Fan Friday 13: Happy Birthday

Today/aka yesterday is/was my birthday. I’ll say something about it in the next couple of days, I’m sure. Birthdays are… something else. I’ll get into all of that later.

For now, a quick Fan Friday… Maria Bamford.

Get up on it.

She’s a stand up comedian, and she’s been killing it for years.

She’s also bipolar and been very awesomely open about her struggles. It’s in her comedy and she also goes on shows to talk about it.

I loved her stand up for a long time before I knew anything about her personal life.

Fan Friday 13: Happy Birthday

Feel It All

I propose everyone experiences all of life. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and the rest of it. I feel this way for purely romantic reasons and for our own well-being. I think the ugly can be beautiful and useful. (Though it’s usually just ugly.) And we should listen to that part. The bad helps because it open our minds to the full spectrum of experience so that we might draw from all those different perspectives when we go off and create. (Everyone in the world wants/has a creative job, right?)

I’ve come across another way that being open seems to help.

“In being androgynous, especially in a sex-stereotyped society, a person would need to be open to experience, flexible, accepting of apparent opposites, unconcerned about social norms, and self-reliant– exactly those traits identified with creative persons.”
(source)

All the ideas I write about in regards to happiness, fear, and melancholia, have at least one thing in common, open mindedness. Refusing to be limit yourself to any set of ideas. That could mean embracing both typical male and female roles or dismissing them both.

“A significant interaction effect between femininity and masculinity was found showing that subjects high on both femininity and masculinity (androgynous) and low on both scales (undifferentiated) reached higher CFT* scores than female-typed and male-typed subjects.”
(source)
*Creative Functioning Test

I think people have a massive desire to define themselves in order to comfort their anxieties created by a relatively scary and complicated world. To think they know who they are. “Here’s my list that makes me who I am.” But I don’t think we should do that. I don’t think we should care. That idea that we should find our true selves is flawed. There is no true self. We are always changing – growing, wilting, learning – and searching should continue for our entire lives. We should never close ourselves off to any part of the world. Sometimes when I read an actress talk about not being a feminist, they have some comment along the lines of, “I just like traditional feminine traits.” And while that has nothing to do with feminism and is annoying on that front, the real troubling part of that is just how limiting it is. It’s fine if you like cooking and cleaning or whatever you define as traditional, you can like those things. But why only experience those things?

There is so much out in the world to do in our short lives. Yet, for some reason, people want to limit themselves to even less. All they end up doing is hurting themselves. Sure, if you don’t want to be creative, then these studies don’t apply to you. But now you’re just boring and predictable. For the rest of us, exploration helps.

Maybe I only care about these studies because I never really identified as manly in its pure/traditional sense. So now I can point to this and marvel at how lovely and smart I am. How I knew the best way to do things all along. In truth, this doesn’t mean much to me on a personal level. I understand psychology enough to know that tendencies are not guarantees. Men tend to be more violent than women, but that doesn’t mean any random man will be violent. But that’s the rational part of me, maybe down in my brain, I’m proud of myself for no good reason. Damn brain.

 

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/2013/09/01/blurred-lines-androgyny-and-creativity/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201009/the-secret-creativity-oblique-perspective

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9450.00198/abstract (full article available for free)

Feel It All

Fate and Beauty in Numbers

Chance is usually a boring word. Simply there to express the impossibility of predicting the outcome. Luck is often used the same way. Bad luck, good luck. Just the complexity of life making the future unknown no matter how well you plan or how informed your decision. Simply the likelihood of outside influences encroaching on your best-laid plans.

On the other hand, people romanticize fate a lot. It’s not used to mean chance, as it can mean. Someone may say, “take comfort, it was meant to be this way.” or the even worse “everything happens for a reason.” How terrible would that be? Talk about nihilism. Fate, used in this way, is the idea that everything will work out. And while that sounds nice on the surface, once you dig just a tiny bit you see how depressing the consequences of that truly are. Fate implies nothing you do matters. You can’t have “everything happens for a reason” and exclude things from “everything.” So whether I give up on life or work hard, it was meant to be. Fate doesn’t just mean no free will, it means there is not even an illusion of choice. Some bleak philosophies appear to validate giving up and retreating to a sad dark room to wait for life to pass by. But with fate it isn’t even a choice, it just is. It was your destiny. So your resignation isn’t your decision. Lay in bed. It’s fate. Your mistakes aren’t your fault. Learning from them is not up to you. In fact, nothing you do is good or bad and your accomplishments aren’t yours. “You got a PhD? Who cares? It was your fate. You had no say in the matter. You’re just a little pawn in some oddly detailed cosmic story written long before you existed.”

To me, there is nothing appealing in fate.

