Vignettes Of Memory.

So this is a bit of a different one – well not all that different, in that it is an analysis of how a media piece has made me think/ affected my thinking – but it is the first foray we have had on this blog into my love of musical theatre. So I by no means count myself as an officionado of musical theatre but i certainly enjoy the atmosphere of a well staged musical and the things that the medium iOS specifically designed to be good at capturing – I.E. The very visceral styles of human emotion or bombastic larger than life characature of drama. 

One of the musicals I have come to later in life is Jason Robert Brown’s ‘The Last 5 Years’. I really do adore this piece for a great many aesthetic reasons. I love the choice to never have the two leads appear on stage together, I love the musical callbacks to some of theatre’s greatest hits in the composition, I love the self referential humour and the Tarantinoesque timeline. The thing I love most of all however is the really beautiful way the Musical invites us to think about the nature of memory and time. 

The presentation scene to scene of the musical alternates between the lead character’s perspectives. This from a structural standpoint allows the audience to see both halves of the story and the relationship it details but more importantly it acts as a method for seeing their titular 5 years pass. Magically despite the run time only being about 90-100 minutes it actually feels as if we have lived the whole 5 years with the characters. Both through incredibly clever writing that loops in on itself and shows how the things we love in people can inform the things we hate, or how our strengths are merely the reflections of our weaknesses, it highlights the paradigm of long term memory. We remember long tranches of time as vignettes.

Our moment to moment experience of life is gripping, visceral and totalising but when we remove ourselves and look backwards as the vastness of our own experience it all blends together and only those critical or truly remarkable moments stand out. Moments that become imbued with significance post-facto are brought to the fore and those that lose significance fade into obscurity. This is where ‘The Last 5 Years’ truly shines. It captures this pheminon perfectly. Both in the choice to include highlight moments that are clear in their significance – but also moments that as they occurred or soon thereafter would not likely have been of great importnace to either character and it is the end of the relationship and thus the foreshadowing nature of these moments that makes them important when reflecting back on the time as a whole.

Very few experiences in media feel this human, this alive and this real and it the way that they experience time along with the audience that really brings them to life and makes their pain and their joy palatable. 

When I reflect back over the progress I have made in my life and the mistakes I have made this type of vignette-vision is one of the saving graces of my existence. H.P Lovecraft said that we are only spared from madness by our inability to perceive the whole truth of our situation within the universe. To me this is what our memory is doing with vignette-vision it is bringing into focus only as much information as we need and is pertinent to allow us to learn, grow and move forward with purpose in our lives. 

Time makes fools of us all, remembering it as only as human can is something to be embraced. The fallibility of both our judgement and our memory is a well documented phenomenon and certainly not something that we should become enraged to see portrayed or fearful of. It is human – allow that to bring you comfort and contentment as you take the next step forward in your life – knowing that this too shall pass into vignettes memory to be fogging recalled when it is necessary. 

Heavy Time

So as we age ideas evolve. As we change so to does the way we think. This isn’t a great or retaliatory statement to many, myself included, but I still find myself being surprised by how often it catches me off guard to observe this phenomenon in myself and those around me. It isn’t very often that I get to see such a prefect glimpse of the journeys we take through life so those moments of stark contrast are invaluable for the progress they represent.

So I distinctly recall to formulation of a thought from my younger self – It ran as follows – ‘It must be nearly impossible for the middle aged and elderly to hold their heads up, living with the weight of time seems impossibly daunting’. Now this is fairly indicative of the negative head space younger me was in at the time of formulation – but it stuck with me because it had the air of importance about it. It was only later that I found out the Heidegger’s seminal work was basically dedicated to this concept and that’s why it seemed important.

Younger me already had regrets – could foresee the accumulation of even more regrets as the years washed over and engulfed me and that honestly terrified me. The concept that I would have to carry a whole life of experience on my shoulders simultaneously seemed to be a fate far worse than death. It was at this point I had a tattoo inscribed upon these shoulders – It reads ‘Death is lighter than a feather, Duty heavier than a mountain’. I have always loved that quote because it summed up many many disparate thoughts for me. The concept that time weighed one down and was a heavy duty to bear was one such thought.

Today I happily remove a thought from the list of things that the tattoo means to me.

For a little while now time has seemed less daunting, regrets less scary and the weight of the overall endeavor less overwhelming. It struck me fully today that taking control of and responsibility for ones life makes one infinitely more able to deal with the weight of time. It renders time not only weightless but a strengthening and fulfilling force. Taking control and responsibility turns endeavors that would otherwise have ended in regret into valuable lessons for continues existence.

It seems foolish that it has taken me this long to realign my thinking with this more positive outlook on the world – but the liberation is palpable. The ability to see those more challenging moments in my life not as weights to be carried or let to drag me down but ways of increasing my integrity, strength and character is honestly life changing.

Of course this was a slightly slower than instantaneous revelation it is one that has built over the last year or so, the last year of internalizing more positive readings of existentialist material and a trend towards contemporary positivism. So I am not suggesting that by thinking in this manner will solve all the worlds problems overnight. I just wanted to share with you a shining new point of hope on my personal horizon – I hope it can ease your heavy time the way it has mine.

