Philosophy Tuesday

When I got a paper route as an early teenager, I learned one of those things that makes complete sense in your head but is somewhat impossible to grok on a complete level until you experience it first-hand:  A single newspaper hardly weighs a thing.  You don’t even think about it.  But stuff 30 to 60 of those things in a bag and sling it over your shoulder?*  HOLY THE COW that’s heavy!

Which is just a positively visceral way of learning (and getting) that maybe there is no such thing as a “little thing,” for many little things quickly add up to something quite large.

Which, perhaps not surprisingly, applies all over the place.

Often, we think about in terms of making a difference.  Much like the pulling of the Trojan Horse, this means that even though we may put in a little bit of effort towards something, when we collectively pursue a grand intention even giant things can be brought into being or (even easily) moved.

However, it is equally important to remind ourselves that this applies equally to the destructive side of things.  When we collectively pursue poor intentions, whether consciously or not, whether individual or shaped by the systems we’re surrounded by, or whether by callousness, great things can be destroyed.  This includes, by the way, instances of not taking action.

The seductive thing about it is that our thought on it does, in a narrow sense, have some truth to it.  “If I do this/don’t do this, it’s just me in a big sea.  It won’t make any difference.”  Sure.  Except it’s almost never really just you, or one person.  It’s multiples.  And the more who do/don’t do it, the more who also get on that same boat and do/don’t do it, until the impact is downright deleterious and far worse than just a sore shoulder.

And so the “newspaper bag” effect applies both ways.  The game, therefore, is to remain present and recognize that our actions (or inactions) do matter and do have a greater impact on the whole.  And from there, choose who we are going to be, and what we are going to create.

 

* Interestingly, and fortunately, I had come across how some of the First Nation communities carried things in backpacks that weren’t supported in the “usual” way, but rather by a strap around the forehead.  This is because, as it turns out, the neck is one darn strong muscle.  So that’s how I carried my paper bag, slung down my back with the strap around my forehead, pulling it to the side only every few houses to grab a handful of newspapers.  No sore shoulder for me!

Philosophy Tuesday

The purpose of art is not to be good at it.

The purpose of art is for SELF-EXPRESSION.

The reason we hone our craft – ie “get good” at it – is to better express.  So that our self-expression is as full and free and clear and powerful as it can be.  And that’s awesome.


Corollary:

The purpose of art is not to get praise.

The purpose of art is for SELF-EXPRESSION.

Whether we are acknowledged, or not, whether we are rewarded, or not, whether we are lauded, or not, if our self-expression is true, then we have done true art.

Philosophy Tuesday

“You either walk into your story

and own your truth,

or you live outside of your story,

hustling for your worthiness.”

Brené Brown

 

(This greatly dovetails into the notions of shame, for who has to hustle for their worthiness than someone who feels unworthy?  Which, by extension, is part and parcel of feeling shame.  And so when we take ownership of our actions, of our behaviour, of our story/stories (again, ownership, not blame, which would be part of invoking shame again) we gain power.  The power to be, the power to choose, the power to create.  And from that comes freedom, self-expression, and peace of mind.)

Architecture Monday

“Business park.”  Chances are (especially if you are from North America) this immediately conjures up an image for you:  low slung concrete slabs of the most unimaginative type* in a sea of pavement with, if lucky, a modicum of dying grass (about as far from a park as possible).  Most towns and cities have them, tucked away here and there and not a place you’d want to be in, even if you have to be there.

The video below is not really about architecture; it’s main focus is on transportation.  But I couldn’t stop from ogling the buildings in this business park.  Because they are actually designed and intended as architecture rather than just the cheapest container for collecting rent money (and if it keeps the rain off then that’s a bonus).   Rather than being soul crushing this area is pleasant and even delightful to be in.  And walkable to boot!

To be fair, this might be considered more of a commercial district than a business park, as it seems to be filled with larger companies than the tiny affairs that usually occupy the North American business park.  But there’s a similar district of that sort to where I live, with some very large companies indeed, filled with 4-6 story buildings, and even those are not as engaging** as the ones there in Amsterdam.  Not to mention the interstitial “landscape” is nothing short of a scorched earth no man’s land that very clearly says that you do not matter.

