Sheldon: "Aren't you going to check your message?"
Sheldon: "You have to check your messages, Leonard! The leaving of a message is one half of a social contract which is completed by the checking of the message. If that contract breaks down then all social contracts break down and we descend into anarchy!"
Leonard: "It must be hell inside your head."
Sheldon: [pause] "At times."
Lately a significant amount of “thought time” has been spent on the idea of conditioning. Why humans get conditioned. What areas of my life have I become conditioned. Is conditioning a benefit to my daily routine, a hindrance, or dependent on the area…
On the surface, conditioning should be a natural part of our daily lives because like all animals, we have parts of our brain that evolved specifically for quick reactive, low effort actions. Yet, as humans many of us would probably prefer to believe that evolution has allowed us to move beyond such automated, passive routines.
Studies show that humans, like all animals can be conditioned in a variety of circumstances. Natural conditioning (pan hot, stop touching it) are good. However, my mind has been traversing the conditioning that we do to ourselves, sometimes even involuntarily. Writing and Leonardo are the two areas that came together at the same time, pulled back my blinders a bit.
Writing for the sake of content and discourse is hard. Much harder than the academic writing I’ve been used to. Academic writing has formula and constraints. Verbosity is almost rewarded. Writing for things like this newsletter is open ended. Every article, newsletter, or blog post has its own ebb and flow. I was conditioned for academic writing and this transition has been more difficult than I thought.
On the other hand, learning in depth about Leonardo Da Vinci has been rewarding. This past year yielded the opportunity to grow significantly as a photographer and in part the research Da Vinci pioneered played an important role in elevating my craft. I realized I’d conditioned myself to think about photography a certain way. Linear and with defined starts and ends.
What Condition my Condition was in
Emails, research papers, presentations… Writing in this style was and still is a huge part of my day. And there is a certain power in this style. Yet through continuous reinforcement of grades and accolade I’d conditioned myself to think this was the “right” way of doing something. I spend hours mentoring and teaching how so many things in our life don’t have a right way or wrong way, they have different ways and here I was conditioning myself to fall into that same hubris trap.
Blogs, newsletters, online communities. These realms don’t have a “right” way.
Certainly patterns and process for potential success exist but there is no reward for birthing this type of literature into the world. Understanding that I had to recondition myself to new medium, recondition myself to a new creative process has been hard. There has been so much to learn and yet almost as much had to be unlearned.
For me, acceptance that the creative process is not linear, it doesn’t now follow deadlines, and it is more a skill to tame is uncomfortable. It still feels wrong to start in the middle, rough out an end, add a beginning and jump around 10 more times into different areas of the work to produce a result. To be okay with writing a paragraph and having nothing else to add. Days later write for hours into the night because whatever brain faucet that exists has been left on.
Overcoming that academic conditioning is almost visceral. Exploring ideas for the sake of exploration, through writing, is empowering. But it doesn’t mean it is comfortable yet.
Unwinding this conditioning means that topics I thought were so interesting have been abandoned. Topics that seemed to have legs for miles ended up yielding a paragraph or two. Small baby topics meant for quick questions yielded so much they aren’t even finished yet and might become something other than a newsletter entry.
Without embarking on this journey of writing, I may never have realized that I had become complacent in the development of this skill. That through conditioning I had accepted a singular way as THE truth. How very small minded of me.
Art is never finished, only abandoned
Inside the Louvre in Paris there exists a set of poplar wood boards. On those boards exists a small painting, a mere 30 inches by 21 inches. This painting is the most iconic painting in the history of mankind.
The fact that most captivated me about the Mona Lisa wasn’t the depth or emotion (of which there is a ton) nor the masterful technique of shading and the interplay of light. It was the time. Da Vinci spent 16 years layering and creating this masterpiece.
Sit back, take a breath and imagine ANYTHING in your life that you would fiddle with, tinker, enhance for 16 years. The Mona Lisa was a part of over 20% of Leonardo’s life. He moved multiple times during those 16 years; and not to a house a block away. That’s just the painting.
