neither finding nor creating: you are how the pieces fit…

neither finding nor creating: you are how the pieces fit

Tim Ferris says that “life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself. ” To which I say… “no shit”, but also “not exactly”. It’s both. And neither. Simultaneously.  It’s finding, and creating. There is no difference, no mutual exclusivity. They are one and the same.

Finding is creating, Creating is finding. No creation is ever a creation ex-nihilo. Creation is an inventoried search. A catalogued exploration.

Hank Green says that “everything is inherited,” and what matters most is “what you do with what you have.” You have to collect all the discordant tesserae of who you are in order to make a mosaic of all you can be. And, the real magic of creating is in finding how all the pieces fit. Amanda Palmer explains that “All art, no matter what shape it is, has to come from somewhere, and one can only connect… what we can collect”. This pliable exploration of evolving oneself is an artistic endeavor. And any creative act of artistry is by necessity, and perhaps even by design, a matter of collection and connection.

Finding and creating operate in tandem because they are each incomplete on their own. There is no platonic realm of perfect forms in which to discover your perfect self. There is no ‘ideal you’ that you can finally, once and for all, create. This is something the artists knows; every work is a work that fails and falls short.

Annie Dillard writes:

“You cannot fill in the vision. You cannot even bring the vision to light. You are wrong if you think that you can in any way take the vision and tame it…The vision is not so much destroyed…as it is, by the time you have finished, forgotten. It has been replaced by this changeling, this bastard, this opaque lightless chunky ruinous work.”

The artist knows that the vision lost to ruin and change is precisely what is both created and discovered. That is the art itself. A discovery that is flailing and infirmed creates the conditions for something beautiful and new. A creation, broken and misshapen unearths unseen parts of ourselves that we never ever knew. Making and meandering. Creating and curating.  the wreckage and the rising. The “Two are one,” says Ursula Le Guin, both “lying together like lovers…like hands joined together, like the end and the way.” “Light,” she says, “is the left hand of darkness.” We find that the making of our meaning, is in the meaning of our making.

“[T]he artist,” Heather Havrilesky says, “leans into reality; the dirt and grime of survival, the sullen grim folds of the psyche, the exquisite disappointments, the sour churn of rage, the smog of lust, the petty moments that fall between.” She says that “The artist embraces ugliness and beauty with equal passion”, and “knows that this process is always by its nature inefficient…a slow effort without any promise of a concrete, external reward.”

Every self we can suppose is a fiction. There is no best self; not one that we can either find or create. No faultlessly formed version ourselves somewhere in the future to be uncovered. “The best version of you”, Havilesky concludes, “is who you are right here, right now, in this fucked up, impatient, imperfect, sublime moment.” Its not about finding or creating. Your task is to make the most of the self you can find.

a letter to things (not) lost…

a letter to things (not) lost

“There’s a voice in your mind, you must have heard it by now… It’s calm when you’re panicked, fearless when you’re afraid… That’s what’s left of the original [you]…It’s not much more than a fragment anymore, a little piece of [your] personality clinging on… but if you begin to lose yourself, heed that voice. It’s your lighthouse. Everything that remains of [who] you once were.

Stuart Turton, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

It’s amazing how much of ourselves we lose along the way, even more astounding is how long it takes us to notice. It happens slowly, glacially, rarely abrupt, and almost never all at once. Sometimes the pieces we lose are the parts we have outgrown; like shedding skin. Or, when new plumage replaces old feathers. But, sometimes we lose parts of ourselves that should have never been forgotten.

“The clothes make the man,” the old adage goes. Perhaps, they also re-make us as well. We wear so many hats, put on so many roles, bear so many names, until we are re-formed and re-fashioned into someone or something almost unrecognizable. There are lies sown into the fabric of forgetting, and we slowly sink into the seams. A snip here. A snag there. We are taken in. We are let out. All in an effort to find a better fit, but sometimes its forced. Too big. Too small Hardly ever just right. Eventually, we can’t even remember what “just right” feels like. It’s the moment when the clothes become a cage; when tailor turns jailor, and for a long time, we are none the wiser.

