Just before Christmas I stopped painting and have not really been able to go back to it. Perhaps it is something like a midlife crisis, I don't know, but over the past few months I have struggled to do anything productive. In the face of what seems like a existential crisis, I began to write again. I haven't written much since I finished the draft for my book on Mary Mitford which is now in the hands of my daughter as she attempts to complete it to a finished version. I started writing about art and aesthetics but that slowly turned to directly personal issues concerning the various artistic, political, and philosophical dilemmas that have haunted me all my life. I have psychologically relived the strange events that led to my commitment to largely disengage from most of the traditional aspirations of life. I won't go into the specifics of this philosophical decision because, for one, I am writing about them, and for another, they are too troubling and off colour for this blog. But the struggle itself can be expressed this way - Imagine that you are in some past society/empire. Let's say for the sake of argument you find yourself in the Aztec empire in Mexico at the height of its power in the 1400s. But unlike most of those around you, you reject pretty much all the cornerstones of your society. You don't believe in Sun worship, you don't believe in the aristocratic structure, you reject their slavery and their militarism, and you don't believe in the gender relations. What does one do in this situation? This is what I more or less have experienced in my own society. I don't believe in the major religions of our society, I reject capitalism, I don't believe in competition or organized sports, I reject the hierarchy of the education system, I reject much of the institutional structures of modern science and the technical-rational ideology that motivates it, I totally reject the militarism of our society, and I reject the gender inequalities that I see around me and to which my daughters will be subjected. In the face of all of this, I have spent much of my life disengaged from the ambitions and desires of those around me. I did a master's degree but I couldn't bring myself to stay in academia because I didn't believe in the hierarchy of the university system. As a white male, I rejected a great deal of career notions because I don't want to be another white male seeking worldly success when the gender inequalities demand that men step back from many ambitions so that we don't just perpetuate these inequalities. This is the reason that when I was in university I eventually began to consciously stay quite in many situations. As a white male, I had been trained from youth to speak up in almost any situation, and I eventually began to realize that women and racialized people had been more or less trained to be more reticent. I didn't want to perpetuate those relations. (I admit that I wasn't always successful in this effort, but I tried and continue to try). The upshot of all of this is that, right or wrong, I have lived outside of much of the traditional efforts of society. I have stood up for things that I believe are right and have sometimes been an activists, but I admit that in the light of the forces gathered against different beliefs, I have often hidden myself away from a society from which I feel so alienated. I might be indicted for not doing enough to change a society that I so thoroughly rejected. Perhaps, as the English would say, 'It's a fair cop.' But this has been my survival mechanism. Now that I have turned 50, I feel disheartened and troubled by my life-choices but feel that I have made the only choices that I could. Other dilemmas have also been part of my explorations, such as my conflicting philosophical beliefs. When I was still young I studied buddhism and meditation at the Naropa Institute (Now Naropa University). And even here I have always been conflicted. I understand the goals of Buddhism's core beliefs of peacefulness of mind, but I have also felt that passion, and sometimes anger can play a central role in creativity. Buddhism looks for a transcendence from suffering, but I think pain and suffering can be a central part of life and an essential part of experience. I have studied philosophy (Buddhist and Western as well) but have found no way out of these dilemmas.
My conflicts continue. Perhaps by writing about them I will find some answers. I don't know. I guess everyone has to find their own way through such dilemmas in life.
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