Tag Archives: values

Getting Philosophical about Bad Writing

I’m reading a badly-written book. It’s also one of the books I think I most identify with as a life philosophy. This is where my ability to read between the lines and extract only what I like comes in handy, because the majority of the book is the kind of trash I hope I’m never reduced to writing.

I suspect most “readers” have books they love that they secretly have a hard time defending.

For me, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged fall into that category. They’re complete crap, from a writing point of view. She’s tedious, redundant, overly dramatic, black/white in her characters, arrogantly simplistic in her views of how the average person is. Even her philosophies are so ridiculously black/white that they’re just laughable, and it’s why the book has met with such disdain for seven decades.

Arguably, if I ever had a drink with Ayn Rand, I’d pitch my drink in her face. She seems wholly unlikable in her ridiculous in-book dialogue, if it’s any kind of reflection of who she is — and given the monotonous voice in which all her characters speak, it’s absolutely reflecting her.

And yet…

Probably no book has defined my values in life creatively or professionally more than The Fountainhead has. (Or, as some I’ve known would argue, the more literary approach to the ‘selfishness as a virtue’ concept, aka egoism, is found with more palatable shades of grey in Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion.)

***

I’ve been going through a “thing” in the last couple of days. I’m tired of people, not from a “let’s hang out” point of view, but from an ideological point of view. I’m tired of flip-floppy sorts I see everywhere in the media, in social media, and in daily life. (Flip-floppy — ethically, I mean, not, say, being vegetarian then not. Consistency in ethical behaviour is everything, IMHO.)

There are those who cannot be painted with that brush — they’re people I admire, enjoy, and am more inclined to see than most others (if I suggest doing things with you EVER, you’re in this group) — but there are many who leave me exasperated at who and what they are.

I’m under no illusions of how many people like or dislike me. I’d like to say I don’t care who doesn’t like me, but that’d be a lie. Everyone wants to be liked.

But there are indeed people whose opinions mean shit to me. They’re the folks whose opinions are easily bought and sold, or who worry about being seen at all the right places all the time, seem scared to be alone with their thoughts, or who have elevated fake sincerity to brand-new heights.

It’s understandable such people might find me hard to take. That’s fine; it’s mutual.

The trouble with being in the modern world, living a 24/7 plugged-in life is: You see people more often, whether in digital form or in the flesh — and, when it comes to online, who they are lingers on-screen for so much longer. As does my ability to judge them.

And the more I see people, the more they’re out there trying to be seen/heard/loved, the more I find them being insincere or full of platitudes — and not worth my time.

I’m being reminded as I skim through The Fountainhead just how socially ill-equipped I can be at times. People like me, sure, but they dislike me just as often.

I don’t have that internal censor most people have. I blurt things out. It’s terrible. I seldom mean things as brashly as they sound, but lord knows it gets misconstrued. At least I’m honest and I say the things I really think, so anyone who doesn’t dig me generally does so for arguably valid reasons. And if they dislike me for being myself, being honest, then I figure they’ve saved me the time of getting to know them, since they’re obviously Not My Sort.

Also, the older I get, the more I think I won’t be bought, and it’s beginning to make me question my desire for self-employment, given the Schmooze Factor required.

***

Trivia? I made the mistake of selling Filter Queen vacuums for about 2 weeks when I was 18. It became a lesson in who I never, ever wanted to be. Filter Queen vacuums might come with a lifetime warranty, but it was 19 years ago & then were priced $1498. For a vacuum. Yeah. About $400 was commission.

I can sell. God knows I can sell. I can almost smell who has money to blow.

Example: I once worked at a toy store (’96-97) and had an $8 “train whistle” sale with this lady, and while ringing it up, got into small-talk with the customer, who owned a special private preschool in South Korea. 45 minutes later, I got to charge $1900 on her card as I sold her toys from all around the store.

Did I feel guilty? No, she had the money to spend.

