Something I’ve been consciously perceiving with increasing regularity is the degree to which people carry on in life through recourse to impersonal-yet-legitimizing rituals and symbols. Below, a few broad examples.
I recently attended a musical showcase kinda thing, and as the music was generally bland and uninspired/uninspiring, I had a fair amount of time to stand around and think about the hipsters in my midst.
Being in a hipster hotspot, you can just smell it in the air as it buffets you from all sides: an unassailable sense of self-satisfaction. Unassailable and satisfying because, A, they are outside the mainstream, and this is an inarguably superior place to be, Mainstream types are simply too mollycoddled by mass market pablum to develop the refined (yet not conventionally classical, god forbid) tastes needed to appreciate oversized glasses and jerky, off-tempo dance moves delivered with a straight-to-solemn face.
Unassailable as well because the critical powers that be have yet to, or have been unable to, turn their wrath upon hipsters’ appropriated tastes; this, in large part, due to the hipsters’ characteristically esoteric tastes serving as a disorienting self-defense mechanism. Standing perilously close to the stage during one band’s performance, I found myself gawking dully at one member’s outfit, which I can only describe (quite precisely) as “depression-era chic”: a study in dust bowl tones, evocative of long afternoons spent collecting on food stamps or queuing for work, one shirt-bottom untucked in a gesture of slovenly disregard, the whole look a cultivated expression of “I’m only going to try this (anachronistically) hard, and no one will tell me otherwise (unless trends change, whatever).”
We lack a vocabulary for criticizing all these hiply-studied excavations of bygone eras, and thus hipsters roam the streets unchallenged and unchallenging, wholly self-content as they mill about in borrowed shells that tell life’s stories for them. But when you squint or smoke or do what you must to get beyond the vacuous style on display, and you’re left with yourself and these individuals and that music playing on a Friday night, what do you get? Well, to my ears, music as tedious and passionless as anything on the radio, and a whole lotta people as socially inept and disconnected as the public at large.
Oh yoga, yoga and coffee, water and mountains, British Columbia – The Best Place on Earth! Yoga is the activity-equivalent of our province’s inarguably beautiful natural endowments, endowments that many of our residents seem to regard with an inordinate measure of personal pride. “Sure, social issues abound, issues that our government could re-prioritize its expenditures and bureaucratic might towards addressing, but frankly, addressing the homelessness epidemic is not going to make me feel as good as an extensive intra-province marketing campaign wanking me off for living in The Best Place on Earth!” As long as we can point to those mountains and that water and our hazy vision of vast, untrammelled woodlands beyond, we can feel quite satisfied that our little slice of North America beats out the rest of the world in all regards – and all without our having to lift a finger!
Well, yoga does require you to lift a finger, plus the occasional leg and pelvic floor. Physical activity is required in life after all; we can’t actually just lounge around all day in our chaises longues drinking Tanqueray and tonic and revelling in all that nature has given us. No, we have to fill the rest of the day with activities, and why not one whose ritualized mysticism andvarying physicality provide convenient cover on multiple fronts: spirituality, exercise, and an essential non-western-and-thus-inherently-good-ness.
Full disclosure required: I myself have become quite the yoga fan of late, and I even own a pair of Lululemon shorts (which I purchased mere moments before my first class, if that’s any excuse). When I go to a class though, I’m there for my own purposes, to experience it as an intensely personal phenomenon. Theatrics do abound, however: gaudy brand logos and unthinkingly-reverent murmurings of “namaste” and the bulky legitimacy of all those accoutrements hauled around to silently, proudly announce “This Is My Lifestyle.”
Sure, the rituals and objects inherent to a worthwhile activity can be both necessary for participation and communally enriching; my issue, however, lies with allowing those rituals and objects to speak for themselves and, inevitably, for the self.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”—