Today was full of ups and downs. While any random day could fit that same description, I mean it. Today was exhausting.
The day job was its own rollercoaster. After work, I needed to finish editing the show. Podcasts are fun, but the post-production takes time. In this case, I spent a good while carefully cutting levels where I was careless recording with the A/C blasting. Music and pop culture clips are a big part of the show, and there were quite a few this time.
I finally finished the edit, and then mistakenly closed the wrong window without saving it.
Losing hours of work due to a dumb mistake is disheartening, but the thought of doing it all over again was almost too much. It reminded me of when my cousin would run into something similar, occasionally. His solution was to shut everything down and just go to bed early.
There’s wisdom in that approach. It’s draining and stressful to work through a disaster. Sometimes you have no choice. But when you do, I say go to bed. Things look better in the morning. You’ll be rested. It will probably be easier to start. Maybe, just maybe, you can laugh at it all.
It’s really tempting to think we can get all the inspiration we need from books and internet. But just walking around outside provides a living window to the world impossible to experience any other way. So much more that’s unexpected is out there.
It’s partly why the experience of cinema is more than just a big screen. It’s some other place, and you don’t quite know what’s going to be around you. It’s also the difference between seeing images of sculpture or paintings and being in front of the real thing (say, Anselm Kiefer or Robert Motherwell or Louise Bourgeois). Those things fill our view. Even more so the world itself, just looking at changes on your block—or better, an entirely new block—jams a million impressions into your senses. It’s invaluable to artists.
Basically, any inch you give will let the dopamine-hungry part of you reach for the easy hits. It’s hard to convince my tired, post-work frazzled self that finishing a creative task will yield a way more satisfying wave of the stuff, but the Internet is heroin.
I just try to keep it in mind. Maybe gradually, pushing back as steadily as you can, you’ll gain a foothold. It feels better, man.
I went to church this morning for the first time in many years. I wanted to hear the Easter music program at a place whose choir has a fabulous reputation.
The night before came. I didn’t want to go.
I was tired, just off work, and knew I wouldn’t have a day off for a while. And it was a big social gathering I’ve grown more reluctant to join the last few years. I thought about just staying in bed. But then I just treated it like I was going to work.
Not steeling myself, not begrudgingly thinking I’d better go. I stopped thinking about it and planned the trip and when I needed to get up. It was a weird trick I hadn’t planned or thought to implement. But treating it like a familiar routine I often use changed my mind about it, from something optional to an appointment.
The music was amazing and beautifully performed, and I was glad to have gone. If I’d left the decision until morning, I probably would have talked myself out of it.
No post actually got uploaded yesterday due to some network issues on my end at home. It does point out the challenges of a consistent daily posting scheme. I’m a bit at the mercy of the Internet gods.
But what’s important, of course, is creating every day, not what makes it to published stage. Cory Doctorow talks frequently about his discipline of a writing schedule. In retrospect, just as he can’t tell which days he felt like he was writing well and which he felt he was writing poorly, I doubt I or anyone else could tell which posts were dashed off very late or after an outage when looked at without dates. The muse and our deftness comes and goes, so we might as well keep the routine internally.
Sometimes a cheap, pandering title is just the thing to tangent from.
We obsess over stories like nothing else. It’s another essentially human thing. Obsession is good, in moderation. We have to have some measure of it to stick with anything when it gets hard.
Just as it’s hard to watch made up people you care about get killed off on screen, it’s hard to watch your ideas fail to find a firm place to take hold and then fade. But there are always more ideas. If we keep on making them, there will be a few that make it.
I see a lot of comments online to the effect of “[animal1]—what did we do to deserve them?” Or, “we totally don’t deserve [animal2]s,” followed by a charming video of [animal]. I’m not immune to such memes.
But if you’ve read Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat That Walked by Himself,” in which the prototypical titular cat gradually ingratiates himself to the woman—this was published in 1902, so, cats were naturally a girl thing—you’ll note that bargains are struck for a give-and-take relationship. Everyone gets value for their contribution.
It’s certainly possible to think of art, the work you make yourself, in this mutually beneficial way. And, like the cat, it’s wild, and aloof, and we don’t fully understand it.
But we strike the bargain, and we both give to and get an insane level of value from art. “Pet” is probably an inept label. Let’s say “companion.” We walk side-by-side and get closer the more effort and time we put in.
If you aren’t relatively old, you probably don’t recall that phrase readily to mind, but it’s from the Disney animated film, The Aristocats. It echoes a common feeling that cats are cool, they’re independent, they’re self-sufficient.
But we are human and we need other humans around, being human with and at us. Cats are great, but we’ll never be one. We think and feel like a person, and have people needs.
We also have human abilities and potential. It’s better than actually being a cat.
The number of times someone asks “what do you do?” when I say I’m an artist varies over time, but it’s a frequent question. And I don’t often know what to say.
If you only do one thing, or only have done one kind of art, this might be easier. But most of us work with multiple media or disciplines. And few artists want to be put in a box, anyway. Yes, today you’re writing a book. But you used to make cartoons, or play keyboards, or make videos. What you’re doing now isn’t always the impression you want someone to go away with.
But there isn’t often an easy—or consistent—answer to the question. It might be because we are all in a state of becoming. We’re still figuring out what we do. You’re a painter. But what kind of painter? There are sub-sub-genres and myriad methods.
And this isn’t for the people who ask you The Question. But it almost doesn’t matter what you tell someone else. Your work is what matters, and as long as you’re making some, it’s part of the process of discovering and revealing itself back to you.
Despondency and resignation are old friends. It feels as if, now and then, I either have a million subjects to discuss or I can’t think of a single meaningful reason to write some things. Or draw them. And so I start to wonder if doing something else is more worthwhile to spend time on.
But the words never really run out. Every day, I find things to talk about with people around me, and something new occurs to me, or is shown to me, or I discover just by looking and listening to the things of the world.
Likewise the images are always potentially there to make, thoughts made into forms I can see. But to get back to this realization from despair—if you like—I have to let go and give up trying. In this way, I somehow gain access to the creative center, a trove filled with all those things I could and sometimes do say or think every day. The ideas don’t have to all be amazing. They just have to be there, and continuing to put them into the world means, eventually, some of them will be amazing.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.