You’re making art. You get sucked in. You forget the universe outside the one you’re making.
It happens, and you don’t have to feel bad about it. Sometimes if you’ve fallen into the work, and there is no time—for a blissful, weird micro-infinite period—its the best moment you could hope for, and a good reason to keep trying to regain a foothold in that pocket universe of your own creation.
It’s not that I pretend I don’t want my work to be perfect. I do. But I realize—recognize—it can never be so. Yet, I persist, if I’m not paying attention.
Sometimes, it’s good to let something go as it is. And sometimes it’s better to scrap the thing and start again, scrape the canvas, delete the tracks, crumple up the page.
How do we know when to stop? Deadline is a good full stop, but if you don’t have one, it’s an arbitrary point where you’re out of flow, getting stuck in fine details, with little or no progress or change to the big picture.
There will be no bell. No buzzer. You can choose the moment—but sooner rather than later is usually not a bad thing. Your time is all you really have, and making another imperfect thing helps more in the long run than approaching the logarithmic curve of perfect.
DISCLAIMER: watchmaker and Zen master mileage may vary.
The image is fuzzy, but it shows a phenomenon strange to someone who grew up in the American Southwest. It’s summer, officially, and at 10pm, around when this picture was snapped, as the flood of Timbers fans streamed out of the Stadium on Morrison St, it’s still a bit light out.
The deep blue of the evening sky still hasn’t turned to indigo. Twilight seems to last forever these days. It’s unsettling and not just a little magical to me. For most of my life, 10:00pm is always solidly night. Yet, here, the shreds of day cling to the horizon, encouraging us to stay awake, keep working, keep moving.
The long nights of winter are a much lyricized tradition. We should remember their counterpart, the equally persistent light and promise of summer days.
For the vast majority, dreaming is healthy and necessary to maintain good mental and even physical health. And sleep means dreaming at some point.
But the opposite isn’t always true. Dreaming doesn’t always require sleep. We do a different kind of dreaming as artists. And it’s a twofold phenomenon: we dream not only by envisioning new images, sounds, and words, but also as we work on bringing those visions to life. Making art entails a kind of dream state at times, which is so appealing it keeps us coming back to feel it again. That sense of flow during creation is like nothing else.
Along with the work, you need time to dream, and to avoid criticizing yourself when you do it. As long as it’s not taking the place of bringing a dream to reality, a healthy level of dreaming is necessary. For good art health.
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.
Today was full of ups and downs. While any random day could fit that same description, I mean it. Today was exhausting.
The day job was its own rollercoaster. After work, I needed to finish editing the show. Podcasts are fun, but the post-production takes time. In this case, I spent a good while carefully cutting levels where I was careless recording with the A/C blasting. Music and pop culture clips are a big part of the show, and there were quite a few this time.
I finally finished the edit, and then mistakenly closed the wrong window without saving it.
Losing hours of work due to a dumb mistake is disheartening, but the thought of doing it all over again was almost too much. It reminded me of when my cousin would run into something similar, occasionally. His solution was to shut everything down and just go to bed early.
There’s wisdom in that approach. It’s draining and stressful to work through a disaster. Sometimes you have no choice. But when you do, I say go to bed. Things look better in the morning. You’ll be rested. It will probably be easier to start. Maybe, just maybe, you can laugh at it all.
I spent some time trying to figure out why my Firefox extensions suddenly stopped working. I tried endless permutations of wi-fi, browser/computer restarts, until finally searching and finding I’m not alone. So now I wait for the fix.
Frustration is a common emotion in both internet work (and time-wasting) and art. The thing you’re working on doesn’t quite measure up to your vision. The idea doesn’t work as well in reality as it did in your head.
It is good to recognize that frustration is normal and we all feel it sometimes. It can be motivation to do something else, or work on the problem. But you do have to keep working on the thing, until it’s finally finished. Art bugs get worked out in process. Or not. At that finishing point, maybe the frustration is still there, but you can move on. Getting caught in endless frustration leads to nothing. Let it alone in the bug fix queue and keep moving.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.