identity, authenticity and the imposition of self

Hey there

I'm hoping that this will be the last letter sent from and hosted on WordPress as I plan to migrate them over to the non-WordPress site. It should be pretty easy considering that almost everything involved is custom built and, therefore, moving it shouldn't require too much adjustment. When I do make the move you won't need to do anything whether you get the letters by mail or follow the RSS feed. Everything will be migrated or redirected with the full archive copied out of WordPress.

I can't see myself doing the same thing with the Digital Garden, at least not for a while yet, as it's a little more involved. It would, however, be nice to ultimately rid myself of WordPress apart from the blog archive — 13 years worth of posts in differing formats is a bit much to migrate and just wouldn't be worth the time and effort. It would mean that I could move the archive to a subdirectory and have greater flexibility in how the new site operates.

Right, let's get down to business.

Reading

As mentioned in the last letter I have been reading Ursula K. Le Guin's No Time to Spare, a curated selection of posts from her blog. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting with this book. I'd heard some good things so wanted to give it a go.

Coming from a blogging background, it's interesting to read Le Guin's thoughts and how she adapted to more episodal writing — very well I must say. The book isn't as full of worldly wisdom as the reviews suggest but there are frequent enough gems to reward the reader. Her treatise on eating a soft boiled egg is a case in point — she gets particularly zen about the ritual of it, as with other things at other times in the book:

"The more complete the attention, the more you actually taste the egg.

Put your full self into everything you do. Indeed, she describes her whole blog as "a subtle blow against double-tasking, and a paean 1 to doing one single thing with, as the Bible puts it, 'all thy might'."

Rather than that expected wealth of wisdom the book is instead like a time machine, a window into the world of a person — that the person is a famous author is largely irrelevant; that they are just a person and you are experiencing their stories is what's important. It takes me back to what I have said about liking to get to know the person behind the words and not seeing people as "social units" in a timeline. The more we can connect with others on different levels and in different measures the better.

The connection that the book grants us with Le Guin's thoughts is worth more than individual sage snippets, as wonderful as they may be, and I am minded to go back over the archive of her blog to delve further, to break bread with the dead (to return to Alan Jacob's book) and build a deeper understanding from beyond the grave.

This idea of the book being a time machine extends to blogging as a whole; about 10 minutes after I wrote that sentence a post from Venkatesh Rao popped into my feed reader including the line "blogging has always had a very outside-of-time feeling" and that's it's beauty — truly personal blogging, rather than hot takes on whatever is in vogue, is indeed timeless. That many of the posts reprinted in the book are now ten years old is of little consequence, they are often still incredibly relevant today and their very age can highlight how little we have progressed as a society or species in the intervening years, despite our protestations otherwise.

I have also started reading Black Gum, the first and titular book of the Black Gum Cycle by J David Osbourne. The series will eventually consist of five novelettes — the first three are currently available with the remaining two hopefully completed before the end of 2021.

The synopsis for Black Gum is minimal and as follows:

After his life falls apart, a young man must navigate a drug-fueled world of juggalos and transients with Shane, a lowlife occultist with a penchant for body modification.

It's not the kind of thing I would normally seek out but, after reading JDOs blog for a while, I became intrigued and felt that it was also about time I gave back so bought the first three books via the link above. I think I'll write more about them later as a whole rather than as individual items.

I don't normally read more than one book concurrently but with one being fiction and the other non-fiction it's easier to keep them separate and distinct in the memory, and who knows what strange juxtapositions may come of it.

Maybe I should do this more often.

Writing

The Write365 project was not so much a social experiment but certainly a product of the social age. 2014 was dominated by the call to be authentic, open, honest and vulnerable online. A number of daily posts discussed this leading to Chapter/Lesson 7 of the "book" being called What is authenticity?

I defined two concepts during this time: the identity paradox and the imposition of self; the latter builds on the former.

We associate with various groups: family, friends, work colleagues, but will only ever be able to share a subset of our interests. We may be extremely close to family members and have a number of things in common due to that constant proximity but, at the same time, have completely different taste in films, books, music. We might not be able to discuss the theological influences of the Matrix trilogy with fellow office workers or the finer points of Sartre's notion that man is "condemned to be free" across the dinner table.

At any point in life, we might not always be able to really be "us".

Writing, especially online, allows us to be the version of ourselves we are rarely fortunate enough to be. And therein lies the paradox — to the observer it appears that the self we manifest through our writing is inauthentic compared to that which inhabits life off the page.

A current trend, especially from employers looking to promote equal opportunities and improve mental health in the workplace, is to bring our full selves to the table. But, let's face it, when is that ever really possible? It would usually be inappropriate to do so. Our public filters and social protocols dictate how we should act and who we should "be" in any given situation, for all the talk of authenticity we are but components of the systems we inhabit. We must play our part within the parameters we are given or the system collapses. We normally cannot imprint ourselves upon the system unless it is one we control.

This lead me to think about those we call eccentrics — what if eccentricity is not 'odd' but actually the epitome of authenticity? What if eccentrics are those who have abandoned all pretence by whatever means and are genuinely being themselves regardless of the situation, external influence or opinion?

For the rest of us, however, the imposition of authenticity is the imposition of the self.

And that's it...

CJ Chilvers writes "The only design I’ve found that keeps people reading to the end of any newsletter is chaos." I, however, like to have at least a little structure, even though I've started to mix that up a little bit.

His reason for embracing chaos?

"A formal, well-scrubbed newsletter with a clear hierarchy, doesn’t seem personal. It doesn’t seem like you could reply and get an answer. It doesn’t seem like you could find something novel, like a really unique, sharable link. It seems corporate."

Rest assured, I will always answer any reply and, maybe, I can continue to mix things up a bit. If you've made it this far perhaps, as CJ likes to say, you've disproved his theory but I'd like to know what you think.

Until then, stay safe.
Colin.


  1. A paean is a song, lyric poem, piece of writing, etc. expressing triumph or thanksgiving or enthusiastic praise. 


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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog