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creative insecurities and the like

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I believe that perfectionists are incredibly insecure people.  Perfectionists self-identify with their condition:  they understand and know that they can’t achieve their ideal even though they try so hard to do so.  They want completion even though completion is a fantasy, a myth.  But rather than allowing themselves to accept this condition and move forward with their lives, this understanding festers and becomes a lack.  Perfectionists can’t ever be happy with their work.  The incomplete nature of it haunts them, it shames them.

I’ve only recently begun to understand the ramifications of this relationship (effect: insecurity; cause: perfectionism).  Now that I have a little bit more time on my hands, I’m becoming more creative again with my writing.  No longer must I write only essays or write only for work.  Now I can write in whatever mode I choose, and I can write for pleasure.  Putting the pen to paper has sometimes been difficult, though, because of this perfectionist insecurity.  I’m haunted by the apparant lack in my writing.  Even when I write for no audience but myself (i.e., when it really is paper that i inscribe with a pen, as opposed to a blog post), I fret on what my words are missing as opposed to what beauty or rhetoric they might contain.

I’m trying to figure out the causes for this perfectionism beyond simple “insecurity”.  I think a large part of it has been my years and years of schooling in the humanities. The arts taught me to write well (and I’m a superb writer when I want to be), and my work teaching writing and rhetoric sharpened my own writing skills as I helped others improve their abilities with the written word.  However, writing in the arts is always marked by evaluation.  An essay is meant to be a container for an excellent argument, but often (and especially in literature, philosophy, and history) it becomes an integral part of the work itself and is therefore evaluated as much as the ideas it conveys. I’ve spent nearly ten years writing “A” and “A-” papers, which are marks of excellence in the arts, but these marks – as all marks are – highlight what a work lacks; they focus on what prevents the work from being perfect or ideal.  I like to write, and I like to be creative, but since my act of writing has for so long been tied to scholastic ambition and evaluation, I tend to focus on apparent (or perceived) deficiencies instead of achievements.

This insecurity – as foolish as it may be – prevents me from writing more than I would like and more than I should.  It stifles my creative output since I constantly second-guess my words.  It also impedes my desire to write publicly.  For years I’ve written on the Internet with a pseudonym (and I still do, you have noticed) in order to avoid criticism and evaluation.  I look at my friends who write and write freely on the web with their real names and I wonder why I can’t find the courage to do the same.  I think it’s because I evaluate my own words by considering the public opinions of academics who would have graded my works inside and outside of the classroom and I wonder if they would throw off my prose as purple or my essays as not ready for prime time.

This situation may have changed this week, though.  Now that I’m “in the workforce” and have a lot of free time in the evenings, I have more time to write.  And now that my workplace is filled with people with different backgrounds who all consider themselves writers of one kind or another (including not only academics but also authors, journalists, and public relations professionals), I’m beginning to feel that I don’t have to judge my work by the one and only measure I have been for the last ten years or so.  There are other measures that are perfectly valid (excuse the pun), so I shouldn’t inhibit my own creative output on account of my misguided perceptions of the opinions others may have of my words.


Written by mitchellirons

October 17, 2010 at 11:30 am

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i’m not sure why but i’ve been putting myself through the ringer as of late.  i spent most of the past two weeks applying for jobs i don’t think i really want and submitting things that don’t warrant submissions to committees.  i’ve made myself tired when i shouldn’t be.

i’ve been doing a lot of work lately on my work.  when i say “work” the second time, i mean my Work – my supposed profession, vocation, career and driving life force.  often i don’t mind putting in this work for Work, but every now and again (e.g., Thursday night), i get fed up and wonder what the hell i’m doing all of it for anyway.  one of the best things i ever did occurred a year or two ago when i left one supposed profession, vocation, career and driving life force and took a New Turn in Life.  that new turn – the turn in which i’m still living – it supposed to be easier on the soul.  and it is.  it is until i get carried away with myself and start acting and working again at a rate that was expected of me in my previous life – a rate that was killing my psyché.  that must end.  i must put a stop to it.

