Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

Category: Musings

Musings: Authenticity

Five, four, three, two, one… let’s visit the emporium.

Are you ready for disjointed ramblings?

Great! Hop on!

We, as humans, wear dozens of masks… I think it is easy to become inundated with the theory that we must please everyone. We are swept up and wrapped in yards of fabric to take the appearances of whoever we believe we are supposed to be. Often, there seems to be a voice lingering over our shoulders, shouting: this is what you need to be. This is what you need to do. No, not there! Look here! Look at how great this fellow is! Look at what they have created– what sort of fool are you? Try to fit in!

Fitting in, in my opinion, can be a very dangerous pursuit. It is easy to discount our own capabilities in an attempt to conform to the various guidelines that we believe we must follow in order to achieve– to achieve what?

Let’s slip backwards for a moment… perhaps one of the most recognized Greek words is arete (αρετη)– probably originating from agathos (αγαθος), ‘good.’ Roughly translated, it means ‘striving for excellence in all pursuits,’ whether mental or physical. Arete is largely an umbrella term, exactly what its definition is depends on present context, for example: according to the ancient greeks, there was a certain sort of arete relegated to women (they were, in most respects, extremely sexist), a different sort assigned to warriors, another assigned to civilians and so on. For the purposes of this rant discussion, I would like to regard arete as a general concept with the loose, aforementioned definition of ‘striving for excellence.’*

There importance of theories such as arete should not be understated; after all,, doing your best is the most important action a human can take. However, I think that the concept of universal excellence can be a problem… let’s look at “well-roundedness.” If you have been involved in any sort of discussion about education, you have probably heard about “keeping all of the doors open” and “offering the best that can be given in order to ensure that all students have equal opportunities in all fields.”

Equal opportunities are extremely important, but that is not today’s topic… I thick the “all fields” and “all doors” parts can be a problem in regard to art and passion. This whole idea of “well-roundedness” seems to emphasize spending equal time on all subjects. Now, while many passionate and creative people throughout history have been proficient in, if not masters of, many things (in fact, it is difficult for me to think of someone who was, or is, not), there is usually one thing that draws us more than the rest– it is this one thing that seeps into us. So it must.

Let us say that we follow this thing as ‘our own’… we defend ourselves against doubt, and we try to stave off fear (even when met with little success).

We, undoubtedly, rely on passion: it should not minimized or ignored for a single moment. And yet, it is easy to turn out attention toward the little voices screaming inside of our heads rather than our own certainty. (D0 I sound like enough of a touchy-feely, topic-jumping help manual yet? Bear with me.) Art without passion can be art-ish, but it is not Art with a capital A. It does not have any substance, it does not breathe or slyly deposit thoughts inside of onlooker’s minds, it does not exist as an entire world– it is flat, like a line that someone draw down the edge of a notebook because they were board, but not because it was needed.

The art that lives inside of our passion is our own (or, at least, I would like to think so). And yet, it is easy to turn out attention toward the little voices screaming inside of our heads rather than our own certainty– societies views are bound to conflict with the art that is ours. Maybe there are a few who can look down the table of contents in a writing manual and check off every box with a “yup, I got that; it’s prefect for my book,” however, I am inclined to believe that such people are a rarity.

Will you forgive another leap?

Lately, I have been trying to read fiction as a writing-person as well as a regular-ol-reader. Recently, my extremely unknowable attempts to analyze the things that catch my attention, I have found that I often dislike the very things that I am certain I “should” like. While this cannot be an entirely bad thing, it is sometimes slightly jarring– especially when you look to your own writing and start picking at it.

Here, we come back to the beginning… fitting in: when we pay too much attention to the things that we are certain ‘should be;’ including the analyzed notes from whatever book we last read, it is easy to kill the passion in our thing (anyone up for making this a technical term?). We become worried about fitting in and so we end up killing our precious art-with-a-capital-A. Its dead weight hangs around our necks.

So, how do we avoid killing our precious thing? My current suggestion is this: we must become so close to our own thing that we will not will not analyze our work so closely that we are determined to “fix it,” and inadvertently suffocate it in the process. Easier said than done, right?

Certainly, we need to pay attention to whatever feelings we have that something is not quite right, as well as whatever advice we receive, but I think we must be selective. Everyone has their own opinion after all. We simply cannot please everyone without some ogre potion, but we can strive for our own, personal, version of arete.

 

*It must be noted that other cultures retain their own versions of arete; usually ‘excellence’ is a one piece of a social or moral code of ideals (for example: consider the Japanese Bushido code).

There is a thorough description of arete here.

Productivity Can be Smaller than You Think

Take #69… no, #74.

I mentioned that I added another rough manuscript to my stack, yes? Finishing a draft usually sends me jumping between projects in a ‘what-do-I-work-on-now’ fog for a few days; it’s like standing in the middle of the sahara at night with your feet sunken in shadow from the lack of a moon. It maybe comfortable for a few hours, but, eventually, anxiety sets in.

Typically, that anxiety is a spiral of unfocused work interspersed with questions about whether or not I am actually getting anything done. It is hard to step back and evaluate our accomplishments. When we do pause and look around, it is often difficult to understand exactly what we are looking at–especially considering the state of the *ahem* world at the moment.

Let’s face it: an extraordinary number of things are happening right now, and a lot of them are processed with intense emotions. I know, I know, how dare I bring politics into this. The point is this: it is easy to be unsettled.

Unsettled-ness can often bring thoughts of ‘oh, what is the point.’ It is difficult to be optimistic when the world is rumbling in our ears; and, often, our perceptions of productivity rely on optimism. Our moods drastically affect the way that we see the world. Which is why the proper side of the bed should be marked in red paint, “put your feet here when you wake.”

(To those who are unsettled, I say: take a breath. Yes, sign your petitions, send your emails- read the news if you must- but, please, do not forget to breathe. No matter what sort of chaos surrounds you, please remember to do something for yourself– even if it is small.

Bake a batch of cookies. Knit the next row of your scarf. Walk around your desk a few times. Now, let the state of the world fade for a moment. Let’s talk about you, and me, and all of the other people out there who are trying to do creative work.)

Productivity is an incredibly important word, but I think it is one that is often skewed. When you are in school, productivity is finishing your homework (perhaps, if you are very organized, you complete it before the due date), but creative work is often not defined by a teacher’s deadlines; it is not something that you do at the last moment because you must. Yes, some people apply the same principles to both, but- unless you have an extremely engaged publisher peeking over your shoulder- creative work is entirely dependent on you.

How do you structure the day? Where are you going to put your attention? You must find your own time and choose how to use it. Time management is an extensive topic that I will attempt to ruminate upon in a separate post but, for now, let’s focus on the aforementioned word.

First of all: How do you define productivity? Currently, I think of it as getting things done. A productive day is one where I have focused on topics that I know will propel me toward the future. It must be noted that that does not necessarily mean that I have accomplished everything on my list, or completely avoided procrastination. Nor is this a perfect definition of productivity, but I think that it is a broad umbrella: we are here to complete the lists sitting in our minds, are we not?

Productivity, I think, must be based off of persistence. Continue on, keep working, no matter how hard it is. Even if you are only able to work in small chunks, you are still moving forward. I urge you to acknowledge the small accomplishments that you make, and warn you not to beat yourself up when your day does not go as planned; especially if the state of the world (let’s shorten it to SOTW in the future, shall we?) is distracting you.

Persistence creates. And so, perhaps, persistence is a much better word than productivity. Let’s be persistent without fear. It is easier said than done… but goblins can be slain and dragons can become best friends.

I believe more posts about persistence are in the future. ‘Till then, a happy late St. Patrick’s day!

