Notebooks

song in my head — “Superposition” by Young The Giant

I’m obsessed with notebooks. Journals. Planners. All these tangible things meant to map out the intangible—the project or the day. The goal. The vocation. The life. If only I can get it all down on paper, we think. Then it will be real. Then it will be attainable.

Right?

I hunt for organizational tools like a homeless man hunts trash cans for food, desperation quickening with every listless, overturned recepticle. ’That one was empty.‘ ‘That one didn’t work.’ ‘This one didn’t fill my needs.’

So the search continues.

Nothing meaningful ends in the planning stages. No one ever says, “yeah, but that guy took some really good notes.” Unless, of course, those notes are solid study notes and you snagged a copy of them to pass your final. But tests aren’t life. And they certainly aren’t art.

Art requires completion. Interaction. The finality of statement. Art is better when it’s singular and honest. That’s why remakes and prequels are so hard to pull off. Imagine a “reimagining” of the Mona Lisa. What purpose would that serve?

We want things with voice, with shape, with perspective—even if we can’t articulate such a need. Our soul is built by story and to story it longs to return. Netflix wouldn’t be trying to pump our brains with 24/7 content if story meant nothing. They know, like I know, that our brains are wired for discovery. And we’ll watch 20 bad new shows in hopes that the 21st transcends.

Like that homeless, hungry man with the trash cans, the hunt is never done.

“I am the perfect fuck” says James Marsden’s Neal Oliver in the wonderful and criminally unseen film, Interstate 60. “The one you’ll never have. Perfect in every way.”

Perfect in every way.

That’s how our plans tend to be. Our journals. Our calendars. On paper, they’re emaculate.

But that’s because we’ll never have them.

Reality refuses time and time again to conform to our schemes, yet the siren song of the “morning routine” or the “new habit” or the planner built perfectly for x, y and z continues to call despite the evidence against its very existence. These products, these planners, these life coaches, these books—they are not inspirational, really, not when faced with the light of a real day. They’re ‘aspirational.’ They’re dreams sold in Facebook ads.

There is no perfect day.

There is no perfect fuck.

Only the one you didn’t have. Only the one that lived solely inside your head. There it stays, unmarred. Free from blemish. Free from scrutiny and rejection and failure. But only there. And nowhere else.

Your plan fell through, like it always does. It didn’t translate to your real life. That new habit, new routine, new journal, new notebook—it didn’t do what it was advertised to do. But that is the way of things.

Amor Fati—Love of Fate

The obstacle is the opportunity, here and now in this present and tangible life, not in the dreams we conjure up in our journals. The one things that matters is action in context.

So how will you move today?

— G

A Stoic Symphony

From The Daily Stoic, one of my favorite websites (and books), here are some notes about making progress as a Stoic.

You are making progress if you find yourself...

  • criticizing no one

  • praising no one (I don't entirely agree—a kind word can go a long way; but I understand the idea)

  • blaming no one

  • accusing no one

  • saying nothing about yourself to indicate being someone or knowing something

  • when frustrated or impeded, you blame yourself (*warning: lots of language on link!*)

  • if complimented, you laugh

  • if criticized, you ignore

  • relaxed in motivation

  • banishing harmful desire

  • watching yourself as though you were an enemy plotting an attack

I find that last one very important. As with most artists, I have an amazing capacity to self-sabotage. My harmful desires, my nihilism, my darker fascinations—such things are always at the ready to undo me. Positivity and a growth mindset (traits that don't come naturally to me) are keys to success, while balancing such aspirations must be in harmony with wisdom, a lack of naivety, measured discernment, and love. It's not enough to pretend to be optimistic and positive all the time. I have to embrace my natural Stoicism, my faith, and my five-ness. There's simply no way around the makeup of my brain and my soul. So why fight it?

“I go to sleep content, but my final thought is of Resistance. I will wake up with it tomorrow. Already I am steeling myself.” — Steven Pressfield

Harmony. Harmony is key. Polyphony. Multiple melodies acting in accord. The macro is the whole symphony. The micro is every line, every note. People will only understand the symphony (the thing I’m trying to build and communicate) if each note is properly in place.

So what are the notes of your life? The melodies? How do they weave together? Ask yourself that today.

—G

Thoughts On Chaos

song in my head — “It’s A Job” by Wolfie’s Just Fine

In this life, chaos is unavoidable. We all know it. We sense it. We see it. Chaos, suffering, the unexpected… these things surround us all the time. It’s in many ways, the human condition. So this being the case—that no amount of human planning or programming or control can do away entirely with the unexpected, with chaos, then the only thing that we can do to find harmony or peace is to reframe the way in which we look at chaos. Because like almost everything else, there are two sides to the chaotic coin, a lightness to the dark.

Our most human of intuitions is to look for patterns, to look for a cause and effect. With the micro chaos, sometimes this is easy. We ran over a nail; therefore we have a flat tire. Mystery solved. With the big stuff, though… this can be more difficult. This healthy person I know now has cancer. They have 6 months to live, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

That phrase, “there’s nothing anyone can do about it” has evolved into a pretty prevalent axiom these days: “It is what it is.” While on its face, this is a rather cynical or dismissive way to approach everyday chaos, (and that’s usually how it’s used), it’s a saying not without its truth. It really is what it is. But recognizing “it is what it is” and being at peace with “it is what it is” are two very different things.

