A moment of self-reflection before carrying on.

Life does not consist mainly — or even largely — of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.
– Mark Twain

Every now and then I find myself pondering, well, myself. I sometimes wonder if I am what I should be or if I am something other than what I think myself to be.

Yeah, that’s confusing. Let me see if I can explain.

I like to believe that I’m a fairly smart and enlightened fellow yet I don’t feel like that is true very often. My I.Q. has been estimated to be as high as 160, but simple mathematical word problems will give me fits, which makes me feel stupid. The only reason I accept that I am relatively smart is because people I trust tell me this is true, but there’s a certain amount of bias in that declaration because they (generally) like me which is probably why I trust them because they tell me things that encourage me to believe things about myself I want to believe anyway. That shows I have a certain amount of self-awareness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m as intelligent as I (or others) believe me to be. And I often wonder what difference it really makes how smart I am when I seem to be unable to figure out how to use it to be more successful than I am. There are people out there who are wildly more successful than I am that are arguably less intelligent than I am (based on their public personas at least) which would seem to be evidence that being smart has fewer practical applications than you might think or that I’m not as smart as I like to believe I am. Probably the latter over the former.

I also often wonder if I’m more shallow of a person than I realize. Usually that thought comes along after reading a particularly brilliant blog post from someone like Paul Sunstone over at Café Philos. I don’t even understand some of what he’s talking about in that entry which makes me realize just how little truly deep thinking I do. Decrepit Old Fool is another blogger who can leave me feeling somewhat inferior after reading his thoughts. Then I turn around and check out what’s trending on Twitter and my new-found fears about being too shallow usually quickly vanish. I may not be the deepest thinker in the world, but, damn, at least I’m not worried about what shoes someone wears or how snappy they dress as a yardstick for social interaction.

It’s not that I’m unhappy with myself — I have areas I’m working on, but overall I like me — just that I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking there is a person I’m supposed to be and that I’m not living up to that ideal. Just who determines what we’re supposed to be anyway? And what we’re supposed to be always seems to vary depending on who’s doing the telling. I’m past the half-way point in my life (assuming I don’t die early due to some sort of accident or a crazed stalker) and I’m old enough now to be able to look back at how foolish I was in my younger years. That implies that I’m wiser now than I was then, but some of my flaws wouldn’t bear that conclusion out. At 43 years of age I still think I’d like to be an actor, which is what I thought I wanted to be at one point in my youth, but I don’t believe I have the talent, looks, or the motivation to actually pursue that career. I’m a PC technician because that’s what I’m good at doing, not because I had an overwhelming desire as a child to become one. My ability to plan for the long term has never been something I was good at and it shows in the meandering path my life has taken over the years. If I were as smart as I’m told that I am you’d think I’d take the time to get better at planning and yet I don’t have the motivation to do so even though I can recognize the ways in which it will negatively impact my life in the future. For example, I’ll probably never be able to retire at the rate I’m going.

Honestly, I’m not even sure why I bother thinking about stuff like this. As I said, it’s not that I’m unhappy with myself as a person, so why all the mini-angst about what could have been or things I’m probably not capable of being? It’s like my mind is looking for things to be unhappy about for no good reason. Almost like it sees all these other people around me who are scrambling to live up to some ideal they have about themselves and being upset when they fail to do so so it thinks I should be doing the same thing. It probably says a lot about me that I’m not that upset that I’m not all I could be, but it seems a lot less stressful than what a lot of other folks are doing.

This is another in a long line of not-sure-what-the-hell-I’m-trying-to-say entries so it probably doesn’t make much sense, but there you go.

 

12 thoughts on “A moment of self-reflection before carrying on.

  1. Wow, Les! You just made the rest of my week and probably a few days more! I am so tempted to run out now and have a cool T-shirt printed with my name and the phrase, “a particularly brilliant blog post”. Shit, if I had the cash on hand…

    I agree with you about one thing: George over at “Decrepit Old Fool” needs to be watched, and watched closely. That guy is way too interesting for a man his age. He writes like a master and comes up with the most gutsy and insightful things to say. It annoys the hell out of me: He’s caused me too much insomnia sitting up, can’t get to sleep, cause I’m thinking about something he said.

    We agree about George, Les, but where you and I disagree is about you. Since I’m always right in these matters, you will need to shut up about not being as smart as folks say you are. You’re just looking at it wrong. You look at your mistakes and say, “I’m not smart”, but fuck! Look at the brilliant stuff you’ve posted over the years! If you were Babe Ruth, you’d be saying you were not great cause you’ve struck out now and then. But it ain’t the misses that measure brilliance. It’s the hits.

