Monday, 28 December 2009


This is sort of new. I'm restless, so I'm trying to write it out to get myself back together, rather than with a real idea of what I want to say. The newness is that it's going to the blog rather than to another of my overwritten notebooks.

I was speaking to a friend yesterday, about the usual topic - individualism vs. others' perceptions and expectations - and at one point, presumably when I was beginning to bore him, he said "I reckon you just choose a personality and stick to it."

Which I thought then was a kind of bland "stay true to yourself" statement - because how can you "choose" a personality? You only have one in the first place - but later what I thought he meant (and it doesn't even matter if he didn't because it's an interesting thought) was that you choose an image and cultivate it exclusively.

This is a very new concept to me because pretty much since I remember myself I've been in denial of the fact that my image - people's perception of me - matters to me. It always felt like an affront to my indepedence; "What do you mean I need people to approve of me? No I don't!"

And I'm still not sure I do, but if I care about people at all, I care about their relationship to me, and if I care about their relationship to me, I need their perception of me to be representative, even if it can never be %100 accurate. I need to be recognised, in both senses of the word.

And I think, or I guess agree, finally, that this effort to represent yourself needs to be, if not exactly engineered, then deliberate. You have to stop and ask yourself "how am I being perceived by people right now?" which is an idea I still find deterrent, but which I think I'll need to try and get used to. The idea is to exaggerate your own characteristics, as it were, so as to both facilitate your relationships with people and strengthen your sense of identity. If people knew, for example, how embarrassingly much I loved Neil Young, this would make me an immeasurably healthier and happier person. And this is probably news to nobody but myself, but I'm still having trouble swallowing the concept.

In relation to this, or possibly not, I noticed today - or it bothered me today - that I have no professional pride, and no professional excitement. It is true, of course, that I am not exactly a professional, but even just the other guys in the apartment, who are also only doing one or two years of qualification-less national service, seem very anxious to do what they're doing well, because - I think - they perceive their work as being part of who they are, which kind of makes sense, considering that it is completely fucking voluntary.

It's not even true to say that I'm bored at work. I've been finding it very intriguing, but I feel more like a passive observer of a sociological experiment (it's a kindergarten) than an active participant, even when I'm actively participating.

It's to do with considering what I do with people as separate from me. The work I'm doing is terrible? Okay, it's just work I happen to be doing - it couldn't possibly say anything about me as a worker. I'm as good a worker as I feel I am. Sure.

Your image is the rubber of the balloon. While it is true that it's mainly about the air, if there's no rubber to contain it then it's kind of a futile exercise. Just walking around breathing on people isn't nearly as pleasant. The air is the content, but the fact that you choose to pack it inside of the rubber is what tells the person you're giving it to that you love them. It's like the gift and the gift package. Saying it's only about the gift is kind of cold.

If you care about people then you owe it to them to attribute meaning to your interactions with them, and to consider who you are with them who you are as a person. It's not about trying to impress them. It's about respecting them enough to recognise them as part of your life. It's not about what they say or even think about you; it's about how they experience you. Less good/bad than real/fake.

And after so much inane babble, you deserve some Neil Young.

Saturday, 26 December 2009


^ A balloon.

So I've been thinking about balloons. Life seems to effectively be about giving and receiving balloons. You take who you are, blow it into a balloon, tie it up, and give it to somebody else to add to his collection, so that we're all walking around with scores of balloons above our heads, holding them with strings, which I guess would now make them helium balloons, but the image still works for me.

The problem with handing somebody a balloon containing yourself, is that there's no guarantee he won't take a pin out and pop it. There's nothing protecting it except a thin layer of rubber, and there's nothing supporting it - the very essence of our relationship with people - except for what has to honestly be described as hot air. It survives entirely on good faith and a common willingness to accept what is essentially a virtual reality.
These balloons only support a civilisation so long as the civilisation chooses to respect their integrity - not only by not popping them, but by treating them as if they have a say, as if they have weight and authority.

I'm very good - way better than average - at receiving balloons. I'm even very good at making them. But I'm not very good at tying them up and handing them to other people.

This raises the question, which I'll try to address fairly briefly, of whether it is about the giving or about the receiving of the balloons.
Obviously it's about both, but I think they serve very important but distinct purposes.
When you receive a balloon, at least if you're properly alive like a child, you get excited. You're moved and grateful and jumping up and down in a frenzy.
When you give a balloon, or, more precisely, when you're in the constant habit of handing out balloons, your life is imbued with a sense of meaning, because you are actively contributing to what life is about.

