Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Not?

"Legs" - Acrylic paint, Photoshop
Why Not?

It may seem natural to ask ourselves why we do the things we do; what possibly comes less naturally is to wonder why we choose not to do things. The image you're looking at is a painting of mine called "Legs." At the time I painted it, I was home recovering from ovarian surgery. I'd been laid off from my job two months prior to the surgery. It was the beginning of the recession, and the company I was working for at the time was in home remodeling - an unfortunate line of business to be in during a housing market crash.

Sitting at home, recovering from my surgery, I grew bored of watching television. One day I thought, "Why not paint?" I hadn't painted in a while. I'm someone who has gone through periods of life when I really enjoyed painting and drawing.

The truth is, I'm someone who liked to draw and write early on.

Soon, we will address this question: the question of "Why not?" in terms of why someone might elect not to do something she essentially enjoys very much. But first, let's establish the fact that there are certain things that I have liked to do since I was in kindergarten that I never stopped enjoying. This may be significant to the question of "Why not?" because although being a person who created patterns for paper dolls from scratch in Kindergarten, who outside of school made a little coloring book with childish captions below, I being that person, am constantly forced to question whether pursuing such things is along the lines of daydreaming about being an astronaut in kindergarten.

We're often told to set our dreams aside; that they are childish. The point at which I decided it was not actually more childish to paint, write, and draw was the very point at which I decided that it could not possibly be considered more adult to spend my leisure time exclusively watching television programs, going to movies, eating out or hanging out in bars. It's not that I never do those things; it's just that sometimes I'd rather draw or write.

Recently, my mother introduced me to an idea from the Tao, because she enjoys reading it and is familiar with it. I am less familiar with it, but when I went to look up the idea she spoke of, non-attachment, lazy search wise I came face to face with this quote from the Wikipedia article on detachment.

The Tao Te Ching expressed the concept (in chapter 44) as:
Fame or Self: Which matters more? Self or Wealth: Which is more precious? Gain or Loss: Which is more painful? He who is attached to things will suffer much. He who saves will suffer heavy loss. A contented man is rarely disappointed. He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble. He will stay forever safe.

It would appear that this is what my mother was talking about, although she was discussing it with me specifically in terms of what would stop me, as a person who is creative, from creating things. In context of her discussion, she meant attachment as a strong feeling that what I did would only be worthwhile if I became successful for doing it. Specifically, we were discussing writing. I will relate this again, to the question of "Why not?"

Why not write?

I know a lot of people who have reasons for not writing. In the period of time since I published my first novel, Solitude, back in August 2011, and all through the continued editing/re-write process involving that novel, which continues and won't be done until the Second Edition is released in February or March 2012, I've heard a lot of negative things about writing. Without exception, these negative things were from writers who were in the process of stopping themselves from writing.

Many of these reasons for stopping themselves were thereafter offered to me as reasons to stop: it might not be good, and even if it were good, no one might read it. It is very foreign to think, "I will write, and not worry about if it is good, or not. I will not worry about if I finish. I will not worry about if anyone reads it. Where I am at now is that I will write."

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a believer in modest goals. There is nothing wrong what so ever with loftier goals, but I personally find them intimidating. I am the type of person who will think "I am going to lose 20 pounds" knowing that I need to lose 60 pounds, because that's easier than thinking about 60 pounds. In fact, I lost 15 pounds, so now I only have to lose 45 pounds, but I'm only thinking about the 5 right now.

So here is another reason "Why not?"

Choosing goals that are beyond your ability to relate to is a way to stop yourself. We all have different levels of tolerance for far-off or lofty goals. My mother is bored with small, short term and small plans. We are very different people that way. I am someone who takes everything in small chunks so I don't overwhelm myself.

I have many reasons not to be overwhelmed: I've been told repeatedly that I write well and should pursue it. In fact, I've been told overall, that I was very creative from a number of people from a young age. Yet I am intimidated; American society contains an overriding socially and media-supported notion that to believe one is creative is essentially vanity. Although my high school and later-life career placement tests only verified this, with my top skill sets identified as creative, administrative, and technical in that order, I generally receive the most positive social reinforcement working in technical fields, the third strongest skill set. Further, I also receive higher pay in Information Technologies than in Creative jobs, although I've worked in many creative jobs.

Still... why not pursue my creative writing?

I had to change my lifestyle to do it.

Changing your lifestyle, even when you want to, is not as easy as it sounds. People do not like change, and even the people who love you won't always support you to do what you really want if it means you're less available for leisure activities of their choosing. Even couching it in terms of leisure activity: as a hobby, that should threaten no one, you're still faced with "concerned" people who feel like you should be doing something else.

Some of these concerns can seem laughable: when people begin to express concern that you aren't going out partying and drinking enough, and you're upwards of forty, it actually sounds like a joke. If I lived in any geographic area other than the San Francisco Bay Area, where many believe that spending a lot of time in bars and/or dance clubs until you have children is obligatory, it would be. For me, writing is a lot like reading a book I like: it requires a bit of concentration, but I want to do it, so it's easy to chose doing it over doing something else. Yet, change alarms some.

When I wrote Solitude, I had to cancel some of my Facebook games, and some were alarmed because I wasn't posting, my crops were dying, and I couldn't get gotten on chat. I didn't tell anyone what I was doing, because I didn't want to hear it was unimportant, so I just said I was busy... which I was. I was busy working, going to school, and during whatever free time I had, writing.

The Why Not could come down to you feeling guilty about something completely irrelevant. Like changing your habits, or pursuing something others may consider frivolous. The Why Not could be a belief that it's arrogant to consider what you're doing as important as, say, playing the latest Final Fantasy game. Because the truth is: you're not making a decision that you're great, at this point.

It could come from you feeling guilty about something entirely different: and that is various friends who actually love and care about you suggesting that you are making them feel bad by doing something. I mean this in a very direct way: someone actually saying "I feel like crap because you did X and I didn't do X." When you think about it, these are irrational feelings on the part of the person who did X and the person who didn't do X. It's like saying "I feel bad because you polished your toenails, and I didn't." You're not stopping the other person from painting their toenails, and if they really want their toenails painted, they'll either paint them or they'll go to the nail salon and shell out $15. And I recommend thinking about it exactly that way: you painting your toenails actually has nothing at all to do with whether or not your friend paints her toenails. It's silly to think it does.

You're just making a decision to do it. Because it makes you happy, and why not?