The equal and opposite reaction to my forward motion: perfectionism and addiction.
I’ve known for a while that I’m stranded in a compulsion loop centered around online content. I just didn’t know what exactly I was addicted to. At first I thought it was social media and manga, but just when I thought I’ve unshackled my time and attention from them, I found myself tethered to YouTube videos.
Nicholas Carr explained it best:
When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the net, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. We’ve begun to sacrifice other modes of thinking, particularly those that require sustained attention and concentration, which involve contemplation, reflection, introspection. We can be very efficient, very productive, without those modes of thought, but as human beings we become flatter, less interesting, less intellectually distinctive and adventurous. I think as well that our ideas and our decisions tend to become narrower, more derivative, as we lose the richness of deep, idiosyncratic thought.
This is where I am now. I am documenting my relapse because I want to break the cycle and move forward.
The trigger was a job application — the trial phase, in particular. This is the third time something like this has happened in the last two months:
I’ve been told by a therapist that my paralysis likely stems from perfectionism. If the idealist has an arch-enemy, it's the fact that everything in life is going to be less than the perfection they’ve imagined. Turning to cynicism was the easiest response. For much of my adult life I thought it was smarter to anticipate pain than to hope.
It wasn't. There’s defeat and ugliness, but they don’t preclude hope and beauty. It took me a long time to get here, but I think I'm slowly coming to terms with the concurrent nature of pain and hope
When I couldn’t deal with the discomfort of imperfection, I turned to the internet’s endless supply of superficial entertainment. It was a balm I needed to re-apply constantly and so the stimulus-dopamine pathway was soon solidified. It became an addiction.
I used to think that acknowledging my perfectionism would eliminate my addiction, but that’s my idealism at work. Of course it’s not that easy. Defying perfectionism and healing from addiction is day-by-day work and I’m here for it.
*ᴼⁿᵉ ᵒᶠ ᵗʰᵉ ᵇᶦᵍᵍᵉˢᵗ ᵗʰʳᵉᵃᵗˢ ᵗᵒ ᵃⁿʸ ᶜʳᵉᵃᵗᶦᵛᵉ ᵖʳᵒʲᵉᶜᵗ ᶦˢ ᵃˡˡᵒʷᶦⁿᵍ ᵗʰᵉ ᵖᵒᵗᵉⁿᵗᶦᵃˡ ᶠᵒʳ ᵗʰᵉ ᵗʰᶦⁿᵍ ᵗᵒ ˢᵘᵇᵛᵉʳᵗ ʸᵒᵘʳ ᵃᵇᶦˡᶦᵗʸ ᵗᵒ ᵐᵃᵏᵉ ᶦᵗ. ᴵᵗ’ˢ ᵉᵃˢʸ ᵗᵒ ᵇᵉ ˢᵉᵈᵘᶜᵉᵈ ᵇʸ ᵗʰᵉ ʷᵒʳˡᵈ ᵒᶠ ᵖᵒᵗᵉⁿᵗᶦᵃˡᶦᵗʸ. ᴬ ᵇᵒᵒᵏ ᶦˢ ᵃˡʷᵃʸˢ ᵍʳᵉᵃᵗᵉˢᵗ ᵇᵉᶠᵒʳᵉ ᶦᵗ’ˢ ʷʳᶦᵗᵗᵉⁿ. ʸᵒᵘ ᵃʳᵉ ᶦⁿᵗᵒˣᶦᶜᵃᵗᵉᵈ ᵇʸ ʷʰᵃᵗ ᶦᵗ ᶜᵃⁿ ᵇᵉ. ᵀʰᵃᵗ’ˢ ᵛᵉʳʸ ᵈᵃⁿᵍᵉʳᵒᵘˢ. ʸᵒᵘ ʷᵃⁿᵗ ᵗᵒ ᵏᶦˡˡ ᵗʰᵒˢᵉ ˢᵉᵈᵘᶜᵗᶦᵒⁿˢ ᵃˢ ᵠᵘᶦᶜᵏˡʸ ᵃˢ ᵖᵒˢˢᶦᵇˡᵉ, ᵃⁿᵈ ᵒⁿᵉ ʷᵃʸ ᵗᵒ ᵃᶜʰᶦᵉᵛᵉ ᵗʰᵃᵗ ᶦˢ ᶠᵃˢᵗ ᶦᵗᵉʳᵃᵗᶦᵒⁿ. ᴹᵃᵏᵉ ᵏⁿᵒʷⁿ ᵗʰᵉ ᵘⁿᵏⁿᵒʷⁿ; ᵐᵘʳᵈᵉʳ ʸᵒᵘʳ ᶠᵃⁿᵗᵃˢᶦᵉˢ. ⁻ᶜʳᵃᶦᵍ ᴹᵒᵈ
It all started last month when I applied for that editor role. It’s been months of anxiety diarrhea and I had to get my crap together if I wanted to finish any of the articles assigned to me. That’s when I dusted off my Trello account and mapped out some long-term goals (hoping it’ll fuel my motivation etc). After all that, I could only finish one article before dropping out of the hiring process. In the end, I couldn’t convince myself it was worth doing.