what am i putting a stop to, though?  am i “working to live”, perhaps?  i think i work as hard as i do (only at times, mind you) to fill a gap, or to diminish a lack.  now before you start crying out “mid-life crisis,” understand that i’ve always felt this gap/lack/void/presence-of-nothing.  it’s part of the “what the hell are we doing here anyway?” argument that’s in my blood.  is the weight of this question that which drives people to western religion?  i hope not, because when i’ve considered western faiths, all i’ve ever developed was anger, and that’s no way to live in either the here-and-now or in some sort of meta-physical, meta-temporal post-death state.

the pineapples isn’t particually happy at work right now.  there’s a distinct lack of leadership within the group that she works with and it appears to hamper the effectiveness of the organization and possibly the work they do.  she mentions that the organization spends a lot of money on leadership retreats and workshops for everyone to attend, i.e., so that everyone can be their own leader in the group.  i wonder if the organization would be better off it it would invest that cash into an actual leader for the group.  give some one the authority, the responsibility, and the income necessary to take on those tasks and see how more effective they’ll be.

i’ve had to read a lot about managing and leading over the past two years.  these topics have always existed in the field’s literature, but i noticed that drawing the distinction between the two and studying how to find leaders within managers are topics that have spiked in the 2000s – just after the time when corporate downsizing went into overdrive. the pineapples has a friend – we’ll call her princess lepin.  princess lepin says that her organization holds a lot of leadership councils to try to find leaders. but the problem is that not that there are a dearth of leaders so much as it is that no one is willing to take on the authority, the responsibility, and the extra work of leading when they’re not going to receive compensation for it.  i wonder if this is endemic across large organizations – especially large non-profits today.  as technology has made employees more independent (and compartmentalized), organizations have begun to cut out middle management and leadership.  people can take care of themselves, get their work done, and get their work done well.  on a day-to-day basis this may work, but in the long-run.. well, i wonder how much of the long-view is lost.  and certainly in the short-term it’s clear that institutional knowledge creation, let-alone knowledge transfer is impeded by design.           now it sounds like the pineapples’ group has thrown their organizational structure out the window, forced a new one onto themselves, and are spending a lot of time studying how to make it work instead of doing the real work the organization requires of them.  i wonder if maybe the old structure should not have been thrown out in its entirety or if maybe more preparation should have taken place before the change occurred.   but all in all it reminds me of all the reasons why people need leaders and managers.  a leader doesn’t need to be a boss (with all its negative connotations).  a leader just has to guide a group of skilled people toward their individual and organizational goals.

i’m not suggesting a return to strict organizational hierarchies so much as i’m wondering if ideas that are developed to trim the fat in some places or to properly acknowledge the skills and output of staff by granting them all of them equal authority in other places is hurting the organization itself.  but i don’t have the answer to that – i only have a course or two of organizational management and theory under my belt.  all i do know is that these are the reasons why consultants are hired – to fix problems that organizations have created don’t have the time to fix themselves.  maybe i should go into consulting.

(nothing above is meant to damn or criticise the parties involved, by the way.  consider this an outsider’s view from an outsider who understands that the distance from the actual problem diminishes clarity and understanding of the problem in the first place.)

consulting isn’t for me, though.  there are too many CFL bulbs and too much plastic and too many flights to distant meetings for me in that world.  I need a 3 o’clock sun, an olive grove, and maybe a trusty dog to sit by while i get back to massaging my psyché as it works out how to fill its lack.

Written by mitchellirons

January 30, 2010 at 10:29 am

The world will be Tlön

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It’s time for my annual Borges quotation.

Now, the conjectural “primitive language” of Tlön has found its ways into the schools . . .  in all memories, a fictitious past occupies the place of any other. We know nothing about it without any certainty, not even that it is false . . . A scattered dynasty of solitaries has changed the face of the world. Its task continues. If our foresight is not mistaken, a hundred years from now someone will discover the hundred volumes of the Second Encyclopedia of Tlön.

