Monthly Archives: November 2011

Advice columnist audition tape

I occasionally get asked for advice and really why would you ask me anything. Here is my response to this email.

PS I am totally moving another person to Portland even though you all told me to stop.

question… in general…

how do you feel about the following statement?:

“I fear I am entering into a new career market in which the creative class will fucking eat my dirty hack asshole alive and shit what’s left right down the river before I know what hits me.”

(disregard grammar, consider theme)

Well, that sentence is a natural paranoia/worry/fear manifesting as a chink in your artistic/professional self-opinion. There are literally dozens of very good reasons that it’s silly to think that about Portland, but they’re kinda complex to explain and very easy to just see, so I’ll ignore those and march forward into the “artistic/professional self-opinion” bit.

So, basically, leadership and true human “excellence” come from a very specific mental conditioning, it requires some intelligence combined with some humility in the early years, and then a very specific voice. God’s maybe, mom. A girl you think is hot or your priest, tells you that you’ve “got it, no sweat, you’re born to do this” and it emboldens you. You decide to DO SOMETHING in all caps don’t care what it is because that voice? It was right and you wanna hear it congratulate you when you’re done.

Now, that’s all fake. That never happens. What actually happens in that fleeting moment of inspiration is a stopwatch starts. That moment of actualization? It was a reset. Right at the moment? There’s only two voices in your head. Your own strong, familiar internal dialog, and the voice of someone who loves/fucks/titillates/nurtures you saying “You can do it”. And the stopwatch is now counting how long it takes for a voice of terminal doubt to get in there and jam up your shit.

For a depressingly large chunk of folks? THAT voice sounds just like Dad or Mom or themselves when they’re drunk and it just beats em’ before they even have a chance to think about what the “something” was. Afterglow is over and who gives a fuck what some stripper says anyways, fuck it. They’re done. Back to frappuccinos in the new reusable ultrachug with bonus drinkDiaper(tm) and trying to up the threadcount on the sheets.

If you make it all the way to “fucking around trying to think up what something to do is” without getting jammed, you’re now a doodler. You’re a tinkerer. You read a lot to try to get ideas or you learn how to run long distances or you get a job or you finish college or whatever. Stuff that’s easy to get into a track and push on gets completed. Things that are more free form tend to either not get finished or you run into obstacles. But you’re still young and nothing has stopped you yet and your great awesome young brain is just wet and hot with ideas, you’re soaking in em’! SOMETHING is in there just waiting to get out, as soon as you figure out what it is and how to do it.

So, if you manage to tinkerdoodle around enough and still not get upset and stop, and you get bored with all your hamster-wheel life progress meters, you develop some skills, and now you’re a journeyman. A person who can do. Not maybe SOMETHING in all caps but stuff, you can do stuff.

This is where almost all of the adults on the planet stop. They can do their oil changes and clear their toilets or they can take a pretty good wedding picture or they play guitar in a local band. They bake a wicked apple pie or they write a pretty good essay. They still dream a little, but they have enough “life lessons” that the voice of terminal doubt? It’s their own. And it comes in a cool breath of logic, yeah we’d all like to sing an aria at the Sydney Ampitheater but there’s a mortgage payment dummy! Or, in many cases, SOMETHING came to be. SOMETHING turned out to be a son, or hitting upper management or owning a muscle car just like the one in that movie except for the rusty muffler, and it just takes up the slack in any left over creative impulses. I’d write a symphony but Die Hard is on and that’s my favorite nap movie.

And then all that’s left are the artists, craftspeople, psychopaths, the sociopaths. These three groups have something unique inside them that tells them that they need to DO SOMETHING REAL BECAUSE THE REST OF THIS SHIT IS FAKE. Artists feel the whole sentence. Craftspeople hear “Do something real”. Sociopaths get “the rest of this shit is fake”. Psychopaths get “DO SHIT”. They’re intelligent enough to be bored by their station, have successfully avoided or defused internal doubt and external judgment, and the drudgery of day to day existence hasn’t curbed their intense need to externalize their singular vision. They’ve developed their skills through long practice and have developed exquisite “taste” in their particular fields of interest. This is where Rick Perry lives, and Churchill, Ted Bundy, Pablo Piccasso, Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen. It’s where genius and madness are stranded with each other when the masses return to rest. Which is unfortunately why you’re running into so many dickholes.