We chalk up the change to growing older. The wear and tear of maturation and advancing years. The encroachments of adulthood and obligations. Duty and responsibility. Regardless of the reasons, it gets harder and harder to hold on to who we are. And sometimes we stop trying altogether. The disturbing truth of the matter, as Chloe Benjamin says, “is that most people enjoy a certain level of impotence.”

We succumb to the warm and easy seductions of a liquor-like apathy and amnesia. We sip the slow and syrupy booze of believing that we are the equivalent to all the titles that have been thrust upon us. We shrug our shoulders, we wallow in the mire of self-pity and self-loathing. And, he plod along passively pretending that it’s just the way things are. “Almost without knowing it,” John O’Donhue warns, “we slip inside ready-made roles and routines which then set the frames of our possibilities and permissions”; becoming intoxicated by “the security of the confinement and limitation”.
We are afraid  of our own freedom and choice because it forces us to recognize that we are completely responsible for the realization of all the potential and possibility that each of us hold.

We crave the enclosure of structure and facticity, especially in a world accelerating towards entropy, where nothing is overtly clear or explicitly resolvable. Facts are solid, and stable, and sensible. Facts are hard and unflinching and often immovable. Facts are like fences. We think they stand to keep the terror out, but instead they only serve to keep us closed in. We sacrifice the sanctity of our autonomy and ingenuity in exchange for a sense of safety. But, it is a grifter’s bait and switch, as we find ourselves wary and ever-watchful, with only our own anxiousness to occupy our minds.

And yet, a fence is just another word for a hurdle, a half-flacid barrier over which we can learn to leap. If we look closely we can see that we only appear to be held back. Implicitly they provide us with a clear demarcation of where we are and where we can go. They give us a calculable distance to run and a measurable height to climb. It’s the still small voice within that pushes us to the borders. It’s fragmented inner voice that entreats us to reach out just a little beyond our grasp. It’s the feral voice of who we used to before we were corralled and broken that begs and beckons us to pull ourselves up hard toward the top of the fence. It’s the clinging remains of our own wild and undomesticated voice that gives us faith enough to fly off the ledge towards the other side of the fence where possibility stretches out to catch us like a net.  Maybe losing bits of ourselves is unavoidable. “Every life has such weight”, Stuart Turton says, and it’s impossible to carry it all. There is an art to letting go, but it’s one we can only learn through lifetimes of loosening our grip on the parts of ourselves we should have never let fall.

And yet, perhaps, the solace comes from recognizing that we never really lose them. They’re never truly lost. We’ve just lost sight of them. They’ve only been mis-placed and we simply need to re-member them. We simply need to listen. Careful to heed the voice that calls from where all the light within us first began to rise; and where it still resides.

the difference between stones and kisses…

stones and kisses

Carlo Rovelli says that we often” think of the world as made up of things. Of substances. Of entities. Of something that is.” But, in all actuality, it is “made up of events. Of happenings. Of processes. Of something that occurs.” The world, Rovelli explains, is something “that undergoes continual transformation”.

To some that’s disconcerting; the thought that everything appearing solid is really comprised of slippage and instability. But, that’s not what bothers me. Maybe it’s because I’ve read enough about Hegel’s philosophy of Becoming; Geist, Absolute spirit, Mind (with a capital M), perpetually unfolding into iridescent spirals of self-awareness, self-understanding, and self actualization. Or perhaps its because I’ve steeped myself in enough Buddhist thought, with all its notions of Anicca or Anitya;  the impermanence of all things, that Rovelli’s words fail to rattle me. I am often all too cognizant of the fact that time, though it is a slippery concept to define both philosophically and scientifically, pushes everything into persistently new permutations.

