This makes me uncomfortable


About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post called ‘Being comfortable is not the same as success‘. It came out of my ponderings on finding my niche after reading Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element and watching Bloc Party be awesome live. I wondered, do we have to be uncomfortable to succeed? Are we wrongly taught to seek comfort over personal growth? For example, we’re taught to prefer a career that will let us live comfortably in a nice house etc. over a career that might be personally rewarding but more difficult. Counter-culture tells us not to “sell out” and to go for the more difficult path. Is it right? Is there a virtue in discomfort?

Now I wonder if there are different kinds of “comfortable”. Like, say, there’s that feeling of being in the ‘flow state’, when you have found the thing you love and doing it connects you to the floor and the ceiling. Then there’s that feeling of curling up on the couch and watching your old favourite TV show – you know all the words, there are no surprises, and you relax into the safe familiarity. Are these different? I feel that one must be more productive than the other, but then I worry that my attachment of value to productivity is a product of my cultural conditioning to always be productive. Gah. It is hell inside my head right now.

I feel like there must be a bunch of philosophers who have already covered this topic; Plato wrote about different types of love, so surely someone must have written about different types of comfort. If there are any philosophy students out there who can point me towards some reading, I’d love to hear about it! Gimme some juice in the comments below.

In the past, I’ve let myself stay in relationships and circumstances that made me deeply uncomfortable because I had become so divorced from my feelings that I couldn’t use them as signposts anymore. Sometimes discomfort is a good sign that you should run far, far away. Otherwise, what are our instincts for? But learning to separate instinct from conditioned discomfort is difficult, at least for me. How can I tell whether I’m uncomfortable because this is a bad scene, or because I am stepping outside a culturally mandated ‘comfort zone’?

Talking about all this makes me uncomfortable, too. Yeesh, life is just uncomfortable. Thank goodness I have M*A*S*H and this deep sofa to help deal with it.


10 thoughts on “This makes me uncomfortable

  1. I think it just takes time, experience, awareness and (perhaps most importantly) honesty to recognise the difference between the things that are uncomfortable and doing you harm, and the things which, while still uncomfortable, are actually beneficial and necessary. It just means you have to assess everything carefully and rigorously, and be prepared to make the odd mistake regardless.

    As for ‘productivity’, well…you’re familiar with the idea that one’s unconscious mind is often at work on one’s creative endeavours, even when one isn’t at the writing desk or the easel? I went to the launch of a new volume of poetry last weekend, and the poet in question was quoted as saying, “For a poet, being off-duty is part of the job.”

    1. Thanks Glen for that quote about “being off-duty”. Love it. Could you tell me the name of the poet? They make a very good point, and it’s tangentially linked to an article I read in Overland today which posited that men are better writers than women because they have more spare time. It makes an interesting point about how time-poverty is another obstacle to creativity. (Here’s the article:

      I will just have to keep stumbling along, learning what things are uncomfortable/beneficial and what things are uncomfortable/harmful. It’s a lifelong process, I suspect! Thanks for commenting Glen, I enjoy your input πŸ™‚

      1. I read the article, Kaitlyn. Thank-you for sending it. It’s not comfortable reading if you’re selfish and male (or even just selfish…?)

        More of us men-folk should be more prepared to spend more time on child-rearing and make more personal sacrifices to that end. The obvious imbalance in this regard between the sexes is, of course, unfortunate. When Addison-Smith says that “these are not choices that men have to make,” she’s stating a phenomenological fact. However, she also seems to imply that the fact stems from a distinctly masculine trait of selfishness, as in “that’s just how they are.” I hope I’m not inappropriately defending myself and my gender by suggesting that selfishness in males (as opposed to ‘male selfishness) is something that is more widely condoned (and tacitly encouraged) in our society than female selfishness, as opposed to it being specifically rooted in male psychology or biology. ‘Maleness’ in itself (whatever the hell that actually is) shouldn’t automatically confer self-centred, self-appointed privileges regarding how one spends one’s time; nor should it be cited as the reason why men claim them. Being male should not categorically make you ‘selfish’, or more selfish than women, or less inclined towards hands-on parenting than women. At least, not on the level of separate individuals, of either sex. Or, to put it another way, it shouldn’t necessarily be considered unreasonable if I’d been female instead, and had become just as selfish with my writing and thinking and reading time as I am now.

        (For the record, I do not have a partner or brood of children whom I’ve spurned for the Blissful Artistic Solitude of the Garret. Whatever damage my time spent writing-thinking-reading causes is felt by no-one but myself. And I do have a number of fellow w-t-r people with whom I spend time, when we’re not engaged in said same.)

        The quote I gave you was from Andrew Burke. In contrast to the idea of needing time and space to ‘let things flow’, there are more and more blogsites these days stressing the necessity of religiously finding 30 minutes of writing time per busy day of working/mothering/cooking/cleaning, just to keep the creative meter ticking over. Again, each life situation should be negotiated to the satisfaction of all associated with it, as to who does what and when, and how much. But I’m not sure that squeezing 30 minutes or an hour into a timetabled slot (so to speak) will necessarily facilitate GOOD writing. I’ve tried doing it that way and I can’t make it work for me. It takes me much longer to enter the writing mindspace, for a start. This could mean that I’m disorganised, or that I’m too inhibited by the threat of failure i.e. writing garbage in that 30 minutes because I feel too rushed. Or it could just mean that that’s not how I engage with my creative process.

