Every time I start thinking about the myth of the lone genius, I think about Fred Rogers. For most of every show, it’s just him and you together, the screen and time separating you, but together in a compelling and connected way. It’s easy to think of him as doing it on his own.
It looks like it’s all him. And, to be fair, he did do a tremendous amount of heavy lifting on his show. But he had production crew, producers, editors, (fellow) musicians, artists, and even consultants. We often need each other and benefit from helping each other. The upcoming documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is a touching and insightful entreaty to enter Rogers’ larger world.
I don’t have a large audience, here. But I’m grateful you’re reading this. Thanks for your time and attention, and for being my internet neighbor.
On a recent podcast, we talked about our nostalgia for several cabinet/enclosed video games and the arcades we visited them in. The swelling wave of Generation X seems poised to roll over everyone, now that the Boomers are entering retirement. I wonder if it’s such a good thing.
No doubt, it’s unstoppable. Golden visions of the past will always out. And there are advantages to nostalgia, they’re described in research about it. It’s when it becomes more important than today that it matters.
In order to be the best makers and creators, we need to be present. We reflect the world both as it is and how we wish it were—or fear it could become.
It’s not living in or for the future. It’s not indulging in the past. It’s being and living now.
Nike’s never improved on its slogan “Just Do It.™” Despite problems with the ads themselves, conflating average shoe buyers with the ambitions of professional athletes and worker pay—and that’s a lot, I’ll admit—it’s still a phrase that transcends its cynical ad agency origins and corporate manipulations to retain meaning over time.
When you think about the things you want, it doesn’t matter whether or not you inspire yourself with dreams of what your work or life will be like some time in the future. All you have is now to start the one, next thing you need to do for your art and your life. Stripped of sentiment, despair, fear, or any other emotional adornment.
A few things I’m learning, because school is never completely over while you can breathe, are as follows:
Despite ambition, drive, ideas aplenty, and opportunity, I am still very, very, very good at procrastinating. If I could market that skill, I’d be CEO of I’ll Do It In A Minute Just As Soon As I Look At This One Thing, LLC. (Market cap: $1.4B)
But two things are helpful in overcoming that trait—Pomodoros and doing the hard stuff first.
If you aren’t familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, here’s a short overview. Basically, you work on tasks in 25(ish) minute chunks and take a 5(ish) minute break in-between, then a long break after 4 of those cycles, of 15–30(ish) minutes. Use a timer. This helps keep you focused during work periods and builds in a recess. Our minds need both concentration and free play to make connections and build memories efficiently. It’s the same with bodies, working out needs sufficient rest to build and strengthen. For me, at least, it helps to know there are breaks coming at specific intervals so I can trick myself into starting and staying at a particular task. One note: I’ve tried to do this just watching the clock, no timer, but I end up going way outside the time blocks. Usually with breaks. Timer.
Making a to-do list before bedtime is working well for the getting more stuff done, and for keeping up with the blog, particularly. Getting started on the hard bits first, I’m noticing better attitude, less sulking, and less angst when I’m not working on things.
And sleep really is, really is, the best component of physical and mental health. If you’re in school, it’s extraordinarily difficult to get your 7.5 hours, I know. But keep it at the forefront of any health concerns. No more midnight oil burning outside of major research papers and final projects, seriously. Putting everything to the side for bedtime has been better for remembering what I’m learning and improving the stuff I’m making.
Most things have an inherent identity. They’re what they need to be and a result of the processes that brought them into being. This is just as true of a tree or a river as a book or music video.
Imagining the thing you’re experiencing as less than some Platonic ideal is missing the point. Whether it’s bad or good is similarly unnecessary. We’re often ignorant of the processes that went into making—or growing, if you like—something, and talk about it as if it should be something more, or better, or bigger.
I’m not saying all judgment or criticism is off-base. Having high standards is helpful, certainly in our own work. But we spend much time bashing and heaping scorn, and sometimes it’s simply irrelevant. Because many times the reason something is not our ideal is that it wasn’t meant to be. The processes of its making required it to be so.
