Over the past few days, I’ve been having a dialogue with myself about where to put my energies. For example, with my homework, and from there out, with my art, creative writing, reading, blogging…music…?
I have seen some people online develop in a given medium very quickly, due to daily practice. The most obvious example of this I can think of (and I hope I’m thinking right) is Charlie at Doodlewash, but as best I can remember, there are others whose names I have neglected to pick out of the ever-coming tide that is the Internet.
I’ve started to think about my activities, not in terms of what I do well, not in terms of what I presently can do, but in terms of what I want to do.
This is assisted, no doubt, by the curricula I’m presently studying…though that might get a bit arcane here. Basically, when someone realizes they need information, they likely start out with a very poorly-formed idea of what it is they’re searching for, because they don’t know what they don’t know — and asking them what information they need is asking someone to define the parameters of what they don’t know…which, they don’t know.
When I first started researching Buddhism, for example, it was along with studies of alternative spirituality (particularly Theosophy and Spiritualism; I don’t remember whether Pantheism was along with, or after, this) and the Western Occult Tradition. Right now I know more about Buddhism than most people around me — I know more than what every beginner book I’ve seen recounts, as though it’s new — but I reached out of my sphere, in the first place, to try and escape people and their twisting of religion to support their bigotry.
What I have found, over about 15 years of studying Buddhism, is that Buddhists have their own problems to deal with, irritatingly enough. Not only that, but it’s kind of impossible to find an authoritative voice on the matter. Buddhism is 2500 years old, and orthopraxic (right action) instead of orthodoxic (right belief), or so my World Religions class would have told me.
Instead of asking and expecting a clear definition of nirvana or Buddha-nature, it’s more like, “does the interpretation you’re reading agree with you or not?” or, “where are the holes, and are they large enough to matter?” or, “is this logically coherent? (Be honest.) If so, what are the consequences?”
I may not be reading enough modern thought, in this field, though. I’ve come to realize that the world now is different than the world 2500 years ago, though people’s problems are still largely the same. The issue with me is the idea that everyone’s “awakening” will be qualitatively the same; that inherently, everyone is the same. This may have been unquestioned 2500 years ago in India, but I cannot go without questioning this, now. Living in a major metropolitan area will kind of do that to a person.
In addition to this, the entire idea of a “soul” or spirit is one of these things which …I have not read a full treatment of, from a Buddhist perspective. What I gather is that a phenomenal self is recognized, but that this self is constructed, and not essential. This differs from, pretty much, every other religion I’ve studied; but it also becomes entangled in current-day discourse about constructivism vs. essentialism as regards gender; a.k.a. whether all gender is “socially constructed” or “inborn.”
As a person whose gender expression (and historically, identity) inhabits a range rather than a locus, it’s hard for me to have an opinion on this. The major point is that Second-Wave Feminism (I think this began in the 1970’s) has tried to argue that what one is “born as” is what one “is,” with the transgender movement historically fighting against this. This axiom would state that, for example, a transgender woman was “really” a man and thus could be excluded from “women’s space,” without everyone in the group feeling bad about it. In consequence, everyone which was included looked similar enough to be assumed to be qualitatively similar (as definitions of “man” or “woman” did not go beyond physicality; causing the [hypothetical] inclusion of trans* men within women’s space, instead of trans* women).
However, the current state of transgender politics seems to be coming to a newer resettlement where very young children are expressing identity with members of a sex which they do not physically align with…so now it seems that the argument is again back to “one is born as what one is,” just that the mistake (and it does seem to be a mistake) of assigning a person to a gender category based on their physiology…causes more harm than good.
In short, we are back to an essentialist argument, but with what is “essential” being something one cannot physically see (though there have been studies showing similarity of regions of the brain between trans* women and cis (non-trans*) women, and dissimilarity of those same regions between trans* women and cis men, at the least; last I checked, trans* men were not well-known enough to have any acceptable sample size.
But anyhow…I’m not sure if I should be a philosophy major or something, 🙂 but my own experience of myself brings me to the point of feeling that …I do or may have a “soul,” which is distinct from other “souls.” I wouldn’t say it to be irreducible to something like any other living being would experience — that is, I’m not sure at all that what I recognize as myself is “essential” — but there does seem to be something that sets me apart in this life, that, when violated, brings me illness. That is to say, I have a “nature.” It’s a very changeable nature, but it’s still a nature.
And this, in turn, is separable from an ontological stance which states that no one has a soul. The clearest representative of this to me is Scientific Materialism, though I am not a subject matter expert on this, having veered away from materialist philosophies, myself. I did purchase a book on Sartre (Existentialism) recently as well, and it would be interesting to see what he says about it…but this is mainly for my own breadth/surveying the field.
