Archives for posts with tag: positive thinking

Perhaps the meaning of life is that we have the capability to ask, “what is the meaning?”

This is a question that an artist or scientist tackles every day.
– Why create art when you could do something more “practical”?
– Why do science or philosophy when you could be half as smart, use half the effort and become exponentially richer by choosing a career in finance?
– Why be greedy if everyone around you really just pretends to care about you because they want a slice of your financial pie?
– Why strive for recognition and fame when you’ll likely end up a narcissist surrounded by preening swans looking to steal your spotlight?

What is the meaning?

Answers are inevitably arbitrary. Emotionality (including the suppression of emotion), grandiose ideologies and positive/negative thinking dichotomies provide wrong or inadequate answers. The mental faculty of questioning entails an ability to encounter a full range of experiences, including the possibility of finding a meaning. Even if meaning remains beyond our grasp, the process of extending our knowledge is itself the manifestation of a uniquely human and intrinsically meaningful act.

It may be the case that the art of living begins here, in a process of discovery that ends only in death. This artful path begins with a realization that the question of meaning is an accessible challenge for all human beings, and it lives within us as long as we allow it to move us in whatever direction the path takes for itself.

Emotions

Emotions don’t create meaning. “Happiness” is little more than an interpretation of an emotional perception; the emotional perception is founded in biological sensations that, themselves, have no intrinsic meaning. Sensations and emotional reactions can help keep us alive, and they can just as easily lead to dysfunctional or destructive outcomes. As emotions come, so do they pass. There is no deeper meaning in sensations, inferences about emotions, or evaluations of the imaginary worth of an equally imaginary “self”. The meaning of life is neither emotion, control or manipulation of emotion to create a sustained feeling of “being happy”, nor a lack or suppression of emotion.

Grandiosity

Grandiose pronouncements of some permanent solution tend to lead to fundamentalistic conclusions that necessitate the dehumanization and even murder of those who disagree. Some religious people proudly and piously declare that without religion — no, without their particular religion — life is hopeless and meaningless. From there is only a small semantic hop to the belief that non-believers are not fully human. And from there awaits either repentance and indoctrination or the bullet, the gas chamber, and the furnace. Metaphors can become literal reality all too easily in situations where faith (“faith” is absolute belief despite absence of compelling evidence) overrules or preempts the use of moral reasoning in the march from mindful contemplation to mindless obedience.

Positivity

“Positivity” and happiness are secular terms that are also synonymously meaningless. Some individuals even go so far as to define positivity as some sort of “science of happiness”, which of course means nothing at all.

Most worthwhile activities do not feel “positive” in the moment: studying can lead to a heavy-headed sleepiness. Acts of creativity can be as exhausting as running a marathon. Physical exercise can result in a tired body and next-day soreness. These are crucially useful activities that don’t feel “positive” or “happy” in the moment. Partying and taking drugs can be the most “positive” experiences of a person’s life, yet they offer no sustainable solutions, create nothing that develops or sustains human life, and helps no one beyond the moment of consumption.

Positive without negative is homicide/suicidal mania. Negative without positive is homicide/suicidal depression. Neither holds any value as a method of partitioning human experience in search of meaning.

Arbitrary or meaningful, or both?

Life itself is arbitrary. There is no one “real” meaning to life, just as no one human being is more “real” or “more human” than another. The ability to ask questions of our existence entails a comprehensive sense of self that can extend to the limits of the known universe, and perhaps even beyond it.

Only humans can use complex linguistic forms to explore realms of pure imaginative speculation, such as the notion of an “after-life”, which is absurd by definition — at least, until we find reliable evidence to the contrary. Only we can hear the vibration of a voice or other musical instrument and conceive of cosmic communication with the greater Universe. Only we can look beyond what we have thus far proven capable of seeing, by using curiosity to build questions that drive us to find new answers. Those answers then form the scaffold for new questions.

The wonder of life is at our fingertips at all times. The answer is the question itself. Imagine if you knew the “true” answer. How boring! ;)

To spend a life wondering, maintaining curiosity, learning, creating paths to new ideas and questioning the answers that we find along the way: this is a life that remains challenging, fascinating and constantly renewed at every moment.

This way is a path of science and fiction, emotional art and artful logic, love for life itself and the fulfillment of always maintaining a beginner’s mind.

The question is the answer.
Maybe.

The genesis of this entry was a simple question:

“Ten years from now, what will I most regret not having started today?”

In order to live well as an artist, the art itself is one part of a far larger context called “your life”.

What about the distorted positive-thinking mythology of the superhuman “genius” overcoming all odds?

That actually makes life harder. Instead of focusing on the positive (and ignoring the other half of reality), the whole picture will show you how to anticipate problems while reaching for success.

Here is an outline for a creative life that goes farther than starvation-wage “survival jobs” and the “work hard, work harder, become a genius, get lucky and strike it rich” idea that so rarely [if ever] works out in the real world.

A person with an entreprenuerial mindset is always looking for new opportunities.

At the core of this mindset is a practical consideration that’s so obvious, it’s hidden from view — much like the sky being so vast above us that we rarely think about it.

1. The 25% Rule

Never allow any one source to provide more than twenty-five percent (25%) of your income.

Immediately you see the mistake that the typical person makes. The typical worker has one client — called “the boss” — and is perpetually scrambling in fear of being fired by The Boss.