There are things and there are events.” The world is not a collection of things,” Rovelli points out, but instead “is a collection of events.” “The difference between” the two, he goes on to say “is that things persist in time” and “events have a limited duration.” A mass of rock is a thing. Perhaps the closest something can come to stasis. For the most part it is unmoving, and thus it makes sense to ask questions about where the stone “will be tomorrow”. Or five years from now. On the other hand “a kiss”, Rovelli says ” is an event” and “It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow”. Or at any other arbitrary point in the future.

And yet, there is something worrisome for me in the Juxtaposition between things and events. It is not that the universe is made of up expanding, ephemeral events. What worries me is that most days I feel more like the stone than like a kiss.

I am surrounded by happenings, and processes, and occurrences, and I don’t feel like I’m a part of any of them. I watch as everything and everyone around me change and progress, grow and evolve, develop and adapt. And I am an the anomalous exception. The sole surviving substance in the continual uncoiling of the cosmos that stays static, fixed, and stuck. If the world is an amalgamation of unwinding events, then I am a thing that is wholly un-worlded, a singularity constricting into fixedness. As the rest of the Universe is motioning ahead, I feel like I am standing in place, falling inward in a collapse of density. Cursed under a spell of slumbering fastness, asleep like a stone, unstuck in time and waiting to be awoken, perhaps by a kiss.

I am at the mercy of a world that moves at a pace that doesn’t match my own. Everything accelerates and all my movements are imperceptibly slow. I’m looking for an out, an exit, an escape. A way forward. Something beyond this. Anything outside of here. But it evades my vision.

Matt Haig says that “it is always hard for us to see the future inside the present, even when it is right in front of us.” It seems to prove that our greatest limitation is “not that of imagination,” Maria Popova points out, “but that of perspective”.  We are so dismissive of small steps in our on going obsession with giant leaps, big bangs of creation, progress, and productivity. Anything less feels like stagnation. Popova says that “our lens is too easily contracted by the fleeting urgencies of the present, too easily blurred by the hopes and fears of our human lives.” We forget that the world unfolds in mountains, plains, and plateaus. Events have peaks and troughs. Evolution takes a very, very very long time. It is slow, and agonizing, and arduous, and excruciating, and incremental. And there will be time when it seems as though nothing has happened and nothing has changed, “but,” as Rocknell Kent explains, “in the quietness the soul expands”.

Perhaps to be silent, to be still, to be so glacially moving, is to be at our most transformative. In a world of entities and eventualities, things and events, stones and kisses, we are only ever one stone’s throw away from sending ripples across great distances. Only one kiss away from waking up…

children of the work…

Nietzsche says that “the ‘work,’ whether of the artist or the philosopher, invents the man who has created it, who is supposed to have create it”. We are an invention of the work. We do not ever possess the work. The work possess us. We are possessed by it. We are what the work creates. Success is a liar. It deceives you into thinking that “you’re the painter,” when, in fact, as John Green points out but “you’re the canvas.”

We are the incarnated outpouring of creativity coming to earth; the creative kenosis of earth coming to know itself as itself. Formed and fashioned by the hands of the work seeking to reveal the sleeping secrets in the clay of who we are; the ekphratic undertaking of something ineffable coming into its own.

Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“Everything that I am and everything that I have learned and everything that I have been and become in my life, is because of the creative things that I made. In other words, they were making me. That’s why you have to let your creativity out, because it has you as a project, its building you, its creating you.”

We are not the parents to the pieces that we make. They are not our children. It is we who are the children of the work.  We are being fostered by the desirous fulfilment of the work’s succession; guided by its careful instruction and its caring attention.  In search of who we are and who we were always meant to be, the work teaches us to see ourselves more clearly and moves us incrementally closer to who it believes we can become. It is it’s mission to make us ready for what comes closely after.

the space between…

the space between

“Instead of assembling yourself in the dark…so that you wake up one day with no idea of how you became this person – you can look at the world, at the people around you, and choose the parts of your character you want.”

