0670 – train your inner ear

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve made any progress in life. If I’ve grown as a person, if I’m any better than I was before.

When I look back on my old writing, and my prior correspondence with others, it becomes quite glaringly clear that yes – at the very least, I am far less of an insensitive, naive, solipsistic asshole than I was back then. I still have an endless path ahead of me, but I’ve definitely learned to soften some of my blunt edges, and I’ve learned to be more artful and graceful around other people. [1]

I have some embarrassing failures from my past. And actually I have some embarrassing failures from fairly recent times, too. I don’t want to go into them in detail (except maybe to leave a trigger for my future self – A Little More Competition). But it’s just something to reflect on, as I pause for some respite.

It’s an interesting tension in my life. A part of me always feel like I have to keep holding on to everything from my past, so that I can address it, make use of it. A part of me feels like this 1,000,000 word vomit project is a way of me going through the motions in a way that makes me feel like I must have done enough work. Because there are no objective measures.

That’s the crazy thing about life. There are no objective measures. We pretend there are, but we’re mostly just crossing the road blind, following the moving bodies of strangers who are near us.

I feel a little stuck. I took a pause in the middle of this vomit to go do other things and then I lost the momentum. There’s definitely something about the role of momentum in writing – you have to keep going, and you have to charge ahead – because there’s something about moving fast that puts your mind on alert. It’s like running away from a threat, maybe – your mind seizes on things in a way that it doesn’t if you’re just idly walking by. I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for it, something to do with how our minds work.

Now we have half a vomit to go and I need to try and extract some value out of this. I started out talking about looking back. Let’s end by talking about looking forward. When you’re learning to ride a bike, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to look down at your feet. Because that throws you off balance. You want to be looking roughly straight ahead, with a sense of the horizon. The same is true when you’re trying to balance on one leg. Once you’re really good at it, you can probably fool around more, but when you’re starting out, you want to look ahead.

I was watching The Expanse recently, and one of the interesting things that it depicted was Martians (humans born and raised on Mars) struggling with conditions on Earth. They were overwhelmed by the light, by the weight of the atmosphere (gravity), and by the distance of the horizon. And an Earther mentioned something about the effect of gravity on the Martian’s inner ears – it’s so easy to forget that everything about us is evolved on Earth, and so we’re ‘tailor-made’ to the Earth’s specifications. Our circadian rhythms match the Earth’s, and so on. There are all these senses we have that we don’t know we have, such as proprioception – that is, knowing where your hand is when it’s behind your head.

Sometimes I suppose in a sense I feel like a Martian on Earth, in a different way. I’m a misfit in many different ways. And as a result, I can’t quite rely on the same cues that most people seem to rely on. I can’t quite “follow the herd” in the same way. I need to develop my own inner compass, train my own inner ear. I need to do my own personal physiotherapy to find a way to relate myself to the world around me.

Memories are a part of that. Relationships are a part of that. Maybe every human is an alien in some way. Alan Watts had something interesting to say about this – something about how the language we use to describe ourselves shapes the way we conceive of ourselves. We think we are born “into” the world, as though we came here from somewhere else. But we’re really born “of” the world, we are the world, we are the waves of a greater ocean rather than something altogether foreign.

(Louis CK’s thoughts then come to mind – if we were made to be here, why don’t we like it here? Why do we get sweaty and tired and so on? Why aren’t like, fuck yeah, bring on the heat, bring on the cold, I love it? Do animals fare better with that? Why are we so sensitive?)

Who knows. Living in civilization has probably made pansies of us all. Maybe if you grew up in the wilderness without having access to soft towels and airconditioning and so on, then it wouldn’t be an issue. And I think Seneca or someone else talked about the value of doing a ‘reset’ every so often, so that you’ll be able to appreciate what you have rather than take it for granted. Eat flavorless food, sleep on hard surfaces and so on.

(Now I’m thinking about how some people actually try to spend their entire lives in that sort of reset mode, because they think it brings them closer to ‘godliness’ or purity or something. And how some people self-flagellate, because in the immediacy of pain they are closest to God… all of that sounds a little ridiculous to me.)

Look ahead. It’s okay to think about the past. Do them both. Don’t get all worked up about what you’re doing. Trust yourself. Take some time and space to think about it, and then roll with it.

[1] Life is often about oscillating back and forth towards something optimal. As I approach 27 years of age, one of the things I think I need to ‘rediscover’ is a certain confidence and bluster – but a more enlightened, selective kind. I need to learn to be more assertive and more aggressive, with tenderness, when the situation calls for it.

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