Imagination and our better selves

When I was young and on school holidays, I used to push little toy cars around my house in a line, as if they were in a traffic jam, one after another. I’d use the weeks given to me in the summer, and I’d entertain myself in this way for hours. Each car would have its own personality, its own backstory, its own character. Sometimes the cars would travel as cars tend to do. Other times, the impatient commuter would race pass the ambling caravan, breaking my designated road-rules and igniting fury in the vehicles they’d overtake. Chaos would ensue.

There are at least a couple of ways of reminiscing about such games. One is to lament the waste of time in which I could have pursued more ‘worthwhile’ activities, resulting in a lasting benefit. The other is kinder.

One of the things I often find disappointing about adulthood is the tendency towards rationality, often at the cost of imagination and the joy found therein. It manifests as denial in the absence of evidence; proof or gedouddahere; science or it didn’t happen.

On the face of it, these are sound, logical principles, demanding solidity and logic as starting points from which to understand a framework of our world and of self. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Neither is it the case that adherence to these principles and utilising imagination are mutually exclusive.

But there does seem to be a certain trivialisation of imaginative concepts beyond our fervent, adult demand for Evidence, as if they’re fanciful, perhaps whimsical, lesser ideas that are to be considered inferior for lack of being subject to the judgement of proper scientific rigour and – more likely – our silent litmus test of commonality.

I find that disappointing.

As a child, I knew that the line of toy cars I was pushing around were meaningless, inanimate objects. The power of the fun I had didn’t lie in sincerely believing they were something they weren’t. Instead, it was found in the endowment I gave to what I was doing; the infusion of wonder and childhood pretence.

Growing older, we’re asked to put aside our childish notions, and attach ourselves to convention; to appreciate our limitations, accept what’s collectively regarded as real and adjust our perceptual capacity accordingly.

To be adult is to sacrifice magic.

Yet there is a difference between the things we can assume – perhaps even collectively agree – are ‘justifiable beliefs’ and the value of arenas which allow our minds to wonder. It doesn’t follow that the only things worth indulging ourselves in are those we can most fundamentally call ‘true’. I defy you to compare a child in their uppermost midst of imagination and an adult who considers such imagination as fanciful, and find me such an adult who’s fundamentally happier than the child. Is happiness not valuable? Should maturity be so boring?

We’re here for a moment and then we disappear. Our consciousness is a mere flicker, yet here we are imposing artificial value judgements on the higher faculty which is our imagination, and the magic it contains, as if allowing our thoughts to take flight is a juvenile pastime.

In the midst of the unknown lies all possibility. And the unknown is at the heart of our beautiful, collective mystery we label existence. So let’s allow our imagination to grow wings and transport us to higher, mystical plains, using our wisdom and experience not as an albatross but as a safe landing place. Magic exists according to our capacity to experience the sense of it, not according to its reality. It’s possible to be a grown-up and to be imaginatively unbound, reconciling our inner child in that way. What a healthy, holistic prospect!

So let’s leap, and pretend. Let’s dance, and create stories. Let us be unbound by limits on our imagination but instead embrace the magical awe of our improbability and use our togetherness to spread this potential  through openness, honesty and sincerity with each other, rather than criticism or cynical, limiting value judgements.

Our future is as bright as our capacity to embrace the level of being which will define our lives. Let’s free the power of our minds.

Imagination and our better selves

Media & The rise of ‘movements’

Trump. It’s no longer a name, it’s a movement.

It’s futile to pretend this assertion doesn’t currently have some merit, but it’s timely to remind ourselves that movements aren’t inherently worthwhile, and a mass of people all nodding their heads (or chanting patriotic couplets) isn’t intrinsically rational. There’s no equation between numbers and validity.

I want to consider how a movement like this is given room to evolve and find definition; how disparate mind-sets can so quickly find togetherness in spurious sentiment. Movements like this are not new, however there is something alarming in the ferocity of Trump’s followers that disturbs onlookers who find it difficult to marry the passion with the specious, ill-considered rhetoric.

Yes, there exists a pre-existing sense of disenfranchisement from, and distrust of, the political establishment – as there is on the political left – but I’d like to suggest that there is a specific, mutually parasitic relationship between news networks and social media that fundamentally helps to create the tinderbox from which obscenities like the Trump movement emerge.