Stuart Turton, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

You still have time “, she says with a serenity that is as fierce and urgent as it is consoling. “So much has passed already,” she states resolutely, “but we still have more; we are blessed with it, and we should make the most of all that remains.”

“It’s about tolerance and patience” she extols. “It’s about recognizing the parts of yourself that feel anchored and constant. It’s about acceptance and awareness. It’s about commitment. It’s about trust.”
Her words come to me like barbed-wire wrapped in lace; language that lacerates with the gentility of a prayer. It is the sting of hopeful longing, and I am quiet in response. Not because I’m skeptical of her summons, nor because I doubt the veracity of her claims. But, because I believe her beyond anything I can say.

I’ve never known anyone like her. She is a thousand beautiful things personified at once. She is softness and warmth. She is a shelter and shield. A refuge of comfort and defiance. She can effortlessly sail the treacherous ocean of my turbulent heart. She soars with wisdom and majesty. She defies convention, defies the odds, defies gravity without ever breaking a sweat. But, most of all she’s almost always right.

And yet, time seems like a strange thing to try to make the most of. Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes that “wisdom comes when it can no longer do any good”. And, we never really know if we’ve made wise use of our time until it’s too late.

Carlo Rovelli  explains that “our consciousness is based on memory and on anticipation”. He says that “This space” where memory meets and combines “with our continuous process of anticipation is the source of our sensing time as time, and ourselves as ourselves”. Perhaps, then, the only way we can make the most of time is to understand the space between. The space between hope and fear. The space between the already and the not-yet. The space between what has transpired and what is to-come. The space between who we have been and who we could still be. That most precarious space of time that we only half-consciously notice as ‘now’.

Here is all there is. Now is all we have. Life meets us on the meridian of becoming, on the cusp of everything, at the threshold of every possible variation. After all, the present is the only place where anything is possible. It is the only place where possibility is.

We are never just one thing. Never just one personality. Never even just one self. You are not only “Your current self”, as John Green explains, but also “all the selves you used to be” and all the unfathomable future selves that have yet to come to fruition. We are neither individual, nor indivisible. We are a collected amalgamation. We are legion, for we are many. And it is “in that space” between, Green goes on to say, that there is “room enough to make…something other…to remake [our] story better and different – room enough to be reborn again and again…room enough to be anyone”.

You still have time. So much has passed, but there is still so much more; we are blessed with it. This is the space in which to cherish the chance to change and choose. And, ‘now’ is the time to make the most of it…

the life that stories tell…

the life that stories tell

“My entire life is traced by the books I have read.”

Alexandra Horowitz, The Velocity of Being

Ev Williams says that “the ideas and stories we consume affect us on multiple levels and have a profound impact on how we live.” Our story becomes the total sum of all the stories we have read; an index that outlines a literary lineage to which we owe our interior ancestry. The story of my life, then, would not be told as memoir or biography or autobiography, but instead as a bibliography, or more specifically, an auto-bibliography; a chronological list of the books that shaped the structure of who I am.

Perhaps that’s true for all of us. Alain de Botton points out that books “explain us to ourselves and to others”. They makes us make sense. They make sense of us. Perhaps, then each of us should come with our own Required Reading list; a syllabus of literature to aid ourselves and others in the efforts to understand who we have been and who we can still become.

Our lives are the appendices attached at the end of all the books we have read. A construction built by a conglomerate of collected works. Long, detailed derivations. Raw data too technical to include in the body of the text, somehow all become perfectly summarized within the pages of the books that are now integral to us.

