Living deliberately

When I subtitled this blog “the art of living deliberately in the 21st century,” I didn’t do it by accident.

I am highly concerned – well, fascinated – with what my actions mean. To say that, when you break down the language, is really to say that I think my actions have meaning and it’s really important to me that I figure out what that meaning is.

A lot of what I hope to write in the future is linked to this query, so I want to take the time to articulate my thoughts.

And it’s pretty basic, really. Living deliberately – acting with meaning – matters because individuals matter.

Alright, pause. This blog is about to gain upwards of 50 pounds. Brace yourself.

It’s all thanks to my former roommate, whose birthday is this weekend. Alisa is a tiny person, so when I say this is getting heavy, I mean it quite symbolically. Alisa poked her head into my life just one year ago when by chance, she filled an empty room in my apartment.

Alisa and her annoying bird.

In a cross-section of demographic niches, we are very different people. We differ in just about all of your run-of-the-mill form categories. But we share at least two of the same favorite authors and, soon after moving in we realized that Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective were playing from both sides of the wall. And while, as a geology major, her writing skills are far inferior to mine, the girl can definitely hold her own against me in a debate.

What’s more is that she’s inspirational. And not just because she could be a main character in a book I’ll write some day, but because the other evening, we were sitting on my porch and we had a huge breakthrough. I’m talking the kind of thing that makes you want to write a blog post.

Some exposition:

Alisa and I are both growing into our own in a PoMo world.

For those of you not hip enough to already know and understand post-modernism (and they say an English degree is useless! pshh) – and all of its completely depressing and pessimistic criticisms of the world we live in, my explanation follows.

Postmodernism is a kind of response to modernism, which was a movement that brought us words like “avant-garde” and “deconstructionism” and resulted in beasts like Gertrude Stein (DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED). Modernism sought to question everything, particularly the institutions of literature, education, culture, art. Think Parisian. Sipping wine or macchiatos in a café and debating the intricacies of life as we know it.

So what in the world is post-that? The kind of thinking that brought us words like “fragmentation” and “pastiche” and resulted in beasts like hipsters. Wine, coffee, cafes and the intricacies of life are all dreadfully cliché. In fact, those words themselves fail to express how overused, unoriginal and regurgitated they are.

The idea is that we’ve used up all the originality in the world, so we’re left with things like Applebee’s, which is a copy of a copy of a bunch of pieces of copies of a neighborhood grill.

Really, post-modernism has its roots in questioning our perception of reality and originality, which is what modernism grew out of as well.

To understand better, take a closer look at the example of news design, which my Newhouse and Lamron cronies will greatly enjoy. Before modernism, you could pretty much expect news publications to look like this:

Then, someone came along and said “Hey! By using this design, we aren’t actually doing anything new or original, so let’s be avant-garde and come up with our own brand new way of approaching this guy.”

So something along the lines of this was born:

A re-imagining, if you will? It takes the building blocks of what came before and does something new. Lots of somebodies jumped on board until the idea that design needs to be fresh and original was embedding in the news design culture.

So much so that, wham! (That was David Carson being born.)

I’ve used some pretty drastic examples to show what’s come of these movements to demonstrate the kind of absurdity in them, but it’s not at all completely bad. Some of the best books I’ve ever read came from the post-modern movement. Picasso’s masterpieces are considered modern art.

And now my generation (or my confined experience of it) is a pack of kids like Alisa who question everything about the reality they live in. And that is what’s great about it.

It’s also what shows that the Pomo sapiens have got one element of their story seriously wrong: people.

On the porch Alisa sits up and says, “people? HAH.” Phonies. Everything you say is unoriginal. It’s been done. You are a shadow of a person. The only reason you’re able to think, speak, and act the way you do is because you were brought up in an environment of people who thought, spoke and acted like you do.

This makes me want to cry.

Not because it would mean every article I write boils down to the simple result of my experience with a constructed world. Not because this would mean that I might as well have David Carson turn my words into wing-dings. Not because this would void any purpose I’ve given to my life.

