quiet, i’m visualizing my future porsche

5/5/10

I watched just twenty minutes of Project Runway this season while Tessa was convalescing on the couch. However, it was the finale episode, and it was long enough to see yet another contestant behave in a way I find utterly stupefying. For those of you who don’t watch the show, don’t worry, it’s only a metaphor.

Anytways, “Project Runway” had winnowed the contestants down to four designers: two had already made it to Fashion Week, and two others were competing for the third spot: Mila (a vaguely dour 40-year-old woman from Dallas) and Jay (a 31-year-old slightly-queenie guy living in San Francisco). During one of his tête-a-têtes with the camera, Jay was utterly derisive, positively dripping with disdain for Mila, saying he wasn’t even thinking about her, and was only really competing with the two guys who were already in.

jaynicolassario.jpg milahermanovski.jpg

Jay vs. Mila

Of course, Jay doesn’t beat the other guys – he doesn’t even get past Mila, and doesn’t go to Bryant Park. Obvious enough, but it led me to thinking: Yes, I know it’s a reality show, but once you look at it philosophically, why the fuck do people say such stupid fucking things? In what way was he helping himself? He obviously believed it would have cost him something to stay silent, or to offer even faint praise (as Mila did to him).

While talking to Tessa this afternoon, she summed it up: all of us have a very complicated relationship with the things we don’t have yet. Entire industries have sprung out of the psychology of want and the self-help of desire, the business of getting things you think you deserve. The most prevalent right now – and the easiest to mock – is The Secret, with its pseudoscience and blaming the victim (“you didn’t want it enough!”), but like all belief systems, it contains shreds of truth.

One could say Jay was just thinking in the Secret’s own vernacular of violent positivity; if he put his sights higher than Mila, he would surely pass her by. Tessa mentioned all the visualization work done by modern athletes, “pre-enacting” both the race and standing on the podium. There’s no room for losers on Sportscenter or at auditions; hell, there’s not even room for people who think they might lose.

I tend to think Jay suffered from one of the more tedious character flaws of young artists – the belief that your own hubris is part of the art itself, and if you drop your pretense, the art will suffer in kind. Kind of like “of course I’m an asshole – I shatter preconceptions, just like my novels! If I offer pleasantries to you, I’m not being honest to my work!” I say this as someone who has no doubt pulled something similar out of my ass.

But here’s the thing: that shit don’t work. It always comes back to the art in question, or the actor in question, or, in business, your sales, your profit, your performance. If you say something asinine en route to your end result, that doesn’t make you a wunderkind or a failure, it just makes you asinine.

There was only one person who said he was the greatest while he was the greatest, and that was Muhammad Ali. All the other greats let their work do the talking: Michael Jordan may have been a dick, but he never went on record. Wayne Gretsky, Dean Smith, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, The Beatles and Jim Henson all behaved with grace, and acted like they’d been there before.

Demurring and acting graciously doesn’t just endear you to your fellow man, it actually relieves pressure on yourself, allowing you to work without additional loss of stomach lining. To those who say they need the extra pressure to turn in brilliance, I say horseshit: if you’re meant to be what you seek, there’s more than enough pressure.

I know being well-mannered about your goals makes for boring television, and you’re never going to sell a book entitled “The REAL Secret: The Universe Doesn’t CARE What You Want” but I’ve seen enough nice guys (and girls) finish first to wonder why everyone else is being such a dick about it.

0 thoughts on “quiet, i’m visualizing my future porsche

  1. Anne

    First of all, I think shows like Project Runway are similar to pro wrestling and Jerry Springer: Lots of over-the-top, vaguely scripted drama is built in to engage the audience. I don’t believe about 60% of it.
    Second, graciousness and humility are endangered species in our chest-thumping, ME ME ME, get-ahead-at-all-costs culture these days. Why else would the extreme drama kings and queens get the big audience numbers? Beck, Limbaugh, Michael Moore, and I’ll throw my beloved Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart in there too just for being deliberately in-your-face (even though I agree with them).
    Thank god for the Ellen Degenereses in popular entertainment.

    Reply
  2. dean

    But don’t forget the Rasheed Wallace Corollary:
    When he announced his freshman year that he wouldn’t lose to dook, he was awesome, baby!!

    Reply
  3. Bud

    Great topic.
    The reality underlying The Secret (and Think and Grow Rich, etc) is that we will give ourselves what we want – if we want it enough. At least that’s how it works with me.
    To illustrate, I have found a way to use my small desires in service of my larger ones.
    I have a wishlist, usually populated with small desires (music, tools, bike stuff). When I have stuff to do that I don’t want to do (ie pretty much always!), I bribe myself with a wishlist item, making a deal with myself to give it to myself if I do X,Y and/or Z. As I do the unpleasant task(s), I look at the wishlist often so the desired trinket is tangible.
    Items don’t stay on the wishlist very long! Fortunately, items don’t linger much on the to-do list either.
    I don’t believe that “all of us have a very complicated relationship with the things we don’t have yet”. I believe it’s possible to have a simple, straightforward relationship with those things if 1) you know what they are; 2) you spend enough time focusing on them to feel them viscerally; and 3) you stay focused on them and continue to desire them as you do the necessary work. It’s a lot easier to behave gracefully when your entire being is in tune with your goals.
    Out of sight, out of mind. Likewise: In Sight, In Mind.
    When people like Jay behave like assholes, I believe it’s because they aren’t focusing on The Prize anymore. Maybe they’ve realized they don’t want it. Maybe they don’t think they deserve it. Maybe they’ve become bored with what they originally wanted and now don’t know what they want (I think this is what happened to Tiger Woods).
    Ambiguous, unfocused desire will suck out your soul and leave you with a giant void. Instead of wanting to excel or achieve for your own benefit, you’ll instead want to beat your competition for the sake of beating them. Instead of tracking your progress based on whether you’re getting closer to your goals, you’ll track how hard you’re working (and tend to base that on how miserable that’s making you). This is what I think of when I think of complicated desire.
    As I’ve said before, I believe we don’t “deserve” the good things OR the bad things that happen to us. Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. Life on Earth is governed by the laws of physics (and psychology, probability, etc) not by mystical forces which grant our wishes like a genie if we “deserve” them.
    I’ve just added “The REAL Secret: The Universe Doesn’t CARE What You Want” to my wishlist. :-)

    Reply
  4. monheric

    OK, have to weigh in on the Secret because it manages to get it just slightly completely wrong.
    1) the universe doesn’t care what I *think* I want. Thinking is just thoughts, reality is the big time.
    2) I am *already* getting what I really want and need in my own perceptions and feelings, so look and see what that is. Right now.
    3) when I completely accept what I really want, it can change – until then it’s Karma City – reruns without end.

    Reply
  5. Kim Edens

    How was claiming they were bigger than Jesus behaving with grace? This may be one of the most arrogant statements ever made. If you’re looking for a musician who epitomizes greatness combined with sincere modesty – and I’m fully aware that this will be dismissed as just another example of my “swallowing the Kool-Aid” – no one does it better than Bruce.

    Reply

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