Bring It On Home

What if I used a song title as the title of every blog post? Probably just confuse everyone, actually.

Having given us all an out for taking a break from our creative stuff yesterday, I have to pull it back in again. It’s time to get back to the habit of doing. It’s way to easy to keep indulging monkey mind and let it go another day, which turns into three, a week, a year.

It’s true, some geniuses blast out a veritable torrent of work all at once, having done nothing for weeks or months. But I’m no genius. You may be, but then, if so, why are you paying attention to me at all? You just need to listen to your inner muse and let your ideas flow into reality to the blueprint of your vision. Most of us, though, are fumbling a bit and trusting that eventually the thing will have a distinct shape.

Starting up, keeping the habit, working steadily toward a finished piece is going to get things done, which is the real goal. Judgment about its worth, evaluating its place in the world—that all should come from others and after something is finished.

For now, you put aside fear for an hour or three and get the mechanism of daily practice (or near as damn it) back on track.

Routine

The same old dull routine. It makes you crave a change, tired of the stuff you’ve made that’s become regular, overly familiar. When habit has become tedious, it might be time to let it go for a day.

Change is good, and taking a break from monotonous behavior of any kind can reinvigorate you, re-energize you. It might be a relief to break out of a rigid structure of rules, even when you’re the one who’s set them.

Let the routine go for once, laze around, do nothing, think about a new direction, explore your surroundings. Everything is fodder for a new making. Indulge.

Just don’t go more than a day. Be back to the habit soon to put the new fire into the old coals.

Donut Shakes

That title has nothing to do with what I’m writing about, here. I just was suddenly struck by the notion that I heard Krispy Kreme was offering such a thing in their stores, the term was weird but evocative, and I should make something with that title, at some point. But why not now? There are plenty of places I could go, bouncing off it. Not to mention, it’d make a killer band name, too. Sometimes we should go with our instincts.

Instinct is both hazard and helpmate. It is the raw stuff of the best ideas and a path to quick disaster, left to its own devices. It’s easy to become directionless, as well.

Taken for its best qualities, though, it’s a wonderful starting point. It’s freeing and energizing to let your instincts guide your process when you begin a project. I tend to get in my own way at the start, second guessing my choices and doubting my ability. If I push those fears aside and go with my first instincts, I can start something, and once started, it’s easier to continue. It’s also easier to consider, change, edit, and improve something that exists. Doubt can stop us cold before we put a brush in our hand or a keyboard under our fingers.

Discovery and Inspiration

Today was one of amazing things discovered and more work than I’d planned on coding lessons. Here are some things I was amazed by:

Marcus Aurelius’s classic Meditations. I’ve read bits of it, always surprised by its continued relevancy, but here’s an e-version.

Oprah Winfrey’s impassioned Golden Globes acceptance speech about womens’ empowerment and change.

If Smashing Pumpkins were Silversun Pickups, they’d be Big Jesus.

Images constructed to refocus machine-learned AI attention away from the thing they’re trying to recognize (a bit obscure phrase, I know, but the story explains).

Art comes from the stuff we take in: all nature, human interaction, and the creations of others.

Just Out of Reach

There’s a feeling of dread that surfaces sometimes, when you’ve been working on something a long time and it just doesn’t seem to be successfully presenting the ideas you had for it. The vision you started with hasn’t come to be.

The feeling is often temporary, a loss of confidence we all feel now and then. But if it persists, you have two choices when that feeling arrives: abandon the project, or forge ahead. I can’t say which is best, it’d depend on the circumstances and the work. If you still believe in the vision you had, it’s probably best to live with the feeling for a while, but trust in the vision until the work is done. Only then can you look back with perspective at the whole and decide what serves it and what needs fixing.

If you’ve lost the vision, though, or the connection you had to it, you might do well to move on to something else. I don’t advocate throwing it away, at least not yet. But put it out of sight for a while—a month, a year—and get your newly-refreshed eyes on it later.

Unless we believe in the work, few or no others will. You can show works that you think are less successful, but don’t show anything you don’t believe in or that’s disconnected from your vision.