    Sorry about the lecture. I’m sleepy from insomnia cause of George again, and so I tend to ramble.

  2. Reflection is good. Do it often. Accept what you see and act on what u see, if need be.

    I say this, cos it’s what I do.

    PS don’t punish yerself…… you’re doing just fine… your blog testifies to that *thumbs up*

  3. It is good that you are not satisfied. It is not good to be unhappy. Enjoy what there is to enjoy, suffer what there is to suffer. Both suffering and joy are parts of life. Many of us are entertained and enlightened by your blog and your family seems to be happy with you, most of the time. Not a bad accomplishment, for a stupid, evil bastard. Actually, not a bad accomplishment for anyone. Like Tony said, don’t beat yourself up too much. And thank you for sharing with us mere mortals.

    😆

    Peace.

  4. SEB, It’s like you looked into my soul and read everything that was there!!!

    Brian

  5. I feel that you hit the nail on the head with this post in regards to how most honest people feel about themselves.

  6. It occurs to me, after re-reading this today, that this might sounds like a fishing for comments exercise on my part and I want to say that that wasn’t the intent. I was talking about stuff I’ve found myself thinking about more than once in the past few weeks.

    Paul Sunstone wrote:

    We agree about George, Les, but where you and I disagree is about you. Since I’m always right in these matters, you will need to shut up about not being as smart as folks say you are. You’re just looking at it wrong. You look at your mistakes and say, “I’m not smart”, but fuck! Look at the brilliant stuff you’ve posted over the years! If you were Babe Ruth, you’d be saying you were not great cause you’ve struck out now and then. But it ain’t the misses that measure brilliance. It’s the hits.

    It would probably surprise you to learn that I think your output at your blog trumps anything I’ve written in the entirety of the almost 10-years I’ve been at it. What I mostly do is vent about shit that annoys me. You write about deep concepts on topics such as love that cause me to stop and think about things I often don’t spend that much time thinking about. Often I find that my understanding of some topics is almost at an unconscious level. When someone else talks about them in detail I find that I already understood that but that it never occurred to me that I had until it was mentioned. Or at least that’s what it feels like. Which is why I wonder if I’m sometimes more shallow than I think I am.

    I think part of it is that I spend most of my time during the day just going with the flow and dealing with life as it comes along. I don’t stop to think about things as I do them as much as I just react to their appearance in my life. Something happens — good, bad, or otherwise — and I deal with it and move on. I have to stop and think about thinking. It’s not necessarily a bad way to get through the day, but sometimes it leaves you with the feeling that you’re not as aware of what’s going on around you as you should be. Does that make sense?

    Tony Nicholas wrote:

    PS don’t punish yerself…… you’re doing just fine… your blog testifies to that *thumbs up*

    I don’t think I’m punishing myself. Perhaps the use of the phrase mini-angst was a poor choice. As I said, I’m not unhappy with myself. I just stopped to wonder about who I am and what others perceive me to be and what is often presented as the ideals we should be striving for. I was thinking out loud to try and clarify what I was thinking. I’m not sure it made as much sense as I was hoping it would.

  7. Iota’s comment slipped in while I was writing my last reply so I’m double dipping.

    iota wrote:

    …but overall I like me…

    Everything else is irrelevant.

    Perhaps, but like all humans I often find myself getting wrapped up in irrelevancies even though I know they’re not important. It seems to be a common failing of the brain.

  8. Les, I’ve read your blog for at least 6-7 years; at least since the 2004 elections, I believe. I run a website called http://www.cosmoetica.com that is one of the largest arts websites online. I think I’ve commented once, maybe twice, before in all that time. I canot recall the posts.

    I have read many political blogs, from TPM to smaller blogs, and even occasionally read blogs of people I cannot stand. Political blogs are almost all blather, and politics is such an ephemeral human pursuit it’s not worth commenting mostly. Science blogs are a little better. Arts and philosophy blogs are mostly wretched. My own site is not a blog, but because it engages in long form crits and discussions of art and science- as well as in depth interviews, it’s probably in the Top 10 of all arts sites worldwide in hits; definitely the largest non-commercial site. But it also garners much hate in the arts world because I don’t cave in to the BS that dominates the modern art scene.

    I’ve never read Sunstone before and only read the piece you linked to. I see Sunstone commented above, which is nice, but simply put, his ‘essay’ is the same sort of pseudo-philosophic babble that passes for depth online that I’ve read ten thousand times before. No real insights, a few banal anecdotes admixed with epigraphs of varying quality and relation to the matters at hand. In short, it’s mawkish where it should be sharp, dull where it should be intellectual, and way too long- a good editor could have trimmed the fat by up to 60% and gotten to the core much more quickly.

