What are you bred for?
Sean McBain 20.12.18
It’s been a while since I last shared my thoughts and I want to start this blog by thanking everyone who took the time to read my last one; ’When Life Moves the Goalposts.' It was difficult to write but even more difficult to publish. I wanted to try and share my own experiences in the hope that readers who have struggled with a similar loss could take a nugget of inspiration or help from the methods I used to cope. As far as I could tell from the feedback it seemed to have worked. I received several emails and private messages from people going through different struggles who recognise there may be a way past those struggles with conscious thought and an honest assessment of feelings and I believe that statement to be true. In short, the point of the blog was to share a method of coping and as the feedback confirmed, the blog had multiple meanings to multiple people and was therefore worth it’s while.
This leads me to the subject of this blog or series of blogs I might do which is about finding meaning in everything we do, and why it is so important. As I detailed in the last blog, in my case, songwriting as a simple act of talent flexing felt like a pointless waste of time to me. Songwriting as a means of raising money gave the songs a righteousness but the meaning came from within myself. Yes, the money raised would be put to use and yes, the scale of the marathon may have inspired others into a similar charitable action, and these results do well to underline the meaning of the act. However, I must behest and say that there was the feeling of personal accomplishment that somewhat outweighed both of these consequences. The huge challenge was accepted and a huge challenge was rose too and that is something I had never really done in my life until that point. It has been well over a year since it’s completion and in the last nine months, I have done an incredible amount of self reflection and ‘soul searching’ and this blog will go someway to explaining my findings.
About six weeks ago I stood on what I can only describe as a mental cliff edge that scared the life out of me. It was a brief, very brief encounter with depression, or at least the beginnings of a depressive mindset.
It all came about when I had decided in the summer that I wanted to clear the decks of my music and release all the Songwriting Marathon songs in five albums. I did so and there was a feeling of finality that I was initially content with. I was naturally proud that I now had six albums released but there was a slight relief that the whole ‘music thing’ was ‘out of the way’ and I could concentrate on my Psychology Degree. It was great at first and I got to work on studying but soon I realised that the study was not as time consuming and challenging as I had anticipated. This was supplemented by the nature of my job where I do three shifts a week leaving four days free. Sometimes those days land on the weekend which gives me time with the kids and Julie, but the weekdays when the kids are at school and Julie is at college or placement, I found myself a little bored and boredom is something I have not felt in years.
It’s strange how even the natural elements seem to collude with circumstances to compound an issue. For example my closure on the music also coincided with the the end of September, into October and November when the weather takes it’s most drastically dire turn with storm season, a significant drop in temperature and those dark mornings and long nights. All of these elemental issues are the bane of anyone who likes to get outside and run and they provide the perfect excuses to stay in bed longer in the mornings, have that extra cup of tea and a nice biscuit, or five, or the pack. It's great weather to be cuddled up on the sofa with your loved ones, jammies and slippers on, some crackers and cheese and some Netflix. That is so very appealing at this time of year and while I enjoy it, I am now acutely aware that as a person with a proclivity for creativity, my hamsters wheel does not stop even though my body and will does.
Idea, after idea, after idea, rattles around the inside of my brain constantly and the very act of stopping does nothing but build a log jam of ideas inside my mind and that makes me irritable, tense and unsettled. I liken this ‘creative me’ that lives in my head to my dog, Sally, the Labrador. She loves her life so much that every idea is a good idea. Like a lot of dogs, her ball is her favourite thing. You chuck that ball and she will get after it as fast she can and bring it back to you as fast she can and each time she does it with the enthusiasm of the first throw she ever fetched. But it’s not just her ball that she loves. Every idea is met with the excited enthusiasm of Buddy The Elf on candy cane speed. If she could could talk, it’d go something like this.
“We going out Sally?” I ask.
“YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, PLEASE! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, THAT IS THE BEST IDEA EVVVVVEEEERRR! LETS GO, LETS GO, LETS GOOOOO”
And she’s off! Ball in mouth, bouncing down the street, backwards, in front of me, in a frenzy, not sure wether to piss, shit or sniff first. Face full of life, tail wagging like a helicopter blade. We get to the park and I chuck the ball forty times.
“Come on Sally lets go home.”
“YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, PLEASE! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, THAT IS THE BEST IDEA EVVVVVEEEERRR! I LOVE HOME!!! LETS GO, LETS GO, LETS GOOOOO’
Sometimes I leave the ball at home and she comes with me on my run. There is a wooded hill track where I run in Neilston known locally as ‘The Pad’. It’s circular and roughly 5k in distance. Sometimes we do it once, sometimes we do it twice or three times and each lap she runs like it’s her first. There is a small reservoir there and every time, no matter how cold it is, she is in, swimming. At the end of the run she gets home, waits happily at the door till I get her towel, she throws herself into the towel, tail lashing with joy at the feeling of being rubbed dry, then she gets in, gets a drink and some food then lays on the floor and falls a sleep. Even in her sleep she often dreams and kicks her legs and does these cute little yelps of joy like she is running still.
Conversely, if for whatever reason (weather normally) she has not been out for her run or with her ball, she starts to mope around and has the saddest little eyes. Sally has never been neglected at all, and as a result she has never once been destructive but there are many dogs who are not being stimulated properly and those dogs scratch things and chew things, including their own paws. Dogs are easily pleased, but they are also easily bored, especially dogs whose genetic disposition is that they must work, they must have a task, they must have something to put their senses and intense stamina to the test. That is the creative part of my brain, as told through the life of Sally the Labrador.
Though I have only been an official student of psychology for a few months, I have been studying myself and other people for as far back as I can remember and I am beginning to see evidence that we as humans have an innate desire for ‘specific stimulation’. We are much like dogs in their varying breed forms in the respect that we have abilities and strengths which make us more suited to different tasks. Take Sally, my Labrador Retriever as an example. Labrador retrievers were initially bred in Newfoundland (and New Foundlands originated on the Labrador Sea shores, fun fact!) as the perfect dogs to aid in fishing. When the fish were pulled in to shore via net these dogs would retrieve the loose ones from the water and bring them to their owners. As a result of this task they have evolved to be excellent swimmers, they have a waterproof, extra insulated coat and webbed paws. They also have what is called a ‘soft mouth’ which means they can take the quarry in their mouth gently without damaging it. This also made the Labrador very successful as gun dogs, retrieving the ducks, pheasant and rabbits shot by hunters. There are many other breeds with similar over riding instincts. The Border Collie for example has immense agility, speed, bravery and intelligence which makes them useful for shepherds and their selective breeding has made them develop a herding instinct. They too have genetic physicality’s which allow them to be better at their jobs. Their pointed ears not only allow them to hear better, but those same pointed ears have allowed them to maintain the sillouhette of a wolf which naturally puts the fear into a flock of sheep because of their own innate fear of the wolf as a predator. Sight hounds like lurchers or greyhounds have a high prey drive and frightening speed over distance as well as eyes positioned on the side of their skulls which gives them 280 degree vision, 30 degrees more than the average dog. These physical attributes have been bred to a point where it is now in their instinct to chase and catch anything that moves, hence their suitability for hunting small animals like the rabbit or hare, a skill which has been manipulated for gambling purposes nowadays. Each of these dog breeds have been purposely bred for different tasks and the pedigree breeds have stronger links to their source purpose than others therefore their impulses and instincts are still very much a part of who they are.
In my studies I discovered a theory called ‘Eugenics’ which was espoused by a historical Psychologist by the name of Francis Galton. Galton was the first to use the term ‘Nature vs Nurture’ and was the cousin of Charles Darwin. He was heavily influenced by Darwin’s book ‘On The Origin Of Species’ which (for those of you who don’t know) was Darwins seminal writing on evolution and natural selection. These two subjects pull largely on the ‘survival of the fittest’ mechanism where by the animal kingdom will seek out the strongest genes to carry forward their species. Male animals will aggressively and often violently compete for mating rights of a female, the winner of which is clearly the strongest and the one which the female would want to bare young with to give the subsequent offspring a better chance of survival. Galton took this thinking and applied it to humans, using intelligence as the most desired trait to be passed on and coined the term ‘eugenics’.
Eugenics worked on the theory that intelligence was hereditary and so that the population could evolve optimally, Galton and his supporters (which included Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt) labeled portions of the population as either genetically ‘fit’ or ‘unfit.’ Take a look at this poster from the late 1920’s which in todays moral landscape seems horrific.
The ‘fit’ were encouraged to marry and and start families within themselves while the ‘unfit’ would be subject to sterilisation. The unfit were those who were described as ‘defective’ which included those with ill or mental health and conditions such as Epilepsy, then went further by including classes and creeds such as the entire working class, immigrants and African Americans. Appalling as it already sounds this may seem more so appalling when you consider this happened less than 100 years ago, in 1929. Incidentally 10 years later the world was at war with Hitler and his Nazi’s due to (among other things) his actions to implement his ‘Master Race’, a ruthless and devastating campaign to enforce some kind of eugenics in Europe. It seems Mr.Churchill had changed his views on Eugenics around this time.
So while this kind of picking and choosing of superior genetic suitors is evidently immoral, it is still an innate desire of us humans to seek the best possible genetics to procreate with and we cannot easily shed that desire. At a very base and animal level, we asses probable mates based on physical attributes first. For men, the classic hourglass figure of a woman is appealing because wide hips indicate an ability to birth multiple children. Men are also generally sexually attracted to women who appear easy and by that I mean a woman who is promiscuous or dresses provocatively because they see them as an easily attainable carrier for their seed. That may seem offensive to some but this is just our animal selves talking or our ‘Inner Chimp’ as the brilliant Professor Steve Peters puts it in his book ‘The Chimp Paradox.’ . Woman on the other hand will be drawn towards men who are powerful, either physically or as the ‘Alpha’ male in some kind of hierarchy. Confidence, physical strength and intelligence are high on a woman’s primal list of desires as these are markers for security and probability of good genetics.
Though we have not intentionally tried to breed particular types of humans for particular tasks like we do with dogs, there is a clear animalistic set of desires which are without a doubt unconsciously active in the dating/mating game. Although this ‘natural eugenics’ we commonly practice is not done with any malicious intent, the mixing of genetics and the social settings by which they are developed has ultimately made us ideally suited for something, the problem is finding out what that is.
We have not been as particular and precise as dog breeders or eugenics supporters and therefore our mixed bag of genetics that make us who we are is a mystery to most. We have something that we class as a desire to pursue but for whatever reason we are not pursuing it and like a dog who is denied chasing their beloved ball or herding those sheep, we are sad, we are depressed. At least, that’s how I was beginning to feel when I took a step back from creativity.
It was a Friday evening, one of those cold and rainy nights, the wind battering the rain off the windows, one of those ‘nothing to do nights’. The kids were happy and contentedly playing in the boys’s room and Julie was watching Telly. I was moping around, making tea and eating biscuits. I suddenly realised I had been like this all week, especially in the evenings. I was bored, and irritable and something was niggling me and I couldn’t place it. At half 8 that evening I went to bed, turned off all the lights and shut the curtains. I could still hear the kids playing in the next room but couldn’t be bothered with them, my own amazing kids, my wonderful wife downstairs, I couldn’t be bothered with anyone. It was such an awful feeling that I never thought I’d ever experience. I woke the next day with this cloud still looming. I let Sally out in the garden and the wind and rain was still as wild as the night before. She came back in quickly and lay on her bed and let out a sigh. I looked at her and gave her a dry and told her we'd be out running again soon enough.
I went to work and still the niggling feeling never subsided but then suddenly and quite quickly, it vanished. It vanished because I realised that the feeling I had was not depression, it was extreme boredom masquerading as the onset of depression and if I did not stop it in it’s tracks it would turn into true lasting depressive thoughts. It was easy to see why. I had gone from making music or doing some other kind of creative experiment since I was 17 to now nothing. Not only that, the intensity at which I had been creating over the last 4 to 5 years had been growing to a point of obsession and now I decided to try and turn that off?? What an idiot.
So, I opened up up my laptop and looked back at some notes I had on projects and ideas I had and one immediately jumped out at me. It was called ‘Sons Of Beefy’. The notes I had were about making music as a giant collective of former musicians from Torry’s infamous ‘Doss’, all of which had learned from the legendary rock music sensei Phil ‘Beefy’ Robertson. The idea was initially to write with and produce these musicians and friends and make an album or series of albums that raise money for similar Doss type youth projects. I thought this project would be ideal to get my teeth into and then I thought,
‘This would make a great documentary…How the f*ck do you make a documentary?’
To Google I went and the research and development phase of this project took off at alarming speed and I was off. Ball in mouth, bounding down the street, backwards, in a frenzy not sure wether to piss, shit or sniff first. Face full of life, tail wagging like a helicopter blade. I was now fully challenged, fully stimulated and fully engaged in a new artistic project. Documentary and film making is something I know nothing about, but the thrill of learning something new every day is extremely exhilarating. I am excited to make it happen, excited to work with some amazing talent and excited to tell this story. I am indeed like Sally with her ball.
As Homosapian’s have been evolving for 200,000 years plus to where we are now. We are the combination of billions and billions of possible genetic formations but unlike dogs, us humans have know way of knowing exactly what we are bred for. We have a genetic disposition, we have skills, we have passions, we have combinations of different abilities which make us suited to something. It may take us a lifetime to figure it out because often ‘your thing’ does not exist yet as a job or a vocation. Often you are so unique that a new line of work or endeavour is created by you and for you. There is no full proof way of knowing exactly what you are born to do, but there is a way a finding out what you are NOT meant to do, and I am convinced that is where most of our depression in most of it’s manifestations comes from.
Those 200,000 years of hunting, gathering, war, famine, struggle, hard work and suffering were not endured for us to sit through an hour of traffic so that we can enter data into a computer and answer a phone in a little office booth, in a huge steel and glass box then drive through another hour of traffic in a white financed car to a neat and tidy new build suburb home with a pristine lawn and lock block drive. Then in that home you eat and watch the football or some reality telly so you can have something to chat about to your fellow ‘booth dwellers’ back at the steel and glass box you call ‘work’ the next day. Then repeat that shit, every day, for the rest, of, your, life. No one has been bred to do that. I would be chewing my own feet if that was my life.
Me personally, I need the stimulation of challenge and being creative to find a way to navigate the challenge is where I feel most alive. None of what I do is motivated by money but by meaning and meaning is only to be found where we are challenged to do what we feel is right for us and those around us. I love music, I love people and I love seeing people reaching their potential. That is why I find producing music for other people so satisfying, because in the producers chair you get to have that time where both you and the musician or musicians are locked in to a common goal with no other thing on our minds. There is real power to be found in that type of engagement, that kind of stimulation. You get to see a musician come alive at the sound of their own work being immortalised on record and that is where the meaning is for me.
I will explain more about the Sons Of Beefy project in a later blog but it is the biggest, multi-lateral project I have undertaken yet and to me, the bigger the creative mountain the happier I am. This is because I know the view from the summit of that mountain is worth the work but I also know that it is the climb I enjoy most. The incremental progress that is made with every positive act, means I am growing and I am developing. It’s when the unknown becomes known. When I am not doing that, I am aimless and when I am aimless, I am bored.
Perhaps you are reading this and feeling aimless and bored? Know that you are bred for something that will challenge you and stimulate you and absolutely bring out the best in in you. It’s Christmas time and when the partying is over, 2019 will be staring you in the face like an empty field full of possibilities. Make some plans, find some meaning, throw your ball and get after it.
Merry Christmas everyone!