Sunday, July 26, 2009

Twitter Vs. Solitude: Unpopularity as Mental Health

In a recent Rolling Stone interview Bob Dylan quotes Scipio as an explanation in how he so ably has disconnected from the rat race, "I'm never in such good company as when I'm alone." I admire Bob Dylan and Scipio but since I am neither a poetic nor military genius I've struggled to reconcile this truth into personal habit. Yesterday however I realized that the source of my life-long angst has been an unwillingness to accept that sometimes being alone is the only way to ensure good company.

I've pulled my mind apart by concerning myself between false choices of popularity and integrity. I can't blame myself too much. I chose the theatre for my first profession and advertising for my second. Both industries enable people-pleasing as a competitive advantage. I'm just now seeing however that my valuation of popularity as a security towards happiness is a fallacy. I've never been so unhappy as when I agree with the crowd as a means to be agreeable. In short, people pleasing sucks. I feel phony, afraid and unsure.

But, we seem to live in a world where the pursuit of popularity is burning on ample oxygen and to avoid it is to invite the anxiety one feels when ostracized from the herd. Twitter filled air-waves capitalize on tweets as a self-esteem currency where people long to be followed. Yet, I find myself reacting as a reclusive paranoid amidst this socialized narcissism. Mostly because I think that popularity has little to do with insight or intelligence. I was the kid beaten up on the playground due to late onset puberty and an astigmatism that led to coke-bottle lenses in welfare frames. Growing up poor and unattractive creates a longing for and distrust of the popular kids. I see in the twittering twits the same bullet-headed aggression. The instinctive tweeters fail to consider the possibility that tweeting too hard can often contradict their own self importance.

Bob Dylan again, "It's peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cellphones and iPods in their ears and wrapped up in media and video-games, it robs them of their self-identity. It's a shame to see them so tuned out to real life. Of course they are free to do that, as if that's got anything to do with freedom. The cost of liberty is high, and young people should understand that before they start spending their life with all those gadgets."

In the battle of Twitter vs. Solitude I'm starting to lean towards the latter. It's happier knowing that the ideas and experiences I hold are intrinsically good because I have the capacity to hold them. For me, socializing them leads too often to the unintended but predictable conclusion towards consensus. Everyone wants to be aware of what everyone else likes to ensure that personally held likes will not create uncomfortable dislike. Like-mindedness masquerades as mindfulness in a culture that values mass-appeal and I'm starting to find it disagreeable.

I don't do this without angst. I want to be the popular kid. I want to be well loved and mediate my personality via the most viable social media but, deep down, I have to listen to the still small voice that responds to the invitation, "You can follow me on Twitter" with, "Why the fuck do I want to do that?"

I'm beginning to see popularity as sugar on my tongue. A tasty rush that has little nourishment.

I'm starting to prefer the uncomfortable but more durable option of becoming a majority of one.

I wonder if doing so will provide the insight to recognize my own idiot wind or the courage to face down an army of elephants.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fire the Critic

I'm 51 pages into the first full-length play I've attempted in 11 years. The current writing spurt is a by-product of my reaching out to an old colleague, Guy Sanville of the Purple Rose Theatre, and asking him if it would be to his liking if I finished an assignment I left unfinished 11 years ago. I was commissioned by Guy to write a play in 1998, and did so, but delivered a story that lacked emotional coherence. My need to live up to the expectation of being smart led me to write something that would create the appearance of intelligence. As such, it didn't seem true. Guy demanded re-writes which made me afraid that I wasn't really as smart as I pretended to be and, therefore, I stubbornly invited an impasse which led to the project's downfall. I didn't write with any consistency for the next 10 years until I started this blog. My internal critic told me that my last attempt was evidence of my mediocrity and therefore I should think of other things than writing. I've since earned an MBA and started a new career in Marketing. Both pursuits have been interesting but not satisfying. The dissatisfaction stems from the fact that these pursuits seem to benefit from enabling the internal critic.

As Billy Crystal said in his alter ego, Fernando, "It is better to look good than to feel good." Or as an old friend of mine who is a recovering alcoholic says, when faced with the reality he has to practice rigorous honesty or die drunk, "You can't save your ass and your face at the same time."

Creativity in the business world for the most part is about looking good and saving face. It is sales. I mistakenly thought it was creativity when I pursued it and thought I could put the internal critic to rest. People practicing innovation in business will probably tell me I say this because I am no good at it but, recently a friend of mine, an Account Planning Director and therefore a "thought-leader" in the world of Advertising (a seeming contradiction in terms) admitted as much to me when he responded to my criticism of his blog as self-serving by saying, "I guess you could call this blog self-serving, but what blog isn't? I think most planner's blogs are self-serving to some degree". I agree with him. This blog is self-serving. I write it so I can practice respecting my opinion and clear up the confusion I've created by trying to look good. The only difference is, I am not trying to look smart in this blog by turning sales promotion (e.g. Advertising) into a pseudo-science and saying things like, "In a world where sharing is the new media, friendship is the new currency and advocacy is the new goal," which is a thought my friend promotes at his blog. That sounds creepy and Machiavellian because it is and it is evidence of the type of creativity one manages when the internal critic motivates looking good and saving face as a means to selling.

Part of the brief I received from Guy was to, "fire the critic" because you can't, "re-write an empty page".

The poet Dudley Randall once wrote, "a poet writes what agitates his heart and sets his pen in motion." Firing the critic allows this. Practicing it with my creative writing has led me to practice it in my work-life too and I no longer look to offer ideas as a means of selling an image that will allow me to look smart. Instead, I'm watching out for my own bullshit and when I start looking to position intrinsically meaningful realities like friendship in fungible terms I fire the critic and seek honesty.