The above video is pretty much a wine commercial, if you remove the voice over. That captured the imaginations of many a fan and potential convert. The latter because so many of us imagined a TV series consisting solely of Patrick Stewart walking through his vineyards, looking thoughtful, tending to the watering drones, and contemplatively bottling and boxing his wares. Maybe once in a while someone shows up for a short conversation or a dinner.
The upcoming Star Trek series probably won’t be as languid as all that, but I think it speaks to the frantic nature of both media and internet communications that such a restful, unadorned concept seems intensely appealing.
I keep thinking there are lessons to be learned in the opposite direction of any trend. Like, what can we do to bring more calmness into the world in the face of so much that seems metaphorically—or actually—on fire?
Many of us have a tendency to shorten names of things. Nicknames are a staple trope of parody, from Rich, the office nicknamer on Saturday Night Live in the 90s (played by Rob Schneider) to any number of frat boy stereotypes on YouTube—usually prefixing the word, “bro”.
This can be affectionate or belittling. People have various reactions, I think, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their feelings when hit by one. What I would hesitate to validate is a tendency to shorten up the work you do. I watched other artists do it in school, and I see some of them doing the same now.
We’re under tremendous pressure as a society—Americans, specifically, but it crosses boundaries—to be continually more productive. We’re encouraged to get more done, quicker, in higher volume. I think we should avoid subjecting our art to that pressure.
Time is precious, but time is something art can luxuriate in. It takes as long as it takes. To be sure, we need to keep up the habit, keep going, strive for flow every day. But rushing is out. Productivity is out. As long as you’re showing up to make the thing, it should take as long as it needs to take, without pushing it into being. Take the weight off yourself, your work will unfold as it’s ready.
I wonder sometimes what metaphors will fall out of use in the future. Most probably will, many have come and gone in the past. We’re (we in the West) reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and by consequence, the internal combustion engine, in general. Or vice versa, depending on how you view the push-pull of problem and solution. Time to really solve the big issues can seem short, indeed, at least to my sense of existential gloom.
“Gas” as a concept will likely go the way of the mammoth, and what then of phrases like, “man, I’m out of gas,” to mean, “I’ve run out of energy.”
That one struck me as I thought about the notion that we can feel burned out creatively. That we have no fuel, sometimes. Ideas are scarce or seem boring. Motivation to work something out is zilch. Time itself is leaking out at the seams when we need to get something made.
The difference is that we aren’t just machines. Not simple ones that operate on a no-fuel, no-run equation. There’s always something in reserve. If the gauge is truly empty, we cease to be, we are ex-parrots. But no, if you’re conscious, you can do something.
I like to keep reminding myself: something small is still something done, and many small things can add up to a big thing.
No post actually got uploaded yesterday due to some network issues on my end at home. It does point out the challenges of a consistent daily posting scheme. I’m a bit at the mercy of the Internet gods.
But what’s important, of course, is creating every day, not what makes it to published stage. Cory Doctorow talks frequently about his discipline of a writing schedule. In retrospect, just as he can’t tell which days he felt like he was writing well and which he felt he was writing poorly, I doubt I or anyone else could tell which posts were dashed off very late or after an outage when looked at without dates. The muse and our deftness comes and goes, so we might as well keep the routine internally.
That’s an old trope, made prominent by some New Age guru types. “It’s when you feel you aren’t making any progress that you’re growing the most!” It’s a good thing to tell yourself, especially when you’re feeling down about how slowly your work is going, or how terrible it all seems, right now. Conversely, it’s good to stay a bit humble about it when you think it’s brilliant (and I hope you do, sometimes!). An even temperament is the machine that drives a steady flow.
And there’s some truth to the trope, in my experience, but I’d say it’s more true that you don’t know how well your work is progressing in the time you make it. Look back on last year’s work and you can see good stuff and not-so-good.
But we are poor judges of today’s work, yesterday’s work, even last week’s work. It’s not important how you feel about what you just made. Remind yourself that future you gets to evaluate. Present you has one job: keep making it.
When you’re dead beat, there’s zero motivation to work on a project. It happens a lot after the day job for me. There’s not a lot you can do, but even a little effort can get you to the metaphorical—or actual—drawing board.
And that’s what you want. A page a day gets you a novel in a year. A line a day gets you several paintings, or a series, or a lot further along than you would be waiting for fresh energy, a full work day, or the lightning strike of inspiration.
A piece of something every day is you putting up a lightning rod.
That and staying mostly off social media. The never-ending feed of friends, family, enemies, and annoying friends-of-enemies can throw you off balance and out of whack, emotionally and mentally.
But you always have your thing, remember. You can always return to your center, your place of zen. The creative well is always available, whether we think it’s bringing up anything good or not. We’re not always the best judge of what’s good in the moment. If you keep at it, there will be good stuff you can build on and savor.
I’ve found it a bit pat when people say things like, “get to work!” But it’s just the simplest way to say all the foregoing. Keep a creative habit, do your thing, and the work will be good enough, often enough, to keep moving forward and—in the most renewable ways—detoxify you.
If you want to get better at a thing—your thing, let’s say—you have to get out of any routine where you’re comfortable. It has to hurt a little, be annoying, a bit hard. The muscle metaphor is spread around a lot regarding this principle, by any number of experts in motivation or self-improvement: no pain, no gain.
But I’m not talking about being so sore you can hardly move. I just mean a small amount of discomfort. See, I don’t think you have to push your limits all the time. Steady progress can be had with the smallest nudge against your present abilities.
What matters is that you notice. That you recognize breaking out of easy routine, or you look ahead to where you’d like to be with your thing, your work. It can be discouraging to hurt a lot, even if you know the gains will come faster. I’m for whatever keeps moving you forward, and outside of the gym, it’s perfectly fine to go slow and get better in very small steps.
It’s still getting better.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.