Tiny Parts of Other People
If you've been keeping up with me on the social medias you'll know that I have been doing a bit the opposite side of good lately. I'm okay, and I'll be okay, so no need to worry.
It's actually kind of weird because in general the pragmatic life things are going well, I got a new job working in youth mental health which means days of kinetic sand, I've been selected for a Writers in Residency program with Next Wave Festival aaaand my collection of windowsill succulents are truly thriving.
But as a professional feeler of the feelings I know that sometimes the Stuff That Is Happening does not line up with the Stuff That Is Feeling and that's just kind of, how it goes.
When I get all pensive and introspective I tend to think a lot about What It All Means, which is not a thing I would advise doing in large doses, but is good sometimes to revisit, like a painful ex, or memories of that time that kid tripped you up in primary school, you had to get stitches on your face and then everyone called you Scarface for years.
This morning I rediscovered this postcard that has been beside my bed for so long I'd forgotten it existed, and probably hasn't been read since I blutacked it up proudly, claiming I had All The Answers.
It's from a guy called Scott Foust, who I still have no clue about but here he talks about How To Turn Yourself Into An Art Object. It gets a bit big and ugly but the first bit I really like:
"If you worked on a painting every day of your life, you would expect it to be pretty good, rich and full of ideas, details, and coherent substance by the painting's finish ... you should think about your life the exact same way. A true aesthetic approach to your life involves not only the combination of selected elements and influences as well as an awareness of history, but also an attempt to create something new, beautiful, and useful."
I think his approach is a bit simple (particularly later when he talks about removing ourselves from oppression as if that's a thing that's available to everyone - is it available to anyone really?) but I really like the idea of treating yourself and your life as your Life's Work. Your masterpiece. Not only because then it becomes about process and cumulation and finding and exploring and failing and falling ass backwards, but also because I like the idea that I could care for myself and my life as if it were a masterpiece in the making.
(There is of course, that other side to art making of just hating The Work, the process and the creative life, which of course sucks a big fat bazooka and also isn't really covered in the postcard)
But unlike what he's saying here about how we should aim to be completely individualistic, removed and stoic, I like the idea that we are actually just tiny parts of other people. I tend to notice how I pick up these parts of other people when I'm particularly socially anxious, as my interactions are much more conscious, planned, and monitored. My fear makes me acutely aware, and much more prone to beg, borrow and steal social cues from others.
Lately I've been learning how to be social without being personal. Small talk if you will. Small talk is something I've had a general disdain for as I've often thought of it as getting in the way of The Real Stuff, but actually, good small talk, talk about shit dates and parties and your dad's first selfie are like happiness lube. They can remind you that there are still good things to talk about and good people to talk to and that you don't have to be in The Real Stuff all the time.
I learned this from my sister who is a master of good small talk. For years I've seen her blister through life casually having charming conversations with any passerby about the colour of their front door or whether she can borrow some lavender for a cake she's making. She is a social butterfly in what I can only imagine was the original intent for that term - beautiful to watch amongst others. The past year and a half we've become much closer and I've realised that she has this ability to be authentic without Revealing Everything All The Time. As you might imagine that is not a quality I inhibit well. I'm often outrageously up front or honestly, and I'm still a bit embarrassed by this, a bit of a conversational brick wall, giving nothing away.
Because of this it means that when I'm feeling vulnerable I just don't want to go see anyone because I have nothing to say that isn't from Super Feelings Hurt Town, and being a brick wall just makes you feel hard and alone. These days I've been around my own feelings for long enough to know that avoiding people generally makes everything more less good and that actually, being put in good small talk situations, that is situations where I can connect with people without Connecting With People is actually like, really good for me.
Last week for instance I was having a capital-B Bad Day. I had a dinner party to go to, I was late for it already, and my face had leaked enough liquid to fill a cup (a tiny tiny cup, but like, a cup). Needless to say I sure as shit did not want to go to this dinner party. I wanted to write sad poetry and Be An Artist but I knew I was much more likely to indulge in my electric blanket fantasies and binge watch "World's Best X Factor Auditions".
Nowadays, I know that, and I know that sometimes being in a place where I can't freak the fuck out or have a meltdown (like a dinner party) is actually a really good place to go because hopefully I'll be able to pull out something charming and feel like a normal person, or at least I'll just sit there and pretend I'm doing an ethnographic study and I'll narrate the whole experience in a David Attenborough voice inside my head. Maybe I won't be The Life Of The Party but I will be there, and I will be surrounded by nice people and hopefully I'll connect with someone and feel part of the greater human experience and tap into the belief that happiness exists.
Of course this doesn't happen every time, which is why I always have a safe bet escape plan and I go with no expectation to have a good time, but with the expectation to have A Time and the knowledge that that is all that is expected from me, and all I can expect from myself.
Stealing bits of other people, they won't always fit. I doubt that I'll ever relate with the world with the ease with which my sister does, but I'll take that shiny piece of her that makes sense to me, and I'll find a good spot for it in there somewhere. Over time it'll be just like that postcard on my wall, just part of the decor.
Much love from the Feelings Mothership x
PS. Tell me, when was the last time you stole a bit of someone else? You can tell me in the comments!
PPS. This post was inspired by Austin Kleon, who's newsletter I received this morning titled "Tiny parts of other people". He writes some great things about the creative process, and I highly recommend his book Steal Like An Artist, which is disarmingly simple.