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.
I did writing practice a lot just out of high school. Writing practice, if you’re not familiar, is a concept I got from Nathalie Goldberg and her book, Writing Down the Bones. The idea is that you should have a timed session every day, maybe 15–30 minutes, where you write without stopping the whole period. No matter what, your hand—she wrote longhand, so feel free to make that plural—never stops putting words down on paper.
Many were the mornings I started with, “I don’t know what to write, this sucks, why am I even doing this?” But as anyone who’s done a regular practice of any kind can tell you, it doesn’t last, the blank befuddlement. Ideas come to you like they do all day long, visions and phrases and memories. If you stay disciplined and keep doing the thing, your mind is soon distracted by its own wild meanderings, and you’re there to describe them.
The point of practice isn’t to produce beautiful, finished work. It’s to get used to how it feels to do the thing it’s referencing. Practice is the stand-in for the real thing. It hones your instincts, builds muscle memory, encourages your mind to flow freely and build up a store of concepts and understanding.
Maybe it works with anything. Basketball? Practice ticks at least the first two boxes, and there’s a tangible benefit to having a kind of library of moves at the ready when you play the game.
Habit is to build a body of work over time in steady, small increments. But implement a practice routine, and you can be ever more ready to work on your novel or painting or team sport.
Information wants to be free. I’m a sucker for contemporary takes on free-exchange-of-ideas or gift economy idealism or similar openness, despite my suspicion and wariness of hippies and Boomer free love types. I apologize if such stereotypes offend you. My biases should be open, too.
The ability of anyone and everyone to start and maintain an online creative presence is simultaneously its triumph and its downfall. When I was making a comic book in the mid-90s, I used to say (with a smirk I’d like to slap off my own face, looking back at it), “the best thing about comics is that anyone can do it. The worst thing about comics is that ANYone can do it.” But there was then, as now, always room for good work, stuff that was crafted with care and heart, work that was dedicated and sincere.
It’d be nice to be able to make at least a partial living on our creation. Hey, I’m working on that side of things, too. But, as Cory Doctorow is fond of saying, the biggest impediment to creators isn’t piracy—nor the huddled masses yearning to download for free—it’s obscurity. And there’s a big picture reason to get your work out there into the mix.
We thrive on stories, songs, and spectacle. Creations need to be shared. We all benefit from a large pool of human-made soup, sweet sour or salty as it may be. Ideas come from other ideas, all of it laid on the bricks of the past, from time immemorial, when the first beat was drummed, the first song sung, the first dance grooved, the first story told, the first drawings scratched onto rock. Sharing is imperative. And it’s utterly human.
Keeping work to yourself is spinning your wheels, so sooner is better than later. Habit is good, but if it all stays at home, we lose out on your part of the recipe.
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.
Ooh, clickbaity. You know the answer, right? Here’s where I say, “There isn’t one. Only hard work and determination can move your art forward and to fruition,” and then I smugly sign off.
But no. That’d be some kind of cheesy cop-out. It’s not that there’s any single, simple secret to whatever anyway, there are heaps, piles, loads.
I was well involved in the New Age movement of the 80s & early 90s. Most of it I later tossed aside, but one thing quickly became abundantly (see what I did there?) clear: we are really good at coming up with prescriptives, keys, aphorisms, solutions, directives, proverbs, and maxims that sound like and feel like they’re true.
And they may be.
But they aren’t some holy or benevolent revealed wisdom, they’re from the same place any intuitive process comes from—inside us. And any one of us can make them into personal affirmations or principles.
Go ahead, make up a universal truth about creativity, and apply it to your practice. Irony abounds, because maybe this is the one true secret to unlocking your inner genius.
Or probably not. But it will keep you thinking about your work, and how you best accomplish it.
Balloon payments on a credit card can make your payoff quicker and less expensive. Same goes for creative habits.
Put in the minimum payment here and there and it’s fine, making the investment (kinda) is what’s important, skipping out results in penalties.
But if you do a little—or a lot—extra, it pays off in more than one way. You finish quicker. You feel a sense of progress. You may even be less stressed, who knows?
Your Friendly Neighborhood Metaphor-Man
Things that made me cry this week:
- The fierce, selfless love Vetch had for Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea (which I finished for the first time yesterday. It’s a fantastic book)
- “Ruthie,” Season 4, Episode 9 of Bojack Horseman (written by Joanna Calo)
- Remembering my mother
- About half the posts on r/HumansBeingBros
- The aching beauty of Mark Hollis’s solo album
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.
We do get into grooves. Some might say ruts, if they’re feeling grumpy, or cruel. But while the advantage of a groove is feeling the flow or at least extra productive, the downside is feeling removed or shallow.
What might help is a trick that’s helped me in the past: change the tools you use for your creation. Different implements and even methods of making can kick you out of the same well-worn track.
Switch it up. Play guitar left-handed for a day if you’re a righty. Use a pencil and notepad if you usually write on a laptop. If you paint, do what an insightful professor made me do when he saw I was being way too careful and timid applying paint and brushstrokes: paint an entire portrait using only a 2-inch brush.
New ways of physical making can spark new insights and ideas. Stay out of the ruts.