Enthusiasm. You need it. It’s the thing that will keep you working when everyone else says you should stop.
Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of John Oliver segments, lately. The thing is, to be in love with your work is a lot of fun, and can encourage you through some dark times. Just getting yourself to sit down and make the things can be hard, and it’s the enthusiasm you have for it that can get you started. And once you’re started, you can keep going. It might take a long time to get to where you love it, but you should at least feel an affection for the stuff you make, otherwise it’s just the Pit of Despair from which you shouldn’t even think about trying to escape.
You don’t have to be your own biggest fan. But you ought to be a fan.
It’s not as if it’s a guarantee of anything, even that you’ll feel creatively fulfilled—or some other vague notion—or emotionally stable.
I used to see the phrase “you do it because you have to,” sprinkled around. This seems designed to weed out the casuals and dilettantes, only serious commitments, please. But obsessive-compulsive behavior can be destructive. And I’ve always thought we need more casuals and dilettantes. Art isn’t for trained professionals, it’s for everyone, it’s part of what makes us human. We should all make it.
We want to feel the deep connection to the universe outside and our deepest selves within. Art is the bridge. It blooms from within by processing everything without. Sure, want to feel it really, really badly, if you’re driven to create.
But if you only want to a little, it’s okay. We still need it out here.
Aging comes with a few characteristic abilities, many of which seem to be complaining—about the weather, what hurts on your body, these kids today (DISCLAIMER: I’m firmly in the the-kids-are-alright camp and expect to continue to remain).
And the cost isn’t cheap. Bodies break down and get slower. It’s nothing unusual, it happens to everyone who keeps living. It’s ordinary stuff.
But there are definite benefits to getting older, and the biggest one is simple, accumulated experience. True, wisdom isn’t inevitable, but it’s a lot easier to harness. Appreciation for beauty and recognition of darkness is easier, too. There’s a wealth of years that lets us understand the world better and how it all fits together.
If you’re an artist getting older, this is your advantage. “Write what you know” becomes a massive toolbox, which for a young person would tend to be a small, spare tray. You can use this in your work: put everything you are into it, because the ocean of accumulated life inside you is very big, indeed.
It’s tax time, more or less, in the United States. The pressure to navigate the labyrinthine codes of law that drive even seasoned accountants to distraction are a lot to deal with for any citizen. For artists, there’s a metaphor.
There are the things we make. There is the money we make. There are the people who like the things, who may pay us something to keep or copy them. Usually not, and those elements don’t necessarily cross over. This is a regular cycle, and we don’t often understand how it works, just that it needs to happen.
But if I want to grow the number I make for the things I make, I do need to grow the people who like the things. And that’s what this year is about, for me. Getting ways established to do both. Stay tuned, I’m working on them.
A few days ago, I was leaving work in a very light rain. The sidewalk slopes sharply down outside the parking lot of this particular strip mall, and I started to slip and fall. I caught myself, just barely avoiding falling or sitting down, hard, with a drink in one hand. A regular customer at my store, someone I’ve greeted and said goodbye to on a regular basis.
I turned, after catching myself, and caught his eye. I could see the concern on his face, then the relief, reflecting my own, that I hadn’t fallen completely.
This simple, very human connection seems to me the central concern of art. It’s essential to connecting the things I make to the people I want to see them (which, to be perfectly egotistically honest, is everyone). We can’t be creating things too far outside the relatable, because what makes art relevant is that connection to experience. Keep letting your thoughts run wild, but remember we’re making these things to express our common experience.
It started to become clear to me earlier in the week that I was due for a downturn in demeanor, questioning the very idea of being and wallowing just a bit in the absurdity of human endeavor. These things come and they go, but it can be annoying and occasionally incapacitating.
I try to remember Camus and embrace the dumb doom, but there’s a new thing gettign in the way of despair, and that’s this blog. At some point the posting became a habit, and I have to write another thing and usually make a picture to go with it, disconnected though they are. It’s strange, but also nice to have such a thing to fall back on in moments when it seems things aren’t worth doing, or that I don’t have any motivation.
It’s a good time to revisit the value of a daily habit, then. Because as I go to bed, and when I get up the next day, I’ll have done a small act of creation, and absurd as that is in the face of a vast and uncaring and impossibly old universe, it feels good to push the rock up the hill just a little bit.
Sometimes it’s not easy. I feel tired, cranky, wishing I could get back home to keep working on projects, or more likely, reading a ton of articles and playing Minecraft. But these things are indulgent acts of self-comfort which, while soothing, aren’t very fulfilling.
Does that make sense? Acts that punch my dopamine button are addictive, and the feeling is a habit my monkey mind wants to keep getting. They’re easy, like getting drunk But the stuff that uplifts me more deeply, that gives me an abiding sense of satisfaction and accomplishment are hard. At least, they’re hard to start.
Similarly, withdrawing into my thoughts and flying on the autopilot of well-worn routines at work is easy. Engaging and supporting people around me is hard. But the former just leads to despair and ongoing dislike of my job. The latter can sustain me through a difficult shift and beyond.
It’s just like working on your creative thing: distraction is easy and a quick path to fun, but it doesn’t nourish you. It’s often harder to start working on creative work, but it nourishes you deeply.
A quick but perennial trope of art making: look at as much as you can, read as much as you can listen to as much music as you can. The eclectic approach doesn’t just feed your soul and demeanor, it supports your work with multiple sources, like a well-planned essay.
With deadlines always approaching of various degree, the best defense against both writer’s block and well-worn creative paths is a continually growing list of other creators we admire. And whom we want to steal bits from.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.