This and That

No, not the Michael Penn song—although that still holds up, as does the album it’s from 1—but rather I’m thinking back on this flood of prescriptive, advices, maybe some platitudes? I’m not sure if this can go on forever. Maybe? If academia is to be taken at face value, perhaps there’s always something more to say about art and how it’s made.

I’m thinking ahead to 2018, what I want to accomplish, and, to my own chagrin, no small amount of fretting over what seems an ever-diminishing supply of time to do, well, anything.

I do find it interesting that you could always make this argument at any point in your life. It seems impossibly short when we look at it in the context of history.

I suppose the platitude here is to note that the time we have left is the time we have left. A tautology to mean it’s just as valid to consider there’s time enough to do some things, and that’s all anyone ever has. A pile slightly bigger for Stephen King doesn’t mean our own small pile is any more (or less!) pointless in the grand scheme of a vast universe.

We make sense of existence through our art, and thus meaning, and most of us find that more fulfilling and worthwhile than not making it.

If this all seems like the climax of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy original radio series—and its adapted scene in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe—with the eternally skeptical Ruler of the Universe, doubting not only his own existence but that of everyone else and their actions, I feel you. Optimism comes and goes, like pessimism, and motivation, and indolence.

We merely know it pleases us to make these things, and if it does, we should keep making our efforts. And do more tomorrow.

Learning From Our Predecessors

It’s a given that we look to the work of those who have come before us, the people who made significant or iconoclastic art we’re trying to make, ourselves.

But some of our influences and inspirations aren’t necessarily working in our own field. Frank Oz, Muppeteer and director, gave an AMA on Reddit that is charming and insightful. I’ve sometimes read that he can be prickly, or short with people. It doesn’t change how I feel about his work, nor even about his personality. It is, maybe, just who he is, and after all, we should be able to separate artist from art, but somehow I like him just fine even if the stories are true.

I’m Frank Oz, film director and performer: Ask Me Anything from IAmA

A Little Too Quiet

Working in silence, or nearly so, can free you from distractions. I always used to get a tremendous amount of painting done overnight, during deadlines at school when something had to be done for the next morning. Often, I’d end up working through the night, staying awake to finish a piece for class.

But while deadlines can be harrowing, there’s inspiration to be had when working alone. If you don’t have a studio to retreat to, it can be a similar feeling to have the place you live all to yourself, when everyone else is asleep. It’s just you and your work, you listen to the piece, it speaks to you, and your conversation goes on, in feelings and impressions rather than words.

Sometimes it’s helpful to pull an all-nighter, even when you don’t have to. Experiencing the quiet space around you is both calming and sense-heightening.

When You’re Weary

You get tired. Holidays are especially wearing, and stressful in ways that can’t be fully overcome by the excitement and joy they also offer.

So, what do you do about it? Same as everything else you feel, you accept it and keep moving. The only thing certain about life is that as long as it exists, it moves. It moves forward through time—at a terrifying velocity, sometimes—even when we’re sitting still.

Do small work. Do quiet work. Do deliberate work. Your work doesn’t have to be grand or frenetic all the time, it can move with time, as life moves. This is part of being kind to yourself and respecting both feelings and your practice.

Imperfec

I may have reached a point sometime within the last few months where I’ve decided that how a piece of art makes me feel, and what thoughts it evokes in me, is more important than its mechanics.

This is significant, I think, because I’ve thought less of this approach to art in the past, sometimes ignoring my experience of a work to analyze the details. Counting trees—hell, climbing and mapping and naming them—instead of just perceiving the forest.

My experience of the forest isn’t diminished by a couple of names carved in one trunk, or a crumbling stump in a clearing. I have the whole, and I feel something walking through it. Its imperfections are natural. We take it in stride that nothing is perfect. I’m trying now to understand what’s important about a work, despite its imperfections.

Maybe sometimes there are too many, perhaps a clear cutting has occurred, or a fire has swept through leaving sorry ashen spikes. Maybe a film has too terrible a performance (or no good ones) or a painting exhibits dull choices and clumsy technique. I do think some works are probably objectively bad.

But if imperfection is only natural, maybe you can see and praise and ponder the things that have value, or are evocative, or powerful. Maybe there isn’t so much time to spend on the other things.