I have known many people who do feel they are not equal to anyone else. Maybe it is like a friend of mine, one of the smartest and funniest young humans I know, who posted that she is worried sometimes that she will not live up to the standard of all the talented people she sees all around her, that she won’t make the cut. This is what I wrote to her in response:
We all feel like fakes sometimes. I am like 3 times older than you and I still feel it. But, while I was feeling that on and off all these decades I also became a kick ass artist who has created some amazing stuff. So, doubt all you want, it’s normal, just KEEP WORKING ON WHAT YOU WANT TO BE. That is what matters in the end, the work you do, not the feeling you may have once in a while.
Where did that originate with her? Honestly, I don’t know her well enough to say for certain. But if it is like many others I have known, it could be a disconnect between her desire for high achievement (based on her intrinsic understanding of her intelligence and abilities, of which there is a lot), and the recognition of her limitations of health, opportunity and ambition. I don’t think it’s an uncommon disconnect among young people. They have grand dreams and those dreams often narrow as they age. There is a moment at which they only see the narrowing of the dream, not the blossoming of another dream that will be even greater and more fulfilling.
Or maybe it is like my ex-wife, who felt she didn’t have enough value to stand up for what she wanted and expected in a marriage while she was married to me. I wish she had been able to, but she wasn’t. Where did that lack of value come from? Perhaps the roots were in her parents’ decision that if you wanted to be a good Christian (which they were in many ways) then not only was acting bad not allowed, but expressing, or even having, bad feelings wasn’t allowed either. The consequence was that when she did express the completely common and expected feelings of growing up into maturity, those feelings weren’t allowed or validated. And that told her that what she felt, and thus she, was of little value.
How to Balance
How do you get a balance? It’s about practice. Just as an artist or athlete gets better by practice, so attitudes and perceptions do as well. You can think about changing an attitude but the truth is that attitude will very likely not change until you take action to change it, to practice a new attitude. This can happen if you let an old attitude or perception trigger a new way of looking at something. For example, when you catch yourself denigrating your abilities, allow that to be a trigger to say something positive and good about your abilities. You don’t do this to fake your way towards something, you do it because you are practicing being truthful about who you are in the world. You actually do have positive and valuable qualities. Stating that you have them is not egotistical or vain. it is reality. And since you are currently on the self-denigration side of the scale you aren’t really in reality. This practice is getting you back to a balance, that is all.
I applied for a fellowship recently. It is Atlas Obscura’s ‘Fellowship of the Loneliest Road’. They are granting $5,000.00 for an artist to drive Rt 50 in Nevada. The road has the moniker as ‘the loneliest road in America’ because of its isolation, paucity of humans and lack of electronic connectivity. The idea is for the artist to creatively document the journey, finding unique and interesting expressions of that loneliness and separation from the fast blur of modern life.
I thought about this quote as I was writing the few essay type responses needed. My main work wasn’t in the writing, it was in the editing, getting the words to be essential to the message instead of filler to make the word count.
Less is More
The minimal art movement of the 20th century was all about this idea. Reduce each form of art to its essential. What is it at its essence, and just do that. Painting for example is color on a two-dimensional surface. It’s not about recreating a thing or a place. It’s not about an illusion of space. It is just color. So, the minimalists were painting flat, abstract images that forced the viewer to just see the paint and it’s properties, not anything else.
Brice Marden – The Seasons – 1975
Architecture was reduced to ‘form follows function’ which is what building something is in its essence. Just a structure to do something in, nothing more.
Andrea Oliva – Italian home
Sculpture is mass, surface, texture.
Tony Smith – untitled – 1960
Music is sound
Dance is movement
Lucinda Childs – ‘Dance’ – 1979
This is a great discussion about minimalism in art music and dance coming together. Worth checking out.
We often talk about getting lost in the landscape. The idea is to go out and lose oneself, and I get that. You lose all those society-laden elements that burden you. But losing is only half the story. The other is about what you find out about yourself when you are away from all that.
Here are a selection of photos I have taken over the years that visualize the lost and the found.