Passion is What Holds Us Up

Gentlepoeples, a good morning and welcome to the show. I may have spent *some* time procrastinating by looking up forms of address. It could technically be research. Kinda. Every character needs a good greeting.

Ahem.

Time to get to a topic, eh folks?

We live our lives, however they may be, by each day– it is easy to wonder where our our sides of the world are turning. There is a great philosophy joke in Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein’s Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar:

“A seeker has heard that the wisest guru in all of India lives atop India’s highest mountain. So the seeker treks over hill and Delhi until he reaches the fabled mountain. It’s incredibly steep, and more than once he slips and falls. By the time he reaches the top, he is full of cuts and bruises, but there is the guru, sitting cross-legged in front of his cave.

“”O, wise guru,” the seeker says, “I have come to you to ask what the secret of life is.”

“”Ah, yes, the secret of life,” the guru says, “The secret of life is a teacup.”

“”A teacup? I came all the way up here to find the meaning of life, and you tell me that it’s a teacup!”

“”The guru shrugs, “So maybe it isn’t a teacup.””

The meaning of such a joke could be construed in a thousand ways, of course, but I think one is this: no one knows the meaning of life; and, therefore, a meaning must be created.

If the meaning of life must be created: it seems that passion should be a part of it-  as a source of pleasure as well as usefulness. In a previous post, I mentioned passion in conjunction with living the way that you want to live, and I would like to keep that as an underlying theme.

There seems to be a secret sort of pressure in the world– at least, in certain places among certain people– that says that everyone should be the same. The truth is the no one is the same, we are all individual people with our own beliefs and life experiences. Someone who is good at math is not necessarily a good painter, and a painter is not necessarily a good mathematician. We each have our strengths and our weaknesses; and, I think, we need to acknowledge them.

This is where passion comes in: while what someone is passionate about is not necessarily something that they are good at, it is usually something that they are willing to work for. As my dad says, ‘talent can only take you so far.’ You have to work for what you want, and you have to work passionately.

Passion can foster so much; it is, to look at things is a slightly narrow prospective, a immense driving force in the world. Just think about the invention of cars or electricity. Sure, someone might have said ‘we really need some sort of illuminating system that doesn’t rely on candles,’ but I think that it is more realistic to wonder if electricity was created because someone was passionate. They probably didn’t even know that they were creating something that would spread across the world and usher in a modernity that could not exist without it; at least, not until they took a step back and wondered what the newfangled thing that they had created could be used for.

We would not have the works of Picasso, Stephan King, Galileo, Plato, Pina Bausch, Tamara Pierce– well… you get the point.

Sure, we can work without passion; we can create things without passion, but determination is needed and what is a better conveyor of determination than passion? As well, things that are created with passion are often so much more beautiful than something created out of rote determination. Both are good of course, but… surely, passion is something that we look for.

Without passion, life would be dry.

So… how do we find passion? In my still-not-20-years-old opinion, I think finding passion is a matter of trial and error. Look around yourself and try a few things out.

Let me tell a bit of a story: I have always wanted to write stories, but the idea of writing anything longer than a page seemed crazy for many, many years; it was an ‘eventually.’ You know, the eventually where you’re not entirely serious but want to think you are. I had no idea that I would be completely swallowed by writing, I had no idea that I would have a passion for it– no matter how terrible my first drafts are. Now, I don’t just want to write, I need to write.

Enough about me though; I think the gist of this post is this: everyone has a passion for something, you just have to find it. So go out and do just that, try something for awhile (long enough to truly know if you like it or hate it– jump into the pool, don’t just stick one toe in and say ‘oh, it’s too deep.’).

And once you have found it: work. Follow your passion to the ends of the earth with fanatic determination. It might not be easy, but you just have to go for it.

Don’t give up, and, most importantly, do not let fear lock you into place.

So, my friends, a question offered to you: what do you think is the most important part of passion?

I will gladly read your responses if you wish to share!

Until next time…

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