The mundane is every quiet thing that you do that falls in line with maintaining your lifestyle. It’s those things you do every day that could easily be considered boring by some. But not to me. I have a fixation with the mundane. I look for it in all of the media I consume – film, YouTube videos, books, music. I look for the lulls in conversation, washing the dishes, lighting a gas stove, putting a plate of food before a loved one or stranger, phone nowhere in sight, boiling of the kettle, the whistle of the wind. It’s pure magic. The mundane is fascinating because we all have access to it.

There are things that we must do as humans living in this society to maintain ourselves. How does my coworker organize her computer cables? How do the mail people deliver letters – do they toss them into mail slots, place them with care, shove them in with the grocery store sale catalogs? How long do different drivers wait before flicking on their blinkers when nearing a protected right turn?

If I invite a partner into my life, I want to see how he washes the dishes. Is he thoughtful about turning off the water between lathering the dishes? Does he leave the sponge in the sink after he’s done? How much soap does he put on the sponge? And the all important – which side of the sponge does he put the soap on? Mundane tasks say a lot about a person. They express to me if someone is thoughtful or thoughtless. Now, of course there are different ways of doing things. But if the individual has no method, no rhythm, no attention to their task, then I obtain a lot of information from this.

The way people perform menial tasks reveal parts of their personality that they can either corroborate with their words, or refuse with their words. If a man is thoughtless about a simple task like washing the dishes, I can understand him to be thoughtless in other aspects of his life. If performing mundane tasks frustrates him, then I can deduce that he has not spent much time alone and in a meditative state. And those people who cannot be alone with their thoughts are the most dangerous kind.

The way people approach the mundane shows how much time they’ve spent enthralled in thoughtful practice of living, regardless of the action they are performing. So someone’s way of living the mundanity of their lives reveals their quirks, and potentially their thought patterns. I have a fondness for people who have an intentional way of performing their daily tasks. They are considerate to the details.

Think of a film in which two people sit in a cafe across from one another. The camera views them from the outside of the cafe, but the audio is clear as the glass in front of the actors. We can tell the relationship of the two people by the way that they interact with the objects on the table. Let’s take a man and a woman. The man looks down at the cloth napkin on his plate. He moves his right arm (of course the one closest to the camera) and grasps the napkin tightly before dragging it downward. He looks up to see the woman has already put her napkin on her lap.

His interaction with the prop – the napkin – speaks volumes, especially if the scene is elongated to pause at the glance he gives the woman. Based on how he’s handled the napkin, we can gather that the man may not be familiar with the protocol of cloth napkins. What should he do with it? Ah, yes he remembers going to a nice restaurant for his great aunt’s birthday and she requested he place the napkin in his lap. He should do the same here. This cafe looks nice. He hasn’t been to the cafe before? He picked it because he though the woman would like it?

There is a tremendous amount of information to be gathered from a person’s relationship with the objects around them. It could be argued that the previous passage has more to do with social mannerisms than with the mundane. But there is an intertwine between the two. For example, we would typically frown upon someone using an old t-shirt as a kitchen sponge. The mundane is not without its own rules. But the systems of variations, the way that move our hands, concentrate, hunch our backs – well, that’s the beauty of the mundane.

Life’s beauty is in the quiet details that make our daily meals, clean our homes, greet our pets and children and partners, sit to read or write or watch a show. If we look at big life events, we remember the details. Those are undeniably the morsels that keep our recollection intact. When we remember people of our pasts, we find that we zoom in on something small, maybe something irrelevant to the totality of the relationship. We remember the patterns that people form. Our memory is tied to the smell of the day we ran through a field and found some old bricks from the nearby factory, the feel of a cow’s tongue and teeth as it wrapped around the grass in your hand, the taste of warm raspberries picked right from the bushes.

Being astute and aware of our mundane experiences brings us into the wrap of the present, that terrorizing place we seek to flee from. Because if we just stayed in the present for a second longer, maybe we would think everything would lose its place and we would lose grasp over our lives. If we stayed in the present for a moment longer, we would be safe and in this modern world, that’s often an unfamiliar feeling. A frightening one even.

