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.
Today was a series of decisions that took all the free hours of my day off. They were:
Scrolling social media feeds and alternately seething and laughing (1.5 hours…be fair, 2 hours)
Reorganizing space on my laptop by deleting unused and outdated apps (2 hours)
Traveling to the court house to get my address updated, since they seem to think I still live at my previous. (2 hours)
Squeezing in a single coding class Pomodoro (.5 hours)
Editing my podcast and queuing it to publish (5.5 hours)
Making dinner while adding things to my Netflix queue (1.5 hours)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Someone at work asked me what I wanted to get out of my blog. I have no idea! I didn’t have a good answer, but I fumbled together something about maintaining a daily habit, and taking on a challenge like putting something new into the world every day, even if it was a brief sharing of someone else’s thing.
I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing this every day, even though it’s not always easy to think of things to post. But I don’t want to view anything in the manner of a corporate raider, that the things we do need to return a profit of some kind—not to mention seeing merit in squeezing every asset until there’s no more value to cash in. I’m certainly not against valuation of creative work, nor profit. It’s just that I think we need more reasons to rethink and do an end-run around value calculations as reason to do something.
Always remember—I’m telling myself as much as you—the word “amateur” has the root for “love” in its beginning. Amateurs are dismissed and professionals lauded, but the labels say nothing about skill or depth or potential. Love comes first, figuring out making any money is later, at some point in the list.
I don’t know how well I can bring anything to being. But what I want from the site, at least at this moment, is to share what I know and the creative things I do. I want to inspire you to start doing the creative thing you’ve long dreamed about but have always put it off. And I want to be one of those things that’s there for you every day, as long as I can do it. All those things are an automatic Phase 3 by also being Phase 2.
Marking a significant life event is only natural. It’s uniquely human. Birthdays, anniversaries, achievements. It’s that last one that can seem arbitrary or trivial, sometimes.
But an arbitrary milestone can make you feel inspired or motivated. Picking something small and celebrating it bestows importance. That’s what you want as you make your artistic practice an essential part of your life. It should feel important. Modesty is rarely a bad instinct, in a social sense. If you trivialize your work early on, however, who’s there to counter that disparaging voice? The last thing you need is less impetus to keep working on your stuff.
So here’s a small, arbitrary milestone: this post makes 100 in a row since I missed in late January, just a bit before I was due to hit the first 100 in a row. Yay! Woo! I couldn’t have done it without you, truly.
There are limits that we should place on our own nostalgia. Referencing our past can be a powerful element of our current world view, and therefore, work. But indulge that natural desire too much and we lose the connection to the present that makes looking ahead effective.
And there’s nothing explicitly wrong about making one’s work an examination of nostalgia, but I think it’s limited, a narrower box. You need some spark of the future to kick the work above the memory exercise alone.
Returning to our own past tickles some powerful neurons. But I’ve noticed that I crave reliving the original experience, and that isn’t possible. I’m not the same person I was. I have more experience, more understanding. More life.
We need to move with life, not spend so much time in the past or future. Here is all we have.
Sleep deprivation. Satisfaction. Weariness. Lack of motivation. Minor disorientation. Relief for happy pets. Minor anxiety that one has spent too much money, didn’t read as much as one imagined, complained once too often instead of enjoyed the moment, you know, in-the-moment.
There’s a noticeable lack of disdain for fellow humans, a live-and-let-live undercurrent to encountering others. It’s possible that Oscar Wilde—via the little squib—was right.
So here we are, and there’s a habit to keep on track, and it was pleasant to have the routine both there and back again.
The end of any journey comes with mixed feelings. Ask Joseph Campbell. It also comes with new knowledge. We’ve learned things about our companions we never knew, maybe good things, maybe not, but more. If we’re lucky, we know ourselves better.
Mentally, we’re abuzz with information and ideas and experience to process. Emotionally and physically, we’re drained. This internal tussle can leave us befuddled and even quiet. We reflect. We look at our familiar things with new eyes.
Apply these things to the artist’s journey, making a new piece. I’m kinda too tired to do it.