If your day job is wearing thin, I have a couple of quick tips to get beyond your day-to-day irritation that have helped me.
Tired dinosaur hits from the 80s on the store soundtrack get new life when you sing along without any contractions or slang substitutes, as if you were a trained opera singer with no knowledge of pop or swing. Ex: “What does love, what does love have to with it?” or “If there is something weird / In your neighborhood / Who are you going to call?” I admit I find this hilarious.
Play opposite your type when interacting with others. If you’re reserved and friendly but quiet, spend some time being high energy and talkative. If you’re gregarious and dynamic, spend time smiling and nodding a lot. It’s like an acting job in the middle of the day. Use sparingly with management.
There aren’t really good connections among the past three days’ posts, but Three Is a Magic Number. Bob Dorough died a few days ago, and despite his being ambulatory and lucid all his 94 years, and therefore getting higher on the Good Life Lived ladder than most, I was still sad to learn he was gone. I saw him at a small club in San Francisco in the late 90s or so, when he was on a tour with a company of young singers to supplement. It’s extra lucky that Jack Sheldon—singer of “I’m Just a Bill” among many others—was there to reprise some of his hits, too.
The smallest unit of a body of work in art is the show—a group of paintings often bound by a theme or similar style and execution. For film, it’s, well, a film. For music, it’s long been an album.
We sometimes get caught in the idea of an artist changing direction, thinking it’s the new path for them. And that’s as may be, but it isn’t necessarily a permanent change for someone. Sometimes, it’s just a set of ideas they want to explore for a while.
People like to put you in a box. “This is the bold new direction for artist Z!” But the true box might be a walled-off garden of delights you’ve put together this one time. You’re always free to look back to your past, or completely change again for the next thing you do.
Nothing exemplifies this for me more than Queen’s 1982 album Hot Space. Although hated by many fans and critics, who didn’t think the band who exclaimed “We Will Rock You” had any business incorporating disco and r&b influences into its music.
But Freddie Mercury, particularly, forged ahead, and the band made just that album. It was less important how successful they were than that they tried something different. And it was less important still that they indulged their whims than that they recognized it was a discrete time and body of work they were under no obligation to repeat or take direction from for the next thing.
Freddie said, during a show at Milton Keynes,
“That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our rock & roll feel, okay? I mean it’s only a bloody record! People get so excited about these things. We just want to try out a few new sounds.”
Follow your heart and mind. It doesn’t matter a damn what comes next. Do the thing you feel now.
I was reading some things about a sort of contemporary prescriptive thinker, who’s become a guru, in a way, for people who want to see the world as needing more structure and rules of tradition. I won’t link there, no. It’s not for me to say it’s objectively wrong, or bad, either. But it’s not the way I think I want to live, nor the way I want to help shape the world—at least my corner of it. I like the descriptive approach to society, and even to life.
I was thinking myself that making art is better served in a similar way by being always open to new or individual methods of discovery and structure. We need to overturn, question, eschew traditional ways of creation. We need, desperately, to avoid perfection.
In order to make something good, something different and true and compelling, I need to give myself the space to mess up. And then I need to mess up.
I have to flub. I need to blow it. I’ve got to fail, to crash and burn, to slip up, to be wrong, to ruin, to miss the mark,
I need to fuck up.
That’s the way you find not only new ways of making stuff, but totally new types of it, things no one has seen before, strange work that builds on the art of the past but at the same time is new.
Our mistakes lead to change and new paths. Not our perfected customs.
Sleep deprivation. Satisfaction. Weariness. Lack of motivation. Minor disorientation. Relief for happy pets. Minor anxiety that one has spent too much money, didn’t read as much as one imagined, complained once too often instead of enjoyed the moment, you know, in-the-moment.
There’s a noticeable lack of disdain for fellow humans, a live-and-let-live undercurrent to encountering others. It’s possible that Oscar Wilde—via the little squib—was right.
So here we are, and there’s a habit to keep on track, and it was pleasant to have the routine both there and back again.
The end of any journey comes with mixed feelings. Ask Joseph Campbell. It also comes with new knowledge. We’ve learned things about our companions we never knew, maybe good things, maybe not, but more. If we’re lucky, we know ourselves better.
Mentally, we’re abuzz with information and ideas and experience to process. Emotionally and physically, we’re drained. This internal tussle can leave us befuddled and even quiet. We reflect. We look at our familiar things with new eyes.
Apply these things to the artist’s journey, making a new piece. I’m kinda too tired to do it.
We do get into grooves. Some might say ruts, if they’re feeling grumpy, or cruel. But while the advantage of a groove is feeling the flow or at least extra productive, the downside is feeling removed or shallow.
What might help is a trick that’s helped me in the past: change the tools you use for your creation. Different implements and even methods of making can kick you out of the same well-worn track.
Switch it up. Play guitar left-handed for a day if you’re a righty. Use a pencil and notepad if you usually write on a laptop. If you paint, do what an insightful professor made me do when he saw I was being way too careful and timid applying paint and brushstrokes: paint an entire portrait using only a 2-inch brush.
New ways of physical making can spark new insights and ideas. Stay out of the ruts.
Fear is almost always going to make a guest appearance now and then in your life. When you make a big change, start a new piece, finish an old piece, or put your work and yourself out into the world, in general.
What matters isn’t tamping down the emotion. It’s primal, and with us since long before we became mammals, even. The feeling comes, and it’s okay to feel it. But do more: embrace it, examine it, see what it does to you physically.
After that, you can more easily push it aside and do the thing you have to do. Denying it or avoiding it only turns it into something monstrous at the edge of your sight. But, it’s just fear, one emotion among many.
Fear can help us get moving or keep working. You can use the energy—the thrill, even—that rises up in it to your advantage and your work’s benefit. You don’t have to shove it aside, you can make it your ally. If it’s going to be there anyway—and it is, you’re only human—better to embrace it fully than try to ignore it. Like pre-performance stage jitters, a little nervous energy imbues your work with oomph.
Trying to run from fear is pointless—it’s attached to us like a kick-me sign taped to our backs. Try to get away from it and it flaps away with every step. Calmly reach around and accept it and you might be able to pull it off.
The status quo bias is real. It can stop us from making any changes at all, even though we tend to overestimate the effect of losses and underestimate the effect of gains. Put another way, we hesitate to make a life change because we focus on the bad possibilities even when things are currently bad. We’re also poor judges of changes that turn out better. It’s true that change is sometimes worse than what we have now. But nothing stops us from changing again, if it turns out a change is suboptimal.
As artists, we have an advantage: we’re trained—even if we’re self-taught—to seek out the new. To quote Captain Picard, we crave “…to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Okay, maybe that’s hyperbolic. The thing to keep in mind is that we often get in our own way when opportunity presents itself. Go ahead and make the leap.
The same old dull routine. It makes you crave a change, tired of the stuff you’ve made that’s become regular, overly familiar. When habit has become tedious, it might be time to let it go for a day.
Change is good, and taking a break from monotonous behavior of any kind can reinvigorate you, re-energize you. It might be a relief to break out of a rigid structure of rules, even when you’re the one who’s set them.
Let the routine go for once, laze around, do nothing, think about a new direction, explore your surroundings. Everything is fodder for a new making. Indulge.
Just don’t go more than a day. Be back to the habit soon to put the new fire into the old coals.