    By contrast, this very post is WAY better, in thought and composition. First- a great epigraph. I’m writing a novel whose subtitle is A NOVEL OF MINDS. This is the perfect epigraph. From what book or essay of Twain’s is it from?

    Second, your post shows a mind in flux and reality. It has humor, honesty, and a relevance that many of your posts, in this vein do. One need not be a great thinker nor writer to be able to connect with others.

    Art is more a verb than a noun. It is communication at its highest level, and even if the ideas communicated are not the best, if their transmission vehicle is good, the message gets through. Great ideas often founder on bad communication.

    This from an early essay I did on a bad thinker and writer named Harold Bloom: http://www.cosmoetica.com/D1-DES1.htm

    ‘Here is my posit: the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this. It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply- especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts- or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic (Keats’ Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or Functionary3 .’

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that, in a minor way, your life and struggles have resulted in a few dozen moments of insight that have affected me, and I’m sure many others, to a far greater degree than any 1000 like posts by Sunstone and his degreed ilk. I could go into great detail and parse out why his piece is inferior to yours, but I’ve not the time nor will. Trust me on this, though. Your piece IS an example of good writing, with some interesting and good thoughts behind it. The reader senses who Les Jenkins is. Paul Sunstone? He’s the guy behind the visor, the wall of words that say little except how many books of deeper thinkers and better writers he’s read. I’ll take Jenkins any day.

    Read that essay I linked to, and browse around my site. It may not interest you, as you are not an artist, but don’t undersell yourself. Plenty of people, online and off will be happy to do that for you.

  9. My name is Brendan Schwass, I am 20 years old and I just created this account so that I can post this comment.
    I respect that I’m only 20 years old, and that anyone whose older than 20 years old looks back and thinks that when they were 20 they ‘thought’ they knew it all too, but they now know better. And I suspect I have that to look forward to in the future (hell I do it now about my 15 year old self). But I just want to say that I identify with pretty much everything you’ve said, except the actor thing (but I hope that me highlighting that reinforces the previous statement). I constantly find myself assessing myself from a third person, wondering if I’m a good person, if my actions are justified, can I do anything better. I tell myself things like “If the way I think wasn’t correct, I would just change the way I think”. Then I’ll argue with people about what they think, and why they should think the same thing as me.
    But I’m a smart guy, and like you I know that I’m a smart guy because people I trust tell me so. I love knowledge and I hate stupid people. But at the same time, I get below average marks at college and I suck at things like spelling.
    I have a lot of flaws, people are always getting mad at me for stuff I say, and I upset people on regular basis. But on the whole I like me as much as you like you.
    I think it’s probably this kind of thing that has had me following your blog posts for the last few years. I like the way you think and the way you speak your mind.
    Anyway, I just wanted you to know that you are not alone in the way you think. And while you might have lived twice as long as I have, I think we have a lot in common.

  10. Les wrote:

    It would probably surprise you to learn that I think your output at your blog trumps anything I’ve written in the entirety of the almost 10-years I’ve been at it. What I mostly do is vent about shit that annoys me. You write about deep concepts on topics such as love that cause me to stop and think about things I often don’t spend that much time thinking about.

    Yeah, but I’m not sure I look at it that way, Les. Most days, the high point of my day isn’t anything “deep” — it’s mindlessly watching the sunlight come tumbling down through the tree leaves in my yard. Or, it’s seeing a pretty woman. Or it’s chatting with my neighbor about the dogs that live in the houses around us.

    If you want to compare us as bloggers, I think you’ve done a lot more to help people appreciate their lives than I have. Except rarely, our lives are not spent in the depths, dealing with “urgent epistemologies of plausible being”. We live elsewhere, and thankfully so. Anyone who succeeds in helping folks appreciate the so-called shallows — appreciate their day to day life — is doing well. We should never deny the importance of “doing shallow” well.

    Hey, you’ll love this one: A while back, I was reading of a Muslim holy man who was telling folks it was sinful to look at the moon. Why? Because the moon was so beautiful, a man might begin to think he didn’t need god anymore.

    There’s a part of me — a very large part — that loathes that attitude of “ignore the moon because there are deeper things than the vulgar moon.” I’d give up all my philosophizing for a month, Les, if my neighbor would just for one day take to sunbathing nude in the yard I share with her.

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