When you live in New York or any big city, it is easy to fail at growing up. The city is designed to keep you in a state of perpetual adolescence. You never need to learn to drive if you don’t want to. And even if you do drive you can go back to that bar you went to when you were twenty-one, and it will still be there, and it will still be called Molly’s, and the older waitress there will still remember you and let you sit where you want. And feel be years later, when she is no longer there, when there is just a picture of her above the bar on a place of sad honor, and you know what that means and you don’t want to think about it, guess what: you do not have to. Because no one is driving home, and you’re back again, listening to “Fairytale of New York,” which is still on every jukebox, falling into the same conversations you had with the same friends in the ’90s: about how the internet is going to change culture, and what you are going to do when you grow up.
— John Hodgman, Vacationland
Returning, Briefly, to Digital Hygiene, and a Reason So Many of Us Are So Frustrated, Angry, and Short on Time
A recent episode of Note to Self (I highly recommend subscribing) was a repeat, but also a really, really good one. It’s an overview of the ways social media companies are driven to manipulate us, honing algorithms that ever more selectively push our buttons.
Our psyches are exploitable, and even with no malice intended, we’re taken advantage of without even knowing it. It’s more important to take time out for perspective, for reflection, for people face-to-face and hand-to-hand.
Little Unpleasant Tasks Can Contribute to a Bigger Creative Picture If You Own Them
It’s a part of most retail jobs that employees have to do certain chores that may be gross or filthy. Cleaning bathrooms and floors, dealing with trash, wiping down fixtures and windows. These can seem demeaning, and I’ve thought so on more than one occasion.
They aren’t, though.
I was thinking about their place in work of all kinds, and it’s not just that you have to do them, I think they contribute, weirdly, to a bigger picture.
They’re small cogs in a larger machine, just like you, if you’re one of those workers. But you have to do the same kind of maintenance at your own house, and there’s no shortage of cleanup in art, either. These tasks relate.
They also interrelate. An attitude of reverence toward your tools and tasks carries over to the important work, the art itself. Working a job is valuable training in maintaining the harmony of everything unseen in the art you make. It supports and frames it. It makes it possible to forget about everything but the art itself.
I’m despairing a bit over the U.S. executive administration’s immigration scorching the earth with zero tolerance. The piece above is a reaction. A more physical response will happen at the next march. I didn’t know when I started that it would also serve as an early catharsis to a missing post.
I wrote a fair bit on the new Carters (Jay-Z & Beyoncé) video a couple days ago. I was sure I’d hit the “Publish” button, but somehow it’s mostly gone, except for a brief opening in the Drafts folder. I discovered this as I set up for today’s post.
It’s a given that things you do will occasionally disappear or get lost. This is especially true of digital work. We are all at the mercy of the random electron gods.
Whether benevolent or vengeful, if your thing is condemned to oblivion, there is nothing to do but keep moving. This seems a good point to mention putting your feelings into your work. Musicians have an easier time with this, in my opinion. But whatever your medium, work that connects is work that translates and engenders feelings. You can use this.
The next time you create your stuff, you can channel your anger and frustration. This isn’t just the only revenge against the random electron gods, it’s an easy motivator. But even if you haven’t lost a piece, any moment of trauma or high emotion can be applied and channeled into your work. You can gain some relief in making. And then, beyond that, you have another thing coming into being. Another pseudo-child springs forth to comfort you in loss or despair. You can more easily take action afterward.
In the same way that animal societies are rudimentary, even though often complex, while human ones are orders of magnitude more specific and consciously deliberate, creative purpose and execution are likewise.
We sort of have a duty to keep making the (positive) things and putting them out into the world. It reinforces who we should be, who we want to be more than violence and self-aggrandizement.
In chats with a psychologist several years ago, I kept talking about things I did as normal or abnormal. He stopped the conversation, apologized, and said that, professionally, they didn’t use the word to describe behavior any more. Rather, “typical” is how behavior is referred to, since there’s something of a stigma around “normal.”
So what is normal?
Maybe nothing important. Maybe it’s our atypical behavior we rely on to see things differently, to make stuff that speaks to deeper things within.
It probably bears repeating—repeatedly—that it’s no big deal to be wrong. It’s how we learn, how we have eureka moments. Something is off, results are unexpected, and we need to find the right answer. But the answer isn’t necessarily the important thing. As John Kounios says at the link above,
Creativity is the process, not the product
For sure, it’s fun to be right and to know things. It’s just not always good for making art. Being wrong more is a better goal than being the best or striving for perfection. The cracks we fall in between the answers might lead us to an entirely new path. We are seekers, and not so often finders.
Losing it is a big deal for most of us, at least while we’re in the midst of it. Let’s talk a bit about it.
While failure is nothing to be ashamed of—I mean I’m in favor of it—and it’s only human, anyway, losing it is us coming to a compromising emotional state over it. Either we court it directly as an end in itself, because we’re despairing or self-destructive, among other things, or we obsess on it and bring ourselves to despair.
I’m not sure there’s an easy way to cure such a tendency long-term without professional guidance, should you find you’re a habitual self-sabotage, say. But there are two things that can mitigate it. Wait, three things.
Physical exercise: get out, away from your workspace into the outdoors. Walk around. Be brisk, breathe deeply. Stay out for a while.
Keep working. Just do the daily piece of whatever you do, even if it seems futile and terrible. Inevitably, creators who look back at what they’ve done can’t tell when the good days and the bad days are by what the stuff they made is like. Step #1 has an all-purpose steadier: breathe deeply, in. Out.
Be kind to yourself. Remember you have tomorrow and today’s piece is only a small part of the whole. As in #1, breathe.