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Depth of Field

18 March 2016 Leave a comment

At the Steve Reich concert tonight, I realized that the concert hall is very often where I feel focused. Something about the experience of listening and appreciation makes me start to recognize what I want to see happen. I start to have some idea about how I might plan my days, what I might change, etc. These aren’t usually unrealistic changes, or things I feel might be Good in some way but that I somehow remain unsure of (this happens a lot with reading confident-sounding articles of a certain genre) .

This post inspired in part by a segment from Channel Criswell’s analysis of the cinematography of Spike Jonze’s Her.

Categories: Reflection

Stress and Work

4 March 2016 Leave a comment

One of the perversities of my nature is that I can draw the energy to focus on a difficult task from the tension of unresolved hostility with people around me. How it works is that, because the tension is frustratingly irresolvable at some point in time, the frustration drives me to focus on the work that is actually under my control. Conversely (and perversely), when everything is peachy with everybody, social interaction becomes so much more enjoyable and stimulating in comparison to work.

When did this happen? I have some idea; recently, I’ve come to realize how a few of my ideas about myself have grown quite far off the mark.

Categories: Reflection

On Performing Social Identity

2 February 2016 3 comments

In a moment of winded loopiness, after a hard run, I thought to myself: “Who is —?”

The next thought that came to mind: “Who are —’s friends?”

The idea that identity is performed, perhaps out of a library of mini-scripts, is one I find useful. We take our cues from our environment (the physical situation, the social situation), and select our scripts accordingly1.

Turning back the clock about five years, I think I had developed some idea about what my peer group was, who I wanted to be friends with, &c. Time, naturally, changes things, and people drift together or apart. I’ve seen and done quite a bit in five years, and I think the rate at which I’ve made acquaintances has only increased.

Which brings us back to the questions above. As much as identity is something we think about in our moments alone, with our selected mental audience, identity is equally something we play out in front of other people. In fact, for most (if not all) of us, we often re-create Other People as members of our mental audience.

It is true that not all of these Other People are friends, necessarily, and depending on your temperament or where you are in life, friends may be more or less important an audience than other possible groups.

*

For me the question reduces to (a) whose opinions I am prepared to regard seriously, and (b) who I interact with meaningfully or regularly. In the past year or two I’ve narrowed down (a), while (b) has narrowed itself down.

Common cultural references are a contributing factor, but I’d add that (1) this will be true for many people, (2) the choice of cultural references will powerfully influence your results, and that therefore, employing a range of references well is the meta-heuristic.

General intelligence (is there a non-general kind?) is also a contributing factor, but for both this factor and for common cultural references, it’s not a strictly applied rule. I guess this would be some basis for saying that the heuristic for determining membership is multi-dimensional, a result which I would be quite pleased with – the caveat being that I’m probably blind to the action of some factors as well.

Moving on from thinking about common factors to changes over time, recent trends indicate that more weight is given to philosophy and social orientation, than factors like intelligence or achievement in given areas. This sometimes leads me to judge harshly people who’ve suspended reflection on these things for more-or-less legitimate reasons like the stress of great demands on energy and time. Another reason I think I might be being harsh is that, I believe maintaining a particular philosophy or social orientation is a conscious act, one we’re not always able to perform.

Another thing that comes to mind: manipulation is not something I necessarily view negatively; I tend to judge the outlook or goals of the manipulator more than the act of manipulating. The impact on people still matters to me, however.

Social media and other forms of technologically facilitated communication are media I frequently use to perform identity. Here my instinct has been towards a kind of catholicism, though the caveat I applied above about blindness would also apply here. There is an instinct towards the outré, but it’s very selectively applied; there might even be the opposite tendency, to find things with unexpectedly broad acceptance.

That’s all I’ll set down for now.


1. And sometimes we don’t.

Categories: Reflection, Vagaries

Inside Out

27 September 2015 Leave a comment

I’ve been going through an extended period of despondency (about a few months long). More immediately recently, I’ve had to accept a significant failure, which was difficult.

Of this period, I feel some things bear recording, if only because it would be a pity and a waste to forget them.

Something someone close to me told me that I took to heart was that I was very hard to help. I think it was true that, as I was going through things, I didn’t think anyone could help me very much. At the same time, I reasoned to myself that it seemed most of the people I might have potentially asked for help seemed busy enough dealing with their own business to try and understand mine – hell, I thought, even attempting to make sense of my own feelings to myself was making me perpetually sick, so how could I expect anyone to bother? Instances of partial understanding and misunderstanding, moreover, made me feel frustrated and, on some buried level, irrationally angry. Overall it seemed better not to try at all, mostly.

So I do think I might have given people around me too little credit. Moreover, there were a few people who were so persistently great that I felt I couldn’t not open up, at least a little. (I feel so grateful for them.)

