Tagged humanity

All to Yourself

Information wants to be free. I’m a sucker for contemporary takes on free-exchange-of-ideas or gift economy idealism or similar openness, despite my suspicion and wariness of hippies and Boomer free love types. I apologize if such stereotypes offend you. My biases should be open, too.

The ability of anyone and everyone to start and maintain an online creative presence is simultaneously its triumph and its downfall. When I was making a comic book in the mid-90s, I used to say (with a smirk I’d like to slap off my own face, looking back at it), “the best thing about comics is that anyone can do it. The worst thing about comics is that ANYone can do it.” But there was then, as now, always room for good work, stuff that was crafted with care and heart, work that was dedicated and sincere.

It’d be nice to be able to make at least a partial living on our creation. Hey, I’m working on that side of things, too. But, as Cory Doctorow is fond of saying, the biggest impediment to creators isn’t piracy—nor the huddled masses yearning to download for free—it’s obscurity. And there’s a big picture reason to get your work out there into the mix.

We thrive on stories, songs, and spectacle. Creations need to be shared. We all benefit from a large pool of human-made soup, sweet sour or salty as it may be. Ideas come from other ideas, all of it laid on the bricks of the past, from time immemorial, when the first beat was drummed, the first song sung, the first dance grooved, the first story told, the first drawings scratched onto rock. Sharing is imperative. And it’s utterly human.

Keeping work to yourself is spinning your wheels, so sooner is better than later. Habit is good, but if it all stays at home, we lose out on your part of the recipe.

Writing for the Cat

I’ve seen plenty of advice on creating and making that, in one form or another, advocates that in the absence of an audience, you write for yourself. Or, in another vein, we’re advised to avoid trying to make things we think the market wants. I’m going to go against one and clarify the other: Create for others, but be your most honest self.

And if you don’t have a specific audience in mind to write your novel to, write to your pet. Your job is to get to the deepest parts of you in making your work. Getting it out is paramount, and if you can’t overcome the fear of making it for other humans, you can start by making the things for your fur-person companions.

Your cat is a valid substitute to create for, at least for now. What you’re aiming to do is take the focus off yourself.

The point of art is to illuminate the human condition. Art is better shared. Additionally, creating for others can keep us honest. Nobody wants to be thought of as a hack or careless. We can give ourselves permission to be shitty, as long as we care about what we’re doing and want to get better. Facing the fear that someone else won’t like the stuff we do is a necessary step in creating for other people. What matters is that it’s out there, and we contribute our own small offering in tribute to the art we’ve absorbed ourselves. Sometimes to its ultimate sacrifice, I agree, but fire can be cleansing as much as it can burn us.

Wheel Spinning

Almost 50 years ago, Blood, Sweat & Tears released a song about how culture goes in cycles like a wheel, swinging left to right and back again. It’s natural to feel stuck, sometimes. It’s harder to know at those dark moments that I won’t be there forever. It’s a big picture perspective that serves me well, when I can remember it.

Another idea I’ve tried to keep in mind is that of Taoist or Zen balance, that what may seem good or bad or fortunate or tragic today can easily become the opposite tomorrow. So it isn’t worth the emotional capital it takes to dwell too intensely on any particular event in our lives.

Of course, we’re only human, and not very good at a wide or long perspective on existence. It’s easy to become roiled by life, politics, and customers.

We need these little reminders that life is never on rails, nor traveling in one direction, forever.

Perfectly Imperfect

 

 As I expected. Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in every way.

Speaking of Mary Poppins, I was thinking about that film, and how much I missed when I first saw it as a kid. Two scenes are the heart of it, and Julie Andrews isn’t in either one. It is, of course, the not-so-perfect people Mary spit-spots among who are the emotional center of the movie.

Once you get past Dick Van Dyke’s awful accent—which may not have been his fault—it’s a series of moments in which a generous, simple, kind man who knows what’s important 1) brings two children to a new understanding of their father, and 2) gently coaxes the opposite for their father who finds he was wrong about what he thought was important.

Never heavy-handed nor confrontational, Van Dyke nonetheless shows the Banks kids the only-too-human side of their father.

