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Monthly Archives: August 2007

Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.

– George Lois

I’ve been in a bit of a funk.

After a  busy summer, with three months of full time employment, in a rewarding and challenging environment, and then a sprint at the end to get my dissertation practically complete, I found myself trapped at the end. With just seven days to go till the start of the PCLL induction, I’ve found myself deprived of purpose and too little time to commit to my scatterbrained long term projects.

This lack of direction is difficult to accept.

As a pretty strong introvert, I relish my down time. I enjoy the opportunity to spend some time reconnecting with events in my mind, to sieve experience and to fit it into my mental structure. To expand my mental structure, to take new ideas on board. The second process takes a lot longer than the first one; it’s one of my  pressing challenges of the moment.

I’ve found that the biggest mistake I made in this second process, in taking the time to realign my internal world slowly, is I stopped being creative. I stopped taking the “out of the box” approach. I stopped taking things at their face value. I failed because my old world view clouded out the nascent one.

Writing is my creative outlet. Writing is where my inner world finds its expression. Writing is where I take my experiences and give them structure. Writing is where I marry my introverted nature with the reality of my experienced life. It is where I adapt to the world.

It struck me that the whole period I’d stopped writing I effectively stalled myself. I had stopped my own internal conflict resolution process from working. As a result I felt this tension between the emptiness of time and the joy of freedom  acutely, more acutely than I have ever felt before. Without my small act of creation, I felt more isolated and more confused by my own life than I wanted.

As I’ve committed more time to my pen, to my inner voice, to the inner monologue that drives me, I’ve felt myself become more balanced externally. I’ve found that I can accept things more intuitively and with less over-thinking than is my natural inclination. I’ve regained a bit of balance, a little equanimity and some of the inner contentedness that I have felt was so tentative throughout this period.

 My creative outlet was essential to balancing out the whole of my life, and enabling me to sustain other areas of my personality that drew in different directions. Without that counterbalance to the extroverted people orientated side of me that is slowly growing, I lost those aspects of me and felt diminished in my own eyes in terms of what I was and what I could do.

We all need our creative outlet. We all need to satisfy the urge to create. When we abandon that part of ourselves, we do a great disservice to the whole of our character. And we will pay a price for that disservice.


The Original

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness.  ~Margaret Millar

Have you ever had a conversation so dull, so insipid, so blatantly one sided that you had to resort to amusing yourself anyway that you could?

The scenario is you’re stuck in a conversation you cannot avoid. You can’t avoid talking to the person  because the circumstances require it. At some level you need to stay on that persons good side, or you can’t risk offending them because of the consequences.

You have to talk to them.

At the same time you know that when you do talk to this person, you’re going to be so bored that your brain will crawl out of your nose. The conversation will be so uninspiring that you’ll crave to find excitement in any way that you can find it. Just to sustain your will to live, you will hunt out anything to amuse you.

The default way people do this, at least as far as I understand how people behave, is by changing the topic or by keeping their involvement in a conversation to a superficial level. Now that works when you’re dealing with reasonable and basically decent people. There are a lot of people out there who are not reasonable or basically decent.

They’re so wrapped up in their own world, own views, own perspectives and own way of looking at issues, that you will not get them to talk about anything else. They’re so engaged with their own neurosis that they can’t bear to not talk about themselves or their cause.

Changing the topic is right out.

On the other hand you don’t have it in you, the heart or the will, to keep playing the passive role in the conversation. You know that playing the passive appreciative role will be misinterpreted for interest. You know that these people, what they need is the slightest indication of interest and they’ll talk your head off.

Playing the passive appreciative listener is right out.

You could do it anyway but it wouldn’t solve the ‘being bored’ part of the conundrum.

I’ve found a solution that solves this. It is a highly personal solution; I don’t even pretend that it’ll work for you. Its sole purpose is keeping me sane. Which for understandable reasons, I feel is a important goal.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I have a predilection for clever word play. I also have a really love for those of us who are culturally literate, and able to keep up with the allusions that I pepper my conversation with. Now I don’t expect people to get them but I do enjoy it when they do, and I enjoy people who possess the nuance and ability to keep up.

I combine these attributes together and take them to the boring conversation. Instead of giving negative replies, or dull encouraging ones, I start essentially engaging in one-sided repartee. I start dropping in allusions. I change the tense of words or the context. What might have started as a monologue on holidays is transformed by changing the tense into a sex joke. What starts as a political conversation might become a reference to horror movies. Or the Mona Lisa.

