tools for tools.

I’ve been playing around with Blender the last week or so as I try to find some ways to spend this time in isolation as more of a residency: learn some new skills for the studio after this time of coronavirus. I’ve actually meant to learn a 3D modeling program for awhile, since I’m not a very good technical drawer and when pitching ideas for new spaces it helps to show stakeholders mockups that actually relate to the thing that will get made.

Makes sense, right?

I had played around with Cinema4D for a bit, but the price and then subsequent inability to find good torrents of it made me move on to something open source. Enter Blender! It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but things are stating to make sense. After 2 days I’ve almost modeled a clamp! Look at me go!

BUT the more interesting thing that using Blender has made me think about is what a tool is. I’ve always thought about a tool as the thing that allows me to pursue an idea. But ideas are not as concrete I usually think they are. In fact, just talking about them hardens them into something that is no longer what I originally thought of. Language itself, when applied to the first glimpse of an idea when it is still in a pre-language state — when it is in a cloud of feeling like something out of the Poetics of Space — is a tool that automatically shapes the idea. It’s like the idea is an amorphous jello and things like language are the forms that the jello sets up in.

I just watched Gladiator the other day (other day = within last year), which probably pegs me as a bit of a bro, but there’s a scene where Marcus Aurelius (he wrote Meditations! It didn’t occur to me until this viewing that it’s THAT Marcus Aurelius talking to the Aussie) is telling Russel Crowe about Rome and that one couldn’t do more than whisper the idea of what it is for fear it would disappear.

I think he was talking more about the fragility of what makes up powerful ideas, but this is also jumping into my head right now as him talking about the perfection of an idea being somewhat tarnished by the application of a verbal description (or written one). In some ways the poem and writing in general (or song and spoken word) are ideas working on the tool, language. Ideas are the tools for tools. And tools in turn are a tool for ideas. They sort of swap positions in who is leading the dance on the creation of something that has truly new properties.

In the upheaval that coronavirus has created, the rifts, inequality, and unsustainable nature of our current social-economic systems have been laid incredibly bare. Given this stark perspective, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about us needing to get back to some basic part of who we are. I don’t think there is some basic part of ourselves that exists. I’m coming from an object oriented ontology perspective here (grab Hyperobjects sometime if you haven’t read it), where I think talking about things like the environment and the need to get back to a place we once were is absurd: the world that exists now is an entangled complex object that can not be rewound: Russian nesting dolls entangled with a cascading tree of Russian nesting dolls. Talking of these past utopias is a way for people to stall in the present in inaction while debating exactly what the past was that we are all trying to get back to.

The culture around us has been shown to have toxic parts. We have pushed hard in directions we have suspected are harmful to our being in the long term, directions that are now in this crisis being shown to harm in the short term as well. But this bubble of the current moment we have created is a boundary to examine ourselves again. It provides an opportunity. We did the same thing in “simpler times” although they probably didn’t feel very simple then. Culture is a tool to shape values of self and community. It’s maybe time to switch the lead in the idea/tool dance. We now have the opportunity to shape culture in a way that reflects who we want to be in the future.

The idea, culture, is the tool shaping the tool of the individual.

let's talk about me talking about you talking about me.

I’ve always had a bit of a hard time relating to internet culture. I’m impressed with how people can make things with others in mind, where I think I tend to make some things here and there, look up, and if no one seems that interested, I go back to pushing things around on a table and gluing them together. There’s a fluidity to those that create digital/social content, where they seem to gracefully move between reflection and experience. Content of the current moment — a reflection — created while the experience itself is still going on.

In math there’s this proof that if you have a curved surface and then stand at some point on that surface, that the direction of maximum curvature is exactly 90 degrees from the direction of minimum curvature. When I get to points in my life where things appear binary — say for instance the creation of content that follows an experience/reflection binary — I can’t help but think “there’s a lot of topography still out there unexplored” and that my inability to see past these extremes is speaking more to a deficiency in myself than to what I am looking at.

But then there are also troubling parts to the need to create persona online, which I guess we do in our personal lives, as well, but are given less of a chance to look at what we’ve created and grimace or swell with pride in what we’ve cobbled together. My fear with having things online is that I have to be reminded of what I have once said/done in the past in very exacting terms. I think I like personal history more when it has rounded corners; generalities when it comes to what I once was/am, versus a ton of specifics. Bing, Bang, Bongo: create a hypothesis, back it up with a couple facts, and then reflect. No need to drown in a thousand photos of the same waterfall.

Some friends of mine went on a trip last year and upon getting back I met with one of them to ask how the trip was. They were downtrodden and exacerbated with what had been a stressful trip with a fair amount of bickering. Fast forward to a dinner party with a common friend a week later and I asked this friend what was going on and they replied “Oh! Well BLANK and BLANK are back in town and it looks likes they had this really romantic trip together!”. I couldn’t help but blink vancently a couple times in reply.

And I guess different interpretations of events are always available, but when narrative is falsely created to make outward appearances better, or even just to feel in control of what that narrative is, I get a sense of foundations of some structure being slowly eaten by a chemical reaction. Are we immune to wanting to control our narrative? I know I’m not. And a salve is to not to be in a constant feedback loop with content of my own creation.

Or maybe all of this all is an exercise in letting go of Ego. Although given what floats to the top, I’m not sure this is the tool for that either.

tldr; ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.