Thirty

Thirty

“You’re not old,” he said again. “You have a long time ahead.”

She took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh so long he thought  she might pass out. “I’m just starting out. Again. I mean, who’s going to pay attention to an old—” she caught his raised eyebrows and corrected herself. “Older woman’s stuff, or my opinions. Does it matter?”

“Dunno. Are you doing it because it matters?”

This was a much bigger question than hers. She didn’t want no one to acknowledge what she did, but she had to admit that wasn’t why she wanted to start again. She needed to. The work, her ideas, the raw stuff of creation inside her—it was a fire she simply had to bring forth into the world. If only just to see what it looked like herself. If only to learn how to be better at it.

She got up and let the quilt fall to the floor. “I gotta go. I’ll let you know when it’s ready,” she said.

Unconfident

Unconfident

It’s inevitable we’ll sometimes feel like our work is crap. We’ll have imposter syndrome. We’ll feel as if we can’t do this any more, or that there’s no point, or that it doesn’t matter because no one’s checking it out.

It’s true that it probably doesn’t matter in a grand way—to the universe, to the world, to the internet. But that isn’t the same as having literally no meaning. It has exactly as much as we assign to it, no less. Others’ assessment of its worth (or meaning) can help support our continuing the work, sure, but it can’t generate the need in the first place. And given a need that was there before anything went out into the world, it follows that nothing more is necessary but to decide for ourselves.

And if the work is worth doing, in light of the need, the only way to have a chance at getting better at it is to keep doing it. That’s really the bedrock of practice. If nothing else, you’ll have something(s) getting better and better over time, the craft of the art experience. If we can focus on 1) satisfying the need by 2) doing the work and it’s 3) good to get better, we better 4) keep making it.

Be Wrong

Be Wrong

They sat at the small table in the corner by the window and sipped their drinks in tandem. She looked out the window and watched the passersby flood across their view, lost in their own frustrations and pressures. It was the first day after she’d finished reading the novel she’d started three years before. She thought it would feel like a triumph, but she just felt drained, as if she’d been at work all day. She shook her head and smiled.

He said, “What? Something funny?”

“Kind of,” she said. She sipped again, still looking ahead. “I just had an idea how I’d feel today, and it’s not what happened.”

He chuckled. “That’s me every day. Maybe better not to anticipate feelings.”

“I guess,” she said. “It’s just, some thoughts are automatic, you know? And for sure some feelings are. It’s just what happens. I think what’s important is not to put any judgment on what we think, just let it happen. Let it be.”

“Speaking words of wisdom?” he said.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Nice, old man.”

“Old bands are always better.”

“That’s what the DJs want you to think. Nothing new under the sun, right? But—it’s better to make mistakes, to try things out. To believe you can find the new thing, or the different experience. Maybe that’s how we can move forward.”

“Like, your routine is you being stale? Moving back in on yourself instead of, you know, on?”

“Exactly. We get comfortable with the way things are, and that’s true of the way we think, too. We get stuck trying to be right all the time and defend our opinions like they’re scientific truth. We’re scared of getting something wrong. But really, we should be, I dunno, trying to be wrong, more. We get more chances to discover things that way.”

He considered this. “Interesting theory.”

“Could well be completely incorrect,” she said.

“Yep. Nice.”

The Old Stuff

The Old Stuff

We, or rather, we in the “first world,” have a tendency to hold on to music from our adolescence or youth as we get older. The albums and songs we played over and over in our bedrooms, or heard a hundred times on the radio or music video channel, reach a gilded status when we’re long past that youth. We rediscover the music of that long past time, or it never really left our stereos, when we’re somewhere along the steeply sloping path to our (pathetically-titled) middle age.

I’m not sure why this is the case for so many. Maybe we’re trying to recapture a feeling of promise or potential before adulthood crashed into us. We might just want to experience a little of the energy or excitement of that oncoming juggernaut. Either way, or even given some completely different motivation, the strange, exploratory music being made now is very often ignored, brushed aside, or dismissed.

There’s no doubt in my mind we could extract new insight or meaning from the old stuff, the songs that filled us with emotion when we were younger. But there’s immense power and possibility in things being created now, out of the fabric of the reality which just passed. Giving it a chance might just be the wound-up spring pressed into our being, ready to uncoil into our next creations.

What’s In Here Matters for What’s Out There

What’s In Here Matters for What’s Out There

Reflecting on possibilities is an essential part of being human. Imagining leads to art of all kinds. It’s not just the impulse to make something new, it’s what guides that impulse and allows us some kind of starting condition. Art from a void is really hard.

I’ve always liked this moment from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s finale, when Q, the (allegedly) nigh-omniscient/nigh-omnipotent being, shares an almost tender moment with Picard. His curiosity about humanity has, at this point, been joined by a kind of admiration. But it’s the glimpse into another, larger universe that’s the most fascinating thing to me. In a series with a hundred instances of imagination writ large, here is one that could transcend the show and say something about what we might potentially find. And be.

