For the past two weeks, I actively tried to escape my escapism.
Keywords: I tried. I've been attempting to stay offline in my efforts to look inward, as I challenged you to do in my last letter about the ego. Most of the time, I genuinely enjoy creating online because it marries two of my passions: visuals and words. So while I deeply appreciate what this project has given me so far—a sense of purpose and a meaningful connection to a larger community—I’m a firm believer in you can’t give what you don’t have, so I postponed writing back because at the time I felt burned out.
I’m not the only one who struggles with this, but I’m aware that my online habits border on compulsion. Add to that my five-year career in marketing, the rituals of content creation-curation-consumption feel as automatic to me as breathing. No wonder attempting to break out of this cycle had me like a fish out of water.
Truth is, building the habit of writing for someone other than myself has been a challenge, but a worthy one at that. It demands I put aside my insecurities in service of a higher goal: to serve you some pretty damn good writing. My therapist says it’s only a matter of time, and progress is all about baby steps towards this unfamiliar concept of “self-compassion.” What bugged me was this subconscious need for a neatly concluded narrative in every letter, when I myself just experienced the very things I wrote and was therefore still figuring it out IRL.
Millennial author Jia Tolentino articulates this best in her memoir Trick Mirror: “When I feel confused about something, I write about it until I turn into the person who shows up on paper: a person who is plausibly trustworthy, intuitive, and clear. It’s exactly this habit—or compulsion—that makes me suspect that I am fooling myself. If I were, in fact, the calm person who shows up on paper, why would I always need to hammer out a narrative that gets me there?”
“Writing is either a way to shed my self-delusions or a way to develop them,” Jia laments. Now read that again and swap “writing” with “social media” and that also sums up why I felt the need for a retreat. In her series of sharply written essays, Jia examines how we tend to optimize our identities for this new dimension—the Internet. We are the first ever generation of humans to be granted the opportunity to “create” ourselves in a digital sphere. We joke about having different personalities for each platform, but there’s a grain of truth in that humor. “Where we had once been free to be ourselves online, we were now chained to ourselves online, and this made us self-conscious.” (Tolentino)
Intuitively, we know social media culture isn’t a “problem” we can realistically solve, it just is what it is—an algorithm. It’s ruled by artificial intelligence designed to 1. Keep you scrolling for the next most exciting image or that hit of external validation, and 2. Frame your experience of the world into neat compartments. But real life is inherently messy, and being intellectually fed solely on either pleasure or praise means you will always go hungry.
I think it’s important to remember this as more of life is shifted online during quarantine. Living most of your waking life online and connecting with others via a screen is a cheap substitute for the real thing, but out of necessity, this will have to do. But perhaps this new normal can also lead us to cherish the simplicity of the private life that is easily taken for granted.
As for me, I am still learning where to draw the line between Bea Policarpio and @beapolicarpio, between art and artist. I’m hopeful though, that the awareness that there needs to be a line drawn at all counts as baby steps towards developing real boundaries.
Jim Carrey's The Truman Show (1998) questions this human right to privacy and boundaries. In the dystopian world, Truman is the first baby to be legally adopted by a television network who has documented his life since the womb—and broadcasts this 24/7 to a global audience. Everyone in his life—from his “parents,” “wife,” and even strangers—are all mere paid actors, and he has no idea the whole world is watching.
I’ll save the in-depth analysis that the film deserves for another time. What I can say without giving the plot away is that no matter how much the producers controlled Truman’s outer world and deprived him of societal boundaries, he still discovered what every human inherently possesses: the freedom to create his inner world. It was a line nobody could cross without his permission.
Maybe—like Truman—I am determined to wake up to the uncomfortable reality of my limited freedom, grappling with the responsibility of carefully choosing what I will (and will not) allow into my mind and what I am willing to share. Perhaps—like Jia—I am learning to accept my very human need for narrative, both to express who I am today and actively create who I can become tomorrow.
I crave to find my place in this grander story that encompasses all of us, in which I am decidedly not the main character. As my mind attempts to understand some meaning as to why 2020 is unfolding this way and searches for a semblance of an answer as to when it will pass, I’m accepting that I may never get these answers.
Each day that I surrender to the fact that there are larger intangible forces such as this pandemic, it becomes clearer what I can control: why I get up in the mornings, how I will respond, who I love, what I create, where I place my focus, and also what I will ignore. I can choose these things everyday and from that comes all my freedom—and yours too. As I ask these big questions, I hope we can all find small yet dignified answers in our own lives.
My instincts say there must be a fine line where this inner and outer world can meaningfully meet. So far, the best answer I have still remains to be choosing creativity AND love: by practicing self-compassion so I can love others well, by committing to a life of art while also learning the art of life. To not only to make something new everyday, but also celebrate and share it with the world, anxiety and the algorithm be damned.
Perhaps all creative pursuits are an exercise in wiping the mirror. But I hope that over time, by way of art and memoir, I might finally grasp at something solid beyond the elusive mirage of meaning: Truth.
Now in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, & good night—
PS. Feel free to share the artwork below & tag @polipaints!
PPS. Here's where I drop my featured recos for the week!
READ: Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
(The first memoir I'm featuring, and it’s by a Filipino-American writer! Follow the link to read the first few pages that Fully Booked posted on their blog!)
WATCH: Jim Carrey's The Truman Show
(I promise you’ll never see the world the same way after, but in a good way.)
LISTEN: seek truth, a Spotify playlist curated mostly by my brother, DJ Polizei!
PPPS. If the spirit moves ya, check out my Artdrop fundraiser page here!
Whether you loved, hated, or felt nothing towards this issue of #StudioNotes, I want your feedback! Reach out via email, IG DMs or Twitter. Stay healthy and with any luck, I'll see you again next Friday! xx
Read my previous letter, Vol. 7 - Respect Reality.
Binge read from the top with Vol. 1 - Start With Why.
The artist, elsewhere: