End of writing, 6

When discussing musical assessment, I stated matter-of-factly that "one thing should lead to the next." While I do believe that the statement had & has relevance to the context of assessment and harmonic momentum, it is also a statement which invites harsher analysis. On the one hand, one thing gives way to the next by definition. We might as well say that it leads there; essentially, it does, whether we consider it appropriate or not. On the other hand, if time is an illusion, there is no next thing. Rather, we could say that anything else is "next." In the present series, I label the entries with a number, so you will know which is next. Yet, they do not lead to anything at all.

Feeling useful

Whereas I do not want to feel safe, and whereas I sometimes feel competitive against my better judgement, I do want to feel useful. However, I know that I am not truly useful, so that makes for a fairly deep conflict. This personality quirk can easily be traced to growing up in a family engaged in providing the basic human needs of food & shelter. After that, not many jobs can compete for usefulness, and indeed it is probably essential to embrace one's uselessness in a world in which a very few people are able to produce enough basic necessities for everyone (not that they necessarily distribute them well). If anything, many jobs seem to actually interfere with others' well-being, for the purposes of either ego or financial reward. Of course, given today's priorities, the latter is taken as a definition of usefulness, and is a major component of the former. The divergence between financial reward and doing something which benefits someone else is an increasingly serious problem in our society. In that context, as I have argued, artistic endeavors may be more useful. Indeed, they may be entirely necessary. Expressions of ego & control may be entirely necessary to the human psyche too, and today those are expressed via money.

These facts are clear enough — or, are loser talk, depending on one's orientation — but they do not really provide a mechanism for feeling useful. One might be better advised to ignore such a desire, as it does undoubtedly interfere with itself upon occasion. I firmly believe that recognition often impedes continued usefulness, even as it might consummate present usefulness. That belief easily leads to swings of temper. Apropos the opening, a natural way to sustain a feeling of usefulness is to continue performing a particular task in sequential fashion, to let one thing follow the next, i.e. to institute a background of routine. For me, that has to do with our database projects. Of course, routine can also be self-defeating when it comes to emotional satisfaction, and as noted, I do not want to feel safe. That sort of low-key usefulness does not suit me, even as I deplore chest-thumping, and so I am left with another version of the previous conflict. I want to have new ideas, to express them well, and ultimately to affect the world. This is clearly a vain pursuit. However, as I recognize this vanity more & more, I find myself becoming more calm. As I have mastered letting my mind go blank as a form of relaxation, I find less reason for passion, and ultimately I find less to say. Having something to say, indeed "usefulness" at all, may be nothing more than a flaw of youth. I say flaw, because whatever my sense of conflict, I definitely do not feel as though I am a less accomplished or less sophisticated person today.

Moreover, whereas people used to marvel at how smart I was, that rarely happens now. In fact, by any objective measure, I am fairly sure that I am much less smart. I do not understand things as quickly, and I do not solve problems as readily. It seems I have begun to enjoy having some problems around, not so that I can solve them, but simply to have them there. Equally, I am increasingly disinclined to exercise any intellect. From some perspectives, such developments seem to be terrible, yet I feel so much more comfortable and at home in various environments. While one might believe that I have increasingly shunned the world, the situation appears to be just the opposite. I have become more extroverted & social. If I used to be concerned that people did not understand my work, or relate to my ideas, now I restrict my attention to such esoteric things to more specific portions of my life. I am perfectly happy to discuss the weather, and in the most ordinary terms. In some sense, my notion of usefulness has become very unspecific, reducing almost to interaction in general. Perhaps the reality is that I feel comfortable enough with my life that I no longer feel as though I need to be useful, even if I have been unable to fully admit that.

The present line of thought has some very direct consequences for musical expression. While earlier eras may have had a direct functional need for music, that is no longer true, especially as pertains music as art. Expression is now driven by internal needs, and it is only too easy to view those needs as weaknesses. The name of the present series relates directly to that observation. However, the observation does not tell me how to fill my own time, and so I continue to cling to the notion that, if I am going to do something, it might as well be something with at least a component of usefulness. I wonder, in fact, whether some component of worry in this regard is decisive in feelings of usefulness per se. General, misdirected worrying on various points has replaced the direct, everyday quest for survival. Humanity was made to struggle, and has become too successful for its own psychological good; it is difficult to believe otherwise. Recognizing this, I know that I have been through nothing, no ordeal, and that fact can reintroduce distance into my personal relationships — but only if I take the time to think in this sort of detail. Thought has its consequences, and there is a cost to knowledge.

Much of this discussion revolves around personal issues, personal development. It is frequently stated that there is nothing new to express; it becomes a matter of updating the expression to engage the current generation. This is true in many ways, especially when it comes to popular culture, but there is also a thread of technique which builds from generation to generation. Such a suggestion comes suspiciously close to a notion of artistic progress, but it is more about longer & shorter threads of continuity. There may be something to be said for "dear diary"-type expressions spread over centuries, and not only for the maturation of the individual. Expression does find its end in itself, and on that count, my best ideas today can be very fleeting indeed — vanishing from the mind the instant I broach them. There, demands for usefulness introduce pressure, whether the pressure to write, or simply the pressure to capture a thought. The symmetry of action & inaction, of thought & non-thought, presses itself clearly into view, and one recognizes anew the value of silence. In such times, there is no notion that one thing leads to the next. However, I end with this:

To be continued....

To TMM Editorial index.

Todd M. McComb