What About the Moments When the Future Coming True Seems Impossible?

It’s part Idon’tEvenKnowHowMany in a series of existential-type questions that have no succinct answer but I’m nonetheless compelled to give you advice about.

What I’m thinking about are changes. Big ones. Life-altering events that you’ve set into motion yourself. You’ve gone about your patterns and routines for so long it seems like the things you’re planning can’t possibly happen. They’re dreams, plans, chimeras of ambition.

Anxiety is close at hand.

This is me, of course, in this very moment. I’m moving, but not just across town to a similar place. I’m moving hundreds of miles away to another state after wearing familiar paths 17 years deep.

What I think is important to hold to—if you too find yourself with this weight—is that not only is change inevitable, but if you ever left your parent’s house, your hometown, the state or country of your birth, it all changed for you at least once. It’s perspective, again.

And here’s a chance to understand what believing in yourself is all about. Apply the facts of the past to the present. You did this once—or if you prefer, it happened to you—and it’ll happen again. You set the ducks in line, you knock them down in turn. I’m not sure all this isn’t just a collection of eye-rolling platitudes, but maybe by convincing myself here I’ll help convince you. If so, I hope you feel better about the changes.

Change will come, whether you initiate it or not, so you might as well take a shot at shaping it to your vision and your dreams.

There Are Times When It Feels Like Nothing Is Happening

If you’re a working artist, it probably doesn’t happen often to you. Go away and make more stuff, we need that. But if you haven’t established a clientele, or audience, or patronage, there are times when it feels like you’re getting nowhere.

If you feel like your work is the same, it’s time to step back—metaphorically—and realign your hands and mind.

If you feel like things are stagnating, be sure you know what you want first. You can’t head in a direction before you know where you’re going. In small ways, that can be good! It’s exciting to start a work with only a vague idea of where you’ll end up. But I’m talking about a bigger picture (no pun intended).

You have to know what kind of work you’re going to be making. It’s better to have structure for your ideas before you start trying to sell—or give—them to the world. This helps with procrastination, too. It’s really easy to indulge in cat videos and Twitter memes when you’re not sure where you’re going, because the brilliant coders at every social media company can more easily capture your eyes and ears. It’s hard to creatively wander with no goal or structure.

It’s fine to feel this frustration. You’re recognizing you’re not where you want to be, showing self-awareness. Stop flailing, think deeply about what you want to be and do. Once you have a direction you can start a path.

Then you can meander around while you’re headed east or sideways.

I Could Pick Out a Quotation at Random From Hodgman, but This is a Typically Great One

When you live in New York or any big city, it is easy to fail at growing up. The city is designed to keep you in a state of perpetual adolescence. You never need to learn to drive if you don’t want to. And even if you do drive you can go back to that bar you went to when you were twenty-one, and it will still be there, and it will still be called Molly’s, and the older waitress there will still remember you and let you sit where you want. And feel be years later, when she is no longer there, when there is just a picture of her above the bar on a place of sad honor, and you know what that means and you don’t want to think about it, guess what: you do not have to. Because no one is driving home, and you’re back again, listening to “Fairytale of New York,” which is still on every jukebox, falling into the same conversations you had with the same friends in the ’90s: about how the internet is going to change culture, and what you are going to do when you grow up.

— John Hodgman, Vacationland

When I’m Feeling Anxious, I Turn to Real Genius. When I’m Frightened for the World, I Turn to Grosse Pointe Blank

There are certain habits I’ve developed over the past few years, moving around Los Angeles and finishing college. One is to fire up my copy of Real Genius, the film that’s become my favorite in the 33 years since it debuted. I find a weird comfort in it, a silly but meaningful story that contains numerous nuggets of wisdom I apply to life. It also centers around school, an institution I’ve drawn back to again and again in my life. Again, calming and comforting.

There’s another film I keep watching over and over. Grosse Pointe Blank, with John Cusack as an assassin-for-hire questioning his path. I tend to put this one on when I wonder how my society is moving, whether its direction is one I think I can help turn—or not. In it, the protagonist returns home, rather than being away from it, and tries to solve an internal puzzle, rather than an external one. It also has lots of violence and several deaths.

The films have something in common, besides lots of extremely wordy, quotable dialogue: a single female main character (though not the lead) who remains capable but vulnerable, uncompromising but open to possibility.

To segue, several former co-workers, my friends, were trapped in a hostage situation this afternoon when a man with a gun ran into their store after a police chase. He shot another of their co-workers, who subsequently died of the wound. It’s strange to watch a film that has so much shooting in it after hearing and reading about such a thing. It feels strange to me. I don’t know why it doesn’t disturb me as much. Perhaps because it’s such fake violence, movie violence. Real violence is sudden and terrible. It often comes with no warning and no logic.

What I get out of GPB is a sense that as Martin Blank is engaged in his existential crisis, so too am I. The only thing I can do is step back from a spiral of despair and disbelief and think about a bigger picture, re-examine my own path to see how I can further changes out there from examination inside. I feel helpless, and some of these comforts keep me from turning hopeless. They’re a weird kind of jolt, an attempt to spark, in the words of Minnie Driver’s character,

DEBI: You know what you need?
MARTIN: What?
DEBI: Shakubuku.
MARTIN: You wanna tell me what that means?
DEBI: It’s a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.

Which is paraphrasing, but not far from the actual usage. It’s a good thing, I think, to have comforts and refuges. But we have to use them to get to a new place, not just return to the old ones.

