Evaluating your potential for the work is a good periodic activity. It can tell you whether you feel you’re doing your best, or if you’re spinning your wheels and it’s time to move on to try something different. But beating yourself up because you didn’t get enough done that day or week is a self-abusing trap, and you’re better off without it.
I’ve been thinking about a truism that’s both obvious and insufficient. It’s any variation of “we all have the same 24 hours.” I’ve used it here, even. But it’s not an equitable truism. Some of us are more limited by circumstance than others. Some have a part time job and a short commute with no children. Some of us have twins and a sick partner and family obligations. Our free time is unique to us. We may be able to carve out the slices at the edges, but we don’t all get the same range.
So we do what we can with what we have. It’s time, here in 2019, to reject the alienation, fear, toxic rage, and impotent social feeding of the past. It’s time to be nice to ourselves and become encouraging, more so than critical. It’s time to be honest about our resources and recognize that starting a thing, a creative project, is worth a lot. It’s a foundation, a place to build from, and our pace will—at least at the start—be what it is, slow or fast.
Rather, I got busy, with a changing schedule that finally caught up with me post-holidays. So I missed a daily post yesterday after a rare night shift. But that’s as may be. Life isn’t a factory where you set up processes and systems and they run on a timetable. Bits of it, maybe, but not everything.
Your art is the same. You’ve got goals, ideals, and maybe you’ve made resolutions to create more stuff in the new year. And—maybe—you’ve stumbled or missed. It’s okay. This is a year to be kinder to yourself about your work.
One of my goals in 2019 is to gently encourage, rather than berate, myself about mistakes and dropping various balls. Positive reinforcement is a hedge against so much toxicity and anger out there beyond your skin. C’mon. It’s time to be your own kindest critic, at least for a while.
In the immediate human world, we can see the passage of time in seasonal change, at least, beyond the equator. We remember the past winter, we chop up time into moon phases and days. It’s easy to be hard on yourself for not being where you want when the new winter supplants the old.
But in a grander sense, there is no specific division of time. The illusion of time as a discrete thing is easy when it’s light and dark, cold and hot. Step out a million miles, and we’re all falling around the sun in a smooth curve, any moment like any other.
You could say there’s no starting point, or you could say every moment is a potential start.
So leverage the excitement of New Year’s to get started on new howls, or reinvigorate old ones. But don’t forget you always have a chance to start again, from wherever you are along the curve.
Tips on Working Your Day Job and Still Making Creative Projects Happen
There’s a choice in your daily interaction with someone, whether they’re a stranger or friend. You can’t change what they’ll do or say. But you can choose what you assume about them when you come together. It’s easy to jump to conclusions if something goes wrong, or it seems like they said something weird.
Your reaction maybe isn’t as much in your control as you’d like, but setting yourself up for confrontation, sarcasm, or annoyance is. And before you have to react, you could just as easily assume the best of them.
Assume they have good intentions and most of the time, you’ll be right. I’m aware of the road-to-hell cliché, but I’m just talking about the very small, in-the-moment things. Times when you could be working together on a problem or even a disaster to resolve something. It seems a small or silly thing. But it puts you on a more equitable level.
We’re usually the heroes of our own stories. We’re the one in-charge, the one who knows what’s up, and it’s easy to forget most others are the same. But assuming the best of someone—that they’re trying and sincere and engaged—means a mutually beneficial result of whatever you’re doing together most of the time. Be kind. We’re in this together.
Distraction Is a Boon and a Curse, but You Can Use It Wisely
Sometimes, when life matters become overwhelming, it helps—for a time—to indulge in some intense trifles to distract ourselves with stories, music, video, memes. As long as we don’t let that go on too long. Scott Thompson, as his Buddy Cole character in The Kids in the Hall, said in a sketch, “I believe in moderation. Within reason!”
Indulge completely and work completely. Too much of either can burn you out or waste time that shouldn’t be wasted. Once you’ve wasted some and fed the furnace with either energy of inspiration, it’s time to undistract.
Seasons Change and So Did I, You Need Not Wonder Why
Is it dramatic or overtly pretentious to use song lyrics as titles?
I’ve been pondering seasonal change now that I’m somewhere there actually are seasons. Do they correspond with changes in our work? Not usually, of course.
They’re inspiration, guidelines of timing, reminders. This sort of thing helps in planning and shaping. But the actual doing, I’m certain, isn’t changed by what’s around us. That happens no matter where we are.
And we always have to deal with inner change. It’s not a cycle, it’s a line beginning behind you and pointing ahead. View your work through that lens and be kind to yourself when it’s not what you thought. It will change again.
Good Art, Bad Art, It’s Hard to Tell the Difference If Your Definition Is Broad Enough
And I think it should be very broad, indeed. As in, not restricting it to things you admire or even like, beyond to what you find chaotic or obvious.
Because creativity is vast, and the things humans make are sometimes unexpected, and sometimes they look like a mess, framed.
But it’s hard to tell when someone is sincere and when they just have no idea what they’re doing. We praise a child’s exuberant stick figures, but disparage them when they come from an adult. Unless they’re funny! I’m that case, we can’t get enough of them (XKCD, Cyanide and Happiness).
Looking at Paul Klee’s work, there’s a childlike energy to it, and it’s still dismissed at a glance for being too simple or cartoonish. But there’s a deep symbolism within, sometimes invented, sometimes referenced to real world things. You can certainly dislike it, but it helps to look beyond the labels “good” and “bad.” Even in things you find gross or dumb, there’s often a lot of hard work that went into making it the way it is. Sometimes, even the fast sketches and drips contain years’ or decades’ worth of study and practice behind them.
It’s not that you can’t call a thing bad. Opinions are had by us all. But consider leaving it at the cursory or joke level, and always give a shit about looking deeper. It feeds and informs your work to be charitable and open to the stuff you encouter.
Two Amazing Things Ruled My Otherwise Insane Day, Today, and They’re 40 Years Apart
One is the Genesis song “Dance on a Volcano” from 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, one of those perfect albums pretentious muso nerds like me keep bringing up. Mid-period Genesis meant a lot to me when I was still on a path to becoming a musician. The technicality, the care in production, the aspiration, all was inspiring in exactly the opposite way that punk would later engender in me. [YouTube link for non-Spotify folks]
The second is this search for images on Tumblr for the hashtag “gregg rulz ok,” a reference from the gloriously affecting game Night in the Woods. My favorite character, he of the knives, crimes, and anarchy.
Finding Some Minutes in Any Given Day You Have to Work Is Hard
I feel your pain, if you have to run a job and work on art during your free time. Jobs are exhausting, and the last thing you want to do, oftentimes, when you get home is more work, even if it’s fun and compelling, and, let’s face it, what you said you wanted to do.
This is where doing your thing as a daily habit works the best. I can only offer encouragement in a couple small ways. Here’s a list, because, as anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows, I love those:
If you just don’t have the time to set up for your main project (maybe you’re working in, say, oil paint), do some work in the same medium. Plan another stage on paper, do a fast color sketch, write chord changes, do a test video with the script you’ve written. Little bits add up to big bits, and that includes the project minutiae.
Be easy on yourself. Be gentle. Be kind. Be furiously kind, for sure, but do not beat yourself up for not enough done. Some work is still work.