Returning to Form, Maybe

I’m back! Probably! It’s been a long, traumatic move. Being in a new place, with old stuff, is disorienting. Habits I thought I’d established are more easily broken. But still, change is usually good. It’s inevitable, so better to go the Taoist route and bend rather than break.

As easy as it is to blow off posting here, it’s also uncomfortable. I like the discipline of it, and I think it helps me, creatively. It’s also easy to beat myself up about missing days, but that approach only makes us want to stay away more. Whatever we do—our thing, our work—if it’s habitual, is valuable not just for its content, but also its ability to act as outlet, or creative hydrant. Its meaningfulness is deeply ingrained in the simple act of creation. We should continue.

So Many Fire Irons but You Can Handle Them

Because they’re not red hot, gettit? Cheese aside, there’s an advantage to working on several things in parallel. I’m not against extreme focus, but if you’re the type to be scattered, scheduling creative stuff in blocks—or just picking up where you left off when you notice the thing—there are a couple advantages to it and you don’t have to apologize or despair for this habit.

People asking what your thing is might want a pat answer. Sometimes, there isn’t one: you do a lot because you’re interested in a lot. You’re a Carl Sagan of art. Sagan was an astronomer. But he also wrote books. He hosted and co-wrote a popular tv series. That series spanned geology, physics, and chemistry, among many other things, as well as astronomy.

Having many creative loves, or many ideas that demand you work on them now, is perfectly fine. Maybe you could finish a thing sooner if you focus on that one thing. But would you have as much fun?

The New Perspectives of Old Minds (Yes, Post-40-Something): Billy Idol Edition

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw1oM7LBbxE

For weird, synchronistic and untraceable reasons, I got Flesh for Fantasy, above, there, stuck in my mental earholes earlier in the day. When it was released, I was in high school, and had eclectic taste even then. But though I respected Idol’s presence and abilities as a songwriter and singer, it didn’t seem particularly special.

Now, through a lens of 35 more years of listening to music, it’s scintillating. There are beautiful tones and colors on guitar and guitar synthesizer both. The song is very dynamic, rolling from the sneering shouts of the chorus, to the soft whispers of verses. It’s not characteristic of much music then or now, when so much production isn’t allowed to breathe and rest, it’s balls-to-the-wall sound and—if you’re lucky—silence.

An advantage of age often mentioned but not appreciated, maybe, is wisdom. Along with that is a sense of perspective. Things look different through a lens of decades. Art of all kinds can be reassessed like this. Sometimes things you thought were great turn out to be paper thin. And—if you’re lucky—some things turn out to have great depth.

Christoph Niemann’s Anxiety and Rumination

A person reading a newspaper in a chair, its back facing us, which is peppered with knives sticking out of it.

Image (c) Christoph Niemann

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).

Positive and Negative Thinking and the Value of Both

I’m not a fan of the positive thinking movement as it’s usually presented to me. The push to constantly be and think positively seems oppressive. I think there’s value in seeing a positive side to things, and sometimes a positive attitude can turn a moment around for you when you’re confronted with shame or blame.

But your so-called negative feelings—cultural labeling, mind—are valuable, too. Our feelings are a deep part of our humanity. Sadness and anger aren’t the dark side. They just are.

It’s important to feel everything so you can interpret it through your work. Your set of emotions is a unique mix, and that thumbprint is more prominent the more you embrace it.

A Quick Note on Getting More Sleep, Which You Need for Not Being Tired

Artists, you need your dreams. You need them even more when they’re in the middle of a solid sleep cycle.

It’s well established now that lack of adequate sleep (for almost everyone, that’s 7–9 hours) compromises most systems in your body. Nap it up. Snooze or lose. Shovel in the shuteye.

I didn’t do as well in school on days after I’d stayed up till wee hours painting. And the paintings weren’t as good, either. Creativity needs serious unconscious time. Here endeth the lesson.

In Love With Art Isn’t Necessarily In Love With Your Art

I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be making art if we didn’t love it. Maybe there’s some tortured genius out there who’s just ambivalent about art in general, but keeps making it because she’s really good at it. But probably not.

It doesn’t follow that because we’re fascinated and enamored by a few or thousands of artists that we appreciate our own. Artists as their own worst critic is more true than not, in my experience, and that can easily extend to bald hatred of their own work.

I’m here to ask you to go easy on yourself. Making art—creating at all, really—is hard. Our visions of what could be don’t match what comes out in the physical world. But there’s tremendous value in giving of yourself so deeply. Pulling the viscera of your inner being out into daylight is brave and revealing. You deserve gentle adulation just for that.

We Do What We Can With Who We Are Today

One of the strangest elements of going to sleep is losing consciousness. The person we are seems to just go away for a while. The person who wakes up isn’t quite the same consciousness. So are we the same person we were the day before?

Whether this holds true as we study the way consciousness works is, to me, irrelevant to the application of it to art and to making. It may be useful to think of ourselves as always renewing, always arising with the potential and promise of a new person—who still holds pretty much the same ways of thinking, goals, and student loan debt.

It’s easy to get caught in the quicksand of self-doubt and worry, of course. The negative “what-ifs” that catalog all the things that can go wrong. The critic telling us we’re not good.

But we also can decide to think of ourselves as new beings, and there are all the things that can go right. Maybe you’re not the same person: you’re someone else stepping into the place of the one who was in your place yesterday. Someone who has the memories, but doesn’t have to take on the baggage of yesterday

Tomorrow, we are different people. We can start our making again, and maybe not beat ourselves up about how good it is because, well, we’re new.

Appreciation for the Little Things Is Best Practices

This goes for bosses, cow-orkers, friends, and family. Everyone likes to be recognized, and this is a small way to keep up with the positive ways they all impact your life. It’s also a little bit of a humility check.

None of us get to where we are alone, and we don’t just need each other for the big things. Lots of small acts of generosity, accommodation, and support go mostly unrecognized day-to-day. If you go out of your way to notice them and say something to the ones who make them, you’re ahead of the human game. It can feel like a more angry world out there. We need more love and more expressed recognition.