The Quick, the Plodding

The Quick, the Plodding

If the work goes fast, you’re in the zone. You’ve found the muse, and things are looking up. You finally know what you’re doing.

And if it doesn’t, if it’s a terrible slog and you have no idea how to continue, or even how this works, any more, the response is the same.

We show up the next day and still do the work. Because it isn’t going to matter in a hundred, or even a dozen days how you felt today. Either you made things, or you didn’t. Over time, it gets fuzzy whether it was a good or a bad day. But if there’s something you made, it stands on its own.

When It Goes Wrong

When It Goes Wrong

It’ll happen. Despair and work from the depths of your being go hand-in-hand. From time-to-time. What can you do?

The stark option is to quit, stop working. Do something else with your free time. It’s an easier way, at least at first. The itch will be there at the back of your consciousness unless you channel it into another pursuit of making things.

The obvious answer someone with a blog writing about creation and art will say is that you have to keep working. It’s obvious because the idea surrounds us, culturally. I’m a big fan of “JUST DO IT™” as it applies to life in general, don’t get me wrong. But try something else.

Stop.

Not forever. Just for now. Look at everything you’ve done, and everything you want to do outside your routine. Breathe deeply, steadily. Try to imagine you aren’t attached to any outcome. Remember that you’re just doing the work and the process is your discipline. Discipline has its own benefits, creation has its own benefits, regardless of how bad it is, or how wonderful it is.

Then start working again. Just do it.

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 1: Green

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 1: Green

“We were talking about heroes,” said Lynn. She was still standing in the water, small waves oscillating into her legs, making her sway every few seconds. Hakim didn’t look at her. He stared ahead, at the horizon, an imaginary line where sea met sky. The infinite, transparent above and the deep unknown below.

“I thought this would be the catalyst for me, I thought it’d be where I did my work and played with my friends. It doesn’t feel like a place for me, any more. Maybe it’s too big and I need something small to figure things out from. Maybe I can only figure out those answers away from here.”

She went on. “My favorite ones were all ordinary people who felt something. Maybe they’d always felt it. They didn’t necessarily want to answer the call, they just had to.”

“So, this makes you a hero?” He was smiling just a little as he said it.

She grinned, but then stood up straight in the water. “Yes,” she said. “You’re damn right it does.”

They laughed, and looked at each other, and walked back out of the water.

The Wars of Stars

The Wars of Stars

There’s something magnetic about a richly detailed universe, full of adventure and magic. And history. After 40 years, George Lucas’s original gift to geekdom has no end of stories, art, technical specs, and lore attached, both in- and out-of-canon. So, yeah, no shit—why point out the obvious?

Maybe to say you never know how your ideas are going to be received, and sometimes they take over the zeitgeist. That is a tantalizing possibility, but it’s also a pretty long shot. I’m thinking past that, however.

There’s nothing obvious about the bare idea. It’s even silly in many respects: an advanced technological society of humans (and non-) “a long time ago,” and “far, far away” doesn’t make much sense, biologically, without much hand-waving. Never mind that the title has only the vaguest oblique connection to the story. That some people have figured out a way to have magic powers is a stretch further. But it wasn’t just the idea that mattered. It isn’t now your ideas that matter. Ideas are a dime a dozen, or cheaper than that. What makes possible the capturing of an audience’s imagination is the execution, the crafting, the details. It’s the seed versus the spreading tree.

Unless your ideas take over your consciousness, fill up your world view, and become another universe, they don’t even have the chance.

It doesn’t have to be big, some seeds are a dandelion, and some are baobabs. It can be a glimpse or an epic. Either way, plant that thing and cultivate.

Quick Work

Quick Work

Working to deadlines is often necessary. Time is the one luxury we can’t invoke more of with greater resources, it just gets reallocated.

But, as in every other aspect of creating that requires shoving other things and obligations aside in order to do the work, even a short time is better than none. Here’s where the habit comes in: it takes over when stress and lack of motivation are high.

And, sometimes, we can only produce a small amount of something. Some times are filled with despair and uncertainty. We can only trust that these are transitory. Everything passes by. What might make a difference is that it’s rare something has to be finished in one day. Mostly, work is done in stages, building on things that were done on previous days.

We trust that the pile we’re throwing today’s work upon is going to look better, eventually. It isn’t about today, nor tomorrow. And that holds true even during times we feel good about the shovelful we’ve made in any one day. When there’s flow and inspiration and a sense of insight, it’s still only a passing day’s work to throw on the heap, and it’s little different whether it’s hours’ worth or a few minutes. You won’t be able to tell when you got a little done or a lot, it’s still one big, lumpy pile of work. Consistency is always better. And the rest is editing.

Knowing It When You See It

Knowing It When You See It

What’s bad writing? It came up after I saw quite a lot of comments about the upcoming Ready Player One movie. I said at the time to a couple other Generation X geek friends that I was liking the book, but also that I felt it impossible to separate my assessment of its quality from the onslaught of nostalgia porn. Every reference didn’t resonate with good memories, but enough of them did that the rest just helped keep me in the time period. Which, as those who lived through it (specifically, the 1980s) can attest, was often a scary, chaotic whirl, musically, fashion-wise, and politically. I was at least half-sure we’d immolated in a fiery holocaust of hastily-lobbed ICBMs at any moment. My feeling didn’t change after I’d finished, either—I liked it, but was it good, or just pushing my vanished adolescent buttons?

And it’s very, very hard to define “bad writing” objectively, without using specific works upon which one has ground one’s axe in the definition. As a friend said, “maybe it’s like obscenity.” You just know it when you see it. It’s necessarily vague and subjective, because we like such different things about various mediums. Beyond the obvious, like grammar and typos/spelling, there’s a lot of room for style and being idiosyncratic. Analysis ranges widely. Some think abstract painting is abominable trash, others think it’s more essentially artistic than any other style.

