Ah the blank page…
There was a great post over on imgur some months ago about taking your anxiety and negative self-talk and assigning it an identity:
“God dammit. I’m not worth anything. It’s amazing I even have the energy to get up in the morning.”
“Ah, that’s just Steve. Steve’s a dick that lives in my head. Fuck Steve.”
It was a screen shot of a tumblr post (because of course it was) and the comment thread of people emphatically agreeing with the technique, either through personal experience or the sense of how it “rings true.”
Since the movie Inside Out came out it hasn’t been so alien an idea. But I have to agree with the tumblristas that actually using it as a tool to help mitigate your own internal processes, instead of just “tossing all your thoughts in a hopper” seems like something that would be tremendously useful.
The last quarter of Think and Grow Rich has a similar tenor. Hill talks about how he would imagine a group of people in his head, historical figures if I remember correctly, and just run his imagination through sitting with these people, his council to talk through ideas. While lauding the initial success he also adds that these characters became imbued with their own identities that he…didn’t foresee or particularly plan for, behavioral and personality ticks.
Most astonishingly, he talks about abandoning the practice because, not to put too fine a point on it, freaked him the fuck out. He felt these little personae he’d created in his head had taken on such a life of their own that they existed independent of his conscious imaginings.
I imagine that would create an incredible crisis of identity. It’s no wonder he’d back away from it.
Give Think and Grow Rich a good reread. “We become what we think about.” Usually the most lauded encapsulation of Napoleon Hill’s wisdom from that seminal work is not NEARLY his greatest insight.
We’ve powers we can’t even imagine right at our fingertips, there to be harnessed at will if we have the Will and courage to diverge from the straight and narrow path of consensual normalcy. Now, too many people will take that incorrectly as a statement declaring the relative nature of reality. That’s a bunch of crap. I mean a divergence from the normal pseudo Newtonian mechanics of day to day living that we’ve all more or less agreed to.
It’s terrifying what we can accomplish if we’re truly of a mind to. It MAY be glorious. But it’s at least terrifying.
I’m not sure if that’s going to come back in this little blurt. But they’re pieces of a puzzle on the topic.
If you’ve read the last three of these you get some sense of how I’ve been fighting with my anxiety and neuroticism. I simply must get a handle on it in order to continue living. That’s it. Non-negotiable.
A bit under three years ago I went to Denver to the first Feast of War held by Ivan Throne, where I had the great pleasure to meet the future Lord of Mars, Mr. Swift, and Alexander Cortes.
If you ever get a chance to meet any of those three Men, do it. At the risk of sounding like this is going to sound, being in a room with them for a few minutes will change your life.
At one point Ivan asked the assembled table of men, about…10 I think, “Why are you here?”
I’d followed Ivan on twitter for the better part of a year by then, had started (but not finished) Nine Laws. (Read it. It’s exceptional: https://www.amazon.com/Nine-Laws-Ivan-Throne-ebook/dp/B01LZ2FEGO/.) When it came around to me, feeling cheeky I said “I’m here to see if you’re full of shit. The fact that Alexander is here as well is a bonus because I wanted to see if he was full of shit.”
I got a raised eyebrow for my mouth and replied “It was obvious immediately upon meeting you.” Which was absolutely true.
The conversation continued and, while fuzzy, Ivan said something about “fulfilling your sacred purpose.” And again I couldn’t keep to myself.
“I envy that. But I don’t understand it at all. I don’t HAVE a sacred purpose. I don’t understand where it comes from.” And I admittedly, quite rudely, hijacked the conversation into that topic for…a half hour, trying to figure out if they had something. In retrospect I was looking for a silver bullet and hoping they had it, while knowing really that they didn’t. But they did try to get out of me a statement of what really mattered to me.
Alexander at one point, sitting two to my right, picked up a butter knife and said “If I came over there with this knife and killed you, what would be your last thought?” Again I said something deflective, with Mr. Swift called me out on, all to the good.
I don’t think anyone can answer that question until they’ve been in the situation. Until you truly face down death you can’t know what your answer would be. Humans are uniquely good at lying to themselves, creating their own stories to cover for the uncomfortable reality of their lives.
I’m not all that proud of my conduct that evening. But I’ve kinda gotten over it. It was what I could manage at the level I was operating on back then.
So the questions remained. It really took Jordan Peterson to hand me the mirror I’d been looking for, being exposed to Big Five theory had the same effect as learning about survivor guilt a few months after 9/11, “Oh, THAT’S what that is. Okay well at least I can cordon it off as a thing I know about myself.” Though unlike surivior guilt, the understanding of being “high neurotic” did backfire a bit on the way towards clarity. It became a bit of a crutch. “Oh well, I guess this is what I am” and such.
Well I was wandering around my house this morning whining to myself, yelling “Shut up Steve” and chuckling to myself, trying to find my way out of that mess for what is probably the several thousandth time, getting more and more frustrated with the same intellectual arguments, feeling like I was trying to pull a cruise ship off course by treading water with a rope.
I got fed up and said “GOD DAMMIT! I JUST WANT TO CREATE BEAUTIFUL THINGS!”
And the world stopped.
God dammit. I just want to create beautiful things.
It was so simple. It’s always been true.
With an absence of purpose bordering on nihilism, the truth of beauty stands out as its own reward.
It helps explain the diffuse nature of my interests.
The thing about writing software, which is arguably the thing I’m best at, is that no matter how subtle and beautiful your ideas and code can get, it’s still “just engineering.” Even at its height.
When you look at the work of the greats there’s an elegance to it that’s absolutely impossible to ignore if you’ve got the barest sense of what’s going on.
That beauty isn’t accessible to the outside world. It’s not visible even to the users of the application, only to other engineers.
Sure, that may be enough to the majority of programmers (and it may not. I don’t know. I’m not “most” anything.)
That’s not good enough. I love writing software. I expect I always will.
That’s why I was drawn so strongly to the Struthless video mentioned in the first post in this series. “Do one thing every day that pulls in a single direction and you’ll lift yourself out of the morass and confusion of undirected flailing about.” It’s a perfect sentiment and rang true with me.
The problem is I didn’t really have a clear statement in my head about what I was shooting for.
So I proclaimed “I’ll write a page of fiction a day” and “I’ll do one simple drawing a day” because, well, they seemed like things I’ve always wanted to do.
Last Wednesday I’d gotten myself so torn up in knots about what to write (though, perhaps ironically, not what to draw) that I said “screw it. I’m taking a day off.” Well, it’s been a week. And while I felt guilty about breaking the promise I’d made to myself for a bit, I…got over it. In fact I got over it really fast.
It was tough to forgive myself for it. But this whole “egg beater in my brain” thing has to fucking stop. I have to get a handle on it to continue living. I’m high fooking neurotic on the best of days but now that I’m “nominally retired” and have no reason to get up it’s gotten worse not better. Add to that the dumpster fire of this year and I’m nearly surprised I’ve literally lived through this much of this year.
No no, I’m not that selfish. I defeated that demon about 35 years ago (not that the outcome of that battle was so foregone a conclusion.) There’s just no way to talk about it without cranking the nomenclature up to 11.
There’s a lot more I have to cull from my list of casual pursuits: Infosec stuff has to go. I’m not a hacker. I’ve never been a hacker. I’m never gonna be a hacker. And there are a couple more in there. Brewing, like I said, has already gone as a serious pursuit.
Baking is a bit rough since I’m trying to keep the carbs down. But I can be satisfied staying down at dilletante level, baking for friends and holidays. Baking sourdough now and again to keep my chops up to something reasonable.
The long and the short of this is that I have some exploring to do. Being uncommitted because you’re just a fucking scatterbrained neurotic is one thing. Active exploration of media is something else.
I’ve got a few ideas in my head and I think there’s room to try a lot of these things out without diluting myself overmuch. I’m not going to speak to it all too much, if at all. There are a few projects I’ve really wanted to complete
After all, that’s what this year was supposed to be about, finding out what I really wanted to do.
“This year” has five days left.