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February 4th, 2023
The Fallen Dancer is a series here on Tinkered Thinking exploring a recent shift in perspective. The resulting framework appears to tie together many topics explored on Tinkered Thinking over the years such as resilience, struggle, patience, curiosity, emotional regulation, artistry, entrepreneurship, winning, honesty, and communication. This series will be an attempt to unify them in a cohesive treatment.
Part VII: The Art of Life
If you were to pick an art that most resembles the act of living, which art would you pick?
This is a worthy exercise because it may reveal something interesting about the way you look at life and the perspective you bring to the efforts you make while alive.
Do your efforts resemble that of the impressionist painter? Blurry in detail but magnificent from a distance? Or perhaps your efforts are even more chaotic, like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Perhaps life is something you build, like a sculpture. Something that required a lot of heavy hitting in the beginning and is now a matter of fine tuning the details.
Maybe dancing makes the most sense. We all know what it feels like to be on a roll, when everything is firing on all cylinders and it seems like we’ve picked up on a secret rhythm that braids luck with our efforts.
It’s worth taking a break from these words to actually give it some thought. The answer characterizes your perspective and reflects the foundation from which all your efforts spring.
Up till this point, the focus of The Fallen Dancer has been about the nature of perspective, how it is a tool, and how much our opportunity, luck, and well-being are dictated by how swiftly we can augment and aim our focus in beneficial ways. Words like focus, perspective, and outlook, are all related but not in definitive ways that we’re all going to agree on. Are changes in focus a result of one’s perspective? One’s outlook on life? This kind of nit-picking devolves into a kind of pedantic roundabout that is ripe only for inane dispute. This is why a big question like: what art form is life most like? Is so useful. It zooms out and subsumes all these little details of focus, perspective, philosophy and outlook.
For many people, this simple question might be disturbingly hard. Artists typically really enjoy their work, but not all people enjoy their life. Many and maybe even most people are stuck in a rut of some sort or another - either miserable and complaining about everything, or just in need of that lucky break that never comes. The aperture of focus for such people is rusted in one position, and the art of these people’s lives might be like that of a a writer tortured by writer’s block - an artist who can’t create any art. The visions of Kafka and Aldous Huxley and George Orwell can feel painfully close to home for many droning livelihoods, and perhaps it feels like there is no art to life. Living is just a kind of drudgery, like acting in an infinitely long scene drawn from a nightmare of Samuel Beckett.
Just about everyone has experienced something close to this kind of depressed living, at least for some stretch of time. We can all easily relate. But getting back up on your feet can be hard to relate to. Everyone whose managed it can seem impossibly far away when it feels like you’ve been knocked on your ass. Words of comfort and encouragement from people who seem to be better off can ring hollow and it can be very easy to wave off such efforts as the products of people who just don’t understand. That disparity is really a difference in perspective and the fact that such a radical difference can exist has been at the heart of the discussion.
The premise here, and really the premise of all books and stories and even language itself is that we can adopt a different perspective as it’s communicated through language, and this can have a radical impact on the way we behave.
A single quote, reread after many years precipitated this volume of writing, and it had exactly this effect - perspective suddenly underwent a subtle but profound shift.
Imagine for a moment someone who answers that above question with dancing. Life is a matter of rhythm and flow, of reading the movements of evolving circumstance and reacting to it in a way that is harmonious and smooth. But also imagine that bad luck plagues the dancer and again and again the dancer gets knocked down. Every time, just when the dancer seems to be picking up the rhythm of life and getting into the groove, a gut punch lands - some bad news, some unexpected setback, and the dancer falls again, and is again faced with the task of getting back up on their feet.
Imagine an actual dancer, falling in the middle of a routine, over and over. How would a dancer feel in this circumstance? Perhaps like a failure? Perhaps like they aren’t good enough? Getting knocked down isn’t really part of the program of dancing, so someone who sees life as a dance can be left fairly confused and frustrated again and again when things don’t effortlessly fall into place on time, and on beat. We’ve all encountered people who get bent out of shape when things veer even a little from their expectations, and we’ve all likely been guilty of this mistake in one domain or another. Is it because the dancer isn’t good at dancing, or perhaps it’s just a matter of resilience? The dancer just needs to push through and keep going.
Or, perhaps, is it because the dancer is simply in the wrong arena?
More importantly, what happens to someone who is convinced that life should be a kind of dance?
Are they likely to feel lucky? Or does that kind of perspective create a greater surface area for bad luck to dominate?