Philosophy Tuesday

“The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.  If you cannot or will not imagine the results of your actions, there’s no way you can act morally or responsibly.  Little kids can’t do it; babies are morally monsters – completely greedy.  Their imagination has to be trained into foresight and empathy.”

“The writer’s pleasant duty, then, is to ply the reader’s imagination with the best and purest nourishment that it can absorb.”

— Ursula K Le Guin (who passed away today)

Philosophy Tuesday

There’s a phrase in the writing community:  “You have to kill your darlings.”*

The gist of the phrase is that, when we author a story, we may come up with moments, scenes, plot twists, dialogue, characters, or any of a host of things that are, taken by themselves, absolutely perfect (at least to ourselves).  They are so damn inventive, clever, emotional, poetic, powerful, or poignant that by the gods, those are going to be the shining keystone and/or the golden pillar of our story.  They are the masterstroke.

And maybe they are, indeed, great.  In evoking something.  In their singular glory.  In their isolated grandeur.

They are not, however, isolated.

They are moments within a larger arc, a larger narrative, a larger story.  They need to work within this larger story.  And quite often… they just don’t.  And while at best they can turn out to be a dud within the larger whole, more often they instead end up being downright detrimental and counterproductive:  they push the story into convoluted knots, they place limits on where the story can go, and they force the introduction and inclusion of elements and passages that are downright poor.   They can even subvert the very thing we hope to achieve with them.  Far from being the shining moment, they instead make the whole endeavour crash and burn.

And that’s why we need to kill them.

It can be so hard though!  Those darlings can be downright seductive… look at them, they’re so perfect!**   We want to hold onto them, we want to make it work, we feel that without it our story will be nothing but a hollow shell.  Those darlings are the heart and soul, they give things meaning.

But that’s not accurate.  We do need to kill them. ***

Because, once liberated from their leaden weight, the story is free to journey to new places, to take on its own identity, to fulfill on its intentions.  Setting the darling aside is what lets the story soar.  It lets us see new avenues, lets our creativity back into the game, and gives us freedom to write and fulfill on our, and the story’s, intention.

Rather than a singular moment, the whole can become a masterpiece.

Never can this be more important than when we look at the story we all have, and are, writing called “my past, my present, my future, and who I am.”

For there are moments from our past that we cling tight to, events and decisions that are so foundational we can, without a moment of preparation, tell a grand story around.  Wild, raw, powerful, stories, filled with pain and despair and loss and love and triumph and a definite understanding of the world around us.

As short stories, they are compelling.

As a chapter in the long unfolding story of our life though, they can be huge impediments to achieving all those things we actually want in life – being related, making a difference, fulfillment, self-expression, and peace of mind.

Sometimes those darling to which we hold so dear and so foundational do not, in actually, serve us.  Sometimes we need to kill those darlings, those truths we cling to, in order to let ourselves and our story grow, expand, reconfigure, and get better.   To broaden and lighten ourselves, to unleash our abilities, to expand our experience, our moods, and our place, and to re-guide our path forward.

And then, within that freedom, we can write our lives into our personal masterpiece.

 

* For the longest time I thought the phrase was “You have to murder your babies,” which, while similar, is a bit more, shall we say, macabre and dark?  A writer friend fortunately set me straight on what is the actual phrase…

** I think this is totally why the Zootopia story writing team held on so long with the taming collar idea/version of the script.  The (deleted/tossed out) scene at the taming party is bonafide pure powerful stuff, landing with a masterful one-two stroke of the pain the young polar bear’s eyes followed immediately with Nick’s forcibly placid expression, the light on his collar glowing yellow.  It’s a masterpiece.  There’s no way they wanted to get rid of that scene.  But it destroyed the movie as a whole.  They tried five full screenings to get it to work, but it never could.  Everything around it that needed to be in place to lead to that scene brought the story and the viewers to places that could not be recovered from.  It didn’t do what they wanted to do.  And that’s why they made the crazy, nearly last minute (just over a year from release!) choice to kill that darling, throw out that script and two+ years of work, and start writing anew.  And with that, they gained way more than they lost in setting aside that one scene.

 

Philosophy Tuesday

We were in a maze.

We’d discovered the maze while randomly visiting the art projects out in deep playa at Burning Man.  It was no small maze either – made of wood posts and plywood, it measured some 70+ feet to a side, and the walls were 8′ tall.  It was also really tricky.*

It had been eight, maybe twelve, minutes since we’d entered when, from over one of the walls (we had inadvertently split up) my friend shouts out “Hey!  There’s a door here!”

“There are no doors in mazes,” I solidly replied.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them per se – in fact I gave it nary a thought after my proclamation.  It was just… true.  Mazes were things with walls and passageways and dead ends.  Doors did not enter the picture.

By now of course you all can probably guess where this story is going, and what I was about to exclaim not more than a few minutes later:

“Holy crap!  There are doors in this thing!”

