Modern Myths

Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the modernisation of the classical myths. The largest single force driving this movement is obviously the enormous success currently being enjoyed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the crossover between that material and classical mythology. However, around the periphery of this there are a number of far more interesting ‘goings on’.  We are seeing a far more proliferated movement to recapture, retell and update the ancient myths to suit our modern needs and sensibilities. It is this phenomenon of updating these texts that interests me most – certainly from the perspective of myths as living stories that evolve with each retelling and further through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s work in the space between psychology and mythology.

The classical myths have always seemed to fascinate us. From almost endless republication in one compendium or another to the more modern ‘Hollywood reboot cycle’  popular culture has never seemed to lose touch with the Greek, Norse or Arthurian mythologies. It does seem however, that as time marches endlessly onwards that we grow more open as a society to slight alterations and changes to the classic works. The initial spate of mythological films in Hollywood was far more interested in straight adaptation and imitation, rather than interpretation of the source material. Think of things like the Biblical Classics or even Ben Hur, Cleopatra or Clash of the Titans. Now clearly these films were wildly successful at the time of their initial release and for a plethora of reasons are remembered as classic films. But we simply do not see these types of straight adaptations appear in our media anymore.  Instead of wishing solely to bring the old stories to life as they were written it seems we have begun to fully engage in the process by which these myths were created and add to and reinterpret them.

Myths have never been a single fixed quantity in the way we understand a movie or a novel to be. This is widely attributed to the majority of myths initially finding their ‘homes’ in the oral tradition, rather than being committed to the ages in the form of words. By the time the populace was advanced enough to bother writing down stories and myths there were already far too many variations of any one myth or character to claim any type of totality and completeness over one version.  Each individual author or collector of stories could choose which previous tales were cannon and which of the characters traits were going to be accentuated in their own version of the narrative and as such held a radical power to re-imagine each induvial player in mythology. This then created a feedback loop – informing future tellings of the story. It is this very same process that we find ourselves currently engaged in. The MCUs Thor is not somehow separated from the Thor of the Poetic or Prose Edda, but rather the exact same being as the ancient Thor. More disturbingly the Thor in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is the eventual fate of the Thor in his Norse Mythology compendium. The truly fascinating part of this phenomenon is the rate at which we can see iterations on our characters. When there is a major Hollywood instalment into the MCU multiple times a year, many featuring these mythological beings. We get to see many directors make changes to our public ‘cannon’ of these figures in real time over only a few short years, rather than the decades or centuries it took ancient storytellers to recast characters in their times.

Bearing all of this in mind I am drawn inexorably towards the works of Joseph Campbell – Both ‘The Hero of a Thousand Faces’ and ‘The Power of Myth’.

Campbell talks about the requirement for myths to supplement and support religion in order to stabilise the Psyche of the collective and individual consciousness. To replace lost understandings of rituals that the modern age has forgotten or left behind. Perhaps this resurgence of myths and myth telling after nearly 60 years is due to the increase in religious and philosophical turmoil. People retreating into fundamental needs for community, safety and love. Certainly, there is no small degree of appeal in this reading of the current political and cultural zeitgeist for me. To think that in a deep seated fashion our entire cultural machine ‘knows’ that we need this return to the origin of storytelling. It is the seemingly unconscious and disparate nature of this movement that lends this reading veracity in my mind. Over the last two decades independent authors and studios have seemingly without collusion or correspondence independently turned the cultural production engines to reworking, updating and reinvigorating the classic myths just as Campbell has argued was and is necessary.

In my last blog I talked extensively in terms of Apollonian and Dionysian models of masculinity these frames of reference themselves are drawn from a classicist reading of mythological personae. Initially outlined in the works of Nietzsche these archetypes have been used throughout modern philosophy as a short hand for entire swathes of human being and experience.  These terms have also been used in artistic analysis; and in that capacity they were almost completely divorced from their parent deities. However, the innate and irreducible nature of their mythological fathers abided deep within them and has now begun to seep out and assert itself once more. If there was ever an argument for the continued importance and relevance of mythology to our lives this certainly is it.

I continue to be fascinated by the realisation that we have never truly abandoned mythology – it has moved, shifted and grown with us as a species being reimagined and reinvented to suit out needs. It feels as if we are witnessing the early phases of the next change in our conceptualisation and use of mythology as a culture and I simply cannot overstate how awestruck I am at the raw humanistic power of these stories to abide and morph to fit our sociological and psychological needs as we advance as a species.

 

 

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Problems in a Galaxy Far Far Away… Gallifrey!

Toxic masculinity is a concept that has been gaining increasing attention over the last few years in pop culture analysis and political commentary. With the rise in global illiberalism reaching record highs in the form of BREXIT and President Trump, the issue of Toxic masculinity seems rather central to understanding the current state of things.