Why do I insist on taking SEO writing work when I’ve come to think of it as part and parcel of a machine meant to manipulate the attention economy? Well, because I need money to live. This thought came around the time my enthusiasm from the job application started taking a plunge.
I expected the dip to come sooner or later. My “contingency plan” was to watch interviews with Conan. This one, for example:
It worked fine. I was inspired again.
Until the second dip came. So this is why the pros insist on following a schedule. The dips are always going to come and the schedule is there so that your work doesn’t fall apart in spite of the demotivation. Other than the dips, there will also be unfortunate events and screw-ups. Note to self: they’re inevitable, don’t freak out when they happen.
Since I’m also working on cutting meaningless crap out of my life, I’m going to need to learn to navigate the cavernous space left in its wake. Habits don’t disappear; they are replaced. And the replacement has to be worthwhile and meaningful otherwise I’ll just relapse.
I attended a nude sketching session last March because I needed to. There simply wasn't enough nudity on the internet.
Also, my drawing muscles have atrophied. It wasn't my first time doing a live sketch, but from the get-go this experience felt brand new. I could smell sweat.
The venue was on an uphill road. I came with a couple of friends and we didn't expect anything outside pencil pushing, but halfway through the session the model was invited to deliver a talk. He was blindfolded in his last pose, and his hands were tied to the back of a chair. The sketch session's organizer felt it was too meaningful to just let go. I nodded along, but to be honest I thought it was bondage kink.
J, our model, said he hadn't planned it. But he might have been thinking of the growing number of school kids who are now going around saying the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, was the best president EVERRRR.
For all the traumatizing oppression, immutable corruption, and staggering debt Filipinos are still suffering from because of the Marcos presidency — these kids were simply told NAH HE WAS GREAT!!!
J said he wanted to acknowledge his complicity in the miseducation of kids. He explained to us how that sort of thing might've been instrumental in the repetition of history we are experiencing now. I had to retrieve my jaw from the floor because this same model introduced himself as a worthless bum who wasn't entirely sure why he was showing us his body. He was a teacher, I would later find out. To this day, 7 months into quarantine, I still think about his willingness to lay bare his body and thoughts to total strangers.
This is why I love the local art community. It attracts thinkers and truth-tellers of all kinds. I pursued writing after I majored in illustration at university because I’ve always thought the two practices intersected somewhere. They’re both methods to explore the ways we see.
Meanings shift over time. Words evolve, get corrupted, become obsolete.
When I was a kid, reading was about yielding to somebody else's experiences and emotions, shared or not. It was about making sense of my life by way of comparison with another's.
