Monday, January 30, 2012

Entering the Tea Room

Those of you who know me, also know that I have a profound respect for Japanese culture. This fascination stems partly I think from my high school experiences. I came to this country when I was about to enter high school. Transplanted from Poland, lost, angry, and rebellious I was thrown into the whirlwind of the most vicious school environment--dog-eat-dog world of public, inner-city high school. And there I met Kaori, my best friend and soul mate.

Kaori was Japanese, and I eagerly learned about the culture through her and through her interpretation of it. She never spoke of the theory behind her lifestyle, ritual, aesthetic, ethic; there was no mention of Zen or Taoism. But I recognized in her a different philosophy of life, different from the Western, American, modern culture we were surrounded by and different from my Eastern European upbringing. There seemed to be a certain tranquility about her, a harmony she seemed to experience that was inaccessible to me. I felt I was fighting the world around me since the day I was born--fighting to survive, fighting to succeed, fighting to be better, to do better. She, on the other hand, just lived and enjoyed everyday for what it was. It was frustrating at times watching her calmly ignore studying for tests or playing Super Mario Brothers when she was supposed to be writing her papers. Not an ambitious bone in her body. I squirmed; she glided. Of course, these observations were inevitably tainted by that "othering" effect: I, an outsider, watched and admired her culture, recreated it in my own mind according to my own paradigms. In the end, my vision, my (mis)representation, was a construct of my own imagination. How close was it to her experience is impossible to tell, and I recognize that fact with humility.

Years later, I am still learning about that culture trying to understand, embrace, and tap into that inexhaustible source of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility that I imagine it to be. This time, however, I am attempting this cultural invasion from a theoretical perspective. As far as I am concerned you are who you imagine yourself to be. Identity is not static, inborn, innate, somehow set in stone but writ in water. And, to a certain extent, we are in control of who we are. I say, "to a certain extent" because honestly there will always be those Occidental demons in me, no matter how much I try to exorcise them. But I live, learn, and cultivate my passion of this other philosophy of life in hope of it eventually permeating my soul, so I could become what I admire, get closer to my ideal.

What is that ideal? As I mentioned, this ideal has no existence outside of my mind. Even though I would like to imagine it is an essence of being Japanese, it is merely my own--most likely incorrect--construction of it based on subjective experiences of such things as the arts, fashions, films, food, customs, and literature. In his 1906 work, The Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura describes the Japanese aesthetic through the traditional tea ceremony. According to him, the tea ritual taught the Japanese many values, such as humility, peace of mind, harmony with nature, but most importantly simplicity. The architecture of the tea house alone represents those values. The roji, for instance, was a garden path leading to the room, and it was "intended to break connection with the outside world, and to produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself." It was a break from the noise of reality. The entrance to the tea house was only three feet high, in order to promote humility as one had to bow down in order to enter. The tea-room is empty with subdued colors. A single aesthetic object is brought in to compliment the mood of the occasion and enhance the beauty. The simplicity of the room creates a sanctuary from the clamor of the outside world. The tea hut is fragile, made of wood and straw.

The entire architecture and design of the tea-house reflects the Buddhist theory of evanescence and its demands for the mastery of spirit over matter. The hut is merely a temporary shelter for the body; likewise, the body is merely a temporary shelter for the soul--a flimsy, ephemeral, organic hut. Just as the tea-house, the body housing the soul should be kept in good condition and should exhibit the same aesthetic values as the soul within, the soul that beautifies and animates it. It should be sheltered from the noise and dirt of the external world (what Wordsworth called "the still, sad music of humanity"), simple, balanced, at peace, in harmony with nature, pure, enlightened, and beautiful. But before one can enter this "Abode of Fancy," one must first show humility and respect.

This kind of philosophy of life--aesthetic and ethic--I would like to embrace. I want to stop squirming already. So I read Kakuzo Okakura, bow down, and enter the tea-house, if only momentarily. Perhaps, if I work at it, I will be able to enjoy that abode for longer periods of time. I'll start with brewing some green tea.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Simulacrum

First of all, I'd like to confess that I am terrible at self-marketing: I have trouble representing myself or my abilities to a prospective employer. I either project cockiness or a lack of confidence. Yes, I know they seem to be two polar opposites. What can I say? I've got talent... sheesh... But the worst part is that I don't believe I'm guilty of either.... at least not when it comes to my art direction and design.

The misrepresentation of Ewa begins with the rĂ©sumé. I just realized that I haven't really read my résumé recently, and with my change of taste, change of employment, and change of lifestyle I did not bother to consider changing the document. The truth is I feel a serious aversion towards the résumé. Why? I guess it has something to do with my antagonism towards the corporate culture in general. After all, the document is a marketing tool to sell me. Beyond the obvious negative connotations of a person becoming a commodity to be bought and sold in the corporate marketplace, innately the thing must reflect some self-aggrandizement that I am not comfortable with at all. I know I have some skills and plenty of experience, but I am not willing to brag about that.  Can I perform these tasks? Yes, I can. What else is there to say?

So what was wrong with my résumé?

Well, let's start with the visual presentation: being a designer I did not bother to waste my time in promoting me. The way I looked at it, the words on the page should alone speak for me. But the truth is that since my résumé is a reflection of me as an artist, it must also reflect my aesthetic sensibility. So I redesigned (or rather designed) the document from a boring, generic Word template to a pretty .pdf created in InDesign with an abundance of white space to rest the eye.

Now, those words on the page. My most serious offense: I came across as "a doer" not "an achiever," as a few people have pointed out. This kind of comment sends me right over the edge! I don't want to be "an achiever." "Achiever" implies some sick, inner, over-ambitious desire to reach the top without consideration for anyone: it implies a motivation not to be a great partner, to make the team or company awesome but a motivation to be awesome. It's narcissistic. "A doer" on the other hand becomes awesome because he/she does awesome work. But beyond the vocabulary, those people were right: my résumé told the prospective employer what I do or can do rather than what I could do for the company. In other words, it did not specify how the skill that I possess can be a valuable asset to them. My attitude has always been if they see what I can do, they will know how I can be useful to them. I guess that is arrogant. Slightly.

I fixed the wording, inconsistencies, and redundancy in my résumé. I even--for the first time in my miserable career--created a website for me. I never bothered because I had other projects on the table that seemed to be much more important than an ego trip otherwise known as a portfolio website. The final product (it took me three days from concept to completion) comprises a short statement about me, my résumé, and portfolio. It also links to my useful website (Eve Ate Apple) and this blog. It's big. It's bold. It certainly grabs attention.

The question is does the website and the now revised résumé correctly reflect who I am and my abilities? Or do they construct another perversion of me? When you think about it, the résumé and the website are loosely based on reality or my representation of it. I have no objective way of seeing myself, so I resort to constructing an image of myself outside of myself, and based upon that simulacrum, I create another with graphics and language. That already means that this representation I create is twice removed from the truth. The prospective employer translates this vague representation of me once again, so he can construct an image of his prospective employee. That's thrice! How much of the real me is left?

On a more positive note, however, the résumé or the portfolio site as simulacra offer an opportunity for an expression of my ideal self (which, of course, is a gross distortion of reality in itself) but, more importantly, an invitation to challenge that ideal. Since I have effectively redefined myself as what I think I should like to be, others can critique that artificial semblance without offending me. After all, it's not me. It's just one projection of me. And considering that I am much more complex than this two-dimensional model I have created, I can always attempt to highlight another part of my identity that may be more attractive to others.

Nevertheless, this blog reveals that résumés and portfolio websites are poor representations of who we are and our potential value as employees. But what else is there? I guess I'll get back to sending out those résumés.