Just Sayin’ – On Improvement and Posturing

There are small moments in life when you think that maybe, if you try a little harder, you can do better. It’s true. At least it’s true if you live in a place where hard work always equals a better reward. If you find that place, send me the address, I’d love to visit.

I constantly search for things to do instead of the work I am supposed to do, which is commonly known as procrastinating. Oddly enough, I find enjoyment when writing on the brink of deadlines. One time, pulling an all-nighter at Tim Hortons with an English major friend of mine, I looked up at her around 3 a.m. and, in my delusional state of profound wisdom, said, “This would have been fun if I had time to enjoy it.”

That is the issue I find myself constantly running up against, I am waiting around for a call to action, and in many ways I have to force myself out of feeling comfortable in order to improve.

I have an Ernest Hemingway quote in front of my desk that I never sit at. It reads, “You have to make it good, and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance after hindrance to being a good writer when that is what he cares about.”

Am I a fool, then? Yes, but we all are in some way or another.

My self-justification aside, I take hindrance after hindrance after hindrance every day. I blame it on our culture’s breeding of entertainment based around distraction. One way we distract ourselves is through images, and while Instagram is included in that, I mean a more expanded view of images, namely that we try to create an online persona that is a separate and filtered version of our ideal self.

To use Hemingway again, in “A Moveable Feast,” his fictional memoir on living in Paris during the 1920’s, Hemingway quotes his friend Evan Shipman, who says, “We need more true mystery in our lives, Hem. The completely unambiguous writer and the really good unpublished poem are the things we lack most at this time.”

His point, to expand it past its context, is that the world needs people doing the things they love, just not for attention.

My sophomore year of college, I wrote these things called four-part poems with two of my friends. In terms of poetic structure, it was abcb, meaning that there were only two places it needed to rhyme. We would write these short poems in journals or notebooks, and find scenic places to backdrop our poems because we would post them on Instagram once a week. I remember after I did it for a couple weeks, I started to get offhand compliments from people who generally said, “Hey, I like those poems you do.” It’s exciting to get positive feedback on things you do, but I knew I wasn’t putting any effort into those poems, I just wanted to project myself into a person that was better than myself, and a person that was ultimately outside of myself. I stopped when I started craving the attention and affirmation I was receiving over the enjoyment I found from writing the poems and exploring cool places, and I haven’t written a four-part poem since.

Therein rests the problem: projection, posturing, image. We want to appear to be a person we are not in order to impress other people, and a part of our being is lost in the process. When we work for appearances, we lose our ability to be ourselves and to see ourselves. We cannot differentiate between the real and fictional. However, that is only at the most extreme; there are times when trying to project an image, or at least holding up certain social standards, can help a person.

For example, I enjoy spending time in my apartment, but I realize that when I am at my apartment attempting to work on homework, my productivity plummets. I get distracted easily, I fall asleep, or I find inspiration to do every chore I have neglected for the past week. I have pinpointed this to how comfortable I feel in the physical space of my apartment.

Whenever I go to an open, public place to study, such as a coffee shop, I find my productivity increases. I have limited my distractions there to people watching, briefly checking my phone, or staring out a window, all of which consume little time. If I fell asleep in a chair in a Starbucks, I would be breaking a social rule, not to mention that I am surrounded by strangers.

The type of image I am trying to project in this way is healthy because it is positively affecting my work ethic, and I am not trying to become something I am not, I am merely trying to project the best version of myself, not a persona that is outside of myself.

However, the image that social media allows us to project, a persona built upon images of artistic back alleyway, cool restaurants or coffee shops, concerts, sunset pictures and the like, causes us to separate who we really are from who we try so desperately to be. Most of us have experienced those moments when you meet a person in real life after seeing their profile online, and are disappointed because the image they projected via social media was way better than who they actually are.

A far more negative effect comes from our relations to celebrities, or even polarizing people you know. You see an image online which directly relates to a deficiency you’ve always felt in yourself and you start to desire to become like the image you’ve seen. What is problematic is that the image is edited or the lifestyle the person is living is unrealistic. You see a celebrity on a beach in Hawaii, and as you begin to imagine yourself in the celebrity’s shoes, you are caught. You have separated from your own true self, and are now a replication of the image. Every action you take starts revolving around how to become more like that image: the outfit, the body, the scenery. You want to become the celebrity, and your self is displaced.

Hemingway’s friend was right; our world needs more mystery, more unpublished poems, and more people doing what they enjoy in order to become the best version of their self instead of trying to be someone completely different.

Adam Pittman is a Senior English Major and Just Sayin’ Columnist for Cedars. Among other things, he avidly enjoys reading, the outdoors, coffee, and soccer.

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