Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Meta-Letter To Greg

Another reason I started this blog, besides the ostensible reasons, was to collect my thoughts on a particular subject. It's not clear what the particular subject is, something about why I'm pursuing a career in acupuncture and what I think it's all about, or whatever. One of the assigned texts for my first year in school was called Essential Spirituality, it's a 250-odd page book with a thesis that can be summarized thusly: Surveying the world's major religions (which the author selects for us, though no suprises amongst them either), one discovers they have some essential tenets in common. His argument is that you can infer from this how you should approach your spiritual life.

I thought that this book was highly dumb, because a) it should have been about ten pages long, and b) Okay, so one should chill out, treat everybody how one wants to be treated, and get rid of ones material attachments. Sattva enlightenment ensues. That's not so much the question. The question is how you do those things. It's not that this book is without advice on the subject, it's just that the advice looks like this:

Relax. Take deep breaths. Meditate. Empty your mind. Focus on loving kindness for all living things.*

*Offer valid only if you are upper middle class, pretty much don't do anything with your day, and don't have to spend time worrying about anything, such as money, food, a daily commute, buying or selling anything, politics, the environment, religious fundamentalism, the state of the world in general, or coming into contact with anyone who might, say, not want to focus on loving kindness for some reason. Offer not valid in territories, protectorates, the Continental U.S., Europe, Capitalist Nations, Socialist Nations, Communist Nations, or countries or collectives bound by laws or communal social contracts of any kind. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball. Attempting to achieve inner peace may cause passers-by to gawk and small children to poke at you with sticks. In the vast wide history of time, enlightenment has only been achieved by a couple of people sitting under trees three thousand years ago and some dude the Romans ended up nailing to a cross, so good luck with that.

Anyway, I thought: you know what, I could write this book. Only I could write it such that it was, a) actually useful, and b) entertaining enough that people would want to read it. I bring all of this up...(this sentence, or ones like it, now litering the discourse among the Three Weblogs of The Apocolypse)...because of Stonesthrow's last post about doing...stuff...with/in your life. I, too, tend to be an incredibly lazy ass, most of the time. Or that's my perception of myself, and probably everybody feels this way at least some of the time--the sensation that one should be doing 'x', but is not doing 'x', and instead playing solitare on the computer (or maybe that is just me).

One of the theses of this imaginary book I'm at least pretending to write is that I tend to think this phenomenon is some sort of a denial of ones true and essential self. If, for instance, you smoked and really, in the true and essential sense, wanted to quit, you would just do it. I don't mean to say that if you can't quit smoking you're weak-willed or nothing (there is that thing about nicotine being as physically addictive as heroin and all), more that your true and essential self really wants a goddamn cigarette, and that's the thing that needs to be addressed (if I can get a functional way to help quit smoking, or turn off the tv and instead paint your house, based on this idea, then I'll really have something). Greg pretty much sums this up, in the context of writing, when he says, "...I decided that I was just a procrastinating writer, and to suck up and deal, (but) I am perhaps too willingly accepting this."

I've thought about writing some sort of long narrative (many people are just referring to this concept as a 'book' these days) for years, basically since college, and every time I sat down to try it, I found I just couldn't make myself write. I thought for a long time I didn't like writing, but in fact I like writing a lot--e.g. I used to write letters with an obsessive focus. On the other hand, it turns out that I like blogging, it seems to be something I want to do, so I've tricked myself into writing this way. Or, in the above-described model, I've discovered a particular thing about my essential writing-self and I'm trying to work with it.

One can make onesself do things one doesn't really want to do. Sometimes one has to do this, but on the other hand, it sure isn't fun, and one surely is miserable while it's going on. So you: want to quit smoking/can't get yourself to write/don't want to paint the house/get off your ass and make the world a better place/etc. That seems to be step one. Step two is recognizing that an essential part of yourself needs nicotine or doesn't like painting or whatever. It's not that I don't believe in laziness, I believe that laziness is a symptom of trying to make onesself do something one doesn't want to do, or doing it in a way that one doesn't want to do it. I don't have step three formulated yet. I'm working on it though, because goddammit Greg, you've got to quit smoking.


Rebecca said...

how do I write? because it's not always pleasant—I'd say about 10% of the time, tops, it's pleasant.

I think it's similar to the answer to the question: how do you not eat yummy bread or pastries? are you just some sort of superhuman willpower machine?

and the answer to both questions is roughly the same: I force myself to think further ahead than the now. this philosophy can be summed up by the trenchant critique of high/late capitalist society known as: "I want my $60 now" and popularized by, well, only the folks at odds are one, and only really in my personal conversations with them. so perhaps popularize isn't so much the word to use. nonetheless:

in high capitalism we are trained to want our $60 now, or our bagel with cream cheese, or to play solitaire rather than exerting effort to think (not to insult anyone's solitaire strategems here...)

but if you sit down and do the calculations, actually, you do want to send your $60 somewhere else so that it, say, pays for the kid next door to get a good education, or to protect someone's right to shelter or health care or an abortion. you do want to contribute to the welfare of those around you, because if they are happy, your life will be better. immeasurably. it's tough to see that, and it's tough to trust that the folks you're leaving that $60 with will help to make that happen (and sometimes they won't) but it's worth it. sometimes it's just a matter of personal fiscal responsibility--keeping that $60 in the bank or using it to pay off a high-interest loan might be a better move than using it to buy bagels.

likewise, eating that bagel will make the next 5 minutes glorious (assumption here is that it's a bagel from that fab place near Columbia I once had a bagel from with cream cheese thicker than the actual bagel and yummy greasyness penetrating the paper bag in which it was delivered). But then, in about 30 minutes, I'll feel like hell, gross and heavy and bloated. So it's not worth it.

and with writing, it hurts. it's very very hard. anyone who tells you different is lying. but, the first time you push through that cycle of writing something (and the cycle is this: 1. hey, this is a great idea 2. boy this is hard to write 3. this is a crappy idea and I am stupid 4. damn I hate this and myself 5. I've spent too much time on this damn thing to stop now 6. one more rewrite 7. huh, maybe this isn't so bad (but I'm still a hack) 8. I think I'm saying something here 9. this thing rocks) to #9, it really does pay off. and if you've got something to say (a big if, for most of us) then you should try to say it, and the payoff will be grand. there may even be recognition from others, but I've found that's not as cool as the realization that you've just said something, and said something well.

having now procrastinated on my writing by writing this, I will return to the world of Bollywood cinema and the metaphorical Partition. and yes, to Greg, and my sister...quit smoking already!

Transient Gadfly said...

Yeah, I don't know that I'm arguing anything functionally different. On the other hand, taking the long view didn't help me write, and it isn't what made me quit smoking. In the latter case it was certainly always in my head that what I was doing was bad for me, tasted bad, and made me smell gross. On the other hand, I only quit smoking once I started doing yoga. I wanted the latter more than the former, and the former was getting in the way.

Any person looking at me from the outside would say I was taking the long view because: yoga, much better for your long term health than smoking. But my own calculation at the time was pretty much a straight up trade--I liked doing yoga, and when I thought about it I didn't like smoking as much as the breath it was costing me in practice.

What was my point here? I dunno. I don't think you really hate writing. You both do it too damn much.