By contrast, the entrepreneur thinks about streams of revenue. It’s needlessly risky to allow any one client to control your ability to eat nutritious food and have a decent place to sleep. If you want to ensure that you can survive the next global “Great Recession” in good shape, make sure that you can lose at least two of your largest clients without causing any undue difficulty.

This means that you keep track of your cash flow — how much is coming in and how much flows out.

2. Live far, far below your means.

Who are you trying to impress?

Hopefully, the answer is “nobody. I live for my art.”
Right?

Well, if that’s not your answer, you may have considerations like young children or old parents or other dependents who need your financial help.

They all need to be factored into the basic amount required per month.

Remember above where the “25% Rule” was introduced? This is where it becomes real.

If you can’t live on fifty percent of your current income, you’re over-spending and under-saving.

Note that this is a ratio, not a law of nature. It’s a place to start from — find four sources of revenue, none of which is individually responsible for more than 25% of your income.

From there, you can find more sources. This means that if you have ten clients who bring in steady monthly revenue, you can afford to lose five clients.

This all depends on first knowing how much money you’ve decided that you “need” in order to finance your lifestyle. Look at the basic needs of life and work — not the “need” for a new phone every six months or the desire for fine dining and an evening at the theatre at least three times per week.

What are your bare essentials? This is what you need to know. Food, housing, transportation, utilities, materials, communications. Start from there. When your total income is at least double what you need to survive, you can weather a tough economic time as long as you save and stick to your financial plans.

3. Basic Financial Intelligence

You do know the difference between “gross” and “net”, right?

If not, you need to learn.

Financial intelligence is a survival skill. If you buy a car or mortgage without realizing that those are liabilities (not assets), you quite likely will regret it later. If you don’t know to never invest your retirement savings in the stock market unless you’re willing to lose the money, then you’ll likely die broke.

The world runs on money. I know, all us artists were fed a fine line of bologna as kids, and as adults. A consumerist society demands that we spend more and buy more, and think very little about anything else. You have to fight the urge to impress your friends and feel like a “winner” because you bought the new shiny toys that will become disposable trash in a few months or years.

Much of this knowledge is not taught in school. Find it and learn it.

4. Sources of Income: Skills, Products, Services

“How do I find _four_ sources of income?”, you ask. “It’s hard enough to find one job. Now I need four?!”

First, remember this shift in thinking: revenue streams, not “jobs”.

This is the M-word comes in: Marketing.

Very briefly, you can think of income revenue streams in terms of three categories.

Skills: do you have four skills that you can use to make at least twenty-five percent (25%) of your income? Are you a writer, musician, illustrator, and graphic designer? You can use each skill to generate revenue by creating products and services.

Products: you can create four products to sell. For example: this can mean different types of art, writing a self-published book about art, or using different media to reach different audiences (galleries, blogs, films, etc.).

Services: services here mean expertise that is intangible. Public speaking is a service. Monthly webinar classes are services. Mentoring is a service.

Figure out how you can help people do what they want to do, and you’ll be on track to creating valuable services.

There can be overlap between products and services as well, for example if you give a talk, record it and then sell that as part of a web series on art.

The key underpinning all of this is to do your homework first.

4. Do Your Homework: Research Your Market

Many artists start with a passion and go from there.

The hard truth is that some forms of art are rarely (if ever) profitable. Writing novels, illustrating comic books, and creating fine-art paintings will generally not provide a liveable income in the early years — if ever.

Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Do your own homework. Research your target market.

You may find that some of your work occupies a profitable niche. If you started out writing erotic short stories, you might find that romance novels are massively profitable compared to mainstream fiction. From there, you can research the structure of the romance novel and take a pseudonym for experimentation in that form.

Or you could find that you art is better pursued in the nights and evenings, at which point your life might need a bit of redesign from “starving artist” to “person with a second job that is an avocation and pays in life satisfaction rather than money — for now.”

Tip: Never think of your art as a “hobby”. Hobbyists end up saying things like “life got in the way” and de-prioritizing what they love to do. After survival, make art your top priority if you truly are passionate for it.

One day, if you work on your craft for at least two hours daily, you will find yourself near the top of your field. Why? Because most people are too disorganized to do _anything_ on a regular basis. This is why the average person needs a Boss to tell them what to do.

If you’ll have to spend at least nine hours of every day working for someone, you might as well work for yourself. Learn the skills and be willing to make mistakes. We’re all going to die, sooner than you might think. Life is too short to wait for retirement before pursuing your passions. Start now with a mindset of practical, flexible resilience, and you’ll never regret a single moment for the rest of your days.

A question that has proved vexatious over the past few years: is it better to do as you please in life, or sacrifice yourself to help others?

Equally relevant is the side question, “does art really matter at all?”

Answers: The dichotomy in the first question — selfishness versus selflessness — is false, and art may be the only road to creating a scientifically-literate society.

There are more enough self-help gurus in the world today. Many ventures of dubious value tend to adopt the glossy show-business angle of selling a “new you”, from entreprenuerial religious figures to celebrities shilling for the pharmaceutical industry.

Everyone wants to change the world in some way, usually starting with you.

If there are so many “success” gurus and self-declared “experts” giving inspirational TED talks about your awesome brain, how is it possible that we’re not all gorgeous happy millionaires by now? Shouldn’t the privileged one-percent have edged at least somewhat closer to being the “self-made hundred percent”?

One answer is that the game is rigged to keep almost everyone at the bottom. This is obviously part of the problem.

The other part is that humans refuse to learn.

