“I love making the stuff, that’s sort of the core of it. I love creating the stuff. It’s so satisfying to get from the beginning to the end, from a shaky nothing idea to something that’s well formed and the audience really likes. It’s like a drug: You keep trying to do it again and again and again. I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work.”—Louis C.K.
The evening of the day I turn thirty years old is the first temperate evening after a string of unbearably hot days and nights. My young daughter and I go for dinner and out to her favorite park.
I grew up in the lonely country and my touchstone to my self is still the natural world. It doesn’t take much to remind me. Cool grass against the ankles, the glint of sunlight through tree leaves, a warmth in the air that means no barrier to bare skin. It reminds me of being free. Being young.
I am not particularly adverse to leaving my twenties behind. They were painful and confused and what excitement and freshness their novelty afforded paled in comparison to that pain and confusion. There seems to be a great deal more promise in what follows them and in the opportunity to put their uncomfortable lessons to good use.
There is age and there is surrender and, while the former will tick upward inexorably, you have a choice about the latter.
At the park, my daughter runs ahead of me to the playground. Her long, thin legs carry her fast and she stretches her arms out wide, just because she can, just because that’s how she always moves and talks and lives. There is no one playing on the equipment now, but as she nears it she shouts anyway, “Here I come!” I don’t know who she’s talking to. Maybe it’s just a shout to the world at large.
I think that’s what I’ll remember about this time, this space in between old hurt and new chances. Her running full speed down the slope, legs pumping, arms open, her announcement ringing out without a care for who hears or who doesn’t. “Here I come!”
So I finally remembered to wrap up this contest thing. Congrats to Tumblr user bookgeekgrrl who wins the copy of Deliberatepixel Offline! Send me your address info and desired inscription (if you so desire) to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it off to you.
“Capable psychonauts who think about thinking, about states of mind, about set and setting, can get things done not because they have more will power, more drive, but because they know productivity is a game of cat and mouse versus a childish primal human predilection for pleasure and novelty which can never be excised from the soul. Your effort is better spent outsmarting yourself than making empty promises through plugging dates into a calendar or setting deadlines for push ups.”—"Why Our Monkey Brains Are Prone to Procrastination (No, It’s Not Just Laziness or Lack Of Willpower)"
I have seen the story of selfishness play out in many lives, including my own. It’s a story that always has to begin with peeling away the layers of the title’s definition, because if there is any word in our culture that immediately conjures judgment, defensiveness and censure, it’s “selfish.”
Selfishness is complicated concept, and it should be. Anything as profoundly and inextricably bound up in the concept of self should have the decency to be as difficult to grasp as the self itself is. Which is why we do it and ourselves a disservice by watering it down to a common definition of childish greed or brattiness. But neither is it a virtue, or a justification, entirely on its own merit. Selfishness’s virtue is highly dependent on from what direction it’s approached. Sorting out where those lines are seems to be the chief work of learning how to fulfill individual potential.
I’ve come to think there is a sacred middle ground of selfishness between that of a child grasping for all he can get and an adult putting aside the needs of others to take care of herself. Maybe it’s actually a ground beyond the two. The child is uninformed and unwise. That kind of selfishness is rarely sustainable and usually corrects itself out in the course of growing up. The second kind is more insidious. It wraps itself in bravery of being true to one’s self, but often glosses over the nuances such bravery requires. (This is how we get bullshit like Eat, Pray, Love.)
I think what most adults in crisis consider salvation via selfishness is in reality cowardice. It’s a shortcut to getting something valuable without the work involved in earning true self-awareness, self-control and self-confidence. You can claim self-preservation if you have done the work in order to have a firm grip on your self. If you haven’t, you’re preserving nothing but your own fear and weakness. You can’t make a decision in the name of self-interest if your self isn’t acting from conviction but reacting from confusion. Because in that case you don’t even know what’s in your best interest. You haven’t learned it yet.
I spent most of my life wavering between confused, scared, childish selfishness and rebellion against the superimposed belief I had to submerge my desires in the face of others’. Women are taught to be pretty good at that. Then, in crisis, I ran away from many things I didn’t have the strength to be responsible for and rationalized it as necessary for myself, my survival. Farther down the road, I realized I had needed those lessons of responsibility and that had I taken them then, I would have been a lot closer to owning myself than I am now. Survival, in the end, is a pale substitute for being proud of yourself and your life. I realized that doing what’s best for yourself has to go hand in hand with clarity about reality and responsibility and honesty. If you miss any of that, it’s back to being the kid who doesn’t know any better. And you’re not getting anywhere.
You as an individual are a many-faceted creature. You encompass histories, experiences, contexts and multiple futures. You represent beliefs, principles and character. You should preserve that, be proud of that, and act in its best interests. Maybe if we didn’t demonize any sort of self-interest or self-preservation as common-grade selfishness, it would be easier for people to come to terms with the fact it should be an achievement rather than an escape.
Also? When you have self-awareness, self-control and self-confidence, when you genuinely like and are proud of the individual you’ve worked to become, you know what the easiest thing in the world is? Sharing it with others. There’s no fear, no insecurity. You can give freely of yourself because you know it’s actually yours and you are strong enough to do what you need to take care of yourself. You don’t need to take from others. You don’t need to dismiss others’ needs because your own are unmanageable. You’re just whole. The right kind of selfishness can get you there. Paradoxically, it’s one of the only things that can.
“Literature is still the source of my greatest excitement. My prayer is that it is irreplaceable. Literature can carry the consciousness of human times and social life better than anything else. Look at the movies of the 1920s, watch the Murrow broadcasts, you can’t recognize any of the people. Now, read Fitzgerald—that’s it. That is the truth of the times. Somebody has to be committed to the idea of truth.”—Thomas McGuane
“All writers are mystery writers. We may not employ detectives in our work, but as seekers of guilty parties, we can identify with Nick Charles, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, Miss Marple and the rest. Like them, we muck about in a world studded with clues, neck-deep in motives. Like them, we falter in our investigations and follow wrong leads. We are foolhardy, preposterous, nosy, irritating. No one wants us around. We work alone, yet like Sam Spade, we operate within a tradition of our own, of which we are respectfully aware. Write and you are in the company of all who have written before you. Only when we have finished a piece of work do we know true shamus loneliness, realizing that the chase is over and that no one has been watching us but us.”—Roger Rosenblatt
“It was interesting, because I read somewhere that did a high school survey, and it asked kids what was Born In The U.S.A. about, and they said, “Well, it’s about my country.” Well, that’s pretty good. That’s a good start, right? I mean, that is one of the things it’s about, you know. But I think one of the problems that we have is that, it’s not that people aren’t taught to think, but that they’re not taught to think hard enough. I mean, Born In The U.S.A. is not ambiguous. All you gotta do is listen to the verses. If you don’t listen to the verses, you’re not gonna get the whole song, you’re just gonna get the chorus.”—Bruce Springsteen (via the-promised-land)
“Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway. Thinking in terms of ideas destroys the power to think in terms of emotions and sensations.”—Raymond Chandler