But when it was a few years earlier, my Filter Queen bosses demanded I pressure a family of five living in a 2-bedroom rented condo and barely making ends meet, to buy this ridiculously overpriced vacuum — “always make the sale,” very Glengarry Glenn Ross-like — and it went against every value I ever had.

So, I sold one, not to Condo Family, then quit.

***

These days, I can’t do it. I can’t do product reviews out of expectations, just for free crap. I can’t do sponsored tweets. I don’t want to avail myself for free shit at restaurants just so I can tweet about it, etc. Do I begrudge those who do? No, not in the least. Everyone needs to eat.

But I can’t do that. Not right now. I’m done.

I want to go out of life knowing I met my standards, knowing I never compromised myself for your benefit, or anyone else’s.

Doing “swag” reviews, for example, are just not my bag. Lord knows I’ve tried. Life would be easier if my stupid ethics didn’t get in my way, but they do, and to deny them would be foolish, to live without them would be denying everything I am.

Will I make it to the other side of life without compromising? Ever? Probably not. Probably not even close. But I can avoid major concessions. I can avoid the things that make me wake up with the durrrty morning-after feeling.

***

And no matter how ridiculously extreme the character of Howard Roark is made in The Fountainhead, I “get” him. I get the idea of never compromising your art. I get the concept of “any means necessary” being too high a price to pay if it means losing what makes your work you. I get the concept of not using one’s name for others’ benefit, especially when others’ ethos aren’t meshing with my own.

The older I become, though, the more I find I’m inflexible about what my values are and why. Does it make me the perfectly moral person? Jesus, no.

Does it make me a better writer? Hmm. Good question. I would hope so. Less and less, I find myself writing because you should have something to read. More and more, I find myself writing only when life inspires me to do so. This is good. Too bad it’s so infrequent.

I should write more. I would like to do just that. This recent picking-up-of-books-and-even-reading-them thing is a big change for me, after years of barely reading. I hope it rekindles my love of words.

***

In a way, I’m going back to The Fountainhead because it was the start of something for me. Out of everything that was in my life when I was 18, the only things that remain are writing and photography. Only, I write far more now, and far better.

But, when I read The Fountainhead, something about Howard Roark’s idea of architecture, and the metaphor it could be for all things in life, resonated with me then and screams in agreement with me now.

I want to be a more streamlined writer. I want to be moved to do things in life because they take me closer to goals — likely not what you think; a bungalow on the ocean would do me fine & allow me the simple life I crave, the life that gets lost in this city.

Like Howard Roark sees architecture, I kind of see life and creativity right now:

Rules? Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it’s made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose. A man doesn’t borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn’t borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window, and stairway to express it.

I realise I’ve come to despise ornate architecture, people who incessantly overdress, haughty writing, and intellectuals who think their degree is some sort of validation of who they are just because they’ve got paper to prove it.

I want simple, real things. Simple, real people. I want ideas that are whole and expansive, that don’t come with qualifying, egos, and justification. I want people who are endlessly authentic and can’t be bought, quiet conversations and zero flash.

I want to feel like I write for the sake of writing — not to sell ads, not for your fulfillment, not to make the world a better place, but for the most pure reason of all: To explore ideas and give voice to thoughts. My voice.

I want these things.

Unfortunately, I live in the real world where such ethos don’t pay the rent. The balancing act between how idealistic I can be while still putting food on my table, well, it’s a struggle. It will probably remain a struggle.

And part of the life I want, part of the goals I’d love to achieve, might require I rethink what I’m willing to do for success or not.

I’ve been lost in thought on these struggles for a couple of weeks now, but it’s escalated this week. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m hoping some great epiphany dawns tonight in which I finally realize how I can reconcile both professional and personal values into one amazing existence.

Something tells me that’s a birthday gift I won’t be receiving just yet. Fortunately, I’m not hung up on deadlines.