One is about joy, and the other is about happiness - that is to say, one about visceral rushes and violent aliveness, the other about a quietly glowing contentment. Thrills and satisfaction.

I'm not sure I can say it's more important, but you definitely need the second as a basis upon which to make the first meaningful. There's no use in enjoying things if you never have a second of inner peace. This might explain why I and similarly oriented people sometimes surprise people when we say we're deeply depressed, despite what is an outwardly - and genuinely - joyful appearance much of the time. We're just not giving out enough balloons.

The specific problem with my prospective balloons is that the air that would fill them is an unusual blend of anxiety, righteous rage, blathery metaphysics, and directer proclamations of love than people are used to.

What happens is this: I'll begin blowing up a balloon, stop to sneak a look at the intended recipient, decide he doesn't look receptive enough, and release my hold on the balloon, letting the rubber fly randomly away, pretending it only ever got to my mouth by accident.
Alternatively, and recently, I'll be almost completely out of air, but decide I ought to give people balloons anyway. So I'll dutifully take a balloon, drench its insides with spittle and phlegm, somehow manage to tie it closed, and hand the dilapidated, disgusting wet chunk of rubber to whoever it is, who'll usually take it anyway. But it's not a balloon, and would only look like a balloon if you were willfully ignoring the evidence of your senses and using a very selective and frankly idiotic definition of the concept. It's about the air, not the rubber.

The solution is to be less fearful, and then obviously less compensatingly frantic. Only arseholes pop balloons, and these are less common than people'd have you think. And even those who aren't trustworthy in this respect, aren't likely to mistakenly strike you as trustworthy. If somebody seems worthy of your balloon, you just give it to him. At worst, he'll just politely and bemusedly add it to his collection, without fully appreciating the significance of your gift. But he's not going to spit in your face.

So happy ballooning.

As a side note, this is the first blog entry, and piece of writing in general, to be (partly) written on Shabbat, so I reckon I deserve some kind of congratulations, so here I am giving them. I'm not sure how to explain it, but this is an important act of unshackling and reprioritisation. Writing, specifically.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Restatement of Mission

Which, wow, after almost five months of blog silence has probably been quite a long time coming.

I've just seen this film:

I'm not going to go into it except to mention that you should watch it, as if you're going to listen. It is, as the poster and tagline imply, about life and death and trees and a bald guy floating around in space.

I was watching it today for something like the fifth time since it came out, and it didn't shake my world as much as it had some of those previous times, except for what I later understood to be the surprisingly novel sensation of giving serious consideration to metaphysical issues.

My mind has been occupied, when it in fact had been occupied, by moral issues instead. It had and still does disturb me how ignorant people are of the moral consequences of their general complacency.

I do still mean what I said a few posts and more months back about our collective thinking being hijacked by self-impelling institutions like nationalism, orthodoxism, and fascism (as expressed by adoration for the strong and contempt for the weak - a trait very prominent in capitalism, for one).
People have a general tendency to accept that what serves the nation, custom, or unrestrained enterprise is good, without pausing long enough to consider who this kind of thinking serves and who it causes untold suffering to.

So I've been trying very hard to keep my mind clean of this, and it's even managed to spill a little into my behaviour and conversation, but what I've only noticed now is that it appears to have taken over the whole of the area of my brain devoted to "serious issues" and to have pushed out almost all of my previous musings about spirit and beauty and love and emotion almost clean out.

I stopped being religious close to a year ago now, essentially because of the moral issues I occasionally try to explain here. Its spiritual aspect seemed genuine but not exclusive enough to itself to warrant the intellectual subjugation that it by definition demands. So I'm left now with a fragile but sincere and workable moral framework in its stead, but almost none of the presumedly much easier to get hold of spiritual take on the world.

Because I haven't been looking. It's difficult to speak (or even think) metaphysical mumbo jumbo without having a very rich religious tradition backing you up. The fact is, on this subject, you are always blowing up a bubble. You can be made to feel comfortable inside it if other, "respectable" people have tried to blow it up before you, but otherwise, I guess you just have to feel less comfortable inside it.

Or you could try to find more about the non-denominationally affiliated people whose work you're continuing. I'm not the first secular man or even just non-frothingly-exclusivist-Jew (Rav Kook comes to mind) to take the issue of spirit seriously. So I guess I'm setting myself some rather vague reading assignments, as well as reminding myself to write here more often and allow and actively encourage myself to think seriously too about matters not involving morality and nefarious forces' relentless scramble for my brain.

Neil Young is not really relevant to any of this but he is awesome, so have a song: