absentfocus

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My way or the highway

As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to become more of a fuddy duddy. The idea of not shaking a tea bag before putting in the cup is abhorrent to me. Anyone who doesn’t pre-load a knife with butter while the toast is down is just a time waster. This is just my breakfast routine. I don’t think I’m alone, as we grow older we collect ways we believe are the *right* way to do something.

It is only natural then that when we want to do something new we study the right way to do that too. For the vast majority of things in our day-to-day life that works out extremely well. Driving for example, we wouldn’t want people winging that from day one. There are some things though that should never be thought of in those terms. There is no right way to create a song, there is no right way to write a book or paint a picture. There is no right way to make money and above all there is no right way to live your life. You wouldn’t believe it though with the amount of literature there is on being able to do complicated things with easy steps:

‘6 steps to songwriting successs’ –  Jason Blume

‘How to Make Money: The 88 Steps to Get Rich and Find Success’ – Felix Dennis

‘Finding Your Own North Star: How to claim the life you were meant to live’ – Martha Beck

The reason this literature exists though is because there is a market. We want to believe there is a right way, and that someone out there has already done the hard work to find it out. I have recently found myself in this trap of this too, when it came to songwriting.

For the longest time I have been paralysed by research, looking for the best strategy to create a song. I’ve obsessed over the tools people use. Questioned people about their process. Researched the structure of history’s most popular songs. Gone though hundreds of interviews with my favourite artists and professional songwriters. Searched the web for advice on being able to finish a song. All the time trying to pin down the best formulae so that every song I make from now on will be perfect. The problem I found was there were still too many variables. I might have found useful advice that covers 8-9 loose steps but there a hundreds of steps involved in making a song. What if I have to make my own step and it’s a wrong one? What then? Then the whole process would have been for naught, so I don’t start and instead continue looking for the perfect guide, the prefect strategy to follow.

Of course this is folly. Instead of fretting over having the right way I should instead be finding my own way. For it is process of finding your way that makes the art worthwhile in the first place. The acceptance that there is no right way opens you up to unlimited choices it gives you the flexibility to find exactly how you want to do it. There is no right and wrong there is just ‘your way’ and that is what makes you unique and that is what makes life worthwhile.

Brain training

One thing has never come to mind before (and that is a great pun), is the idea of pushing my mental ability. I just assumed there was enough going on up there so I shouldn’t stress it too much. I have played brain training on the Nintendo DS before but not with any goal in mind, just to have fun. That was before I came across the phrase ‘working memory’.

Working memory is the system in the brain that holds all active information. How much that can be held in working memory is said to be the biggest predictor of ‘g’ the theoretical general intelligence value each person has. It has been discovered recently that by playing a dual n-back games you can increase your working memory and hence your ‘g’ value. This is still a pretty controversial topic amongst neuroscientists, but for me it makes sense.

I have always subconsciously disliked keeping things in my brain, instead I prefer a constant stream of tv, internet videos, websites and non-challenging games. Because of this I have always been terrible at spelling and mental arithmetic. I also feel it may be the result of my slight depression. There is a study that shows those with a low IQ are more likely to be suicidal. I used to believe those with powerful brains would suffer more greatly with the pitfalls of the human condition (i.e. I used to flatter myself). Now I can now understand why that’s not the case. If someone can’t process the situation they are in, they can’t have any control over it and being trapped is a very depressing place to be. Not surprising then that dual n-back games also increase the amount of dopamine receptors in the brain.

Does it really work? For the last few days I’ve been doing regular dual n-back games. Initially I was terrible and now can do level 3 dual-back quite well. When not at a computer I have also been trying to imagine as many everyday objects in my head at once that I can. The greater the detail the better. The result is I can already see improvements in my work life and and in my general happiness so I would definitely recommend sticking with it for a while.

Think about it.

Why the name?

I first had this domain a long time ago and for some reason decided to let it expire. This was so long ago that even the relentless domain squatters had long since given up on it so had the opportunity to get it back. The reason why liked the name initially was purely down to aesthetics. I liked how the words looked and sounded together. More recently I have begun to wonder about the significance of the phrase.

Everyone is looking for their purpose. Their one true calling. If you google ‘I have no direction’ you will find thousands upon thousands of individuals of all ages pining for a passion to call their own. A great depression can come from constantly feeling like there is something more worthy you should be doing. It’s like a subliminal itch reminding you that you are yet to reach your potential. It’s just around the corner, keep looking. A lot of self-help books and blogs try to capitalise on this to great effect. Although I believe we are mostly to blame for these feelings of inadequacy.

This guy knows what's up

Most books, movies and to a lesser extent tv series are stories about a character finding their purpose. Not only that but their quest will transform them from being a cheeto munching loser into a winner on all accounts and the world will celebrate them for it. We gravitate towards these stories and they are so entrenched in our psyche that it really isn’t much of a surprise that we are somewhat miffed at our 9-5.

 “The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around”

 – Kurt Vonnegut

So I take a bit of pleasure in celebrating not having a direction or in having ‘absent focus’. I think others would do well to be more realistic about their course in life and understand we can’t all be no 1. Maybe I should make spreading the word my mission… wait a second I’VE FINALLY FOUND IT!

 

Quote

“Hold your food very close to your eyes, it will make you feel like you are a tiny person eating a ginormous portion. You will naturally take smaller bites and it will seem like you are eating more.”

– Exert from my never to be written diet book.

Musings on the idea of ‘special’

Earlier I was listening to some of the earliest guitar recordings especially this doozy for inspiration. While listening I wondered if the reason these sound so amazing to me not only due to nostalgia but also because of an effect touched on by Pagan Wanderer Lu (one of my favorite musicians).

In that post he mentions that we have an innate human belief in ‘essence’ a “sense we have that under the surface of an object is a truth which is greater than its empirical properties”. In these old recordings I get a strong feeling of this ‘essence’. I can imagine they are trying to connect with us from the past through those misshaped max cylinders. They are ghosts and have credence because of their otherworldly-ness. They make you truly listen to what they are playing.

Image of a snowflake
Another boring snowflake

This idea that the source has to be special to have value is something I feel is holding me back as an artist. There was a time I had the great force of youth telling me I was unique and that no-one had ever felt like I had before. I had confidence I was going to produce things of value because of this. Nowadays a youtube clip depicting graphically how not-so-special you are is only ever a mouse click away. The competition for ‘special’ is global and never sleeping. As such my confidence in my ability to produce anything of note has dwindled along with my motivation.

Maybe the secret to getting motivated in a creative endeavor is to first convince yourself you are special. Of course the question your mind ask you is ‘why?’ and that becomes a very difficult conversation.

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