Losing it is a big deal for most of us, at least while we’re in the midst of it. Let’s talk a bit about it.
While failure is nothing to be ashamed of—I mean I’m in favor of it—and it’s only human, anyway, losing it is us coming to a compromising emotional state over it. Either we court it directly as an end in itself, because we’re despairing or self-destructive, among other things, or we obsess on it and bring ourselves to despair.
I’m not sure there’s an easy way to cure such a tendency long-term without professional guidance, should you find you’re a habitual self-sabotage, say. But there are two things that can mitigate it. Wait, three things.
Physical exercise: get out, away from your workspace into the outdoors. Walk around. Be brisk, breathe deeply. Stay out for a while.
Keep working. Just do the daily piece of whatever you do, even if it seems futile and terrible. Inevitably, creators who look back at what they’ve done can’t tell when the good days and the bad days are by what the stuff they made is like. Step #1 has an all-purpose steadier: breathe deeply, in. Out.
Be kind to yourself. Remember you have tomorrow and today’s piece is only a small part of the whole. As in #1, breathe.
Speaking of failures, I’m still spending way too much time reading news, political analysis, and random minutiae online, despite a redoubled effort to shift my attention to creating stuff and reading books.
Distraction is easier all the time. Setting out to write this post, I have opened Spotify, messed with battery settings, checked text messages, started to read emails twice and realized what I was doing—it’s really endless.
I’ve learned how to circumvent this monkey mind dopamine loop—MMDL in the literature, I’m pretty sure—pragmatically: make your to-do list he night before, stick to it in Pomodoro segments, start early. It’s still always there, and it’s always a fight. Habits of distraction built up over years, as my social media and information overload have been, are really really hard to break.
I don’t have any real advice, here, maybe just an ongoing reminder that almost nobody knows what they’re doing and is muddling through it all just like you. Unless you’re effective and prolifically productive. In that case, teach me your ways, kind stranger.
There’s a distinct advantage to having long or severe winters. Your boredom is stoked and you have the time to create while you wait for less inclement weather. Genial weather.
Because when shorts and sandals time comes, there’s lots to distract, places to be, things to thing.
The only thing that’s consistently helped me—having grown up in the deserts and asphalt of Arizona and Southern California—is implementing a habit as daily discipline.
The periodic creativity romanticized by a private holing up and creating a masterpiece tropes has long been exemplified for me by Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp. I recommend all writers and artists in general find that piece. It’s one of the most penetrating, incisive looks at creative process, eschewing hand-waving techniques like montage. It’s visceral and arresting, and creators will recognize themselves throughout.
Ooh, clickbaity. You know the answer, right? Here’s where I say, “There isn’t one. Only hard work and determination can move your art forward and to fruition,” and then I smugly sign off.
But no. That’d be some kind of cheesy cop-out. It’s not that there’s any single, simple secret to whatever anyway, there are heaps, piles, loads.
I was well involved in the New Age movement of the 80s & early 90s. Most of it I later tossed aside, but one thing quickly became abundantly (see what I did there?) clear: we are really good at coming up with prescriptives, keys, aphorisms, solutions, directives, proverbs, and maxims that sound like and feel like they’re true.
And they may be.
But they aren’t some holy or benevolent revealed wisdom, they’re from the same place any intuitive process comes from—inside us. And any one of us can make them into personal affirmations or principles.
Go ahead, make up a universal truth about creativity, and apply it to your practice. Irony abounds, because maybe this is the one true secret to unlocking your inner genius.
Or probably not. But it will keep you thinking about your work, and how you best accomplish it.
It used to be called, of course, “working.” Management and clients didn’t request our attention to be split several ways and to try to do more than one thing at once. Multitasking—which is more accurately task-switching—though, is inefficient and draining.
I’ve been going through Note to Self‘s Infomagical series from 2016 the past couple days, and the first challenge is to spend a day only working on one thing at a time. Try it, you’ll probably find, as I did, that you spend a lot of effort thinking about your distracting digital life: social feeds, email, updates, notifications. Doing one thing until it’s done is harder than you might think.
How very human it is to desire rituals. They’ve been part of who we are as long as history, and almost certainly from the dawn of us becoming human in the first place.
We’d love to be iconoclasts, smashing the stuffy conventions and customs of the past. But it might be detrimental to be too enamored of the new. We still find truth and connection in our traditions, and that desire for them may well fill a biological need.
There is such a thing as going too far, creatively, if we lose a work being relatable.
A woman I didn’t know hugged me at work the other day. She had mentioned the card scanner always says, “approved,” at the end of a transaction, and said she liked how it validated her. This devolved into some jokes about how we rely on machines so much now, downplaying the need for validation.
I said, “We all need approval now and then, especially during the holiday season.” She immediately moved around the counter and opened her arms to hug me. I gratefully met her embrace.
When we separated, she said, “aw, you guys are gonna make me cry.”
We can’t forget our need for human contact. We need each other sometimes, the introverted and the extro-.
Remember we usually make things for other people. We aren’t sending objects into the void, we need reactions, responses, takes.
We need to connect. We don’t have be wary of that need.
It’s inevitable we will fail at some point. Your will falters, your power goes out, your life’s emergencies take precedence. This is all okay.
What’s important isn’t succeeding always and forever. It’s persistence. Tenacity is more powerful than success.
It’s even helpful to get knocked down, here and there. There’s value in how much we have failed, since we learn the most from it. Getting up again to keep going is what matters. Soon, we’ll have left the disasters and the disappointments far behind. Learning allows growth, and growth leads us to greater potential. Fail faster, and with grace and joy.
We’re well on the way to full Christmas music saturation. At my job, the Xmas soundtrack channel is de rigeur until the fateful day itself. That level of constant jingling all the way can be oppressive. But despite the hammering of tunes popular during Boomer childhoods, there is zero shortage of new to newish Holiday Season music to revel in. Some of my favorites are
Tracy Thorn – Tinsel & Lights
Said the Whale – West Coast Christmas EP Collection
The 8BitPeoples – The 8 Bits of Christmas
Low – Christmas
They’re weird, melancholy, and even at their oldest (1999,) refreshing. I tend toward humbugitude, but I can’t deny there’s a sizable part of me that indulges in this most sentimental of holidays. My mom was especially good at a gentle transition into Xmas madness, and I have a cadre of core albums from my childhood we used to listen to every year as we wrapped up dinner and my brother and I headed off to bed. We drifted to sleep to strains of Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, The Carpenters, and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvania Singers. But those have a special time and place. We have lots more to saturate the season with, and it comes with some measure of surprise, of sparkle. Tradition is meant to be comfortable. But the new comes with promise and possibility, as well as the change that life offers with the renewal of the year.