 

#Fit

So I take horrible photos, I always have and I always will. It is a law as old as the universe as far as I am concerned. I just cannot seem to look good on demand, some might venture at all but they’re jerks, and largely I’ve accepted that. The rise of the smartphone and modern photoculture thus has been rather a challenging experience me. At the tender age of 23 my reluctance to be photographed or engage in the old Snapchat made me feel rather prehistoric.

Then someone came into my life who would sow the seeds of change for me on this topic. A girlfriend who tried daily to convince me that I needed to love myself more. I thought this was stupid at the time. I thought that my method of ignoring a problem and brutalistically forcing myself to ‘be stronger than my fears’ was enough to be a healthy member of society. But this modern trend showed me a small slice of how and why I was wrong.

This girl wasn’t a show off nor was she so much a digital native as to be inseparable from social media or her electronic devices. She was just more comfortable in her herself than I was. She still felt self-conscious about her body but she didn’t let that hold her back or create negative self conceptions.

One night, we were out at a law mixing ball with a group of friends. We had both gotten ‘dolled up’ for the event and looked far ‘nicer’ than normal. I had begrudgingly consented to be photographed at the small gathering for pre-drinks before hitting the ball. When we arrived my girlfriend want over to the table and picked up the place card and motioned for me to lean in for a selfie. It was at that point that I delivered the second most scathing rant of our relationship. I told her that it was entirely inappropriate to take such a photo and staunchly refused to be a part of it.

I was had let my fear and self-hatred hurt someone special.

I said sorry several times over the following months but never really relented in my opinion of photo culture. Some time later i started my adventure as an amateur bodybuilder. I knew friends who posted a daily selfie to Instagram as a way of ensuring they were accountable for their gym attendance. With serious reservations I began posting to Instagram daily. Selfies once every 3 days and always with sardonic jokes about the self indulgence of it all.

Over time however I began to confront my fears of the selfie and of seeing myself in photographs. As I ran out of clever ways to hide my fear behind humor I was forced to examine myself in a way I had been invited to by my ,now ex, girlfriend. I found that when all had been said and done she had been right.

I had hated selfies and photos because I had held onto so much self loathing. The process of normalizing the photos of making myself accountable through them had forced me to see that it wasn’t the medium that wass the problem it was what it was reflecting back at me. the image not of a body that I was not happy with but a self that I couldn’t stand to be.

It was then that my daily post balance started to shift more towards images of me.

It was that day that I made a commitment to not only take daily steps towards making my body better but to making myself better and taking the time to acknowledge that whilst I wasn’t where I wanted to be yet, that I was working on it. That acknowledgment freed me in a way that I had never been before. I no longer needed to be bigger than my fears, or stronger or more brutal. I could surrender to my own imperfection and still be OK, still be loved because in some small corner of my heart – I had begun to love myself.

Understanding that we are each flawed, imperfect and fundamentally broken humans is the start to realizing that everyone has worth. Everyone is worthy of love. Another thing my ex used to say to me was that I couldn’t possibly love another until I learned to love myself. Similarly I thought she was full of it at the time – but each and every day now I feel my capacity for love growing. I feel myself accepting more and more of the beauty in the imperfections of those around me and I hope in some small way that these words can help you in the way they have helped me. I hope that we might be able to spread just a little more love inwards, and outwards.

Soren and Weekend Anxiety

Soren Kierkegaard – the father of existentialism. Oh how much of my internal life is owed to this man; this legend. So for those of you who aren’t familiar with my mate Soren this about sums him up. Put very very very briefly the key takeaway from Kierkegaard, at least where the existential is concerned, is that anxiety is born from possibility. Kierkegaard took this to a religious place – I have not; but I am still deeply convinced of the aphorism.

So the element in my life that convinces me that Soren was correct about anxiety is weekends as a young single man in the big city. Goddamn – these supposedly idyllic periods between my working weeks are actually the part of my life that bring me the most fear of all. Both the living of them and the inevitable recounting of them to interested or polite enquirers later.

First the living: I have taken a pass on online dating through services like Tinder. I’ve tried them and have just found them lacking, a thought I will expound upon at a later time I am sure. Additionally my professional position as a manager limits my ability to interact after hours with the majority of my colleagues and my remoteness from my youthful stomping ground makes old friends hard to come by.  Thus I am left rather a small pool of friends, many of whom have partner commitments, to pester for social interaction over weekends. Now this may seem lovely to some – and end to distraction and ability to indulge in some personal time – This is nice, sometimes, until you are forced to confront the specter of 2 things. First the societal image of single male existence being this wild party or string of women and second the feeling of loneliness that sets in after the 4th consecutive weekend of ‘the usual routine’ of chores, walking the dog, gym and video games.

