Fitful: active or occurring spasmodically or intermittently; not regular or steady.
My desperate grasping at understanding my creative self.
Ah, June… Summer is at our doorstep, the days are (almost all of them) seeming to get a little bit longer, and for the second year in a row I am partaking in my daily blogging exercise, marginally focused along a theme I’ve simply called Those 30 posts in June. No planning. No writing stuff days ahead. Just this: each day a meanderingly vague prompt drives a meanderingly vague post… and today that post just happens to be:
June 11th // Something You Are Doing
Actually, I’ve been calling it “hacking” myself, if only because it fits better with the genre of my life story. The only problem with that term — the idea of “hacking” or a “hacker” — is that it connotes something societally negative… as in right now you’re thinking of a fat little computer nerd sitting in front of a glowing monitor screen shoving nacho cheese Doritos into his mouth by the fistful whilst decoding a database of stolen passwords. Likely, that’s what “hacking” means to you. But the term has been slowly co-opted over recent years to instead bend acutely to its alternate and less-sinister meaning: defined as one who re-engineers and re-invents a system using a precise and clear understanding of said system to increase its efficency, grant it new functions, or push it beyond its documented limits.
So, I state simply: I’ve been hacking myself. Re-inventing the processes at the core of my own personality and physiology to ‘increase [their] efficency, grant [me] new functions, or push [myself] beyond [my self’s] documented limits’… whatver that means.
I’ve been re-inventing myself. And it seems to be working.
Now, before you start imagining some post-dystopian, mind-reprogramming, voodoo-meditation ceremony here, let me clarify what, exactly, the essentially “hackable me” means to… well, me. And also let me clarify, as future readers of this post are likely to have found these words through some vague, advice-seeking Google search that somehow imbues them with guru-like powers that they simply don’t have, that this is neither advice nor a how-to of self-improvement. What I’ve done — been doing, am doing, will continue to do for the foreseeable future — is personal and largely introspective, and is more of a meta-art than an art in itself. In other words, you can think about it, but don’t just follow my example like a guide book.
Take for example my running. Phaaa! You exclaim… anyone can run. How does this count as hacking the self? And you’d be correct to show doubt. It is true: most anyone can — and many people do — run. I’ve been running quite a lot, actually, and I’ve constantly been watching those who are successful at the sport for insight on their apparent success. But here’s the rub: I’ve been running for nearly five years in my current iteration, and for a few years more in a prior iteration. For a while I improved as expected, and then… a plateau. And for two years since that plateau appeared my progress had been, arguably and despite numerous rounds of incentivizing and goal-setting, decidedly downhill (and not in a good way.) So… I hacked my thinking on the topic. I sat down, pried into my brain, and viewed the problem less like a bundle of thoughts, feelings, aches and pains… and more like a system that needed tweaking: I set goals and incentivized — again, yes — but I linked my training — am still linking my training — to a curiously simple and self-amplifying feedback loop consisting of different layers of data tracking, incremental deltas and improvements, multi-states of accountability, and deeply personal motivations. I also reached into my brain — metaphorically, speaking of course — and massaged a little corner of it with some powerfully logical thoughts that kick the metaphorical ass of my self-depricating metaphorical invisible training partner whenever he opts for the easier route or skipping a run. Hack in progress: And my speed and distance are the best they’ve ever — EVER — been. No really… ever.
I could list off a few other examples like my food-ish lifestyle changes or my burgeoning writing quantity, and I’m sure this page would get hundreds of hits per week for the rest of history while people sought out an easy answer where none exists.
See, the thing is this: hacking the self — re-inventing the self — is a kind of unapologetic introspection. It is turning your mind into a kind of system that you need to extract pieces out for viewing, levitating above it as much as possible in an objective sense, and understanding how it works in a way that — while I think everyone is probably capable of — is often frightening and difficult. And I in no way claim mastery of the art: quite the opposite. I’m a novice. I’ve simply dabbled in the self-re-invention though the hackable nature of my mind and have had marginal success so far. And I’m going to keep doing that and writing about it here so… stay tuned, I guess.
I had an interesting encounter on the weekend with a good friend who after a short conversation on other topics asked me about this ‘ersatz owl project I’ve been doing.’ He’d found it, read some of it, and (though mispronouncing the name of this blog) had seemed to enjoy reading my work here — and was complementary. Or, at least, complementary to a point.
What is the point? What does it mean? He quizzed me.
While in some parts of this blog I have spent too many words writing about the operational purpose of building a website that functions as one part resume, one part portfolio, and one part dynamic, shameless, self-promotion tool, I haven’t written much on the philosophy of why one would do such a thing. And not only the philosophy of why one might do it, but the philosophy of why I am doing it.
That philosophy exists, though to properly tell its story — this, “part one” of the story — I think I first need to deconstruct the name: ersatz owl
I think it would be difficult to build much of a legitimate story around how anyone comes up with a name for any character, business, idea, or whathaveyou. Most of it is pure, shameless, referential bullshit pulled from the air and subconsciously derived (and likely copyrightable) ideas. This name, in a way, fits that anecdote profile to a tee. And this particular story is no more exciting that any of those anecdotes might be. It is, in fact, merely the story of an evolution from a broader idea.
I had started this idea — the idea of the blog — a few months before even one post appeared with the original notion that I was going to teach myself to become a better cartoonist. Really!? You ask, surprised. In my original scheme — the cartooning scheme — I was going to build myself a set of challenges, teach myself some refined art techniques, attack them, polish them, post them, critique them and become yet another online artist with a webpage full of scribbles and navel-gazing observations. In doing so, I figured, I would take myself on an open journey of self education from (self-proclaimed) better-than-average sketch-a-day artist to a guy with an online comic strip. And I was going to call myself The Ersatz Artist. The Ersatz Artist would build a following, stretch his skills to the limits, and use up a lot of paper and pencils in the process.
The term ‘ersatz’ is not an uncommon word, but it is arguably eclectic. The word often refers to a crude imitation, or a rough copy. What in high school those with so-called real skills called a poser. And by using the term I had hoped for a tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating edge that endeared me to my audience. (After all, this is the Internet and everyone is all about the cuddles, right?)
It’s not that The Ersatz Artist idea flopped, but rather that my employment circumstances took a right-angle change in direction. And when faced with the prospect of redefining oneself, particularly in the face of an opportunity to do so in a grander capacity than one might have first hoped, there is a decision to be made. Thus the story continues: a partially recycled name from a blog project that spanned all of two weeks before evolving into this ersatz owl idea. The project was conceived, the ball pushed from the top of the hill, the accelerator engaged. And the ersatz…
Oh, the word ‘owl’ you ask. You can thank a two-year-old for that one. My daughter around the time of the creation of this seed of an idea had been tromping around the house with a homemade, paper-bag owl mask on her face. Her mom, my wife, had helped her cut and colour it, and she was beaming with pride as she offered it to me to wear. Thus on the day I needed a name for a new identity — a business-type persona for this blog — my daughter insisting that I “be an owl, daddy” resulted in domain name registrations and a long trip down the path of rebranding my ideas. A few days later I had a logo and a cast of complementary characters. And two months onward I’m sheepishly explaining this bit of convoluted history to friends and readers.
The point however moves beyond the name. In this grand idea of a philosophy behind an idea such as this blog — an idea I’ll continue to explore in later parts — the idea of scratching out a corner of the web where one can act like a professional and possibly reconstruct oneself as a skilled, modern, digital professional, the name need not be precise, brilliant, or descriptive, anymore than it can merely be quriky and prompt people to ask you ‘what does it mean?’
In part two, deconstructing the theme. (Coming… another day.)