Then, English, French, and mere Spanish will disappear from this planet.  The world will be Tlön.  I take no notice.  I go on revising, in the quiet days in the hotel at Androgué, a tentative translation into Spanish, in the style of Quevedo, which I do not intend to see published, of Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial.

As imposing as this is, it is all the more powerful if you’ve actually read Browne.

Written by mitchellirons

January 26, 2010 at 9:28 am


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When i was growing up in the 1980s and 90s, i thought we commemorated all the dead on Remembrance day. Not just allied soldiers who died, but the enemy soldiers, too. Most important of all, i thought we stood in silence to remember the innocent people who got in the way.

I believed that Remembrance Day was a moment of profound guilt and awareness for what humanity could do to itself. I still believe this.

When you commemorate the dead, think about what you’re actually commemorating. Think about Why They Fought, yes, but also try to think about why we, as a people, allow such atrocities to happen. Remember what we’ve done to ourselves, as a people. Remember what we’re capable of.

We are a violent work.

Written by mitchellirons

November 11, 2009 at 6:43 pm

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we don’t know a thing about things like atmospheric pressure and ocean currents and the motions of the planets but we do know that we love the first couple days of the fall when the air is crisp and the sun’s rays are golden and everything outside looks like it does on the the 35mm reels of our childhoods that our parents never shot but we like to imagine they did anyway.  the reels where we are always wearing cords and sweaters and have longish hair not because it was cool to have longish hair but because that’s the way kids roll.  and then some one took a snapshot with a camera instead of a scene of moving pictures, and, there you are frozen in time and staring into the camera’s eye, half-standing and half-crawling over a picnic table or a chair or a pile of wood. but it doesn’t matter, does it? because what’s good about it is your toothy grin and your shiny-shiny blue button-up jacket and the verdant fields behind you.  it’s the kind of green that is bristling with life even when september is long in the tooth, a green so full of chlorophyll and organic material and all that stuff they told us about when they were teaching us about photosynthesis. but it’s also a green that is teetering, almost demanding to collapse into the dull browns that the autumn brings.  our teachers told us to call it autumn but we knew better then just like we know better now because that time way back when was As Good As It Gets, and once you hit A Good As It Gets, when for a tiny moment on the face of this planet spinning around the sun, for a tiny fraction of a moment when you look in one direction and the light your eye catches is nothing but love and warmth, you know, you damn-well know that it’s not going to last much longer it can’t remain at all because after something as good as this there is only decline. and however much we profess to love the autumn it really is nothing more than a fall, a tumble, a wretched stumble on the rocks down to where it’s wet and dirty and cold.

Written by mitchellirons

September 21, 2009 at 9:13 pm

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equally dull

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so you went on a trip and did something and i asked oh yeah how was that and you told me it was really great and then you explained in detail all the awesome things that made that something so great and i smiled and nodded and listened and then related it to a time that i did something similar and then you smiled and agreed about those similarities and then we discussed in detail all the subtle differences that made our events as unique as two snowflakes falling from the same cloud in the sky and then we both took a drink and said more pleasant things about all those things we experience in life and then we turned in different directions to find other people to tell our equally dull stories to all over again.

Written by mitchellirons

July 31, 2009 at 10:13 pm

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heaven, a gateway, a hope

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This is a meme. It has been years since I played along with a meme. In fact, the last time I played a meme, I got so angry with the internet that it led me to rethink my relationship with it, and i walked away from blogging for almost three years.

But this meme was brought to me by ange ella, whose respect i’m always trying to earn, even if from afar. ange ella subtly pushes people to think about the moment they’re living in terms that extend well beyond the time of day and whether things are good or not good. for that, i owe it to her (and myself) to play along.

some one asked ange ella several questions, and she answered them. I decided to play along, so she asked me several questions. if you want to play along, then contact me and I’ll get back to you with your own set.


1. If heaven exists, what do you want it to be like?

This isn’t a loaded question but it is burdened so much by the Big, Heavy Things. Notwithstanding the weight of faith and religion bearing down on this question, it demands that we consider the entire notion of an afterlife – what its purpose is, what it looks like (as opposed to what it’s likely like), what it does, and if it is even a good thing. Since I over-think questions like this (note my blithering up to now), I try to avoid broaching the topic altogether. But for Ange Ella, I’m willing to give it a go.