The word chaos is primarily used to describe a state of total confusion or disorder, something unorganized and unbridled. But there’s another definition that I think is worth pondering for our purposes. It’s often seen as Chaos with a big C, related to the idea of the creation of the universe, the creation of all things. Chaos—that place of disorder before order is introduced—is a state of things in which chance is supreme. So if there’s a CHANCE that bad stuff we “don’t deserve” will come our way, isn’t there also a chance that GOOD things we don’t deserve will come our way? And not only that, but what if every moment of chaos, every state where chance is supreme, was approached with the mindset that not only will Good possibly come from this moment, but that Good ultimately CAN come from this moment. The possibility of either is there. It’s just a matter of how you look at it.

—G

The Points Still Count

"Without a ruler to do it against, you can’t make crooked straight." — Seneca

song in my head—”Real World” by Matchbox Twenty

We would all do better in the wilderness with a guide, someone to show us the lay of the land—where not to go, what areas are good to explore, etc. And I don't think it limits our experiences to have boundaries of a sort.

Guides don't have to be "rulers," per se, though there are aspects of life that should inspire stricter order. For the purposes of the artist, I think the best guides leave some wiggle room, some space for improvisation and exploration. I don't think a healthy aim for life (or our work) is to plan on making one perfect, impossible shot after another. That's not realistic. Instead, think of guides as goalposts in football. The kicker has a range in which to score points. It doesn't matter if the ball goes straight down the center or barely eeks in. The points still count either way.

—G

The Mask of Virtue

song in my head — “Yeah, Whatever” by Splender

Virtue is an interesting quality, one we strive to find in others and one we hope is present in ourselves.

After all, who doesn't want to be good?

Gillette recently released a piece of branded content that aimed to be good. Maybe you've heard of it. It's been kind of a big deal.

Predictably, it's ruffled a few feathers— the Daily Wires and Fox News’ of the world, whose opinions by now on such matters are obvious in almost any circumstance. It also, equally as expected, garnered much praise for its message, especially from feminists and feminist allies.

Nevermind in all of this that Gillette is a multinational, billion-dollar corporation still marketing pink things to woman that cost more than "man" things (a double insult, if you ask me), or that this “degrading” commentary is at its core nothing more than an advertisement designed to incite conversation in order to sell razors. What matters the most in this game of public virtue is that everyone gets to feel good about themselves.

You see, those who love the message already held those beliefs—that there's a problem with today's men. I do not disagree with this viewpoint outright; I'm simply saying that the message of the ad aligns with this worldview, and having such a view confirmed by a high-profile piece of marketing—excuse me, “short film”—feeds hubris. It feels good to be justified. Thus the positive response.

Oppositely, there are those pissed off by the piece, those who feel slighted or attacked. Again, I don’t necessarily disagree with the substance of their complaints (though I often grow weary of the condescending manner in which they are generally delivered.) But like their counterparts, the reactions of the “stereotypical conservative” are practiced and expected, especially those of the pundit class. The message doesn't align with their worldview, because they already believe that they are right and virtuous; their hubris is their brand. So any suggestion of malice in their tribe as a whole is an insult to their individual and supposed virtue, an insult requiring loud and sometimes aggressive rebuttal. (see: #NotAllMen)

And then there's Gillette itself, the leader in this virtue Olympics, who have now purchased the right to crow the loudest, while their unfair practices are swept further under the rug.

But here's the thing about virtue. Being good is tough. We seek to be good, but it takes work—inner work and self-reflection and self-awareness, things our mainstream culture has no real interest in fostering. To seek true virtue is at this point almost countercultural, which is uncomfortable for many.

Fortunately for us, as Gillette aptly shows, virtue is a quality that is easy to fake. And in today's culture, where our every public move is categorized and cataloged and judged with impunity and in perpetuity, the temptation to at least appear good has never been higher. So the self-righteousness and the opinions and the judgments and the corporate lecturing will continue, while actual, inner change seems harder and harder to find.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius

A hollow and precisely-crafted message like Gillette's, then, with its corporate origins and its simplistic overview of complex humanity, can be regarded as little more than an opportunity to don our virtue, to "argue what a good man should be" when we should, as Marcus Aurelius puts it, place our focus and energy on just being better people—people understanding, compassionate, and empathetic to others, who seek to serve those around them while worrying little about the morality of a morally relative and reactionary culture.

The truth of the matter is is that these responses to such stimuli, positive or negative or somewhere in between, are not about being good. They are about the viewer and how the viewer uses the message as a mirror to signal their own, often misrepresented or misplaced virtue. Their own correctness. Being right is the ultimate trophy, after all. And such an appealing prize makes for good marketing bait. Gillette has made a connection now, you see. We've either found an ally or an adversary in a global manufacturer of toiletries. (Hooray for us.) And this was the aim all along; as with sex, polarization sells. It is better for Gillette to be hated or adored than ignored altogether.

So for my part, (as I admittedly signal my own supposed virtue), Gillette didn't really rile me in any direction. This is because I try to hold a counter perspective to that of the two polar ends doing the most shouting in the halls of public discord, an attitude which many of us keep. We see the ad for what it is, we think the message is valuable, and we understand that most of us will, more often than not, fall short in its pursuit. This is simply the reality of it, free of our opinions and judgments.

We try. We fail. We learn. We try again.


Of all the masks we wear, the Mask of Virtue may be the hardest to discard. But it's also the most damning to embrace. It puts us above others when humility should be our chief goal. It says we are incapable of being wrong when learning from our failures is the only true path to growth.

So remember, then, if you can, to keep in check such emotions, especially when they're being manipulated in the pursuit of financial gain. Our work should be in striving to be good, not in arguing about who is better.

And certainly not in faking who is best.

— G