And it wasn’t even the same door.

It’s a funny, fluffy example, but I love it as a reminder of just how, when something comes up that doesn’t fit our view, it’s not so much that we don’t believe it, or that we actively resist it, it’s often more that it simply doesn’t even register.  No such possibility exists.  It’s so completely outside the realm of (our personal) reality that before we even become aware of it it’s been dismissed and we’re moving on with our day, acting as before.  Which equally means, quite potentially, staying as constrained as before.

Our life remains the same.

Hence why I like reminding myself with this story.  Who knows what I/we could be missing on the other side.  Who knows what I/we could learn, could do, or could be, with that new piece of information, with that broader view, and with those new possibilities.  Worlds can open up.

Because, while in a maze in the middle of the desert it was a very physical door that I was all too ready to miss, quite often the doors that we dismiss and don’t go through are very much metaphorical, and very much transformative.

 

* Seriously, the maze was killer.  The people who made it did a fabulous job.  Doors, bridges, and more, and it was well laid out in order to obfuscate some of the necessary routes.  My friend and I spent 30 minutes in the maze, escaped out, went back in, came out again, was told a hint or two by people outside who had completed it, went back in a third time, and still were stymied.  So we chose to D&D the heck out of it!  We came back the next day with hand-made graph paper and proceeded to map the sucker out like a dungeon… and thusly discovered a route we’d delightfully missed.  In rather short order, past few more doors, traps, and bridges, we found our way to the exit.  Superbly well done maze!

Philosophy Tuesday

A work of art

is not a living thing

that walks or runs.

But the making of the life,

that which gives you a reaction;

to somebody’s the wonder of man’s fingers,

to somebody’s the wonder of the mind,

to somebody’s the wonder of technique,

and to some it is how real it is,

to some how transcendent it is.

 

Like the 5th Symphony;

it presents itself with a feeling,

that you know it if you heard it once, and you’ll look for it;

though you know it, you must hear it again,

though you know it, you must hear it again.

– Louis I. Kahn

 

(An excerpt from the movie My Architect, which is a fine documentary worth seeing.)

Philosophy Tuesday

In life, we may not always be able to keep our word.

Breaking promises is something that happens.

But we can, always can, without exception, honour our word.

That may sound like the same thing.  But it is not.  Quite not.

And grasping this distinction is both empowering and incredibly freeing.  It is the pathway to a much clearer, authentic, and powerful way of being and interacting with each other.

Firstly, we tend to collapse breaking a promise with being a bad person.  It’s quite similar to the way we have collapsed the notion of being responsible with the idea of blame.

And so we get reaaaaal squirelly when it comes time to give our word to something, to make a promise, to say what we will do, or be.

Our promise, such as it is, all to easily becomes a wishy-washy thing, full of caveats and asterisks, even if they’re not spoken out loud.

And when a word is broken, we tend not to be too rigorous in acknowledging it or dealing with it. Apologies offered aren’t often exactly apologies, mostly explanations and excuses, devoid of authenticity and integrity.  Plus there’s this kind of secret handshake and agreement thing going on:  if I don’t call you out on this, you won’t hold me responsible either… ok?

Promises are big things.  They are quite scary in many ways.  They are bold statements spoken forth in the face of the vast uncertainty that is the future.

And promises will be broken.  You will break promises.*

And that is OK.

For here is that distinction:  The promise, your word, wasn’t kept, and It was broken.  But by acknowledging that the promise was not – or will not be the moment you know it won’t be – kept, by acknowledging the impact of the broken promise has/had, by taking responsibility for it not being kept, and by accepting the consequences and outfall of it, you can still honour your word.  You give your words weight.

To honour one’s word is to honour one’s self.

Because, really, what are we beyond that of our word?

If we treat our word as dismissible, small, and not worth the metaphorical paper it is written on, then we are weakening who we fundamentally are.  We are treating ourselves the same way, as dismissible, small, without value, and we are inviting others to do the same.

Through authentic promises, backed up with intentful action, and when broken coupled with authentic apologies, we close the loop and know ourselves (and each other) as mighty and whole and true.

We shed the background guilt towards ourselves that’s coupled with background (righteous) resentment towards others.  We gain a greater sense of ourselves, connect with each other, and together we can create big and bold promises towards what we actually want in life.

 

* If you’re not, consider that you are making promises that are too small…

Philosophy Tuesday

Sometimes, making art is easy.

Sometimes, making art is really difficult.

Sometimes, our best work will come into being with ease.

Sometimes, our even bester work takes more than blood, sweat, and tears.

They are both art.

They both end up beautiful.

Neither one is the ‘right’ way.

Neither one is the ‘wrong’ way.

It is just art.

It’s how art goes.

And here’s the thing,

Living life?

It’s an art.

Philosophy Tuesday

Halloween is just around the corner, a time of costumes.  A time quite loved for that very fact, the one day everyone is allowed* to put on a costume and play.

