Difference: a poem

Gazing upon the still waters of my mind
I sit, pondering
Ripples course through, offering visions of those from another life
Love lost, chains broken, the richness of shared sentiment shattered by mistakes unforgiven and habits untempered
Why do we not accept our own humanity? Why do we not recognize our own selfishness? Why do we wallow in our discontents, paradoxically pleased at the torments and losses of those most near?
I suppose it’s ignorance
I suppose it’s capitalism
I suppose it’s the need to replace the void of our self-worth
To assert that, “Indeed, I know better!”
“Indeed, I am better!”
“Indeed, I am the conqueror!”
“Indeed, I am of the higher class!”
“Of the higher status!”
“Of the higher authority!”
“Of the higher sensibility or absolute true opinion!”
“These are the convictions I have accepted, how could they NOT be right?!”
In reality, none of know barely a thing
We are most but willows in the wind, which is the accepted postulates, positions, or proposed notions of those who have come before, those who, for some reason, have set the standard of behavior and practice
Popular will at the same time abhors and celebrates the eccentric
The eccentric is only odd insofar as they are unaccepted
As their grooves deepen and their art made resonant, so their oddness beams in the darkness, spouting glimmering phantasms that inspire genius and move mountains

Books vs. podcasts

Podcasts certainly have their worth. There are many, many remarkable shows like 99% Invisible, Akimbo, This American Life, Revisionist History, and Longform. What podcasts offer uniquely that books can’t is wide exposure and a deep sense of humanity that comes from sometimes intimate conversation. Podcasts, in other words, offer a breadth and diversity that most books simply can’t compete with.

Books, on the other hand, offer depth that blows podcasts out of the water. If you’re trying to be a better writer, you’ll be much better off reading a highly recommended book on it than listening to a podcast episode about it.

If you’re looking for exposure, listen to great podcasts. If you’re looking for a deep dive into particular topics, check out books.

Kurt Vonnegut on the stories we tell

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Kurt Vonnegut is a masterful storyteller. He’s the type of author you might see quoted on social media with a lake at dawn resting calmly in the background – a “post-it note author” who continually calls on us to live a life of thoughtfulness.

Today, I’m offering his lecture on the types of stories we tell. Stories are certain to be a recurring topic in this blog. This is because stories are immensely powerful. From religious texts to the MacBook you bought to the entirety of your self-perception, the human experience is a complex amalgamation of stories, both true and false.

You can find a link to a video of it here. You can also get the gist of it from this infographic:

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Denis Diderot, the Diderot Effect, and consumerist dissonance

Imagine this: the bottom of your shoes starts to come off and a hole begins along the side where your arch is, so you decide you should get a new pair. You go to the store and after looking for some time decide on a nice new pair of, say, Nikes.

After wearing these new Nikes for a few days, you start to feel they don’t match your worn jacket, which makes you feel the need to replace the old jacket with something that will create a better look with the Nikes, something you can feel more fresh in.

You get the jacket. Then, inevitably, you get new jeans with the jacket to complete the look, maybe even a new wristwatch.

This, my friends, is the Diderot Effect. It has two formal definitions. First, it means goods purchased by consumers will be cohesive to their sense of identity, and as a result, will be complementary to one another. And second, the introduction of a new possession that is deviant from the consumer’s current complementary goods can result in a process of spiraling consumption.

This phenomenon was first coined in the essay “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or
A warning to those who have more taste than fortune.”

It’s classic consumerism and important to be aware of the next time you’re feeling like something you once loved could use a bit of an update.

The War of Art: An adventure into Resistance, the force that prevents us from living our most authentic lives

I’m about halfway done with Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. The book is about the would-be artist’s creative battle with what Pressfield calls Resistance. It comes highly recommended by Brian Koppelman, so I decided to take a break from Good to Great and check it out.

While there are a lot of great ideas I could share with you from the book, today I’d like to just share one, my favorite: RESISTANCE AND UNHAPPINESS.

RESISTANCE AND UNHAPPINESS

What does resistance feel like?

First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.

Unalleviated, Resistance mounts to a pitch that becomes unendurable. At this point vices kick in. Dope, adultery, web surfing.

Beyond that, Resistances becomes clinical. Depression, aggression, dysfunction. Then actual crime and physical self-destruction.

Sounds like life, I know. It isn’t. It’s Resistance.

What makes it tricky is that we live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of this unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction. John Lennon once wrote:

 

Well, you think you’re so clever

and classless and free

But you’re all fucking peasants

As far as I can see

 

As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.

More wonderful books for personal progress

Continuing this idea that good books provide perspective that can be used to challenge existing beliefs and grow as a person, one might inquire as to what constitutes a good book.

Last month I offered some insight related to this when I wrote that the first step to becoming cultured is to start reading great books, and I provided a list of some of the most wonderful books.

