It’s only everything. Everything you were and are, all you’ve seen and heard. It’s all in the stew. It’s all past that fuels and lays the foundation for the future, and the act of making funnels it through a venturi tube of consolidation.
I’ve finished Mark Doty’s enthralling Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, underlining and line-marking as I went. A book ostensibly about Dutch still life painting from the 17th Century, it folds in an increasingly deep examination of art and personal experience bit by bit. It’s a lovely book on its own, but it’s also instructive on the ways art encompasses the things of the world and our inner interpretation of it.
I read articles to procrastinate more than any other activity. It’s cheap, time-consuming, and allows me to justify it—with no actual verity—by telling myself it’s research of some kind. Just today a few things I read were
Whether the game “Chinese whispers,” as “telephone” is known in the U.K., is racist (people were mostly unsure, but it is)
The Wikipedia page for the Tom Servo character on MST3K
…and several other things.
It’s definitely a problem. But possibly a problem I can get a handle on by being more aware of the habit. Chipping away at procrastination is an ongoing practice of reminding my monkey mind trivia can wait for breaks.
It’s not often the artist’s journey™ feels like a short walk to success town. Usually it’s a Frodo-level exhausting slog, that nonetheless comes with many rewarding stops.
But you can’t see a long journey ahead unless you’ve been working on things for a while. And when you feel overwhelmed with how far there is to go, there’s a good bit of stuff you’ve already done. In reality, there isn’t a place to end, there’s always somewhere new to travel to, further along your particular road. In that sense, you’re always at the same place looking forward, but looking at how far you’ve come will build for as long as you make art.
I’ve been trying an experiment to stay less stressed out and anxious—or at least less angsty, which is never too good as an indulgence. Namely, I’ve been shoving news to the end of the week.
Contemporary news has become wrapped up in the immediacy of its fastest delivery systems. Television was pretty fast, but Internet is even faster, and it encourages sensationalism, salacity, and recklessness.
Long form journalism is valuable and worthy of time. Outraged of the Day, breaking news, and gossip aren’t much. These things suck up and waste time. Without a huge audience, there’s not much point in staying constantly informed. A week seems a good amount to catch up with. Usually, the immediate picture has resolved into something else, sharpened or abandoned as the case may be.
Results so far are promising. Let’s see how the addiction feelings go after a few more weeks.
There’s a tendency for the organized—even slightly organized—to spend lots of time designing the plan for a project or schedule. It can be really satisfying to see a detailed layout of your time, and how it’s supposed to get used.
But life is tricksy, and tends to defy our expectations and demands. The detailed scheme is like an oil painting you spent weeks on, perfecting the details and carefully mixing colors and layering. It’s sometimes fulfilling and valuable to make something with the full force of your skill and intention. But the plan isn’t that time.
The plan benefits from a little flexibility, like a charcoal sketch you can erase and blend as you go. Unless you’ve got a trust fund and a studio and all the time in the world to yourself, life inevitably throws curve balls and monkey wrenches into the works with regularity.
Adaptability and an openness to small changes in the plan means you can keep the main effort for your work, and your time spent where it’ll be most satisfying.
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.
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.
Evaluating your potential for the work is a good periodic activity. It can tell you whether you feel you’re doing your best, or if you’re spinning your wheels and it’s time to move on to try something different. But beating yourself up because you didn’t get enough done that day or week is a self-abusing trap, and you’re better off without it.
I’ve been thinking about a truism that’s both obvious and insufficient. It’s any variation of “we all have the same 24 hours.” I’ve used it here, even. But it’s not an equitable truism. Some of us are more limited by circumstance than others. Some have a part time job and a short commute with no children. Some of us have twins and a sick partner and family obligations. Our free time is unique to us. We may be able to carve out the slices at the edges, but we don’t all get the same range.
So we do what we can with what we have. It’s time, here in 2019, to reject the alienation, fear, toxic rage, and impotent social feeding of the past. It’s time to be nice to ourselves and become encouraging, more so than critical. It’s time to be honest about our resources and recognize that starting a thing, a creative project, is worth a lot. It’s a foundation, a place to build from, and our pace will—at least at the start—be what it is, slow or fast.
The rush of fresh year ahead of you is enough to get you started on new habits. But it doesn’t last. What matters isn’t how you start the year, it’s how you keep going when late January looms and you don’t feel like doing anything.
It can help to keep in mind that these concepts are just things other people made up. In reality, nature knows no months, it just goes through the regular cycle around the sun, perigee to apogee, and the 182.625 days in between are mirrored by the same number on the backswing around to the solstice.
Every day is a new start. No matter what, when morning comes, it’s yours to do with what you like. Start a daily habit or continue one, everything is always in motion. You might as well join in.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.