The mundane ties us to history, place, and spirals us in time as was always intended. It confronts us with the surety of our mortality. And so the mundane brings us into immortality. It weaves us into the narrative cycles of life. Large events happen, we are shocked. We may weep. We may seek comfort from others, neglecting to pay attention to the unbearable simplicity of the going about our day. Because that would just be too much. Wouldn’t it be too much to act as though nothing big happened? If we practiced living in the realm of the mundane and rejected our god-like egos, would we then lose something precious?

Or would our lives in simple, daily action honor the large events in an even more poignant manner? Would it be insulting, anarchical to continue living as we did the days prior when life was less wrought with those stories that are going to make history?

Thoughts on Action

The following thoughts are a response to the craze of constant and maddening action we are encouraged to take through our societal programming. There is an intense concentration of orientation and prompt to make continuous moves. Working to force events and banging your head against a wall makes for the sick climate we currently live in. Every time I go on LinkedIn (why do I torture myself), “wise words” are spat at me to keep going, slam my body repeatedly against closed doors, and endlessly, fitfully cram myself into arenas designed by select people who make a lot of money by defining what “success” looks like.

Enough with action. That is, enough with uninspired, outwardly-directed or authorized action. Action is a deeply internal inspiration that lives inside of us, and is unique to each individual. The action of one individual may look utterly stupid, futile, or lazy from the perspective of another. A sick society will have you following online gurus who simply cannot know your entire circumstance, dreams, and trajectory.

Action is a powerful force that can be used for your good, or a misguided attempt at moving along with what society will have you think is good for you. Inspired action is the thing of real power. It comes straight from the highest version of yourself and guides you through your one-of-a-kind life experience. Ignoring my inspired action (which is not so coincidently also the path of least resistance) has led me down some roads that were forced and made me feel unlike myself. Listening to society’s actions for me has landed me in a split identification. There’s the me that interacts on a superficial level in the work arena, and the me that interacts with myself and the people in know personally outside of work.

How can we be sound-minded if we have such disparaging personas that we have to turn on and off multiple times a day? If we let our inspiration guide us, we can reconcile who we show to the professional world and outside of it, and live in unity with ourselves. Let us stop making ourselves sick over others telling us what action looks and feels like.

In Times of Uncertainty

It starts off as a trickle and turns to a flow then a flood. Thoughts whirl about, blending reality with imagination. And through all this, we are called to remain. Not to act well in the midst of it, but to live it. We are prodded by the universe to shed ideas we had about ourselves and our outside situations. We are engaged in the momentary lapse that is altering our course every day. It is not that we were meant to live a certain way.

I have always given myself allowance to change course in fully fledged earnest, when it was necessary. But I always felt like I was keeping my head down in anticipation of the next big life changing event. Sometimes, I would prompt these myself, by moving and changing jobs. There has been a large level of control I’ve tried to have over situations. And while I could direct larger courses to my life, it is the day to day that I have always struggled with.

Uncertainty has rested in the day to day because I have an easier time making big decisions than I do being in the aftermath of them. Rather than let life take its course, I have let society infringe its ill ideals onto me. I have let this deride me and move me farther and farther away from who I feel I am. I have let society form parts of my identity that it should have no hand in.

Where I should have waited, I jumped into action. Where I should have jumped, I waited. But these habits of mine are also necessary because they have taught me that I need to be still and sit in the places of discomfort. I need to do this so that I understand more deeply that I am not the external factors in my life. I am not even the thoughts in my head. I am the breathing house for the soul inside of me that understands uncertainty as a gift.

State of Disjoint

I’ve had a deep interest with self-identification since childhood, when I was asked odd questions like “what’s your favorite color”? Since then, I have taken on a number of personas that I’ve intentionally tried to deeply integrate into my life. In high school, I was the swimmer, surfer, and water polo player. In college, I was the good student. I had different set identities that engulfed me and drove me to spend a lot of time doing what I was doing.

There was always a lot at stake because I grew up in an abusive, broken household. And when I paid myself through college, I couldn’t jeopardize losing everything (which did end up happening). When I entered the job market, things felt all the more at stake. I had always been accountable for all of my living expenses and performance, but now I also felt accountable for defining myself within the realm of the professional world.

