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.

Trying Try, Try Again Again

Picking oneself back up is the perennial topic of any number of motivational speakers and books. It’s rare you’ll be a person who can consistently and sustainably get yourself to the creative task you’ve set, day-after-day. For the rest of us, we just have to realize we’ve not done work for a bit and get to work again.

I write on this a lot, but I think it’s because I need to remind myself over and over: it doesn’t just fix the problem to know about it. Greater than knowing you’re going to slip up, though, is the idea that it doesn’t matter. There’s no real world penalty for missing a session or two in the studio—substitute wherever you do your work for the word “studio,” here—while you’re distracted by shiny things on the internet or plain old daily life. No one fines you for not working on your paintings or album. You’re just one day fewer without something done.

But, again, it doesn’t matter. We all fall short of our most lofty ideals at some point. It’s part of being human. We spiral around again, we trip over the same stupid crack in the sidewalk. But what isn’t often discussed in the talk of our failings is the corresponding attribute of our successes. Nobody’s going to glorify your completion of the next piece of the artistic puzzle you’re figuring out. But we spend collective hours and miles of text lamenting shortcomings. It doesn’t have to be of any more significance, in my not at all humble opinion.

You failed! But everybody fails, every last one of us. You’ve got to let go of that harsh voice and be kind to yourself. It matters that you don’t let it get to you, beyond that initial disappointment. You’re still alive, you have one more day to pick up where you left off. Once you finish a thing, that’s the time we should be all appreciating you, acknowledging you made that thing and it’s done. Maybe it isn’t perfect, that’s also not important.

If you have the urge to make things about and for the world, all you have to do to rise above our darkest emotions and harshest contempt is to start again.

The Deal With Airplane Food

Most things have an inherent identity. They’re what they need to be and a result of the processes that brought them into being. This is just as true of a tree or a river as a book or music video.

Imagining the thing you’re experiencing as less than some Platonic ideal is missing the point. Whether it’s bad or good is similarly unnecessary. We’re often ignorant of the processes that went into making—or growing, if you like—something, and talk about it as if it should be something more, or better, or bigger.

I’m not saying all judgment or criticism is off-base. Having high standards is helpful, certainly in our own work. But we spend much time bashing and heaping scorn, and sometimes it’s simply irrelevant. Because many times the reason something is not our ideal is that it wasn’t meant to be. The processes of its making required it to be so.

This may seem vague. Trying to make a universal out of a specific is, well, fraught with fuzziness, and it’s hard to be clear. Let things be what they are, as much as you can. This lets you be kind to your own work when you want to throw it in the trash, and to other things when you want to spend your precious time holding it up against an ideal. Because perhaps it was never meant to, nor was trying to be so.


BONUS: Airline food history, reasons, explanations

Having Opinions

You can. Your thoughts are worth considering, and working through. I’m not talking about simply labeling things as “good” and “bad,” but if those are concepts you’re attaching to a thing, I’m advocating you try articulating why they are such.

It’s good for your own work, too. Getting comfortable with your thoughts about what you’ve seen and heard can give you insight into your decisions, even those you make on instinct (which, for artists, can be most of the time). Make lists, defend choices, send them to the public at-large. Maybe we can come to understand that others who have opinions about our work we don’t like aren’t granted any more special right or power to bestow them than we are.

Knowing It When You See It

What’s bad writing? It came up after I saw quite a lot of comments about the upcoming Ready Player One movie. I said at the time to a couple other Generation X geek friends that I was liking the book, but also that I felt it impossible to separate my assessment of its quality from the onslaught of nostalgia porn. Every reference didn’t resonate with good memories, but enough of them did that the rest just helped keep me in the time period. Which, as those who lived through it (specifically, the 1980s) can attest, was often a scary, chaotic whirl, musically, fashion-wise, and politically. I was at least half-sure we’d immolated in a fiery holocaust of hastily-lobbed ICBMs at any moment. My feeling didn’t change after I’d finished, either—I liked it, but was it good, or just pushing my vanished adolescent buttons?

And it’s very, very hard to define “bad writing” objectively, without using specific works upon which one has ground one’s axe in the definition. As a friend said, “maybe it’s like obscenity.” You just know it when you see it. It’s necessarily vague and subjective, because we like such different things about various mediums. Beyond the obvious, like grammar and typos/spelling, there’s a lot of room for style and being idiosyncratic. Analysis ranges widely. Some think abstract painting is abominable trash, others think it’s more essentially artistic than any other style.

Applied to our own work, sometimes we worry about people trashing it, dismissing it. If we’ve worked honestly, with a goal of being our most essential selves, I believe it’s our truest expression, and what we should strive for. If what you’re offering is different than most or all others, there’s an audience for it who likes the thing you’re doing and  possibly you, as well. It’s just a matter of finding the right means of exposure, having persistence, and some luck after that. Or, sometimes if you’re doing a thing lots of others are, if you’re a different enough personality, you draw them by being who you are.

What do you get out of the artists, writers, and musicians you follow? How much is really cool evaluation of its worth and how much because you just like the way their things are made? Or, simply, the people doing it?