Demented and Sad, but Social

The words of John Bender (he bends the rules! Get it?) in The Breakfast Club come up when I think of either the word “social” or the word “demented.” I’m not in the general habit of enshrining John Hughes lines, but sometimes they stick like duct tape to butt cheeks.

One thing about the city, you don’t lack for activity. Not all of it is good to participate in, to be sure. But there are things to do. That is, things to do outside one’s home.

Something about artists and never ending projects: either we’re working on them, or we’re talking about working on them. Procrastinating is it’s own art form, and Things To Do™ are sometimes the barrier, rather than the path.

With none of this in mind, I attended two social events this past week, rather than my preferred zero. It’s not that I don’t have a good time while I’m in them, it’s that I know I’ll want to leave to go back home to read or study or create sooner than most of the people in attendance.

The other drawback is I can’t leave things like this blog to the last minute, because I’ll likely be home very late and need to work the day job the next day. So being social takes over the art stuff. It’s a strange paradox, wanting to do the former even though it means pushing aside the latter. More of the fear coming through. The best course is to work the rule of 5 ASAP, and get even a little done. That’s the goal for the next social event, and if I remember, I’ll report how successful (or demented) it was.

Maybe Getting Lost Is the Best Path Now and Then

There’s a general sense—in the United States, particularly—that negative emotions are objectively bad and need to be countered immediately with positive thoughts. The drive to improve our health, status, income, and productivity is relentless. At least, it seems so to me.
But I think there’s an unappreciated world in dark moments, down days, moody patches. Being human is a spectrum of emotions, and being an artist requires being open to possibility. How can we be effective interpreters of the universe if we shun a big part of ourselves?
It might seem scary at first to just let some shadow feelings alone when they show up. But there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about them. It’s what we do with those feelings that makes the difference. I think suppressing or ignoring our emotional spectrum is a problem, and I doubt it makes for good art. Affective, relevant, insightful art is what moves us, both to shape our view of the world and to better connect with each other.

Looking Down Has Its Moments

We, the digital set, the technorati, the first world era, are castigated for looking down at our phones constantly.

But there’s a world to notice down there. On the ground, the street, the road. It’s all strange and overlooked colors, bits of stone, stains, scraps, fluff, fragments, trash, cracks, critters, patterns, paint, plants, paper, pools, plastics.

If your habit is to look down at your feet as you walk, spend some time looking up. But if you’ve been on your phone or staring straight ahead on your commutes, check out the view below.

Still Life With Movement and Music

I attended a housewarming last night. I knew almost no one. These occasions are cause for me to greet my social anxiety like an old friend, or more like a sadistic Ghost of Christmas Present, full of boisterous merriment that seems rather malevolent. But that’s my problem.

If I can figure out a passable excuse, I’ll stay home. If not, well, I’ve been known to bring a book to parties and read in a corner. But I’ve tried very hard to curb that introverted instinct. To not withdraw, to be more present in the moment. It’s good to push against your boundaries, at least regularly. Social gatherings are prime opportunities to observe. As artists, we are supposed to be doing that more, to see and to listen and to feel as deeply as possible.

So, I went. As most often happens, I had a good time for longer than I’d thought. Most importantly, I met new people, saw new places, and listened to an impromptu music jam started by a few musicians among the bunch. People danced. Conversations bloomed. I soaked in life.

Where Everything Comes From

10 of the streetcars in Portland were made in the Czech Republic

The short answer—the general, universal answer—is that things come from all over. I saw the above plate on the inside of a streetcar tram in my city. It was strange to see, but I was more disappointed I hadn’t noticed it right away. It took several trips, even sitting close to the front wall, before I read the plate. Stuff arrives near you from everywhere and anywhere. That isn’t the point, though.

The point is that we don’t often care or even notice where things come from, but beginning to pay attention, whenever possible, is another way of opening up to noticing the things we often overlook. And noticing more is key to growing as an artist. We need to see clearly, and find details in ordinary things. That’s a puzzle piece that completes a big section in the overall creative jigsaw.

Returning to Form, Maybe

I’m back! Probably! It’s been a long, traumatic move. Being in a new place, with old stuff, is disorienting. Habits I thought I’d established are more easily broken. But still, change is usually good. It’s inevitable, so better to go the Taoist route and bend rather than break.

As easy as it is to blow off posting here, it’s also uncomfortable. I like the discipline of it, and I think it helps me, creatively. It’s also easy to beat myself up about missing days, but that approach only makes us want to stay away more. Whatever we do—our thing, our work—if it’s habitual, is valuable not just for its content, but also its ability to act as outlet, or creative hydrant. Its meaningfulness is deeply ingrained in the simple act of creation. We should continue.

The Absence of Art Is the Art of Absence, or Something

Involved in a tabletop game the other night, I had a chance to hold forth—probably too enthusiastically and vociferously—on John Cage’s iconoclastic piece, “4′ 33″.” There’s plenty of analysis on the work, but what struck me at the time was the following: Claude Debussy is supposed to have said (among other similar composers/musicians), “music is the space between the notes.” Cage simply expanded the space until that’s all there was, metaphorically making a silent composition music, not the lack of music.

But, naturally, these are concepts that make us think about what music is, about its nature. It’s akin to “is it art just because it hangs on the wall?”

Side note, just consider my lack of posts the previous two days to be a riff on Cage. Or that I was moving to a new apartment and exhausted and disorganized. One of the two.

Moving Ahead While Keeping an Eye on the Rear View Media Mirror

There’s a weird feeling when you’re engaged in a transformative action, like, say, moving, and also picking through bits of nostalgia. For me, the past week and a half has been littered with feelings of trepidation and elation, both brought on by the realization of moving possessions and location. But it’s also given me a strange desire for familiar media.

So, I’ve watched bits of Groundhog Day. The Empire Strikes Back. Also, much more obscurely, the Yogscast Jaffa Factory series on YouTube. While I’m wary of the dangers of nostalgia in general, I’ve kept a kind of distance from these things, unable to stop the perspective I’ve gained over the intervening years. Rather than try to recapture how I was feeling at those particular moments, I’ve been seeing some things with present day filters and world views.

It’s my hope that this is good for my work, to keep moving forward by acknowledging the past and things I’ve been influenced by, while crafting something new. I suppose that for others to decide, but it feels right and good, at the moment.

The Bridge Out of Somewhere Is Always the Bridge TO Somewhere

Don’t forget. There isn’t a straight, one-way path that is objectively better than others.

I have spent way too much time in the past looking at where I’d been and thinking how I could’ve been better than I was, that the stuff I’d made could be more refined, or even totally different.

But the trick was always to pay attention to where I was headed, not the place I’d been. There’s beauty in change and traveling creative roads you’ve never been down before.

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Fire

One of the advantages of moving is gaining new perspective in a new place. Whatever routines and stagnation you might have gotten used to or stuck in, say bye-bye, pal, they’re gone and you have to establish new ruts and habits.

One of the disadvantages is that it’s not completely safe. Case in point, I fell down a few stairs and am very, very sore. Luckily, it’s mostly bruises, both flesh and pride. Care has to be taken.

But the small risks of breakage—both flesh and dish—are worth it, since breaking the old routines and changing spaces are good food for creating things.