienating people that have common interests because ‘knowing people is selling out’, you’ve doomed yourself to obscurity. But by learning from people who have the same interests and putting for the effort to meet other people, you might wind up as one of those fancy pants famous people.
The second part, which is probably why the first part is so difficult, is that you have to sacrifice something, usually a few things, in order to get your goal done. We love seeing polymaths on TV, people who speaking multiple languages with two degrees and a martial arts expertise, but the reality is, in order to master anything, you need to dedicate a lot of time. Time that you normally spend doing other things, walking your dog, having friends, eating muffins; that will all be filtered into the goal you created for yourself.
It’s not enough to just paint for a few minutes every day. You need to finish paintings every day. People will accuse you of being reclusive as you perfect your craft. Your circle of friends will change drastically as you slowly lose your ability to keep track of what’s happening on Game of Thrones because you’re still doing that same shit. Success is repetitive and requires more than a montage to pull off, so you’re required to put in more than the length of an 80s power ballad.
I’m not really sure why I’m shilling any advice by the way. I’m a pretty average person. I go to college and I work, pursue the things I think I enjoy and live relatively quietly. It makes sense for people like Rockerfeller to write books about fortune; but in this era I have an opinion and a domain name. Maybe my advice isn’t as well founded as someone with a PhD, but I am, for all intents and purposes, happy, and one thing that’s helped me accomplish that is a drive to finish things, like this article, even though I’m very sleepy, and I kind of half assed this because I really do want that muffin. We all have a piece of the puzzle, to grab a cliche from the basket that's supposed to have muffins in it, and maybe this wisdom of mine may help you. Who knows, maybe you have the muffins.
If you’re for some reason curious, writing this and hopefully other, better and insightful articles is one of my resolutions this year. That and to become more indifferent to muffins.
God Help me.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.