The more I think about this, the more I realize I haven’t actually considered the question before. We don’t really have a choice to decide what heaven is like if heaven exists. If we’ve decided that heaven exists, then we’ve more or less decided to ascribe to a faith that explains to us what heaven is. Our understanding of heaven, that is, is often dictated to us by certain facets of a much larger belief system.

But what if we could decide that heaven actually exists and also determine what it will be? Ange Ella’s question is brokering close to After Life in some respects, so I’m both real happy and grieved that she asked me this.) I don’t know if I could figure out what my otherworldy paradise should be like, let alone describe it to others. I can’t really describe scenes so well, so a particular setting is out of the question. But if we might allow heaven to be compared to a moment, to a feeling or a set of feelings one has had, then I may be willing to venture a guess.

Like any good former English major, my mind is drawn to the sublime on this question. What’s so great about the sublime is not the acceptance or recognition of the shock and awe, but the actual confrontation when one is overcome by the terror, the fright, the beauty or the majesty. It is a moment of sheer incomprehension, when the senses are overcome by that which has been perceived. We can perceive the sublime, and we are cognisant that it is occurring, but we can’t comprehend it. Instead we stand there, wondrous and wondering in the shadow of something so much bigger than us.

That moment, when we are overloaded by what we have sensed and can’t comprehend anything except for an awareness of its existence alongside ours – I think that would be a “heaven” for me. (Putting it in those terms shows us why the Romantics were both feared and hailed by the religious. An encounter with the sublime is so close to an encounter with the Almighty that romanticism stood the chance to either describe God or replace religion altogether.)

2: Pertaining to question one – what place on earth have you found to be closest to this, if any?

As I mentioned before, I don’t do well at describing places and settings. Rather, feelings and memories are attuned to moments for me. I think I’ve encountered the sublime a couple times in my life. A moment forever dear to my heart would be a long drive home down the QEW one late night or early morning. Helen and I had finished moving out of our place, and we had a U-Haul truck of Stuff to return to our respective parents. Somewhere past Hamilton, we turned on the radio, and in the midst of an awful rain did we hear Elton John sing Rocket Man to us. We started singing back, and the chorus reverberated loudly in the cab. I especially remember the line “I think it’s going to be a long, long time / Before touchdown brings me ‘round again for them to find…” We both knew, as the pellets of cold December rainshower hit the cab, that it would be a long time before we’d have such fun together again, and that our homes, where our parents were, had not been our homes for quite some time but only spaces to store stuff. And to store ourselves. Soon, the song ended and Helen passed out, and I was left to drive this U-Haul further down the road. The drive was a silent and beautiful coda of sorts, but nonetheless the weight of the world bore down on me like nothing I’d felt in a long while.

Another moment that would be sublime (or I suppose “heavenly” for the sake of this conversation) would be a late, late winter night about ten years ago. The details are few but they are inconsequential to the moment as it occurred. I was living, studying, and working in Toronto. It was a hard life of sorts, but I was getting close to living the pauper-student lifestyle I had longed for, so I didn’t always notice the sadness I surrounded myself in in order to live and eat. At any rate, I lived close to the school, and worked close to the waterfront, which was about a forty minute walk away. One February evening, in the midst of a week that took in more hours at work than hours at in the library, I decided to take in one too many drinks after the shift ended. Soon, the bar closed and my cohorts and I realized we would have to walk home since the transit system had shut down. We all went our merry ways – some east, and some west – and I trudged north through the financial district. It was a beautiful night bereft of wind chills or blizzards. Instead, my walk home was complemented by a slow and subtle snowfall. Looking up to watch the white snowflakes come down against the dark sky and tall buildings was magical to my imbibed state. I don’t know exactly when or where it happened, and I don’t think I could find it now since the location I believe it may have occurred has since transformed from a parking lot to a condo, but at one point on my walk toward Queen St did I fall to the ground to make snow angels. I laid on my back and damned any cold that might come in order to make two snow angels in the fluffy matter that hit the earth. Looking straight up at the snow that fell down on me from the office towers took a lot out of me. I knew I had several drinks in my gullet and that I was tired after a long day of school and work, but I wanted nothing more than to stay in that precise spot for a long, long time. The moment felt like forever. I know it wasn’t since I only made two snow angels, but time still slowed down to a near-stop for me there. There was nothing but me, reinforced concrete, and sparkly snowflakes and lights far away to give the scene a mood. I’d give a lot to get that moment back.