Great video by Not Just Bikes, and a great example that architecture and design is possible and preferable everywhere, making for spaces that enliven us rather than be something we need to overcome.  Just to do business.

 

* It’s such a cliché that a raze-and-rebuild development here braded themselves as notanotherbox.com as part of their advertising strategy.  The resulting building is quite certainly not a box, and is almost as nice as some of the ones in the video.

** This is one thing I’ve been excited to see travelling abroad:  a higher “baseline design quality” when compared to North America.  One, agan, that says “life is important, we should make it great for us!” rather than, again again, “sorry, you do not matter.”

*** I heartily recommend all of Not Just Bikes’ videos.  They’re fun and well put together and really do a great job to show what’s possible when we remember us humans in our urban design, and how much life is better when we do.

Philosophy Tuesday

Continuing our delve into Turning Red…

The second shows up full force in one of the quietest yet most pivotal scenes in the movie, when Jin speaks to Mei in her room, just before the ritual:

“People have all kinds of sides to them.  And some sides are messy.  The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away.  It’s to make room for it, live with it.”

The scene’s very understatedness highlights the profound peacefulness in what Jin is creating about recognizing, and for sure, integrating ourselves.  Our whole selves.  It isn’t about resisting our messy bits, nor, crucially, is it about yielding to them either.  It isn’t about good/bad, right/wrong, being broken, or whatever – remember that resistance equals persistence.  Instead, it is about acknowledging, being present to, and simply being with them all.

When we recognize that we all have many aspects to ourselves we gain both peace of mind and power.  This is reflected in Mei’s own quote from the start of the movie: ”If you take it too far, well, you might forget to honour yourself.”  Indeed… if we yield to the messy self then we are not honouring ourselves.  If we instead resist it and push it away and fight it and make it wrong, we still are not honouring ourselves.  Integration, and being whole, is about recognizing all our bits, engaging with them, and doing the work needed to make them part of us such that we harness them towards productive ends.  By recognizing all our sides we remove the hooks that hijack our expression.  We gain freedom to be, freedom to choose, and it allows our authentic self to shine through.

The moment in the astral realm with the mirror, Mei remembers her time with the panda.  Crucially, she does not only remember the good times but also the not so good.  And she realizes, hey, welcome to being human.  That is when Mei chooses to cease to resist it, and why Mei also doesn’t just give into it.  She embraces it (and her fluffy tail when she returns to the ritual circle) and thus learns how to control it… well enough to even enable amazing double-jump capabilities.

As Mei invites us at the end of the movie, integration has a wonderous power.  We can blend and create ourselves and grow.  We can let go of controlling others.  And we can embrace our pandas (our wonderful, fluffy, bouncy panda!) while allowing for the pandas of those around us, allowing for glorious and authentic self-expression.

 

* Just a quick note that I added another end note to last week’s post, which I’ll also repost here:  This idea and theme of synthesis also plays out beautifully in the movie when the old school chanting is joined by, and musically merges perfectly with, 4*Town’s Nobody Like U…

Philosophy Tuesday

I noted Turning Red has some good stuff going on beneath the surface.  There’s plenty of it!  And one of the biggest that underpins the story is about integration.  It’s about yin and yang.  And it shows up most prominently in the film in two ways.

The first deals with synthesis and about how we can blend.  Mei doesn’t have to follow her mother or become her mother… or follow tradition or become tradition… but she doesn’t need to entirely abandon them either.  She can engage with both and, above all, make it her own.

Life and all of us within it are not trapped within a series of binary opposites.  The idea of “You are either this, or this” is not accurate.  Nor is the idea that our tastes, interests, attentions, fandoms, and more must be in opposition to others.  We don’t need to hate something else in order to like something.*  Instead, we can embrace broadly.

Mei’s admission of “But I’m scared, it will take me away from you,” is the crux moment for this thread.  Both she and her mother realize in that moment that it needn’t take either away.  We can all explore and grow and create ourselves (whether we’re 13 or older!) not in opposition to tradition but growing from it and even remaining in dialogue with it.  And we can pour in all else we love, mixing and synthesizing and dancing with it all as it becomes our own personal, glorious, and authentic self-expression.

* Quite the contrary, and I enthusiastically invite everyone to enjoy what they enjoy without engaging in denigrating that which you don’t enjoy.

** This idea and theme of synthesis also plays out beautifully in the movie when the old school chanting is joined by, and musically merges perfectly with, 4*Town’s Nobody Like U…

Philosophy Tuesday

“Individual notes start to decay the moment they are born.

No note can escape this fate.

But together they work toward a crescendo that cannot exist in any one note alone.”

— Vihart

 

(Another wonderful, poetic, and philosophy-filled observation that becomes introspection that becomes inspiration, by the amazing Vihart.  Taken from an equally amazing video about Pi and music and more, which can be found here — check it out, it includes a musical challenge!)

Philosophy Tuesday

I want to talk tonight about the process of making art.  Because it is just that:  a process.

Rarely (if ever) does something come into our heads fully formed, gifted from the muses with perfection.  No, even in the best of circumstances we may have a vision, but it still needs to be rendered tangible so that it can be refined, then reviewed, then refined again.

More often, we begin with merely an inkling, or perhaps a smattering of them.  And then we need to, once again, render then tangible so we can see them, massage them, reflect on them and see what arises, then follow those paths, massaging and reflecting and following again, until we get to multitudinous cycles of refinement.

All to reach that ‘final’ product… which in actuality is really just the point where we stopped because if we kept going we (and others*) could see new things and we could elevate the work even more.

Fortunately, the works of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation provide excellent windows into this truth about process.  They have been remarkably generous in sharing the stories and histories of creation on a movie, from the earliest notions and sketches to the final product often five years later.  That there alone might be enough to have us grasp how much of a process it is, for five years is quite a long time to labour on something.  But it becomes even more palpable when we see just how different the early concepts and visions are to what ends up on the screen.  (Sometimes it feels like there’s no connection between the two at all!)  There’s tonnes of directions and ideas and themes that didn’t work, or didn’t work as well as another, or had their own pitfalls, or didn’t fit.  Along the way, whole scenes are discarded, whole elements excised.  At the most extreme, the entire last third of the movie, or even the whole movie, was tossed in order to rework and rewrite them towards awesomeness.  They’re not shy about this (clearly not, since they’re telling us about it).  I doubt its easy, but it’s part of the artistic process.

So why do we think this isn’t the case?  Why do we often hold a notion that true art somehow should come in a flash, perfectly formed, and if there’s even a bit of struggle there must be something wrong?  I’d postulate this: because, in the end, if the work has been refined and elevated enough then the final result feels inevitable.  Everything fits and sings and it seems like it couldn’t be any other way.

Here’s the takeaways that I wanted to create…

For one, an invitation to not be harsh or dismissive when we hear a work is taking a long time or is going through a lot of rewrites or editing or reshoots or whatever, depending on the medium.  That’s a part of the process.  The thing is not necessarily in trouble.  It’s doing what it needs to do. **

For two, a reminder to not be harsh or despondent towards ourselves and our creative endeavours.  Especially when they’re HARD.  And when they need wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and refinement.  It’s part of the process.

And lastly, to gather this all up and apply it to our lives and the grand art we all practice, that of the art of living.  For it is no different; it too is a process.  And as such we can be kinder and gentler with ourselves, and with others, and dance in the truth that it ongoingly requires great amounts of reflection, wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and forevermore refinement.

It is a neverending path towards increasing beauty.

 

* Because through this all we needn’t be alone in this – quite the contrary it’s much better to bring along a posse.  As noted before, “ya gotta pin your work up on the wall.

** I’d get more worried if there were no changes being made.  Maybe it’s the perfect conception!  But odds are not…