Our world is currently suffering under the weight of too many men and boys having been raised to strictly follow the Apollonian virtues, and consequently an Apollonian model of masculinity. We have raised these men to seek might, and conquer every challenge that stands before them through strength, grit and determination. These ideals leave no room for men to express their emotions, no room for men to quietly contemplate how they might develop themselves more fully.  Conversely, we have routinely mocked the Dionysian man. More specifically, mocked him as a role model for the masses. We accept that some fringe, artistic and dangerous men that transgress social and gender norms bring us fantastic art and music. But we do not allow them into positions of power or true authority in our cultures. These men are too weak, too effeminate in their connection with the ‘softer’ virtues to be trusted to do what is right and ‘necessary’ should the time come. We can see this worrying trend reflected in much of our modern pop culture. We have far too few silver screen mainstays that express anything resembling a balance between these two virtue sets. We have not allowed any semblance of synthesis in these models of masculinity to be included in the collective consciousness of generations of boys and men. This is where Poe Dameron and The Doctor come in as representatives on this issue in the current pop culture zeitgeist.

The fan backlash at the most recent Star Wars film should not be news to the majority of you. At the time of writing there is a 40 per cent gulf in review scores (90 – 50 per cent) between critics and fans respectively. Similarly, when Jodie Whittaker was revealed as the 13th Doctor there was significant backlash from elements of the Doctor Who fan base. This unrest over The Doctor’s new-found femininity has reared its head once more following the recent Christmas Special. In both instances gender and diversity issues were key talking points on both sides of the debate. This isn’t the work of those much maligned MRAs or regressive men needing to hold onto patriarchal dominance of the media (ok well it might be in some cases – but here is one argument from a different perspective). It is a symptom of a much larger and much more sympathetic issue about men and masculinity in contemporary media.

One of the key features of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ that ‘right wing’ fans have condemned is the ‘continual’ humiliation of Poe Dameron. Every time Poe tries to take action, he is shown not only to be wrong, but often he makes matters worse through his attempts to ‘go in half-cocked’. Now fans have said that this represents a gender equality conspiracy, one set to destroy the traditional male ‘action-hero’ archetype and render him useless. Further, the same fans argue that destroying this particular vision of the male empowerment fantasy betrays the Star Wars brand. However, I would contend that it is a valiant attempt by director Rian Johnson to highlight the need for his Apollonian poster boy to learn the softer and more deferent virtues of the Dionysian man. It is worth noting that by the end of the film Poe has begun to see this himself. Towards the end of the third act, Poe is offered an opportunity to seize a decisive victory by a true male hero, another character similarly rounded through experience and defeat, if he is willing to recognise what he needs to do and to act against his ‘guns blazing’ instinct. This is an important step forward in our portrayals of masculinity as Star Wars is not only a mega-blockbuster film that acknowledges the value of the Dionysian virtues, but also a film that demonstrates that these virtues are best utilised in harmonious conjunction with the Apollonian virtues.

All of this however, has been learned before by another Sci-fi legend, The Doctor. Since the return of Doctor Who to television in 2005, the character has grown an enormous amount. We have borne witness to the Doctor in his most heroic Apollonian moments (think Burning Galifrey to save time) and we have seen the character come to personify charm, creativity and heart (think setting up an alternate universe version of himself just to love Rose). All of this, and a wonderful rainbow of shades in between, have blessed the successive series of The Doctor’s modern run. This is why it stings so much to see young boys lose such an important touchstone in their development. This is not to say people cannot have role models outside their own, race, gender, or religion – it merely acknowledges the well accepted fact that we identify far better with people who more closely resemble ourselves across all of these axes.  We have only just begun to see Hollywood accept the need to show more balanced male role models. To then lose The Doctor, the best example of this from within our contemporary pop culture, is most certainly a blow to the movement that calls not for additional male role models for men and boys, but rather cries out for better quality male role models is certainly a significant blow.

In 1994 the Australian Psychologist Stephen Biddulph published a book simply called ‘Manhood’.  This book was largely aimed at translating the works of Robert Bly into an Australian bloke’s context through Biddulph’s own work and experience as a psychologist. In ‘Manhood’, Biddulph talks extensively about fathering, and more explicitly the increasing phenomenon of under-fathering in young men and boys, focusing on the impact that this has on their development throughout their lives.  One of the key messages raised by Biddulph, is that young men and boys need ‘strong well-rounded male role models’ in order to flourish as complete and whole human beings. Biddulph acknowledges the integral role of mothers and female role models (teachers, aunts E.T.C.) in shaping and influencing male children, but ascribes the central role in the development of these male children to father figure/s.  In the terms of this argument it seems evident to me that Biddulph is calling for balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in raising young boys and men. This is as true now as it was when he originally published ‘Manhood’, perhaps even more so.

