No Easy Answers

She was tired. And tired she would remain for the rest of the day.

It was the same most days, but she supposed it was partly her obsession with getting 6 hours of solid labor clocked before she broke for a late lunch, some time after the sun had angled the shadows more or less 45 degrees.

Hakim had been playing on the couch, but he stopped, rested his palm on the strings and watched her.

“You okay?” She looked over and smiled, a grim one without teeth.

“Yep. Fine,” she said.

“Uh huh.” He waited, she turned back to stare out the window in front of her computer. “All right, I mean . . . okay.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was still staring at her. She faced him again.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Really. This is what I wanted, I’m doing it. This is good.”

He nodded, carefully. “Right. Are you sure it’s good for you?”

She opened her mouth to dismiss him, of course it was good—then shut it again. Was it? She’d never considered the question before. It was what every artist wanted: to do their art full time. To make it their job, their career. To fill their waking life with making, and not have the drudgery of a meaningless livelihood. But she was becoming perpetually exhausted.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Art was supposed to energize you, lift you up and give you wings, set your soul on fire. But she was doing it, and she just felt burnt out.

But then, she also felt free. She felt a deep satisfaction with her life and herself. Maybe it was just something else that was off. The scales had to shift.

“I think we should walk over to the lake,” she said. Hakim stood up and reached for her hand.

When the Night Comes

Always the same, at least at first.

The sun painting the sky as it falls. Yellow, green, orange, peach, magenta, lavender. Crickets. Frogs. Distant wheels on the highway it was too loud to hear before.

And the dread. Feeling like the day has slipped out of my grasp, wriggling impatiently as I try to hold on and stroke it to calm, hoping to soothe its restlessness and need to go. That fails.

But after the dread, trepidation, unease—the dark thickly envelops it all, real and almost tangible. Then it feel safe, calm, secure, sure.

The darkest moment returns me to center, and I can go forward again.

This and That

No, not the Michael Penn song—although that still holds up, as does the album it’s from 1—but rather I’m thinking back on this flood of prescriptive, advices, maybe some platitudes? I’m not sure if this can go on forever. Maybe? If academia is to be taken at face value, perhaps there’s always something more to say about art and how it’s made.

I’m thinking ahead to 2018, what I want to accomplish, and, to my own chagrin, no small amount of fretting over what seems an ever-diminishing supply of time to do, well, anything.

I do find it interesting that you could always make this argument at any point in your life. It seems impossibly short when we look at it in the context of history.

I suppose the platitude here is to note that the time we have left is the time we have left. A tautology to mean it’s just as valid to consider there’s time enough to do some things, and that’s all anyone ever has. A pile slightly bigger for Stephen King doesn’t mean our own small pile is any more (or less!) pointless in the grand scheme of a vast universe.

We make sense of existence through our art, and thus meaning, and most of us find that more fulfilling and worthwhile than not making it.

If this all seems like the climax of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy original radio series—and its adapted scene in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe—with the eternally skeptical Ruler of the Universe, doubting not only his own existence but that of everyone else and their actions, I feel you. Optimism comes and goes, like pessimism, and motivation, and indolence.

We merely know it pleases us to make these things, and if it does, we should keep making our efforts. And do more tomorrow.

When You’re Weary

You get tired. Holidays are especially wearing, and stressful in ways that can’t be fully overcome by the excitement and joy they also offer.

So, what do you do about it? Same as everything else you feel, you accept it and keep moving. The only thing certain about life is that as long as it exists, it moves. It moves forward through time—at a terrifying velocity, sometimes—even when we’re sitting still.

Do small work. Do quiet work. Do deliberate work. Your work doesn’t have to be grand or frenetic all the time, it can move with time, as life moves. This is part of being kind to yourself and respecting both feelings and your practice.

Imperfec

I may have reached a point sometime within the last few months where I’ve decided that how a piece of art makes me feel, and what thoughts it evokes in me, is more important than its mechanics.

This is significant, I think, because I’ve thought less of this approach to art in the past, sometimes ignoring my experience of a work to analyze the details. Counting trees—hell, climbing and mapping and naming them—instead of just perceiving the forest.

My experience of the forest isn’t diminished by a couple of names carved in one trunk, or a crumbling stump in a clearing. I have the whole, and I feel something walking through it. Its imperfections are natural. We take it in stride that nothing is perfect. I’m trying now to understand what’s important about a work, despite its imperfections.

Maybe sometimes there are too many, perhaps a clear cutting has occurred, or a fire has swept through leaving sorry ashen spikes. Maybe a film has too terrible a performance (or no good ones) or a painting exhibits dull choices and clumsy technique. I do think some works are probably objectively bad.

But if imperfection is only natural, maybe you can see and praise and ponder the things that have value, or are evocative, or powerful. Maybe there isn’t so much time to spend on the other things.

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.