I don't actually of course believe in a thing like constancy of arrival time, but I can jokingly apply it to my life. Sometimes I think I have got some things figured out, and wonder what is up with everyone else and why are they all still children, and feel good and proud of my maturity or precocity. But then to make up for it there are all those things that I am so late to the party on...
But so it's hard to talk about some of the things I've been thinking about lately, because I recognize how insanely boring and cliched they are. Except that I had just sort of ignored them all this time until I accidentally came to some sort of realization. Or, maybe I didn't ignore them, maybe I did think about them, but somehow it seems to be of more interest to me, or I am more truly feeling how relevant it is, or something. So I've got a lot of old hat to mash over, and consider this your warning that I recognize that most people have trundled through these woods 100 years ago. It's just that, as I woefully rediscover again and again, there is so so much more value and impact from figuring something out on your own than being told or taught it. In all kinds of areas.
This philosophy can lead to a lot of blathering about education. But I'll spare you that for now. It seems like the sorts of things that have been arresting my attention are the same old boring things like the meaning of art, what is important to do with your life, and various dumb interpersonal romancy things. So I guess I'll have to talk about those, if only to get them the hell out of my head so I can move on to other issues.
We'll start with art. Yes, I know that's an incredibly broad and vague topic. I mainly contrast it with things that are more objective, or goal-oriented, such as science and engineering. I've been getting rather disenchanted with art lately, even as it's become a higher priority in my life. I'm beginning to doubt its motives and its use, and have been unsatisfied with the answers and attitudes of the few people I've talked to who want to do art for their life. I ask them how they decide that that's what they want, and generally get answers like, 'This is just what my passion is,' 'It's what I love to do,' or 'I'm just following my heart.' Yes, great, but how does that translate into what you should do with your life? I don't think there's really any *should* to it, so I don't particularly think, 'You are incorrect, that is not a legitimate life choice,' even though I am strongly prone to that type of thinking, at least about myself. I just don't have that certainty that what makes you happy is the rubric by which one should decide what to do with their time. No, I don't think everyone should sacrifice happiness for the greater good, or whatever. But I also don't think that my personal fulfillment is the only requirement I should use for decision-making. Factor it in, for sure.
So let's look at drawing, since I've been liking to do that lately. Imagine that I genuinely enjoy it, and feel happiest when I'm doing it. The prototypical American Dream response is to say, 'Well, then, find a way to make that your livelihood!' And so it turns into this goal to monetize drawing. And almost every aspect of that is completely unappealing to me. If I wanted to, say, be a full-time webcomicker, I'd have to maybe get my own website, puts ads on it. Maybe make merchandise. Maybe sign up for patreon, or do special projects with a kickstarter. Maybe go to conventions. Advertise. And above all, make sure I am making good shit that people want to pay for. And although in the world of webcomics, you're not exactly in competition with all the hundreds of thousands of others, people certainly do have a limit of how much time and money they'd want to devote to webcomics overall, so I'd have to fight to make it into the top list. And the truth is, I am just not that devoted to becoming SO GOOD compared to anyone. I just like to make things that I enjoy. I don't really like the merchandise aspect. I hardly ever give money to other webcomickers since I can't really afford it, but as much as I would love to help other awesome people making stuff I love to make a living off of it, I don't particularly feel like I want to or can or should do the same for me. I don't have that impulse that says, 'Since this is what I want to do with my time, therefore I should endeavor to get other people to pay me to do so.' No. I like webcomics, but I'm not really thrilled about t-shirts and books and stuff, and really, all of these things are luxuries. Yes, they and other arts improve my quality of life in some immeasurable way, and I certainly want the world to be such that these things continue to be made and available, which does mean that at least some people need to be able to make a living off of it. But I don't actually feel like I'm producing a significant contribution... not compared to say, anything in technology, engineering, medicine, something in research and development. Something that improves the world in a more concrete way than just making me smile or have deep feels or whatever. Maybe it's that I think, in theory, I may be capable of doing something other than art, so given the choice, I'd like to focus on that. Or at least, that's what it seems fair to get money for doing.