If you want to have an impact in the world, you have to effect change in the behavior of others. The fabeled “neuroplasticity” touted ad infinitum by the TED talkers is essentially fancy jargon for a very old and pragmatic word: that word is “learning”.

And learning, especially learning anything worthwhile, is hard.

It’s no surprise, then, that you can practically hear the doors of young minds closing somewhere in the early-to-middle teen years. Schools are partly to blame, as anyone who has been to school in the current system knows. The other problem is a social one, or perhaps more accurately, a psychosocial one.

Think back to when you were in your mid-teens. What was happening around that time? People around you were starting to have (lots of) sex, everyone seemed to be in a rush to create an identity and become part of some clique or other, and suddenly you realized that you were old enough to start making money. Money meant that you could get more of the things that led to sex with desirable partners. Money also could enable buying objects that could help you “fit in” better — clothes, a car, gadgets and pocket money for “cool” things like drugs and partying.

The new sexual compulsions and socially-facilitated greed eventually forms a belief system that congeals later into a nearly cultish consumerist mentality. Get rich, get laid, and get more-better-newer stuff than your peers: this is the new value system that replaces the curiosities and desires of an otherwise intelligent and inquisitive child.

By the time the average kid leaves high school, the pattern is set. Sex, greed, and the obsession for egotistical social dominance become reframed as “being a grown-up”. The rat race is mistaken for what it means to live a “normal” life.

I used to vacillate between the idea of becoming a scientist or engineer, versus an inclination toward artistic pursuits. Who made a stronger contribution to society: Einstein or Mozart? Amelia Earhart or Britney Spears (I mean, Christina Aguilera)? Alexander Graham Bell or Sidney Poitier and Jay-Z?

Again, the dichotomy is false, because the constraints arbitrarily focus on the wrong set of options.

The predominant myth of modern society is the “self-made” person. It’s a variant of the “rags to riches” story that leads poor people to dream about being filthy (as in, wealthy) in the most short-sighted and cutthroat ways. The only way to be “exceptional” is to be better than everyone else — or to steal their share in a zero-sum game. And there can only be a very small percentage gloating at the top of any given population.

Accordingly, we have fairly boilerplate mythologies spun around people like Einstein, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. The same is true for cultural icons like millionaire actors, platinum-selling rockstars and mixtape-famous rappers. Have you ever stopped and listened to the strangely similar plot points in the hagiographies of your favorite cultural superheroes? We’ve had the equivalent of Photoshopped photos long before software nipped, tucked, deleted, fuzzed and pushed pixels into pleasantly implausible shapes. The “genius” illusion is one that has inspired confused adoration and misplaced idealism (eventually giving way to cynical disillusionment) in young people for generations.

So you _still_ want to change the world…

If you want to change the world, you first have to accept the fact that you most likely will not change the world. Denial of reality leads to the distortion or willful ignorance of empirical facts. If you become some kind of persuasive zealot or denialist manic attempting to fulfill a titanic vision, the likely outcome is its opposite. Hubris leads to the de-valuing of others, which leads to ruthlessness and corruption. Even religions that emphasise pacifist ideals like “turn the other cheek” can be misused by their adherents to justify murder and genocide. The idea of a “superman” reliably creates secular religions that rationalize the displacement and destruction of anyone who is different or raises a voice of dissent.

I realize now that mobilization of a population is far more powerful and important than any individual.

Rather that one “genius” Einstein, imagine an entire society of people who are scientifically literate. Instead of one brilliant Bill Gates, imagine a culture that valued rationality and sought practical solutions for a better life both at home and abroad.

There could be thousands of young Einsteins and Gateses who never learn to care about science and technology until it’s too late — instead, they waste their professional lives building high-tech toys, privacy-destroying “social networks” and schemes to con people into clicking on ads.

To change the world, young children are really the only ones who can be trusted to learn anything at all. Adults are almost invariably trapped in the so-called “grown-up” world of sexual obsession (prudes and perverts alike), tribalistic religiosity (from organized religion to mass consumerism) and twisted irrational thinking (from lionizing corporate greed to normalizing the “fat acceptance” movement).

The only real hope may be to use art — music, films, novels, video games and other storytelling media — inviting and seducing the audience to seek a different path. Replace the dysfunctional melodrama of narcissistic self-indulgence with the lifelong beauty of seeking truth in the real Universe.

Forget the idolatry of Einstein and the pseudo-prophetic proclamations by clever self-promoters like Elon Musk. To massively change the world, society can shift in relatively small ways. Waiting for a benevolent billionaire to hand us our future is undoubtedly the worst of all possible capitalist worlds. Trying to re-make the world in our image is not only futile, it’s a power fantasy that leads to immorality and murder.

What’s most amazing is that nearly no one seems to have tried this truly revolutionary idea: use art as a means of seducing society to become more rationally-minded and scientifically inclined rather than less.

What if you wanted to become the best in the world?

0. Throw away the idea of “analysis paralysis” and face your fear of being wrong.

You’ve heard the expression before. Especially in the corporate world, many people who loathe unnecessary meetings and red-tape regulations will react to any sign of hesitation with well-practiced disdain. “What you’re doing smells like analysis paralysis. Do something! Move! Faster, faster!”

Many people confuse the concept of procrastination with the notion of “analysis paralysis”. If you’re using the idea of “weighing all the options” as an excuse to avoid taking action, the problem is not that you’re thinking too much.

Thinking is never a bad thing.
Thinking about the wrong ideas can be a very bad thing.
Charging into a topic without thinking is almost equally as bad.