That meant putting a name to what I do. I need to feel a deep connection with what I do because I put importance on putting my name on my work. But I have not yet felt that. And even after receiving multiple degrees and attending coding bootcamp, I still feel completely and utterly in misalignment. When I go to work, I am playing a role and that role is not me. It is split, and that’s where I think a lot of my anxiety comes from.

There is a disjoint between who I feel I am, what I know feels right, and what I do with my time. That is not to say that I am suggesting that I should always be sipping coffee at a local shop, or volunteering. But to me, this suggests that there is an unshakeable desire within me to find work that makes me feel as if I’m not living two totally separate identities – the me inside work, and the me outside work.

This feeling of disjointness manifests itself in ways that are detrimental to my mental, physical, and spiritual health. When I get off work, I am thrust into recovery mode. And every time I am back in alignment with myself, it’s time to hop back into my work persona. The weekends allow me to be myself, but that cannot make up for the five other days. Physically, I have been enduring aches and pains from tensing and holding. I feel the energy of that tightness rushing through me as I sit to write this. It’s very real and very visceral and very likely psychosomatic.

When it comes to my spiritual health and living at least two personas – work and self – I can pinpoint that anxiety comes from that disjointedness. There is nothing as stressful in my life that I cannot tolerate and better as doing something nearly every day that is not in alignment with who I am.

I can pinpoint the shift and identification of this misalignment and disjointed feeling. I started doing animal rights activism in November 2018 when I went to my first pig vigil. I watched as hundreds of pigs in several trucks were driven into a slaughterhouse in Vernon, California. After that single night, something clicked in me and I knew that I had to live who I was.

The catalyst for this feeling was spiritual. This monumental shift was prompted by understanding suffering outside of myself and recognizing that staying in my lane and toiling for someone else for several decades in an office was not going to fulfill me, or even make me feel okay. The opening of my spirituality was beyond myself. I had dabbled before in spiritually but the push into true understanding came from the roughest place I could have positioned myself in. A place that had nothing (and everything) to do with me.

I began to understand why people talked about finding your passion and sparking that inner light. That had happened. And the disjointedness nestled itself not as a subconscious idea that I could bury but a glaring, unavoidable sinking feeling that I’m wasting my life.

Spirituality is born from an egoic concern to place oneself within the world. And that the ego death is the aftermath of opening the doors of spirituality with purpose. From hereforth, the process of bringing peace to the soul by creating alignment in outward and inward identity looks like a selfish act. But it is the most powerful expression of human self love. Doing the work to be the same person we are on the outside and inside, and having our purpose (and job) reflect that, propels humanity to new heights.

A Practice in Determining Listeners

Vocalizations are not an entirely immersive medium of communication. The give-and-take in conversation is frequently riddled with preconceived ideas that cause two different tracks of data to be transmitted. At any given point, there are many roles at play. Let us take a two-person conversation.

There is an instigator of the verbal conversation. There is typically acknowledgment and response from the other party (verbal or non-verbal). The conversation begins with a given tone, scenario indicating the social constraints that the conversation is going to follow, setting (quiet, loud, in public, in private), incoming understandings of the competency of the other person, understandings of the social prowess of the other person. Power plays an important role in conversation. One of the most trying ways in which power is exhibited is through the use of listening.

Determining listeners is a potent way to determine the relationship occurring, as represented by the sample of communications had with another individual. When we are trying to understanding the restraints, formalities, pleasantness, and hierarchical relationship through our conversations with another person, one of the biggest indicators can be the way in which the other person is displaying the act of listening.

Learning to listen means engaging particular methods. These methods include: repeating what the other person says back in different words (in so, acknowledging that one has understood the vocalization); refraining from thinking about what one is going to say next while the other person is speaking; referring back to points made by the other party later during the conversation; and using body language to indicate full attentiveness (nodding, leaning forward). Listeners display a learned ability that speaks volumes to their ability to engage in mutually beneficial discourse.

Individuals trying to exercise power over the other person that they are conversing with may use some of the following methods: repeatedly interrupting while the other person is talking; neglecting to acknowledge what the other party has just stated and continuing the conversation on their own accord (this results in the conversation sounding disjointed); stating something exactly as the other person said earlier in the conversation without acknowledging the origination of the thought.