I have been designing a business card for someone recently. She is a creative person and so is her business. That means what seems like just a simple business card design is actually a detailed template for her entire business plan. In planning it out with her I asked a lot of questions, from who is her target audience to what colors she likes. That gave me a starting point but my creative juices didn’t start to flow until I was actually in Photoshop working on fonts, colors, and imagery. It was then that I saw progress. And that is because the act of working is like the act of getting your heart rate up. You don’t get your heart beat up BEFORE you exercise. It’s the exercise that makes your heart rate go up!
This idea is not exclusive to creative work. Another very similar quote brings out how it applies to almost any life situation. “It is easier to act your way to another way of feeling than it is to feel your way to another way of acting.”
Here is the final business card design, by the way.
“You don’t think your way to creative work, you work your way to creative thinking.” – anonymous
Have you ever tried to explain yourself but have done it so badly you dug yourself into a big hole trying to do so? The initial explanation usually isn’t that bad. A few wrong words, a few things left out and voila, the wrong message is sent. The message isn’t that far off but it’s missed the mark enough so that you have to go back and explain again.
From Ditch to Hole
Design is like that. Create the wrong initial impression of your company or idea and you are in a ditch. Compound that with more bad design choices and you’re not just in a ditch, you are in a deep hole. Getting out of that hole means building a ladder to get yourself out. Work that could have gone towards building staircase up a mountain instead.
From the Beginning
How does this happen? By not evaluating the initial design result. Was the first design element understood properly? You have to investigate that or else you might be digging a hole with further design elements. If you don’t get feedback at the beginning you are moving forward blindly. Maybe you will be lucky and the design was spot on, but just as likely your could be digging a deep hole with each subsequent design iteration.
One of the things that annoys me about my religion (Christianity) is that lip service is given to doubt. Doubt is put forth from the pulpit as something we all have, but just like an addiction, the church likes you better if you are already over it. You aren’t expected to keep doubt with you. You struggle with it, then decide what the church teaches is right and get over it. But to have doubt that stays is dangerous. Doubt is like a virus or a bacteria that can infect others around you and that can endanger the village, which can endanger the city, state and world. Doubt that is in the past however, is a different story. It’s now a story of redemption, of overcoming, of faith. But it’s not is alive. And if it isn’t alive it can’t threaten anyone or anything.
Because of this, doubt is rarely ever talked about except in the most abstract of terms. And this abstraction means there is no ability to wrestle with actual real doubts about anything. Say you have doubts, ok. Say specifics, not ok. And if you can’t say what you REALLY have doubts about, is that really great faith?
Great faith meanwhile is extolled and talked about all the time in church. It’s the mountaintop to which we all wish to ascend. It’s the most admirable of qualities. You can talk all day about the specifics of your faith and it is embraced because there is no threat involved. But is that really great faith?
The key for me then is the third essential. What is critical, before you have great faith or great doubt, is to have great perseverance. Just as an artist won’t create consistently great work without great perseverance, so to we humans will not produce great doubt and faith without it as well.
The Yogi asks the passerby, “What does it mean for you to be well & whole?”
The passerby answers, “It means I am content with my body, mind and spirit.”
The Yogi asks the passerby, “Are you content?”
The passerby answers, “No, I am not.”
The Yogi responds, “That is good.”
The passerby asks, “Why do you say good? Aren’t I supposed to be content?”
The Yogi answers, “No, you are supposed to do the dishes.”
The passerby responds, “What dishes?”
The Yogi answers, “Wise question.”
When I was 18 I went away to college. I never returned home to live even though I had many opportunities. I had to leave two colleges, one closing down unexpectedly, one because I ran out of money. When I finished college I had to choose where to live and the choices didn’t include moving to my parent’s town. When my first wife and I had to return to California from Graduate School, we had to choose between the town where my parent’s lived or hers. We chose hers.
Why didn’t I want to return? Because I didn’t want to be like my parents. When I returned to visit I always remembered why I didn’t want to be like them and moving close to them seemed in my mind to be a recipe for being influenced to be more like them. Be far away and that won’t happen was my thought. And to some degree it was true. I was influenced by other people, other families, by being far away. It really is an important element to many people growing up and into their own unique selves. However, no matter how far away I was, my family was still with me.
