As the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius noted many years ago, the world itself is nothing but change, and our life is really just what our thoughts make it to be. Insofar as we have control over our thoughts, we have control over our lives. We may not always be able to control the stimulus, but from the perspective of the Stoic we should seek to control the response.
This is not always easy. Words have meaning, events have consequences, and our internal dialogue does not always follow the path we might intend for it. Like a dog let off leash in a park, or a bear finding its way into a populated village while in search of food, our minds can at times follow their instincts to strange and unfamiliar places with little provocation.
I had an interesting conversation recently with a musician friend about the relationship between creative process and creative output. We had just spent some time getting hands on with a vintage synth collection, and were reflecting on the extraordinary effort and patience required to get good sound and tight sync out of old analog hardware, compared to the ease with which software can do it all with a few clicks of the mouse today.
Creativity requires both inspiration and perseverance, and sometimes the creative process is nowhere near as enjoyable as we might hope, particularly where the tools used to create are unfamiliar, unwieldy, or unreliable. Hard drives the world over are filled with half finished works of musical genius, and every day funerals are held for those who died with much of their music still in them. Beginning is hard, but finishing is harder.
On one hand, it can be tempting to mistake effort for output, spending a lot of time twiddling knobs with little to show for it in terms of completed work. On the other hand, if music is therapy rather than vocation, maybe it is okay to enjoy the journey for what it is, rather than worrying too much about the destination in terms of end product. In either case, music is a voyage of self discovery, both for the maker and for the listener.
I find a lot of value in lists, sticky notes, and scribbles on paper, in order to keep my headspace as free as possible from having to remember things that can instead be written down and recalled. David Allen, a productivity guru whose work I came across many years ago, has had a profound impact on my life, not least of which because of his aspirational state of mind, called Mind Like Water. As the common definition goes, it is a mental and emotional state in which your head is clear and able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus. Done correctly, it allows one to become more receptive to finding a natural flow, where tasks unfold and get knocked off the list in a logical and organic sequence. The incredible mental peace I find when DJing and long distance running seems most serene when I have dumped everything I possibly can out of my head and into a bucket to deal with at the contextually appropriate future time and place.
The challenge, of course, is being diligent with it all, not just in dumping things out of your head whenever you can, but also in remembering to check your lists and notes regularly once you have made them. My assumption is that children would hardly be afraid of a Santa Claus that made detailed notes of their behaviour, but never bothered to return to those notes before coming to town. As with many things, keeping the discipline is easier said than done.
Events can at times unfold in an unexpected manner. There is surprise and novelty to be found in the gap between expectations and reality. Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction, if only because the bar for plausibility is so much lower in real life than it is in storytelling. At least in my experience, things that are hard to believe happen all the time, and usually when least expected.
Do we get to write our own stories? To some extent perhaps we do, at least insofar as we are able to control our interpretations of events. Psychologists speak of the locus of control, referring to the degree to which we believe we have control over the outcome of events in our lives. The thinking goes in part that those of us who recognise that we largely control our own circumstances are less likely to stress and freak out than those who feel their lives are largely at the mercy of external forces.
But what about those stranger-than-fiction sequences of events over which we truly have no control? For those times when disbelief must be overcome rather than suspended, it can helpful to think about how one might tell the story to others in future, in a manner that will not create disbelief at the time of its retelling.
Funny things, memories. Sometimes seeing a photo, hearing a song, or even reading the name of someone from another period of time can bring back recollections that otherwise remain buried. Funny too how important context can be. We may only remember something in detail when a specific sequence of reminding events lines up, like returning to a special place at sunset, or hearing a piece of music in a certain setting.
While it feels good in the heat of the moment to think that a special moment will never be forgotten, the reality seems to be rather different. At least from my experience, there are many special memories waiting to be rediscovered when precisely the right combination of sensory inputs is provided. Nostalgia can at times be a pleasant surprise.
How do you make decisions? Do you go with your intuition, collect and assess information objectively, or solicit opinions from those you trust? For some, it seems that consciousness is a smoothly flowing river. For others, conscious thought seems to drift between an orderly committee meeting and a raucous debate between opposing parties. Some of these internal forces are inclined towards action, and they debate against others who would really rather stay in bed on any given morning. Like the proverbial angel on one shoulder and devil on the other, at times it can seem as if different actors within us have very different ideas of what path leads to the ideal outcome for a given situation.
While I have not yet seen the Pixar animated film that explores this concept, I am learning over the years more and more about the values and motivations of the various vote holders within my internal decision making committee. While I have not yet fully defined each one of their roles and voting patterns, I can say with confidence that there is at least one permanent committee member for whom, for better or for worse, the answer is always yes.
Today marks the start of my southern summer holiday, with a two week break planned that will see some interstate travel, some time at the beach, some time working on music, and some time spent catching up with family and friends. For those of you in the northern hemisphere, the good news is that summer is now less than six months away.
2016 has been an interesting year for a lot of us, good in some ways, surprising in others. While on balance 2016 has been a pretty good year for me, it has not been without its challenges. Here is hoping 2017 brings both the challenges to keep life interesting, and the successes, mercies and peace needed to keep it enjoyable.
We do not always get it right the first time. Particularly where emotions and affections are involved, it can be easy to make mistakes, and hard to pick up the pieces afterwards. In love as in life, we sometimes need to try it a few times before things click in to place. But with proper perspective, there is a silver lined lesson in every cloud, and from every bag of lemons a decent glass of lemonade can be made.
The key to being able to maintain perspective is having the right attitude, or even better, having someone close who can offer wisdom, compassion and positivity when the going gets tough. For as long as I can remember, I have been fortunate to have someone just like this to lean on. Unflappable, resilient and encouraging in oversight, consistent in belief, and unwavering in support.
Spring has returned to the southern hemisphere, and it brings with it the smell of new beginnings. From food festivals to inner city art exhibits to new restaurants, there is often so much to do that it can be hard to keep track of, let alone attend. With all of the options available in the city it seems one can feel spoiled for choice. Despite this, there is also value in getting away from it all, as a recent weekend getaway to the hills of Tasmania made clear. Sometimes it is the constraints that make the moment, rather than the possibilities.
A square wave is a waveform consisting of instantaneous transitions between two levels. Fans of Fourier analyses argue a square wave can be made by summing a fundamental with an infinite series of odd-multiple frequency sine waves at diminishing amplitude, while audio engineers suggest familiarity with the tonality of a square wave helps identify symptoms of distortion, given the extent to which clipping squares a waveform.
Visually speaking, the squared off duty cycle of a square wave suggests both balance and maximised utility, based on equal oscillation between full expression in an upwards or positive direction, and an equally full expression in a downwards or negative direction. Experientially speaking, the rapid and repetitive cycle between full exertion and deep rest can similarly distort perspectives and bring out the higher harmonics. In life as in music, there is both magic and mayhem in going repeatedly back and forth at full blast.