Consider that to create a painting like this, something the world had never seen before required thousands of hours researching light and optics, dissecting human bodies (before formaldehyde), studying drapery, water, geology, and more.
More importantly, it required Leonardo to recondition himself to do something he struggled with his entire life. Finishing. The man was notorious for not finishing works of art, commissions contracted and promises unfulfilled.
I am by no means in any class artistically with Leonardo. Yet, this past year I have revisited photos taken years before, practiced new techniques for developing emotion, and adding new “layers” to some of my favorite pictures. Conditioned to take a picture, process a picture, print or post a picture and move on. I’d never seriously considered taking skills that have another decade of refinement on them and applying to past works. Those photos were done.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned…” Attributed to Leonardo. Whether he actually said this or not I am sure is debated but I like to think this is right in his wheel house. And I totally get it now. Yet this idea, like writing, has layers of conditioning that make change feel unnatural.
Writing about this amount of time, makes me think about the craft and I am once again in awe.
“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” - Aldous Huxley
As thoughts on conditioning moved from my periphery to an active working idea, my observation of conditions grew. Like anything that becomes a focal point in one’s life, you begin to attune to decisions and actions you and those around you take; in this case conditioned actions.
Now parts of my day were filled with hyper attenuation to what I was doing and whether it was because I am conditioned to do it or because I was choosing to do it.
Lunch at 11:30…am I actually hungry or have I conditioned myself to eat at that time? Lunch itself… am I eating a meal because I am conditioned to eat at meal at that time or would a small snack suffice? Forcing myself to stay up until midnight/1ish because I am conditioned to be a night person or because I actually function more effectively at night?
Fortunately I found that there was a bit of freedom in stepping outside of my routines and looking down on them, having the opportunity to re-evaluate if actions I had taken and thoughts I had landed on were due to intellectual reasoning or simply the path of least resistance. My mind or body finding twists and turns of the river of my daily being and just getting by.
During one of the most politically charged environments of my lifetime, it was surreal to be having an introspective thought conversation. I took the opportunity to have conversations and really listen to points of view that I would normally cast aside.
By no means is this thought experiment about conditioning finished but I thought it would be worthwhile to share this delving into conditioning, maybe get you thinking about your won life and what you’ve conditioned yourself too.
Conditioning has held me back from feeling like writing can be a successful endeavor. I am more confident about this journey and continuing to improve this skill.
There is something in each of our lives that we have probably conditioned ourselves into believing or doing. Take some time, you might just find there is something out there waiting for you when you pull the covers off.
What do you see?
What does your eye tell you? Did I find some magical cave? Is it a cave at all…
Direct from the TwitterPool (Twitter + Cesspool)
As many of my readers know I like to go out and grab some trending items from Twitter as it makes for good laughs or oh shit moments…
This past week has been especially cesspooly. As I wrap this newsletter in its pretty little bow trending are things like “Cocaine Mitch”. Additionally, today (the day I finish this) the country of Germany, their head of state announced her reservations with the US’ suppression of speech of one of its US citizens.
Let me write that again. The country of GERMANY is telling America; “Yea… maybe that;s a bit to suppresive”.
Like or hate “Orange Man Bad”, I am a proponet of culture begets policy. In the 1770’s the culture of the colonies was oppression and the desire of freedom from that oppression. 250 years later, there is a strong contigent of the American population cheering the suppression of speech.
I find that disheartening.
Quote of the Week
“Suppose you have 2L of nectar and you want a vessel to keep it. There is a golden vessel of 1L capacity and there is a steel vessel of 2L capacity.
If your mind were free, you would choose the steel vessel and be happy. But your mind is conditioned to believe that gold is better than steel. So none of the vessels will make you happy. Steel one will make you feel inferior and gold one can't contain all of your nectar.”
Hey all! Another one in the can. Some of these are getting a bit more long form. Do we like the longer main article or more of the shorter articles. Feel free to give a shout out and let me know!