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Archive for January, 2014

We are always getting ready to live but never living – Ralph Waldo Emerson

back of girl looking out window

Do you always wish you were somewhere else? One common source of unhappiness arises when we feel discontent with our current situation but the ideal lifestyle we long for seems to be always out of reach. I remember feeling this way almost a decade ago.  As I get older, many of the dreams become either less attainable or less desirable.

Perhaps I should learn to live with presence as Alan Watts suggests.  Or as Ben Casnocha put it: “For the most part, life is one damn mundane thing after another……The choice that determines higher wisdom or enlightenment is whether you can learn to appreciate the little experiences — most of them trivial, indeed — as the precious, joyous stuff.” I guess the best of both worlds is to be able to enjoy the pleasure of dreaming and looking forward to a better future as well as the everyday experience.

In her latest book, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, Virginia Postrel explains what glamour is, how it works, and the role it plays in our society. Highly recommended. Excerpts:

Glamour is an illusion. To glamorize is to fantasize.  Glamour presents an edited version  of reality. It reveals emotional truths. It shows us what we find lacking in real life and who we want to be.

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Glamour…offers “the implicit promise of a life devoid of mediocrity.” It lifts us out of everyday experience and makes our desires seem attainable.

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Glamour is not just illusory but escapist–and the escapism it offers is emotionally specific. It does not stir adrenaline, astonishment, or laughter, distracting us from current circumstances. Rather, glamour provides an emotionally compelling alternative, focusing inarticulate longings on totems that imply change and connect us with the ideal. In the image of a rising jet or a speeding convertible, a runway model or a martial-arts hero, a beachside vista or a big-city skyline, we experience the same dream: that we might soar beyond present constraints, cast off our worries, become better, freer, more accomplished, admired, respected, and desired versions of ourselves.

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Glamour fuels dissatisfaction with the here and now, even as it makes present difficulties easier to endure by suggesting the existence of better alternatives.

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Glamour entails vulnerability less because it is illusory than because it is revealing. It reminds us what we find lacking in real life and who we want to be. It stokes discontent. If the gap between reality and desire is too great, that knowledge may be painful. “People’s fantasies are what give them problems,” said Andy Warhol. “If you didn’t have fantasies you wouldn’t have problems because you’d just take whatever was there.” Warhol, who was obsessed with glamour, did not actually reject fantasy. To the contrary, he admired and encouraged it. But he himself felt the pangs of unfulfilled longing. For all his fame, wealth, and artistic accomplishment, he was always troubled by the one thing he couldn’t achieve: beauty.

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If the longing for escape and transformation is glamour’s emotional core, and grace glamour’s central illusion, then mystery is glamour’s defining perceptual quality. “Everything at a distance turns into poetry: distant mountains, distant people, distant events,” wrote Novalis, the eighteenth-century German Romantic poet and theorist. Every object of glamour is in some way exotic to its audience–displaced in time, space, culture, or social milieu, inhabiting a different biological, physical, or economic reality. This distance allows the other to become an ideal extension of the self. Mystery encourages projection. It makes glamour work.

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By its nature, however, displaced meaning is always out of reach.

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Whether inspiring life-altering action or momentary reverie, glamour always obscures the difficulties and distracting details of life as it is really lived. Vacation posters say nothing about jet lag; movie stars’ portraits remove blemishes. Glamour promises not only flight and transformation and escape but impossible grace.

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Translating glamour into real-world action requires editing back into one’s projections the likely costs, distractions, and anomalies.

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The moral of the story, in [Woody] Allen’s downbeat summary [of the movie Midnight in Paris], is “It’s always rotten to be where you are, and then when you get where you want to go, whether it’s back in time or to a different country, then it’s rotten too.” Familiarity breeds discontent. There’s no glamour without mystery.

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“After a time,” counseled Mr. Spock, “you might find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” Glamour can be a powerful spur to both action and inquiry but, in the process, information and experience often destroy glamour’s essential mystery, dispelling the illusion that was once so inspiring.

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Glamour not only focuses longings. It reveals character. As the commercial metropolis grew, its plentiful glamour did more than inspire envy and frustration. It opened space for positive aspiration, and it rewarded those who could savor its pleasures without being tortured by the gap between reality and dream.

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Glamour versus realism, civilization versus directness, golden fables versus ordinary life, the pursuit of love versus contentment with less–which should we choose?

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Even in its most apparently superficial and entertaining forms, glamour reveals inner truths. It exposes our vulnerabilities, to ourselves and perhaps to the world. We feel lonely, frustrated, and unappreciated; we long for fellowship, for meaningful work, for true love. We are social and biological creatures. We want to be looked at and admired, to be rich and powerful, to be painlessly heroic and effortlessly beautiful. We long to be sexually desired and recognized as special. Glamour defies demands for humility or modesty, self-denial or patient resignation. It is ambitious and self-involved. Above all, glamour reveals that we want to be something we are not. It demonstrates that we are not wholly content with life as it is. Glamour is pleasurable, but it is also disquieting.

More excerpts from an old preview.

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Tommy Emmanuel: My Life As a One-Man Band

 

Portuguese artist sketches Hong Kong

 

Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy

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New Year resolutions usually don’t last, and most people return to life as usual by February. This is not as depressing as it sounds. End-year provides a good opportunity to reflect and New Year resolution is more a by-product of the changes we want to make. The best way to make changes is to alter our habits, and developing/changing habits can start anytime. So if things don’t work out in January, maybe try again in February in different ways.  I find it easier to change thing one at a time than all at once, so it makes more sense to space out changes we want to make throughout the year.

I don’t have many ambitious goals this year (to achieve anything significant would likely require more than a year anyway). If I can form a few good habits sometime during the year, I’d be happy.

Below is a video summary of Charles Duhigg’s book on habit, and Alex Tabarrok’s review here.

More on New Year resolutions and the time it takes to form habits.

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風立ちぬ – Another beautiful anime by Hayao Miyazaki.  It portrays an ideal that I like. The protagonist Jiro is talented, erudite, and dedicated to making his dreams come true. He has a good personality that attracted the heroine. Like most movies, the anime is a simplified abstraction of life. Some people might call it escapist but I see it as a beautiful illusion (like most dreams/aspirations in life). The music reminds me of 天空の城ラピュタ.

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New habits I like: blogging; Thai boxing; swimming

Travel to over 20 cities. The more memorable ones are places where I get to know new people, learn/try something new, or catch-up with existing friends.  

Highlights: property tour in Chengdu, Chongqing, and Sanya; business trip in Columbo, Mumbai, and Delhi; vacation in Rome and Florence; backpacking in Kunming, Lijiang, and Dali; guy trip to macau; catching up with friends in Singapore, Shanghai, and London; attending my best friend’s wedding in Maldives.

Reflect more on books I read. My favorites (in no particular order):

Other activities I enjoy: windsurfing, squid fishing, watch live soccer and rugby games (my takeaway: trying thing for the first time is often enjoyable, especially activities that involve learning new skills or something about yourself); hiking; snorkeling; basketball; coming up with names 

Relationship goes well. Traveling to another city just to catch up with good friends is definitely worth it; steady and peaceful family life with plenty of home cooked food and a nice Christmas dinner.

Finance also goes well. I like Jacob’s Early Retirement Extreme philosophy. Todd’s How Much Money Do I Need to Retire? is a good short guide on retirement planning.

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