Saturday, November 29, 2014

Advice to Yourself

'All advice is autobiographical', says Austin Kleon. 'It's one of my theories that when people give you advice, they're really just talking to themselves in the past.' Stephen Fry also writes his autobiographies with his younger self as the target audience. He aims to write the books he wishes he could have read. Karl Popper's idea of  using imagination and creativity to come up with ideas, but then honing them is similar. It is actually quite easy to be self critical when the ideas are distant enough in the past that you feel detached from them. It doesn't feel personal anymore.
'These are men with bold ideas, but highly critical of their own ideas: they try to find whether their ideas are right by trying to find whether they are not perhaps wrong. They work with bold conjectures and severe attempts at refuting their own conjectures.' Karl Popper
I like the idea of writing letters to a younger self but I wonder about the butterfly effect. I am not sure I would want my younger self to read them. I have done some dumb things in the past and everyone has their share of misfortunes they could have avoided. The ability to go back and correct actions is very tempting, but the whole course of your and other people's lives would be affected. One of the ways I now try get over things is to do something really awesome that I couldn't have done if the bad thing hadn't happened. That way, it is difficult to wish that thing hadn't happened because then the next awesome thing wouldn't have happened.

Some advice is easy. To Trev who wrote his first blog post on 7 April 2006 - you spell blog with one g. It is short for web log. Use spell check. Read through things before you publish them.

My second post was later the same day and I described some of my first paintings. I also talk about growing tired with doing paintings of images done by other people and wanting to spend time learning photography so I could paint my own images. Well, 8 years later that dream is about receive some focus. On Friday, I moved out of the Wimbledon Art Studios after 4 years of learning about colour and texture with oil paint. I am now going to shift to sketching and photography, before starting to incorporate that back into my painting. 

My third and fourth posts are I imagine not unusual for people in their mid twenties. Truth is, I don't know what is typical for people at that age. I know what I was going through, and perhaps that is Kleon's point. The one is a stream of consciousness post which freaks me out reading. Taking creative output out of context can be dangerous. My Dad always used to worry about my early paintings which tended to focus on dark subject matter. I am a happy guy, but I can see how my work may have caused concern. I painted a cape flats prostitute who had been murdered, and a young polish girl who had been executed for stealing pigeons. I still love these paintings, but they are certainly less warm and fuzzy than some of my others. I think having freedom to explore some of the more unpleasant emotions helps build resilience. It also helps the good times taste sweeter. I am very pleased that we can explore these through art rather than experience. Watching series like 'Band of Brothers' seem to give a real sense of what it must have been like to be involved in a World War. I feel incredibly lucky to not live in a time when I had to be a part of that.

My fourth post was a 'Statement of Belief' based on JM Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello. Rereading this I am probably still happy that it largely reflects my views, but would tweak some of the way I say it. I loved the quote from the Boondock Saints: I know only two things: (1) There is a God, and (2) I am not him. A university friend Phil used to say to me he disagrees with both. Having spent more time reading about Vedanta through the philosophical side of Yoga, I get what he meant. In Vedanta, they say that God or Brahman is the unchanging reality which cannot be described. Most people don't function with an explanation like that though. We need something to wrap our heads around. We need stories. Vedanta then uses the idea of Ishwara to be a form or description given to God by people. So for Muslims, this is Allah. For Christians it is Christ/God/The Holy Spirit. Dawkins doesn't use an Ishwara... his story of understanding the world doesn't need a central figure.

I got quite angry with the form of understanding I had. The story I used didn't make sense to me, and I used to boil at seeing the turmoil in the world and the idea that God allowed evil in the world. For me a world that is random with no malicious intent but something, whatever it is, that tends to move things forward over the long term makes more sense. The challenge I am now working with is 'making peace' with the story I had. There were lots of good bits. The great thing with stories is you don't have to discard them when you find a fault. You can tweak. You can correct typos, change characters and rewrite. Perhaps that is the point of having conversations with yourself from the past. Not to help the younger you, but to help you today.
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