Chance, however, is wonderful but often relegated to being a throw away explanation. “Oh well, bad luck I guess.” But in reality it emphasizes how lucky, in terms of statistics, you are without diminishing your effort. Because chance can play a role but not completely determine the outcome. The chance of something falling on you out of nowhere is almost nonexistent. But if you are trying, something good might fall in line for you. For instance, you may have stumbled upon a brilliant idea while studying something else, but you still need to work to get to that point. To find that fossil, you had to dig somewhere. It’ll be an educated guess as to where to dig, but you never know if you’ll uncover anything. Luck was involved, but you had to put yourself in a position to understand or take advantage of it when it showed up. You had to leave the petri dish out.

Or think about love, which people tend to enjoy more than scientific discoveries (for some strange reason)! It might be, according to some people, that your partner was always meant to find you, which makes it inevitable and unremarkable. This person was meant for you. Your relationship requires no effort or work in order for the two of you to grow together. You are meant for each other and nothing will change that. OR there were innumerable tiny decisions in your life led to your meeting. And any one different decision, turning left instead of right, would have resulted in you never meeting your love. How special does that make it? The indiscriminate luck of life, the good and the bad, put you in the place to fall in love, and you two did the rest. But it’s not merely logistical decisions. It’s incalculable. You had to be in a specific place mentally, as well. Everything had to line up and it could have NOT happened. What if you didn’t have your heart broken the year before? Or you didn’t think much of that idea you two eventually clicked over. You never read that book or took that class. Looking back, planning all these events is impossible. And any subtle alteration could have destroyed it all. And rather than being fated to this person, every day you make the conscious decision to be with him or her. Many of us can imagine our parents choosing our partner for us and being appalled by our limited autonomy. Yet, if we simply ascribe the decision to some mysterious force, still out of our hands, it becomes beautiful. I think it’s better still if we choose to love on our own. If something is “meant to be” why does that sound especially romantic? Why would a scripted life be more beautiful than the chaos and complexity of chance?

 

Maybe it’s no big deal
To live through the ordeal
It’s all an accident
Whether we die or live
What if the night that we met
You look right
I look left
We never hit it off outside the bar
What if we look back and laugh
When it’s all in the past
Will we be standing there
Thinking to ourselves

Our luck is in the in-between

Fate and Beauty in Numbers

Where Are The Artists?

Does it feel like fame is different to anyone else? This may be the benefit of hindsight, but artists in the past seemed way more… curious. They were interested in finding some sort of truth or justice, like John Lennon, or angry with how the world works, like Bukowski. So many seemed to have some sort of vision, some goal. Something they were railing against or driving toward. You can think of all the beat writers. They were all trying to reach some sort of truth. Whether they went about it a smart way or not, it was a worthwhile exploration. I can think of plenty of artists with causes nowadays, but none as genuinely strange as John Lennon’s Bed-In for Peace. I guess when you’re in the middle of it, it’s impossible to see what will last. But my searches are coming up empty. Justin Beiber and One Direction are just the new Backstreet Boys. And I’m not knocking them if that’s your thing, but not many people would argue that the Backstreet Boys had anything really important to say. Who’s the John Lennon of right now? Bono? I hope not. He’s a fine person, I’m sure, but where’s that weirdness? Who are the people that are saying truly fascinating things? Or are angry!

I love plenty of music and books from the 2000’s on, so I’m not saying there is a lack of good art. I’m just wondering if we lost those “out there” spokespeople since all media is so fractured and oddly consumed now. Are the people who said “we should definitely drop acid because it’ll show us the true way to live” gone now? Is there no more acid trip? Which machine kills fascists today!?

I’m sure many exist and I simply can’t think of them off the top of my head. So feel free to leave a comment pointing me in the direction of those people as angry (and right) as Bukowski.

 

“And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

[…]

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system.”
Charles Bukowski

Where Are The Artists?

Fun Coincidence

It’s a lovely coincidence that I finally got around to finishing that post about sadness and I feel a bit of malaise creeping over me. I’m not depressed – or particularly sad – just a tad disappointed and maybe nervous about the unknowable future. And I should be. I don’t like the feeling, but I should feel it. I’m not doing all I can to move forward in the direction I hope to go. This is partially by design. I want to give myself a little space right now to explore some ideas that I need to work out. I want an idea of what I want to pursue before I make the decision to pursue it fully. So for a little under a year, I’ve been reading like crazy and writing down a hundred ideas a day, eliminating 99.5 of them and seeing where that takes me. By design I’m holding still in terms of actual, noticeable progress in order to, not find myself, but prepare. That doesn’t change that it’s uncomfortable. The “smart” thing to do would be to get a nice lab job for grad school applications. Build some little networks and grab on to something someone is studying. But instead I’m trying to start on my own. Get some ideas on the move and then convince other people they should listen. I have no idea how it’ll go. It’s possible I’ll end up with nothing, a complete blank. Then a good deal of time of my life will be hard to explain to other people. While I don’t mind so much, telling a parent, a relative, a friend, or a family friend that you’re reading a lot doesn’t sound impressive. I’m about 10,000 words into a direction. So around 50 solid ideas to work with and explore. There are 20 more sources I have yet to read, with unknown consequences. I may add more ideas or I may have to throw out some of my favorites. Crumple up a section and build again.