Stuff on a Wall

Stuff on a Wall

“Yes, I know that, but what does it do?”

“Doesn’t do anything, really. It’s just there.”

“So it’s useless?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a deep expression of an internal impulse so strong it’s made manifest, interpreted in physical form.”

“Well, what’s the point of that?”

“It makes its own point. It births its own value in all our minds.”

“My appraisal is rather a low value for things that don’t have a practical function.”

“The beauty of the phenomenon is that everyone can give their own appraisal. It’s certainly true they have systems for generating income based around things like popularity, skill, and how long the one who made it has been making them, but that’s really a secondary attachment. What matters is that someone made it, out of that hidden drive, perhaps spending hours or days or years, and let it be seen by others.”

“I suppose I don’t understand. It all sounds very vague.”

“And so it is. Nothing is certain, in fact, the greatest financial gain most often comes after whoever made the things is dead.”

“Hm. So why bother at all if there’s no guarantee?”

“Whatever the reasons for that, and they say different things at different times, mind you, they’ve been doing it for thousands of years. There’s something inside them that not only fires the engine of creation, it sparks a flame in others. It’s both born of and a generator of that internal fire. If it does anything, that’s the thing. They consider it vital—even if they don’t always acknowledge its importance to their existence.”

Friend Equation

Friend Equation

Our friends are a boon to existence. They celebrate our triumphs and sympathize with our sorrows. We consider them a vital part of our lives, akin or sometimes superior to family members. We rely on them for news, shows we’re sure to like, albums we’ve GOT to hear, like, NOW.

They also get in the way of creation. They pressure us to do other things. They can discourage essential risks and be selectively available when we feel we need them.

This is all to say (and it looks harsh to me, reading it back) no one is all or nothing. There are always equations, and the math is intuitive, not coldly calculable. People are complicated, ourselves included. The work we want to do, the making that compels, is the thing always under our control. We need other people, but I think that need can overwhelm our resolve to do the work.

This comes back to habit. If we—I—can establish a sense of the daily habit I just do, regardless of what anyone else thinks or wants, I’m doing the work. It serves me now, it structures the future. It still gives me opportunity with and for my friends, and vice versa.

On Containing Multitudes

On Containing Multitudes

The sun was just below the horizon and the evening began in earnest. He sat down beside her in the windswept long grass. For too long, he said nothing.

Then, “It’s getting dark.”

She looked toward him, but didn’t turn her head. She took a long, deep breath and let it out the same way, then closed her eyes.

“I’m going to put the house on the market,” she said.

“But you love that house!”

She didn’t answer right away, and opened her eyes to the magenta and peach fire at the horizon.

“Yeah. It’s all nostalgia and memories of good days. And good lives lived there. And I’m going to sell it.”

He chewed his lip. She turned her head finally and saw him frown.

“I love it and I’m still selling it. I’m sad and I’m excited, and I’m confused and I’ve never been so fucking sure about anything before.” She turned back to the darkening orange glow. “I want to see the stars,” she said.

“You want to wait till dark. How come?”

She shrugged. “They’re pretty. And I never do it.”

The breeze pushed their hair around. A car horn beeped faintly. The orange began to gray.

“They are pretty,” he said.

She smiled.

Not Knowing

Not Knowing

One of the things we find easy about the past is that—for ourselves, at least—it’s pretty much known. The future isn’t set, not in any serious way. There are probabilities and likelihoods the closer we are to it, but remarkably soon any certainty fades away. This is scary.

The past, on the other hand, can be traumatic, or sad, or disturbing, but it isn’t surprising. There’s a comfort in that, and it makes some of us want to keep indulging in it, reveling—or wallowing—in memory, and it keeps us from moving forward.

But the future is nothing if not endless possibility. These are times of great chaos, anxiety, and, yep, uncertainty. When we shrink from the work, overindulge in nostalgia for the past, or reject what-is-yet-to-be-determined, we toss aside the possibilities that hope and our practice are creating in front of us. It probably seems wishy-washy. It might even seem mystical. But there is freedom in abandon and that’s quite real. There are always new chances in the future we can’t know, so long as we’re alive.

Failure Is Always an Option

Failure Is Always an Option

It’s inevitable we will fail at some point. Your will falters, your power goes out, your life’s emergencies take precedence. This is all okay.

What’s important isn’t succeeding always and forever. It’s persistence. Tenacity is more powerful than success.

It’s even helpful to get knocked down, here and there. There’s value in how much we have failed, since we learn the most from it. Getting up again to keep going is what matters. Soon, we’ll have left the disasters and the disappointments far behind. Learning allows growth, and growth leads us to greater potential. Fail faster, and with grace and joy.