Monday, August 23, 2010

I Like The Old Stuff Better

Hindsight isn't 20/20 all the time. In fact, I'd venture to say that most of us are inclined to remember favorable memories over less favorable ones. Every generation thinks theirs was better in some form, and that this new more progressive generation is missing out on or overlooking that goodness in some way. For some reason we tend to fawn over the "good old days," embellishing our memories to make us feel some sense of euphoric nostalgia. Maybe that's why we do it, the opiate receptors in our brains start drinking up all that manufactured euphoria and it makes us feel good, or maybe it's a way of escaping dire circumstances in the present. Whatever the reason, we all tend to long for better days.

I read somewhere that most people live in the past or the future, meaning that they are either constantly thinking about what has happened or about what is to come. People rarely spend time focusing on the present, the here-and-now,  the only thing that we truly have some semblance of control over. I suppose as humans we have a love/hate relationship with time. Time is mystical in that everything is bound to it. We can't escape it. Everything is born and then it dies. Maybe all the anxiety and nostalgia is a result of our longing to overcome the restrictions time places on us. We long to catch a glimpse of the future, or to go back and erase a mistake, to do something differently. The point is all we really have control over is this very moment, everything else is just a regret, nostalgia or a petty, restricted attempt to plan for the unknown.

I struggle with this sometimes. I'll catch my subconscious hinting things like; Life was easier a few years ago. Was I better back then? Has my talent peaked? And then those thoughts turn to regret; I should have done that differently, it's too late now... And then I turn on the future; Things aren't progressing like I expected... where will I be in a few years? Is what I'm doing ever really going to pay off? 

The past is where our nostalgia lives, our embellished memories, but the future is where our fears live. Maybe that's because the past has happened, it wont change, and now that we know what happened we can manipulate it a bit to make ourselves feel good about it. We have some small amount of control over how we choose to remember the past. But the future, well, we just don't know... we can't. In the future anything could happen, and so our fears and anxieties automatically pull us towards the worst-case-scenarios.

I think people are resistant to new things because they have an embellished memory of the old things. I find this in music a lot. "I like their old stuff better" is probably the line I hear the most when inquiring about a popular bands new album. In some cases the old stuff is better, but in a lot of cases I find that the memories tied to the old stuff are playing a huge role in the listeners rating of the new stuff. For instance, every time The Classic Crime puts out an album we get an influx of the typical "Not what I expected" comments, which is natural I believe, due to the fact that the new songs don't come pre-loaded with memories and nostalgia. They don't have the same emotional weight as the older songs yet. But then people start listening, they start connecting emotionally, they play the album over and over and relate at different times to different songs. They create memories that carry emotional value and suddenly, the new album holds a special place in their heart. And then we put out another album and the process repeats itself. "Not what I expected, I like the old stuff better."

Music has a lot to do with nostalgia and emotional memories, you can have a spiritual experience with it but sometimes it just takes a certain amount of time to gain that ground. I found that out when Jimmy Eat World came out with Futures. I graduated in 2001 and JEW's Bleed American played a huge role in the memories I created in my last year at Lynden High School, so naturally I was excited for the next chapter in my relationship with the bands music. I was not initially as impressed as I'd expected to be, but due to the fact that I trusted the band I listened to Futures more and more. A decade later I can't tell you which record I like better. I love them both for a lot of different reasons. It took time for Futures to build the same emotional value as the first record, and now that so much time has gone by they seem to have equal value. I have made so many memories over time with both records.

In some cases time gains us a better perspective on the tough things. We can look at outcomes to difficult moments and say "It was worth it" or "It wasn't" based on the fact that we are no longer in the midst of that emotional struggle and we can objectively discern it's implications. Nostalgia however, becomes stronger with time, and entire industries are built on it. People want the "Good old days," as we choose remember them, because when the present seems monotonous and bleak we play a montage in our head of all of our favorite memories and somehow it comforts us. What we should be doing is giving the present a chance. We should spend some time in the here-and-now, accepting current circumstances, trends, and music for what they are. We should do what we were doing in that old montage, not worrying about the future or longing for the past, but just living for each moment. This is where the best memories are made.

PS - I honestly just thought "My old blogs are way better..."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Word Is My Bondage

I have trouble making commitments. Not because I don't follow through, but because I do. Integrity is important to me, maybe the most important characteristic I look for, so I stake much of my self-worth on my ability to keep my word. When I'm going to do something I generally do it, and my friends never question whether or not it will get done. I'm obviously human, and I've obviously failed, but for the most part the commitments I accept and declare are the ones I follow through on (I "lead with the tongue" a lot). 

Being true to my word has also taught me to say "No" quite frequently and with ease. I get asked to do a lot of things and make a lot of commitments, and instead of ignoring every inquiry I'll usually politely decline. Sometimes it's hard to say "No," because the persons motives are pure and they're just following their own convictions to request something from you, but the more I say it the easier it is. The point is I have to say "No" otherwise I'd drive myself crazy keeping hundreds of commitments. For some people, telling someone "No" is like slapping them in the face so they avoid ever having to do so. Instead they'll tell them "Yes" or "Maybe" and then let the outcome of their actions say "No." I don't maintain friendships with these types of people. Not because I have any spite for them personally, it's just that I can't trust them as friends... and trust is key in any relationship.

Sometimes I'll get on a roll. I'll decline every incoming commitment before I can even process it because I have this fear of being enslaved. I want to be free, even it's to do nothing. It's daunting to have to do something you don't want to do just because you said you would. I run from commitment. I've been stretched too thin before and I don't like the feeling, so I constantly avoid signing up for anything extra.

For whatever reason though, anytime I fulfill a commitment to someone else it feels like it was all worthwhile. When I keep my word it feels good, regardless of how boring, difficult or annoying it was, but even still I have trouble committing. I'll often say I'm busy when I'm not, and my excuse is that "If I'm out doing things I won't be home when inspiration strikes." I sit around waiting for songs to come, and that's what I call "busy." I know, typical musician right? "Busy" is tinkering on the guitar during T.V. commercials (You'd be surprised at how many songs came about that way.) 

In recent years I've found that my "fear of slavery" is waning. I think when I was younger I longed for the freedom of my teens and early twenties. We had no pressing obligations back then and we were free to just hang out, planning only leisurely activities and semi-committing to them. We were free to be impulsive, to just pick up and leave for a weekend if we wanted to. I think for a good while there I wanted that again. When we were first married Kristie would schedule commitments months in advance, things we were obligated to do, and I would have waves of anxiety about my life being planned for me... like my freedoms were being infringed upon. I longed for the freedom to simply do nothing again. Now I see it as immaturity, but back then it was a real fear of mine. What if I want to do something else last minute? What if I don't want to go? Nobody asked me! These are typical issues that newlywed men learn to overcome. Nowadays I don't feel like any commitment I fulfill with my wife is a tedious one, and it's usually a lot of fun. Better than the weekend on the couch I had planned for myself anyways. I had to learn that one the stubborn, lonely way. The truth is she's made me more of a planner, and I've made her much more impulsive than she used to be. We've rubbed off on each other in a positive way, so neither of us are as extreme as we once were.

I didn't always keep my word. I used to lie a lot because I could get away with it most of the time. I remember when the switch clicked on for me. In my teens I could talk my way out of anything, or so I thought, but Kristie would always know I was lying. I would do the wrong thing and ignorantly think that she wouldn't find out, and that I was a good enough talker to weasel my way out of trouble. I was wrong (See blog post "Honesty Breeds Integrity" for the whole story). I realized that my lack of integrity and my dishonesty was hurting my relationship with her, so I just decided to be honest with everything and to keep my promises to her. Also around this time, my buddy Big Dan and I would have contests to decide who was more stubborn by seeing who could keep their word longer (His heritage was Irish and mine was Scottish, so we felt like we had to prove which was better). We would make commitments together and see who went the longest with or without certain things. I think because of that competitive word-keeping we respected each other more than some of our other friends. 

I started to realize then that the level of integrity you maintain for yourself is directly proportionate to the level of respect people have for you. It's not just what you portray to people either, because they'll know if you're a phony, it's about keeping your word to yourself even when people aren't around. It grows a sense of confidence and healthy respect for yourself when you do this, and I think people can tell when someone is a liar or not. Maybe not right away, but it comes out eventually. 

In Matthew 5:37 Jesus talks about swearing oaths and says "Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’..." He's right, it's just more simple when people do what they say. Forget promises and oaths, just let your word be your bond. But don't be in bondage because you can't say "no," and don't lie by saying "yes," say them both and mean them both. It's a simple philosophy that makes life more rewarding.