The reactions held by the right-wing fan base to both the Star Wars and Doctor Who franchises contribute significantly to the destructive way in which we view male role models. If we do not take significant and immediate steps to rectify this imbalance we risk irreparably damaging another generation of young men through reckless and one-dimensional portrayals of masculinity in pop culture. This argument is not always articulated well, or even articulated at all, however when it is, and when it is expressed properly with respect and thought it can be the spark that lights the fire of change.

#NEWYEARNEWME

So, as we ring in 2018, I wanted to pause for a moment and reflect on the newest face of the New Year’s resolution – #newyearnewme (#NYNM). This #NYNM is likely already in your ‘most maligned bullshit of 2018’ mental pigeon hole and fairly rightly so… Only the most ‘Basic’ of humans use such a trite and saccharine method to express their deep and heartfelt desire to change, surely. But here is the rub – we all have that low and persistent desire to grow and learn and be better today than we were yesterday.

We all have that feeling, in the deepest darkest recesses of our mind that we aren’t quite as good as we could be. It is why the concept of the New Year’s resolution is so instantly accessible to most of us. Why then does this not translate well into the social media sphere? Why does #NYNM fail so completely to elicit an empathetic response in the broader social consciousness? This cognitive dissonance has been gnawing at the back of my mind for the last few days and refuses to leave.

I was thinking on this and initially I wanted to dismiss all of the #NYNM ‘resolutioners’ as being ‘weak’ for needing prompting to bring about change in their lives. I wanted to solve this problem easily by criticising them for needing the death of a year and the birth of a new one to rouse them from their complacency. But when I really examined this premise I was forced to face facts, that I too had been subject to similar apathy and sloth when faced with the requirement for my own change.

When I was depressed and obese it had been the gift of an original FitBit Flex (for Christmas) that had finally awakened within me the knowledge and desire to bring about the physical and mental changes that largely defined my life.

I have been forced to accept that the #NYNM movement and I shared similar levels of external influence in initiating our respective evolutions. That wasn’t an easy realisation to swallow, knowing that I could never again earnestly enjoy a meme of Arnie looking despairingly over a packed gym and decrying the unwashed masses of #NYNM ‘resolutioners’. But it is the right standpoint to view this issue from – for better or for worse, very few of us manage to successfully self-initiate change of a lasting nature. It is almost always the words, or gifts of a friend or family member, a new financial or domestic situation that really get our respective ‘balls’ rolling.

As enlightening and challenging as this personal realisation was – it still didn’t get to the bottom of the #NYNM problem – except in secret it had.  When I really sat down to examine the problem it hit, square in the face. #NYNM is an impossibility. My personal changes had been improvements, rectifications of deficiencies and similar, not ‘evolutions’ not a replacement of the old ‘Me’ with some new and improved ‘Me’.

#NYNM it is not something I think anyone really honestly wants, or is capable of. The traditional New Year’s resolution has been about changing one or two minor aspects of one’s life in order to live a better more complete happy existence. Conversely, the immediate connotation of #NYNM is that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “New Me – completely different from old me, old me is horrible and childish and completely bleh!!!!”. The idea that once you have come to such an epiphany that you could completely divorce yourself from ‘old you’ in order to achieve #NYNM is entirely without merit. More disturbingly, it shows signs of the invasion capitalistic ideals into our deepest personal spheres.

Now that was an alarming paragraph, let me explain.

The idea that we would ever want to completely do away with the entirety of our being in order to be reborn – a glorious phoenix arising from the ashes of our own demise – is truly preposterous. Anyone capable of such a thought is clearly a mostly rational actor and more than likely has a concept of self and identity through time. The idea that one could ever meaningfully engage with the concept of a philosophical ‘death’ in order to initiate change simply flies 180 degrees in the face of reason.

The contrast between the more traditional resolution mindset and the emerging trend of #NYNM shows that the cultural zeitgeist has begun to more fully adopt a mindset of disposability. Rather than taking a slow, deliberate, painful and honest assessment of our personal shortcomings, flaws and insecurities in order to engage in an equally slow, deliberate and painful program on self-betterment. We would much rather just throw out old damaged ‘IPhone 7s’ me and switch to new amazing and awesome ‘IPhone X’ me.

It is the growing influence of capitalist culture that has begot this change. This idea that the new year gives us an ‘out’ to throw away our concept of self and begin entirely anew, much as we would our smartphones, fundamentally ignores the fact that in order to feel true satisfaction in life we need to better ourselves. To iterate rather than replace, to grow rather than upgrade. More shockingly this the #NYNM idea seems to posit this theory of replacement without ever truly engaging with the harsh reality that we are building our new identity out of the same material we always have – the only material we can, to older ‘versions’ of ourselves. Without ever acknowledging that the IPhone X is really just an iteration rather than a revolution.

