Moving brings out all the emotions. For me, it’s not all stress, all the time. I’ve always brought a sense of melancholy as well, sorting old letters, books, photos, notes, objects long hidden in a box that never got unpacked from the last move.
I want it to be Vanpire Weekend’s “Cousins,” but of course it feels like (brilliant) Ethan Gruska’s remote-gas-station-lit “Teenage Drug.”
This is a useful, and I think harmless, if not even helpful, kind of nostalgia. Feeling the past while you actively head toward the future.
Looking away to the future isn’t always bad. If we were only ever concerned about the present, we’d never follow a dream of a possible future. Or better, an impossible one.
It’s a matter of balance. One viewpoint throughout your life isn’t enough for making art. It requires changing perspective, shifting ground, opening up to the unknown, the void of ideas.
Be present when it matters. But that can’t be all the time. I’d argue that the act of creating is a prime example of losing oneself and the present. We can’t Be Here Now when we’re deep in the moment of making. It’s only when we look as far as we can that it all falls into place, comes together, melts, thaws, and resolves to a dew.
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.
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.
One thing about finding the passage back to the place I was before: it’s made me very tired.
Traveling is exhilarating, but it usually shreds your creative schedule. On the other hand, you’re feeding your mind, your heart, your soul with an overabundance of newness or—if you’re lucky—strangeness. The flood of sights sounds smells feelings ideas isn’t just intoxicating, it’s positively hangover-inducing. Once drunk on the new stuff, the return to home feels like the morning after.
It is worth it, though. Changing your point of view by completely changing your location has always been a fantastic source of new material, new blood, almost.
You awaken exhausted but renewed, disoriented but with a pack of vibrant memories. It all needs to be sorted through and labeled, but you can feel it: you’re changed, there’s more of you than there was before.
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.
I’m a fan of doing things you’ve never done before. Not always, but on a regular basis. It’s a good spark generator for ideas and for work.
Paint with your non-dominant hand for an entire canvas. Use a drawing tool you’re unfamiliar with. Write some non-fiction. Play a different instrument, especially one you’ve NEVER held or messed with. Bake a dessert. Buy a book at random in the bookstore because the color is appealing, and start reading it.
Listen to minimalism, avant garde, or a tiny niche metal genre for an album or so and don’t do anything else until it’s finished. Paying attention to the unfamiliar can unlock new doors for you.
That should really be the thing to think about while so many of us celebrate renewal and rebirth of a regular cycle, but just to take it too blogsplainy far:
It’s only a trick of the calendar that allows us to think of an endpoint for a year. Sure, the Earth reaches the same point in its orbit around the Sun at this time, but it’s really a few days off the celestial extreme. What’s special about this one? We have three other possible extremes, two equinoxes and another solstice, as equal partners, if we’re being neutral. Historically, we’re matching the “rebirth” of the sun, nearly, but that’s from a prejudicial Northern Hemispherical perspective. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s their summer, their solar maximum.
Like any object in orbit, any point along Earth’s path—i.e., any calendar day, any moment on the clock—can be arbitrarily chosen and claimed as a starting point. If you’re alive, there’s always another chance to start again. We reach more or less the same point in orbit around the Sun, but we’re also traveling around the galactic core, at a new place in space than we were last year. And the Milky Way is itself moving, which makes every year a new point in space.
Make some New Year’s resolutions, get determined, become more disciplined, make more things. Our rituals are important and create meaning.
But remember that it’s always a brand new point along the curve, and you can always start again no matter the day.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.