Though… it’s not the only time of costumes.  In truth, don’t we kinda wear costumes every day?

In many ways, I’d assert, we do.

Natch, they are quite the different kind of costume than that of a ghoul, an anime character, your fishtank, or of a sexy [insert profession/noun here]**.  But they are costumes nonetheless.  They are the costumes we wear to reinforce the role we want or feel the need to play, and they are the costumes we wear to project a (specific) message to the world.

They are our broadcasting system.   Clothing choices, hairstyles, technology, brands, patterns of speech, mannerisms, the accessories we sport, and the vehicles we drive… all crafted and brought together to be our costume we put on (often every day) and go out into the world as “it”.

It’s a great mode of communication.  And when the costume comes from a place of authenticity, it can be a glorious self-expression.

When the costume comes from a hope of hiding, of identity, of shouting something we want to feel or be, when a costume is born of external concerns and of uncertainty and self-doubt, it can lead us places we don’t really want to go.  A costume can be the personal version of James Howard Kunstler’s description of the banal suburban home:  a television broadcasting 24 hours a day the message “I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal.”  A salve, but one that ultimately leaves no freedom or peace of mind.

As with many things in life, we often pick our costumes by accident.  We put them on without knowing it, we inherit them because it’s what we were surrounded by, we get into habits.  And often we get quite muddled in trying to figure out if we truly like something, if it is truly authentic… or if it is just our identities telling us we like it as a way of protecting itself.

It could be fun to add another layer to Halloween and use it as a chance to be mindful and examine all the costume choices we’ve made (and we make).  Sit back and take stock to see which of them truly serve us, and those we are instead caught in serving for.***  We can even fold in and take a lesson from children, who are wonderfully facile at putting on a costume and playing it to the hilt for twenty two and a half minutes, and, on a dime, change their outfits and get deep into playing something else.

Be clear, create and play on, reveling in the game of knowing we get to be in a costume of our choosing every day.

 

* That “play” and “costumes” are societally considered (still/by some/most) childish and weird and taboo and incompatible with being an adult is in of itself an interesting avenue to investigate the underpinnings of.  Equally interesting is the split in the mind of the avenues of play, such as sports and the surging acceptance of computer games, that are socially OK and are not thought of or siloed into the same category of what may be called play or playtime… ****

** The whole ‘sexy noun’ phenomenon is also a whole other post onto itself…

*** And for that latter group, seeing what’s there and getting onto the work of completing and transforming to create the liberation and possibilities we want.

**** Here’s a TED Radio Hour episode on play.

Philosophy Tuesday

So there’s this funny* tendency we have, as humans and that is the tendency for one disparaged group to disparage another.  For a group, or individual, under duress to all to readily and quickly turn around and perpetrate the same onto another group.

On the one hand, this doesn’t seem to make any sense… surely this group, or individual, knows what it feels like to be disparaged, denigrated, diminished, disowned, and discriminated against, right?  The hurt that accompanies it, the feelings of frustration, the harshness it is to exist under… why would they then do likewise to another?

But, on the other hand, it also makes perfect sense – in the same context.  This is the world they (we) live in, this is the world that has been modeled, this is the world that has been taught, a world where if you are to have power and agency, you gain it, at least in part, via the act of disparagement.  It is what the “powerful” and “well to do” and “respected” and “right” and “normal” people and groups do.  They disparage.   It is a hierarchical system, a caste.  And so, to be, and to demonstrate you are, in “power”, you disparage.  It is the path forward, the path to confidence, security, and self-determination.

Except, of course, that it doesn’t really work.  Nor is it authentic.  And in the end, if we’re honest, doesn’t leave anyone on any side feeling great.  It only perpetrates the precarious anxious knife-edge feeling of precariousness, balancing on that “knowledge” that, at any moment, something may happen that will drive us out of favour and perpetrate our rush to the bottom of that ladder.

No matter where on the chain we (currently) sit, there’s no authentic self-confidence there, no peace of mind, and no self-actualization.   And , above all, no freedom or self-expression.

There isn’t much more to say other than the invitation play the game of being mindful and present, and be aware of what the actual impetus is when jumping on the disparagement train.

There are plenty of other trains that lead to far more exciting and heartening places.  Let’s travel on those.

 

* Funny in the cosmic sense, though it is also, at the same time, not so funny at all and cosmically unfortunate.

** Years ago I played in my first LARP (Live Action Role-Playing Game).  When I got there, a bunch of the regulars were talking, and were fully embroiled in disparaging this other, particular, fandom.  “Yeah, those losers are almost at the bottom of the geek hierarchy chart…” one person proudly said.  Putting aside the vapidity of such a chart, the illuminating thing was that LARP players are also right near the bottom of that same chart.  This person was using a chart that disparages them to disparage someone else… trapped in the downward spiral in hopes of somehow regaining pride and agency.   (It didn’t/doesn’t work)