This may seem vague. Trying to make a universal out of a specific is, well, fraught with fuzziness, and it’s hard to be clear. Let things be what they are, as much as you can. This lets you be kind to your own work when you want to throw it in the trash, and to other things when you want to spend your precious time holding it up against an ideal. Because perhaps it was never meant to, nor was trying to be so.
Yoda. The little crotchety green bastard was insightful and perceptive, and I thought he was right about a lot of things, if I didn’t buy completely into his mysticism. That was in the old times, before things got weird.
There are chunks of applicable teachings from him, among them the idea that you shouldn’t be taught his ways if you aren’t fully present.
All his life has he looked away . . . to the future. Never his mind on where. He. Was. Hm? What. He. Was doing.
You can be—and often are—your own worst enemy. Anger, fear, and aggression are the dark side, beware.
You must unlearn what you have learned.
. . . which is different than not learning things. It’s similar in art to saying you have to know the rules in order to break them.
I’m not down with all Yoda says. I don’t believe in The Force, or that it’s believing hard enough that creates success. But if you make some of these saying allegorical, there’s the idea that you can defeat yourself before you begin by focusing on your potential to fail. And, of course, that appearances are often deceiving.
Internet has been patchy here the last couple days. I write posts, they haven’t always got up on time. But such is life: a little on, a little off. It moves on its own schedule, in its own time.
Easier to view our work as life itself, growing in its own time. But stagnating, shriveling, dying if it isn’t done day by day, a little at a time. Neglect to keep adding to practice and it goes nowhere.
It’s a weird, hidden world where all that grows into being, a counterintuitive Upside Down that mirrors our regular world, but is . . . just off ways both obvious and subtle. Pouring our hearts and souls into that world is our pleasure and our obligation.
Joe Versus the Volcano has a plethora of iconic, quotable moments. That may be its primary value, although it still hangs together pretty well, despite a wacky third act that feels like the first two went as far as they thought they could and dared it to out-goofball them.
Early on, there’s one of those where Joe’s boss is in the middle of a phone call seemingly on an infinite loop, thus:
All that smacks us in the face with the soul-draining nature of Joe’s terrible job. The argument sticks, though. At least, it stuck with me, because I’m never sure about the answer myself. Can I do the thing? Further, can I keep doing the thing? I can start making the piece. Can I actually do it? It’s fear again, doubt, the shadow, old faithful.
What’s the remedy? Pull out all the tropes!
The answer is: don’t think about it.
Judge later, or not at all.
Start small and keep going.
Because if it’s possible for us to get in our own way, we will, and habit and taking just one more step can push that aside indefinitely.
I remember the last time I was sick. I can’t remember the last time I was this sick.
Most years I get one or two bouts of cold, the lingering, low-level kind. You know, the scratchy throat, the runny nose, the going to bed okay and waking up worse again, for lit’rally weeks.
But I can usually function, get around, go to work. That’s impossible with this thing. It’s a full-on flu, with attendant tight, phlegmy breathing and aches that have me staggering around like an eighty-year-old with a touch o’ the rheumatis’.
Something extra weird, though, that comes along with epic flu: the world seems surreal, dreamlike. It’s bizarre to have the universe wash over me like this, while I sort of watch in a stupor. It’s like being caught underneath a massive, transparent water balloon, things seem extra bright, but also muffled, sometimes a bit wavery.
I’m trying to understand how I feel, through the brain fog. I’d rather this wasn’t such a surprise next time.
Something positive to takeaway, gotta find something apropos to make a lesson out of, right? Um, maybe that everything doesn’t have to be a lesson. Sometimes observation is helpful and good.
If you feel scattered, overwhelmed, like your progress on, well everything, is tortoise slow, you’re never alone. And if I had to bet, I’d say you’re trying to do too many things, and you should think about dropping one or two of them. I am confident in this, because I do it all the time.
Ironically, to get more done, sometimes you have to slow down. In this case, it means slowing the number of projects you tackle at once. I’ve got this blog, classes, drawing & painting projects, video and music ideas, my show, and a few books going. Some things have to be shouldered aside. Not brutally! Gently, lovingly. These are your passions, after all. You don’t have to beat yourself up, it’s just the big picture that needs to take over when you reach the overload point.
When you get down to a couple or three things that need focus in a week, it’s a manageable juggling act.