Don’t Wait, Don’t Rush

The real question is, “are you afraid of making mistakes or being wrong?”

If you’re afraid, then charging in won’t help because you’ll tend to use cynical “positive thinking” to ignore mistakes rather than learn from them. This will become a stumbling block, and then a fatal flaw on the path to learning. There are a million ways to make mistakes, and an infinity of excuses to hide behind.

Sitting on the fence and “analyzing” forever (i.e. procrastinating) is also not useful because it prevents the experiences and inevitable mistakes that will ultimately lead to skill.

In essence, this article is about learning to think better in order to do better. The first, critical point is to accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes and dedicate yourself to improving one step at a time. Your goals will draw near with accelerating speed when you see mistakes as lessons to learn, not shameful evidence of inherent incompetence. To put it plainly, you’ll get better faster after you get over yourself. More about this farther down.

Onward.

1. Name your skill.

Pick an area and be specific. Do you want to be the best jazz musician, the best 3D graffiti artist, or the best maker of boutique designs for stylish artificial limbs?

Your area of expertise can be anything. Even better if you have some sense of aptitude, or general inclination in that area — and can find a niche that may not be the first one that comes to mind. Give yourself time to think, explore and try new options until you’re comfortable enough to know whether or not a particular field or domain is the right one for you.

2. Define A Worthwhile Goal.

Your chances of reaching a worthwhile goal are higher if you make the goal specific.

Do you really want to be the best in the world?

The less ego-driven you are, the better — “the best in the world” is both meaningless and empty.

– How would you know that you were “the best”? More likely, you’ll merely join a club of hypercompetitive narcissists who thrive on the idea of oneupmanship and short-sighted triumph over others.

– What if you became the best? You’d drop dead out of ecstasy at being a “Winner”, or realize that your goal was just egotistical obsession over other peoples’ opinions of your work?

The deepest values lead to the most meaningful goals.

Instead, define your goal in terms of your deepest values. Do you care about other people, or only yourself? One important aspect of real creativity is that creative work is inherently an act of communication. The more you can take the perspective of your audience and care about them in the ways that they care about themselves, the more likely you are to connect to their desires and values. You’ll be able to see the commonalities between what the audience wants, and what you already love to do.

By contrast, a selfish egotist is trapped gazing at his or her own reflection and can only haphazardly assume that the world will think that his or her work is “the best”. Bluster and bluffing can sometimes win in the short-term. Attuning your creative impulses to the desires of your audience will ensure that you never fall too far out of touch.

3. Reduce all distractions.

The impetus for this entry was the question, “how am I better than I was last year around this time?”

Actually, I ask myself this question all the time.

The answer is that I’ve done the reverse of the typical approach. Instead of trying to shoehorn more time into my life, I’ve reduced the amount of time wasted on non-useful activities. One obvious point that everyone strenuously overlooks: use television, movies and other passive media (including aimless web browsing) as treats to be enjoyed only on special occasions. They are mental junk food unless they directly contribute to your creative work; all forms of “junk” (physical, mental, emotional, financial and time-wise) are perfect opportunities to troubleshoot and “take out the trash”, as it were.

Instead of being a good consumerist herd animal and trying to “have it all”, be a smart creative person and learn to do more with less. Life is already too short; train yourself to always strive to do more in less time. Paradoxically, this is the opposite of “multitasking”. This means you may need to get better at doing nothing at all.

4. When you’re “doing nothing”, actually do nothing.

This operationalizes the previous point at its most extreme level.

The essence of distraction is an attempt to get away from something. You might have watched TV and movies to escape from yourself for a while. Drink and drugs often — but not always — have similar purposes, especially in a social context (alcohol is called a “social lubricant” for a reason; it distracts from social anxiety by dampening the stress response).

Creativity: escape or immersion?

Creativity is, in some ways, the perfect escape, in that you’re building a world that doesn’t exist in realty. Creativity is also the opposite of escape, in that you have to focus one-hundred percent of yourself and your energy in order to do your best work. This means that it’s all too easy to almost reach the zone of creativity — and get distracted because your mind wants to escape the necessary intensity of attentional absorption.

Question: How can you reach that intense “flow” state more often?
Answer: Allow yourself to be bored.

Trust that you’re never “doing nothing”. Your so-called “unconscious” mind is always working, even when you consciously draw a blank. While you sleep, you dream. And when you’re bored, your mind is wandering in ways that will lead to your next creative idea.

If you distract yourself with television, movies or other passive media (like most of social media), those quiet whispers of new thoughts are easily drowned out, much like junk food may give you the feeling of being full while leaving you malnourished.

Focus on your creative fascinations when your mind is ready to operate intensely, and be bored while waiting for the next idea.

4. Get better by operationalizing your goals.

This is the most important part of this set of principles.

Do you remember when you just started out? You probably defaulted to the old “I wanna be the best ever” idea.

Then you learned a little more and realized that being the best will take years. There are a lot of fanatically creative people (more likely: desperately insecure people) out there. Contrary to stereotypes, many artists and creatives are willing to work really, really hard, practically all the time.

That’s the ego trap at work.

How do you escape from becoming a slave to the things you love?

One way is to think more about how to get better.

If you want to draw or paint better, you could just draw and paint all the time. Immersion definitely has its value. Jump into the water if you want to learn how to swim.

