Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Edited Life

We have too much; at least here in America. Too. Much. This isn't some rant about the indulgence, materialism, and hyper-consumptive culture of twenty-first century America. If one doesn't find that truth to be self-evident, I doubt this post will be of interest anyway. This post is more of a question about how to find the mental space to exist contentedly amongst all of that... clutter. To be a twenty-first century American is to be a mental hoarder. Or an unwitting "psychic" hoarder. We have too much. Our minds have too much. Most of us are in need of an intervention; our mental space is so cluttered with other people's ideas that we hardly have room to store or recognize our own thoughts, even our most basic instincts. I believe that one of the most important skills one can have today is that of an editor.

An Abundance of Needs

While poverty is undoubtedly an enormous concern in America, especially as we seem to be inching closer to a third world model of wealth distribution, most of us still have our basic needs met. For a large majority of Americans, food, water, and shelter are not a grave concern. In fact, the problem for many of us is an abundance of calories, an abundance of possessions, and, especially, an abundance of distractions. Humans throughout most of history were necessarily concerned with the acquisition and sustenance of basic needs. We are hard-wired to be concerned about acquisition. This is a primal preoccupation of basic survival. Our oldest traditions and institutions - religion, family, social grouping - were built upon fulfilling these needs. However, as the industrial revolution, the rapid growth of technology, and the ascension of capitalism have been wildly successful at meeting the basic needs of those lucky enough to live in affluent countries, those well-worn institutions (religion, family, social grouping) have become less relevant. Religion is less important today than in years past. Families are split and splintered both geographically and emotionally. Our social groups have become more fractured and less cohesive. In short, we have less meaning in our lives as a result. The success of capitalism and a market-based distribution of goods and services has led to an understandable misunderstanding that the market can also provide us with the "commodity" of meaning. That is a difficult request of an amoral human creation.

We look to television, film, websites, and books to find meaning. Sometimes these cultural products do provide deep, resonant meaning. However, these goods are also tied to the marketplace, and it is very difficult to distribute any cultural product unless it meets the demands of the market - to maximize profit. This results in the values of the marketplace competing with, if not superseding, any other values intended by a cultural product. As a result, we are saturated with marketed material. We are buried by marketed goods and marketed ideas. It is a pervasive cluttering that grows like a cancer, only guided by its own principle of unfettered growth and expansion. What many of us need is a surgeon's scalpel to remove these growths as they've become malignant in our lives. Or, to put things in a more creative and empowering light, we need to become our own editors. A filmmaker needs to gather footage to make a film, but the story, narrative, and meaning is only achieved through the process of editing. Most of us have more than enough footage, what we need to master is editing.

Addition Through Subtraction 

For me, this idea of editing is a difficult process. I find myself craving stimulation, mostly for distraction. First thing every morning, I usually put on headphones and begin a podcast. I sometimes find myself antsy among silence. I goof around online too much, watch television too much, listen to too many podcasts, and seemingly find endless ways to distract myself from my own thoughts. Lately, however, I've tried to be more mindful of this. I've tried to force myself to hang out with no mediated stimulation.  This doesn't mean I'm sitting in the lotus position meditating. Sometimes I'm doing household cleaning. Other times I'm playing fetch with my dog. Occasionally, I am just sitting quietly. What has surprised me about doing this is how paradoxically stimulating it becomes. I find that editing out much of the mediated clutter in my life actually allows me to process my own thoughts, work through my problems rationally, and what is most rewarding is that I feel like my creativity begins to flow effortlessly. When I actually give my mind the space it needs to process thought, I often feel inundated with so many ideas  that I can hardly keep up with them. In fact, I keep a notebook handy so that I can jot down quick notes to review later.  It's addition by subtraction - take away what isn't needed and suddenly what is more important, more essential, and more rewarding begins to grow.

So, whether it is editing out crappy foods, mindless media distractions, too many unused possessions, or anything else that is cluttering my life, I'm playing with the idea of being an editor. What is the essential story I want to tell? What narrative am I compelled to live? Not all of my edits need to be drastic jump cuts; some of them might simply be trimming a few frames out of a sequence here and there. No matter one's editorial process, the idea is to craft meaning through reducing the unnecessary. I may only be in Act I of this process, but I already feel the story coming together with a bit more cohesion and a great deal more meaning.

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