Rainn Wilson, from The Office Farewell:
Greg Daniels said in our first meeting, ‘You know, American comedy is like this big ship, this big cruise liner, and if you can just point it 1° in the right direction, you can make a big difference. You can’t turn comedy that sharply.’ And I feel like that is what The Office did, it took American comedy and it turned it 1° in the right direction.
I watched this video last week after the finale, but I can’t stop thinking about the above quote. I love this analogy; I feel like you can replace comedy here with so many things. Sometimes to make a difference, to be innovative, to change course, you don’t have to run the opposite way—sometimes you can’t run the opposite way—sometimes change is slower.
Sometimes all it takes is that 1° difference.
A Day at the Museum
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is closing in two weeks for a few years for renovations and expansions so I had to visit while I had the chance. It’s small compared to New York’s MoMA but the experience is strangely similar.
I think realized it somewhere in the middle of the Gary Winogold exhibition, looking at photographs of 1960s Los Angeles. Or maybe it was when I came around the corner and the sight of one of Damien Hirst’s Dots paintings took my breath away. Or it could have been when I was standing in a small room surrounded by Robert Rauschenbergs, an old favorite.
I can’t go through a museum slowly. I always start that way; I’m one of those people that begins with a slow pace, pausing in front of each piece, studying it for a deeper meaning, observing form and technique, hoping some of the artist’s feeling rubs off on me. But as I go, I start to move faster and faster. The museum gives me a feeling I can only describe as a sense of wonder. Being surrounded by art that spans human history overwhelms me. So I have to move faster. The wonder is a motivation to pick up my dusty sketchbook, or pull out my old paint set, or grab my camera. There’s an urgency to create.
Museums are transient spaces—like airports and cathedrals—you enter one way, but you exit another. You exit with wonder and awe and inspiration.
I loved every bit of this GQ profile on Robert Downey Jr. and his career turn-around following the success of Iron Man. His confidence and insistence on playing the role of Tony Stark is inspiring:
But Downey was obsessed with the notion that the part should be his. “I don’t know why,” he says. “I do like a bit of Jung, and it was just this kind of numinous thing.” Even after the film’s director, Jon Favreau, passed on the word from Marvel that it wasn’t going to happen, Downey refused to listen. (Favreau later explained that Marvel had actually been even more definite: “Under no circumstances are we prepared to hire him for any price.”) Downey persisted nonetheless, and eventually he was told he’d at least get a screen test.
He had three weeks to ready himself. The way Downey describes what happened in that period seems itself like an origin montage from a superhero story: a time of focused preparation and of “spiritual/ ritualistic processes” that he still considers private and prefers not to detail. He worked on the scenes over and over: “The missus says she could’ve woken me up in the middle of the night and I’d have recited the audition dialogue in double time.”
Robin Sloan points out that this kind of focused vision is a rare but valuable asset:
There’s something very powerful about (a) the confident identification of a thing you want to do — a thing you must do — paired with (b) the professional skill to pull it off. That second part is crucial; we aren’t Green Lanterns and willpower alone does not suffice. But put them together and the combo never fails to impress, to a degree that is often surprising to everyone involved.
Honestly I just think relatively few people, even very skilled and/or successful people, have that kind of specific plausible vision for themselves. If you can muster it — or if perhaps it grabs you by the throat — it becomes a significant competitive advantage.
Something I hear over and over about successful businessmen and artists—Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Stanley Kubrick—is that that have an impossibly clear vision for the work they want to do and the things they want to make. And then on top of that, the ability to execute on that vision. It’s a kind of focus I hope to have.
Everything is made.
is something we make.
The world isn’t done yet.
We can make tomorrow
There’s more work to do.