A Ramble: Valentine’s Day

This day, the 15th, is one of my least favourite days of the year for private reasons. I fucking hate it. So, I got to thinking last night as I smoked a joint and continued to write, and this is the rambling ode I had about being single on Valentine’s day, and I dedicate it to all those who rolled out of bed alone today and didn’t feel badly about it.

I’m at home on Valentine’s night. There’s a Dr. Phil show on, about how to “love smart.” It’s a primetime special. Ever noticed how the matchmaker sites go onto full boil around this time of year? Notice the fix-up services advertising more these days? It’s like the world conspires to tell you you’re a loser if a) you’re single or b) your lover doesn’t spend enough on you or c) your lover doesn’t put out.

I’m reveling in my singleness this evening. I made garlic bread. With extra garlic. And spaghetti with meat sauce, something the wise would never eat in front of a date. I’m wearing my cut-off shorts and a fleecy sweater. I’m having an awesome night of relaxing, writing, cooking, watching a little telly, and reading. And deep down inside there’s this niggling of “But they think you need a boyfriend. Do ya, honey?”

I know I had a moment of weakness last week, that’s what I do know. I seized a moment with someone and let things go further than they should have, but for that night, regardless of what the future did or didn’t hold, companionship sounded like a good idea. There are people you know you can trust, even if you can’t imagine really being with them for the long haul. And there are weak moments.

Ultimately, though, I do love being single. I admit, I am alone. I’m not lonely, though. Not usually. (Weakness, it happens.) And I resent Valentine’s Day (and the media and society) for seeming to think my lack of desire for a real, true relationship is anything less than healthy. I want a relationship, but I want the right relationship. Anything less than simpatico is just not worth my time, grief, or efforts. The right man, he gets it all. I’ll drop anything for the right guy, you know. I’m just a diehard romantic. But I scrutinize with the best of them, and I just want the right combination.

Otherwise, I’ll keep my Sundays for reading the paper in my boxers and a t-shirt. I’ll get up when I want, sleep where I want, eat what I want, and do what I want. I won’t have to check to see if “our schedule” is clear, I won’t have to worry about any of that. Like I say, when it’s right, it’s worth it, but when it’s not absolutely right, it’s infringing on my space.

That makes me very male in some ways, I think. I’m not sure why more men feel that way than women, but perhaps it comes down to how comfortable they are alone. It’s interesting, I’ve seen an increase in the media, people bringing up something I’ve long believed: One of the worst things you can say to a lover is what they said in Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.”

If you cannot be complete on your own, you are not a whole person. If you do not have a sense of self, you have nothing. If you cannot love yourself, who else can? These are clichés, and for good reason. They’re as true as they can be.

If you don’t know yourself when you fall in love with someone, you’re going to have the very, very rude experience of cluing the fuck in to who you are somewhere down the line, and that person you’ve committed yourself to is going to find out that they no longer fit the bill. Who you love must complement who you are, not complete it. We’re foolish when it comes to love, we put the cart before the horse.

I long ago discovered that my “fuctedness,” as one pal would say, needed solitude. Every time I got into a relationship, I lost more and more of who I was. I became this person who needed to have that approval from “them” in order to have that sense of self. Now, I couldn’t care less. I know that the right people, the ones I want around me, they dig me. The ones who don’t dig me, don’t get me, and won’t have me, and that’s just fine. Don’t fight it, man. Go with the flow.

But when you really learn to dig yourself, you don’t need anyone anymore. You see people for what they are: Icing on a fuckin’ fab cake, baby.

See, the difference between those of us who enjoy being single and those who do not is pretty simple. Those of us who enjoy it, we’re optimistic about love. We figure, hey, if the time’s ever right, if the cosmos ever aligns, then maybe we’ll come out of that with something/one we just can’t get enough of. Until then, we’re alone, and we’re going to enjoy it, ‘cos when that love comes, aloneness goes. And it’s more than aloneness. It’s solitude, quietude. There are some things you will never, ever experience if you don’t command your time alone. Some of the most profound experiences of my life have come to me in moments spent completely isolated from the world.