While power can be exercised during conversation, the willingness of the other party to continue the relationship is what the actual relationship hinges on. When people cannot or will not learn to listen effectively and be a full participant in a two-person conversation, the other party may choose to refrain from engaging in further conversations with the domineering party.

Determining listeners is surely an excellent way to choose whom to frequently interact with. Far more kind and compassionate communications can occur between parties who are fully present as listeners in a conversation.

Power through conversation is not new; and paying close attention to the other party’s method in which they interact during the conversation can say a lot about their regard for the relationship.

Valuation, Visibility, and Retraction

In the bounds of our current world, some public voices is under consistent, overt scrutiny. I say some because not all public displays of voice are criticized as openly as others. The more attention an individual voice accumulates, the more susceptible he or she is to criticism. But not being so blatantly perceived as a public figure does not discount the value of an individual’s public statements.

While working in private investigations and digging through the body of content on the social media of my subjects, I was often astonished by their representation of themselves. That is to say, I think there was a disparity between these individual’s valuation of their voice and its actual meaning, relevance, and consequence. Individualized media, wherein an individual has a unique URL on a website, on which they are free to share their words, images, and other expressions, has potent meaning.

And I’m not just talking about the legal repercussions of publishing instances of written word or images. I am talking about valuation. I use this term because I think a lot of people do not completely understand that even under the guise of believed anonymity, their emissions matter. For example, when an individual takes part in the creation of the dramatization of a particular news event, he or she is in fact contributing to the narrative surrounding the event.

I have compiled some methods in which the individual can understand his or her contribution and value, whether or not he or she has a large following, or sense of visibility.

Valuation of Professional Persona

In my final week of coding bootcamp, it was suggested that we provide LinkedIn recommendations for the individuals that we worked with in groups during the course. This struck me as quite unnatural. As a new developer, I was asked to provide a gauge by which employers and other LinkedIn users would be able to then gauge another individual’s ability to perform at a job. Some may say that it’s “not a big deal” to provide recommendations.

And it’s not that I didn’t think that there were some individuals in class who would excel at a web development position. It is that I place value on my recommendations in such a way that I have to feel very confident about what I am saying, at least in that moment. I would be doing a disservice to my classmates by outlining such a microscopic part of their work, or by giving them a recommendation simply because I was prompted by the program.

When an opinion on someone else’s work is given out too freely, I am often struck by how exaggerated the praises are. Creating an overall higher valuation of my own opinions has quieted me. When I valued myself less and when I regarded myself as invisible to public scrutiny, I may have been quicker to provide recommendations and loud remarks about the earth shaking impact that an individual I barely know has made on the future of mankind.

In a transaction of recommendations like those on LinkedIn, we see an unsubstantiated view. Does the giving party value his or her recommendation, or is he or she simply giving the recommendation in hopes to receive one in return? Would the giving party speak the same way about that person around his or her friends? Or did the giving party feel pressured to speak a particular way about the person whom he or she is recommending. Now there’s also a question as to how the recommender wants to be perceived. Because remember, the recommendations also appear on the recommender’s LinkedIn profile.

Pride in Voice

While we should not have to live in fear of our unique voices, we should have a general consciousness of the weight of our voice. Even if we have not garnered attention in the public sphere and recognition of our mode of vocalization, we need to be aware that we contribute at least to a body of opinion, stance, and discourse. By putting more value on our voice, we can think more thoroughly about what conversations we are interjecting in. And we can evaluate whether it is even necessary or concerning that we engage with those conversations.

If you took a sample of the comments and other written material that you have published online, would you think this content was representative of your true self? Would you be displaying what you aspire to become, or are you presenting the part of you that is sad, alone, malevolent, and unfamiliar? I have read countless comments that I would categorize as unnecessary. There is a superficial way to place value on your written statements. That is, you place value on the emotional response you have in that moment of writing, your limited understanding of the situation, and your need to be part of a critical mass of commenters. Thoughts prompted by urgency and immediate heightened emotion are sometimes lacking depth, and pouring into an avalanche of voices is a sport of hysteria.

