Fighting Oneself, Revisited

This is one of the strangest times of my life. I remem­ber feel­ing some­thing sim­i­lar to this over four years ago, but I haven’t had it since.

I’m fight­ing my old self again. Fighting against these feel­ings and past habits.

I wish I could define and explain it. Vincent Gallo has a song he titled “Glad To Be Unhappy”, filled his dis­tinctly min­i­mal­is­tic piano and acoustic gui­tar sounds, so sparse you don’t know where the down­beat falls. But there are no lyrics, and I think I’m start­ing to under­stand why.

Everything is so sim­ple when you’re set in your heart. But when you’re filled with such para­dox­i­cal, con­tra­dic­tory feel­ings, noth­ing makes any sense. The world is turned upside down.

It’s frus­trat­ing1 and beau­ti­ful all at once.

I think a part of me wants to think about it. I want to keep this feel­ing, where every song sounds as good as the first time you heard it, and the leaden sky is urg­ing you for­ward with every step you take. To be so inspired.

And while part of me knows that to fight against ones inner nature is fool­ish2, another part of me knows how destruc­tive it can be.

  1. The orig­i­nal title of that post was actu­ally just a 5x5 pixel square, meant to con­fuse the reader into not know­ing what to think. Trolley tried to cor­rect me once and told me the title was bro­ken, and I had to let him know it was done on pur­pose. With my new head­line images plu­gin, the graphic title doesn’t quite work so I had to change it. []
  2. To add another level to this, I’m fight­ing against fight­ing myself []

Differing Perceptions

Julie's drawing of me

Julie drew this pic­ture of me. The details betray her perspicacity.

Such as the way my shirt tails dan­gle insou­ciantly from the sweater. How the pant bot­toms are slightly bunched up. And while I don’t wear a tie that often, the preppy top + skater bot­toms style is accu­rate. Even the length of chain and the shape of my glasses. All the lit­tle details I think about when I dress myself. The only thing that isn’t me is the hair, which falls flat in the win­ter, due to the fact that it’s toque wear­ing season.

Also, I have no eyes, nose or mouth is this pic­ture. Only my wide-arm glasses, which I’ve said before is a large part of my iden­tity. Obviously, her exclu­sion of my facial fea­tures has put even more empha­sis on this.

I won­der: why are my arms drawn behind my back? Posture says a lot about a per­son. Maybe this was done with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion, but maybe there was sub­con­scious intent.

It’s always inter­est­ing to find out how other peo­ple see you. A self-image is often biased.

So which image is more accu­rate; yours or theirs?

Becoming Pat

At the core of our beings, Pat and I are the same person.

What sep­a­rates us is our emo­tion, or lack thereof. Pat’s the log­i­cal one, I’m the emo­tional one. I’ve always looked up to him — his strength, his morals, his per­son­al­ity — with­out really under­stand­ing why.

It’s only in the last year that I’ve come to real­ize Pat is a Taoist. This comes with the real­iza­tion that I’m a Taoist myself, and explains why I try to be more like him.

The inter­est­ing part is that he doesn’t even know that he’s a Taoist — sort of like Winnie the Pooh — which is exactly what makes him a true Taoist.

One of Chuang Tzŭ’s para­bles illus­trates this point. In an abbre­vi­ated ver­sion, Knowledge seeks a con­scious reflec­tion to know the Tao, and asked Silent Do Nothing and Reckless Blurter, before ask­ing The Yellow Emperor (ahhh, the Romantic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Chinese fables):

Knowledge said to The Yellow Emperor, “I asked Silent Do Nothing and he kept quiet. Not only didn’t he answer me, but he didn’t even know how to answer. I asked Reckless Blurter, and though he wanted to tell me, he didn’t, and even for­got my ques­tions. Now I’ve asked you, and you know all about it. Why do you say that you’re far from it?”.

The Yellow Emperor said, “Silent Do Nothing was truly right, because he didn’t know any­thing. Reckless Blurter was nearly right, because he’d for­got­ten it. You and I are far from right, because we know far too much”.

The same is true for Tai Chi1, or any mar­tial art for that mat­ter. Dissect it too much, and you lose the mean­ing. Think about it too much, and you don’t react. As Michael Babin wrote in his arti­cle on self-defense train­ing:

It is sad but true that real skill comes from seem­ingly end­less drilling of the basics and then learn­ing how to transcend/forget most of what you have so patiently learned.