The meaning began to shift when I started writing for a living. Reading became studying, expanding my vocabulary, acquiring information. There were humdrum books and tedious books that felt like class requirements. I started going for tomes that “serious” readers have deemed worthy. I went for subjects an “intellectual” should know. Usually: not enjoyable. ᴰᶦˢᶜˡᵃᶦᵐᵉʳ: ᴱᵛᵉʳʸᵒⁿᵉ ˢʰᵒᵘˡᵈ ʳᵉᵃᵈ ᶜʰᵃˡˡᵉⁿᵍᶦⁿᵍ ᵇᵒᵒᵏˢ ᶠʳᵒᵐ ᵗᶦᵐᵉ ᵗᵒ ᵗᶦᵐᵉᵎ ᴶᵘˢᵗ ⁿᵒᵗ ˢᵒ ᵐᵘᶜʰ ᵗʰᵃᵗ ʳᵉᵃᵈᶦⁿᵍ ᵇᵉᶜᵒᵐᵉˢ ᵃ ᶜʰᵒʳᵉ.
Pretty soon I was unable to distinguish between what I felt I needed to read and what I actually wanted to read. The word reading has become disassociated from what originally got me into it. The reason I'm reading at present is far removed from my original reason for engaging in it.
Now there's a big empty space in my reading history.
We are what we do — not what we say, not the things we like, not anything else. I should stop posting pictures of books on Instagram and start reading.
1. In my fantasies I am right all the time. That doesn't sound too out of the ordinary; nobody daydreams of their own stupidity. The problematic part is how I sometimes fantasize about damning someone else for their ignorance. In the words of Toni Morrison: being tall because somebody else is on their knees.
This desire to lord over others with my correctness might be something rooted in my fear of being wrong. A thing called “atychiphobia” apparently. A few months back I even wrote a whole post poking holes in a younger colleague's writing. (I deleted it.) Sure, it was to rant about my frustrations, but I also used it as step stool to elevate myself with. All this despite me waxing poetic about justice and humility.
I keep finding in me the very things I claim to condemn.
The other day I was writing about the people I admire. A lot of them are academics and writers, and their opinions tend to reflect the prevailing rationale. (I.e. popular opinion actually founded on research and logic.)
This is no doubt related to my constant consultation of Twitter for which popular thought to parrot. I swear to god, I'm constantly fighting this terrible impulse to either re-post or reiterate the things I read there. I'm even starting to see other people harboring the same desire in the number of times the same sentiment or joke is rephrased by different people.
But experts don't seek correctness; they seek truths about the human condition. At least I like to imagine they do.
ᴴᵉᵃʳᵈ ᶠʳᵒᵐ ᴹᶦᶜʰᵃᵉˡ ᴾᵘᵉᵗᵗ: ᵀʰᵉ ʷᵃʸ ᵗᵒ ˡᶦᵛᵉ ᵃ ᵍᵒᵒᵈ ˡᶦᶠᵉ ᶦˢ ᵗᵒ ᵇʳᵉᵃᵏ ᵒᵘᵗ ᵒᶠ ᵗʰᵉ ᵖᵃᵗᵗᵉʳⁿˢ* ʷᵉ'ᵛᵉ ᶠᵃˡˡᵉⁿ ᶦⁿᵗᵒ ᵃⁿᵈ ᶜʳᵉᵃᵗᵉ ʷᵒʳˡᵈˢ ʷᶦᵗʰᶦⁿ ʷʰᶦᶜʰ ʸᵒᵘ ᵃⁿᵈ ᵗʰᵒˢᵉ ᵃʳᵒᵘⁿᵈ ʸᵒᵘ ᶜᵃⁿ ᶠˡᵒᵘʳᶦˢʰ. ᵀʰᵉ ᵍᵒᵒᵈ ˡᶦᶠᵉ ᶦˢ ʷʰᵉⁿ ᵃˢ ᵐᵃⁿʸ ᵖᵉᵒᵖˡᵉ ᵃˢ ᵖᵒˢˢᶦᵇˡᵉ ᵃʳᵉ ᶠˡᵒᵘʳᶦˢʰᶦⁿᵍ.
3. I've been considering romance this quarantine and I hate it. It's been tough finding something to love about myself lately so I've resorted to imagining someone who does. And I hate it!
This might be what those advice columnists meant when they said, “be the kind of person you want to meet.” I am not that right now.
4. It just occurred to me that perhaps viewing the things on my to-do list as tasks to be crossed off is unproductive. They are actions to be accumulated and each action grinds me into shape.