The problem I’m having is being unsure that any organized religion is actually and honestly for the good of its members (excluding the priesthood). In short, I’m not sure if any of it is true, and I know there are vulnerabilities commonly found in seekers which are being played upon (notably, in Buddhism, the experience of psychic pain and the drive to death [thanatos — it’s a Freudian idea]).
I’m not sure I’ve seen the latter actually explained outright anywhere in relation to the desire for nirvana and cessation of rebirth; but I know that for me it has been an issue. Buddhism was one of the things which kept me alive when I was going through a fairly relevant depressive phase, to the point where I realized that if Shakyamuni had ever actually existed, he was probably a depressive who lived before we had a term for it.
And…I have wandered far away from what started this post. The question is whether to continue with this line of study, or drop it and find something else.
I am thinking that if, every day, I practiced guitar for at least half an hour, I would become fairly good at it, after a while. This is, as versus my art. I have to do enough reading as it is, but I could get back into that (reading for pleasure), as well.
Art is one of those things which I know I was praised for, very early on. I know it’s something I’m relatively talented at. But without a clear subject, it’s tough for me to get into; this being why I was prolific in the Art program at my Community College, but which I have trailed away from without the outside support and prompting. I’m fairly certain that if I did get back into Creative Writing, this would in fact give me things to draw.
Of course, that’s Illustration, there — which is actually the drive which caused me to come back and try the Art program again in the first place. When I first came back, I didn’t even know if I liked drawing, to be honest. Things had just gotten really dull for me, where it came to image-making. I remembered that I had originally liked to do it (when I was making a story with pictures [could you call that a comic?], as a kid), and I remembered that drawing the same thing over and over again — as I did as an adult — wasn’t worth it. I’d get bored.
I re-entered with the hope that instruction and refreshed subject matter would help me see if writing and illustrating my own Graphic Novel was even something I would enjoy; and if not, I could just trash the whole Graphic Novel idea and work on pure writing, instead.
What I can say is that Art is difficult. There hasn’t been a time for me when it hasn’t been difficult, except when I was a kid and didn’t care at all whether things looked wonky to other people.
And then, Writing…writing, writ large, 😉 isn’t hard for me. Fiction Writing, though…is just psychologically difficult. I have a habit of not being able to clearly tell the story I’m writing, apart from reality. But through the Art program, one of the things I realized is that Art is not a representation of reality. Photography isn’t a representation of reality. Fiction writing, is not a representation of reality. Neither is television, nor movies.
Verisimilitude to reality is used to a greater or lesser extent to provide familiarity and context to a story or message…to be honest, I’m not entirely certain what I or we are trying to get across in a way of thinking about the Humanities in terms of content as versus form. The one thing I am certain about is that when one is within a story, that story is constructed around you, to a certain extent for you (and to a certain extent, by you). For what purpose? …I’m not entirely sure. If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
In any case, thinking back on it…it does seem, now that I think of it, that I’ve found expression through writing and art, and now am re-trying music. Music is interesting, though I’m so new to it that I’m not entirely sure I can say why. Certainly there’s a rhythmic component, and the emotional states elicited by certain tones being played next to each other and harmonizing (or not). Then, of course, being a time-related thing, it is also — like writing — linear in format.
Tonight I was just having fun with arpeggiating guitar chords — particularly, starting with the F-major that’s closest to the top of the neck. I think I could, eventually, make a habit of writing my own music; the question arises of if it is what I want to do, though. Do I want to write? Draw? Paint? Play music? Make beaded jewelry? It’s fairly obvious that writing is part of my lifeblood — I don’t feel right when I don’t do it.
I miss my beads. I stopped my practice and working on new designs when I realized that this was not something that I could rely on to pay any bills (except maybe a blog bill for a nice layout here, if I started on Etsy); but it is what got me into Painting (which enables much more subtle custom color adjustments). There is a lot of work which goes into designing and constructing beaded jewelry which has to do with light and color…it may be playing with my tendency to engineer from prefabricated parts, as well.
(Two of my most favorite toys from when I was a kid were my Erector set, and a circuit board D got me for Christmas, one year…)
And, hey…I just realized the linear component to that, as well…it’s just that with what I do, there is the mode of interweaving that can be realized, as well as anchoring and knotting.
Interesting…but I think I should get some sleep, right now! Heh! If anyone has anything to say about the content we try to get across in the Arts & Humanities, I’m more than listening…