May 6th, 2009
|06:25 am - Arete, Purpose, and Virtue|
I find myself compelled to write about arete.
In college, I played Sir Thomas More in a production of Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons. I can't put my hands on it now, but I recall at the time reading something (possibly by Bolt himself) about what the title could really mean. How could someone truly be "a man for all seasons?" What is a man for? And if he has a purpose, how would we know what it was?
(In a moment of sychronicity, Gwen just walked in wearing a shirt from that production of A Man For All Seasons.)
The ancient Greeks had a concept called arete. In a nutshell, arete is the idea of "excellence" or "virtue" but applied to fulfillment of a particular purpose. So a sharp knife has arete, because it is well-suited to cutting, and that's what knives do. The problem is that I keep applying the lens of arete to how I see myself.
It's not really a problem so much as an ideosyncrocy, I suppose, but it's intellectually challenging. I see myself as acting not out of some cosmic sense of Purpose, but out of a sense of being in the moment. Over the last few years I've turned away from long-term plans and large-scale ideas in favor of constant re-evaluation and re-prioritization. How does arete work in that context?
One way out to see myself as acting purposefully, that my individual actions have purpose even if there is no grand, overarching Purpose to my life. When I act, I want to achieve something. Acting in an effective way towards whatever that specific goal is, then, can be said to have arete. But I'm not sure that really resolves my conundrum.
Virtue and arete are slippery things for me. On a poetic level, I'm attracted to them, but on a rational level, I have a hard time pinning them down. Expect to hear more about them as time goes on.
April 29th, 2009
|07:58 am - And By "Monday" I Mean Wednesday|
As I mentioned last week, things have been productively busy. I'm within spitting distance of wrapping up the text for the game writing project I've been working (too slowly) on for the last two years. Yesterday my group turned in our project for the business class I'm taking at City College. Lots of career-related things are working out. All of which means I keep expecting something bad to happen.
I almost wrote that sentence as "All of which means I keep waiting for something bad to happen." That would be lie: I'm not waiting. I've got momentum, and I plan to use it.
April 23rd, 2009
|02:17 pm - Busy, Busy, Busy|
The last two weeks have been a blur, and now I'm off for a weekend of camping with friends. I promise an update on Monday with what's been going, because it's pretty exciting. But now, it's time to hit the road.
April 9th, 2009
|02:13 pm - I've Got The Brain On The Brain|
I just bought my ticket to hear Oliver Sacks speak at UCSB.
Dr. Sacks is a neurologist and a frequent guest on my favorite radio show and podcast, Radiolab, where he talks about strange things our brains do. This is a topic that fascinates and terrifies me. I have a lot of unresolved questions about the nature of the mind and its relationship to the brain. (I was a Philosophy major in college, which only exacerbated the problem.) I love movies that raise issues of consciousness, memory, and personal identity like Memento and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Heck, I've even written a storytelling game about these ideas.
Dr. Sacks has written several excellent books about his experiences with patients suffering from neurological disorders that might best be described as "philosophically challenging," so I'm excited to hear him speak. The second chapter of A Penny For My Thoughts starts with this quote from his classic work The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and think it sums up what I find interesting about his work:
The patients essential being is very relevant in the higher reaches of neurology, and in psychology; for here the patients personhood is essentially involved, and the study of disease and of identity cannot be disjoined.
April 3rd, 2009
|02:12 pm - Gather 'Round The Fire|
This week has been about getting back in touch with my inner extrovert.
It took me a long time to realize that I am an extrovert. When I was a kid, I didn't have many friends, and I spent a lot of time alone. That meant I must have been an introvert, right? Sure enough, every time I took a Myers-Briggs test, I came back as an "I." Nothing simpler than that right?
It turns out that while I thought of myself that way, it was only because I hadn't been in situations that let me think otherwise. It was only after four years of college and about five years of post-college life that I realized, "Hey, I really do draw energy from being around lots of other people, don't it?" (This stands in stark contrast to Gwen, who really is an introvert and finds those same situations exhausting.) But eventually I figured it out, and I got comfortable with it.
Over the last year, however, I've interacted with people (particularly online) a lot less than I have in the past. This is mostly due to my efforts to cut back on and refocus my activities. But As a result, people didn't email, IM, or call me as much as they used to. What I failed to do until recently was recognize that my diminishing social contact was my fault.
Earl Nightingale talks about expecting things from the world. It's simple: the more you serve the world, the more you receive. And it has to start with you. You don't expect the stove to get hot, he asks, before you put wood in it, do you? That's precisely what I thought was going to happen. I'd let my fire, which I'd spent several years building, burn down, and I needed to put more wood in it.
That's what this week has been about for me. I've been posting here, dipping back into forums, getting back in contact with folks, and generally trying to warm things back up. What's surprised me is how quickly I've seen a change, not only in the world, but in myself.
Let's keep that fire going. If I've let things grow a little cool, talk to me, leave a comment, or IM me, or email me, or whatever. I love to connect with people. I thrive on it. And I can't believe it took me this long to figure it out.
