We often don’t feel like doing things. I’m talking specifically about the work, here, you know, The Work. Whatever it is you think you should be creating is, maybe bafflingly, sometimes or often hard to start doing.
We’ve long established that waiting to feel inspired doesn’t get work done. The only thing that matters is (tautology alert) doing the work. Ideally, you decide on the thing you’re doing and engage the habit. “This is what I do every day,” you tell yourself, and for the next ten or thirty or three hundred minutes you do it.
And it’s usually fine once we’ve begun. Habitual creation is magical in its ability to strip away feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty, and plain old fear. You just start making, and soon it takes over and you’re lost in it.
Editing, culling, rewriting, finishing, detailing, tweaking can all be done after the stuff is created, but nothing matters until things are brought into the world. Lazy days when you don’t want to do shit are fine. They’re still days when, because you’ve spent effort building your habit, The Work happens.
The idea behind breaks is, in part, that effective work is bolstered by leaving the task aside for brief periods so as to refresh and invigorate the person working. But (and you knew there had to be a but, didn’t you?) much of the time, we use our rest periods to do other tasks. Mostly checking social media.
I’m going to suggest we try doing less during our breaks. It’s easy to let the pile of Things to Do bully us into trying to take action on uncrossed-out items. It’s harder, counterintuitively, to just rest. I have a notion that if we could do this for one or more days, it would be even more effective.
It may be that, like meditation, a short period where focus is on just resting can enhance our reinvigoration. Further, it might then unchain the burden of being made to be something else. A break gains meaning in this way, not because of the number of things we can accomplish outside our work, but because it isn’t trying to become something else. It’s no longer just the absence of work. It, like us, when we live in the moment, is its true self.
Gratitude is free. But expressing thanks enriches our lives in many real, if intangible ways. We sometimes feel humility, and subjects of our appreciation feel appreciated, as we take time to remember what requires our thankfulness. Those effects of thanks are to be expected. The root of the word incorporates both thought and emotion, “to think” and “to feel” all in one.
I’m thankful for good friends and family, a world full of curiosities and knowledge, the ability to wonder. To live is to hope. To give thanks is to reflect on life and revere things which give it meaning.
The media information landscape can feel intensely enervating at times. A never-ending feed cuts both ways, and cat images have a hard time competing against manufactured (or actual) real-world continual crisis.
The old methods are sometimes best.
- Turn off. Unplug. Walk out. A day without internet is Tim Wu’s temporary panacea. There’s more to say about it, but this habit works well to regain a little perspective and recharge, even if just a little. Without the endless scroll of emergencies, having just a brief walk and look around at the outside world is a beautiful wash of calm.
- Breathe. Like a micro-meditation, you simply stop what you’re doing, take a slow, deep, controlled breath and release it in the same rhythm. Then do it again. And a third time. It helps like dementor chocolate: “You really will feel better.” ~ Prof. Lupin
When I was 11 or 12 years old, I thumbed though my Uncle David’s record collection, for reasons I don’t know (other than whim), because I wasn’t allowed to just play them on my own. Halfway through the row, I stopped dead on an earth toned abstract cover depicting a man with his eyes closed and a cone of energy or light beaming from (or to?) his forehead—Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. I thought then that my uncle was more hip than I thought. I hadn’t heard much Stevie Wonder at that time, but I knew he incorporated jazz and funk into his music from what I’d heard on the radio (and possibly his appearance on Sesame Street). I only understood his socially conscious lyrics later, when I was older and had read and heard more about him and his music. “Living for the City” was a glimpse into that side of the lyrics, and I only knew it in a memory from the radio.
But I didn’t listen to the album then.
I’ve only just heard it front to back, and it’s a masterpiece. It’s very much a collection of sounds that holds up 44 years later. I was also a bit dismayed to hear the frustration and anger of “City” and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All,” a dig at another corrupt, racist administration was only too timely. But it’s well worth listening to, and reveling in. Stevie played much of the album by himself, working through multiple instruments and bringing his typically brilliant melodic sense and gorgeous pipes to join then-shiny modular synth sounds to new audiences. It’s only 9 songs and 44:12 of your time, but I think it’s always good to discover something new that’s been with you most of your life.