I moved to the Yukon for one year when I was 21, and it was a profound experience all the way around. Before then, I was a popular gal and always had plans, always was out. I moved there and discovered the true art of being alone and loving it, and it changed my life. I remember a night right around summer solstice. It was daylight then from three in the morning until two in the morning, just an hour of dusk in between… fucking sublime. Sigh. You could sit and watch the sunset followed by the sunrise in the time it took to slowly nurse a single beer. I was having one of these profound days – a day in between nights at the bar, preceding a long weekend away, where we’d be camping at the foot of Mount McKinley and Mount Logan, the continent’s highest peaks. I remember thinking, “I’ve got it pretty fucking good. This will be one of the best times in my life, and I will never, ever forget these experiences. But tonight I got to slow it down and keep it all to me.”

I packed up a few things… a joint, a couple of beers, some Robert Service poetry, and a sweater. I drove the car out of the city (of 15,000) into the nearby country, Miles’ Canyon, the Yukon’s mini version of the Grand, through which the Yukon river carved a wide and tumultuous path. I did a hike out to the edge of the canyon and found an isolated spot above the river where I sat leaning against an alpine fir and facing northward, where I could see the sun dead ahead, just slightly left of the magnetic north. It was midnight and the sunset wasn’t far off. The mountains lay before me to the north (and to the south and east and west) and the land was all reds and browns and greens and yellows with this beautiful deep blue sky. The light, as that incredible northern light is, was absolutely preternatural. There’s something angelic and sweet about the late eveningg summer’s light up there that bathes the world in buttery goodness. I did what I often do, I just sat there and watched how the light changed and shadows shifted on the landscape. There’s something profound about sitting there literally watching time pass by.

So all I did was sit there, consider my life, my place, the potential in my future, who I was and who I would become. To this day, that moment stands in my top twenty, if not my top ten, in my life experiences – and still, stacked up against international trips, true rites of passage, it holds its own, my friends. I was with no one. Nothing really happened. It was quietude in its finest. Not a human voice. Not a plane. Not a vehicle. Nothing electronic. No wires. Nothing. Just me, the gods, and the earth. And it was fucking incredible.

And when you’re afraid of aloneness, you miss out on moments like that. Moments when you sit around and connect with nature on your own time. A guy once said to me, Cities are built for distraction. Meaning, they’re there to help us forget all the things we wish for, that we’ll never have. So too are the wrong relationships, Valentine’s day be damned.

When you spend more time alone, when you get really honest with yourself about what you ought to be valuing, you gain this inner contentment about what it is you’ve got, and you often develop clarity about what it is you need, and how to attain it. These are things, qualities, that many of my fellow (wo)men need to find.

I wouldn’t say that being single leaves me in a state of nirvana, but I’m in a place that I really dig, and it’s because I’ve come to feel that I’d rather be alone than in a relationship where I’m not fully… I don’t know, what, plugged in? I’m charged, he’s charged, it’s all good? I mean, I’m damned good company, most times, so I’d really have to value a guy to keep him around, is what I’m saying. Life’s just too fucking short.

So, yeah, Valentine’s day. I digressed a lot there. Love’s hard enough without cheapening it with commercialism. If you want romance, celebrate it always. If you want love, keep it year round, not because a calendar tells you it’s that time again. And love ain’t about what you can buy, people. These expensive gifts… really. When did generosity become about the almighty dollar? When did it stop being a thing of spirit, of gesture? I just honestly find that buying into this Valentine’s day bullshit really helps to make people forget what relationships ought to be about. The little things: The qualities shared, the words said, the actions done. Not the things bought. Not the fancy places we go.

But the very best thing about being a content, whole person in the search of love, is that when you find someone who really does deserve a shot at fitting that bill, it’s so incredibly rewarding to just drink them in. They’re not fulfilling you, they’re just nurturing all that is good about you. Then, it feels like a gift, like something you should cherish. Something you want to cherish. Not a job, not an obligation. And isn’t that how things ought to be?