April 2nd, 2009
|12:21 pm - The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea|
Numerous people have introduced me to the Cult of Done Manifesto, which holds a certain terrible fascination for me. Caught as I am in the never-ending development cycle for A Penny For My Thoughts ("The smallest game ever to take two years to finish!"), I can't deny its appeal. But as I was talking with Ryan today, I realized that for me, it's the Scylla to perfectionism's Charbydis. The true path is between them, sometimes towards one, other times the other. My struggle is to recognized when I've gotten too close to one of them, so I can row at top speed toward the other.
With Penny, it's time to head for the Scylla. Yes, there are warts. No, it's not perfect. But it is time to get it done. There is no one right way to do things; it's a matter of picking the right tool for the job. For this job, right now, this is the right tool.
April 1st, 2009
|08:41 am - Smart Is Dumb|
The problem with being smart is that I think I understand stuff.
My particular version of this problem is that I think I understand something I've encountered before. I heard or read or see something that makes sense to me, and I think, "Oh, I get it." And I do. I just don't internalize it and act on it. And then, some number of months later when I see reference to the same idea again, I skip over it, because I think I already understand it. But I don't. I know it, but I don't understand it. And the dumb part of being smart is that I don't let myself go back over the idea again in detail, reflected against my experience since the last time I encountered it.
(This happens with all sorts of ideas and to a frustrating extent. Rather than make a list, let's just assume that if I've written about it here, I've gone through this process with it.)
If I'm lucky, I'll finally encounter the idea after I've once again failed to fully understand it. If I'm lucky, I'll not realize that it's same idea until after I've consumed it again and let my experiences shuffle around it. And then, if I'm actually smart (and don't just think I'm smart), I'll finally understand it and let it make a difference in my life.
March 31st, 2009
|09:40 am - Internet Micro-Fame Is A Drug|
As someone who has been publicly recognized for my work, I often worry that if what I'm doing isn't recognized, how could it possibly be as good as what I did before? Is my best work behind me?
Yesterday I read this in The Artist's Way:
Fame is a spiritual drug. It is often a by-product of our artistic work, but like nuclear waste, it can be a very dangerous by-product. Fame, the desire to attain it, the desire to hold on to it, can produce the "How am I doing?" syndrome. This question is not "Is the work going well?" This question is "How does it look to them?"
The point of the work is the work. Fame interferes with that perception. Instead of acting being about acting, it becomes about being a famous actor. Instead of writing being about writing, it becomes about being recognized, not just published.
We all like credit where credit is due. As artists, we don't always get it. Yet, focusing on fame -- on whether we are getting enough -- creates a continual feeling of lack. There is never enough of the fame drug. Wanting more will always snap at our heels, discredit our accomplishments, erode our joy at another's accomplishment. [...]
What we are really scared of is that without fame we won't be loved -- as artists or as people. The solution to this is concrete, small, loving actions. We must actively, consciously, consistently, and creatively nuture our artist selves.
When the fame drug hits, go to your easel, your typewriter, your camera or clay. Pick up the tools of your work and begin to do just a little creative play.
Soon, very soon, the fame drug should start to lessen its hold. The only cure for the fame drug is creative endeavor. Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others and how they are doing.
Yep, that's about right.
March 30th, 2009
|10:36 am - Things And Time|
Time is a problem for a dabbler like me. When I want to do something, I want to do it well. I've learned enough to know that if I want to do it well, I need to do it regularly. There are only so many hours in the week, which means that if I want to do something, I need to not do something else. The problem is that I want to do everything. This inevitably means I want to do more things than I can do regularly, and thus I end up clinging to things that I do infrequently, taking time away from things I could do well, and spiraling into an overbooked and yet unproductive schedule.
As Gwen has said before, I don't have a problem with commitment. I have a problem with decisions.
March 20th, 2009
|08:50 am - Korea: In Search Of Adventure|
My sense of time while I was in Seoul was distinctly screwed up, due to both the time zone difference and to working the night shift. By the time I left the customer facility on Tuesday morning, I had come to terms with the idiosyncrasies of my schedule. Working nights meant that I would be able to do touristy stuff until the early afternoon, provided I was willing to push myself a little. Encouraged by my initial foray the previous day, I decided to give the subway a try.
I'd heard and read that Seoul's subway system was very friendly to English speakers, but I hadn't anticipated how friendly. All of the signs were in both hangeul and Roman characters, and the pre-recorded announcements on the trains were in both Korean and English. The stations were incredibly well-signed, and there were maps everywhere. I can't say for certain that it was the easiest public transportation system I've every used, but I can't come up with a better one right now.
I did manage to have two misadventures getting onto the subway. I first had a little trouble buying a T-money card, caused by my inability to speak Korean and the price being listed incorrectly in my guidebook. The cashier kept trying to get me to do something I didn't understand, but I eventually realized that the problem could be solved by handing over more cash. (T-money, by the way, is totally from the future.) Then, as I was rushing to catch the subway train that was just about to depart the station, I didn't quite look at the sign and ended up on a train going the opposite direction from where I had intended. I had been planning on taking a short jaunt over to the COEX Mall as an exploratory mission, but I was now headed the wrong way. Undaunted, I looked up at the system map, pulled out my guidebook, and decided to take the leap and head further afield.