When I were about 6 years old, way back in the 1700s, I remember being in the classroom doing that thing they loved to do in primary school where they sit you on the floor in a circle for some reason only benknownst to teachers. I get the sitting in a circle bit, but there were more than enough chairs. It’s not major reconstructive work to drag a bit of furniture around, but then again I have very little experience project managing children so what the bloody hell do I know.
The purpose of this particular activity was to drive home the rhythmic properties of syllables, a noble pursuit I’m sure you’ll agree. It was a pretty straightforward deal: you go round the circle, and each person says ‘chris—toph—er’, clapping on each syllable. So we go round the circle, and everyone does the thing, but when it gets to me, I see an opportunity for a little innovation. Instead of clapping the three syllables, I just clap the one — ‘chris’.
Now if you think about it, that’s pretty sophisticated for a 6 year old: in my brain, I was demonstrating that alright, I get the point of the exercise, now let’s extrapolate the rule to experiment within the confines of the established framework (I probably couldn’t have articulated it quite like that in 1997, but unless I can get that time machine working we’ll probably never know for sure). My point was that I could demonstrate my understanding of the rule by expressing it in a way that wasn’t merely parrotting what the person sat next to me had just said. What I was trying to do was show a little creativity, and the big beaming smile on my face as I executed this bold feat of linguistic ingenuity was a clear sign that I felt like my plan was a sure success.
Oh my sweet summer child.
The teacher, who I shan’t name for I am not a vengeful man, simply looked at me and said ‘you have to ruin everything don’t you Matthew.’
Truly, a kick to my nascent teeth (which fortunately, probably fell out of their own accord anyway not long after). Here is one of the earliest incidences I can recall of me being told to fall in line, do what you’re told, stop thinking for yourself and follow the pack.
When you chart the course of where you came from, to where you are now, you’re sure to find all kinds of interesting little oddities that, in hindsight, were such powerful forces of psychodynamism (the particular school of psychology I subscribe to, you’re welcome to disagree if that’s what your subconscious wants you to do hahaha interdisciplinary banter) that they were inevitably going to be major architects of your developing brain.
I’ve long been fascinated by the acknowledgement of internalized negativity, by the idea that the authors of the narratives we grow up believing are not necessarily the Pulitzer prize-winners we assume them to be.
This notion that your thoughts can be wrong is so powerful, because when you’re thinking them, they just feel so right. It’s the whole reason that cognitive dissonance is a thing, how psychological biases take root inside closed echo chambers. It feels like to take the Socratic stance of agnosticism, to adopt the mantra of ‘all I know is that I know nothing’, makes a lot of sense in the abstract, but the thing about thoughts and feelings and moods is that they aren’t abstract are they? They’re incredibly real, incredibly powerful, and incredibly enduring.
To accept the fact that we seek enduring shelter in an ephemeral, ever-changing world riddled with vagaries — the tripwires of the anxious mind — is a problem (insofar as we know at least, maybe dolphins worry about this too) unique to our species. We’ve been shaped by our dangerous pasts to over-exaggerate threat and constantly gravitate toward sanctuary, and I think we all like to believe that there is always going to come a time in our lives when everything will finally be okay.
The truth of the matter is that our world has actually never been safer (I think I’m paraphrasing Steven Pinker here but I could be wrong), and yet we constantly feel under threat. There’s good reason to feel that way, it’s not like CERTAIN PARTIES (hello mass media) are doing much to alleviate that fear, but there’s no escaping the simple fact that we still possess brains that can’t let go of the environment they grew up in. Do you see the parallel?
When we confuse sense and sensitivity, when we confuse what is true and what we feel, when we project the phantoms of our upbringing onto the reality of our present selves, we find ourselves in a kind of turmoil that screams for resolution. The problem with the resolution of the magnitude we yearn for is that it’s at best fleeting, at worst asymptotic.
Although the initial reaction to the idea that we might never find the shelter we think we need might seem really rather bleak, to me it feels like this understanding provides a way to transcend the pain of such a realisation through acceptance. When I say acceptance, I mean the kind that involves learning what elements of our environment we have control over, or the things that we absolutely want to fight against because it’s too important not to push for that change, and then ceasing to resist whatever’s left. I think that’s an important distinction to make because I don’t for one second want to trivialise the kinds of systemic barriers that millions upon millions of people find themselves pressed up against every day. In the context of the psychological journey, acceptance isn’t the same as accepting your lot. I hope I’ve articulated my perspective on that nuance properly, and if I haven’t that’s very much on me.
This is an exercise that will inevitably involve some kind of ego battle, because once you place yourself as an active agent in your life as opposed to being an actor to whom things merely happen, you’re on the hook, and you’re accountable for the things that transpire on your watch. There’s no blaming someone or something else in this framework, and it takes time to build the kind of resilience that’s required to keep your ego from fighting back when you’re in this space.
What starts to happen when you begin walking this path?
You stop waiting for permission to be yourself. You stop second-guessing your capacity to make informed decisions based on what you know, and more importantly, what you don’t. You stop curtailing your expression of who you are for the sake who you think people want you to be.
You’re allowed to clap your own syllables, and you’re allowed to discount the people who tell you you ruin everything for doing so. Instead, look for the people willing to clap with you, even if they don’t always agree on the exact syllables. Those people are golden, and you owe it to yourself to seek them out and bring them into your circle — just remind them to bring their own chair.
Have a bloody lovely day.
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About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 29 (damn I hate it every time I have to update that number), definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not giving opinions absolutely nobody asked for, I’m doing a worldbuilding with my passion project, vivaellipsis. If you like offbeat nonsense delivered through immersive escapism, then go and get involved. Or don’t, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not yer boss.
I’m a simple man with simple interests. I like Yorkshire tea, the sound of rain on the window, and a bloody good story.
9 August 2021
What today’s insight has granted me is the knowledge that if you don’t check in on yourself, you’ll lose touch with yourself. You’ll become unfamiliar with each other, and it feels very strange. I honestly think this is what it means to feel out of sorts.
27 May 2021
The cinematic score to your psychological journey with Matt Jenko. Featuring artists like: Bonobo • Yotto • Emancipator • CamelPhat • ODESZA • Carpenter Brut • Tinlicker • Four Tet • Jacques Greene • Tchami • RÜFÜS DU SOL