I’m known amongst my very tiny circle of friends for spending the maximum amount of time possible at home, supposedly working, but often procrastinating and recovering from being social. But there is undeniable benefit to getting out there with fellow humans. We are social animals, and it benefits us to gather.
With that in mind, I determined to make it to the Oregon Zoo’s annual “Squishing of the Squash,” a fall tradition wherein the Asian elephants are given a couple of the biggest pumpkins grown regionally, and they amble over to enthusiastically stomp them into pieces and eat chunks to the considerable vicarious joy of the crowd watching them do it.
We went, as evidenced by the shot above, and were not disappointed. It seems a simple thing in the abstract, just a short trip to the zoo to watch some large creatures smash some gourds. But it was a new thing, a short journey into the cold fall air, new smells, animals, people, food, and colors. All of our mutual delight fed into the event, and the morning was joined in happy unison. It was beautiful.
Your town has its traditions, from the podunk to the metropolis. Pick one and go, it’ll feed your work and your spirit.
There’s a general sense—in the United States, particularly—that negative emotions are objectively bad and need to be countered immediately with positive thoughts. The drive to improve our health, status, income, and productivity is relentless. At least, it seems so to me.
But I think there’s an unappreciated world in dark moments, down days, moody patches. Being human is a spectrum of emotions, and being an artist requires being open to possibility. How can we be effective interpreters of the universe if we shun a big part of ourselves?
It might seem scary at first to just let some shadow feelings alone when they show up. But there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about them. It’s what we do with those feelings that makes the difference. I think suppressing or ignoring our emotional spectrum is a problem, and I doubt it makes for good art. Affective, relevant, insightful art is what moves us, both to shape our view of the world and to better connect with each other.
I attended a housewarming last night. I knew almost no one. These occasions are cause for me to greet my social anxiety like an old friend, or more like a sadistic Ghost of Christmas Present, full of boisterous merriment that seems rather malevolent. But that’s my problem.
If I can figure out a passable excuse, I’ll stay home. If not, well, I’ve been known to bring a book to parties and read in a corner. But I’ve tried very hard to curb that introverted instinct. To not withdraw, to be more present in the moment. It’s good to push against your boundaries, at least regularly. Social gatherings are prime opportunities to observe. As artists, we are supposed to be doing that more, to see and to listen and to feel as deeply as possible.
So, I went. As most often happens, I had a good time for longer than I’d thought. Most importantly, I met new people, saw new places, and listened to an impromptu music jam started by a few musicians among the bunch. People danced. Conversations bloomed. I soaked in life.
This article on Quartzy reviews D. B. Dowd’s new book, Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice. The article makes much of the idea that drawing is a kind of learning, which is somewhat true, but limited, I’d argue.Instead, I think there’sgreatvalue in championing the idea of drawing as a tool for many aspects of life, and not just the province of artists and fumbled attempts to imitate the pros.
Near the beginning, it says drawingshould t be limited to the artists. But I’d say that misses the point, at least for me. Drawing is for all of us because to make art is human. We are all artists by nature. Most of us just lack refinement and practice in becoming connected to our creative cores and in utilizing various techniques of creation.
It’s well worth reading, and I hope it’s another bit of inspiration to start or keepworking on your thing.
I do these periodic posts about the habit—making a daily or near-daily creative practice part of your routine—as much for myself as for you. Because I’m not trying to teach or prescribe formula from on high or by edict, I’m just as crabby and fallible about getting to work as anyone. We all try, we all fail. There are times, and they come more than once, when you feel you don’t have the strength to make stuff.
It’s only in those moments you have to fall back on tricks and training to push through the wall. The daily habit gets you through because you’re used to it, and it’s too uncomfortable to not do a thing.
“Just do it,” Nike’s simple and best slogan, can work for easy dark moods. For worse blocks, there’s the 5 Minute Rule. You tell yourself you’ll just work on art for 5 minutes, and usually it kicks you into gear. It can’t fail, because even if you drop it after 5 minutes, you’ve worked on your thing that day. You win.
Give it a shot, and get used to denying your inner denier.
There’s some bad news from the Yogscast collective, and a couple of its members have deeply disappointed me as a viewer and fan, as well as hurt women involved in those men’s predation of them. Zoey Proasheck has a post on their subreddit that’s well worth a read. It’s a bit like Harlan Ellison’s “You Don’t Know Me, I Don’t Know You,” which is hard to find but also worth digesting.
It’s tough to draw a line between my image of heroes and beloved artists and the unknown reality that they actually are. My image of others is fuzzy at best, ghostly in most cases. It takes time and close contact to understand what someone is like, and even then people can fool you, or just be closed and obscure, a web so thick and knotted it’s very hard to see through.
But as painful as it can be to acknowledge someone disappointing you, sometimes you can’t run, at least not immediately. Someone has to take charge of situations like this and confront the bad actors and abusers of their position. It’s easy to say we should all maintain self-care and take time out when necessary, but there are times it isn’t possible.
In a sense, no one has to do anything. But often we trade on our reputations and ethics. I tend to believe in very few things, but one of them is that we are often stronger than we think. The important thing is that we keep moving ahead.
The idea that we have to overcome our fears and amxieties isn’t new, but the reality that simply living in the 21st Century generates some level of it is—by definition, even—very new.
Humanity moves from threat to threat, along its geologically short timeline. The big things we’ve done are still a scratch on the full line of eons. There isn’t just monkey mind to deal with, there’s lizard- and insect-level leftovers in there somewhere. It’s easy to dredge up trepidation and feel like we should just hide.
So along with that ongoing series of anxieties, I try to think about opposing feelings, and when I’ve felt them. We almost always have both in our lives. Some moments when we felt larger than life, loved, connected, part of a thing greater than our individual selves. It makes it easier to notice the small, ongoing fears and know they, too, shall pass, if we let them.
Solving mysteries is something many of us (to quote Jean-Luc Picard) find irresistible. It’s very satisfying to figure out riddles and puzzles. And they exist in art, of course, whether intentionally put there or not.
I just finished Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It was good, especially for a first novel, I thought, and Hercule Poirot a compelling and endearing character. But most of the rest of the main characters were somewhat tiresome English aristocratic types, and even though I grew up watching these same types on BBC dramas my mom loved, pushing my nostalgia buttons, it was tough to care about them and their problems now. The tenor of our times is corruption, political and economic stratification, and toxicity in media, social and otherwise, and relying on parental favor for living the country club life is, well, quaint.
Additionally, the clues and facts of the case weren’t all in front of me. Poirot solves the case using facts Christie never allows him to reveal to the narrator, Hastings, and therefore to us. This is obviously my problematic penchant for the type of mysteries I like.
Art—the static, non-story-driven kind—is not so coy. Paintings and drawings are all there in front of the viewer. Nothing is hidden from view, it’s up to viewers to solve any puzzle that exists within. Sometimes, it is what it appears to be. But sometimes secrets are there to be found. And the possibility is irresistible.
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.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.