‘Always-on’ news networks prioritise and disproportionately expose events. They do so with barely-contained relish, largely serving their own existence as operations who’d have very little to say if they didn’t forensically pick apart their headline-of-the-day, with the hope of invoking shock, outrage, and ultimately secure themselves high ratings. Their output is digested without much consideration by sizeable chunks of the populace, because it’s The News. They’re only reporting on what’s happening, right?

In this way, news networks have the ability create or embellish stories – through unwarranted attention and added sensationalism –which are duly swallowed whole. And let’s not even talk about the faux-news networks which casually mix opinion pieces with reportage. In this way, The News can not only perpetuate but serve to birth movements which exist only by appeal to themselves.

Stories, now ‘events’, then transfer to social media for widespread reaction, where Belief-Bias Effect runs rampant, and the traditionally trustworthy nature of mainstream media grants an illusory sense of assurance in the solidity of the story itself.

Taken to the ego-driven medium of Twitter etc., stories which may never have existed in the first place are amplified without subtlety or nuance. It’s a binary environment of one star or ten, the enemy of all humankind or the best thing that’s ever happened. Opinions can’t just be loud, they must garner attention for likes, shares and added followers. Extremism is allowable, lest we be drowned out by our competing bellowers, so discarding inconveniences like The Facts is perfectly fine if you’re on Trump’s side, just as likening him to somebody responsible for the deaths of 11 million people seems justified if you’re not.

Heaven forbid we may live in a world where people think something ‘pretty good’ or ‘not that great’. Such sentiment is linguistic beige, destined to be cast aside in the lion’s den of OPINIONS, where only the most outspoken survive. In this environment, news events become houses of cards on which social media acts like gasoline and from which movements like Trump can spontaneously combust.

Somewhere, discarded and ignored for their moderate opinions and tedious consideration, are the quiet majority, resigned to a future of chin-stroking inside their real-world hideouts while the lunatic ideologues fight it out to the bitter end of both sides.

Well, one can #hope…

Like most reasonable people, I hate all Muslims, except the ones I’ve met, who seem fine.” – Stewart Lee

Media & The rise of ‘movements’

The language of love

When did you last tell somebody you loved them, and what did you mean?

Much of the language we often use about love exists as shorthand; abbreviated sentiment shortened to hide its root: that our heartfelt expressions often orbit around ourselves and our own relationship with the object of our affection. When we tell our Other that we love them, we are asserting a position about ourselves, as a subject. The unabridged version often qualifies such sentiment through further self-referencing.

Suddenly, what initially sounded sweet starts to become awkwardly self-indulgent.

In a wider sense, this can extend to the way many of us form value judgements about our relationship dynamics. We perceive of our Other as they relate to us, be that common interests, reciprocated feelings of lust or romance, or the provision of hope and our own well-being.

We have a tendency to focus inordinately on our instinctive, knee-jerk reactions and use them as a bedrock from which to form further ideas and opinions about what we encounter and who people are. How we feel is not only the first sense we have of a person or an event, it can also be the strongest and is certainly the most private, all qualities we frequently use, without even thinking about it, to justify and inform our affection.

That’s often essential – we have, after all, developed a personal framework, tried and tested, to perceive our environment; to seek out the things we enjoy and are good for us, and to protect ourselves against threats and danger. It’s important that we have a self-referential system in place to cross-check our surroundings and be sure any risks are duly calculated.

When it comes to relationships, the same thing can happen – we are overcome with our own feelings for that person, but as the relationship grows, that instinctive selfishness can give way to a stronger sense of commitment and a desire for proximity and prolonged intimacy. We feel drawn to who we’re with, yet many of us might struggle to express why, without once more reducing the answer to ourselves. It’s not only inevitable but important that we are aware of how our Other makes us feel, but our truest expression of love isn’t self-centred, so without making it about us, how can we adequately communicate the depth of how we feel?

Love is not inexpressible, but words may not be where its purity is found. It’s undoubtedly romantic to verbally communicate how our Other makes us feel, but love itself is a verb. It’s found in the everyday: the little glances and touches; the silent, unsaid things done for each other; mutual contribution towards a together-experience; giving for their sake and not ours; being sacrificially available to them. All of these are beautiful, selfless expressions of love.

They are our love-languages. Anything else could be verbose.

