A play of one act, but many actors.
Creativity can be a fickle beast at times. One day you're buzzing with new ideas, thoughts, and just can't wait to get this jumble of stuff outta your head, onto the page or screen, and the next? there's nothing..just a blank cursor staring at you, and the ideas - if they occur at all - seem less interesting and you just don't feel they are worth writing down. Perhaps past visitors to my little library of scribbles will realise that recently I haven't written anywhere near as regularly as I once did. And yet here I sit, on a Wednesday morning, cuppa on the desk, sun coming through the office window and as the ideas arrived unbidden, so too did the wish to jot down some thoughts on this 'ere blog. And of course, me simply being me means that I have to ask myself the somewhat philosophical question "Why is that?" Well, recently I had some great news. Some years back I lost a career in nursing and after some meetings with the governing body of nursing in the UK, I have been able to take some steps to regaining a place in my former profession. Also in 8 weeks (Yikes) I start a Master Course where I hope to put all the writing I've done so far and that exists on both this and the original blog to good use. So two fairly large chunks of good news then. ;-) But that's not the whole story. Over the course of the last decade or so I've been going through life, dealing with what arrives, meeting people, experiencing so many things, and yet sometimes its only in retrospect that you can clearly see what part of your life had become and the affect those occurrences may still have on your present day. Rear view mirrors are useful things after all.
Back in 2016 I started this idea of learning about philosophy, indeed, "doing" philosophy. Reading books, finding videos, and since then I've learnt about, and read, works from so many people, Aristotle, Socrates, Warburton, Corivino, Bettcher, Butler, Goffman, Giddons, Critchley, Lock, Hobbs, Sheth, Taylor, Bern, Bhaskar, Thorn, and many others. All of whom have greatly affected my thinking. As have people closer to home, friends, family, etc. Even now in the car when I'm on my own ideas keep coming at me and arguments form about ideas that I want to explore... and yet for the last few months I didn't really act on those ideas or jot them down for future exploration and excavation. Part of that reticence to publish prose is keeping some core concepts back for the dissertation that I plan to write. An academic piece of some 20,000 words does seems quite daunting, although its funny because recently I put the three part philosophy of self together as one body of work and was shocked to discover a word count in excess of 10,000! Who was it that said things are always impossible, until they've been done? That there is value in a proof of concept? Even to ones self as well as to an audience? Perhaps rear view mirrors really are quite useful things. But it's not just a self imposed gagging order due to impending academia that has kept me away from the keyboard. Time. Time is factor in all these things. Again it's been said theres a "time" for everything and everything in its time" to write one has to be present, to allow one's self to think, construct ideas, mould them, and in some cases change them.
That time for me was found during bike rides, runs, and solitary contemplation in nature. I stopped doing those things, cos well, my knee doesn't allow me to run right? I needed cash so the bike got sold. But what also stopped along with the runs and bikes rides was inspiration and of course the fitness benefits do help with cognition. So I stopped doing the very things that enhanced my ability to write, gave me something to write about and made me want to write.
Endorphins are great... for me theres really nothing like the feeling of being able to ride a hill at pace or smashing a personal best on a local decent. The reward for all that stubborn optimism and determination feels pretty darn good. I miss the gym too, the effort & the focus. It just reminds you that you're alive. But I didn't "have time" for that, I had to prioritise being at the computer (yet not writing?), and other commitments. Even the podcasts got less inviting, as ideas refused to blossom into something I thought worthy of recording, and that people might listen to. Episode 25 and the round off to season one of the podcast slowly diminished in importance and still haven't been completed. I think it was Tim Ferris who said "if you don't have time, you don't have priorities" And it's true. what you cannot find time for, you simply haven't decided to prioritise allocated time toward completing. I wasn't prioritising those things that at the outset kickstarted my philosophical thinking. But, you know everyone gets busy, life is chaotic and sometimes things just have to be let slip right? At 45 I'm getting a bit old for the running gig anyhow.. Mind you this year I watched the tour de France again. I missed last years (which I'm gutted about cos Gee Thomas won) If you're not into cycling as a sport this bit might be lost on you , but seeing the riders make their ways up the iconic climbs reminded me of the years I spent growing up glued to my screen, watching the tour, following the drama of Armstrong and Urich fighting it out on the mega alpine climbs... or "the pirate" Marco Pantanti doing the lone climber breakaway on a summit finish.. Sure the sport has a checkered history with doping, and if you want put the "grown up sceptical head on" that changes the view of those years . But damn, the focus and effort of those guys was something I felt I could touch every time I was on the one mile long switch back climb close to my home. It inspired the young kid I was to get out on a bike.
Remembering those earlier races, and the younger me watching avidly before shooting off on the bike was good... I even took my iMac with me on the cycle mechanics course back in 2013 so I could watch "le tour" (and my trusty Boardman carbon team comp road bike too) I've said it so often. when you're riding up a steep hill three things get you to the top of that climb. 1) legs 2) lungs 3) The decision that you are not gonna stop. Rear view mirrors can sometimes reflect nice things. The thoughts made me smile.