Or you could ask, “if I wanted to paint on the level of Leonardo da Vinci, what are the most basic skills that I could use to reduce the mistakes I make with every new piece?” The human body, for example, isn’t just a thing of beauty. It’s an object of scientific study. Did you know that you can learn exactly where every bone, muscle, joint, wrinkle and shadow is supposed to be? This is a subject called anatomy. Without in-depth anatomical study, all you have is hours spent guessing. In a fraction of the time, anatomical knowledge can bring precision to every human figure that you draw or paint for the rest of your life.

If you want to learn a language, the same principles are at work. Do you want to learn slowly and painfully as you’re forced to do at school? Or do you want to become a fluent communicator with real people in that language, which involves a completely different combination of structure, rote learning and cultural immersion?

Think of other areas of life where these ideas might apply.

Recap

Remember that creativity is, at its core, about continually getting better at making things that communicate to other people in a valuable way.

Here’s a more concise version that also elaborates on the previous points. Quiz yourself by seeing if you detect the differences:

1. Start from your values.

Why do you want to make these things?
In what ways do your creative impulses communicate something valuable to others?

2. Move beyond egotistical goals.

Instead of racing to be “the best” like a starving rat in pursuit of cheese, create goals that can continue to grow with your skills — always anchored by the intrinsic values that you discovered in step 1. Your skills and goals will self-sustain, getting better and better at an accelerating pace.

Learn to cultivate the “audience mind” without pandering to what’s hot right now or becoming trapped in pop-culture trends and soon-to-be discarded “cool” cliches.

3. Instead of chasing distractions, embrace boredom.

Boredom leads to frustration. Frustration leads to expression. Be ready for your best ideas to tumble out when you least expected them to arrive. Be prepared by keeping your mind open. Being bored will quickly become the most fascinating part of your day, when you realize how hard your mind is working all the time. Give yourself room to work inside the nascent imagined reality that your creativity will soon bring forth in full form for the world outside to enjoy.

4. Operationalze your goals.

Get better at getting better by always looking to learn more about “the skill of skill”. The more you refine your approach, the fewer mistakes you’ll repeat. As you deepen your comprehension and fluency in the fundamentals (which may in themselves be different from what you first assumed), the more possibilities you’ll open in the long term. Be meticulous in refining your grasp of the basics and be creative in giving yourself restrictions in order to force your mind into new ways of seeing, thinking and constructing the questions that you ask about your subject. The answers will soon begin to surprise you in delightfully unexpected ways — and may be your best hope for delighting your audience every time, whoever they may be.

This story begins with the drug-overdose death of a twenty-seven year-old American ex-paratrooper. The date was September 18, 1970. His first name was James, middle name Marshall, last name Hendrix.

In the present day, a young woman born across the planet lands in the U.S. at the age of sixteen. Amethyst Amelia Kelly is her birth name, better known onstage eight years later as Iggy Azalea.

All Is By My Side

Jimi Hendrix seemed to be a peaceful person, despite a difficult upbringing marked by neglect from two parents struggling in post-WWII America.

The new film about Hendrix’s life, “Jimi: All Is By My Side” starring Andre Benjamin, portrays Hendrix as violently abusive. In the film, Hendrix’s “wild” image as a performer is extended into a distorted portrait of the man’s personal life. The end result is a poorly crafted conflation of Jimi Hendrix’s real personality (introverted, perhaps even shy) and his persona as a performer (which was a Little Richard-inspired flamboyance updated for the 1960s London rock crowd).

No one can tell who Hendrix “really” was, except for people who knew him personally. On that note, Hendrix’s real-life ex-love Kathy Etchingham has publicly denounced the portrayal of her as some kind of abuse victim in the film.

Not only was she not consulted about the film — which has her played by Hayley Atwell from the Captain America movies, with Andre Benjamin from hip-hop group Outkast as Hendrix — she is upset about a scene that depicts their relationship as so turbulent that he beats her up badly.

“It’s just completely made up,” Etchingham said of the incident.

[…]

Etchingham insists their relationship was “a completely fun time”, with Hendrix dedicated to his musical career well before the drug problems that contributed to his death at 27.

“He was a gentle person — funny, entertaining, articulate, and knew exactly which direction he was going in,” she said.

Jimi Hendrix’s ex Kathy Etchingham: ‘Scuse me while I defend my guy”

How terribly inconvenient it must be when the real person is still alive to debunk a fictional character conjured in her image. You can read the rest of what she had to say about the film and the Jimi she knew by clicking here for the interview.

To say that Hendrix was prone to violence is about as sensible as claiming that Sir Richard Branson is somehow a homophobe. The evidence points in the exact opposite direction in both cases. Sadly in regard to the Hendrix biopic, Andre Benjamin’s apparently extensive preparation to play the role of Hendrix was wasted by a mawkishly sensationalized story that wasn’t worthy of its subject.

The Origins of Azalea

The history of rock music, as told through the life of Jimi Hendrix (among so many others), becomes relevant again in the example of its modern manifestation, rap and hip hop. Yes, hip hop and rap are the children of rock and roll, mainly derived from the rhythms, dance and style of James Brown. Hendrix, however, is the more visibly imitated prototype “rock star” whose influence has proved itself to be as timeless as the blues-based brilliance of his guitar. Both Brown and Hendrix drew from the same nucleus of inspiration that infuses practically all of pop music today.

Who do you think of when you consider the origins of rock?

Guns’n’Roses, Nirvana, maybe Elvis if you want to stretch back a bit. Probably not Fats Domino, Jackie Wilson or Ruth Brown.

