Getting sick is a strange sensation when it creeps up on you. I tend to run worst-case scenarios in my head, but almost always it’s not as bad as I think it might be.
Probably a lesson there for our creative lives, too. However bad we think our work is, there’s good in it, there’s effort and expression. That’s enough for a small piece of what you’re working to make and to be.
This is weird, but with winter, the shifts outside in temperature and severe weather can be like those inside.
The cold can be bracing, even exciting, provided we have someplace to be and to warm up again. Starting a creative project can be similar. If we have an idea of the end, of where we might be going, what it looks like to be done, the work can be a thrill.
Going in completely blind is really rare, and scary. We can shut down before we know it. We don’t need a road map, but we also don’t want a completely open-ended journey where we could be gone for a day or for 20 years. We lose patience and enthusiasm with a random wandering. Deciding on some kind of end is as good as knowing there’s a fire at home after the long walk from the bus stop.
We’re getting pretty good at fake-scaring ourselves. Movies and series and books that terrorize us, temporarily.
But being scared of bigger things is kind of helpful. At least, it can be to your practice. Helplessness, stagnation, despair, apathy—I think these are worthy of our fear, if it leads to our doing something against those. Your practice is your expression of your humanity. It brings a part of your essence into being. Into the world comes a new thing, and we need it.
Your specific existence, at this time, in this place, on this world, is extraordinarily unlikely. It’s worth recognizing by sitting still, taking a slow, deep breath or two, and acknowledging to ourselves that we didn’t have to be here. It’s just a weird happenstance that the something that happened the day you were born turned out to be you.
What we do with our chance at life isn’t always in our control, nor is it always pleasant. It can be hard to do your practice, your thing.
But where there’s awareness of who and where you are, there’s another chance to make, to create—something to affirm that this particular instance of life is your own. It’s always better to take that chance. It enlivens us this mirroring our own existence by bringing something new into being.
There are a number of people I know of—and friends I know—who are either decoupling from the endless social media feeds completely, experimenting with vacations away from them, or moderating down their use and intake of the same. It’s probably healthy to do one of those things if you find you’re not doing the things you think you want to, or feeling gross after scrolling feeds. John Green, no less, is taking a year off social media completely:
He takes time to point out the good things about social media, too, but overall, wants to spend some time being better at the things he wants and needs to do.
Similarly, Wheezy Waiter (Craig Benzine) and his wife, Chyna Pate, quit the internet entirely for a month and vlogged the results:
I think even if we don’t go the radical route, there’s a lot of food for thought in these vids, and tangible utility in understanding the brain hacks of social media and how we might benefit from circumventing them.
I think art, as culture, is essential to our basic humanity. And I mean basic. I think the gap is pretty close to the survival levels of air, food, & water, and if it’s important to you, if it evokes teh feels, it’s no less valid than Tolstoy or Shelley.
Sometimes we’re surprised by those feelings, the stuff that touches us at a deeper “soul” level. And if we’ve thought about it as silly or trifling, I don’t actually mean to say we shouldn’t label them so, in context of unexpected connections, but that we shouldn’t be quick to separate the stuff we find personally meaningful from the stuff we’ve deified as Western canon.
Because art is vital to not just who we are, but WHAT we are. We aren’t fully human without it. The most downtrodden and desperate segment of people still tells itself stories and makes music and pictures. Because they—and we—need to. Art is life, we can’t be humans without it. There is plenty of clumsy, half-assed, disconnected art out there. But let’s not be quick to dismiss what touches us as lesser because it’s silly or simple.
Don’t forget that breaks are your work’s second-best friend, next to habit. Before inspiration, before beauty, before structure.
If you don’t have time to step back and consider, or time to absorb new ideas from elsewhere, there’s going to be too much intensity or not enough—something.
You can fix things later, and there’s almost always time to, after the thing is finished, but you’ll have a better base and scheme for whatever it is if you’ve given consideration to a little rest between work sessions.
It seems like it’s become fashionable to make the amount of work we spend on a project the important part. If we’ve burned the midnight oil through and finished in one go, so much the better! But my experience is that a steady pace with time off between chunks of making is better for both artist and art.
Seems simple, but rare enough for those of us who are still trying to reach master status.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.