When we take pride in our voice, we do not need to be embarrassed if we do not feel the same way in the future. We can live in assurance that in that moment, we valued our written body of work. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, one of the characters says:

“The pressure to make public retractions of past statements – there’s something medieval about it. What does it mean, anyways, to ‘retract’ what you’ve done? How can anyone state categorically that a thought he once had is no longer valid?” (179)

One of the theme of The Unbearable Lightness is the impermanence of life. Things occur once, and then they are done. If all moments are just that, valuation becomes all the more immanently important. In this moment, you have the opportunity to value your voice. In this moment, you have the opportunity to be in alignment with your values. In this moment,  you have the opportunity to use your voice in its full power. In this moment, you have to ability to value your words.

Our written trail is part of the culmination of our lives. Some of what we say has little social weight (depending on our social reach), but all of it is part of a progression. Valuation of your voice is an incredible power that you can give yourself. Nobody has to come and award your voice value. If you respect your voice and understand its value, you will have done yourself justice by coming closer into alignment with comprehending just how much you matter.

Personal Branding

There’s a hyper focus on personal branding, and it’s become especially present on social media sites such as LinkedIn. Career coaches and “experts” tell us left and right that we need to make ourselves into brands. Through this process, we dehumanize our complexities and condense ourselves into masked individuals seeking a clearly-spun outcome.

I expect that personal branding is a thing of the times of social media, and that people will stop cornering themselves in like this once the needs for privacy, authenticity, and interpersonal transparency overcome the need for public showmanship and calculated exposure. In long-winded cases of personal branding, I see many factors that unify the act of personal branding. While individuals try to differentiate themselves to the point of creating their public and online lives as a spectacle, they render themselves undeniably within a specific category of people who seek outer acknowledgement as an entity.

In personal branding, individuals use their names and a carefully manipulated version of who/what they want the public to see. Through this, they build a following based on specific notes that they want to accentuate, leaving out anything they would rather not be part of their personal brand. The thing is, people are not brands. They can advertise themselves under the guise of brands, but in doing so, they limit the range of reach they have. All too often, we see that people remain fixed on singular tones. People are not brands because people are not salable. However, we currently live in a society wherein their talents, endeavors, outputs, and abilities are.

mountains photo by samsommer

The issue is that people aren’t able to distinguish their names on a social media website like LinkedIn, with the person that they are off of it. In this, I mean that people who are very active on social media seem to make a false, and internalized connection between their interactions on there with their in-person interactions. They get offended when others do not abide by their internalized protocols. Social media is dissociative and altogether dependent on arbitrary connections, assumed or blatant tactics of false resourcefulness, and heightening of self importance. With the invention and propagation of the personal brand as it is currently, people come to create more fractions in their already muddled identities. This is especially pertinent as conversations about mental illness, health, ethnicity, and more open up and we liberate some of the deeply engrained, malicious ideas we have held onto for so long.

In personal branding, individuals attempt to sum up the most succinct, regulated, and neutrally-provocative version of what they think will appeal to others.

By this I mean that people adopt a foreign sense of themselves within the terms of what is deemed socially acceptable for their circumstance. Those actively looking for positions at a company turn their personal brands into a tale of unwavering loyalty, displayed results, and minimized self-expression. They pawn themselves off as salable figures to already established cultures and environments that may not be conducive to the individual’s real goals and persona. But through personal branding, the brand trumps the persona. The brand rules and holds the reigns. It does so even if it misrepresents the actual person behind the brand. This incongruence between the two hosts an altogether different set of implications that are not thoroughly discussed here but are worth consideration.

Personal branding is focused on singular aspects, without so much allowing for the intellectual and evolutionary human-level practice of change and alteration. We cast ourselves the roles in this society that we want to play, and we do so by branding our appearances. And these appearances hold presence on social media. The personal branding narrative is fraught with the idea that we need to make ourselves outwardly appealing to an audience. This in turn continues to diminish the growths we have claimed in our society through individual expression and the journey of growth. We have come so far as to tell children that they do not need to worry whether or not others like them, while hopping onto Facebook for a quick rush of approval.

Personal branding has turned us into stale mock-ups that are designed, groomed, and maintained under particular pretense.

