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.
The million things that pull at our attention like a three-year-old at our pants leg are bad enough. But life itself can often be just as distracting.
And sometimes that’s necessary. The work we do isn’t always the most important thing, rarely the most urgent thing. Emergencies arise. Which makes it sound as if they begin to slowly appear, like sunrise or flowers. But in truth they’re usually huge and right in front of you like a delivery truck around a blind corner in the wrong lane.
You have to deal with emergencies. But you also have to deal with less harrowing urgencies, too. Deadlines at work, kids’ recitals, mom’s birthday, trips to the airport.
A few things I’m learning, because school is never completely over while you can breathe, are as follows:
Despite ambition, drive, ideas aplenty, and opportunity, I am still very, very, very good at procrastinating. If I could market that skill, I’d be CEO of I’ll Do It In A Minute Just As Soon As I Look At This One Thing, LLC. (Market cap: $1.4B)
But two things are helpful in overcoming that trait—Pomodoros and doing the hard stuff first.
If you aren’t familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, here’s a short overview. Basically, you work on tasks in 25(ish) minute chunks and take a 5(ish) minute break in-between, then a long break after 4 of those cycles, of 15–30(ish) minutes. Use a timer. This helps keep you focused during work periods and builds in a recess. Our minds need both concentration and free play to make connections and build memories efficiently. It’s the same with bodies, working out needs sufficient rest to build and strengthen. For me, at least, it helps to know there are breaks coming at specific intervals so I can trick myself into starting and staying at a particular task. One note: I’ve tried to do this just watching the clock, no timer, but I end up going way outside the time blocks. Usually with breaks. Timer.
Making a to-do list before bedtime is working well for the getting more stuff done, and for keeping up with the blog, particularly. Getting started on the hard bits first, I’m noticing better attitude, less sulking, and less angst when I’m not working on things.
And sleep really is, really is, the best component of physical and mental health. If you’re in school, it’s extraordinarily difficult to get your 7.5 hours, I know. But keep it at the forefront of any health concerns. No more midnight oil burning outside of major research papers and final projects, seriously. Putting everything to the side for bedtime has been better for remembering what I’m learning and improving the stuff I’m making.
Putting Johnny Dangerously aside, it’s easy to have opinions. And it’s just as easy to set them aside as a meaningful part of who you are. In the act of creation, it’s a bit like ice fishing—you spend considerable time around the hole in the ice with a line in the water, waiting to catch something.
But your opinion about what you’ll catch, how good it is when it comes up, what the best thing to bring up from the little hole you cut? It’s really irrelevant to what really shows up. You can’t work with how you feel about the hole in the ice, you can only make something of what you catch.
You have to be out there fishing, actively trying to get something, and maybe that means showing up every day and being cold, because you never know what’s going to hit the line. Easy lesson: eventually, if there are fish to be had at all in the lake, one will bite.
There’s a feeling of dread that surfaces sometimes, when you’ve been working on something a long time and it just doesn’t seem to be successfully presenting the ideas you had for it. The vision you started with hasn’t come to be.
The feeling is often temporary, a loss of confidence we all feel now and then. But if it persists, you have two choices when that feeling arrives: abandon the project, or forge ahead. I can’t say which is best, it’d depend on the circumstances and the work. If you still believe in the vision you had, it’s probably best to live with the feeling for a while, but trust in the vision until the work is done. Only then can you look back with perspective at the whole and decide what serves it and what needs fixing.
If you’ve lost the vision, though, or the connection you had to it, you might do well to move on to something else. I don’t advocate throwing it away, at least not yet. But put it out of sight for a while—a month, a year—and get your newly-refreshed eyes on it later.
Unless we believe in the work, few or no others will. You can show works that you think are less successful, but don’t show anything you don’t believe in or that’s disconnected from your vision.
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.