Along with my New Year’s resolution to read more books—rather than just stuff online—I’m trying to do more active listening and looking. I walk a similar route to work, or take the same buses, and it’s easy to zone in on the sidewalk and mask the traffic noise with headphones.
But I noticed a new store had opened along my commute, and it had done so without me noticing for weeks, probably. In October, the storefront was vacant, and now it wasn’t. So I’ve been redoubling my efforts to keep looking around at my familiar paths and sights with new eyes.
Some things that help that:
Drawing things I haven’t drawn before
Trying to memorize details of a shop or a corner so I’ll notice when it’s different—and it rains a lot here, so things are often different when wet
Slowing. Down. As. Much. As. Possible.
Meet the New Resolutions, Same as the Old Resolutions
I used to really dislike the song, “Santa Baby,” in its many variations. But after hearing the original Eartha Kitt version and reading the lyrics, I’ve turned it around in my head. It’s a grossly materialistic plea, for sure, but it’s also a cute bit of fun, if you don’t take it too seriously.
And, of course, that’s not a bad lesson for life, and for your art. We cringe a little at artists who are really earnest about the value of their own work. Meh. Artists with a sense of humor, and perspective, make me want more of their stuff. It’s a more enjoyable way to experience life and art, both.
Change is all around us. It’s baked into the nature of the universe. Maintaining a little openness to change gives you some flexibility in other areas of life, not to mention your work. It’s the cross-cultural principle that appears in The Talmud, Aesop’s Fables, the Tao Te Ching, and others: be flexible like a reed or a willow, not hard and unbending like a dead branch or a hardwood.
Stopping and Looking Around Once in a While So as not to Miss It (And by “It,” I Mean, Y’know, Life)
The wit and wisdom of Ferris Buehler? Probably could have been a bestseller if they’d had the stones to publish it during the 80s when Ferris was hot. But still. It is true, I believe, that you need to keep looking around you at your world and your life. It does move pretty fast. We can easily get caught in our routines and drudges and overlook the weird, the exciting, the beautiful things that just seem to appear right next to us.
I put up a photo on Instagram a few days ago, showing a gorgeous yellow field of ginkgo leaves next to the freeway near my apartment. Now, just days later, it’s not so amazing—just another patch of bare dirt and some piles and patches. Keep watch: beautiful and strange stuff just shows up, briefly, and you need to be ready for it.
Katie Paterson is a Scot who works in Berlin, and the above film is mostly about the creation of a light bulb meant to emulate moonlight.
Her web site mentions her work is often about time and change, but I’d say it’s time and what remains constant. It’s charming and thoughtful, and her morse code message sending Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata bouncing to our satellite and back is an exploration of both how we make the moon a kind of person, anthropomorphizing it in so many ways, and also of our certainty of its permanence in our strange, short lives.
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.
On Being Where You Want to Be, Especially If You’re Not Where You Don’t Want to Be
Lots of us have an idea of a perfect place to live, and getting that place is a major life goal, at least at certain times. I’m going to come out with it here: I thought I should be in the Pacific Northwest right now, and though I’m not sure there’s such a thing as perfect, I’m here, and it’s magical.
But even more so, I think, because I’m no longer in a place I was tired of, weary, even. My cynicism and charitableness toward the place I was had grown paper thin, and I think you need a good measure of those things to sustain you through the tough moments when your ideals aren’t met and the place slaps you across the face like a city-sized Joan Collins.
This is why I think there aren’t “perfect” places to live. Every place has advantages and drawbacks. You give the advantages your enthusiasm and give the drawbacks your charity.
Because it isn’t anyone’s fault that the place you live doesn’t always thrill and sustain you. At least, not usually. And I recognize it’s a privilege to be able to pick up and move a thousand or more miles away. I’m grateful I have that.
But I am enjoying the change, which is necessary and beneficial in and if its own right.