Dick Van Dyke eases off the ham for his scene with Mr. Banks, and David Tomlinson, nearly entirely by expression showing a man’s heart rending with the realization, acts the veritable shit out of it:

The slow walk to the bank and his certain doom, followed by a return to goofballery—albeit still really enjoyable—is almost an afterthought for me. The heart of the film is really Mr. Banks beside the fireplace and his slow epiphany over what has real meaning in his life.

Fear of Fear

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.

What’s Important

Really, it’s “what’s important?”

The question is yours to answer, we’ll all have a different list, sometimes several things, sometimes one.

But as social feeds get better at gaming your very human instincts and desires, it’s ever more incumbent to decide how much time is too much to spend with them. To that end, writing down the one or three things you view as “important” could be a useful reminder to spend most of your free time on them, and not digital minutiae.

Title: “What’s Important?”

And then use that to focus your attention and daily habit.

Discriminating

Clickbaity title, I freely admit, but I’m specifically talking about the picking-and-choosing-things kind of discrimination, not concerning people.

My friends and I were talking about the firehose of media, which is, of course, a rather definitive first world problem of having way too much available for one person to take in. Nobody can possibly keep up with all the TV shows, nor movies, nor books, nor podcasts, nor music being churned out. And beyond that, there are blogs, vlogs, streams, and comics (both web and dead tree). Never mind all the bleeding video games I can’t even start.

We make our choices of the most appealing media to consume and favor, and have to chuck a big portion of the rest. But recognizing this isn’t sad, it means we have to value our time and our attention. While social media companies are trafficking in that very attention, it’s time to reconsider how precious and limited it is.

You’re worth taking a stand for the things you enjoy and eschewing what you don’t. The things we then choose become commensurately more valuable, themselves.

Traditions

How very human it is to desire rituals. They’ve been part of who we are as long as history, and almost certainly from the dawn of us becoming human in the first place.

We’d love to be iconoclasts, smashing the stuffy conventions and customs of the past. But it might be detrimental to be too enamored of the new. We still find truth and connection in our traditions, and that desire for them may well fill a biological need.

There is such a thing as going too far, creatively, if we lose a work being relatable.

What’s In Here Matters for What’s Out There

Reflecting on possibilities is an essential part of being human. Imagining leads to art of all kinds. It’s not just the impulse to make something new, it’s what guides that impulse and allows us some kind of starting condition. Art from a void is really hard.

I’ve always liked this moment from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s finale, when Q, the (allegedly) nigh-omniscient/nigh-omnipotent being, shares an almost tender moment with Picard. His curiosity about humanity has, at this point, been joined by a kind of admiration. But it’s the glimpse into another, larger universe that’s the most fascinating thing to me. In a series with a hundred instances of imagination writ large, here is one that could transcend the show and say something about what we might potentially find. And be.

Conscious Renewal

I’ve been thinking about the promise of being human. We spend a lot of time (too much, I’ve no doubt—I admit, even) discussing and fretting over the drawbacks: not enough time, easy distraction, the capacity for self-destruction, these come to mind.

But as long as we are alive, as long as we’re conscious, we have the capability of self-renewal. We can start over. No matter how badly we fail, or how long we’ve indulged our addictions and destructive habits, we can begin again. It’s kind of nice, as a feature, the flip side of distraction. We don’t have to wait for some biological process to begin or end, we just decide to do it, consciously, because we want to try again. We have this stuff inside us that we think we can make into something real, and it’s not satisfying to leave it unmade.

I’m starting to think about it like meditation. When you learn to meditate, usually you count breaths to learn how to focus. One. Two. Three. Four. One. I wonder what we should have for dinner? Oh, damn. One. Two…

So it is, perhaps, with the creative or productive things we say we want to do. We don’t chastise ourselves for letting monkey mind distract us from the breath count, because it’s good to be kind to ourselves. Also, it’s wasted effort, because that’s just what a monkey mind does. Why scold the sea for getting you wet?

I’ll suggest (to you and to me, both) we set aside the flails and the beating-up-on our fidgety, distracted selves and just notice we dropped something. And, then, pick up the thing we need to do again. That’s equally as human, it seems.

I learned a lot from Seth Godin’s blogging advice and his blog, come to that. And so I’m going to start up. Again.