Obviously some weekends like this are nice, too much excitement and this post would likely be a whinge in the opposite direction. This is where Kierkegaard comes in: Anxiety about the weekends, for me, is born out of the knowledge that yourself and the world at large expect you to be doing something other than that which you are. Somehow one is expected to maintain hobbies, ‘go out’ and also conduct chores consistently every weekend. If for some reason you cannot there must be something wrong with you, some flaw in your character. If you cannot maintain hobbies, you’re boring or plain, If you can’t find friends to go out with you must be unlikable or ugly if you don’t find time to maintain the house you’re considered lazy or a grot.

It seems, however, that the gold standard weekend is a maddeningly realistic goal, that people willing to deal with the superficial nature of modern dating or somehow with friends and acquaintances who posses consistently open schedules and miraculously complimentary taste in movies and food – always manage to pull off this weekend. Only as someone who has tried I consistently find myself falling short in one aspect or another.

To add insult to anxious injury upon returning to work on Monday morning, frequently and very politely, the first thing I am are asked is “How was the weekend?” at which point I am either forced to lie or admit to my failure to uphold the gold standard of single male weekends or offer a suitable replacement for said standard, such as a trip away or similar.  The evaluation of the story and look of sad or pathetic judgement that is then received from co-workers on the relaying of an uncompelling tale of mundane time alone is the method by which I am forced to internalize the enormity of the failing and convinced of it’s reality as a failure. A failure that is utterly repugnant as it wastes one of 52 precious annual opportunities to demonstrate prowess.

But I do wonder what it would be like to return to the unconscious state of childhood where ones weekend had no greater societal or self-imposed requirements beyond enjoying oneself. This innocence brought on by naive lack of consideration is a bliss not to be overlooked. It is the thought that were one able to reach this blissful state where both oneself and the world at large did not expect every weekend to be spent pursuing the highest echelon of Maslow’s hierarchical prescription of needs one could be free of the crushing anxiety brought on by the sense that there is a right way to spend a weekend.

Kierkegaard suggested that when presented with the enormity of possibility the mind would swoon. Swooning is exactly the emotion I feel when presented with a Friday or Saturday evening alone -I swoon at the thought that I either need to rectify the lonesomeness of that moment or face the judgement of the world and more damningly -myself.

 

 

Indispensable Arts

Modern society, modern neoliberal culture, is killing the arts. Now that is clearly one of those subjective style statements of my opinion, but let me try to convince you.

Probably the first explanation I ever got for the purpose of ‘Art’ came from a senior English teacher – ‘It is the job of the Artist to explore the human condition’. I have always loved this definition, what it lacks in nuance it makes up for in punch and ease of use. I love the concept that we elevate and respect those who dedicate themselves to understanding the complex, baffling and wonderfully insane creatures that we are. unfortunately in modernity there does not seem to be a great calling for those that seek to do this or rather; because we are being sold on the ‘disorders’ and ‘anxieties’ of modern life because it is profitable and easy for those in power to do so – we have failed to see the need for those skilled in helping us understand the normalcy of these conditions. So perhaps it is time for a new definition.

Modern study has a highly technical and specialised focus. Neoliberal capitalism benefits hugely from this as specialisation is the root of profit within a capitalist system.  It is this, fundamentally, that I feel that is driving the modern disdain for the Liberal Arts. Certainly we still seem, as a society, to enjoy the entertainment aspect of the arts – in the form of Movies, Music and Performance but too few people are willing to take the next step and engage with this type of material on a deeper level and dissect, analyse and understand what it has to say about who and what we are at this moment in history. We are too seldom told that understanding the messages contained in these entertainments can help soothe us or help us deal with tough times.

As a manager I deal with the complexity of 60 personalities on a daily basis. I have an Arts degree, with majors in Business and History. During the course of the business major I was afforded the opportunity to take several courses on management yet on a day to day basis I find myself falling back on truths from far older texts than “Managing Across Cultures – A Business Guide”. It is the classics and those contemporary texts that seek to build upon them that I find most useful in unpacking and dealing with the complex problems my people bring to me. Both professional and personal problems seem far easier to understand and take steps towards solving from the humanistic standpoint rather than the managerial or technical standpoint. The more time I spend with a member of my team the more I am likely to find out that this or that workplace disagreement actually stems from an internal rather than external fear, or repression.

It is my experience that we are allowing systems of commerce, systems of government and systems of management to drive us further and further from the meaningful self understanding and self love found in The Arts in the name of technical progress and proficiency. Too many seem to have accepted, blindly, the casualty of Art as a cost of technical proficiency; now I don’t blame anyone for doing this, the lines we are sold to cover the half-truth  are certainly convincing. We are routinely told that those who study Art are unemployable or academically lazy, that it will get you nowhere. I wish to forward the case that in fact some of our most progressive and productive moments are had as a result of reaching a new and deeper understanding of ourselves and others around us.

Perhaps a better way of understanding the purpose of an Arts degree in modern society could be put: “Art is the study of normalising our fears, anxieties and desires. Art is the study of all the things that bring us together and show us that the people around us share with us fundamental hopes, dreams, needs and fears.”. Perhaps if we moved to this understanding of art we would stop feeling so isolated, different and dysfunctional and come to accept the truth that the fears, desires and phobias we feel are common to all humanity.