But I digress — there’s nothing to be gained from _thinking_ that sentence, unless you wanna go think it to you at… fourteen? That’s a “terminal doubt” of the kind that can only work when it’s integrated early. It’s an ineffective deterrent thought-scourge that you ran over your ego dozens of times like some kind of purification rite and it’s silly. You’re past that. It’s an emotional
damage-control device you’re using to preemptively prepare yourself for failure and it’s the sort of shit I do all the time. I do it less now. Because I recognize that forcing myself to a psychological low before starting a project is counter productive, the “net happiness” from a situation where I forced myself to live out every variety of failure before starting is a low gain proposition if I succeed wildly, and in every other case is a stone cold bummer followed by a halfass payoff. It’s a weak type of magic spell that you learn when you’re young and have no other use for all that beautiful brain that god gave you, like a really shitty computer program that just pulls up the pictures on your SD cards where it thinks you look “extra fat”, it does it very slowly, turns on all your fans while it does it, and when you agree that the picture is bad, it doesn’t do anything with it, it just finds another one to show you. Sometimes it just shows you the same one over and over for hours until you agree you look fat in it.

Quit doing it. Or, do it alllllll right in a big ass pile. Say it out loud to yourself, say it in words so you have to hear it. Say “I’m a fraud and a fake and nobody believes in me and I’m gonna fail.” say it in the mirror and cry about it, cry over all that wasted effort you gave to projects that went nowhere and mourn the innocent youthful you who squandered so many opportunities. Do it all the way out. If you have a relationship with god? Talk to him about it. Or just talk to somebody dead about it, it doesn’t matter, pick somebody who can hear you, and who most of all can effortlessly understand the emotions which are forming your words, and talk to them. Have that out. Get real stoned. Make fun of yourself. But only do this doubting out loud. ONLY do it out loud. Don’t write it, don’t let yourself do it in the car in your head. If you’re in the car and you start having this desire to dig down a sadness bunker to wait out the war? Talk it out. Talk to the radio guy. Talk to the commercials. No I do not care about five dollar foot longs all week mother fucker because I have a fucking problem here that you would not believe. Don’t let it live in your head. Because it’s a loop, it’s a computer virus, it’s like you looked at too many porn sites and eventually your computer starts running like shit (I mean a regular computer not your immunodepressedMac), and you need a reboot, but the brain doesn’t “do” that, so…

There’s a concept, in the new “cloud computing” paradigm, of having “tiered infrastructure”. Basically, you can run a whole computer and if part of the computer’s software is gonna be thrashing the hard drive, you can physically store that data on really fast memory, and all the boring text files and backgrounds on much less expensive, much slower hard drives. This is “tiered storage”, the hard drive looks like one big thing to the computer but it’s split up according to how fast we need access to it. I believe the human brain, having billions of years more R&D time, is like “tiered compute”. We have this big fancy new part, cerebral neocortex, which is capable of all kinds of neat “wide” processing. It can take really big ideas and think about them all at once, think about their relationships, we can hold dissimilar ideas and compare them. Then we have the paleocortex limbic system, which is just kinda “where the rubber meets the road”. It’s where we keep “what gunshots sound like” and “the sick feeling when you know you broke a limb”, and the fear of strangers. Interior logic fights, stuff that’s all hypothetical and never needs to interact with your sensor organs or limbs? The brain starts to run them as efficiently as it can, and the neocortex is waaaaay complicated and takes up a lot of kilocalories. Part of the brain’s survival-efficiency routine is to makes the loops smaller and smaller, and stuffs them further down the stack, if you can basically reduce a very complex argument to “you are dumb” and you iterate it often enough, the brain will try to just throw a “you are dumb” signal out from the limbic system on an interval to make you stop using the fancy part so much. So you get all the endocrine system triggers that come with feeling shamed/stupid on a regular tap and then it just lives as tension in your lower back forever. Forcing yourself to talk it out brings it back up to the fancy processing and lets you experience it fully, which will help the brain stop trying to simplify and automate it.

Here’s what you should be thinking about. How much stuff you can sell on Craigslist in the next three weeks, how to work the logistics of leaving and driving up, how many people you can find to take your lease. I have four days of vacation to use before the end of the year, two of them are yours if you need a copilot. Past that, it is in the chubby thick babyhands of Dr. SpaceJesus. Go have your freakout, take a nap, and then re-assess your to-do list when you’re done. It’s like jackin’ off before a date so you’re not all nervous.