QUALITY ON THE ROAD

OK, so today I’m going to talk about Quality a bit. If you didn’t hear, Robert M. Pirsig, the author of one of my favorite books, died yesterday. His book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, has been one of the most inspiring books for me as a human being, and I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already read it.

But to honor Pirsig’s classic book-and really his struggle in general, I wanted to talk about Quality for my discussion today. Since readers my not have read his book, I’ll do a quick overview of the concept. Quality is something we all know, but also have trouble defining. When someone says “that’s a real quality piece of artwork” we know what they mean, but if we try to go much further than that, things get fuzzy. Sure, it might be the colors, it might be the style, or it might be the references within the artwork itself that make it quality work. Or maybe it’s the story the picture tells; or maybe it’s all of these things put together. But if you go searching, there’s no doubt that someone out there will find the painting disagreeable. Thus, quality is entirely up to opinion, and so defining it becomes something nearly impossible. Simply saying that “quality is quality” isn’t nearly satisfying for our human minds, but that’s pretty much what it is.

Pirsig gets into talking about how quality could be seen as goodness, and the level of how “good” something is (good as in well done, rather than good as in positive). But sometimes something is a quality piece of work because it is not “good.” Think of something by Jackson Polluck, or Picasso. Definitely not necessarily “good” work by the “quality standards” that had been set prior to them, but still clearly quality artwork was produced by them. They revolutionized aspects of art entirely. Lets go even further, and look at children’s paintings. Are they quality pieces of work? Why and/or why not? Because they don’t make it to the hallways of an art exhibit?

These are the kinds of questions that Pirsig asked in his books, on a much more massive scale. He went against the grain in a time where going against the grain could and often did lead to electro-shock “therapy,” and in doing so, he revolutionized an entire generation of thought. Which is wonderful! What do you think? Have you even heard of him? Is quality so obscure? Let me know your thoughts!

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HOW TO FIND INSPIRATION

Hello everyone,

 

I decided to take a break from writing creative stuff today to talk a little bit about inspiration today. If you are a regular WordPress blogger, you probably have had moments where you struggle for inspiration. I didn’t know this, but there’s a cool blog where people respond to one word in a whole blog post, or other ideas. That’s a pretty smart concept. It gets people to interact with their blog and it promote writing. If you need inspiration and are either desperate or lazy, I would suggest trying this out. It’s really good for a one-time fix, especially if you are in a pinch.

However, not everything about this kind of blog is good for you, the writer, or by extension the people who are struggling with ideas in the rest of their lives. Think about it. If you, along with a quadrillion billion million (like my number choice?) other people are all responding to the same prompt, how original can you be? I mean, certainly, your writing may be completely different and exceptional, and that’s wonderful. Yet you are not being truly original. The best a person in this situation can do is defamiliarize something. To defamiliarize means to make a familiar concept different. For example, instead of a plain old rock, the object is a coarse, rough, solid stone that is jagged on one side and opaque on the other. See the difference? Ok, good. This isn’t to say that defamiliarization is a bad thing—I mean, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is made up almost exclusively of stories that he had changed slightly, or told from a different perspective, and it’s one of the biggest pieces of literature ever. Seriously. You can be very successful doing this. But if you’re looking for inspiration, that’s probably because you want to make something that feels original, right?

That being said, this isn’t really “original” ideas. It’s original work, but it’s not something that is going to make you stand out. Think about how many famous authors there are throughout history. Pretty short list, ain’t it? At least, compared to the total number of people that have ever existed in the course of human history. Here’s the difference between Chaucer and an average blogger using this kind of blog as daily inspiration—the blogger is part of a mass, Chaucer was not. No matter how good your writing is, if you write the same thing as 100 other people, you have to beat out 99 other people. Which I’m not saying is impossible, but the higher that number is, the more people you have to beat. I mean, to make this relatable, I have to actively try to beat out other bloggers every day I post. I have to do something that makes me stand out. I have no illusion that I fail regularly on that, even if I check all the marks off and write something perfect. Hence why I wrote In the Dirt. However, most of my work is closer to original, even if it pulls from and alludes to other works, because it is unique. I try to start my work with an idea. A book I’ve referenced before, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, explains this idea really well, and I highly recommend you check it out. I’ll try my best to explain it quickly.

The best way to find inspiration is to look at an idea in a way that nobody has looked at it before. Zone in on one concept, or even a concrete object, so closely that you can have an original idea. Look at whatever is in front of you. Let’s say it’s a wall. Ok, well look at the top left corner of that wall. What’s there? A brick? Ok. Describe the wall, starting from that brick, and go across, one by one. Because that’s how you find inspiration. Brick by brick.

THE QUALITY THRESHOLD

Hello everyone,

 

Welcome back to another issue of Cassady is late posting to his blog! Today’s entry is going to be on the idea of quality. Now, if you have kept up with my blog at all (spoilers) then you have already heard me make a reference to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig before. Quality is the underlying theme of the entire story—quality of life, quality of living, quality of work, and so on. Quality is something that is hard to interpret and managed. Unfortunately, due to Aristotelian theory, there are categories of quality, which ruins the whole concept of qualitative interpretation. The quality of something is based solely on the experience that someone has been through—and while many people share similar experiences that would cause for someone to believe that there is a threshold for a work, that can vary from culture to culture on a very broad scale.