“Rhythm and blues. Really Blue? Really Brave? Really Black. […] One of these, you can use it. But R and B stands, for Ruth Brown.” – Ruth Brown

(See also: Ruth Brown performing “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean“)

For the average “pop culture junkie”, the roots of modern music are buried under childish hypermasculine bragging set over repetitively programmed beats, almost completely lacking melody or compositional complexity. Our mistakes are what make us human, and the autotuned voices we hear today possess a small fraction of the personality conveyed by artists in prior decades. The production values are stunningly addictive, but the resonant human core is often empty.

This began as the original rhythm-and-blues artists of the 1950s were replaced by others. The original artists often saw their songs performed for throngs of adoring fans who had no idea that their new favorite music had actually been appropriated. Rhythm-and-blues was re-christened as “rock-and-roll”. The songs were re-recorded at a faster tempo, re-used in a bid to “gentrify” a genre that was once considered “jungle music”, mainly because of the outcast status of the artists who gave birth to it.

The soul of hip hop was first brought to life by the “freaky” experimentations of Little Richard, channeled through James Brown and electrified by Jimi Hendrix. It has since been washed “clean” of all its colorful — or as Ray Charles put it, “dirty” — origin story. Now what we have is the inevitable endpoint of consumerism: a blandly attractive product whitewashed of all context and devoid of anything more resonant than the sound of ringing cash registers. In our digital age, you’re more likely to hear the “cha-ching!” sound as a sample in a song than the mechanical chime in a physical store.

Exotic, Authentic, and Unassailably Fake?

Hold on, I hear somebody coming. She’s right outside the door. Should I let her in? Too late, here she is…

In barges Iggy Azalea, with her sort-of-sultry (but mostly average) looks and amazingly “ethnic” body type (code for: unusually wide hips, narrow-ish waist and large bum). As some African-Americans dubiously claim “Native American” origins, she claims to be part Aussie Aborigine (so exotic! Darling, do be careful not to try too hard).

Unsurprisingly, Azalea seems near-universally disliked by American rap musicians from Snoop Dogg, Rah Digga, Eminem, Nicki Minaj and Q-Tip to newer faces like Azealia Banks and J.Cole (although J.Cole was “just making an observation about ‘capitalism'”, or so he says).

Why do so many rappers hold such particular disdain for Iggy Azalea?

One reason seems to be the illusion of “authenticity” that most pop stars so desperately cultivate. The idea of being “real” generally refers to the inexhaustible rags-to-riches archetype:

– Most mainstream American (and English) rappers claim to be from somewhere in the council estates or “the ghetto”.

– Iggy Azalea claims to have been a poor girl in Australia for whom high school “made her sad”, so she dropped out.

– Most rappers have stories of fighting their way up through fierce neighborhood competition, where music was an alternative to the gangster lifestyle. Their stories rise from a history of struggle that extends back far before January 1, 1863.

– Azalea was made fun at school and decided to chase her solo dream as a rapper when her two bandmates didn’t take it “serious” enough.

Can you detect a difference in the two types of backstory on offer here?

Now you also know the target audiences for the two types of artist.

A Feud Between… Whom?

Now we have the “feuds” between the Australian Azalea and almost everyone in the land where hip-hop began.

Skipping to the interesting part, we see her response to Azealia Banks (why must their names be so improbably similar?!).

Iggy Azalea tweets to Azealia Banks: “The reason you haven’t (succeeded) is because of your piss poor attitude… your inability to be responsible for your own mistakes […] the inability to be humble or have self control. You created your own unfortunate situation […] and don’t have the mental capacity to realize yet. Probably never will.”

(Decoded: you’re lazy, entitled and irresponsible; you’re self-destructively impulsive and unable to control yourself; your situation is completely your fault; you’re too inherently stupid to realize that I’m obviously right, mainly because I say I am.)

She then played the ultimate Ignorant Self-Righteous Dummy card by trying to predict Banks’ response and discount it pre-emptively: “Now! rant, Make it racial! make it political! Make it whatever but I guarantee it won’t make you likable & THATS why ur crying on the radio.”

Notice the tinge of “I’m more popular, therefore I’m right” in the Australian’s words.

“Enjoy continuing to bang your head against that metaphoric brick wall & Savor this attention. I’m the only way you get ANY.” The poor little girl who everybody used to make fun of? No longer. Iggy Azalea is now the Winner who takes all and gets to talk trash. She’s the bully who wins by assuming the victim’s identity, ending with this tweet:

“You’re poisonous and I feel genuinely sorry for you because it’s obvious at this point you are a MISERABLE, angry human being. Regards!”

What’s most fascinating here is how obviously oblivious the Australian is to a simple fact — one that’s all too clear to many who read her words. The fact is that her “defense” against Banks is almost exactly the same as the trusty talking points of those who believe that modern corporate capitalism is somehow a “meritocracy” where the “best” win and the other 99% should shuffle off and die. In her retread of the “authenticity” myth, Azalea keeps such staunch faith in her mind-blowing artistry that her success could only be due to pure hard work and skill. Luck and marketability (and a certain physical kinship with Jennifer Lopez) had nothing to do with it.

Her cynically superficial “positive thinking” ignorance has darker undertones as well.

Gleeful Ignorance Patronized By First-Hand Experience

Now we have context for the series of Tweets by rapper Q-Tip, which have been archived in the previous post (click here). What was Azalea’s response? Dismissal, of course. A living legend offers his store of first-hand knowledge, and the best response is to whine about how “patronizing” it feels? Something is definitely not right.

And the story comes full circle as Iggy Azalea claims that her ex-boyfriend (you’ll undoubtedly be surprised that he’s a Much Older, Scary-Looking Black Guy) is ‘violent’ and ‘aggressive’. The Poor Victim is so afraid of him that she avoids the entire state of Texas where he lives.

Have we heard this type of story before? In this entry perhaps? About a certain great musician whose musical lineage is the basis for Iggy Azalea’s artistic sustenance and success?

Misappropriation All Over Again

Yes. You’re so right: the misappropriation of Jimi Hendrix’s life story for a “biographical” film. It may not have been intended as a documentary, but the film ended up as an unintentional farce that insultingly caricatured the man. Now Iggy Azalea barely stops short of claiming that her Scary Black Ex-Boyfriend raped her (that may have seemed to be a bit much after the recent Eminem controversy, and it may have confused her fans since Eminem is white).

The “violent black man” stereotype has been evoked several times in the media during 2014 alone, most strikingly in justification for police murdering teenagers and young men in the United States. We saw the stereotype in a film about Jimi Hendrix, who may have been one of the most peaceful (if troubled) rockstars in the history of music. And now, perhaps unintentionally, Iggy Azalea again panders the narrative of stereotypes to her mostly-unsuspecting fans.

The problem isn’t that she’s Australian, or that she’s a marketably curvaceous rapper (who somehow doesn’t write her own lyrics?), or even that she’s a woman.

There is a reason why the history of popular music matters enough to learn more about it. Along the way, you may fall in love with “new” old artists, be touched by influences that open and re-shape your sound, and gain dimensions of cultural awareness (dare I say “sensitivity”?) that can only elude those who are trapped in the disposable consumerism of the eternal present.

Seek Out Real Artists: You’ll Know It When You Hear (Or See) It

If you want to learn more about the real story of a real artist, you might be delighted to begin with this program rather than more of the usual MTV/TMZ Hollywood-style melodrama:

Jimi Hendrix, The Uncut Story

Thankfully, there will always be artists who learn from the past while creating the future. I hope that this applies to you, too, regardless of your chosen expressive modality.

If you consider yourself an artist of some kind — writer, actor, director, illustrator, painter, musician, &etc. — there are two major roadblocks that you’ll have to overcome every day.

Those roadblocks are the “Manyana Contingency” and the “Army of Nope.” Both of these blocks are facilitated in sometimes-unexpected ways by the Internet, and if the Web is part of your daily life, you’ll have to combat these issues every single day. The first step is to learn to recognize them.

– Read more about The Manyana Contingency (click here)

– Read more about The Army of Nope (click here)

Why not let everyone lie to themselves about why they never actually do anything creative? No harm in a little self-deception, right? Let the sheep be sheep!

Well, here’s the problem: many non-creative people are crabs in sheeps’ clothing; if they’re not haters or trolls, they’re well-meaning “worker bee” types who give deadly bad advice. Our own minds can pull us back down “into the crabs’ barrel” unless we remind ourselves to stay aware and renew our focus every single day.

Rather than make this journal entry longer with examples, I’ll leave it to you to think about who the crabs are in your life. Recognize that if you want to become successful as a creative person (or anywhere else in life, really), you’ll have to elude the crabs at every turn — even your Inner Crab who will make excuses like, “my favorite artists were just gifted geniuses. I could never do that.” That’s a lie, plain and simple.

If you have the basic aptitude to do something well, then do it. Even a tone-deaf person can learn to sing; people with thick fingers can learn the piano. You may have to create your own way of doing it, but that’s precisely what the world needs. This isn’t “positive thinking” nonsense, either — problem-solving is half of the creative puzzle. If you overcome hurdles at the start, you’ll have an edge over those who didn’t have those hurdles, because you started out doing things differently. And being different is what makes creativity matter. That difference is the only thing that distinguishes between a worker bee and a Queen (ugh, did I just write that?). Remove the egotism from the “Queen” idea and you’ll see what I mean.

It will be crucial to learn to spot the Manyana Contingency and elude the Army of Nope if you want to succeed as a creative person. Once you know how to see those creativity-killers — the excuse-makers, bad advice-givers, haters and trolls — you can design strategies to effectively deal with them. This will help prevent them from stealing time away from the things that you love to do.

Time is life and focus is key. Hopefully I’ll be able to make time to write down a few of my own strategies soon. Until then, spend a few minutes every day to create and refine your own “Creativity Defense System”. Second only to honing and demonstrating your artistic craft, the skill of defending yourself against distraction (sometimes by embracing and redirecting it rather than fighting head-on) may be the most important ability that you’ll ever learn. Get that right, and the rest will be as easy as finding four-leafed clovers in a field on a sunny summer day. Actually, it won’t. Art is hard work. And isn’t it better to love what you do?

During a recent conversation, I found a directly relevant analogy that might make sense to non-creative people, just as it’s already a self-evident fact of life for you and me.

Why can artists rightfully expect to be paid for their work?

Often, the damage done by piracy is brushed aside with glib arguments like, “well, if your work is good enough, people will pay for it.” The conclusion that “if you’re not getting rich from your work, maybe your work just is just no good.” The insinuation is that anyone who isn’t making massive money from their art is some kind of “dilettante” who needs to admit their lack of skill and quit whining about their inability to get paid like the superstars do.