At that time, those family traits included alcoholism and a short temper, among other things. And those things stayed with me whether I was 3,000 miles away or right next door. I was still a product of my parents and my upbringing and no amount of distance was going to remove that. What did remove much of it (not all) was hard work. Was being deliberate about wanting to change and doing the work necessary to make that change permanent. That included stopping drinking in 1993 so I wouldn’t travel down the same road my mother did. It included working consciously to reduce my anger, frustration and annoyance with the small things in life that bedeviled my father for most of his life. That sort of change is always conditional. There are things that can make me crazy, but they are few and far between. I don’t think my reputation as an adult now would include having a short temper.
Keeping The Good
But there is another side to this and that is no matter how far you travel, you also won’t completely lose the wonderful parts of your family either. I stayed away but I still had my mother and father’s easy-going ability to befriend anyone and everyone. I still had her sense of humor. I still had my father’s intellectual curiosity about the world. I am glad I carry those things with me, no matter how far away I am.
How far have you traveled from your family, and have you been able to really get away?
If you don’t think this is true in your family, I humbly suggest you probably don’t know much about your family. In that case, You probably want to look at ‘Family #1’ in the series. That’s about family skeletons.
In my family we have very sweet people and they are all a bit nuts as well. I am completely and utterly thankful for that. My mother was the epitome of the loud-mouth broad. First, she was loud. Second she was really funny. Third, she didn’t give a hoot owl’s ass if someone liked her that way or not. She made fun of pretense and absurd efforts at self-righteousness. She was unabashedly sentimental, crying a river each and every time one of her grown kids returned home. Have them all together at the same time? She was a blubbering mess. She could make friends with the least likely of strangers in the most unlikely of places. I mean, come on, she met her best friend in a grocery store line. And I am proud of that. It’s the thing I love most about my sister’s and myself, that we can, and do, make friends with strangers almost every day. My mother is the reason for that. Do I think some people think that is a bit nutty? Yep. Do I care? Nope.
My mother’s brother, Uncle Bunny (born on Easter), had this dry sense of humor combined with a absurdist’s ability to connect completely disparate things together. He was the founder, for example, of the Marin County Zeppelin Society. It was open to all survivors of lighter than air crashes. Since anyone alive has obviously not died in one of those crashes, it was open to anyone. It really was just an excuse for him and his pals to get together every Saturday for coffee and brunch, but he went so far as to convince the County to put an official emblem up on the board leading into town, alongside the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs. Why did he do that? Because it was funny. It cracked him up and he figured it would make others laugh too. And it did.
My Father meanwhile, didn’t have the same sense of humor as my mother’s side of the family. But he did have something I treasure, and that was his embracing of the new and different in the world. He wasn’t afraid to bring things back from foreign lands for us to wear, use, ride. He brought back from Peru a ‘Ruana’ for each of us. It is an outer wool garment, like a shawl, only thicker and more substantial. We wore those things for all our childhood. He imported 2 Solex Mopeds from Europe for us to ride. They are motorized bikes and once again, we rode them everywhere for years and years. We were the only ones to have either of those things and I thought that was very cool. Those are just two examples of how my father was. He loved to find great design and bring it home. He didn’t care if it was something everyone else had, as a matter of fact, it was much more interesting if no one else had it.
Those are just a few examples of the sweet nuts in my family. Our daughters and my other sister, Jackie, also have that same trait of loving their individuality, easily make friends, and have a great time exploring the new and unique offerings the world has to give.
A few examples from my own life. I once went through a fast food drive-through and was so taken by the beauty of the person’s voice talking to me through the speaker that I got her to come into the software design studio I was working at to do voice-over work. I didn’t have anywhere to display my daughters’ ceramics so I hot glued them to the ceiling in my kitchen (yes, they stayed up). I painted our white picket fence with black splotches so it would match our dalmatian, Oreo. I once did an art project on tan lines. I went to the beach, found people whose tan lines were showing, and asked them if I could photograph them. The vast majority said yes and the resulting art piece, which was those photographs collaged onto a striped beach towel, was in my Master of Fine Art Exhibition at San Jose State University.
Can this sound strange to some people? Yes. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Embracing that heritage has made all the difference in me being a happy and creative person. I know I am always able to find humor and beauty in my life, am always going to be open-minded and curious about the world around me, and can make good friends and keep good friends, no matter where I meet them.
I highly recommend a lot of sweetness and a lot of nuts!
It used to be that families would do anything to hide the people and events that embarrassed them. But now we live a culture of exposure in America and it is much more acceptable for the world to know about these things. In some cases it’s become ok because we’ve come to realize it isn’t wrong or bad. Homosexuality is seen like that now much more than just 20+ years ago. In my mind that is a good thing. In other areas we realize that biology and chemistry plays a much bigger part than we used to believe. Diseases, mental and physical, are understood to not be an indication of a moral failure.
My Family Skeleton
Sometimes we know something; a criminal past, an addiction, an affair, or an abusive relationship for example, is bad. My parent’s generation would have done anything to keep those things quiet. For example, I didn’t know my father had been married to someone else before he was married to my mother until I was 40 years old. Why? Because it was shameful in the Catholic church in which he was raised and it was a spot on the family reputation in my mother’s mind. The fact that he kept it secret all those years was astounding to me and my sisters. We couldn’t figure out what the big deal was about it. But that is because we weren’t raised in his world, we were raised in a world he worked to created for us instead of that older world. He just wasn’t able to completely free himself from it.
Entertainment vs Education
In the quote above it can be seen as a family putting a skeleton in the closet on display, as if they are proud of it when they really shouldn’t be. And in the Social Media age some do exploit them for money or fame, a sort of perverse pride that says ‘Hey, look at how screwed up we are!’. But I don’t think most people take it like that. I think most just want to accept that this is them. Then they are saying, if we are going to have these skeletons we might as well make them have some value. but I think most of us just want to accept that they are there and find a way to learn from them, to have the skeletons help us and others become better people.
In relationships, staying loyal is harder than going out and having an affair.
In school, studying hard and not cheating is harder than the opposite.
In sports, practicing and honing your skill is harder than taking performance enhancing drugs.
In work, working diligently and learning your craft is harder than padding your resume with false experiences and degrees.
So, the question is: why not take the shortcut? Why not cheat, steal, enhance, fake, lie? One obvious answer is, of course, getting caught. But beyond that what reasons are there? How about living with yourself? You can’t escape your own conscience and you can’t escape your own awareness of being a cheater. Knowing those things about yourself has consequences. You don’t act the same, work the same, love the same when you have guilt driving your thoughts. You will lash out defensively when it makes no sense for you to do so. You will be paranoid. You will always struggle with it.
But if you walk the straight and narrow road and everyone else cheats, aren’t you playing on an uneven playing field? Others get ahead while you slog away in the trenches, not making the same progress? That’s not fair, right? No, it’s not. But the answer isn’t cheating. The answer is believing that living a right life is its own reward. You get to live with your conscience clear, whether or not someone else does better than you. You get to be on solid ground.
There is a story that Jesus taught illustrating this.
Matthew 7:24-27 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Now, I am not suggesting you have to obey a certain set of biblical rules by telling this story. What I am saying is that a clear conscience and a solid ethic will hold you up throughout your life much better shortcuts, a guilty conscience and an opportunistic and selfish ethic.
My wife and daughter needed to go to Utica Square, an outdoor shopping center in Tulsa, after Church. I took the opportunity on a gorgeous spring day to hang out at Starbucks Coffee place patio and draw.
As I walked out to the patio after getting my coffee I noticed someone I thought looked a lot like a friend of mine, Victoriya. As I looked I just wasn’t sure. She looked like her in style, same beautiful long hair and stunning eyes, but her face was shaped a bit differently. I hadn’t seen her in person in many years, since she modeled for our Photography Club so I wasn’t sure.
I sat 2 tables away and started to draw the scene. It took about an hour or so to complete the drawing. When I was done I posted a photo of both the drawing and the scene on my instagram site (@thenapkindad). As I did that I noticed a posting by Victoriya showing a photo of another part of Utica Square with a comment about what a beautiful day it was. But the hashtag she had with it said #saturdayvibe and today was Sunday. That made me think it was just an odd coincidence and it really wasn’t her. Often I will connect with those I draw to show them the drawing but in this case they left while I was still drawing and I didn’t have the opportunity to do so.
Later another friend, Bianca, commented on the drawing saying she had been there and loved the shoes the woman was wearing. She must have walked by right before I had sat down or maybe I was oblivious, who knows. I had also noticed her heels and had just enough room to draw a portion of one at the bottom of the drawing.