In other words, learn­ing struc­ture is essen­tial to learn­ing to react to a com­plete lack of struc­ture (i.e. a real fight); but if you focus on struc­ture for too long it becomes counter-productive to “being with­out struc­ture” in mar­tial terms. One of the many annoy­ing para­doxes in the inter­nal arts.

One of the many para­doxes in the Taoist phi­los­o­phy as well. As much as I try to study it, learn it, and apply it, I find myself think­ing about it too much. As a result, I occa­sion­ally stray from being cen­tered, and lose my balance.

It’s the con­scious reflec­tion which Knowledge is seek­ing that pre­emp­tively dooms his search. This is my prob­lem as well. I buy Taoist books with a thirst for knowl­edge, but they’re all telling me the same thing now. Not that the books haven’t helped at all, but I feel like I’ve reached a limit. Perhaps even the sim­ple act of writ­ing about this is counter-productive.

I have the under­stand­ing, but I can’t apply it with­out think­ing about it first, and it’s the attempt to apply it that ruins the point. I’ve yet to reach a stage of pure reac­tion and spon­tane­ity, like Pat.

But I’m get­ting there.

  1. Yet another exam­ple of how Tai Chi is the phys­i­cal expres­sion of the phi­los­o­phy. Or per­haps this could be reverse-generalized, and said that the Taoist phi­los­o­phy is reflected in every­thing, such as mar­tial arts. []

Winter Window

Thumbnail: A winter scene out my window

Turning over and over in the sky, length after length of white­ness unwound over the earth and shrouded it. The bliz­zard was alone in the world; it had no rival.

When he climbed down from the win­dow sill Yura’s first impulse was to dress, run out­side, and start doing something.

—Doctor Zhivago

When one looks out­side their win­dow and sees this, this blan­ket of purity, what else can one feel but seren­ity, con­tent­ment, and hope?

A Chance To Create

Good news. Wait no. Great fuck­ing news.

I met with Frédéric, the owner of the Salon, and after show­ing him a port­fo­lio of my pic­tures, he agreed to let me have an exhibit in the next show in February.

As this wasn’t only his art gallery but his house as well, I offered to let him make the deci­sion after see­ing my com­pleted work. He told me there was no need, as he trusted me based on what he had seen in my port­fo­lio, which I felt was a very nice compliment.

As artists (and I use this in the loos­est sense of the word to describe myself), we’re very dif­fer­ent. I told him that I like to study pho­to­graphic tech­niques, espe­cially in pho­tos that I like, and apply those tech­niques to what I want to express or show. When I look at a piece of visual art, I look at mean­ing and intent. When I cre­ate, I keep the same thing in mind. Frédéric, on the other hand, is more of a gut-feeling type of artist. He does what he feels is right, and doesn’t worry as much about the under­ly­ing message.

He asked if I was sin­gle, and I told him I was. “Good”, he said, “That’ll help you focus”. It made me think of a quote by Alexander Dumas:

Woman inspires us to great things, and pre­vents us from achiev­ing them.

I made a remark about how I’d have a forum to develop my ideas now, projects I never pur­sued because I didn’t have a way to get them to a wider audi­ence. He told me that I shouldn’t worry about an audi­ence, and gave me an exam­ple to demon­strate his point: if you cre­ate the most beau­ti­ful thing you’ve ever done and you keep it in your base­ment, it isn’t art because no one sees it1, but to get caught up in that dilemma, and to not cre­ate sim­ply because of that, is a tragedy.

So now I can pur­sue and develop one of my photo project ideas. I have to decide on a theme. I have see how much enlarge­ment I can do to my pho­tos with­out too much loss of qual­ity. I have to decide on the size of the final prints. I have to decide on the frame size and shape. I have to get the final prints framed.

I’ve always wanted to cre­ate acces­si­ble art2.

Perhaps this will be my chance.

  1. An inter­pre­tive answer to the Zen kōan of the sound a tree makes falling down in the for­est, I’m sure []
  2. As opposed to some­thing such as poetry, which is less acces­si­ble to the com­mon per­son. As a medium, film, pho­tog­ra­phy, and music (with lyrics) are more eas­ily digestible. []