It makes sense, because to carve a form you need to be intentional about what to keep and what to whittle out.
With the random actions I've been busy with, I've buried the shape in scrap.
5. Thinking about all of this — the obsession with correctness, longing for the unconditional acceptance of someone else — makes me wonder if I've been doing things for the wrong reasons.
It might explain why it's been so easy to pull me down. I've been hoarding habits that occupy too much of my time, cramming in information that fill too much of my mind. I've become too heavy for myself.
If my actions accumulate into character, then I should be strictly selective. Intentionality really is the key to everything.
People are constantly developing patterns, or conditioned responses to work and personal life. I can tell I need to demolish my current patterns. This old version of me.
*ᵂᵉ ᵃʳᵉ ᵖᵃᵗᵗᵉʳⁿᵉᵈ ᶜʳᵉᵃᵗᵘʳᵉˢ ᵃⁿᵈ ᵐᵘᶜʰ ᵒᶠ ʷʰᵃᵗ ʷᵉ ᵃʳᵉ ᵈᵉᵖᵉⁿᵈˢ ᵒⁿ ᵗʰᵉ ᵖᵃᵗᵗᵉʳⁿˢ ʷᵉ'ᵛᵉ ᶠᵃˡˡᵉⁿ ᶦⁿᵗᵒ ʷᶦᵗʰ ᵗʰᵒˢᵉ ᵃʳᵒᵘⁿᵈ ᵘˢ.
The ideal world is on a different plane and we live in a distorted manifestation of it — if we are to believe Plato's theory of forms. I suppose the concept should temper our frustrations with reality: our failing democracy, our shitty government, our frail bodies. But it does not.
When working out an experience, ask “what” questions instead of “why”. A therapist recommended this to me. Ask: what happened, what did I feel, what did I do? The “why” line of questioning tends to lead down a path of biases and illusions I can neither prove nor disprove. Neurotics should avoid this path, the therapist told me. And I thought, “megalomaniacs too.”
Have megalomaniacs taken over your country too?
I have to equip myself with facts because it's the minimum requirement for anyone who wants to resist this government's corruption. Those who welcome corruption are fact-resistant.
But it's not enough.
If I had my way, every conversation would have some sort of pre-production phase where I can consider the topic in advance. I'd plot a bunch of jokes and practice my delivery. The laughter would plug the crater in my soul for two solid minutes until the next joke. I should've been a comedian.
But going back to telephone calls: I'd really, really rather not have them. I only ever remember the anxious prattling, long lulls, and fake laughter on my end. Please hand me back my script and let me rehearse.
So far I've been to two weddings, one for each month, I puked my guts out at a bridal-shower-slash-drag-show, and I almost moved into a different unit in my apartment building because of termites. My sink is on the brink of collapse. In January, the Taal volcano erupted; in February, the first COVID-19 death outside China was reported in the Philippines. In between, I permanently deleted my Facebook account and finished On Chesil Beach and Bungou Stray Dogs. I'm halfway through Nation, Self and Citizenship by Randy David. Speaking of nation, Duterte and his cronies are still vicious and incompetent. Next month, I'm flying to Malaysia to visit friends. Dad's birthday is coming up too.
We're all exhausted, right? With all this carrying on amid the atrocities?
Thank god for those weddings — they're like lamp posts in all this dark matter. I barely find my way around anymore, save for the immovable events in my life.
It's about time I reconsider where I'm going again.
I care more about being liked than I let on, more than I even admit to myself. Sometimes I feel like I'm performing this personality because it's the adaptation that won the popular vote after years of acting out relative failures. As if affection is transactional and I can only acquire it after putting on a show.
A) I don't want to be famous. My instinct for self-preservation tells me I should be averse to it. I hate the idea of a spotlight landing on my faults, exposing me.
B) I would like to be famous. I like how fame could mean having the affection of a big group. I want to be liked strongly enough that people would be willing to take on my mean streaks, hypocrisy, long silences — and still choose to stay.
C) If I'm going to achieve celebrity-fame for anything, I want it to be a result of having mastered something and earning respect for it.