So, dearest readers, I implore you. Please when you see someone touting a #NYNM attitude, or god forbid an actual #, please show them some humanity and respect. Don’t just mock them in the privacy of your own home, chortling heartily at their ‘basic’ nature. Show them that what they are truly aiming at is self-improvement, not self-replacement.

Interrogations

So, over the course of the last year, whilst I have not been writing, I have not let my mind sit and go to mush. I have been devouring books. In multiple formats; both traditional, bound, fare and also audiobooks. Between the two media I have racked up in excess of 40 titles during 2017.

I’m a little proud of myself – my goal for the year was half that number.

These titles have ranged from Game of Thrones novels through to Guy DeBord and Stephan Molynuex and I am incredibly pleased with the intellectual results of this meandering. It has allowed me to develop in ways that I would not have thought possible 12 months ago. To critically analyse ideas and arguments in a manner in which I had not previously in my life.

When I was younger I was a prolific reader – primarily of pulp and high fantasy, Eddings, King, Jordan etc. This habit seemed to drop off during university as my reading became thoroughly directed towards my study – video games seemed a far more appealing abnegation activity after hours of reading heavy history textbooks. This is the first year since I started my very first tertiary qualification that I have found reading for fun to truly call to me again.

It is from this vantage that I have spied a particularly troubling phenomenon. Now I certainly will not claim to be alone or even early in this observation.  However, it has troubled me in increasing amounts as the year has progressed to see that those who I would consider intellectual peers are far less interested in diversifying their scholastic intake as they are with shoring up their ideological holdfasts’.

To expand – Earlier this year I mentioned to a work colleague – who until this time I had thought very highly of. This colleague had certainly impressed me with their ability to hold a conversation on just about every progressive subject matter – up to and including some of the more far out nutbaggy global conspiracy trains of thought – Rothschild dominance and all that. I was shocked, however, when I mentioned to this colleague that I was ½ way through Milo Yiannopoluos’ ‘Dangerous’ to be immediately inundated with pressure to explain why I had helped finance a hate campaign.

I tried to explain that rather than react to media pundit interpretations of Milo’s writings I was keen to interrogate the subject first hand in order to circumvent bias. Having been thoroughly convinced of the media bias in my country by the shameful reaction we have had to Cassie Jaye’s ‘The Red Pill’. This colleague waxed lyrical for nearly a full 10 minutes about the various logical fallacies in Milo’s work and the many ways in which he was entirely unworthy of my patronage of his literary endeavours. When I pushed this colleague as to how they were so knowledgeable about Milo’s positions and writings they began to reference several 2nd and 3rrd hand sources of response to the material.

This was the moment that my internal alarm bells kicked into high gear.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident across this year. Sadly it was not. Several members of my intellectual exchange communities have taken great pains to ignore and implore others to ignore large swathes of the emerging fields of argument, particularly in the conservative cultural analysis space. It seems that the echo chamber effect that has been oft discussed has begun to migrate from being solely the province of the anti-intellectual class within this country and take disturbing and fascinating route within the intellectual class as well.

I cannot begin to express how scared this makes me.

Whilst I cannot claim to be well and proper OG in my antipathy for this particular issue – having spent far too many hours of the last decade blissfully connected to the hypereality of the MMORPG sphere to feel at all secure or legitimate in such a position. I can certainly say that this last year has done a very great deal to convince me that I was right to make the swap from comfortable and safe intellectual wandering to ‘transgressive’ and ‘problematic’ inquiry.

We as a society need to spend more time focusing on ideas and arguments that challenge us in real and meaningful ways. Rather than allowing ourselves to apathetically seek out news sources and public intellectuals that reflect and shape our opinions and perceptions along lines we have already set for ourselves.

We don’t all need to – by virtue of literary patronage – finance right wing nutbags touring our country and inciting civil unrest – but certainly we do need to spend time engaging personally and legitimately with all of the legitimate arguments that are being presented to us. Failure to do so will leave us as out of touch with the reality of the intellectual space that we inhabit as the Tsars of Russia in 1913.

We need to allow ourselves to be made uncomfortable by the ideas and premises of those who we wish to debate and convince. We need to allow space in our personal echo chambers for dissent and synthesis through this dissent into a greater intellectual understating of the true reality that we all inhabit.

So this is my challenge to the few of you that are still here after all of that. Go out and read, read widely and read politically. Read left and read right. Engage honestly and completely with both sides of this space. Because we are living at the edge of history in this country, things are changing in ways and through means that we have never experienced as a society or as a race. It is at this critical juncture that we have  people of robust and thorough intellectual grounding to help round out the public discourse that we are exposing the masses to.

Do not be cowed by the dissenting voices and remember always the famous Aquinian quote, “Hominem Unius Libri Timed” …..

“I fear the man of a single book”

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.