We are like footnotes floating unattached and out of context, but the right books know exactly how to place us where we can become ancillary elaborations of the world and ourselves. Where we can be the embodied explication of something bigger. It is a double revelation. A mutual finding. A reflexive creating. The books we find, help us find ourselves. The moments we make with books, make us who we are.

wonder and amazement…

wonder and amazement
Tile Design – Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth (1861) drawing in high resolution by Sir Edward Burne–Jones. Original from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

“you hear all the people on the outside of the maze who made it through, and they are laughing and smiling…and you don’t resent them, but you do resent yourself for not having their ability to work it all out.”

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

The word “maze” is defined as “a complex network of paths or passages”. It comes from the same origins as the word “amaze”, which means to be greatly filled with wonder, surprise, and astonishment. There is only one small difference between “a maze” and “amaze”; it is the span of a single space; the distance to wonder. To shift in towards wonder is to close the gap of puzzlement and consternation and to come closer in proximity to the paths and passageways of astonishment and surprise.

The maze is inescapable. To be alive is to live and move and breath amongst a complex network of paths and passages. There is no out. There is only in.

The shape of smiling people seen through the leaves, the laughing folks we catch glimpses of on the other side of the hedge; they haven’t worked it. They haven’t made it through. No one does. No one can. As James Victore says “The secret of the universe is that no one knows shit. No one has the right answer”. The mystery in the midst of ‘a maze’ is that we are meant to live in amaze-ment.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that “To be spiritual is to be amazed.” Saints, mystics, buddhas, and bodhisattvas move through the maze with laughter and calm because each step moves them further into the amazing mystery and wonder of grace. And if we are at all resentful or reluctant perhaps it is only because he have recoiled from wonder, and if we could just move a little closer we would be amazed at what we’d find.

a theory of moving slowly…

moving slowly

“Sometimes moving fast and breaking things is how progress gets made. But it’s also how things get broken, and sometimes those things are people.”

Hank Green, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor

Ferris Bueller said, “Life happens pretty fast.” It’s especially true when things are breaking. The Universe never seems to be short of ways to irreparably fuck our shit up, and when it does, it does it quickly.

Catastrophe comes from out of no where and crushes everything we ever called sacred. All of our tireless building goes up in flames in an instant. Reeling amidst the rubble, we hardly know who or where we are. “It all happened so fast,” we say, stunned and in shock from the whiplash of the loss.

It feels like the whole world presses the gas pedal to the floor when it’s fleeing the scene of our crash, but it’s strange how time screeches to a halt when we’re hurt and trying to heal. In the loneliness of stitches and repair, every minute aches on into an eternity waiting for the pain to disappear. We tell ourselves we’ll be alright. Some days we even believe its true, but that’s not really the question that keeps us up at night; our real concern is “when?”

John O’ Donohue says that “In the rhythm of grieving, you learn to gather your given heart back to yourself again.” But, he says that “This sore gathering takes time” and that we “need great patience with [our] slow heart[s].” We are so eager to return to normalcy, so anxious to move past this place of vacant confrontation, this unavoidable presence of absence that, we try to run before we’re ready and we scatter all the half-mended bits of our already broken selves. Sometimes “restraint,” Hank Green says, “is more remarkable than action”.

“Life is so infinitely hard”, Matt Haig explains; “It involves a thousand tasks all at once”, and it comes with the startling realization that we are “a thousand different people, all fleeing away from the centre”. Like a giant jar of marbles shattering in a cascade of rolling chaos across the floor. A living law of motion spilling out into countless spinning tributaries of inertia, force, and action; mass met and increased by a velocity of endless reacting; we are an object that never stays at rest. And, sometimes, what we really need are methods of traveling through stillness.

The human animal is a creature of uncanny resilience, craft, and cunning. We can be broken down to nothing, and we can still manage to regenerate ourselves over and again. But, it happens over long periods that are hard to measure, if they can even be measured at all.

Sometimes we need habits of being unhurried in order to carry our timid hearts. Sometimes gentleness and breathing is the obstinance that most forcefully opposes the dark. Difference and renewal only seem imperceptible. The lengthy and laggard strides of incremental motion creates a keen sensitivity to change. With each iteraterative advance we are altered and aware; adapted and improved. 

