Hang One or Two of the Favorite of Your Own Work to See Its Best and Worst

If you’re a painter or calligrapher, say, this is an easy one to practice. If you’re a musician or dancer, it’s harder. But there are ways to keep looking at your stuff, even if it’s a song or a performance.

You’re not doing this to leave a work in place forever. You’re doing a little study. It’s a personal gallery visit, and the assignment is to analyze this one work. It just happens to be yours, this time.

What you’re looking for is anything that keeps the work from being perfect and anything that helps it along the way. That’s a little hyperbolic–nothing is perfect—but perfection should be striven for, not achieved. And it’s nebulous: the main thing is how closely it came to the vision in your head. But you need some perspective, a little objectivity, a little time for it to breathe and live before you can see the little things.

You already probably see the mistakes you made and other choices you thought about but didn’t implement. Next time you’ll know they could have helped improve it, and some things to keep that went well.

This approach works better if you have just a little difficulty or a slight embarrassment when examining your own work than if you either want to puke from thinking it’s terrible or you think it’s brilliant, but I think those cases are rare.

More often, the art you made took a long time and you’ve spent hours, days, or weeks getting it honed, chopping it into shape. You know it well. You also can overlook the obvious.

So as you make more things, keep a fresh one handy to listen to or look at to see it as plainly as you can, to learn one more lesson from a finished thing.

Sometimes the Way Out Is the Way In

I took this photo for other purposes. But I’ve been staring at it, wondering if there’s a message to be extracted. Exit and entrance are the same opening. It’s the same size and appearance for both, nothing is different except which side you use.

Is art the same? Existence? Work, consumerism, relationships, comedy, water? I’m not sure. We can only interpret for ourselves and keep moving forward. If it means it’s time to turn around and go out the way we came, we’re still working on the journey, and still not giving up.

Macca Making the Most of His Moods Means Much to Me

Paul McCartney’s slightly vertigo-inducing video for “I Don’t Know” is one of my favorite tracks on his new album, Egypt Station. It’s not a great album, and could have used some trimming, I think, but there are gems, and this is one. Paul often gets dismissed for, well, silly love songs—specifically by John Lennon, there—but mostly by those who consider he’s forever cranking out sunny fluff. But he’s got a darker side, his share of gloom, and those songs are found throughout his oeuvre.

It seems a piece with some of his later work where he addresses being older, having a sense of his own mortality. Self-examination is important for all of us, especially those of us making things. We put our hearts into the work, and without knowing the dark side as well as the light, we aren’t approaching it with our complete selves.

Mood of the Day, Week, Month in Music Video Form

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.

Thoughts From a Very Expensive Uber to West Hollywood

In 12 days, I’ll be on a plane to Portland, Oregon, leaving 16 years of working and living in what the late Harlan Ellison liked to call Baghdad—before the first Gulf War made it a household word and usurped the literary mythos with a contemporary view of a city very far removed from its legendary past. At least, here in the West.

West Hollywood, specifically, meant tolerance and excess, and it meant a certain freedom from feeling like a minority, even if that was probably an illusion. Eventually it became a pain in the ass to get out of and back into, and changing times and fortunes necessitated a move to cheaper neighborhoods.

Change is inevitable. It’s in the details that everything is tweaked, resolved, and given meaning. Where we do our work is supposed to matter less than our vision and intent. But you’ll always be influenced by your environment. Setting matters. People matter.

I’m visiting some friends I may not see for a long time. I probably won’t thank them for whatever influence they had on my work, that would be too weird. But it is there.

The Things We Cling To That Ain’t Nohow Permanent

Points for recognizing the Pogo reference. My phone decided to brick itself sometime last night. Actually, I’m not sure it wanted to stop responding to me, but it does make me feel a little insulted. Or guilty. Maybe I insulted it?

The upshot all is that I have lost my direct, permanent connection to the internet, and therefore the world out there. The upshot of that hyperbole is that I probably put way too much importance in my phone as a conduit to reality.

What had seemed so robust and reliable now seems laughably fragile and tenuous. I’m hoping to take this brief inconvenience–I won’t get a replacement until sometime notice how often I feel the urge to distract myself and avoid other, harder parts of life.

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.