3: What invention do you wish could have been yours?

I’m somewhat arrogant, somewhat pompous, and somewhat pretentious. But I don’t think I’m possessive or resentful (anymore). I’m not sure how to answer this because wanting an invention to be “mine” feels like wanting fame or notoriety. I suppose that a certain satisfaction must have warmed Louis Pasteur when he finally perfected the pasteurization process, or that Alexander Graham Bell was happy to figure out telephony when he did on the shares of the Bras d’Or. And I guess that Marconi was more than happy when he finally got the wireless signal from Ireland to touch base with Nova Scotia, so maybe I am being presumptuous and putting too much weight on the fame/fortune bit on this one.

Nonetheless, things aren’t coming to mind right now. I don’t think I appreciate the inventive process (?) enough to answer this. There are things around me, and I use them and appreciate them. But I don’t really recall what life was like before them.

Maybe, if anything, I wish I could have invented the aluminum, fibreglass, and composite hockey stick shafts. Then I would patent all the designs and processes, and then I would never, ever sell them. I miss the lightweight wooden hockey stick for its simplicity and durability. Also, I really believe that “Modern Technology” is making “Canada’s National Pastime” too expensive for the “Children of Tomorrow”. (That was rather contrite, I know.)

4: What song do you want playing at your funeral?

You’re asking me to pare down the multi-volume Soundtrack of my Life to just one song? Yikes. For a long time, I might have answered with a live boot of Air’s “We Are Electronic Performers”, which often sums up my postmodern feelings about life, technology, duplication, and existence (‘we are the synchronizers’). I’m a little more zen now, though, and so I think it would be one of two songs by Morrissey. If not “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”, then it would be “Suedehead”.

“We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” is beautiful and uplifting, in spite of the nature of its title. The song has Morrissey, resentful that so many people around him are doing so much better at everything than he can. He’s insecure about his ability to write and sing – and therefore he’s insecure and unsure of his artistry and his way of life. This is not just a simple question of aesthetics and metaphysics, but also about finding a way to keep food on the table and the rent paid on time. But then the middle of the song comes around, where he realizes, “Oh you’ve got loads of songs, so many songs, more songs than they can stand . . . just listen:” and then he finds his sing and laugh again. When I’m sad and I feel I’m not living up to the apparent expectations of those around me (which is really just an maligned, interiorized understanding of the expectations I set for myself), I play this song and I feel better.

As for “Suedehead”, well, listen to that and tell me that you don’t know why this person sings only pop music. Morrissey has a beautiful voice that catches our moments of disarray and regret but hinges them on nostalgia and remembrances rather than guilt and decay. And the song is so ambiguous that even Wilde would approve.

(I think I might have to add one more to the list – I know, this was supposed to be only one song – but I need to bring New Order’s “Temptation” into the conversation. I’ve written about this song before so I won’t say much more except that “Oh you’ve got green eyes, oh you’ve got blue eyes, oh you’ve got grey eyes / and i’ve never seen anyone quite like you before”)

5: If you could only wear one outfit every day for the rest of time (you can have more than one of each piece, but they have to be identical), what would it be?

A finely cut white linen suit (mod, please), a greek sailor’s cap, and maybe a rolled cigarette or two. If you could add sunshine and the mediterranean to the outfit, then I might find solace in the scene.

(are you asking me to describe heaven again in this question?)

Written by mitchellirons

May 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm