My problem is that I can’t schedule. When I try to plan my actions at any sort of regular interval, it works out all right at first, but after a week or two passes I drift further and further away from the state that allowed me to follow that schedule. It stops fitting. And, now, I’m beginning to see how this is the shape of my life in miniature, how I always shift just out of place, how nothing ever fits me because I keep changing.
I am not unique, though I am perhaps unusual in the high frequency and low scope of these fluctuations. Maybe this is what they call an attention deficit. I don’t know. Whatever shape I make for myself yesterday stops fitting me the next. And now I look back and I see the repetition of this flow, the history of making shells and growing out of them, like a line of metal rings set up to allow just a pinpoint of light through from the other end.
I think maybe we’re all shifting in tiny ways that make a shape difficult to hold, but that we set up barriers to stick ourselves in place, build dams to let us control the flow. The job that requires you to show up at the same place at the same time every day also serves to tell you who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing within the scope of its hours. The degree you earned at college tells you what you’re acknowledged to be good at and what work you’re expected to strive for. And friends and family, too, have an understanding of you that is more nuanced and implicit but shapes you no less. These things are shell and cage, exoskeletal, and we both struggle against their uncomfortable stricture and rely desperately on them to define who we are, what we do, what we want.
Art tells us new ways to be, stranger or more ambitious. Art lets us break down and re-form the structures that bind us and bound us, together and apart. Well, it doesn’t have to be art of course: Anything can show us the way. But, the more I think about it, the more I believe this is the primary function art takes in our society: Showing us new ways to be who we are, new things to want, to fear, to care about. It’s not necessarily a good thing. Good samaritans and other kindnesses thrive on their own stories, on showing us all how to be better, but copycat criminals and other cruelties spread in much the same way.
You can’t stop the flow though, can’t allow just the good things to go through, can’t tell only good happy stories with morals of kindness, because sometimes a cure is just a smaller amount of toxin. Sometimes the pill is bitter and hard to swallow, but what seems cruel may be necessary, cutting away the gangrene, creating an escape or a revolution. A restrictive view of what art can be or should be leads to a kind of soul-death, a kind of ossification. A world of stagnant art is worse than one with no art at all, because it constrains even our imaginations to mediocrity. The shell hardens and traps us inside, forever.