And last September I gave a list of some of the most important books about building character.

Today, I offer a couple more suggestions:

The Golden Verses are a chief inspiration for Benjamin Franklin’s moral development.

They are significant for me as well. I encourage you to try to work them out for yourself.

More on being yourself by Ralph Waldo Emerson from Self-Reliance

E.E. Cummings said, “To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any humanRalph Waldo Emerson being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

This is a common theme throughout history; the greatest thinkers have praised originality.

This is a concept worth continuing a discussion about because the dangers of conformity are as alive as ever.

Perhaps one of the greatest manifestos on individualism is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Indeed, in perfect union with Cummings’s philosophy is Emerson’s quote that:

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Here are a few other remarkable statements from that essay:

  • To believe our own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost…
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate.
  • Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare?  Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton?  Every great man is a unique.

For more quotes and their meanings, see this link

 

A Poet’s Advice to Students – Prose by E.E. Cummings about what it means to be yourself

E.E. Cummings
E.E. Cummings by Edward Weston (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography)

So, if you didn’t know, E.E. Cummings is delightful. His words have this strange way of making you feel warm and wonderful inside. It’s probably because he’s a hoper, and hopers inspire.

This is prose. It’s a poetic narrative but not a poem.

It’s about the power of feeling feelings and how feeling feelings is the hardest thing in the world – harder than blowing up the world, actually. And it’s about how feeling feelings makes you the realest you.

From a hoper to (hopefully) another hoper, I present: A Poet’s Advice to Students by E.E. Cummings.

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

For more information, check out this article by Maria Popova.

A lyric: 3

It’s riveting, really
Ideals and abilities, learning agility
Growing affinities
Higher amenities
Documentaries countering
The movies that lied to me

Buddy cop flicks from the 80s
Creating the standard of ladies
It’s black magic and masochist
Boppity bippty of luxury lavishes
Marked and established the standards of femme mystique

Breed the discreet
50% are set to be sexed or meek
Take to the streets and reveal the disease

Meat in Ibiza
Popping their pills and then smoking their reefer
Corruption of youth who live for the season
Egos in leaders who lead without meaning

The artists are saviors
Revealing the racists
And places where traces
Where our ancestors’ histories bleed

The darkness of cultural ease
Built on the backs of unwilling passengers
Carried by caravans directed by power’s conceit
The oppressive elite

The daughter who wasn’t empowered
Our sons, they sit in their towers
Our fathers who art in their power
Say prayers to the players in games

Say praise to the almighty dollar
On high, please let me win the new lotto
I am a humble new follower
In the dogma of Western armata
I offer my honor and martyr
Please! If not the lotto, I’m fine with a Honda

Sure, you can state the exceptions
Yes, bonds, they have been lessened
And many don’t give in to greed
But many do, so I’m telling you
It’s important to heed this decree:

The wealthy in towers indulge in gluttonous feasts while many minorities, people in poverty, women, and ebonies can’t get a mezzanine
And power and cowardice trample inhabitants from which you can’t get a drink

Note: This is one of the darkest things I’ve ever drafted. In hindsight, I don’t necessarily agree with all the assertions, but I still believe they’re worth consideration. Human nature is complex and nuanced. A discussion of the issues is critical, but it’s important to realize there are a lot of good, loving, and saving qualities to appreciate.

A lyric: 2

A young black activist
Tragically massacred
Majority white
Captured in hazardous prejudice
We’re all savages
Angered by different establishments
Our might
Trampled by lovers of avarice
We’re all brothers and sisters and mothers and uncles and cousins
But suffering is something that don’t get no loving
So tell me, my friend, who do we our trust in
Media telling us winning at every expense is an action of substance
It’s actually rubbish
The pageantry mastery is selfish and ugly
Money is something that always feels wanting
It’s puzzling we’re running and bustling to get some more coverage
Infirmities swarming
Motives maliciously lurking
The furnace is churning the logs of injustice
We wonder
How we can stand to let these things be
Together we grow our communities
We’re parts of a tree, the veins of a leaf
We must stand up for peace
…Not rest easy in silence

Note: This opens with a discussion of race that suggests that I am referring to an idea that a majority of people who are white are prejudice. This is not my intention. It’s meant to provoke a consideration of race in America in a broad sense. It’s a commentary on the division in America we’re all experiencing and how that division is often carried to the extreme.

We’re all fighting each other on ideologies and sometimes feel compelled to win at all costs. Meanwhile, there are many greedy people who are profiting at the expense of many people’s well-being. My hopes are evolving and compel me to more definitely ask for a reflection on the need for empathy and consideration of other points of view. Anger, fear, and ignorance are frequently the cause of much dysfunction and hurt. I would like to promote ideas that call forth unity and a vision of more whole communities.