But because, in that moment, I have to remind her of the profound effect she’s had on my life, and on the lives of others – of whom I may or may not be aware.

The idea that individuals affect one another is absolutely fundamental to the way I think about the world. It is at the core of what I believe is the meaning of life (we’ll save that for another blog, though you might be able to take some stabs at it if you read between the lines or know me). It’s the backbone for how I go about living my life day to day.

Call me naïve, but I just cannot believe that what Alisa and everyone else I’ve ever met has made me think and feel isn’t real. I can’t buy that “I” am a simple, calculable, physical and societal reaction to my environment. Do you think you are?

Because I don’t see even the most shallow of individuals as shadows of stereotypes, constantly acting out expectations. Instead (and this thought is collected from conversations with and words of a bunch of really cool people), I see myself as the circuit board master of a very dynamic identity (thus, the name of this blog!)

Imagine an identity control center, made up of dials and switches and sliders that we may be very attuned to or completely unaware of. OK, maybe “society” or “culture” dictates which of these switches we get to play with. (But think about it this way: we interact with the physical world with only five senses. Doesn’t that seem awfully limiting? Couldn’t there be an entirely other experience that we are missing out on? Do we decry our existence over that?)

The most exciting part about all of this is that not only are our identities are more than a simple amalgamation of stereotypes, but the way we interact with one another is also more than the acting out of expected relationships and the transmission of expected ideas.

So. Here I am writing this blog, trying to make some ripples.

And I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that I’m not alone in my thoughts. That other people – and not just Alisa – think about this crazy stuff, too. That they need to fathom some answers in order to feel good about existing in this world. I certainly appreciate a well-thought-out reminder that I’m not a soulless bundle of chemicals practicing an overdone trade.

Instead, I’m “living deliberately.” I’m actively making decisions about how I interact with the world around me, so I can feel good about living.

If one of my friends reads this post and it makes them think, I matter to more than myself. If there’s any question about the best way for me to live, my answer is I’m living it.

4 thoughts on “Living deliberately

  1. Very nice indeed.

    I must confess… I don’t know what postmodernism is from this… well… from this post.

    My understanding: Modernism questions everything, and postmodernism answers that all values are relative, and that therefore, no belief system gets primacy.

    I don’t like postmodernism because it violates its own premise: no belief gets primacy except the postmodern belief that no beliefs get primacy.

    Plus, I’m going to stick my neck out in defense of the primacy of a bunch of beliefs, like health, women’s rights (and everyone else’s), democracy, and a bunch of others.

    And you’ll have to tell me what Ian McEwan has to do with any of this too, please :)

    1. Jane Austen (boring traditional narrative): I live in a house made of bricks.
      Gertrude Stein (modernist): bricks house of made in I live a
      Ali Smith (postmodernist): Inhabito una casa de brick. ¿Son los bricks buenos?

      Modernism rearranges the puzzle pieces, postmodernism says “hey, why don’t we do a new puzzle, or better yet play yahtzee?” — though I guess a lot of postmodernists would throw the puzzle across the room, which I’m saying, in this blog post, is dumb because the whole point is to play the game (and play nice).

      My hunch about science fiction that I mentioned the other day has to do with the fact that we don’t always see the point in playing (or playing nice) when we feel stuck within ideologies and social constructs. But when ALIENS show up with totally new games, we suddenly hold on to our favorite game pieces (and each other).

      I hope these metaphors have informed your understanding of my understanding of postmodernism. If not, maybe I should stick to writing about butter sculptures and lakes.

      If you really dislike postmoderism like you say you do, maybe you can think of McEwan as getting stuck playing yahtzee on accident. And by that I mean that he could be accidentally associated with postmodernism by virtue of time, his friends and his writing style. But he uses the hell out of postmodern writing devices and themes like pastiche, parallax, metanarrative, black humor. But who am I to say?:

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