The ethereal question “what is art?” falls under a similar guise. Is a five year old’s drawing on a scratch piece of paper really art? What about a famous artist who published that work of art under his or her own name? In that case, is it credibility that makes art good? In which case, go look at the works of Ringo Starr—not his works in music, or even a lot of his recent stuff, but his works in MS paint. Seriously. Take a look, here’s a link:

 

http://www.ringostarrart.com/art/

 

The reality is that art is a fluid definition, much like anything in life. There is good art, bad art, and things that are not art, if we attempt to categorize this. However, the definitions for each person in this area are fluid. A child development teacher is probably much more accepting of a child’s scribbling than the Director of Biological Science at any given college. Likewise, a visual art or graphic design student is likely to be more critical of their fellow peers on what is “good” art in comparison to what is “bad” art. Which is because we all look at the world, and therefore artistic representations of the world, through separate reference points. Even identical twins do this. This is because Art, as a concept, is something solely based out of human creation by the mind. Humans are human. An apple is an apple. Mammals…well, they vary in description, because it is a category that a human being created.

The same is true with art, and all most aspects in life. Which is why, in general, it is better to not just judge something based solely on your own ideas. For example, McDonald’s being strictly good or bad as a business and fast-food joint. McDonald’s, while in my opinion (and many others), is unhealthy and unethical in most respects, is not just a bad place to eat. It provides low-income groups with affordable food. Is it good that this food shortens their life span significantly and increases obesity rates? No, and they should not be pardoned for that. But in relation to how the amount of money that is spent, yes, they are a good company. They provide an outlet for people who, due to other aspects of the United States economic structure, cannot afford to eat out somewhere better. And it’s easy to say “well they could always eat at home, it’s cheaper,” but it’s a mature thing to recognize that eating out sometimes is the only option. Sometimes mom and dad have to work a second job that evening, and their children cannot cook themselves food, or the family car broke down and they couldn’t get groceries that day. Instead of just not eating, they eat worse food in terms of quality of product, but better food in terms of quality of short-term life requirements.

AN ODE TO THE FALSE GODS

Hello everyone,

 

Welcome to Friday! I’m sure by the time you read this you will have finished your long, arduous hours at work or school for the week. I recently began reading Metamorphoses by Ovid, which is basically an entire book of Greek myths (though they use the Roman names as he was a Roman guy). Which got me interested in thinking about belief and religion. I mean, at one point in time, this was accepted very widely as the truth about the world. Interesting how we have changed that thought. Another book I would recommend that you read to further your understanding in these areas would be Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig.

Now I know that this may be controversial for some people, and I want to preface this by saying that I don’t disagree with anybody’s beliefs or opinions. But I am an Atheist (please don’t try to convert me. I have spent quite a bit of time in my life contemplating the idea and the reality is that God is not remotely a part of my life or applicable to me in any way). I’m just putting that out there. I don’t try to impress upon anyone, it’s just my opinion on the matter. But suspending my opinion and allowing for the potential of a deity or several deities is the nature of being objective, so I will try my best to be fair and inoffensive about it.

In Pirsig’s book, there is significant discussion about Ghosts, and that a ghost is effectively something that is immaterial and invisible, but completely believed to exist. For example, scientists believe in certain laws that are observable, while others are not. In his book, Gravity becomes the object of scientific choice. The reality is that nobody can see gravity—they can see its effect on things, but “gravity” is just a word. If gravity is real, it has been present forever. Yet “gravity” has only existed for 400 some odd years, simply because nobody thought about it. It’s kind of like a tree falling in the woods with nobody around—does it really make a sound? Well, yes. There will be a sound. But no. Because nobody can observe it. So nobody is aware of it. Sound is dictated by people. Without a person, the sound will not be observed or registered by a person, and thus nobody will be able to recognize that the sound occurred. Weird paradox, right?

The same is true for religion. It takes belief for it to exist and carry weight. Set aside your beliefs for a moment and join me on a journey back to Ancient Greece. It was considered the pinnacle of intellect, the height of the world. And it believed that we had a flat, circular Earth with a landmass in the middle that was surrounded by water. The heavens above is where the gods resided, atop the famed Mount Olympus, and off the edges of the world and below it was the realm of Hades. Hence why it is called the “Underworld.” We now refer to these as myths. Travel even further back to about 1500 BCE and we have Zoroastrianism, the first monotheistic religion recorded. This, too, has fallen to the wayside in terms of popular accepted truth, in favor of Christianity and Islam.

Sure, these religions have succeeded quite a bit more than other religions in the past and have devised a bit more staying power, but in 2000 more years, do we really think that people will believe what we believe now? I mean, that’s undoubtedly what the Greeks thought, and the Zoroastrians too. I think, in reality, what the purpose of and reason for religion is to do something more than find truth. It is rather about finding a sense of peace.

When a person looks at life as consequence-less and meaningless, then it is easier to drift into the realms of chaotic behaviors. When I say “godless” it probably invokes some sense of mayhem and the color red in general. That doesn’t mean that people who lack belief in religion are chaotic or evil. It simply means that they have found this solace from something else. For me, I find it in logical deduction and general understandings about the world. Sometimes things don’t line up well for me. It’s not a test by God to me, but it is a test of my own resolution for what I believe in. There are other motivating factors in the world that effect people differently—and if someone want to justify their view of my life with religious rhetoric, that’s fine. That’s their belief. But please don’t be the kind of person to exclude my ideas in favor of their own without a respectful consideration of my own feelings. I know this happens quite a bit between Christian and Islamic people today. We don’t have to quarrel with each other as long as we realize that we all drink from the same cup. The reality is that even if we taste the water differently, as sweet, bland, sour, chemically balanced, or refreshing, it is still just water.