Sir Paul Still Charms the Pants Off Everyone

I finally got around to seeing the Carpool Karaoke featuring Paul McCartney, and it was typically wonderful. I really can’t get enough of Paul just being his alternately down-to-earth and godlike-famous selves—the latter of which he dubs “Him”—but this was a cut above. It must be terribly hard, sometimes, to reconcile being a person who just wants to walk around in the world as a normal human with a concept people want to worship and get a piece of, everywhere you go. I’m continually amazed by the grace he displays of such relentless recognition. I’m sure it’s hard.

So many of us think we want to be famous, and should think harder and longer about what it might mean. There’s little controlling it if it happens.

Independence

Declaring your sovereignty is both a goal and a rite of passage in creative circles. But it’s not necessarily a better way to get your work done and out in the world than working adjunct to a job of any kind.

Institutions and employers offer support you can’t generate on your own. It’s always a good idea to try to discount biases in making any decision to set off on your own. Concepts like “freedom” and “independence” have deep roots in our psyches, especially for Americans. It can block or hinder us to assume being on your own is always better by default.

Assuming such grand and fundamental tropes are not the most important isn’t a bad course of action. We get in our own way far too often to shrug off questioning assumptions.


The spark for these thoughts is this article by Dylan Matt, questioning if the American Revolution was the best path to take, or a mistake that prolonged slavery and genocide.

Choices

Today was a series of decisions that took all the free hours of my day off. They were:

  1. Scrolling social media feeds and alternately seething and laughing (1.5 hours…be fair, 2 hours)
  2. Reorganizing space on my laptop by deleting unused and outdated apps (2 hours)
  3. Traveling to the court house to get my address updated, since they seem to think I still live at my previous. (2 hours)
  4. Squeezing in a single coding class Pomodoro (.5 hours)
  5. Editing my podcast and queuing it to publish (5.5 hours)
  6. Making dinner while adding things to my Netflix queue (1.5 hours)
  7. Listening to All Things Must Pass while reading and writing this post before bedtime to get up at 5:30 for work. (1 hour)

There isn’t much of a point to this. Just that there are the same hours in every day, and looking at where they go can help identify where to change or cull choices of time spent. Time is all we’ve got, really.

Harlan, and Good and Bad Things

He finally went and did it. Died. Deshuffled the most mortal of coils. A fiery, arseaholic ball of emotion and invective with an Edisonian ability to invent new tales burned out and went forever silent. He wrote amazing things, and I considered him a hero for a long, long time.

Then I started hearing about his sexist behavior. Odd, I thought, since he was such a fierce advocate of the ERA and feminist ideals. But sometimes the people we admire do awful, hurtful, damaging things. We can’t shy away from talking about that part of our erstwhile heroes, if we talk about them at all, and sometimes if we don’t want to. Harlan shamefully groped Connie Willis on stage, and was reportedly grabby with a lot of women through the years. This is unacceptable sexual assault, and he should have been called out on it a lot more than he was. He apologized to Willis, who accepted. That’s to the good.

He inspired millions of us to write and to create new worlds and to never give in to the powerful who wanted to crush or steal our dreams. But he hurt people and sparked fear in some innocents he denigrated, and womenthe woman he touched inappropriately, and that will shadow his brilliant work forever, as it should.

Here’s my Ellison story:

I was attending Comic-Con in 1995 or ’96 as an exhibitor for my comics series Greymatter. I saw that Harlan was going to be meeting and greeting at a booth in the middle, somewhere, and even though I was terrified at the thought of confronting such a fierce and forward man, and the real possibility that he’d excoriate me and my work, I had to go get in line.

I waited, I walked up, I handed him a pile of books. He was delighted, and gracious, and welcoming. He said, “Ack! You waited in line to give me comic books?!” with a giant grin and slight head shake. He accepted my fanboying with tolerant good humor and thanked me. And I left, exhilarated I’d met yet another of my favorite creators.


Cory Doctorow wrote a better obit than this one, about HE, and how to think about someone we admire who does bad and good things and it’s here, and it’s worth reading.

Important Things

I write a lot about our work, and ways to get started on your art things. Those are primary components of our lives as artists. But just as vital is our relation to others. We don’t create for the universe. We create to connect, to describe the human condition, to explore deep mysteries within ourselves, to craft meaning.

We aren’t just islands apart from each other. We share responsibility for what being human means. There is no objective goal or blueprint to follow. We create it every moment, days to weeks to years. Therefore, our generosity of spirit and kindness elevate our own humanity.

The least among us, the children, the marginalized, and the vulnerable are important to who we are. For one thing, all of us have been all of those things at some point in our lives. Some of us quickly move past those states, and some remain.

I hope it will always seem worth it to remember my way isn’t the right way, just mine. I hope I keep wanting to help my fellow humans, to stay open to possibility, to keep reaching out to those who remain open to teaching back. People can disappoint individually. I still believe in us together.

Everybody Got to Deviate From the Norm

In chats with a psychologist several years ago, I kept talking about things I did as normal or abnormal. He stopped the conversation, apologized, and said that, professionally, they didn’t use the word to describe behavior any more. Rather, “typical” is how behavior is referred to, since there’s something of a stigma around “normal.”

So what is normal?

Maybe nothing important. Maybe it’s our atypical behavior we rely on to see things differently, to make stuff that speaks to deeper things within.