katharine goes to extremes

Moderation. Compromise. Reason. These words have evaporated from our modern vocabulary. I guess something had to go in order to make room for Lol and Dubstep and Gif.

Look, I’m always taking things to extremes. I always say I’m never going to do something ever again. I make sweeping generalizations about large groups of strangers based on a small sampling. I play every scenario out to its very worst case. I am forever ignoring logic and reason in pursuit of my selfish whims. So I get the instinct to be unreasonable, but I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s something in the high fructose corn syrup.

The pendulum swings too far and too fast these days. Maybe media saturation is to blame. We see so much in the course of a day that trends and memes can ignite and fizzle within the span of a week. We pretend that we can keep up so as not to look out of touch and foolish, when we should really step back and take a moment of reflection. Social media gives the false impression that strangers on the internet are anxious for your opinions. The perceived pressure to make split-second decisions encourages oversimplification of an issue. So we quickly choose our sides without all (or, sometimes, any) of the facts or careful consideration so that we can then share our knee-jerk opinion with the twitterblogoversesphere. Take away all the guns or give everyone a gun. Taxes for everyone or taxes for no one. This or that. For or against. Black or white. Red or blue. My way or no way.

I grew up in Alabama where college football reigned supreme. You were either an elephant or a tiger. Roll Tide or War Eagle. Red and white or blue and orange. Pick a team and stick with it, regardless of gender, education, or interest in sports. Most of the people I knew barely finished high school and had no aspirations to any sort of higher education, but they were relentless in their fandom. Nothing else mattered, especially during football season. God help you if your family roots for Alabama and you reckon that Auburn has a better team this season. I refused to pick a side because 1) I didn’t care and 2) I wasn’t going to care and didn’t see the value in blindly picking a sport team to “support.” In retrospect, I see that my social and family life might have fared a bit better if I’d rolled with the damned tide. I alienated more people by abstaining from football than by being atheist.

The 2000 presidential election taught us the concept of “red state” and “blue state,” these over-simplified concepts for political division (and the opposite of Canadian and British liberal and conservative parties) allowed political parties to become teams. You’re either on the red team or the blue team. Team Republican or Team Democrat. Turning politics into a team sport resulted in an uptick of conservatives and liberals trash talking each other. We’re no longer people who can overlook a few conflicts of opinion over government programs with friends.¬† We forget the qualities we liked in our individual friends and acquaintances and now judge (and dislike) them based on political beliefs. The mudslinging in online news comments and Facebook posts would make Beelzebub blush. Each new election season brings new issues on which we are increasingly divisive. The moderates get lumped in with the actual extremists and the middle ground erodes.

We live in a time where we take things to their logical extremes and then some. We have extreme sports, extreme fitness programs, extreme weight loss, extreme eating, extreme couponing, extreme hoarding. We live in excess. Extreme excess. We commit to things 110%. Everything to the max! We demand the impossible of each other and ourselves. And we endanger ourselves every time we push too hard. Why do something when you can overdo it? Are we any happier when we push to make everything be a certain way?

The world is neither red or blue nor black or white. We live in blurred purple and gray world. And those purples and grays range in values and saturation. Sometimes there’s a nice ombre blend of purple and gray. Grays and purples come with information and facts and knowledge. The more you’re willing to learn and the more receptive you are to the perspectives of others, the blurrier the edges become. It’s tough to allow the possibility that the other side has reasonable ideas and good intentions, especially once you’ve jumped aboard your own team’s bandwagon. But maybe we could stop beating each other black and blue and embrace our own inner purple.

katharine-of-all-trades

Creativity is a lot of work. It isn’t enough to be talented at a thing. One must know about other things in the world, to possess an awareness of other fields and industries or a willingness to research and learn. And then one must be able to apply a creative filter to that knowledge and produce something worthy of public consumption. And, if one is creating of one’s own volition and not for a client, one must also be able to successfully promote and sell that something.

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Versatility in creative trades is necessary. In our glorious modern world, writers must also be photographers, graphic designers must also possess web development and coding skills, actors must also sing and dance and do heavy lifting. Some creatives can switch gears elegantly and brilliantly. When I switch gears there’s grinding and scraping sounds and a bunch of unhappy people backed up behind me. The combination of creative skills can dilute the power and strength of a project or creative person, especially if those skills haven’t been mastered individually. I spread myself too thin, attempting too many feats. I haven’t mastered anything. I don’t have the patience for practicing ’til perfection. Instead, I flit around to other things with hope that I find something at which I am naturally brilliant. The trouble is that I’m interested in a variety of arts and crafts and I often fall prey to the notion of “Hell, I could do that.” Alas, hell, I could not do that. Or that. Or that, either, though I will convince myself I was kind of okay at that. I am not naturally brilliant at anything so far.

It seems impossible to commit to just one thing because of all the other things that are necessary in order to promote the first thing. You’ve written a book? Congratulations! Now make a website, start (and maintain) a blog, host a podcast, make a viral video, tweet, contact everyone in the media, host a party, develop all the skills that you would’ve originally developed had you not been an introverted misfit who turned to writing in the first place because it was the perfect creative outlet and all those other things are terrifying. To create a book, I write, I illustrate, I design, I package. To promote a book, I make videos, write press releases, build websites, create supplemental freebies. I exhaust every part of the Katharine. No skill left unused. Is it the work of genius? Do I have control issues? Or am I simply an impatient woman? The age of digital presence and hyper self-promotion feeds my creative impulses.

I’m a creative hyphenate. I’m a dabbler. I am a vessel. I am a tool. I wear a lot of hats.

But maybe I shouldn’t.

Right now I sit in a pile of my own mediocrity. Things made out of perceived necessity. Skills developed half-assedly and cobbled together from poorly written online tutorials. Great ideas destroyed by poor execution. I know just enough to be dangerous but not enough to be successful.

Eventually one has to settle down, pick a thing and obsess about it for a while. One has to stop tracking trends and following fads and simply work on one’s own style. One has to stop referring to herself as “one” because she inevitably says “Why are we so concerned with what Juan does?” That was funny once, self. (Ed: It never stops being funny, self.)

Can I commit to one creative outlet? Do I need a special adapter? Do you think I’d be brilliant at ventriloquism?