Halloween May Be Over, but Its Magic Can Linger

The impact of scaring ourselves deliberately is a magic trick of the mind. We aren’t the only ones who do it: I’ve watched our cat pretend I’m terrifying just to get a good chase vibe going through the apartment.

But we should acknowledge the delight that a little fear can bring. It motivates and stimulates, and we can apply the same principle to the work we do as creators. Go scare up some magical art moments.

If You Don’t Feed the Fire, You Can Only Work by the Light of the Embers

That’s my attempt to be quotable. Without sassy characters spouting this stuff, we’re left with titles. This one should be the retort of Jen, the younger sister of a cynical, burned-out musician named Josh. Hm.

Hold on, let me just write down this pitch for a show.

What I’m talking about, though, is making sure you have enough fuel to burn. Never mind inspiration, you need stuff to steal from. As much art as you can handle stuffed in you so it mixes into a stew with all the other art you see and hear.

Go to galleries, web sites, shows, concerts, forums, colleges, museums, streaming TV, magazines, libraries.

And then? I don’t know how or why, but unless you’re trying yo be like one specific person, your things come out different. Art magic.

Take Care, It’s Something Your Work Needs in Large Quantity

The value of working a retail job at some point in your life as an artist is valuable. The insight into commerce, the feeling of working in service to others—even if only as a raw exchange of goods and services for money, and a camaraderie with people in the same position alongside you are all vital to reaching a deeper understanding of humans in contemporary society. If your art isn’t touching other people in some way, if it’s too . . . deep? It won’t have the power to find and keep an audience or fanbase.

I’ve watched dozens of people I knew over the years find some measure of success with their work, and I’ve come to know a smidgen of it myself. What I’ve noticed about my day jobs, in interacting with customers and clients, is that the amount of care I take with all of them—in craft, in concern that the thing they’re buying is what they want, in appreciation of patronage of all kinds—reflects in a lot of ways in my work. 

I’m not sure you can not give a shit at your job and turn contempt around in your art. Probably some geniuses can, but very few of us indeed are those.

You Know That Blank Feeling You Get Just After You’ve Finished a Particularly Brutal Shift at Work and You Can’t Even Think?

I can’t add much to this title, except that I was thinking about all the mess of social media most of us wade through from time-to-time—or even most of the day, for some—and how to deal with it as it washes over us. Dan Hon laid out some decent philosophical razors in this Medium piece. I like him.

In Which I’m Finding Comfort in Several Things I Like, Media-Wise

I’ve been cautious about navel-gazing, here, in that my initial thoughts about what I’m doing and trying to say with the blog were geared toward more universal truths—read “Truths™—and trying to be helpful to other artists. But there’s also a hell of a lot of spaghetti-throwing at the wall to see what sticks and what just makes a soggy mess on the floor.

But I’m moving hundreds of miles away soon. It’s stressful. I’m anxious. In addition to rediscovering how to do the New Age recentering-on-one’s-breath thing, I chose the books I’m reading, the music I listen to, and the videos I watch with a little more care to their humor and their (for lack of a better word) light. Here are a few:

  1. Yogscast Let’s Plays of Minecraft and GTA V
  2. John Hoffman’s Vacationland
  3. Vampire Weekend, Caroline Rose (and Jazz)
  4. Stand-Up comics: Demetri Martin, John Mulaney, and Tig Notaro, whose latest I watched twice.

The Lessons Jazz Can Teach Other Disciplines, Dead or Not

And by “dead,” I’m being flippant. Obviously there’s a vibrant jazz scene worldwide, if it isn’t a prominent form at the moment. And maybe it never will be.

When I was phoneless the last couple days, I listened to the local jazz station, the eminent KKJZ. An ethereal, assured voice sang a Jobim standard called “Meditation,” and that confident singer was Fay Claassen, a Dutch musician. Her interpretation was a languid study in wistful longing, and on the musicianship side, I was captivated by the way she closed the song with a series of beautiful, cascading “to me”s. It’s haunting and affecting. Check it out if you didn’t already play the link above.

But choosing to play—or even listen to—this less popular music is instructive to other types of art, especially work that relies on any kind of spontaneity or iteration or abstraction. Jazz is a form of constant invention, where improvisation around a theme or scheme is essential to it. And musicians who study and perform it don’t care that it isn’t the hot thing of the moment. They revel in its free expression and demand for skill.

Writers and painters can find allegories in their own work from this.

It Takes a Lot of Energy to Resist Checking What Happened in the World in the Last Hour or Two

Here’s why you, artist person, should expend the effort to avoid checking social media when the urge strikes you. And I’m not excluding myself from this advice, I’m writing to me, first, and hoping it’ll be useful to you as well.

I’m one of those hopeful New Year’s resolutionists. Nothing crazy, nothing that’s part of a never ending list that gets tacked onto every January because the last one didn’t get fully resolved, just one or two things I think I can make happen in my life the next twelve months. I make the plan, and immediately nod and think, “That’s something done, then.”

Naturally, habits are hard to build as well as to break. The two things this year were to read more books—physical, unwieldy, pretentious dead tree editions—and to consume less social media. The former tends to fall prey to my failure at the latter.

But I’ve been able, just the last month or so, to push back successfully against the craving to check Twitter or news feeds (I never took the News app off my iPad and I should have) and get some crispy, potentially-finger-lacerating pages turned.

It sometimes takes a Herculean effort.

But as I have, I’m rewarded with joys like returning to the feeling of being lost in both work and books. Snippets of both just don’t cut it. Anxiety stirred up by news I can do nothing about in the moment overshadows other things.

I do agree we should stay informed. I disagree if that’s presented as a daily or possibly weekly necessity. You have art to make and fuel to consume in order to make it. That takes time, and it requires connection to your soul, however you interpret it.

Some Voices Are a Comfort, and You Should Indulge Them in These Times of Anxious Uncertainty

I have quite a number of creators who I simply enjoy hearing. Their tone, cadence, demeanor, sincerity, all of that I find both comforting and compelling.

These are anxious times, for many of us around the world. Things seem to be moving fast, and like a tornado or hurricane, it feels out of our control.

It is, of course. But voices of assurance and comfort, especially when they aren’t even talking about the thing I’m worrying over, can give me the encouragement to keep working and searching.

Paul Sykes, better known by his internet name, Sjin, is one of those for me. Brb, going to play a few vids while I pack boxes for Portland.