When I was a kid [tangent: I rather liked being called a kid when I was young. Han Solo called Luke “kid” most of the time, and I loved it. I devoured Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series and longed for a scaly green demon mentor to call me that. We need some kind of old person endearment to match. “Elder” is just gross], I had a few blocks and other building toys, but the prize was always Lego and its knockoffs. Infinite possibility of form was its promise, and like fumbling apprentices, my brother, cousins, and I got pretty good at making the things we tried to make.
Small, simple pieces iterated over made up a big, more-or-less recognizable thing. Sometimes they were just evocative and expressive sculptures. It was art, of course. Art is created from repeated iterations of little things.
The marks of pencil and charcoal, the strokes of paint, the bits of pixels. Alone, they mean nothing. But what keeps us practicing and returning to make stuff again is that magic of transforming it all. I think we lose sight of that easily, in harsh criticism of the thing that’s made, how imperfect and unlike our vision it often turns out to be. But the magic part is borne out of the small things, and in the moment its there to be felt and reveled in, if we let it be.
What’s the motivation to continue? Why go to the drawing table—real or metaphorical—and start a new thing or work away on the one already begun?
This isn’t really meant to be a motivational blog. I find those inadequate and not just a little glib, also. Because when I’m looking for things to tell myself when I want to be lazy or even stop entirely, the meme equivalent of “hang in there, baby!” doesn’t cut it.
What I do do is try not to make big decisions in the moment, when I’m supposed to be using my time to make art. I trick myself. The number one motivator when I’m sulky, tired, or frustrated with the work is to tell myself I’ll just give it a few minutes and see.
Any work done is a good thing, but it’s never just a few minutes: if I start at all, I get sucked in and keep going. Tricked brain = lazy artist doing stuff. Give it a shot.
It’s not that I pretend I don’t want my work to be perfect. I do. But I realize—recognize—it can never be so. Yet, I persist, if I’m not paying attention.
Sometimes, it’s good to let something go as it is. And sometimes it’s better to scrap the thing and start again, scrape the canvas, delete the tracks, crumple up the page.
How do we know when to stop? Deadline is a good full stop, but if you don’t have one, it’s an arbitrary point where you’re out of flow, getting stuck in fine details, with little or no progress or change to the big picture.
There will be no bell. No buzzer. You can choose the moment—but sooner rather than later is usually not a bad thing. Your time is all you really have, and making another imperfect thing helps more in the long run than approaching the logarithmic curve of perfect.
DISCLAIMER: watchmaker and Zen master mileage may vary.
The image is fuzzy, but it shows a phenomenon strange to someone who grew up in the American Southwest. It’s summer, officially, and at 10pm, around when this picture was snapped, as the flood of Timbers fans streamed out of the Stadium on Morrison St, it’s still a bit light out.
The deep blue of the evening sky still hasn’t turned to indigo. Twilight seems to last forever these days. It’s unsettling and not just a little magical to me. For most of my life, 10:00pm is always solidly night. Yet, here, the shreds of day cling to the horizon, encouraging us to stay awake, keep working, keep moving.
The long nights of winter are a much lyricized tradition. We should remember their counterpart, the equally persistent light and promise of summer days.
The idea that we have to overcome our fears and amxieties isn’t new, but the reality that simply living in the 21st Century generates some level of it is—by definition, even—very new.
Humanity moves from threat to threat, along its geologically short timeline. The big things we’ve done are still a scratch on the full line of eons. There isn’t just monkey mind to deal with, there’s lizard- and insect-level leftovers in there somewhere. It’s easy to dredge up trepidation and feel like we should just hide.
So along with that ongoing series of anxieties, I try to think about opposing feelings, and when I’ve felt them. We almost always have both in our lives. Some moments when we felt larger than life, loved, connected, part of a thing greater than our individual selves. It makes it easier to notice the small, ongoing fears and know they, too, shall pass, if we let them.
Indulging your distractions can be a comfort, especially if anxiety or fear is creeping up on you. But since it can easily turn into an additive substitute for doing difficult things, I’m trying to balance my fears and my determination this year.
I’ll allow myself a bit of distraction, but only if I’ve started something: drawing, writing, class work. Usually, if I’ve started, my fear melts and I tend to keep working for a while.
This goes back to the notion that we need to be making amazing things. No. We just need to make things, and some will have the opportunity to become amazing. We need to give ourselves permission to do some bad work, and let time do the rest. Make some terrible drawings, call on that kid energy, when it didn’t matter a damn you didn’t know what you were doing. Make the work, balance the fear, keep moving.
And our shadows are taller than our souls. Which I’m still not sure means anything, but it sounds damned good.
It’s Pride Sunday, an unofficial holiday that demarcates a lot of admonition and exhortations to be oneself, yourself, our true selves.
This is a day to celebrate differences, and particularly gayness with several allied associated bands of people trying to be their authentic selves. Celebrating as a marginalized group is empowering, and the history of Pride bears that out.
But I was reading an article in Scientific American on ways we either misunderstand or overlook what qualities we call “true,” or “authentic.” And there are multiple ways we fool ourselves into thinking we know what we mean by all of it.
But the article strikes an inspiring note by the end, even as it tears apart our cursory understanding of authenticity.
Healthy authenticity is an ongoing process of discovery, involving self-awareness, self-honesty, integrity with your most consciously chosen values and highest goals, and a commitment to cultivating authentic relationships.
We choose who we want to be as much as we reveal who we are by being honest, internally. We can be proud of that, too, and keep trying to become more of that ideal self, choosing the qualities we most admire.
We don’t make art in a vacuum. And we don’t do it alone, either. Oh sure, we often create the specific work by ourselves, but the process involves others at some point.
And the process involves pecking out little bits of stuff important to us from a field of other things that aren’t. We find these things not in solitude, but through others sharing with us, and telling us where to look, and making things we want to look at.
These bits are the seeds and the fuel that let us grow and forge new things in the world.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.