Cool, as of 1528

Sprezzatura [sprettsaˈtuːra] is an Italian word originating from Baldassare Castiglione‘s The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it”. It is the ability of the courtier to display “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them”.

Sprezzatura has also been described “as a form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance”. (Wikipedia)

The word has entered the English language; the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “studied carelessness”.

It would be the Italians who would come up with something like this and it would be in Oxford that they would make it sound so lame… Why couldn’t they just say cool?

I think swans have a significant amount of sprezzatura.

Sprezzatura is my excuse for not publishing the results of how I got on with the plans I set in September. It is also one of the great things I learnt from Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes. I recommend it.

P.S. An existential question for WordPress bloggers. Why WordPress and not Instagram or Facebook? Why not Medium?

 

Notes on The Last Psychiatrist

I love few things more than a great blog. My latest find: The Last Psychiatrist, an archived blog, mostly about narcissism.

I was so excited to learn his insights… I made notes.

What follows are his finest insights about narcissism and my comments.

Imagine a crowded subway, and a beautiful woman gets on. Hyper-beautiful, the kind of woman who can wear no makeup, a parka, earmuffs and a bulky scarf and that somehow makes her look even prettier. A handsome man about her age in an expensive suit gets up and says, “please, take my seat.” She smiles, and hastily sits down.

TLP (The Last Psychiatrist), as the author refers to himself, gives us two options as to how the woman should think about this:

  1. This was a sexually motivated act as far as the man was concerned
  2. He was just being nice

If you think of narcissism as grandiosity you miss the nuances, e.g. in her case the problem is narcissism without any grandiosity:

she is so consumed with her identity (as not pretty) that she is not able to read, to empathise with, other people’s feelings. Source

In another post, TLP explains why narcissism isn’t necessarily about grandiosity. This is a blatantly obvious point that escapes most people, unfortunately.

Being the main character of your own film isn’t necessarily grandiose. It is narcissistic though because all the other characters are only important because they help the viewer to understand the main story line.

Here are some less obvious traits of narcissism TLP outlined:

Shame over guilt (I think this is because shame is an emotion directed at the self, whereas guilt is an emotion directed at your victim)

envy over greed (greed would be a primary reason to look for something, whereas envy is only a desire to catch up because otherwise otherwise it’s a bad reflection on you. I liked how this was called “existential agency” here.)

He [the narcissist] thinks the problem is people don’t like him, or not enough, so he exerts massive energy into the creation and maintenance of an identity: if they think of me as X… (and that’s one of the reasons why we love brands)

The narcissist feels unhappy because he thinks his life isn’t as it should be, or things are going wrong;  but all of those feelings find origin in frustration, a specific frustration: the inability to love the other person.

And this really brings it back to the original myth that TLP broke down beautifully here:

Narcissus mother took him to a clairvoyant who said, “He’ll have a long life as long as he never knows himself.

Narcissus kept rejecting people who fell in love with him because they weren’t good enough.

One rejected lover was furious and begged Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, for retribution.  “If Narcissus ever falls in love, don’t let the love be returned!”

Nemesis  heard the prayer and caused Narcissus to fall in love with himself: he was lead to a  pool of water, and when he looked into it, he fell in love with what he saw.  And what he saw wasn’t real, so of course it couldn’t love him back.  But Narcissus sat patiently, forever, hoping that one day that beautiful person in the bottom of the pool was going to come out and love him.

Because he never loved anyone, he fell in love with himself. That was Narcissus’s punishment.

This brings up an interesting point: how are you meant to feel about yourself?

Let’s first look at what we want. What we pay for. A huge portion of marketing directly helps us to be in love with ourselves, because we’re worth it. They’re not even trying to hide that the feeling of being in love with yourself is what they’re selling. And it’s not punishment as we see it – otherwise we wouldn’t buy it. I suppose it’s a psychic equivalent of putting a person on heroin. You mightn’t feel it’s a punishment, but it is.

Then there are the more subtle “intellectual” publications that help you love yourself (see the distinction from being in love with yourself? Cause that would be shallow.) I wonder how many pages were dedicated to helping people see Narcissus’ infatuation as Buddhist acceptance or some other high and mighty concept.

There isn’t really anywhere that would tell you that you’re meant to not love yourself.

What happened to Narcissus doesn’t really sound so horrible in today’s culture. Maybe he wouldn’t have even retaken a selfie if he lived today and been happy with the first shot? That level of self-acceptance is just enviable! He’s winning at life by millennial standards!… Indeed, TPL calls narcissism “a generational pathology”.

TLP goes on to discuss Narcissus’ parents’ role, which I thought was priceless:

He will have a long life, if he never knows himself.

Forget about whether the prophecy is true.  Ask instead, “what would the parents have done once they heard it?”…

Next time I feel insignificant and weak, maybe I need to hold on to that feeling, because my culture will obviously infuse me with my own grandiosity without me ever trying.

TLP has another explanation for why Narcissus stayed looking at the primordial selfie lake though.

He didn’t stay there for years because the reflection had pretty hair.  He stayed because daydreaming takes a lot of time.

In other words, Narcissus didn’t recognise himself and spent all that time conjuring up images of how wonderful life would be with that person in the reflection…

And the DSM says exactly that, only it adds a grandiose twist: “preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”.

I am confused now.

Narcissus fell in love with himself, only he didn’t know if was himself.

So, as far as Narcissus was concerned, he was genuinely in love with another human being – only they were unreachable. Their personality was entirely a figment of his imagination…

Wait, that’s not Narcissus, that’s Gatsby! (Who also dies in a body of water, fair dues to FitzGerald).

Narcissus’ crime wasn’t being in love with himself at all. Phew, it’s ok to let L’Oreal and #positivethinking to get money and likes.

Narcissus’ crime was not knowing himself.

Actually, no, again.

TLP puts it better:

The moral of the story of Narcissus, told as a warning for the very people who refuse to hear it as such, is that how Narcissus came to be is irrelevant.  What was important was what he did, and what he did – was nothing.

And that’s his main crime: he never cared about anyone real. To me that’s all one ever needs to know to understand narcissism.

TLPs advice on how to not be a narcissist is to fake it. I think what TLP’s getting at is that your behaviour is much more important than your identity.

Ex-hurricane Ophelia

Ireland is beginning to recover from ex-hurricane Ophelia the worst storm we’ve had since 1961. Before getting herself to a nunnery, she claimed the lives of 3 people and left 360 thousand people without electricity.

I was down in Kilkenny during the hurricane and the power went. All in all, we were left without electricity for about 24 hours.

Here are my findings regarding life without electricity:

  • When it got dark, there was nothing left to do only talk to other people. You couldn’t read! I couldn’t go online because I was trying to preserve the battery of my devices. I cooked in candle light, but these really weren’t my finest dishes… But it didn’t seem like anyone cared, perhaps because they couldn’t really see what they were eating… We then sat around the dinner table for hours and told funny stories. I think I got to know a whole new side to the people I’ve known for a long time.
  • I got the best sleep since… forever. It seems that the artificial lights really do mess with our brains. I wasn’t even tired, but I don’t remember falling asleep and certainly don’t remember the last time I woke up this refreshed in the early hours of the morning.
  • It occurred to me that back in the day when there was no electricity you had no hope of surviving on your own.

In conclusion, this technology has made us unsociable and sleep-deprived. Not that it comes without huge benefits.

In our recent budget there is a tax break on electric cars. Where would we be if all cars were electric and this happened?

My heart goes out to the thousands of people left without power. The electricity people said it may be up to 10 days before some homes get it back, probably the ones who are most remote and vulnerable to infrastructure interruptions – and that’s a lot of old people. I imagine that’s going to be very challenging.

My favourite blogs

I’ve recently been in the mood to read blogs – not books. And since I didn’t know where to go for new ones, I decided I would reread my old favourites (is that even a thing?)

I remember when LiveJournal became a thing – we’re talking pre-Facebook now, maybe 2005. I was finishing off school. I had moved to Ireland then to live with my father’s side of the family, from Russia — leaving all my school friends behind.  Then I somehow found out that many of them are on LJ – and I was so excited, I literally couldn’t sleep. You know that feeling of dopamine, or whatever sweet chemical, the sort that you get on Christmas morning when you’re five years of age?

Since that time, blogging/reading blogs occupied a pretty important role in my life. Hobbies, even jobs, came and went, but blogging was more or less a constant.

I thought about what blogs I like and don’t like. Here are some things I do and don’t like in personal blogs. Let me know what resonates with you.

I don’t want advice

That’s probably a pet peeve. I’ve written at length that most advice online is either

  • a fact – and blogs aren’t the best for facts
  • a sales pitch – which may not be a bad thing, but often it is
  • isn’t applicable to everyone. One size doesn’t fit all.

In all cases, the blogger has no skin in the game giving me advice. If Medscape gets the dose of metoprolol wrong on their site, they will suffer reputational damage. If the author of a blog tells me that eating kiwis within 10 minutes of exercising is going to lead to some insulin/cortisol magic – and they’re wrong, it’s inconsequential for them.

I do want the author to share their experience

And if the author can be emotional and even curse. I don’t particularly want them to tell me about their tampons, but it seems that experience-based blogs are the most interesting. (Not really my own forte.)

As a derivative of the author’s experience, a how-to is good, but that’s not the same brand of preachy advice as in the above point.

I don’t want life lessons or rules

By and large, people’s conclusions – especially if they sound like generic common sense – are pretty useless. I am much more interested in opinions, thoughts and emotions — bias and all. I really don’t like it when people, or news outlets, say they are “unbiased”. They just look like they lack the insight into their own inevitable subjectivity.

I want (a) character

A blogger is basically a book character that updates him/herself every day — to me, that is. Or maybe a cartoon character, depending. I want to engage with them the same way I did with those addictive characters like Nick Carraway,  Jane Eyre, Andrey Bolkonsky, Scarlett O’Hara, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Harry Potter. I care what happens to them and what they think and building up that puzzle of who you are is the best fun.

I don’t want the blogger to be politically correct

I also don’t want you to drink decaf coffee, down alcohol-free beer and have orgasm-free sex. There is nothing correct about opinion. Obviously, don’t be hateful, but political correctness is not an excuse for being bland.

In addition, I will never understand a person’s values if you don’t express some negative opinions. All those value statements at the back of corporate cups are meaningless. Why? They don’t alienate anyone. Nobody tattoos Procter and Gamble on their ass, but a brand that stands for something (and inevitably has at least theoretical enemies) has a chance of being meaningful.

I do want pictures

It helps to relive the experience. The pictures should be taken by the blogger. They don’t have to be beautiful, but they have to be relevant either to the story or to you. Funnily enough, Instagram never did it for me – it seems that writing something down is so much more personal. And when a lot of my blogging friends moved to Instagram, I really didn’t get it.

So who are these wonderful bloggers?

Friends of friends and their friends – all people I like in some way. Friends of former classmates, etc. It seems that the network effect is pretty important. And not in the sleazy marketing way, but literally, knowing that my friend Anna reads her friend Mary’s blog tells me more about Anna – and I want to understand her better (welcome to a cozy echo chamber). It’s probably not a good idea to bash Discover, but I do find it sort of bland.

But I am really on the hunt for more! 

Please recommend bloggers you like. They don’t have to be anything like the above. I am really lucky to have some amazing people commenting, so please do let me know who you’re reading.