Later that night I messaged Victoriya to ask her if she had been at Utica Square that day and lo and behold, she had. It was her I had been drawing that whole time (she is the one facing to the left in the black dress). She commented back on the post saying it was her, and thanked Bianca for the compliment about the heels.
It was two in the afternoon when I noticed the two. The two were self-involved and didn’t see the other one. I notice that one had two distinct colors, her hair and her dress. I noticed the other one had two things strange about him, he was wearing sunglasses inside and he was mumbling to himself.
It was two oh two when I started drawing the one. It took me two minutes. It was two twenty two by the time I drew the other one. It was two forty two by the time I drew everything in between and around the two.
After I was done I drew three more drawings of three more people, neither one of whom knew the other two. That took me until three twenty two. I waited three weeks before I colored the drawing of the two. It took me a total of two hours at three different times to finish this one.
Let’s consider the history of the world, shall we? What is it filled with? Good people doing terrible things. Why are they doing these terrible things? Because they don’t think they are terrible. They think they are good.
The WORST of these violators think what they are doing is good because their conscience says so. Their conscience might be in the form of GOD telling them to slaughter entire tribes. Or maybe it’s their conscience telling them it’s their superiority in intelligence or religiosity or genetics, etc. that allows them to enslave and colonize entire continents. Maybe their conscience tells them their physical strength gives them the right to own women and make them do what they want. Maybe their conscience tells them their wealth proves their worthiness to be in control over others and those others who are poor deserve their fate.
How do you avoid letting your conscience lead you astray into evil? For me, it’s by having a rules of behavior and thinking that guard against it.
Here are four actions that I practice remembering:
Being kind is more important than being right.
Knowing something to be true too quickly is not to be trusted.
Seeing the issue from the person who could be hurt’s point of view is essential.
Causing harm to a specific group of people is not my conscience acting, but my ego and my fear.
You have heard of the term ‘being framed’. It’s when evidence is constructed and planted to make an innocent person appear guilty of a crime. I thought about this as I drew this illustration of evil. However, this quote uses the term ‘framed’ in a different way than that. In this context it means organizing of one’s thoughts. You put a frame around an idea of event and what is inside the frame makes sense and what is outside the frame is irrelevant. It allows you to see something clearly without a lot of distractions.
So what do the two definitions of ‘framed’ have to do with each other and what do either of them have to do with evil? Both are built to clarify. One to clarify a lie, one to clarify a truth. Both allow someone to control a narrative of events. Both limit information; one for the better, one for the worse. And both are how we allow evil into our lives.
One of my favorite lyrics is in a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Sometimes we are blinded by the very thing we need to see.’ It perfectly sums up what happens when evil is right in front of us but we don’t see it. It’s most often because we don’t want to see it. When that happens we will often rationalize (frame) what we are doing in other terms. It’s innocent, it’s an opportunity, it’s fun. We reframe it so it’s not evil, it’s something else.
In other words we fool ourselves. How do we avoid that? Brutal honesty is the only way. Now, when you are talking to or about someone else, brutal honesty is usually a code word for just being brutal to satisfy your own desire to feel superior. But when the looking in the mirror brutal honesty is the only way to avoid fooling yourself. Admitting your weaknesses, your inclinations, your habits, and your blind spots is how you stay safe. It allows you to frame yourself accurately.
That doesn’t mean you have to tell the world about it all. But it probably would help to have a trusted friend or two who really know you, that you can admit who you really are and who will help you build frames that are accurate and real.
“A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.” – Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928, English novelist – Best known as the author of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’.
I really like this quote because it explains very succinctly why so many atrocities happen in the world. People want to believe in demons and devils, evil people purposely doing evil things. But in my experience, and in my reading of history, biography and sociology, this is not true. People almost never are attempting to do evil. What they are attempting to do is find happiness.
Intent vs Effect
But wait, isn’t that completely perverse? Yes it is. And that is why it is important to understand. Evil doesn’t come from evil people. Evil comes from (in most cases) normal people doing things they think will make them happy. Take for example the illustration above. Is the drunk driver who plows down a group of pedestrians intending to do evil? No, he or she is not. They are attempting to feel good. Are they doing that in the right way and will it really make them feel good? No, it won’t. But that is not the point. The point is their course of action is driven not by a desire to do evil but by a desire to be happy. It is intent vs effect.
When Point of View Matters
Let’s take another example that isn’t quite as clear-cut. A white southerner in the US likes to drive around with the confederate flag waving from his car. His intent, in his mind, is to celebrate his proud heritage. Celebrating that makes him happy. But the black southerner seeing the car drive by doesn’t see a symbol of a proud heritage, he sees a terrible heritage. One filled with 250 years of slavery and violence against his ancestors and another 100+ years of segregation and oppression after that. That flag symbolizes evil to him, not happiness. Who is right? I know what my answer would be.
So, when is evil just plain old evil? After all, even Lucifer thought what he was doing trying to basically overthrow God was for the good, right? So if the originator of Evil in the stories of old illustrates this point, then what example of evil doesn’t? Hitler comes to mind, right? But in his mind and the minds of his followers they were pursuing the corporate happiness of their people. All the evil they did, if they were even able to admit there was any evil, was in service of their happiness. That tells you how perverse and twisted the mind can become.
Looking at Ourselves
That is why it’s never enough to go by a person’s intent. Their intent, at least their stated intent, will never be to admit to evil. They will ALWAYS rationalize their behavior and say it’s about something else. That is why one must always look at effect even more than intent. If the effect is evil, that is what matters. THAT is what one has to look at in their heart if they truly want to be devoid of evil. It’s not easy because it demands looking at self in a raw and unflinching way. But it can be done.
The full quote is, “No man chooses evil because it is evil, they just mistake it for happiness, the good he seeks.” – Mary Shelley, 1797-1851, English writer
An interesting note: Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, one of the most succinct examples of someone thinking they are doing good when in fact they are doing evil. I read it a few years back and while it has a very dated and florid style to it, it’s well worth a read.
In many ways beyond the spiritual (is there something beyond spiritual?) becoming a Christian has defined my life. I became ‘born again’ in 1976 in LA, right at the height of the Jesus Freak movement. I started going to the first Vineyard Christian Fellowship, got baptized in the Pacific Ocean and stuck with non-denominational churches and college fellowship groups all through my college years. I met my first wife, Kathy, in a college fellowship group, that brought me in contact with her family, who included the single best example of living the true Christian life I’ve ever come across, my father-in-law Dwight Johnson. Boy, did I learn a lot from that man, I am so grateful for him.
An interesting clarifying moment for me came when I went to art graduate school in Michigan in 1980. One the one side I was in a very intensely free and creative environment at school. On the other I was attending a Baptist church my wife and I had found near where we lived. And what did I find? Both groups tended to be a bit judgmental of the other, no doubt about it. But the art group, in spite of their liberality, were the more judgmental of the two, by far. I thought long and hard about why that was. What I discovered as I watched the two groups was, that in spite of the judgmental elements in the teachings at church, there was an even stronger element that offset that (at least in that church and the other churches I had attended), and that was teachings of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility, patience, kindness, and love.
Now, I don’t mean that no one in the art group had any of those traits, of course they did. But as a group they did not have any focused or guided attention paid to those things. i In this case, it was a very intensely judgmental art atmosphere. We were there to refine our art and that happened by putting it in the fire of judgment. But there was no teaching or guiding on the part of the main professor I had, nor the other professors I came in contact with, that offset that with the qualities I mentioned above.
Many decades have passed since then and I’ve been in the art world and the church world both for all those years. I like both worlds, and there are things I don’t like about them. Church can squash creativity and free thinking like it’s nobody’s business. But the art world, as odd as it sounds, can do the same. The church and art worlds can both make you feel like you don’t belong. They can both define the world and culture around them as unacceptable because it doesn’t fit their idea of healthy or happy. They can both be so sure of themselves that they feel superior and enlightened compared to everyone else.
What are you suppose to do in that situation? What I reach for is to be the best of both as best I can. But how does one do that? By practicing. Just as my artwork is better because I practice it, so is my heart, my mind and my actions in all of life when I practice those things I mentioned above; mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility (ok, not always good at that) patience, kindness, and love. It also means I practice judgment. Practicing judgments causes me to use it less, not more. It helps me to discern between pre-judgment, a judgment from a place of ignorance and a judgment from a place of insecurity and defense, and the more powerful and good limited judgment based on observation, evidence and necessity.
You don’t get better at something without practice. If you don’t want to get better, then…sorry, you still have to practice because you can’t even maintain your skills without it. This is true of creativity and spirituality and indeed, any quality of character you want to have in life. Finding a way to be inspired to practice any these things is one of the essential tasks of a successful life.
Recently I had a person ask if I ever have a creative block. I said no, and went on a bit about why. But I this quote explains my way of thinking perfectly.
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” – Chuck Close
That is what happens with my napkin drawings, with my sketchbook drawings, with almost everything I do creatively. In this drawing I started with the quote. In my napkin drawings the quote is my inspiration point. It is the one that causes something to occur to me. In this case I was on live streaming video talking to some people and thinking out loud about what an illustration of this drawing might entail. The act of visualizing love and war led me to imagine what the participants’ thoughts might be. Then I had my aha moment of the lover and fighter saying almost the exact same thing. But I wouldn’t have come up with that just by sitting around waiting. It was the act of creating the drawing that caused the prompting of my mind.
“In love we discover who we want to be. In war we discover who we are.” – Kristen Hannah, American author of ‘The Nightingale’ which I highly recommend. Interestingly enough, her FAQ page has a very telling statement at the bottom, similar to Close’s quote above.
“Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of writers come and go — published and unpublished — and what I’ve learned is that the ones who make it keep writing no matter what. When life is tough, they write; when the kids are sick, they write; when rejections pile up, they write. Are you seeing a pattern? That’s really what this career is ultimately about. Showing up at your computer day after day to hone your craft. Of course you should take classes and read other peoples’ books and study as much as you can, but none of it can ever take the place of daily work.”
I consider myself to be average level forgetful. Not terrible, but not an iron-clad rememberer either. BUT…just now I remembered I have to be sure to get program shirts for two participants in my running program, something I forgot yesterday. I also have remembered 3 times overnight that I need to bring the car in today for a check up, something I forgot in between those rememberings. I also have forgotten where I have put my gloves or glasses or something, only to find them in a pocket of a coat I haven’t worn in a month.
But does that mean I am disorganized? Not really. It means my organization works well in some ways and not well in others. How does it work well? By having visual reminders. Being an artist, I am all about the visual. If I have a visual signal I more often than not will know what it is I am supposed to be doing, where something might be, when I should be somewhere. Once again, it is iron-clad, but it is reliable. That is why I like having a calendar, writing notes to myself, leaving things out where I can see them.
How does it not work well for me? When I put something out-of-order and don’t give myself a way to later clue myself into what it is I did. This could be wearing a jacket I barely ever wear and leaving my gloves in them when I take it off. It means scheduling something that barely ever happens, like a dentist appointment or car check up, and thinking I will just miraculously remember it a month or six months later. That’s not going to happen.
Of course the ultimate rememberer for me would be an assistant. Then THEY would be the ones who would have to figure out some kind of trick to remember all the things I need to remember!
“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.” – A. A. Milne, 1882-1956. English author primarily known for his ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ series of children’s books.
We had an interesting question asked of us in Sunday School this week (adults call it ‘community group’ but I like Sunday School). The question was this: Tell us of a time you changed your mind about something.
The answers were all over the map, from the profound to the trivial. Linda’s was changing her mind about discomfort. She used to hate being uncomfortable and avoided exercise. Then she realized it is always temporary and she can get through it, so she has changed her mind. Mine was changing my mind about what it means to be white. My paradigm about this shifted changed when I read the book, ‘Between the World and Me’ by Te-Nehisi Coates. Another person said he had changed his mind about many social issues, going from being socially conservative to being more liberal. Another person said she had changed her mind about salads and vegetables, having hated them and now liking them. That may seem trivial but I don’t think it is because it will have profound consequences in her health and life.
I thought of this question when I came back and finished drawing this napkin. Discovery is often about changing your mind about something. You believe something, maybe subconsciously and unspoken or maybe not, and then you discover something new and it changes your mind.
The Threat is You
The problem, as this quote suggests, is that discovery won’t come, and certainly won’t be initiated, if you already think you know something so surely that you aren’t willing to contemplate something that would threaten it. Without the willingness to discover, to be enlightened, to consider ideas uncontemplated, you must have a certain level of security and you must have a certain level of interest in something beyond yourself.
It is a very sad, pitiful and especially worrisome when the person unable or unwilling to discover new things is in a position of power over others.