This Space In Between
“Creative work is personal. You can’t get away from that. To do better work, you have to put more of yourself into it. It is a simple law of creative conservation. You put something in, and it takes something out of you. The best work, the stuff that takes real time, is exhausting. You move along slowly. Small steps. Little decisions. Maybe 10 or 15 solid decisions today. Maybe another 10 or 15 tomorrow. A long project can literally mean 10,000 decisions before it’s done. It’s an almost imperceptible shuffling of your feet. There is no wind in your hair while the world flies by. You inch-worm your way across 1000 yards of grass, dealing with each sharp edged blade as it comes.”
—Keenan Cummings, Leaps & Steps
There is so much I love about that paragraph.
“You always have to keep pushing to innovate. Dylan could have sung protest songs froever and probably made a lot of money, but he didn’t. He had to move on, and when he did, by going electric in 1965, he alienated a lot of people. His 1966 Europe tour was his greatest. He would come on and do a set of acoustic guitar, and the audiences loved him. Then he brought out what became The Band, and they would all do an electric set, and the auidence sometimes booed. There was one point where he was about to sing “Like a Rolling Stone” and someone from the audience yells “Judas!” And Dylan then says, “Play it fucking loud!” And they did. The Beatles were the same way. They kept evolving, moving, refining their art. That’s what I’ve always tried to do—keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.”
Some of my favorite passages in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography are where Jobs is ruminating on creativity, life, and philosophy. One of my absolute favorites was in the final chapter of the book, Jobs is reflecting over his life and work and he shares this story about Bob Dylan performing Like a Rolling Stone.
I finished the book months ago but find myself thinking and talking about this small quote often. I like this story because I think it perfectly describes why both Dylan and Jobs are heroes of mine—art is about movement.
The stars always put things into perspective for me. Sometimes I take walks after the sun goes down. I look up at the stars and I feel so insignificant, so small.
Sometimes I confuse my world with the world. I turn inward, thinking my problems are the biggest, my stresses the most consuming. Sometimes I wonder how I’ll ever get through it all. Then I look at the stars.
Because when I look at the stars, I see a big, beautiful world. It’s like stepping back for a bit to see the bigger the picture.
The interesting thing is that you can start mowing anywhere. The lawn will get done no matter where you start mowing. And that seemed like an important discovery. Because so often I think when I’m writing a poem that I need to start in some specific spot. Where I begin becomes so important that I never begin.
Nicholas Baker’s novel The Anthologist has been an absolute joy to read. The book follows the struggling poet Paul Chowder’s summer as his girlfriend leaves him and he realizes the words don’t come to him like they once did. It’s a book about loneliness and love, the joys of rhyme and meter and the ups and downs of the creative process.
It’s interesting to me all the pressure we sometimes put on ourselves when starting a new project. Steven Pressfield calls this the resistance. Merlin Mann and Seth Godin refer to it as the lizard brain. I call it both of these things. It’s that force that tries to stop us from starting something new.
Sometimes we think we are starting but it’s really just procrastinating. We develop timelines and schedules, distribute responsibilities and plan outcomes, email potential collaborators and spend a lot of time talking about what we are going to do. And all of these things are important, but in the end, they prevent us from actually doing the work.
Why is it so hard to just start? The simple answer is fear. Fear of the outcome. Fear of losing control. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of movement.
You can start anywhere. That’s the thing about starting. If you start, you’re in motion. If you don’t start, you’re nowhere. If you stop, you’re nowhere. I have reached a crisis where I don’t know where to start. It’s arbitrary. I could start with sunlight or clapboards, because is there anything more beautiful than sunlight on clapboards?
It’s seems so simple, doesn’t it? You can start anywhere. All the time we spend planning is stopping us from moving. We spend hours upon hours planning the final result that we forget to even start.
Pablo Picasso said “I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” Stop worrying about the finished product. We can deal with that when we get there. It might change and evolve and grow and split and go places you never planned. And that’s okay. But first you need to start. Start anywhere. Just start.
Am I still talking about art or am I talking about life now? It’s funny to me that most of the writing I’ve done about design/art making over the past year is also about life. I’m increasingly discovering that everything I’ve learned about art also pertains to life. They are pretty similar, aren’t they?