There’s just not much tangible at the moment. And that’s scary. Sure, there are some scribbles on a word document and too many links to organize and remember, but in terms of definable movement, I’m lacking. It’s frustrating to feel like I’m not moving. Which means I need to work harder, try to rethink how I execute my plans, or abandon my current way of doing things. I’m not sure which is correct at the moment, so maybe I’ll try a few out and see where they go.

ADVENTURE!

Fun Coincidence

Good Sadness

Why do we want to limit our emotions?

“We are possibly not far away from eradicating a major cultural force, a serious inspiration to invention, the muse behind much art and poetry and music. We are wantonly hankering to rid the world of numerous ideas and visions, multitudinous innovations and meditations. We are right at this moment annihilating melancholia.”
Eric G. Wilson

Reading passages like this make me feel a bit more normal. I don’t mind sadness but I keep reading, over and over and over, people telling me to be happy. Think positive thoughts. That being happy is the most important thing in life. And that if you aren’t happy, immediately stop those bad thoughts and focus on the positive. I just don’t know if that’s good, all the time, and feel like a freak when I have a conversation with a chipper little stranger or read a happy blog. Which is one of my problems with the happiness movement, how cultish it is. It’s what Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about in Bright-Sided after she was diagnosed with cancer. As if she HAD to be grateful to have cancer. Whatever mindset an individual wants to have is fine, inasmuch as I don’t think anyone has the right to make you think differently, but the ferocity with which proponents of happiness push it on other people is alienating. Especially in troubling times, when no one needs to have the guilt piled on top of other issues.

I think it’s important to note that feeling sad or angry, doesn’t mean you are miserable. It just means there’s something that is currently making you sad or angry. There are plenty of good reasons to be down and we shouldn’t resist or ignore them. Sadness doesn’t have to be negative. It’s simply an acknowledgement of reality in some instances. Kierkegaard said he “felt bliss in melancholy and sadness.”

It’s part of life. It’s necessary and it helps us think and grow. When my head is aching from a migraine, I wish pain didn’t exist. But we know what happens without pain. People never learn where their limits are and can’t tell when they’re hurting themselves. Many people with congenital insensitivity have difficult lives with a high risk of disease or death. Pain, like fear and sadness, makes us aware of our situation. On the other hand, happiness is a mental state telling us that everything is fine. That’s not the best mindset for learning or analyzing. When happy, we think the world around us is harmless and safe and don’t concern ourselves with it because we don’t need to concentrate on anything to make it better or assume everything will work out (as Barbara Ehrenreich discusses in relation to the economic crash). We, as animals, want to avoid sadness because it means something isn’t going right. In our history it could have meant death was around the corner. If a family member died, it possibly meant whatever killed him or her would be coming for us next, whether it was illness, war, or a predator. Our reaction would have been to get out of that situation. But to do that, you need to carefully analyze what went wrong so you know what to avoid. Sadness and anxiety – generally thought of as negative feelings – promote deep thinking.

In a study relating weather to mood, Adam Alter found that “sunshine dulls the mind to risk and thoughtfulness.” because it’s associated with happier moods. When happy we don’t scan the world for ways to change how we feel. We want stay in that place.

“the rainy days induced a generally negative mood state, which the shoppers subconsciously tried to overcome by grazing the environment for information that might have replaced their dampened sad moods with happier alternatives.”

It makes sense that when we feel down, we try to figure out how to change that. It’s the starting position that’s so important. When things are good, what needs to improve? That’s understandable. But when things aren’t good and we convince ourselves it’s not so bad, where’s the motivation to actually change your situation? We are putting our brains in a state that doesn’t match reality and doesn’t promote action. We are trying to convince ourselves that everything is good, to relax and turn down awareness, when we should be acting to fix the current problem.

The thing about unhappiness that people seem to forget is that it’s not permanent. No feeling is permanent. But beyond trying to figure out if it’s feasible to be happy all or most of the time or not, I question the desire to want to be.

Even the greatest minds suffer from doubt and they fully felt it, but those doubts won’t necessarily stop you. In a letter to a friend, Charles Darwin let his self-doubt and pessimism shine through, “But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.” It’s hard to be more bleak than saying we live only to make blunders. But in no way did these thoughts prevent Darwin from making a massive contribution to the world. Someone who, at least occasionally, thought of himself as very stupid wrote one of the most important books in biology. It’s even likely these doubts helped as much as they hurt. Because having doubts forces you to turn a more critical eye to your work. The desire to brush off uncertainty and be proud at every decision and characteristic and piece of work you complete might lower the quality even if it does boost productivity.