I observe that these diversions have a pretty uniform reaction from the chatterbox. For a second, for a split second they stop. They visibly think “what the hell has he just said” and then they ignore it. They pretend it didn’t happen, that I said the right things, the things they wanted to hear. They keep going on full steam, trusting that I meant to give the response that would validate their insecure rambling. If needed, they’ve shown a considerable ability to fill in the blanks in my response themselves, interpreting it as great and positive words.

A few more seconds go by and their confidence is fully restored. It’s fully restored because they didn’t listen to a word you said in the first place, they didn’t pay it any attention and now that it’s their turn to talk they’ll not take the risk of losing their momentum.

Which gives me a golden opportunity to do the same thing again. And again. And Again. And again.

Eventually, finally, thankfully, subhanallah, the person finally shuts up. Sometimes I hope this is because I’ve disorientated them enough to throw off their balance and forced to really think about what they’re saying. I think I give myself too much credit too. More usually what saves me is the realization that I’ve done my duties towards politeness and decency, and  can request to be excused and depart post haste.

Secure in the knowledge that it’ll start again soon enough. 

Television is more interesting than people. If it were not, we would have people standing in the corners of our rooms.
 – Alan Corenk

I’ve been mulling over this post in my head for a long time. It’s been a perplexing conundrum for me, because it’s one that I’m party to and one I’ve shared with  others before. Heck I say one I’m party to like it was an incidental part of my life. It’s not. It’s probably the most significant trend I’ve noticed in dealing with other people and initiating conversations with them.

It started from recalling one dinner long ago, which started awkwardly and indifferently. It had been a long day, and people weren’t in the mood to talk. So we sat there, eating silently, not a stony awkward silence, but that vague silence that seems to hang from the walls when no one knows what to say and nothing worth talking about has graced the news desk.

Someone mentioned how addicted they were to Heroes, the new hit NBC series and how they’d binged on almost a dozen episodes of it in two days. Suddenly the conversation sprung to life. This show, that show, the complications of Lost, had anyone seen the latest episode, what was going on in House and did anyone like Scrubs or did they prefer Grey’s Anatomy? What had started out as a dull dinner with no words exchanged had suddenly sprung to life.

We found a shared experience that we could talk about. We had all experienced this; here was a conversation we could participate in . Even the people who might not be watching a particular show, or had started watching it and then subsequently stopped felt that they could get involved. If you hadn’t seen it you could ask those that had what they thought about it, what the story was and why it was gripping. Was the acting good? Is it something like ER?

Why is it that we find our most common shared experiences in fictional experiences; experiences scripted by others and designed as entertainment?

Now I don’t want to turn this into a diatribe about the nature of mass media, or low quality TV production or the virtues and viciousness of P2P. What I’m more interested in is that when we had nothing to talk about, a bunch of twenty and thirty something men who share the same religion and culture and live in China had to turn to the American Entertainment Moguls to find something that they shared.

There are a lot of factors that I can think of that clearly played a part. Globalization of entertainment has meant the Americanization of entertainment and I think everyone who’s lived through a TV schedule on their Saturday night in has heard and seen lots of American TV and precious little of anything produced by any other culture.

There is the internationalization and broad congruity in the English language. People who speak English gravitate to the natural center of the English speaking world in the US for their source of cultural cues for entertainment and so even English speakers in China and India will still follow and watch the big Hollywood blockbusters.

The biggest question: why did we have to talk about entertainment in the first place?

The answer is comfort. Here was a topic that we knew was safe to discuss. Even in such a homogenous cultural and social context, there is just no risk associated with talking about TV. What you like and what you dislike is accepted as a personal choice, and you can watch the shows that you want to watch without suffering any evaluative judgment. By contrast talking about music in my cultural milieu is still a topic that is slightly off limit and people won’t discuss their favorite artists or what CD they bought recently. So we had to talk about TV or movies because those are the accepted forms of entertainment.,

Surely we have anything else that we could talk about?

Partially the answer is yes, of course we had other things that we could have talked about. But the reality is that most of those topics are either too serious or too potentially divisive to talk about in so open a setting as a social dinner.

Partially the answer is no, of course we didn’t have other things to talk about. The reality of urban life in a pluralistic and multiethnic society is that we don’t have a lot of shared experience. Even in a situation as unified as those of the same faith and age sitting down for a meal, there is a huge diversity of experience that makes it hard to be certain that we share the same experiences. There is also the risk that others may not understand or may simply not care about those different experiences.

Finally, and as part of the last point, It is incredibly easy to get out of touch with a set of cultural roots and with the cultural standards without any effort on your part. In fact it is so easy that people do naturally sort themselves into these sets which create these fake unifying experiences. That’s why society has subcultures that span the range from Goths and Emos to Furries and probably everything in between.

Why I Don’t Like It

I guess the point I’m making, the point I’m struggling to justify to myself, is that there are a lot of reasons to talk about TV. Its safe, pragmatic, everyone can participate and its something that we can be reasonably sure that the other person has some experience of.

On the other hand, and this is where the struggling comes in, it was just smoke and mirrors in it at the end. Yes TV is a major form of entertainment, and people need entertainment and distractions from their daily lives. But when the focal point of talking becomes about these distractions, when what we have to say each other is so limited that we have to talk about the fictions that we chose to accept, well there’s a deeper problem there.

It may be something as simple as people being reserved, it may disclose an incompatibility of personality or it may disclose, as I think it does a desperate search for common ground, that clings to the first safe raft in a difficult search for handholds. But I feel that once this handhold is grasped, once a relationship is about saying “yeah I saw that too” and “did you see the one about”, you’re pretty much doomed. You’re not going to get any higher or deeper than that.

There is no magic trick that can transfer a relationship that settles to be that hollow into anything more significant.

What I Want To Do About It

What I’m looking for is a list of topics that are reliable enough to take with me and which I see as having more potential to form better conversations.

I don’t like having conversations about the motives and actions of fictional beings, at least not in the TV sense, and though I have a higher tolerance of it in books, it’s not higher by much.

The only topic that serves reliably are sports, current affairs and politics. The last two are rightly acknowledged as loaded topics, and the first can be as dull a discussion and as meaningless as TV.

The end result is that I have a list of potential topics that aren’t good enough. What I’m doing now is paying more attention to what does start conversations. Usually there are people in life who excel at getting a discussion started. I’m now honing in on them and listening to what they talk about and what they do that keeps a conversation going.

When I have some results I’ll let you know.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” 
Dale Carnegie

Have you ever had the experience, the rush, the exhilaration that comes when someone completely rewires your brain. Have you ever felt that buzz echo in your head from a moment of sheer awareness? A quiet whisper that transfigures your whole life from that moment on?

I have.

These past two weeks.

I worry that I’m doing something rash by talking to you. I should be more secretive about something like this. I’m fighting that urge, but I suspect exhaustion and a caffeine high are having a say in the final decision. I’m willing to persevere.

I have spoken before about the  respect that I have for James and Gareth. Their easy going, friendly and welcoming nature enraptured me and captured my friendship, a prize I give away haltingly and to few victors. They captured it with such excellence that you might suspect they exercised some magical hold over me. Certainly it happened faster than it has ever happened.

Two weeks ago Gareth initiated me, partially, in the rites of his magic. I don’t pretend to understand what he does, or why. I just understand a small layer of ‘how’. And that small kernel of truth has overwhelmed me. 

It turns out that what Houdini does, what this mage of friendship does possess, is an intimate understanding of human psychology and the human condition. An understanding that is deeply intuitive, emotional and personal.

He has a character that accepts people as they are, that offers them unconditional support and voices strong belief in what they are, can be and aspire to be. A strength of character that accepts people as emotional beings, and responds to them at that level. That finds the human tragedy and the human joy in human beings, and brings it to the fore.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, a tough realization, when you first perceive that you don’t connect with people at that level. That you don’t even see people at that level. That you don’t even recognize that level exists.

I’ve always been the kind of person who lives in their own head. And because of that I’ve always related to people at that level. I’ve always dealt in the world of ideas, thoughts, concepts or other abstracts. I have dealt with people at the level of their intellect and had rewarding friendships with people within that realm

But that is a flawed world. A partially complete world. A world without raw emotion. A world that ignores the magnificence of the human soul.

It came with some stunning realizations.

While people have these needs for acceptance, understanding and reassurance, I don’t have it in me to give it. I won’t give them that acceptance. I won’t give them that understanding and I won’t tell them the things they need to hear to get through it. At the time I said that this bothered me less than it probably should. 

Now? It’s had a chance to settle in, and it bothers me.

Bothers me a lot.  

A thought like that, actually its not a thought, its not a feeling either. I guess a realization is as close as I can get to evoking it. You can’t shake that once it takes root. It turns your mind, it grasps your tongue. It reconstructs your whole way of seeing and relating to people. It literally turns the images you see before you eyes. It alters the lines and the likenesses.

The world is redrawn, and it makes a little more sense. Not logical sense, not rational sense not perfect sense. But a sense that pervades and explains at a level of explanation that was before simply missing before from your understanding.

It’s a change that I’m still adapting to.

I still have a long long way to go.


The Original