One of the strangest elements of going to sleep is losing consciousness. The person we are seems to just go away for a while. The person who wakes up isn’t quite the same consciousness. So are we the same person we were the day before?
Whether this holds true as we study the way consciousness works is, to me, irrelevant to the application of it to art and to making. It may be useful to think of ourselves as always renewing, always arising with the potential and promise of a new person—who still holds pretty much the same ways of thinking, goals, and student loan debt.
It’s easy to get caught in the quicksand of self-doubt and worry, of course. The negative “what-ifs” that catalog all the things that can go wrong. The critic telling us we’re not good.
But we also can decide to think of ourselves as new beings, and there are all the things that can go right. Maybe you’re not the same person: you’re someone else stepping into the place of the one who was in your place yesterday. Someone who has the memories, but doesn’t have to take on the baggage of yesterday
Tomorrow, we are different people. We can start our making again, and maybe not beat ourselves up about how good it is because, well, we’re new.
For the vast majority, dreaming is healthy and necessary to maintain good mental and even physical health. And sleep means dreaming at some point.
But the opposite isn’t always true. Dreaming doesn’t always require sleep. We do a different kind of dreaming as artists. And it’s a twofold phenomenon: we dream not only by envisioning new images, sounds, and words, but also as we work on bringing those visions to life. Making art entails a kind of dream state at times, which is so appealing it keeps us coming back to feel it again. That sense of flow during creation is like nothing else.
Along with the work, you need time to dream, and to avoid criticizing yourself when you do it. As long as it’s not taking the place of bringing a dream to reality, a healthy level of dreaming is necessary. For good art health.
Not Being Ruled by the Pervasive Nature of Get-Back-on-the-Horse-ism
There are plenty of places to go to get advice on overcoming procrastination, and that’s nice to have. We do need to get work finished. But I think we sometimes casually accept a rather oppressive standard for making things, or getting stuff done. That’s the metaphorical idea that if you start riding, and you fall off the horse, you need to get back on ASAP and start riding again.
And so there’s a value in that idea, specifically that it tries to get us not to give up easily, and further that it’s easier to start again or keep going on a thing or a task if you immediately try again. That’s probably true. But maybe unnecessarily demanding. We aren’t given much room for having missed targets, or just plain failing.
I’ll propose a preliminary action: give yourself a minute. It’s really easy to beat yourself up for failing, for missing, for not quite getting to the goal you set. It’s okay that you didn’t. You don’t have to feel bad about it, or try to push aside your emotions. Feel your feelings. Pause for a sec.
I think it makes it a bit easier to do the necessary thing and start again.
Good Ol’ Nick, Ol’ Pal, Ol’ Buddy, Getting Things Done
Many of us have a tendency to shorten names of things. Nicknames are a staple trope of parody, from Rich, the office nicknamer on Saturday Night Live in the 90s (played by Rob Schneider) to any number of frat boy stereotypes on YouTube—usually prefixing the word, “bro”.
This can be affectionate or belittling. People have various reactions, I think, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their feelings when hit by one. What I would hesitate to validate is a tendency to shorten up the work you do. I watched other artists do it in school, and I see some of them doing the same now.
We’re under tremendous pressure as a society—Americans, specifically, but it crosses boundaries—to be continually more productive. We’re encouraged to get more done, quicker, in higher volume. I think we should avoid subjecting our art to that pressure.
Time is precious, but time is something art can luxuriate in. It takes as long as it takes. To be sure, we need to keep up the habit, keep going, strive for flow every day. But rushing is out. Productivity is out. As long as you’re showing up to make the thing, it should take as long as it needs to take, without pushing it into being. Take the weight off yourself, your work will unfold as it’s ready.
It happens. I say be destroyed by stories, shows, albums, interpretive dances. All that stuff that makes you feel so vulnerable is a piece of your being now, and you need that depth of feeling if you’re going to make sincere work.
Game of Thrones and/or new Mountain Goats album it up.
Living Up to Expectations Is a Game Unnecessary to Play in the First Place
Art, of course, art isn’t a competition. There areoccasional exceptions, as when someone wins a first place at the fair, say. But in general, we aren’t here to win any games or contests. We’re putting stuff out into the world because of loving the making.
I’m not one to go quoting rock lyrics—oh, all right, yes I am. Mostly I do to myself, but if some unsuspecting cow-orker or friend accidentally quotes a piece of a song I know or something close to it, I’ll jump in there and finish a line. Usually I’m just the weirdo being weird, and I have to explain what I’m talking about.
I thought a long time ago that it was easily as valid a choice to apply some lyricist’s rhymes to my life as any random philosopher. And I still do, mostly. Snippets of philosophy rarely do justice to the thoughts behind them pulled out of context. We apply phrases and lines to events and situations to graft our own extemporaneous meaning onto those things, anyway. So what does it matter the context of the original?
Art making is sometimes similar. Our influences and favorites sneak into our work all the time. Usually it’s not wholesale, but just a hint of the thing it came from. It’s a method of brushstroke. It’s a melodic quirk. It’s a metaphor stretched in a peculiar, but compelling, way.
Little pieces of out-of-context art from fellow artists, like lyric snippets, have stuck in our souls. When they emerge, it’s because they’ve become part of us, and therefore shape our own work. Embrace that weirdness, because it all makes you, you.
After a Long Bout of Sun, the Rain Will Come Again
The opposite of what’s commonly thought of as “good weather” can be the sought after and enjoyable type to some. Specifically, to me.
Today was rainy for the first time in a couple of weeks. For me, growing up in the deserts of Arizona and California, rain is like a strange and beautiful prize. I can’t get enough, or at least I don’t know what my limit is. If this love of cloudy days and speckled windshields defies expectations, good.
We all—me included—need our assumptions challenged regularly.
A Steady Drip of Ideas and Disorientation on the Edge of Sleep
You can get plenty of weird ideas while you’re falling asleep. And weird ideas—or unexpected, if you like—are what you want if you’re an artist. But execution is missing. You’re tired, drifting. It’s nearly impossible to bring an idea to reason, never mind fleshing it out.
But ideas are valuable just to keep handy. They’re easy, fruitful, and full of possibility. That’s all they need to be on their own.
The Best Answer About Life and What Comes After From a Thoughtful Human Being
I spend considerable time every Mother’s Day missing mine. It is getting a little easier balancing that with remembering how lucky I was that she was so amazing.
But I couldn’t help sharing this small, profound moment from Keanu Reeves’s appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. It’s just a person who’s aware of our place in the universe and he tells the truth.
“What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”
“… I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”