In the above photo, my friend, Chris, is playing a little Star Wars Battle Pod. Video games are a prime source these days for feeling accomplished—provided we have some sense of progression in skills and scores.
Making art has it built in. I just finished editing the 100th episode of my show (plug: available on Tunes and at itsjustcalledtwobrothers.com) and it seems impossible we produced even this simple podcast for a hundred straight weeks. But most of the things we make come embedded with some sense of accomplishment. This makes us proud, confident, and capable.
It can also make us anxious, wondering if we can pull off a thing in the future, thinking we’re hacks, and that what we’ve made isn’t as good as the stuff we admire. The only solid advice I’ve taken to heart that seems to work for getting past too much of either good or bad feelings is to eschew both extremes and start working on the next thing.
It’s a Zen or Taoist approach, to be sure. It’s nice to feel the good things. But if we indulge in them, it stops the work or leads us to second guessing ourselves. Humility is helpful. If we care less that the things we made aren’t pleasing everyone, we can keep moving to the next piece. And when we feel proud of the things we’ve made, it’s better if we simply move on sooner rather than later and let that feeling motivate us to make more.
Sometimes is failure. Sometimes is success. Usually more the former than the latter, but such is creation, maybe?
But one success you can count on is doing the work. Skipping out a day here and there is sometimes just life intervening in your best laid plans. But when we get lazy, hoo boy. Guilt and depression are my punishments, whatever my justifications.
But work now is a gift to future me. And motivation to push past anxiety and get something worked on is easier if I can remember how it feels to not do it. We remind ourselves what it felt like the last time we neglected the work.
On especially rough days, we can begin the Rule of 5: tricking monkey mind by promising we’ll just do 5 minutes on a project. The trick is that it’s never just 5 minutes, you feel the familiar pull of creation and the bliss of flow just a short reach away. Bam, you’re making again.
I attended a housewarming last night. I knew almost no one. These occasions are cause for me to greet my social anxiety like an old friend, or more like a sadistic Ghost of Christmas Present, full of boisterous merriment that seems rather malevolent. But that’s my problem.
If I can figure out a passable excuse, I’ll stay home. If not, well, I’ve been known to bring a book to parties and read in a corner. But I’ve tried very hard to curb that introverted instinct. To not withdraw, to be more present in the moment. It’s good to push against your boundaries, at least regularly. Social gatherings are prime opportunities to observe. As artists, we are supposed to be doing that more, to see and to listen and to feel as deeply as possible.
So, I went. As most often happens, I had a good time for longer than I’d thought. Most importantly, I met new people, saw new places, and listened to an impromptu music jam started by a few musicians among the bunch. People danced. Conversations bloomed. I soaked in life.
It’s a rather old story in internet terms, but in 2916, Wired published a long excerpt and many illustrations from Niemann’s monograph, Sunday Sketching. It touches on several aspects of what I talk about here, but offers a glimpse inside the insecurities and doubt that even successful artists harbor.
While working, I must be kind and forgiving with my fragile self. But sometimes I must try to look at my oeuvre with the eyes of an old and jaded misanthropic outsider (or a young and jaded misanthropic insider).
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.
Now, whether getting a lot of art happening means any of it is stuff you like is another matter, but it does seem to hold true that if you make a lot, you get better and you end up with plenty of good stuff. I do apologize for using such generic language on the site. I’m trying to think of art in multimedia ways—not the 90s sense of web-based video and motion graphics presentations, but the literal multiple media—to include my friends who are musicians and writers, as well as visual artists.
But in reference to the title above, I’ve found starting things is almost always harder than continuing things. It’s much better to have a thing I worked on yesterday and can do a bit more of today than to think about planning, conceptualizing, choosing materials, and facing a blank canvas/screen/page. Like, ugh.
One more trick that has worked in the past, born of being handed projects in art school: starting another iron warming before you have to pull the first one out of the fire may be the low-anxiety method of choice.
Also, following up on yesterday’s post: more people than I’d have thought understand what a minor existential crisis contains. I appreciate those people more than they know.
I’ve been trying an experiment to stay less stressed out and anxious—or at least less angsty, which is never too good as an indulgence. Namely, I’ve been shoving news to the end of the week.
Contemporary news has become wrapped up in the immediacy of its fastest delivery systems. Television was pretty fast, but Internet is even faster, and it encourages sensationalism, salacity, and recklessness.
Long form journalism is valuable and worthy of time. Outraged of the Day, breaking news, and gossip aren’t much. These things suck up and waste time. Without a huge audience, there’s not much point in staying constantly informed. A week seems a good amount to catch up with. Usually, the immediate picture has resolved into something else, sharpened or abandoned as the case may be.
Results so far are promising. Let’s see how the addiction feelings go after a few more weeks.
If you’re both shy and often exhausted by your day job, it’s tempting to never go outside (except Tito go back to work) and never have guests.
But sometimes a cow-orker or friend says they’re thinking about stopping by.
Do it. Tell them to come on over. You need the practice, artist person. Keeping up your ability to be engaging even when tired will help future interactions when it’s about you and your work, not just the weather and how annoying everyone is at work.
The thumbnails I usually put at the top of these posts turned into a series of connected works recently. I started giving them titles, and the imagery I saw in them made me think of folk tales or myths. I called them New American Mythology along that line of thinking, imagining each image could be part of a larger set of stories that remake the world in their telling.
It’s pretentious as hell, of course. But I tend to gravitate to such grand scales, and I decided to run with it, for now.
But it’s clear to me that most of them are about conflict, and danger, and skullduggery—to be perfectly pirate about it. These are elements I see prominently in the corridors of power at the moment, in government, business, and in people. And one’s feelings tend to come through in one’s work.
I’m hoping I’ll feel like making more hopeful, generous, and open-feeling work next year. Counterpoints to the negatives we see around us are always useful.
The internet is the ultimate in potential for choice paralysis. Endless reading, gaming, shopping, viewing. It’s amazing and wonderful to have such bounty available. But it’s in our limitations that we find not only creative ways to solve our problems, but also a certain comfort.
When we have too many options, we spend time deciding among them. It’s time that could have been spent working on your thing, or enjoying some other art. Sometimes, the overwhelming nature of possible things to do makes us shut down and just spend our time with the familiar. Films we’ve seen a dozen times, music we could sing along to in our sleep. That’s fine. But when we say we want to try new things, it helps to have fewer options.
I don’t, unfortunately, have a consistent methodology for narrowing internet choices, but I think it’s probably worth working on, if even in a deliberate, manual, conscious way.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.