Discipline is the watchword. You do a thing every day, and it doesn’t just create a habit of making something, or improving your health, or getting something done. It creates a handy wedge you can use in other areas of your life (to make things, or improve your self/health/life, or get things done). The discipline that seemed like the energy expended to allow another thing to happen is actually its own reward, and an unexpected one.
I saw it when I learned to meditate and hammered my little monkey mind at 5am every day to get out of bed and do it. I got the mental and emotional benefit of daily meditation practice. But I also got the wedge, and it helped me regain a lot of productivity lost to simple laziness. I’m hoping the blog will give me a shiny new wedge, because there’s an awful lot that hasn’t been done.
Pick a thing, make it your initial practice, shape the wedge.
Seth Godin has a tiny post that doesn’t skirt the issue. Net neutrality is vital to the health of the web as we know it. It foments innovation, offers a (more) level playing field for business and communication, and is becoming essential to life in the increasingly tech-centered 21st Century. Keeping U.S. legislators’ feet to the fire is vital, so read Seth’s post and/or click the link to the Save the Internet petition and phoning page to add your voice. Forward!
Sometimes our contribution to creation isn’t up front and flashy. Sometimes it’s support and foundation for the obvious stuff, which wouldn’t be able to stand on its own. That was Malcolm Young’s place. He anchored the massive tower of explosives that was AC/DC, a leader content to drive the bus from the back.
I heard he’d died this morning, and very soon after I listened to Highway to Hell, my favorite AC/DC album, and one that objectively belongs in the top ranks of Best of All Time. It’s overflowing with hooks, nearly every song comprised of variations on open chord sequences of A, D, G, and E. That should get boring or grate on one’s ears pretty quickly, but the Youngs seemingly never run out of ways to riff on simple changes. It also holds the album together, and when I first discovered it as a whole, I rarely played just one or two songs from it. There’s sex, violence, and dark themes, but even more so their characteristic sense of humor all over it. The band never took itself too seriously.
Anchors are vital to ships, and eminently useful to art. May we never overlook them.
More from the Jim Henson bio: a lot is made of Jim’s endless work schedule. He was a workaholic, there’s no doubt, but he loved creating and executing projects for The Muppets so much he didn’t care how much effort it took.
You have to sacrifice to make art, that’s true. How much you put into creation and how much time you spend on other aspects of life is the ongoing equation. Is it sacrifice if the thing you enjoy most is the work? Is it failure if you are sustained and inspired by your relationships with other people? The balance can be weighed even in any number of ways, it’s just a matter of what we choose to favor and value.
“[Jim] was very close to us all,” said Juhl. “He just conducted his life in a different way than most people did. He just couldn’t understand about this whole thing called work, and why people didn’t like it, and why people thought there was something wrong with working.”
Perspective is paramount. What we choose to emphasize is the important thing, but it doesn’t make you less or more of an artist to shift it this way or that a little bit.
Turn the beat around, sang Gloria Estefan. Advice can come from anywhere. The desire to create isn’t the same as the desire to have created. What slows the making of things to put into the world (I should probably start capitalizing that phrase soon, as a trope) is the need to stay safe. The wish that people will like us and the things we do, and more so, that they won’t laugh at us, sneer at us, post snark at us on social media. It’s not a positive thing, the drumbeat resisting creation. But thinking of it another way, it can be a reminder to keep working.
We don’t get stronger sitting at home doing nothing. We have to push weights around, lift weary legs a hundred thousand times above the street. We have to keep getting up after being knocked down. It sucks. But without the beat hammering at us to not make a thing we desire, it’s just a meandering existence punctuated by nights spent dreaming. We make the beat useful instead of being crushed by it, and ally with it to keep turning it around. I feel like this is all airy fluffiness, so I might rather go even farther and end with a poem.
Pushing full force against the
Worst north wind of the same sane and
Sober words, cold, thin, baseless,
Chasing the same misplaced thought:
Make aimless forms unnamed to dazzle.
Crashed again and exhausted,
Too like apes who have coughed up a
Reason why those men wasted
Place and their time, why they wrought
Great changing, soaring famous castles.