One part of that argument is true. The vast majority of artists aren’t at the top of their field. By definition, most people won’t be the best in any field, because the realm of the best is reserved for a small number of individuals who are better than most of the others.

The problem with that perspective is twofold:

1. In reality, most people aren’t the best at anything.

Telling artists that they need to be the “best” before they can expect to be paid is shown as false when applied to the rest of the workforce. If you work a nine-to-five, are you one of the top performers in your field? Is there even any way to quantify that distinction reliably? If not, why do you expect to be paid for your work?

If you’re not a CEO of a Fortune 50 corporation [or for that matter, if your employer doesn’t perform at that level], you should expect to give your work away for free and go compete for a “day job” in some other market sector.

Right, that sounds pretty ridiculous — and that’s exactly the logic used against artists when people want to justify stealing their work.

There’s a further technology-based implication that you’ll see further down.

2. Practically no one who is a novice in any field will be the “best” right from the start.

If you look at any high-achiever, you’ll see that they probably weren’t amazing for the first five to ten years of their time in the field. Everyone from Bob Dylan to Albert Einstein has to sink time and effort into learning, studying — and crucially, making mistakes — for years before they attained sufficient ability to be considered great.

The ‘Genius’ Fallacy

Geniuses aren’t born; they’re made. A prodigy may have higher innate aptitude than the average person, but if they don’t spend years honing that capability, they’ll get nowhere — just like the average person who gives up before manifesting any ability at all.

Roughly, ability consists of strategy and experience.

If your strategy points you in the wrong direction, no amount of experience will overcome that fundamental error — Da Vinci could build flying contraptions for decades, but without the idea of some sort of engine to power them, his ideas never left the ground to become the empirically-based science of aeronautics.

Experience is necessary to take part in the domain such that your skills improve over time. Even more important, experience enables the creation of better strategies. An expert knows how to detect patterns more quickly than a novice, and the ability to detect patterns is a process that is impossible to shortcut beyond a relatively low level.

Regardless of aptitude, everyone has to put their time in before becoming proficient at any complex skill.

What this means, then, is that if you only pay someone when you think they’re the “best”, you’re actually stifling everyone else’s ability to reach and overcome the plateaus along the path to skill. Simply put, if an artist (or scientist, or engineer) has to spend large amounts of time trying to merely survive, the amount of time and focus they can use to improve their skills will necessarily be foreshortened. This results in a general drain of ability in the domain itself. Skill-building falls prey to time-shortage, and with it comes the inability to amass the experience required to reach high levels of proficiency. If no one can make a decent living creating art, the emergence of new great artists erodes as well. And then we’re left with pop-culture icons whose music consists of over-autotuned voices and shallowly looped samples; adults who unabashedly prefer fiction written for teenagers (the young adult genre); and derivative visual media that is too inept and afraid to do anything new. Eventually, advertising is the only “artform” left standing, mainly because it sells.

Information Wants To Be Free? Your Boss Just Said The Same Thing About Your Job

The mercenary approach taken by music/movie/book pirates in regard to the arts is a mirror image of the corporate disdain for human labor. Many people are justifiably afraid of the fact that mechanization and artificial intelligence are starting to outpace the human ability to re-train and compete. At some point, machines will almost certainly be able to perform the vast majority of jobs that require repetitive cognitive or physical labor.

What we’re seeing now is that corporations are replacing people with robots or intelligent software systems. In the remaining workforce, employers are increasingly hiring only the most overqualified applicants and forcing them to work harder for stagnant wages. This is exactly the same mentality that the average piracy-loving consumer takes when using technology [i.e. the Internet] to steal works from artists with the justification that, “if your work was as good as the best artist out there, I’d gladly pay for it. You’re only ‘good’, though, so I’ll encourage you to become ‘great’ by only paying those who’ve earned that ‘best-in-class’ status.”

The corporate earnings machine now uses the power of technology in order to force the average person to either be the “best” or face inevitable obsoletion (or in the interim, minimization of their prospects for earning a sustainable wage). From unpaid internships to forced overtime, we all have to contend with the idea that either you’re an elite member of your profession, or you don’t deserve to make a living. And it’s all packaged with the bright branding of “positive thinking” in which we’re tantalized by fantasies of a wonderland where we’re all winners, only we’d work just a little faster while smiling harder and desperately denying that ninety-nine percent of us are actually falling farther and farther behind.

Exceptionalism Has A Name, And Its Name Is “Machine”

It’s a sort of cold consolation, then, that when a generation of artists finds themselves unable to make a living wage, it’s only a decade or two before the same ideological axe falls on the hand of the average man and woman. The fallacy of exceptionalism doesn’t incentivize better work. It incentivizes a mercenary mentality that uses technology to increase “productivity” while enslaving and eventually discarding the humans whom that technology was originally designed to serve.

This isn’t an engineering problem of computing power, or false Social Darwinist arguments about “the natural evolution” of progress, or some alarmist propagandizing about the decline of man and the rise of machines. This is a human problem of how we decide to deal with questions about the nature of value, and how we decide to approach those questions as a society. From artist to salaryman to CEO, the “superstar mentality” that only rewards those at the top will eventually create a world where the majority are trapped at the bottom. Every time you pirate a song from an independent musician, steal a book from an self-published author, or pilfer a film produced by a small studio, take note of the fact that your mercenary mentality toward art will one day come back to haunt you — and unless we collectively change our actions, that day of reckoning may come sooner than you might think.