      2. No, I didn’t find it a comfortable read, either. It is pretty unflinching.
        I didn’t read the article as suggesting that selfishness is biologically male. She opens by talking about “material conditions”, and I took it as common knowledge that material conditions generally favour men. So when she says “these are choices that men do not have to make,” it is because they have more opportunity to be selfish. She points out that women also have the capacity to be selfish, they just aren’t given as much opportunity to become good at it. I think her argument rests on the very thing that you said, that “selfishness in males (as opposed to β€˜male selfishness) is something that is more widely condoned (and tacitly encouraged) in our society than female selfishness, as opposed to it being specifically rooted in male psychology or biology”. Maybe it wasn’t explicit enough. For me, reading it through a feminist lens (which generally rejects the notion that men and women are biologically pre-destined to certain roles), I didn’t take it as a suggestion that being born male makes you automatically more selfish. And anyway, until we live in a world where men and women (and everyone in between) are afforded exactly the same opportunities, I don’t think we can really judge the effect of biology on gender roles.

        Andrew Burke was one of my tutors when I was doing my Bachelor’s degree. πŸ™‚ Lovely to hear his thoughts on poetry. I definitely need time and space to get into the flow of writing. I find that scheduling that time for myself makes it more likely to happen. For me, religiously timetabling 30 minutes a day doesn’t work because it feeds into that mindset I have where I pressure myself to be ‘productive’ and ‘successful’. But, conversely, making sure I write every day helps me overcome perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes I do just need to sit down and write crap for 30 minutes. For me, that *is* letting things flow. Writing heaps without worrying about the outcome. But yeah, everyone’s creative process must be different.

  2. Yes, you’re quite right. I shouldn’t under-represent the material disparities between the genders. Addison-Smith may well have been speaking from an economic point of view on that one. It seems terribly reductive (and stereotypical) on one level, but I could see the point when someone suggested to me that little art emerges from either the very richest or the very poorest ends of the social spectrum, because a) the in-betweeners have at least a little time left over that they don’t have to spend ensuring their basic needs are met, and b) they’re not rendered emotionally and spiritually apathetic by having surplus resources effortlessly available to them.

    1. I don’t think “material conditions” are limited to economic factors, although those are important … There’s the complex set of obstacles that women face culturally, politically and economically that men do not face to the same degree. And I’m not sure how you can typify economic disparities as “stereotypical” … The disparities between men and women are not ideas, they are well-researched and proven phenomena.
      That is a very good point about most of art coming from the ‘middle’ of the social spectrum. Addison-Smith touches on that when she mentions that most writing from women is from the middle class. I sometimes wonder what art we’re missing out on because a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to create.

      1. True enough. I just tend to link the word ‘material’ to wealth and commodities.
        And I meant that it seems stereotypical, or perhaps that it’s just an unfair cultural assumption, to suggest that the rich are always too replete to give a damn about creating or consuming Art, or that the poor are always too preoccupied with their survival to do likewise. There must be exceptions. But when I think of it, probably most of the artists that have come from real destitution somehow managed to escape from it, or were saved. And THEN they could use the experiences from a position of awareness and (relative) safety, having acquired a measure of financial security and an education that remained unavailable to most of their contemporaries.

      2. Oh OK, when you first said “stereotypical” I didn’t realise you were referring to the point you raised about little art emerging from the very richest or very poorest extremes of the social spectrum. I thought you meant that Addison-Smith referring to the material disparities between the genders was stereotypical. And I *thought* that that didn’t quite make sense!

        In this case, when I think of “material conditions”, I guess I don’t just think of

  3. “I guess I don’t just think of…”???
    You seem to have dropped out, m’dear. Kindly come back and finish the sentence!

    Returning to your earlier point, I thought Addison-Smith’s comments about the under-representation of women’s stories in literature were very interesting. As people like Sophie Cunningham have pointed out, the situation is most acute in the so-called ‘literary’ field (Perhaps ‘Art Literature’ would be a slightly better term?) And it’s probably linked to prestige i.e. it’s arguably (from a literary insider’s point of view) the most prestigious segment of the market (if also the least lucrative), and so men either claim or are accorded more of that prestige than women are. At the same time, there are possibly other market sectors where women are more evenly matched. And the book and e-book business would drop dead overnight if women stopped buying books. Why do the blokes have such a hard time with reading and writing literature, if not books of all kinds?

    And in spite of the ‘literary’ field being biased towards the fellas, the overwhelming majority of entrants into writing competitions, as well members of writing societies and book clubs, are female. Now, I cannot possibly suggest that all of those stories from those women are “a bit shit, or hopelessly middle class,” if for no other reason that I haven’t read them all (I don’t know that I could bring myself to say that even if I agreed with the assessment.) But I can say that the standard in a lot of competitions these days is very, very high, and that great stories are written and continue to be written by people who are completely unknown to the wider reading public. Quite a lot of them are women in their twenties, and a lot more are women in their forties and fifties, many of whom have been married and had their children and now have more ‘me’ time than they did when they were younger. Which bears out Addison-Smith’s assertion about the ‘writing’ demographic. It would seem to mean that a lot of commercially available literature, including the ‘literary’ and ‘best-seller’ markets, have a deficit of women participants, while the vast majority of ‘writers’ who don’t have publishing contracts are women.

    1. Weird, where did the rest of my comment go? Now I can’t remember what I was saying. Whatever it was, I’m sure it was brilliant. Ha πŸ™‚

      Yes, it does seem as though literary prestige is skewed towards the masculine. It is strange since, as you say, women are the major book buyers. I think Addison-Smith was trying to drive home the point that it is a complex web of obstacles that female writers face, not just bias towards male writers at top levels (although that is of course a huge problem). Women are still fighting their ways into public life, only 100 years after suffrage. Except rather than fighting an enemy, it feels more like we’re fighting our way through a landslide: it’s all around us and moving on many fronts.

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