Not all instances—and certainly not in art—lend themselves to quick decisions, but most often, forging ahead with decisions and paths is the best.
Hesitation and too much thinking about choices and potential outcomes can easily spiral inward in a disappointing and never-ending lack of finishing. Gut feeling doesn’t always work, but it does get you started.
Moving brings out all the emotions. For me, it’s not all stress, all the time. I’ve always brought a sense of melancholy as well, sorting old letters, books, photos, notes, objects long hidden in a box that never got unpacked from the last move.
I want it to be Vanpire Weekend’s “Cousins,” but of course it feels like (brilliant) Ethan Gruska’s remote-gas-station-lit “Teenage Drug.”
This is a useful, and I think harmless, if not even helpful, kind of nostalgia. Feeling the past while you actively head toward the future.
I’ve been looking at and thinking about the work of Candy Chang, an urban planner and artist based in New Orleans who does a lot of work in collaboration with the public—much of it literally out in public view—and some directly about anxiety. Moving brings up all kinds of fears and feelings of anxiety, so I’m a bit attuned to it these days.
It’s part Idon’tEvenKnowHowMany in a series of existential-type questions that have no succinct answer but I’m nonetheless compelled to give you advice about.
What I’m thinking about are changes. Big ones. Life-altering events that you’ve set into motion yourself. You’ve gone about your patterns and routines for so long it seems like the things you’re planning can’t possibly happen. They’re dreams, plans, chimeras of ambition.
Anxiety is close at hand.
This is me, of course, in this very moment. I’m moving, but not just across town to a similar place. I’m moving hundreds of miles away to another state after wearing familiar paths 17 years deep.
What I think is important to hold to—if you too find yourself with this weight—is that not only is change inevitable, but if you ever left your parent’s house, your hometown, the state or country of your birth, it all changed for you at least once. It’s perspective, again.
And here’s a chance to understand what believing in yourself is all about. Apply the facts of the past to the present. You did this once—or if you prefer, it happened to you—and it’ll happen again. You set the ducks in line, you knock them down in turn. I’m not sure all this isn’t just a collection of eye-rolling platitudes, but maybe by convincing myself here I’ll help convince you. If so, I hope you feel better about the changes.
Change will come, whether you initiate it or not, so you might as well take a shot at shaping it to your vision and your dreams.
There are certain habits I’ve developed over the past few years, moving around Los Angeles and finishing college. One is to fire up my copy of Real Genius, the film that’s become my favorite in the 33 years since it debuted. I find a weird comfort in it, a silly but meaningful story that contains numerous nuggets of wisdom I apply to life. It also centers around school, an institution I’ve drawn back to again and again in my life. Again, calming and comforting.
There’s another film I keep watching over and over. Grosse Pointe Blank, with John Cusack as an assassin-for-hire questioning his path. I tend to put this one on when I wonder how my society is moving, whether its direction is one I think I can help turn—or not. In it, the protagonist returns home, rather than being away from it, and tries to solve an internal puzzle, rather than an external one. It also has lots of violence and several deaths.
The films have something in common, besides lots of extremely wordy, quotable dialogue: a single female main character (though not the lead) who remains capable but vulnerable, uncompromising but open to possibility.
To segue, several former co-workers, my friends, were trapped in a hostage situation this afternoon when a man with a gun ran into their store after a police chase. He shot another of their co-workers, who subsequently died of the wound. It’s strange to watch a film that has so much shooting in it after hearing and reading about such a thing. It feels strange to me. I don’t know why it doesn’t disturb me as much. Perhaps because it’s such fake violence, movie violence. Real violence is sudden and terrible. It often comes with no warning and no logic.
What I get out of GPB is a sense that as Martin Blank is engaged in his existential crisis, so too am I. The only thing I can do is step back from a spiral of despair and disbelief and think about a bigger picture, re-examine my own path to see how I can further changes out there from examination inside. I feel helpless, and some of these comforts keep me from turning hopeless. They’re a weird kind of jolt, an attempt to spark, in the words of Minnie Driver’s character,
DEBI: You know what you need? MARTIN: What? DEBI: Shakubuku. MARTIN: You wanna tell me what that means? DEBI: It’s a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.
Which is paraphrasing, but not far from the actual usage. It’s a good thing, I think, to have comforts and refuges. But we have to use them to get to a new place, not just return to the old ones.
There’s a longtime meme circulating in the business world, to the effect that one should fail fast, because we grow and learn more from failure than from success. At least, from early failure, or in many cases, testing raw ideas and methods. In creative circles, this has been labeled “fail faster.” It means we shouldn’t try to make things perfect up front, we should try out ideas and concepts to see what will best fit. The quicker we weed through our early failures, the more likely it is we’ll find the best elements of the thing we’re working on and succeed with the final version.
If the idea seems at first counterintuitive, there’s some other research suggesting why. Researchers published a paper last December that links social anxiety with a preoccupation of making mistakes. If further research holds this up, we have insight into the fear. Some of us don’t want to interact with each other because we’re afraid we’ll do or say the wrong thing.
But in art, there isn’t much that’s “the wrong thing.” You need to be better at trying new things, different things, crazy things than you were the day before. It’s openness to experimentation that knocks work into a new realm, a higher level. Make mistakes. Make them faster.
And if you fail, so what? That thing needed failing. It means you’ve got a clearer path to the work that will, well, work.
What stops us from our work, from making things, is often fear of the unknown. What if they don’t like it? What if I’m a fraud? What if it sucks?
But that’s our fear’s job. It’s a valuable evolutionary trait and we need it, but not where art is concerned.
When editing and refining, you can consider and revise and judge. Deliberation when you’re working only stops the flow. Trust your habit and your instincts with the blank page, The uncarved block, the white canvas. Gut instinct is just another term for getting out of your own way.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.