GUESTFRESH: Jeff Gill
rediscovering our personal myths and stories, finding The Ways, tunes to stay happy and focused and more
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today, Jeff frombrings us an extended issue across personal growth and music, complete with gorgeous hand-drawn illustrations. grab a drink, get cozy and settle in!
Hi, I’m Jeff Gill. I’m a graphic designer, writer and artist. I write a short weekdaily email called TREE about personal growth for misfits, creatives and ecclectics. I live in Dursley, Gloucestershire with my wife and two cats. Before that I lived in Conwy, North Wales. Before that, I lived in Tucson, Arizona. The freshest thing I’m doing right now is learning British Sign Language.
FRESH: Personal growth
Embracing lessons that teach opposite things
What’s fresh in my brain right now starts with a paragraph by one of my favourite writers:
‘There is no monomyth. (Sorry about that, Joseph Campbell.) It’s precisely because no one story makes sense of everything that traditional societies had so many myths, each with its own lesson to teach and its own applicability to the events of everyday life. It’s precisely because our culture has become obsessed with a single story, in turn, that we’re in our current mess.’
This isn’t superfresh. You can find people tearing up the idea of a monomyth all over the internet. It got my attention though. Next, in the comment section of the same post, someone wrote this, which really started me thinking:
‘It’s not obvious to me that all religions and myth are reducible to some single set of universal meanings, but rather represent a panoply of lessons, some of which will necessarily be incongruous.’
We know how a fundamentalist thinks: There are genuine differences. What I believe is absolutely true and righteous. What you believe is absolutely wrong and terrible.
We know what the folks with COEXIST bumper stickers on their cars think: Different belief systems may seem different, but at the core, they are all the same lovely thing.
Then Fra’ Lupo rocks up and says, or at least implies: There are genuine opposing ideas and that doesn’t mean one of them has to be wrong.
I think Fra’ Lupo is onto something.
I once read a book about your own life as a hero’s journey. It impacted me deeply. I recommended the book to lots of people. A couple years later, I read it again and was like, meh.
It wasn’t that something went wrong with the hero’s journey. It was that I had changed in those years. I needed a new story. I’ve learned that there are many people, especially women, for whom the hero’s journey never resonates. It doesn’t speak to their life experience. It doesn’t need to. There are other stories, different myths.
Here’s another example.
A few days ago, I read a profile of Toto Wolff, boss of the super-successful Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team. One way he ‘fosters ongoing competitiveness is by encouraging his team members – from the engineers to the marketing people – to find out who their counterparts are on rival teams and commit to surpassing them.’ He emailed his entire team and told them to ‘Take the time to find out who your opposite person is [at the Red Bull F1 team] and look at him or her every day. Put the picture right in front of you so you know whom to beat’ (Anita Elberse, Harvard Business Review, December 2022).
Less than an hour later, I read this from Rick Rubin (The Creative Act, 2023):
‘Wanting to outperform another artist or make a work better than theirs rarely results in true greatness. Nor is it a mindset that has a healthy impact on the rest of our lives. As Theodore Roosevelt pointed out, comparison is the thief of joy. Besides, why would we want to create with the purpose of diminishing someone else?
‘When another great work inspires us to elevate our own, however, the energy is different. Seeing the bar raised in our field can encourage us to reach even higher. This energy of rising-to-meet is quite different from that of conquering.’
The super-successful Formula 1 boss says you need an intense focus on beating your opponent. The super-successful music producer says the way to greatness is by not competing. These two ways of working are in complete disagreement with each other. Asking who’s right is useless. The better question is: Are either of these ways of working useful to my situation?
Speaking of Rick Rubin, he points out in the same book that disagreements aren’t only external. We don’t even agree with ourselves:
‘Our point of view doesn't have to be coherent. And it's rarely simple. We may have different, and sometimes contradictory, points of view across a variety of topics. Aiming to narrow it all down to one elegant expression is unrealistic and limiting.’
There is no The Way.
Or maybe there are infinite The Ways. Because it’s not just one or the other. Our understanding of the world has moved way beyond opposites. More and more, science is discovering the spectrum-ness of pretty much everything, especially everything that goes on in human brains. Almost nothing is completely one thing or the other.
Just because most everything exists on a spectrum doesn’t stop people wishing for the simplicity of binaries. And so there are plenty of people selling binaries. We are surrounded by voices loudly insisting that the peak of their particular wave is the one and only truth. But reality shows us that the trough and all the infinite points in between are also true.
My mom is a Christian who believes in a personal God who loves her. I think the universe we live in got here by randomness and chance. I also don’t think my mom is crazy. Both of us believe what we do about existence in ways that help us grow to be kinder, better people. So who’s wrong? I don’t think either of us are. Does it matter?
Even though I don’t believe in God anymore, I find St Paul’s writings in the bible very helpful. I have a good friend who does believe in God but can’t stand Paul because of the way his words have been weaponised against her (and all women).
I think maybe I’m seeing this stuff about myths and stories and truth with different meanings because I’m feeling brave enough to trust that I can choose the ones I need for the season I’m in. I’m no less a part of the universe than any guru or religious leader out there.
I guess I’m also grown up enough to recognise the limits of such choices. I can tell myself whatever story I want about sunshine and taxes, but I won’t spend eight hours on the beach without wearing sunscreen or try to cheat HMRC.
What I will do is try my best to approach different myths and stories and ideas and philosophies with curiosity instead of fear or suspicion. Even if they don’t have something to tell me right now, I might need them down the road when my circumstances change.
I’ll also take the advice of a recent FRESH guest author:
If a belief is useful, use it. If not, change it. Very few things are objectively true. Use that to your benefit. — Thomas Plaatsman
And I’ll add that something I wrote a while ago: How you believe is more important than what you believe, so don’t worry if you find yourself learning contradictory lessons from time to time.
Tunes for being happy while getting work done
DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ – how great is that name! – turns samples from old TV shows and who know what else into luscious electronic soundscapes of pure pop joy. I listen to music all day while I work, except when I’m editing video. I listen to a ton of different genres, but whenever I need to be seriously productive Right Now I put on DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ’s album Bewtiched. It has exactly the right balance of repetition and variety to keep me focussed and happy.
Fresh talent from Manchester
My daughter introduced me to DellaXOZ before anyone had heard of her. Well, maybe six people had heard of her. Now her music has been on BBC Radio 1. I hope she gets to be huge because I think she’s making very excellent, intelligent pop. ‘i want, doesn’t get’ is my favourite song she’s done so far.
Old but still Reznor sharp
15 years ago before streaming music was really a thing, Nine Inch Nails gave away an album online. I downloaded it and I loved it, then I forgot about it because Spotify came along and my iTunes library sat gathering digital dust. A few weeks ago I remembered it again. It’s still fresh.
thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Jeff! i personally resonate with the ideas around spectrums versus binaries - whether that’s right or wrong, write or don’t write. being more open to and accepting of this fluidity in not just our own, but others’ belief systems, allows for less frustration and more unity. we also love a good dose of DJSTTDJ on FRESH whenever we can!
more GUESTFRESHes still in the pipeline - this could be you this year, so get in touch with us soon!
love amongst the trees,
alright, over to you now - reply to this email with your thoughts! if you enjoy a little prompting:
what belief systems do you hold that contradict each other? how have they helped you in day-to-day life?
what music keeps you focused and happy?
which rising artists are you keeping an eye on this year?