But to some extent, I stand by my decision. I didn’t understand everything I was going through, and only understood more over time. I also think some experiences are just inherently hard to understand, and, so, tough luck if the resources and opportunity to render them understandable happen to be in short supply. Survive and do your best.

But, on reflection, I realize that feeling like I’d tried hard enough (well, thought hard enough) about reaching out, was unproductive (and emotionally corrosive). Something I realized later was that this was partly attributable to a tendency I’ve developed over many years, of responding to situations I found difficult by trying as hard as possible to contain and resolve them on my own, and of judging my own success by whether or not I would trouble other people. I still think it’s mostly not a bad approach, except for the times you will fail (if you just don’t have the space to deal with things, for instance); in those situations I guess another strategy might be superior, but I’m not as familiar with it.

So overall, I think a lot of how I dealt with things (or didn’t deal with some things) was down to my personality and values. (Some of that was under threat for a while, but, I think, less so, for now.) I don’t think those have changed very much, but I think I understand their downsides a little better – and I hope I will be able to say that I understand myself a little better.

I’m not out of the woods yet, and I’m not yet A-OK, but I feel like I’ve worked out enough to continue moving forward. I’ve learned other things about myself, too, like what I can keep doing even when I’m down, the kinds of things I care too much about to let go of, traps I fall into easily, etc. I think that will be useful. Wish me well.

Categories: Reflection

End of the Day

2 April 2015 Leave a comment

End of the day: Physically exhausted. Emotionally incapacitated.

Accomplishments: Met some deadlines. Meditated on the character of hope, staved off hopelessness. Remained objectively happy.

In receipt: Well-wishes from friends. Enjoyed dinner with friends. Pretty much all I could have accepted in good strength and spirit.

Desires: Oblivion, because there’s not been much heart available to hope for better.

Reflection: I am still the boy from 2007, perhaps knowing more, though also suffering more, and probably wasting more.

Categories: Reflection

Père nationale

23 March 2015 Leave a comment

(Having spent a good portion of the day reading around about our Great Man again, this being true also for many other people today no doubt.)

~

1.

A case of sombre skies prompting gloomy forecasts, perhaps:

‘However, the most important reason for Singapore’s singular experience is Mr Lee himself […] Even in Singapore the model may not outlast its creator for long.’ – in The Economist.

‘The discontent has raised questions about the sustainability of the system put in place by Mr. Lee.’ – in WSJ.

‘Lee bequeathed to Singapore prosperity and order, but the durability of his legacy is in question.’ – in Forbes; headline: ‘Singapore After Lee Kuan Yew: Future Is Uncertain For The Utilitarian Paradise He Created’

Against pronouncements like these, I believe he would have most loved1 for us to just keep carrying on.


2.

The rather more bullish piece in FP would have us enshrine ‘Lee Kuan Yew-ism’ (roughly, institutional values) as the monument to the man himself, as the more fitting act of remembrance. I’m not sure this is much better. I think he would have wanted more for us than an ideological inheritance – not that we don’t have ideology, but better to build for the living than build up from leavings, I say2. Though we’ve done that too, with a different kind of pride.


3.

That perfect quote that’s been coming up all day:

‘At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.’ – in Today, and many places elsewhere.

Quiet sunset, I thought. Maybe with a distant black-and-white echo of blood-sacrifice, though probably no more than would have been asked of anyone else living through the times they did, with him.

~


1. Or relished; as quoted in NYT, he once said, ‘To understand Singapore and why it is what it is, you’ve got to start off with the fact that it’s not supposed to exist and cannot exist.’
2. I like to think, He might have said.

Categories: Reflection Tags: ,

Hazardous Characters #1

9 January 2015 1 comment

Growing up in Singapore quite satisfied with what the built-up city had to offer, I’d never imagined myself as a zoologist, botanist, or anything of the sort before. But, for a good moment, I couldn’t shake off the line that had taken hold: ‘Ideas are strange beasts.’ Where they come from, what they do, the places you find them, the ways they fracture, layer, and reconstitute themselves – culture, basically.

And the medium is language, and metaphor, and perhaps the things behind metaphor (whatever they may be). And the runes for all of these, in carbon or silicon.

And I can see where this idea might have come from:

  • Earlier tonight, looking at pictures of strange beasts on the wall at the exhibition, and browsing the artist’s library (a bestiary, new myths, Histories, sci-fi…) laid out on the table in front of the wall.
  • Earlier this week, reading about cribs in piano-playing and socializing.
  • Last year, writing an essay that essentially sought to demonstrate that treating ideologies as non-abstract thingies was cognitively useful…
  • (It just gets more chaotic.)

So he studies how the medium(s) work, but he’s more a zoologist.

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