We need to let ourselves feel everything or we risk, not only failing to uncover great ideas, but our mental health. Clinical psychologist, David Barlow, has done research that suggests exposure therapy for anxiety disorders only works in specific cases. Research on more complex anxiety disorders reveals that “what patients have to be exposed to is not the external things they fear in the environment, but their tendency to avoid their own emotional experience.” The problem isn’t having negative emotions, it’s that people do everything they can to avoid them, thus never learning where they come from, what they’re for, and how to deal with them.

 

I feel I’ve written enough, and probably too much for most people. But I think these next two passages do really well to explain a few concerns with the happiness obsession. The first of which is so important, but so frequently ignored.

“In earlier research, she found that people who place a great value on being happy actually have more mental health problems, including, sadly enough, depression. In a follow-up experiment, she found that reading a newspaper article singing the praises of happiness led them to actually feel less happy…”
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-murder-and-the-meaning-life/201211/if-you-pursue-happiness-you-may-find-loneliness

 

“Depression (as I see it, at least) causes apathy in the face of this unease, lethargy approaching total paralysis, an inability to feel much of anything one way or another. In contrast, melancholia (in my eyes) generates a deep feeling in regard to this same anxiety, a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.

Our culture seems to confuse these two and thus treat melancholia as an aberrant state, a vile threat to our pervasive notions of happiness — happiness as immediate gratification, happiness as superficial comfort, happiness as static contentment.”

 

Here are a couple articles with some great ideas and usually with links to good books/papers. I may write more later, but a blog isn’t the place for a 2,000 word exploration.

Society fear sadness

In Praise of Melancholy and How It Enriches Our Capacity for Creativity

 

A few benefits of sadness (memory, judgement, motivation)

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_ways_sadness_may_be_good_for_you

 

A full life is embracing the difficult

Friedrich Nietzsche on Why a Fulfilling Life Requires Embracing Rather than Running from Difficulty

 

A couple more benefits (can’t link to the original article, sorry)

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-murder-and-the-meaning-life/201306/7-good-things-about-feeling-bad

 

The link between creativity and mental illness

The Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Illness

 

Happiness Vs. Meaning. They don’t always line up.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/meaning-is-healthier-than-happiness/278250/
http://www.pnas.org/content/110/33/13684.abstract

 

 

note: I DO NOT mean to suggest that happiness is bad. I’m aware of the positive effects of happiness and think genuine happiness is one of the nicest things in life. But life is hardly so straight forward as to maintain happiness constantly. My problem comes from trying to spin every event in a positive light and running from issues that need to be dealt with in order to move forward in life. For instance, being too scared to try something isn’t a disease of fear. It’s the result of the unreasonable goal of never having to feel it and hiding from it. So what I’m writing about is a rather empty type of happiness. A happiness that takes some convincing rather than one that spontaneously envelopes us, like a moment with friends tends to evoke.

Good Sadness

Fan Friday 12: Unprepared

I’ve been pretty good about preparing a post over the last few weeks, but I’m sitting here with nothing to write about. I love a thousand bands and could write about any of them, at length, at any time. But that’s boring for about 99% of the wordpress world and talking to myself about music isn’t the most enjoyable pastime. (I don’t mind talking to myself about other things, which is why I’m okay writing this blog even though I’m never sure how many, if any, people read it.)

Got sidetracked. So what have I been into this week?

Lauren Lapkus

You might not recognize the name, but she was recently in Orange is the New Black on netflix as Susan Fischer, the female guard (and is apparently in Jurassic World). She’s an amazing improvisor and has made a million hilarious appearances on Comedy Bang Bang and Improv4Humans. And was featured on the improv show House of Lies Live.

She’s one of those people you find when not many people know their name and just hope that the rest of the world catches on. Like that little band you somehow heard when all they had were a few demos floating around. I, obviously, have no stake in whether or not she hits it big, but I do want more people like her making stuff. I’d take her before almost any of the comedians in the romcoms that come out every other week.

improv4Humans

After killing it on podcasts for so long, she started her own, called With Special Guest… Lauren Lapkus. Every week another person hosts a fictitious podcast and the guest is a new Lauren Lapkus character. She plays everything form a guru to a teenager.

On Comedy Bang Bang the podcast as Traci Rearden (with Adam Brody)
http://www.earwolf.com/episode/a-spiritual-journey/

 

She does shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Which you might know about from people like Amy Poehler, Katie Dippold, Ben Schwartz, Rob Riggle, Paul Rust, Jessica St. Clair, and on and on. Many funny people have come out of the UCB.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upright_Citizens_Brigade_Theatre

 

 

Fan Friday 12: Unprepared