The Gap

A friend who lectures asked on Twitter for advice for first year Creative Media students. Having myself once been a first year Creative Media student I thought about what I would have liked to have heard, and I immediately thought of this Ira Glass quote I saw online a while ago.

This articulated something which had bugged me for years. When I started making creative things something just didn’t feel right. Much of it when completed didn’t please me, but I found it hard to understand why. It can be very frustrating, and you want to give up, but its that very perception that you know something isn’t right that is evidence you have taste, and if you have taste, and you work hard – you can eventually make satisfying work. Being aware of that gap is vital.

It reminds me of advice you get when you start meditating. In meditation we try to rest our attention on our breath, and to keep it there. Naturally thoughts will arise, but the trick is to notice when they appear, and not get carried away by them. We use two tools here – mindfulness and awareness. Mindfulness is the ability to focus the attention on the breath – and awareness is the technique by which we realise thoughts are arising or that we are lost in them. It was reassuring to learn that recognizing that you had stopped being mindful of the breath and had been lost in thoughts was important, because it meant you were aware of the situation. Without recognising that, you would simply sit there thinking away and missing the point.

It is the same with creative work. If you were not frustrated by your early work – if you were not dissatisfied, then, quite possibly it is because you are not aware that it is not living up to your standards (alternatively, you might be making brilliant work from the get go – well done you!). Maybe you have no standards, if not you will continue to make poor work. But if you notice that gap – that means you have taste and you are aware of your shortcomings, and this will help you later. But you have to do lots of work. Similarly, in meditation, if you notice time and time again you are drifting into thought this too is important and helpful, but you need to then put in the hours on the cushion and develop the ability to stay with the breath.

Above us only sky

A few years ago I saw footage of one of the Apollo moon missions flying away from Earth and the sight of seeing a piece of man-made technology set against our shrinking planet had a slightly discombobulating affect on me. It signified something huge, that my brain couldn’t quite comprehend. Although I can intellectually understand that we have travelled in space, I only really get the proper immensity of it when I see things like that.

This photo of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers, taken a few years before their destruction, had a similar affect when I came across it yesterday. There is something genuinely awe-inspiring about a scene like that, and at the same time really surreal.

A picture paints a thousand words isn’t really accurate. Sometimes no amount of words can get remotely close to describing a picture.

The story of this remarkable shot can be found here.

Agnosticism and Atheism

For some years now I have considered myself (when asked for my position) an ‘agnostic’ on the subject of the existence of God. To me this is the most natural and honest position with regards my beliefs. I am not comfortable with the word atheist, as it implied I was taking a definite stance on something I am not sure about. I have opinions and ideas about the nature of God which don’t naturally fit into any such definition, but ‘agnostic’ usually seems to be the easiest quick-fit label.

However, I came across an interesting new (to me) perspective on this. The American magician Penn Jillette argues that there are two questions here:

1. Is there a God?
2. Do you believe in God?

The first question is the one I would answer with agnosticism. I don’t know. However, if I consider the second question, Jillette argues there are only two answers. Belief is ‘active’ – you either do or do not believe. He then argues that if you say you ‘don’t know if there is a God’ then you cannot actively believe in God, thus you do not believe in God. Making you an atheist.

I’m not sure his logic is 100% infallible here – you could conceivably believe something to exist that you do not ‘know’ exists, but it is an interesting line of thought.

Ultimately however, I still would not call myself an atheist for two reasons: Firstly, my beliefs don’t neatly fit into a debate about whether an objective entity called ‘God’ exists or not. I think ‘God’ is a much more complex idea that might possibly exist beyond the comprehension of everyday human thought and may only be ‘known’ via direct experience that cannot be translated into speech. So my “don’t know” actually comes with terms and conditions attached. I don’t know….but I have some ideas…

Secondly, labels like this are not very helpful. What’s much better than lumping people into two brigades, is to talk and think about these things and to share ideas. Our beliefs are much too interesting and complex to hold inside one word.