Applied to our own work, sometimes we worry about people trashing it, dismissing it. If we’ve worked honestly, with a goal of being our most essential selves, I believe it’s our truest expression, and what we should strive for. If what you’re offering is different than most or all others, there’s an audience for it who likes the thing you’re doing and  possibly you, as well. It’s just a matter of finding the right means of exposure, having persistence, and some luck after that. Or, sometimes if you’re doing a thing lots of others are, if you’re a different enough personality, you draw them by being who you are.

What do you get out of the artists, writers, and musicians you follow? How much is really cool evaluation of its worth and how much because you just like the way their things are made? Or, simply, the people doing it?

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 2: Yellow

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 2: Yellow

“And the bulk of it was pretty easy, even though it was basically no advance warning,” she said. She made her way down the sidewalk outside the park-and-ride lot, still on the phone, but listening now rather than talking. She felt out of breath, not just from having to move quickly, but also explaining herself in a tumble over the last several minutes.

It was the call she’d put off making—her mother, always supportive in principle, but worried and questioning in practice. She wasn’t ever sure how to convey the finality of her decisions once she’d made them. To Mom, every choice was just a possibility, no matter how crossed-tee, dotted-aye, copied and filed away for reference it was.

“I’m not doing this because it’s a sure thing, Mom,” she said, “I’m doing it because it isn’t . . . No, I’m not throwing anything away, I’m making something new. Opportunity isn’t always the way forward . . . No, I don’t think it’s cryptic.”

The sun was halfway to its zenith now. The asphalt beside her was ash-colored in the light, the sidewalk pale as sand. The airport she was walking into reflected dozens of fractured shards of glare from as many steel embellishments. Her plane was fueling, taking on food and pillows and in-flight magazines, soon to rise into the searing sky on its way to Albany and the house in the woods.

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 3: Red

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 3: Red

She was still sitting on the porch of the house when the day ended. She wondered if it had been the best way, leaving everyone and just about everything she’d known for the last eleven years behind to follow a new path and make this work. Wondering—that was another method of avoiding things she had to do, in the end.

There was room for Hakim, room for his guitar. She missed him already. But she needed to claim the house for herself, first. Get some life worked into its corners before she could share it. She wanted to understand herself again so she could write in her most open way. This feeling of being lost, when her goal had been the opposite, was typical. Her fears were calmed first, as they always were, by questioning what she was doing, and only later by working.

Maybe there are always questions, she thought. Always us telling ourselves we’re doing it wrong, the timing isn’t good, we should hold on a bit longer. Wait, wait, wait.

The sunset, filtered through the trees, was turning everything a light crimson. For Lynn, it wasn’t ominous or anything. It felt like a signal, an alert. She left the quilt on the porch and went to find her laptop. It felt like the moment to finally get on with things. She did.

Signifying Nothing

Signifying Nothing

I’m a big fan of Song Exploder, which gives us a partial behind-the-scenes sausage production view of a specific song, as related by the artists. The mechanics of creativity are endlessly fascinating, even if they don’t add up to much on their own.

But still, it’s useful for artists to examine others’ processes. It can inform our own, give us ideas, offer new possibilities. Even when the medium is not your own, a glimpse at raw creativity in motion is inspiring, and we can make connections to our work we didn’t even think about before.

I associate Nine Inch Nails with fury, and obviously they are mostly concerned with sound. The band Grizzly Bear is similarly concerned, and they offer a counterpart: sometimes touching the sublime. But there’s little anger in the SE episode below. Here are two episodes of SE, examining each band and the details of creation in making a song apiece, each approaching sublimity. They signify nothing, but out of nothing everything was born.

Episode 124: Nine Inch Nails

Episode 113: Grizzly Bear

When Heroes Disappoint

When Heroes Disappoint

Just as we’re sometimes disappointed in our work, we often find ourselves disappointed in the artists we look to for inspiration, either in their own art or for the way they carry it and themselves forward through the world. They make something we don’t like, or even that we think is categorically bad. Or worse, act in an inappropriate or appalling way to other people. It can happen for anyone we admire or want to emulate, our heroes and idols, public servants and officials. It’s often called “becoming disillusioned.”

Disillusion’s counterpart is illusion, often a key component of art itself. Paintings and drawings have from the beginning embodied that quality, and film & video carry it even further. The cinema phenomenon, sitting in what is basically a glorified cave watching flickering images on a wall, is a well-advanced example of the persistence of vision—a high-order illusion.

Illusion is a suspension of belief, in a way. The metaphor could be extended to the magician’s art: fooling us with misdirection or quick manipulation, or an undisclosed set of preparations to change the objects we think we’re seeing whole and unaltered.

We give in to what we think we perceive, even though it might be something else, something mundane and imperfect, underneath. Disappointment in what we once were fascinated or impressed by is often the result of seeing that ordinary reality. We watch a behind-the-scenes video of a favorite film, or of someone explaining how a magic trick is done, and it’s hard not to feel a little cheated by the revelations.

I’m not at all saying this is intrinsically bad. We love our illusions, but we also want basic levels of truth and justice and efficacy in the world. Living in a world of illusions is a temporary goal, and reality, as messy and boring as it can be, also contains untold wonders of experience and understanding. As we work to increase equality and awareness of justice in our world, it’s perhaps only to the good to accept our disillusionment as part of that process.


Just came across ResistBot. It links you to your representatives in Congress, “no downloads or apps required.” In case it was in question from the general tone of this post, my goal is not to be neutral on this blog. For Americans (I’d rather be more accurate, but United-Statesians is awkward), at least, it’s a way to keep our politicians aware of our stances on issues like social justice, sexual harassment, environmental pillaging, net neutrality, and everything else.