The Third Guarantee – Death, Taxes, and . . .

Change.

Whoever said there were only two guarantees in life forgot the critical third. Transition is the fundamental state of our existence.

It has been one month since my last blog entry and the delay has been directly related to the reality of transition. I’ve moved yet again, and have thrown open the doors on my life to the whimsy of the unknown.

At the end of summer I will leave my post at the lighthouse and head in the direction of new things, some defined, others obscured by indetermination. I am on the path of freedom, continuing my hero’s journey, the fantastical tale of my own life.

Writing will remain part of this journey and some of the details will be tracked here, through this blog. My projects are delayed for the moment, but they are not forgotten. My goals remain the same in the writing process.

Transition is everything in a creative life. I leave with you this, a post I wrote as a guest blogger in 2013 for Writer’s Relief wherein the aspect of transition is discussed at the microcosmic level. If you have not read this I hope you enjoy it. If you’ve read it before may you be reminded again of the value of transition. Either way, thank you for continuing with me.

http://writersrelief.com/blog/2013/05/psyched-to-write-overcoming-the-transition-barrier/

I’ll be back soon!

T.J.

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Creativity Beyond the One Thing (or, lifestyle versus hobby)

I was raised by creative parents. I don’t know if they realize this fact, nor how much it influenced my creative life. Even to this day my parents are creative. My mother is a quilter-extraordinaire. My father has done everything from stained glass and wrought iron, to photography, to knife-making. Award-winning, quality work. I’m very proud of their creative skills and grateful for the influence. I have often wished for both of them that they would have had the confidence in their craft to make it less of a hobby, and more of a lifestyle.

Living creatively means more than giving art a shot. Trying new things is important, and dabbling in creative pursuits is fulfilling in itself because the experience of learning new skills and then making something with our own hands is satisfying, even if the product isn’t exactly the quality thing we wish to make. When we dabble and fail, because as novices that’s what happens, we tend to give up and say the effort was an experiment. If we do it a few times, every now and then, we call it a hobby. Often we abandon the endeavor and move on to something else. Meanwhile, though we may harbor a little piece of creative notion about ourselves, we largely live our lives as though the arts are meant for someone else. We don’t think of ourselves as artists, we don’t act like artists, and we don’t create like artists.

Creative people have an attitude. I’ve probably said this before. And that attitude is one of defiance, and license, and of pride. For those who cannot abate this attitude the creative sensibility becomes a lifestyle. Creatives often look, talk and behave differently from “normal” people. Some of this dandyism comes from pride and ego and some of it comes from a lack of confidence that they are trying to overcome by being different. When a creative person moves from dabbling curiosity to daily living in the creative zone, their entire lifestyle becomes a resource for the creative effort. Through this evolution the true artist is manifested. In Campbell’s terms the mythology of the artist results in the real-world outcome of an artistic life. Artists create art, and there’s no stopping it once the persona is established.

A creative lifestyle is composed of many things that other lifestyles shy away from. Travel, idea and discussion, debate, creation, destruction, rebirth, change. These things take effort. They require an engaged mind and a level of energy. The will must be fully present and applied. All of creative effort is a matter of will. The work can be tedious and frustrating. Hopes can be dashed. Failure, once again, is ever-present. Few, if any, creative people who have gone on to have great success have never experienced failure. But they did not quit, because their will would not let them, nor would the calling.

Sean Penn has been credited with saying that he has written many things, and most of them haven’t gone anywhere. But by doing a lot of work he finds things that do take hold, and are successful. None of us is any different in that regard. But in order to have the energy to do all of that work, and to have a shot at that kind of result, the creative process has to be part of an entire lifestyle.

My offering today is encouragement to embrace the inner dandy. All of a person’s individual success ultimately comes down to their own effort and the will to make it happen. Theodor Herzl said “If you will it, it is no dream” (Old, New Land, 1902). The will thrives in an environment that promotes it.

So what will it be? Lifestyle or hobby? The urge to create a single story requires the will to make it happen. If one has the will to do even that much, then there is the will to create the lifestyle to support it.

Do You Listen Enough?

Part one:

There is much to be said about being quiet.  In the quiet there are things to be heard, soft, little voices of things that need to be observed and processed but which will be lost in the mayhem of an average day’s activity if allowed to be consumed by distraction.  I suppose for the average human being – the one who has a job which pays for all of the trappings required for a typical life (namely a place to live, food, and probably more than enough “stuff”) – doesn’t really have much use for the quieter side of living.  Those small voices are just the mutterings of impending lunacy after all, and what is your average desk jockey going to do with a meadow full of original ideas anyway?

But listen up, dear artist!  You are not excused from listening to little voice.  Little voice is something you are required to pay heed to.  Little voice differs from other voices because little voice holds all of the details that make up the proper story.  But it takes real effort to listen to little voice.  Sitting idly by and thinking about other things such as unfinished chores, money worries, the status of one’s love life, etc. is not listening.  Until all of that other stuff is cleared away and you-the-artist, the craftsman, have grown quiet the little voice will continue to struggle to be heard.

Little voice is something special.  Call it inspiration, the muse, creative genius or whatever name you want to give it, but what we are talking about in the end is the internal narrative which exists in all people, but for which the artist must eventually be accountable.  Joseph Campbell, the great twentieth century intellectual mythologist, referred to this calling in a different way when he talked about the life of the hero’s journey.  The hero’s journey, in fact, is precisely what our characters experience in the course of our stories.  It is the details of their lives which make our stories unique and interesting.  These details manifest themselves in our psyche where they develop over the course of our own life experiences.  After we have assimilated these details and processed them fully into  our subconscious, little voice begins to retell them, weaving a history, perhaps many histories, which we can capture and reconstruct as “fictional” tales the same way a painter gathers pigments and shapes and shadows to compose a picture.  In this way we become a conduit for new stories based on these experiences, refashioned by little voice, which we then tell in a myriad of new ways.  And so the act of writing becomes as much a translation of the details of our subconscious as it is an act of imagination.  Certainly we can struggle to create stories out of nothing more than what we are able to make up as we go, but to be really believable we must ultimately listen, deeply and sincerely, to little voice, in effect getting out of our way so the “truth” can be told.

Part two:

I am all about listening to little voice, but I have to admit to being hard-headed about something that I believe all writers should engage in: writing practice.  To be completely honest I had a minor revelation about this very topic just last night.  I was reading more Natalie Goldberg, having read Wild Mind this winter, and in her first great work, Writing Down the Bones, she emphasizes heavily the need for writers to spend ten to thirty minutes per day in writing practice.  This is simply the act of clearing our minds for writing by getting all of the junk out of our heads ahead of time.  By writing non-stop, and with no filter, we clear the webs of distraction from our minds prior to getting to the serious work of the project at hand.  Goldberg swears by it, and now that I have finally really heard what she is saying about writing practice I admit that it makes perfect sense.  Every other practitioner of craft practices at least as much as they perform.

Writing practice does something else for we creatives besides clearing our minds of distraction.  Writing practice puts us in touch with  little voice.  As we sort through the chaff of our thoughts and distractions we unearth the hard riches of little voice.  As we sit at our writing desk and the morning light turns warm in the early afternoon we find ourselves engaged in the cottony haze of the creative conscience so much that the smallest interruption of a loved one at the door is a cold snap in the rhythm of our reverie.  But by investing in the process of arriving at this moment through practice and consistency we find it much easier to get back to that place, and so we are in control of our creative life and can allow the current of creativity to continue almost at will.  This is especially important for young (by which I mean new) writers who very often feel that the effort of getting started is so great most of the time, and the interruption so easy, that little work gets done over years of trying, and sometimes they believe it is easier to surrender than to struggle on one more week.  To them I say, grow quiet, listen, practice.

Another note about daily practice: Julia Cameron says as much in her landmark work The Artist’s Way where she advises a daily regimen of three pages first thing in the morning.  Believe me, that feels like a lot of work, but the result is that the slough of a busy mind is more easily discarded so that the real work can be done without the weight of a cluttered mind.

As for the question at hand – do you listen enough? – I venture to guess probably not.  This is not to suggest you, or I, or anyone is especially rude.  Most people simply are not in the habit of quieting their minds long enough to really see what’s there.  Through writing practice and attentiveness to the little voices of our creative subconscious, we stand to reap the benefits of a free investment.  The real beauty then is that progress becomes easier, command of our creative process is more robust, and ultimately, as I recently saw quoted elsewhere – years from now you will still fret and worry as a creative, but you will worry about the writing, and no longer about being a writer.