Getting Tedious

Part of my quest to keep good digital hygiene—which is frequently less than successful—is to continually re-examine my habits and compulsions with my devices and the stuff I use them to do. I finished reading an intense, stirring interview with Jaron Lanier about the state of social media (and the internet in general). That’s not unusual, his interviews are usually dense like that, and have been since the 90s. His forthcoming book will argue for ditching social media accounts entirely.

One other thought-provoking interview I came across was from backtracking through previous episodes of Jocelyn Glei’s podcast Hurry Slowly. In episode 15, Oliver Burkeman talks about the difficulty we have of doing anything for its own sake. Not for a goal, not for a higher purpose, not to make us better and faster at doing other things. It’s extremely hard not to ascribe a benefit to it, but sometimes we should get bored just to experience it.

Boredom is now a scarce commodity—at least for most of the digitally-networked. We have endless distractions available, many for free, so why let an unpleasant state like being bored get any foothold in our day? There are some distinct creative benefits to becoming bored. But, as hard as it is to avoid selling this idea using some, I’m advocating for becoming bored despite those benefits.

It’s good for us as people to do a little nothing every so often. If our predominant state is to be on-the-move, working, being productive, getting distracted, filling idle moments catching up on The Latest—then activity has become a monolith. It’s good to have perspective and also to experience different states of mind and being. It’s like an inverse meditation, putting aside every amusing distraction and indulging in stultification.

I prescribe 20 minutes, at first. Do it today or tonight, see how different it feels to have nothing to do. There’s no restriction on what you think about, but I’m trying to get into the same mindset I had as a kid. Kids are often experts at getting bored. They usually have fewer things they’re supposed to do, fewer responsibilities, fewer pressures churning our minds into a constant fret.

Go. You’re 10 years old. Nothing on TV, no friends available to play, internet a distant dream. Twenty minutes. This feels different. Good.

More Foolishness

Today’s the day. Pranks are pulled, Ricks are rolled. Here’s a brief history of April Fools’ Day.

It’s not easy to pull pranks in blog form, not without some long traditions, probably, and claims that one is quitting or some such invariably fall flat. It is good, however, to play games. With oneself, with family, with your friends. The resurgence of tabletop gaming is heartening, because it means we’re perhaps more serious about play, and that’s a good thing. In the U.S., we tend to value work above all else, the career and job milestones are often primary. But life is bigger, and our minds need balance.

It’s the difference between concentration and wandering. You get better at each by doing one, then the other. They feed off each other, these disparate parts of our brains. Not as simple as left vs. right, either, the myth that one type of thinking comes from one half. The brain, like the people who house it, uses balance to do its best work.

Seize the opportunity to be a bit of a fool. We probably need more days to do so.

And have a freebie on me.

Shape It Up, Get Straight

It’s counterintuitive perhaps, but organizing is potentially both good and bad for creation. It depends how you approach it. A lot of clutter in your workspace is mentally taxing. You have to fight through the visual chaos to find things, you’re distracted by (metaphorically) shiny objects, and you bog down in the face of these things. I know this because I’m the king of clutter.

But organizing can be a distraction in itself. It’s an anal-retentive procrastinator’s dream. You tell yourself you need to get your studio or desk or files in shape so you can work distraction-free. But de-cluttering can take time, if things are a swirling soup of stuff. You can easily spend a day or more moving piles, scheduling things, sifting through neglected mail, reshelving supplies and books.

Most tasks are best handled in chunks. And nothing starts your day in triumph like getting a couple of creative things happening before you do anything else. The two practices can balance each other very well, as long as you keep them to discrete slices of time, say, 30 minutes to an hour. A little right brain, a little left. It’s not intensity that gets you a hundred pages written or a big canvas filled, it’s the day-to-day, bit-by-bit daily habit over time.

Keeping It Real

More on the Yoda metaphor front: reality isn’t always what it seems. We see mostly the surface of everything, membranes of stuff our senses feed on. So it follows that we shouldn’t make too many assumptions about what’s beneath.

The opposite is true of our creative work. We make everything from the inside out, that is, starting with the idea and moving outward until the surface is whole and complete.

So, on the one hand, you need the structure of a piece to be solid, strong, interlocking, hidden. On the other, the skin is where life is most present: moving, shifting, full of color and texture.

You need balance, as in most of existence. Can’t focus only on one side of reality.

No Easy Answers

She was tired. And tired she would remain for the rest of the day.

It was the same most days, but she supposed it was partly her obsession with getting 6 hours of solid labor clocked before she broke for a late lunch, some time after the sun had angled the shadows more or less 45 degrees.

Hakim had been playing on the couch, but he stopped, rested his palm on the strings and watched her.

“You okay?” She looked over and smiled, a grim one without teeth.

“Yep. Fine,” she said.

“Uh huh.” He waited, she turned back to stare out the window in front of her computer. “All right, I mean . . . okay.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was still staring at her. She faced him again.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Really. This is what I wanted, I’m doing it. This is good.”

He nodded, carefully. “Right. Are you sure it’s good for you?”

She opened her mouth to dismiss him, of course it was good—then shut it again. Was it? She’d never considered the question before. It was what every artist wanted: to do their art full time. To make it their job, their career. To fill their waking life with making, and not have the drudgery of a meaningless livelihood. But she was becoming perpetually exhausted.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Art was supposed to energize you, lift you up and give you wings, set your soul on fire. But she was doing it, and she just felt burnt out.

But then, she also felt free. She felt a deep satisfaction with her life and herself. Maybe it was just something else that was off. The scales had to shift.

“I think we should walk over to the lake,” she said. Hakim stood up and reached for her hand.