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In Pursuit of ‘Making Something of Myself'” (Monday, July 27th, 2020)

The following is NOT an advertisement: I’m drinking “Allegro” coffee—the organic Early Bird Blend. Allegro describes its taste as “mellow, cocoa, and roasted nuts”; I’m glad they described it because I lack talent in describing tastes and scents. At least most of the time.

When whiskey and wine have a good spiciness or when wine is especially dry (these are both qualities I like when I drink alcohol though currently with the exception of the rare and unfortunate slip, I abstain. Maybe I’ll talk more about alcohol eventually. My adversity to it is just that it seems so cliché, then again, I feel at times like a cliché: that financially struggling and morally conflicted Dostoevskian artistic academic intellectual who succumbs at times to excess alcohol and experiences episodes of feeling as though he wants to be Vincent van Gogh—my art is so beautiful but so under appreciated that I’m going mad and I’m going to cut off my ear—1)I mean, not really, dear readers!

…I fear I’m that cliché avant-garde, bohemian, beatnik-ish, hippie-ish, newage-ish, non-conformist, originalist, alternative, pseudo or wannabe hipster-ish embracing non-traditional sexual philosophy and feelings telling himself he’s like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir…they and their famous open relationship…oooh…)

An interesting note about the coffee: it is considered “bird friendly.” I had no idea what that meant, so yesterday I looked it up. The concept comes from the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Institute.

  [ https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/bird-friendly-coffee ]

Some of the key features of Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Institute certified “bird friendly” coffee include but are not limited to coffee farmed in an environment with:

[https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/bird-friendly-farm-criteria ]

  1. forest that has high canopy
  2. a considerable amount of “foliage cover”
  3. floristic and structural diversity
  4. leaf litter
  5. must be organic

Speaking of feeling like a cliché liberal (ah…self stereotype alert!)—I’ve gone vegan too, by the way—with just one exception…I do take my daily fish oil capsules as a matter of self preservation, but otherwise, I have successfully eliminated all traces of animal from my consumption.

Heightened Focus on the “Self Improvement” concept

Yesterday I was thinking and writing about when the mind seems to race chaotically with no fixed focus…and how I blamed some of it on thinking in a “holistic” and “interdisciplinary” way, trying to balance a sense of getting the bigger, wider-ranged picture of things with particular things in themselves and giving those “things” more focus…to a point of temporary myopia. Today, I’m thinking more about my “Northern Stars,” my “anchors,” my “sources of focus” serving as means for sufficiently integrated and intentional as opposed to “all over the place” thinking.

Indeed, I managed to find the words to describe—very basically, I mean, not perfectly or all-encompassing– what I consider my greatest or top “interests” (as you may see to an extent on my tagline): “self improvement focused introspection” and “constructive, humanistic cultural criticism” and…the diary as a literary work!  

Since I’ve also been writing about struggling with the bizarre experience of identifying as polyamorous and struggling with commitment (do we not see an underlying theme of a body and mind that seeks to be free but not without healthy order and direction?) and these frustrations and shortcomings are things about myself I wish to IMPROVE…I shall proceed with and write more about this self-improvement concept, first in general. But I don’t want to over-generalize and lose myself in the abstract.

I can think of three phases in my life when “Self improvement” (though I didn’t always use that wording) was a conscious and slightly transformative pursuit.

Any Hints From the California Diary?

The first time I have any record of consciously trying to self improve is around Tuesday, May 12th, 2009, when I lived in Oceanside, California and at the time I was keeping a diary. (That’s the date my notes are closet to in the notebook).

 Was this the first time I ever experimented seriously with keeping a diary? The only other period on my life when I can recall having done so was when I was in fourth grade and did it mostly to copy off of Doug from the Nickelodean TV show: Doug.

On May 18th, 2009, I wrote in my “California Diary”  a list of “wants” which included “to flourish ‘body, mind & spirit’ as the cliché goes”.

On Friday, June 6, 2009, I wrote: “tomorrow I NEED to do my push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks… meditate…must remember to say my morning gratitudes and tonight my prayers”

How long did that attempt at outlining a “healthy” and life improving structure last? I was too distracted with fixations on writing stories, poetry, and developing a “philosophy”; ultimately, was there not something inadvertently disingenuous about those particular “creative” writings? I say that because they truly took my mind away from the serious questions of what HEALTHY goals I ought to have aspired to.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. This is back before I even had a vague idea of what “logic” is or how to think objectively—how to at least strive to think objectively. Meanwhile, I had a lot of conflicting desires about what do with myself beyond writing IN GENERAL. A key motif of those California days was the irony of freedom sometimes offering so much possibility that it actually stifles the mind with indecisiveness or constant mind changing.

I’m tired of constantly changing my mind about the specifics of my career aspirations. To have reached 34 years old and find one’s self held back occupationally and financially most of all because of the constantly changing/indecisive/ stifled mind…I suppose…at this segment of time I feel… jaded… by it? No. No. That’s not what I mean to say.

Declaration That I’m Reforming That Old Cognitive Reflex To Sabotage My Commitment to My Aspirations; I Affirm: I am Going to Commit to My Diary!

I’ve been trying to figure out if I could find a source that served as a kind of conditioner or catalyst for how I struggle so damn much with commitment. (Granted, I wouldn’t so over-generalize and over-simplify but if I can at least delve into the seas of associations, could I reshape them?)

To examine my past logically one thing…it’s sad to admit and I won’t focus too much on it… virtually everyone in my family…or so interpreted it to be the case…. Very constantly chastised me and very rarely had many compliments to give.

My memory of childhood and adolescence feels rather disturbed by…constant feedback that this or that is wrong, not good enough, stupid, et cetera. When my desire to be an actor grew from childhood play dream to a more serious hope I remember the relentless wave of discouragement because it’s “so hard to make it.” The same sentiment towards my interests in writing were also hammered into my mind. “Just be a teacher.” “Be a bartender.” (Fine jobs and reasonable jobs to undertake when trying to “make it” in one artistic industry or another but I wish I could have countered my familial critics with much more self-confidence and diplomacy.

“Yes, many fields in our economy today are remarkably competitive thus one should have back-up plans, and insurance policies, so to speak, but the question also that we must ask is how does one succeed at ____X___?”

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful towards any family ethos from the past. I certainly do not possess anger, resentment, or anything like that. I just note that from a psychological perspective, I think a lot of general negativity and discouragement was hammered into my thinking which thus resulted in my pathological negativity mixed with whatever perhaps chemical and psychiatric troubles I may have had.

What I am suggesting is…I wonder if one of my pervading thoughts, more unconsciously, is this self-destructive mantra that I’m not good enough. Not all of which, mind you, can I even remotely attribute to feeling as though every thought I had as a kid was deemed some how wrong…well what I want to say, I mean…the issue, I believe, that is to be honed in on is not so much what others said or didn’t say (my memory is just not so good anyway) but the INTERPRETATIONS and/or ASSUMPTIONS that I took from them and where I failed to critically examine them.

It is my lack of knowledge– in those days– about how to think critically that haunts me so terribly, that leaves me in terror, worrying that I’m incompetent and can’t trust my thoughts and thus not my judgements.

And I’m framing this intellectually, dryly… to quote the Great Bob Dylan from his epic song “It’s Alright Ma’ (I’m Only Bleeding):

But I mean no harm nor put fault

On anyone that lives in a vault

But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him…

In other words, I’m entertaining the possibility that BY REFLEX my thoughts feel or seem inherently conflicted in that they want to feel or be allowed to turn from caterpillar to butterfly so to speak and constantly dream up elaborate daydreams about HOW to fly the good flight but that reflex at some point always kicks in as it would feel abnormal for a vision not to be pressured into a halt for its stupidity and lack of realistic basis.

This is Just Speculative Digging Into the Unconscious, By The Way…

This is all speculation by the way. Very lose speculation. It’s like digging into the unconscious/subconscious with a shovel and tossing away the dirt from the shovel… to get to the “bottom” or clearer artifact sometimes we just have to dig, dig, dig, and dirt will be flung…so one needs to be careful…cover the eyes and make sure to protect anyone in the vicinity as one must balance the quest for truth, honesty, knowledge, and wisdom with virtue.

What I think is key here is the desire to feel comfortable in my career aspirations and thus whatever has been a contributing factor in my reflexive termination of one plan after another—simply to recognized those associated thoughts that were based primary on fear, worry, pessimism, frustration, fixating on whatever lack of knowledge or skill set was weighing too heavily.

Thus do I persist with my determination to commit to this diary and this motif of self improvement. It seemed, just over a year ago when I was working on another, less informed public diary experiment, that likewise, this motif of self-improvement would guide my forward trajectory in my pursuit of “making something of myself.”

A Sparkly Glimmer of ‘Practicality?’

On June 12th, 2019 I produced and uploaded to YouTube a video diary entry

on the topic of self-improvement:

and said the following:

“speaking about practicality to me the significance is that I’m thinking about how it’s more important than things that are so-called esoteric, not to say that there isn’t a time and place and significance let’s say two ideas that people might call academic or highly abstract or aesthetic

but I would argue that there are things which perhaps are more connected to living the ever improving life and things that are not so tied to that though I owe you examples and off the top of my head… I don’t quite have them yet all the top of my head but…what’s practical I mean really comes back to you know I believe ethically our purpose is to thrive and help each other thrive and thus to ever improve so in terms of what’s practical as I understand it what is in fact helping my life do that what am i doing what am i offering that offers myself life improvement and or others life improvement and in some way shape or form and if it’s not you know might think that’s a sort of more literally esoteric kind of thing or less practical is there time for the less practical or the non practical I mean yeah there’s a time you know to escape of course even that is practical…practicality is just something I haven’t thought about until more recently you could say ironically either now that I finally have the mental space to think about it now that I’m not studying for tests and now that I don’t work a job that I despise I mean those are factors number two well number three if we’re gonna be accurate well I mean just when I was younger I was more interested in certain fundamental questions that just didn’t yet touch on that concept of what is practical…”

*I’ll have to…or maybe I will do some more looking back to see if I can find some record that might reveal why and how I abandoned the diary experiment concept.  

References   [ + ]

1. I mean, not really, dear readers!

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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