We don’t have the privilege of staying down. Helplessness is a luxury we cannot afford. We have to pull ourselves up towards deliverance, whether by our boot straps or by the steadiness of another’s hand. We have to get up. We have to. But, sometimes we have to do it slowly.

the salt of the earth…

salt of the earth

The question of whether or not I have made, am making, or could still make a difference, is something I think about a lot. I suppose that’s always been part of what I want out of life; to know that I made an impact somewhere, somehow, in someway. To know that some part of the world was altered because of my having been here.

It’s taken me a long time to understand that about myself, that at the center of all I do is that implicit desire. And yet, I still can’t articulate what exactly that means or what it looks like in a more discernable way.

That kind of vague ambiguity can be torturous when you’re an overachiever. How do you work towards a goal that you can’t clearly define? How would you know if you’re making progress, or if you’re even headed in the right direction?

Discovering whether or not one has made a difference is all the more difficult by the fact that the difference one makes is not always overt, explicit, or even perceptible. Rarely are we ever privy to the opportunity of finding out. More than likely many of us will never know what change in the world was created by our being born. Many of us will never meet the people we’ve impacted, and perhaps many of the people we’ve influenced may not be able to pinpoint precisely where, when, why, or how it was that we managed to make some kind of change in their lives.

There’s a verse in the gospel of Matthew that says “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt isn’t the sexiest or most extravagant of seasonings. It isn’t rich or complex. It isn’t bold or particularly distinguishable as far as flavor profiles go. In fact, we hardly even notice it at all unless there’s either too much or not enough of it; the absence is obvious, the excess is unmistakable.

But, salt is at it’s best when it is poised and steady. When it is subtly, and almost silently, upholding and enhancing the best qualities of all that it comes into contact with. Salt is something essential. Something basic, sacred, and fundamental. It elevates and exalts. It strengthens and preserves. It is an aid in achieving equity and stability. It is the symmetry of the sweet, and the balancing of the bitter.

Austin Kleon says that “You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extraordinary work”, and you don’t need to do something extraordinary to be of extraordinary value. You don’t need to make a mark. You don’t need to put a dent in the world. You just need to help make things a little better than they were before. You just need to be salt…

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never just one thing…

In his novel, The Midnight Library, Matt Haig writes that “We only need to be one person” and yet, Duke University Professor of Philosophy and Neurobiology, Owen Flanagan, writes that “we are not one thing”. We are never just one thing, never just one personality, never even just one self. You are not only “Your current self”, as John Green explains, but also “all the selves you used to be “. We are legion, for we are many. “[We are] large,” as Walt Whitman says, we “contain multitudes”. We are not individual. We are not indivisible. We are a collected amalgamation. The magic of reading then isn’t so much that a single self can seep inside an autonomous other, but that our multiplicity of personalities can meet, mix, and mingle inside the heart and mind of another person whose many selves so closely mirror and match our own. We are can never be everything because at our most fundamental we are nothing, that is, we are no-thing. Flanagan writes that “what there is, and all there is, is an unfolding” and “what we call and conceive as ‘things’ are relatively stable processes or events inside the Mother of all unfoldings” This summation includes ourselves. We are not things or objects. We are not concrete fixtures of static solidity. We are fibrous and fluctuating. We are fluid and fluxing. We are the process of a personage made present. We are subjects, but even then we are subjects only in so far as we are subject to the event of our own unfolding subjectivity. And perhaps, we are simply so unaccustomed to knowing how to inhabit all of our no-thing-ness.

We are the unfolding singularity that leads us to love. Whatever we were, whatever we have been prior is simply an iterative fluxing in the process of bending towards this moment. Whatever we become now will only be a result of that expanding epoch unfurling us further into the fabric of our us-ness… and the universe itself is better for it.