I love 'art' and sure, it fills my life and guides my actions but I can't verify that this is actually the best thing. When I watch my own drive to create things, I'm not sure exactly why I want it or why it's so important to do it - a lot of it seems to stem from wanting to create a thing I can proud of. And certainly the more I've reflected on this, and observed the practice of other art-like people, I've noticed that honing a skill in something artistic - music, visual arts, dance, etc - is highly visible and recognizable. Almost anyone can look at your drawing, or listen to you playing the guitar, and say, 'Oh hey, that's really cool, you're really good!' It's easy to display in a wide variety of situations and easy for anyone without particular training in your field to see it as impressive. True, there's still that aspect where less trained people overvalue the ability of less skilled people - I experience it all the time when people think my drawings are great and I wonder, 'Have you ever seen anybody draw before?' - but it's not nearly as pronounced as in other areas. How easy is it to display in a variety of settings how brilliant of a programmer you are? It's hard to just be obvious about it in any public setting, and anyone unfamiliar with programming will have little to no ability to recognize how good you are. You would need another person in your field to recognize when you've done something actually well. On the one hand, then, it might not take much to appear impressive - I experience this all the time, 'Look I wrote a program that prints out multiples of 2!' 'WOW You're so talented! I could never do that I'm so bad at math' - but on the other hand when you're actually clever others won't know. I am on the other end of this all the time - some genius friend of mine will try to show me what amazing thing they did with their program and I just won't know enough to recognize just how clever they were. So it flattens everything into 'Can program' and 'Cannot program' or 'Can math' and 'Cannot math', with no distinctions. Thusly, almost everyone I know assumes that I can get a job and succeed and be awesome at math or programming, because they see that I can do anything AT ALL and from their point of view it looks the same as awesome.
And so I suspect that, in my case at least, a lot of the drive behind wanting to art is for recognition. Which dismays me. And it's not necessarily a straightforwardly ugly status-grabbing move. For me at least, it's not explicitly wanting others to admire me, but wanting what I admire in others. So it's the similar result, without me thinking things through well enough to realize that really I'm just trying to get admiration. It's very easy for me to be impressed with pretty drawings or other highly visible arts and talents, and so from that impression I think, 'I want that, I want to be able to do that,' so that's what I turn my efforts to. I'm still a little impressed by less obvious things, but it's harder for me to see just how impressive the little ins and outs of math knowledge is without more training, and it's less immediately rewarding if I start to try to work toward it. But whenever I stop to think about it, I admit that what I sort of admire *more*, or at least desire *more* isn't recognition but some other sort of achievement that in my blurry definition skews toward more practical things. All in all, I don't think drawing *produces* something in the same way that engineering does, and so although it's clearly a good thing to have in the world, I don't really think it makes the most sense for me to get *paid* to do it. I always want to pay for art, but it has to be put on the back burner and wait until I've bought food, paid rent, covered transportation costs, electrical bills, and c and c. Things that improve the world in such a way that these things are more effective, more affordable, more efficient, more available, or what have you, seem to rate higher in my mind as something that it makes sense to get *paid* for. Trying to turn a hobby into a paying job feels, at least to me, like trying to coax money out of people. Yes, most people have more disposable income than me and it's not that big a deal. But certainly I'm not the only one who has this idea - it's sort of a heavily endorsed trope in this culture. And it ups the ante and increases competition for everyone thinking, 'Oh wouldn't be cool if I could just draw for a living?' And so people get better and better and better, throw money and time into art school and graphic design training and spend their whole life drawing so that they are amazing and totally deserve to get paid for their work but of course to get actually paid you have to produce something someone else with money wants, so you get these totally charming and well-made commercials, and exquisitely produced websites and posters and book covers, and it turns into that old blah about making what you want and what someone else wants. And whether one or the other is preferable, you can only do the second one if you are a fuck-all businessman and self-promoter and the absolute best. And I'm just not that devoted to making myself that good so that I can kill myself convincing other people to pay me to do what they want done. I certainly like doing things for other people, but I also like doing any number of other things, and don't want to devote all my time and effort to honing this skill.
So I know this is just a disorganized mess of thoughts on the vague topic, but essentially I seem to be sort of uncomfortably in this position where I strongly desire many art-like activities and talents, and seem to be continually making choices to improve myself in that direction, but I don't, at bottom, endorse it fully as what I would really prefer to be doing.