We’re all affected by the weather. It’s just that we’re affected in deeply different ways. Art is the same. There are commonalities, we know something is abstract or naturalistic or minimalist. But how we feel standing in front of a Rothko or a Gericault or a Morris is personal.
It’s Christmas Once More, and the World Is About to Remake Itself Again
I’m at my brother’s house for Christmas. It’s great to be with family again, we missed it last year. Getting back together with your friends and/or family is one of the touted treasures of the season. But sometimes overlooked is the coexistence of winter holidays with the solstice, when the darkest days—of the northern hemisphere—turn back toward the light.
I’m never against a little darkness in the world. All those Darth Vader t-shirts and stormtrooper backpacks show that we kinda like it. We carry it within us and we use it to entertain ourselves and to teach good ways of being to others. But we don’t do well giving in to dark impulses or even weather all the time.
The light comes again, we experience renewal as winter fades and spring promises growth all around us. It just means more when we understand the cold and dark things and don’t shy away from exploring them and understanding them.
Usually, I’ll get caught up in the early December—or late November—buzz, and then suddenly it’s Christmas Eve. This long, difficult year is ended, and it feels like I’ve had some time to revel in the beginning of Winter and a gradual approach. I hope all of you have a fun and fulfilling celebration of the turn of another year, in your chosen/traditional ways.
Too Many Choices Stops the Choosing, or, How We End Up Doing Nothing Because We Can Do Everything
The internet is the ultimate in potential for choice paralysis. Endless reading, gaming, shopping, viewing. It’s amazing and wonderful to have such bounty available. But it’s in our limitations that we find not only creative ways to solve our problems, but also a certain comfort.
When we have too many options, we spend time deciding among them. It’s time that could have been spent working on your thing, or enjoying some other art. Sometimes, the overwhelming nature of possible things to do makes us shut down and just spend our time with the familiar. Films we’ve seen a dozen times, music we could sing along to in our sleep. That’s fine. But when we say we want to try new things, it helps to have fewer options.
I don’t, unfortunately, have a consistent methodology for narrowing internet choices, but I think it’s probably worth working on, if even in a deliberate, manual, conscious way.
It can seem—and it has to me—that if happiness studies show lowered expectations are key to the relatively greater happiness of, say, The Danes, why not drop them altogether?
But expectations of some level can keep us motivated, expecting just a little consistency or even decency can hold the cads and careless on our lives accountable. Even holding ourselves accountable is one small reason to have a base level of expectation. So, not the moon, but some kind of light, however small.
Not Yet With the Best Ofs, there’s Still Year Left.
I used to really dislike the song, “Santa Baby,” in its many variations. But after hearing the original Eartha Kitt version and reading the lyrics, I’ve turned it around in my head. It’s a grossly materialistic plea, for sure, but it’s also a cute bit of fun, if you don’t take it too seriously.
And, of course, that’s not a bad lesson for life, and for your art. We cringe a little at artists who are really earnest about the value of their own work. Meh. Artists with a sense of humor, and perspective, make me want more of their stuff. It’s a more enjoyable way to experience life and art, both.
Change is all around us. It’s baked into the nature of the universe. Maintaining a little openness to change gives you some flexibility in other areas of life, not to mention your work. It’s the cross-cultural principle that appears in The Talmud, Aesop’s Fables, the Tao Te Ching, and others: be flexible like a reed or a willow, not hard and unbending like a dead branch or a hardwood.
Stopping and Looking Around Once in a While So as not to Miss It (And by “It,” I Mean, Y’know, Life)
The wit and wisdom of Ferris Buehler? Probably could have been a bestseller if they’d had the stones to publish it during the 80s when Ferris was hot. But still. It is true, I believe, that you need to keep looking around you at your world and your life. It does move pretty fast. We can easily get caught in our routines and drudges and overlook the weird, the exciting, the beautiful things that just seem to appear right next to us.
I put up a photo on Instagram a few days ago, showing a gorgeous yellow field of ginkgo leaves next to the freeway near my apartment. Now, just days later, it’s not so amazing—just another patch of bare dirt and some piles and patches. Keep watch: beautiful and strange stuff just shows up, briefly, and you need to be ready for it.
Liking What You Do Is More Important Than What It Is
Speaking strictly about art (although it might apply to other things), what smart people in the distant past have understood is that your passion for your work brings out the deepest levels and the ideas that are most you. And being yourself is the ultimate goal.
We understand it today because it becomes obvious pretty fast—if you look—that imitating others’ success only gets a little traction, professionally and personally. You’ll almost certainly enjoy your work the more it comes from within you. You don’t have to wonder if it fits the current trends, just that it’s yours. It’s sometimes possible to game the system a bit, but it won’t be as fulfilling as following your own path.
We all stand on the shoulders of our heroes and our predecessors. We learn by practicing and imitating. But the most fun and the most rewarding things are becoming more completely yourself. And it won’t matter what that is, it’ll matter how you feel about it.
The Experience of Failure and Its Diminishing Negative Effects
NaNoWriMo has come and gone. For the second time, I haven’t finished my novel. I have failed to do something.
It’s really no big deal. I fail at a lot of things I try. So does anyone who attempts anything big, or beyond their comfort zone, their routine. Unless you were all talk, it matters that you didn’t just say you were going to do something, but that you actually tried. The important thing is to recognize you broke out of the regular day and leapt.
There are always lessons to learn in any creative attempt. The things we learn today can be applied to what we do tomorrow. They help make those things easier, and there will be successes based on everything we know and have learned. And, often, we had fun! There was joy in making things we didn’t know how to make.
The more we try these new things, unfamiliar things, harder and deeper and more demanding things, the more we learn about life, ourselves, and creativity. The more we do them, the less importance failure has on our existence, and the easier it is to try something else that’s new, or that we know better how to complete.
The fact that I fell down isn’t as important. Getting up and keeping moving forward is.