Attempting to meld some personality attributes (“hey girlies”,  “Mountain Dew addict”) into personal branding also comes off as sheepishly inhuman or outlandishly irrelevant. Displaying normalized “quirks” on a professional platform is one of the trademarks of personal branding. Another avenue of personal branding is claiming and aiming to satiate a niche group. Blog and news outlets regularly advise that those seeking to make an impact or begin a business must find their niche. This principle lies in antiquated ideas of callings and remaining at your station. We are told to become experts in a singular arena of our choosing, and to ensure that there is a market there for the information we are going to formulate to sell.

mountains photo by Nathan Dumlao

The outcome of so much personal branding is the selling of impotent information. We buy information from personal brands, believing that there is something proprietary, easier, faster, and more effective about the content. But the information we buy often holds little to no more power and pertinence than that which we could have obtained through purchasing a book or doing some independent research.

We are being sold on the idea of personal branding, when many of the existing personal brands take advantage of their sales formulation to repackage otherwise free, cheap, or easily gotten information.

Personal branding is an unfortunate ideology that is clinging on through the turmoils of our existences on social media. We had better come to terms fast with the fact – we are not our social media selves. That self is no closer to our true selves than if we were to make a bobble head figurine in our likeness. Perhaps the reason why personal branding has gotten so popular is the social power that individuals harness through these means. Some people find it rather lucrative to sell the idea of their online selves – oiled, toned, and trim on the beach sells a workout DVD.

Others take too personally the online happenings, getting high off likes and comments. The attention feels good. They claim expertise at the slightest indication that someone has benefitted from something they have posted. Still others claims that their lives have changed as a result of a single post, video, or song. If this is true and that incident has indeed changed their lives, they see it not as part of a series of catalysts that have lead them to make change, but as an isolated moment of reason or encouragement.

We need to begin to see personal branding as a function of hiding. We have come to believe over the past few years that we are safe if we are behind a company, title, monetary worth, or other. And with personal branding, we feel safe behind an outer-facing persona. All criticisms are funneled through this entity, and in this, we can dissociate the criticism from reaching our core selves. Instead, we can calculatedly reposition our personal branding to accommodate for the inadequacies that are proposed by our audiences. We can say that others do not indeed know what we are really like, and the wall of branding can serve as an easy barrier mitigating the  slights of the outside world versus our vulnerabilities.

Inspirational Quotes

Inspirational quotes are seemingly sound morsels of advice, but are in fact isolated and out of context. We cling to them because we seek immediate reassurance or prompt revelation. In inspirational quotes, we look for those things that we want to continue to tell ourselves and that ease us of the pain of confronting our truth and not the truth of others. These quotes are cycled through our culture, exhibited on social media, repurposed (eg. Keep Calm and …), and even modified. Some of them are misattributed widely. For example, you may have seen the following: “Well-behaved women seldom make history” and various thereof. The quote is often attributed to Marilyn Monroe and others, but was actually originally written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in 1976.

The world of inspirational quotes is monoselective, preferring to focus on a singular portion of text because it appears accessible. Quotes like these are taken for themselves, without consideration of the original context in which they were used. They are misappropriated at times, and even transfigured and placed into categories and settings that do not agree with their original placement. But the greatest damage is not perhaps that these quotes are cherry-picked and shoved around. It’s that they are a means by which people seek to rest their case. When used in other texts, those that do not account for the context of the original quote do the quote and its author a disservice and potentially, misconstrued sense of reputation.

Photo of flamingo by Kyaw Tun

Inspirational quotes are the candy bar of intellectualism.

The fizz and spark of inspirational quotes may linger on the palate of some, but for others, the heart-pummeling and surge of confidence quickly escape. They are quick to ingest and may leave an aftertaste. But they offer minimal substance, again because they are decontextualized. Their popularity is likely due to the ease with which people can grab and chew them. In our culture, we use the words of great figures without reading their work. We begin to associate people simply through recognition of a phrase used in popular culture. They linger through bumper stickers and sudden posts on Instagram. We repurpose them to our liking, and to our own contexts. We do so sometimes without understanding the weight of the words in their original space.

As with many things in our culture, we seek immediacy. Inspirational quotes serve to instantaneously satiate readers. We seek no further explanation and contextual information. The inspirational quote takes the meaning that we give it, no matter how distorted it is from the source. When we make our meanings so granular, we fail to develop a proper narrative around our goals and intentions. If we seek lasting motivation, we need to find purpose in ourselves and not in the floating, disconnected words of others.