Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And that's the bottom line...

Finding the will to write has been something of a chore lately. In fact, finishing this short piece has taken far longer than it should have. Anything it seems, is preferable to reading, reviewing and editing. I've never been a prolific writer, but there have been more productive periods in my speculative career. Recently though, I seem more concerned with not “getting it wrong” than working on “getting it right”. The result is routine inaction that I like to veil with words like “apathy”, implying that I'm too busy “not giving a fuck” to bother with aspiration. But in truth, I feel something more sinister lurking beneath the surface.

I think it was Richard Linklater's animated drama Waking Life that introduced to me the sentiment, amongst many others, that laziness and fear are one in the same. It was something I didn't really understand at the time, but it did make me consider subsequent bouts of idleness in a new light. How does a human being, the most destructive of all God's creatures, end up settling for slumber?

Perhaps it's the combination of thoughts and feelings we label as anxiety that most induces an idle state of mind. Our reactions to anxiousness, dynamic as they are, normally yield the same conundrum. Do I attempt to move forward? Even though success is not guaranteed. Or do I withdraw to safety? Tasting neither victory or defeat.

But what exactly is it that we are so anxious about? If so many of us choose stagnation over moving forward, the consequences of trying must indeed be terrible. It does, of course, summon the spectre of failure. And yet, in objective terms, failure is nothing to get hung up about. Common phrases like “Better luck next time” indicate our understanding that the difference between success and failure is often minimal, and that it is certainly no excuse for giving up.

Subjectively however, failure can be an altogether more viscous animal. It might, for example, flood the mind with negativity and self-loathing, the source of which is a fundamental and regressive belief about who we are and how we should live. In a nutshell, this “bottom line” can be exemplified by a phrase like “I am flawed, hopeless and bound to fail”, or words to that effect. Such literal expressions are probably rare. This, after all, is the kind of thing we'd rather not talk about. Instead, we may experience the sentiment through feelings of vacancy and depression.

It's probably inevitable that circumstances will eventually necessitate confronting the “bottom line”. And when they do, we often find ourselves woefully unprepared. Under duress, with nowhere to run, we undertake the impossible challenge of defying it completely. We want to achieve perfection, to leave the darker side of ourselves with nothing to chew on. Unfortunately, it is infinitely more likely that a frenzied assault on our negative self-concept will capitulate against robust doubts and fears. Thereafter, we tend not to be so bold. Our suspicions are confirmed. We cannot.

The problem seems one of perspective. Logic and reason are not things we readily apply to our shortcomings. In their place, we may succumb to the biased thinking and observations of a self-critical mind. The domineering bottom line feeds from prejudiced conclusions and blights a common truth, that trial and error is central to progress. We are being inconsistent, lying to ourselves, and hopelessly bearing the consequences.

The miserable habits I refer to relate to basic concepts of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And it may lighten the tone to mention that they are far from irreversible. But for an entry that I hope will spurn a period of greater activity, they seemed the most pertinent thing to acknowledge.