Fix It, or Get Over It

I often find myself in the company of people who complain.

That in itself is fine; I too have my fair share of complaints. It’s one more way that we relate to the world, and how we isolate the points of friction in our lives. It’s healthy.

What is not healthy is when you take those points of friction that you complain about, and you wallow in them. When you do nothing to address the issue at hand. When you endlessly complain about the same things day in, day out.

A friend of mine constantly tells everyone how they’ve got no money for rent, yet they’re never wanting for the latest videogame, or night on the town.

Another friend of mine complains about getting fat, but makes absolutely no effort to diet or exercise. It causes great emotional stress to this person, being unable to fit into old clothes, yet nothing changes.

What is it about these situations? In either case, minor adjustments even some of the time could yield great improvements in quality of life; it really makes no sense when people in a bad way don’t try to move.

Weakness? Stubbornness? Aimlessness? What’s the cause? When there’s a clear problem, why shy away from fixing it?

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Tell me how you dealt with this in your life in the comments.

 

Reality Check

Well, that was a bit of a fun vacation. Here we are, already into 2012, and so it’s time to start asking the important questions.

What does this blog do?

During the holidays, I took a break from writing here. As my time got more and more stretched, I rationalized my absence with thoughts like “Well, I should be writing creative work rather than writing about creative work.” And hey, that almost sounds convincing, right?

But a funny thing happened; the less I’m thinking about how to be creative, how to focus the instrument, and how to make space, the less I’m able to produce. I had lost the plot.

Sure, I definitely have been playing more. I got some new gear, edited some lyrics, and even did some test records. But none of this is the hard work. This is the stuff I can dabble in just to keep my self-constructed notion of being ‘an artist’ alive; the hard work is writing, playing, recording, performing, for hours until you come away with something you’re proud of.

I had lost the plot; but I see what has to happen now: I’ve regained the mindset that works best for me, and I realize now that it’s the same mindset that produces this blog.

I guess this blog isn’t just for you guys; it keeps me honest.

 

 

Quotes Quotes Quotes

I’ve mentioned Lifehacker a few times on here; it’s a great blog that appeals to a number of my interests. Some of their posts are hit or miss, but lately they’ve been on a great run of thought-provoking quotations:

“A Man is Not Old Until Regrets Take the Place of Dreams” -John Barrymore

“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best” -Henry VanDyke

“A Man Grows Most Tired While Standing Still” -Chinese Proverb

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Never Get Old, Act on Your Ideas No Matter What, and Keep Moving.

 

The Instrument

The last few weeks have been slow for me, creatively. This is okay. For one, the creative mind needs space to observe, process and rest before the production of important work can begin.

That’s an important point; but this is also okay because I’ve put a focus on isolating and eliminating the biggest obstacles between me and my subconscious. Time and again, my projects and ideas are foiled by the same two things.

First, my body. This includes my mind. I am an instrument, in every way. I use my body to sing, I use it to work. I use it to play, I use it to think and I use it to recharge. I’ve never been terribly unhealthy, but long-standing issues, a lack of insurance, and misplaced priorities have now left me in a place where fatigue, stress, self-consciousness and inconsistency hold me back. To only consider the mind and body as separate is folly; this instrument is your only true asset.

Over time, I’ve come to realize the import of this. Through a proper diet, careful supplementation, and regular activity, as well as making more space for my mind to be idle, free and creative, I’ve placed a new emphasis on making sure I am ready for anything and everything life throws at me, whether by my design or not.

The other primary thing keeping my life from where I feel it should be is, basically, finances. I never took money very seriously (certainly not because I had an excess of it, but because it never took all that much to make me happy). I’m lucky in that I have far less debt than most of my friends and family. But as I’ve grown and begun trying to design my life rather than just live it, it’s a sad truth that money is important.

More specifically, if I want to be able to live in a worthwhile place, eat worthwhile food and most importantly have the time and space to create, I need to be financially stable. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, bills will pile up. If I’m spending mental cycles worrying about how I’m going to pay Verizon this month, that’s energy I’m not putting toward the work. Not only that, the weight of those issues adds up and will stress the creative vibe right out of you. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve even been there.

My method for creating this space is dead simple: I’m working hard now to eliminate my bills one by one, until only the absolutely essential remain. I have a car payment; I shouldn’t. I have a balance on my credit card; I shouldn’t. I don’t have much of a savings account; I should.

And it sucks to say, but even being a starving musician takes money. I need a PA head. My guitar’s intonation is whack. I’ve gotta have a physical space where I can make some real noise. I need to have a vehicle that can accommodate equipment for gigs. And I need to have money to live on so I can do nothing but my work for a while.

So that’s where I’m at right now; focusing my body/mind, and streamlining my financial circumstances. Both of these will give me the power I need to be more creative than ever.

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What’s standing in your way?

Reverse Engineering

An exercise:

-Step one: choose one of your favorite works of anything.

-Step two: go through it again; really listen to details and the structural bits of how it was produced. Are there any obvious influences?

-Step three: consider the artist’s process. In the case of a song, do you think they wrote the lyrics first or the music? Can you tell? What was your clue? If it’s a novel, did the author have a clear idea of how the plot would unfold even before the pen hit the page? Did they start from a full outline or just one word? Was there a world first and then some characters, or was the world built around the characters?

-Conclusion: Ask yourself if you have a clear understanding of what the author was trying to say or accomplish. Were they successful? Did they succeed in some way they did not intend? How do your observations, even if inaccurate, compare to your own work/process?

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Tell me what you find in the comments!

The Time Limit

Earlier this week, my friend was participating in the National Film Challenge, which is basically a 72 hour film festival.

I’ve been in the process of relocating this week, and I told him I wouldn’t be able to help him. Lo and behold, Sunday afternoon I get a call.

‘I’ve got an impossible task for you. I need to you do the score for the film, and I need you to do it by 6pm.’

It was 4:30 when he called.

But you know what? I delivered.

Sometimes, constraints are freeing. I didn’t have time to agonize over the instrumentation. I didn’t have time to play the guitar parts over and over again until they were perfect. I didn’t have time to revolutionize percussion with hyper-detailed programmed beats. I just had to do.

And for me, this solved one of my biggest problems. It gave me permission to be imperfect. My biggest struggle as a creative is feeling like I’m always not quite ready to ship. ‘Oh if such and such were different, THEN it would be ready!’ That’s something I’m working on. There are many different and colorful traps for artists, but the time limit forced me to let go. It shut off the inner chatter long enough to get something done.

Constraints can be freeing. Work in them, work with them.

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soundtrack

Force Your Way: Open A Blank Page

I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what to write. I try to only speak when it’s necessary and to write when it’s useful, so it’s important to me that I don’t fill this space with dross.

But, sometimes great ideas in writing don’t happen unless you just start writing.

And while I try to avoid throwing around the term meta, this very post started this way: I simply clicked WordPress’ “Add New” button, even though I didn’t have a specific idea. This is the opposite of my normal approach, but here I am now mostly through a fresh (and hopefully) useful blip.

Even more powerful is when your ‘back-brain’ takes over and you tap into something you didn’t know your mind was working on. Letting your control slip for a bit to experiment can actually be useful; don’t force it yet try to keep a good pace.

Inspiration is highly powerful, and can even be triggered occasionally; but sometimes we just can’t wait around for it. Start writing and see what happens. Try to go quickly to let down your guard.

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Just make sure you check what you wrote to make sure it actually did come together; while it sometimes won’t (and it’s just as important to recognize when it didn’t), you might just end up with a different kind of idea.