But I was pretty handy on bike, sure I'm no Martyn Ashton or Danny MacAskill leaping over telephone boxes, and I'm not gonna frighten Niro Quintana on a climb anytime soon but I could ride, and on my day... I found myself looking for another bike on the second hand pages, wondering what to get, and looking forward to getting my life "behind (handle) bars" again. But who am I kidding...? moneys tight, other things are more important right? Besides I won't have time to get out and ride. "who was it said the older you get the better you were?" Never mind, I'm 45.. it's ok to slow down ... And then I see a friends Strava profile... "your friend just posted a 102mile ride" He is 70 years old. Hmmm. Could I get that bike I was looking at? should I? Part of being "old" is having a family.. and recently my teenaged Daughter spent some time up here with me. She is living that stage in life as we all do, where it's about finding cool stuff, doing things and running along the beach doing cartwheels whilst chasing after her BF because of some light hearted disagreement that is just out of ear shot. It's nice to watch those things, and nicer still to know that I have some good stuff happening professionally (the nursing and academic stuff I mentioned) so I may be able in time to support her in achieving her own goals. Cos thats what Parents do isn't it? Support their kids efforts to achieve the goals they strive for? I mean, its not just parents, cos to be fair that's what people really should do anyways right? Support each other? Build up those they care about, and help them believe they can prioritise what they want to do, to get where they want go in life? Just be there. Not for ourselves but for others. Ethics eh? ... the pesky bit pf philosophy that gets everywhere! Or is that virtues rather then ethics? Those things that Aristotle talked about as being important to leading a good life? Bravery and compassion, love and temperance courage and wisdom to name a few. The will to help others is kinda how I roll to be fair. Now ok, I guess that in some context this is quite literally "virtue signalling" but nevertheless it's true. Nurse, philosopher sociologist and perhaps one day author .. the whole point of all of these aims is to help others view this thing we call life in a productive and helpful way and maybe ponder some existential questions, cos its freakin' awesome so honestly why wouldn't you!? It's why I joined the army, and the nursing profession. As I said recently at those hearings I spoke of, I'm an idealist, at my core I love life.. and I simply wish to help others. S'funny how looking back and "reflecting" on what you've done and where you've been can make you rethink stuff isn't it. Rear view mirrors. Sometimes you can almost see yourself in them. You catch a glimpse of something that you haven't been paying much attention to and you realise that the answer was quite literally staring back at you from the reflection. In creating a concept of self Hegel and Sartre who happen to be two of my favourite philosophers (although I need to catch up on Sartre to be fair) make considerable reference to the affect that others can have on the mind. That their view of you can become your own view of you. Indeed I myself explored this very thing in the three part series I mentioned above. So it was quite a shock when I finally watched a long awaited video that Olly Thorn had released on his philosophy tube channel. A video he termed "the cosmonaught part two" dealing with some aspect of his mental health journeys. In this video Olly mentions both philosophers and explicitly makes reference to the phenomena of external ideas becoming internalised in ones head. Colonisation of the mind as it were. I watched it maybe a dozen or so times because I couldn't quite pin down what it was that I was feeling as Olly kept going through the story he had set up. To be fair the way Olly makes his videos, second and third viewings are not all that uncommon because theres usually a lot to take in. I'll link the video at the bottom here, but the point that really stuck in my mind is the line from Sartre's play "no exit" that Olly describes.
"Hell is other people" Is it? I asked myself? I'd heard the line before but really? Other people are needed to create a self concept. Isolation is not healthy for the human mind, we are social animals, we NEED interaction with other people in order to function. Yet I've used the line in my own writing when describing gender dysphoria .. hell certainly is other people who cannot see you as you see yourself, or who twist a feigned acceptance and use that to subvert your view of self into one that matches theirs, and their need of you.
When your view of self become so malleable to the needs of others that you become a literal chameleon, always fitting in, then by extension you can never be truly seen for who you are, as you simply fade into the background. Your needs, wants and desires subjugated to a more important priority, your time given over to those priorities instead of your own. Indeed upon reflection one might call it abusive, except you chose to be here right? You caused this. Or did you? Choices, and illusions of having made informed ones can have a powerful tug on the mind. Rear view mirrors can be useful things on occasion. Belief about self and about our abilities, reasoning and potential is built at least in part upon a foundation of experience and achievement. At times it is useful to lean into those achievements and past versions of self to get some clarity of current purpose and direction. But still, I would tend to disagree with the idea that "Hell is other people" Because it doesn't really pan out with my Stubbornly optimistic mindset, and the wish to see the inherent positive potential of others. Sure some people can be hellish, but rather I would suggest, upon reflection that:
Hell is: The absence of true, honest mirrors. Sarah@stubbornlyoptimistic.me
Links and references The hall of mirrors
Philosophy tube video Find out more about Aristotles virtues here