Perhaps the most powerful way we can express our love is to recognise and abandon the inadvertent possessiveness of our spoken words and how that can be subconsciously reflected in our behaviour. To make a concerted effort to let go of qualifying another as they relate to us, and instead to admire and respect them independently, being quietly and simply thankful that they choose to come home to you, which is itself true love expressed once more.

The language of love

When Romance Meets Life

Us romantics have a pretty good handle on how love begins. Be it the glance of first-notice with its fractional linger and quick repetition, the awakening to a passionate bubbling over of friendship, or the rain-soaked entrance to a wine bar that marks the first date of two souls who finally found each other online. It’s magical. It’s glossy. Somewhere, there’s a soundtrack for it. Romantics have this game sewn up.

And then, life.

We’re harder pressed to become swept up with the same emotions six months, two years, or a decade later when confronting bad days and sulks, ongoing relationships with our own personal demons, or – god forbid – bathroom habits. Romantics can find the inevitable mundanity of moments like these, which seemingly fall outside passion and soft-heartedness, problematic.

There is only so much to be said for the increasing trend to re-frame what’s ordinary as Dreamy Moments of Everyday Togetherness. You’ll quickly find examples and illustrations of cooking together, reading together, walking together and doing things that quietly mirror each other. Less commonly found are the sensations and chapters both will experience as love sails its course: a sense of rejection when one chooses to spend time with friends rather than them; one’s sense of helplessness as the other battles against the loss of their twenty-year-old shape; an unexpected diagnosis that dramatically changes the nature of what they have; inevitable doubts both may have about the longevity of their togetherness.

Whatever it is, and disregarding its legitimacy, life will meander in directions that betray the whimsical soap-opera which, at one time, us romantics were naïve enough to believe may steer us to some kind of misty-eyed utopia. The reality of life can be, and often is, stark and brutal. So what then, for romantics?

As a romantic myself, I’m inclined towards gestures, words and expressions of affection. It’s important to me that my Other knows of my love for her, and my focus is on her awareness of my love. Beyond the initial novelty of enjoying this sweet, gender-inverse disposition, I can only imagine how grating it must be for her to greet Thursday’s fourteenth declaration of true love with another smile and hug.

Truth be told, I suspect love in this form betrays an underdeveloped realisation of love’s true scope and depth. Romantics are often trapped in the idea that communicating love is an outward, external act. We fool ourselves into thinking that the subject of our love should be reminded of it, as if they’ve forgotten, or as if we need to continually prove ourselves.

There is a wonderful place for expressions of that nature, but as love grows, so does the complexity of what we have, and as the complications, hurdles, internal struggles and doubts we all have – these areas of life that help complete this beautiful, difficult human condition – become manifest in our relationships, so love must chart its way through waters more treacherous than the crystal-clear, beach side gentleness in which it began its journey. A red rose won’t help her anxiety as she considers the next step in her career; a box of chocolates won’t help him find his way to a more secure financial position. Neither will provide much comfort as they both peer over the edge of the existential cliff.

So what does love like this look like? As romantics, we need to loosen our grip on a single, linear understanding of how love is expressed. As we become aware that the ways in which we express our love will naturally change, our romantic inclination can adjust to find new forms of expression. Our impulse will almost certainly veer towards gestures and declarations, but love of this nature cannot adequately navigate life’s meandering path. It’s not enough for my Other to know; I must be content that she understands.

To foster an understanding of love is not instinctive for romantics. It’s not showy or physical. It isn’t about being the recipient of gifts, or the beneficiary of repeated spoken affirmations. In fact, it’s rarely depicted in romantic movies or books much at all, because it often exists in silence.

It’s being there in the midst of upset, not with advice and an action plan, but with the quiet offer of company and a squeeze of a hand. It’s recognising that sulks and frustrations aren’t burdens, but things your Other loves you enough to share with you and trust you with. It’s appreciating that your struggles and demons aren’t obstructions but battles your Other respects belong to you and offers companionship as that story plays out.

Above all, love as an understanding is a quiet, mutual awareness of intimacy through all weather. It’s not just the outburst of joy and affection on a sunny mountain top; it’s also an assurance of closeness and support through the wintry storms. It’s what can grow from that youthful joy of initial love into something with surer foundations and greater solidity.

As love exists within this context, life’s ebbs and flows can stop becoming obstacles and instead, become a tinder from which the spark of deeper love can elicit a brighter flame.

When Romance Meets Life