Tag Archives: Frustrated!

A Question Answered

On a fairly regular basis, I’m asked about the nature of ideas.  More specifically: where do your ideas come from?

Typically I laugh and make a snide-to-snarky comment and lop-sided grin about the birth of ideas akin to the birth of babies – one more titillating, one more compelling than the other.

But seriously.  Like babies and boyfriends, they come when you least expect them.

I’ve killed weeks and months at a time in a reverie and daydream, just drifting out in the doldrums.

And I’ve murdered weeks and months at a time drowning in anxious-yet-mundane tasks guaranteed to kill the spirit and livelihood of creativity.

I’ve slaughtered time reading, observing, hearing, watching others’ great (and not-so-great) works, studying their miscues and brilliance.

Time was never really the difference to my great surprise.  No matter how I spend my time, the rate or quality of creativity doesn’t change.

And then, while talking, I launch into a monologue proudly proclaiming that it’s different for everyone.  That everyone has their ‘ah-ha’ moment no matter what they’re in the middle or beginning or ending or purgatory of.

And then I pause,

And say,

But for me,

it’s the welling up of an emotion deep inside me, to the point that if I don’t stop myself, I’ll scream or cry or demons will burst from my abdomen or angels sing from my head and I think I don’t/can’t take another breath – it’s that moment right there I look for because

then,

right then,

if I step out of the catharsis, lean back in my chair, close my eyes for a long, slow blink,

that’s when it happens.

It’s simply that ability to purely reflect on what you know and what’s going on around you- all together instantly and without any self-interest other than to get to just one more breath — and shazam, there it is.

it’s then I approach a theory, perhaps as selfish validation:

Nabokov described inspiration as two parts (though he didn’t assign ratios) – the first half as rapture:

“a combined sensation of having the whole universe entering you and of yourself wholly dissolving in the universe surrounding you.  It is the prison wall of ego suddenly melting away and the non-eogo rushing in from the outside to save the prisoner – who is already dancing in the open.”

The moment where time ceases to exist.  Where there’s no conscious purpose in existence.  The idea.  The moment lightening strikes shock through the air.

The second half he describes as the recapture – the conscious work of construction.  The idea in practice.  The thunder following the lightening.  As you blurt it aloud and start to reflect on what it is you’re saying and continue in a babbling way trying your damnest to position the idea, put boundaries – it’s always with sparkling eyes and increased tempo (in a gentlemanly fashion – others I’ve known fancy more toward crazy eyes and irregular tremor through the body).

The issue, I pointedly say, is finding your ratio – balancing the lightening and the thunder to fit you.  I’ve seen too many taken down by rush for one direction or another, whether by drugs or alcohol, by gluttony or avarice, by talent or lack thereof.  All in the hopes of finding something they thought they needed, even though it was there all the time.

In all, I believe, the storm will come.  No matter the singing or dancing, the lollygagging or grind.  Just be open to more than rain.

Who Says?

Franzen writes …”the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.”

Mayer sings “who says I can’t be free from all the things I used to be – rewrite my history – who says I can’t be free?”

And as I sit here, quiet and comfortable in my city apartment, opportunity brightly (and insistently) knocking down my door, I find myself a smidge lonely.

It’s been a very long year.  And in nine months, I will turn 30.  And if there’s one thing these near thirty years has taught me, it’s worrisome independence and careful compromise.  I have very little tethering me, save for the ticking clock and its seemingly increasing tempo.  Days go by faster, no matter whether I think of you or anything else.  Nights occur in the blink of an eye regardless of whether I finish the tasks at my fingertips.  Plainly:  I’ve slowed down.

Perhaps for the better.  Certainly the angst that roiled inside of me has mellowed, aging into an increasingly complex wine, nipping each olfactory nerve, smoked fruits eliciting an inaudible (yet enjoyable) sigh.  Give it a few more years, the experts say.  Or at least another day, then another, then another.  Seems its better for me to take things one day at a time.

It’s freedom – and revolution – binding my mind.  Franzen’s treatise threw a book at the complexities, though mired in the inanities of present-tense American life, told primarily from those of “adults.”  Mayer’s opus echoes the inanities of present-tense American life, told primarily from those “transitioning.”  The difference?  How you wake up everyday – and when and why – and what happens next.

Stay tuned.

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

This is my constant struggle, but said much much more eloquently.  Original by Ben Pieratt, available here; shamelessly reposted by me; comments in blue are mine.

Update: just as a little bit of background, I’m back in the interview process for a few different positions, one of which I’d kill (or seriously maim) to have.  To be perfectly frank, I believe it would be perfect for me, especially considering this post below.  Too often I’ve worked with those who weren’t inspired nor inspiring.  This position, company, and people I’d work closely with would radically change that experience – already I’m inspired and thinking and the job isn’t mine (yet).  Regardless of what happens concerning the job, it’s affirming to know that I can still be inspired by those I work with AND that I’m appreciated for my skills, talents, and abilities, and especially for my creative, problem-solving mind.

Now back to your regular programming:

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

(Alternate title: The New Work Ethic)

I wrote this email to a friend a few weeks ago, and then the topic came up again last night with an old buddy who was frustrated with his work. He seemed to appreciate what I had to say, so I figured it might be worth sharing:

– – –

Thinking about your comment at the end our call. Thought I’d put some words down. Apologies in advance for the presumption.

The reason I’m so supportive of you quitting your job is that I’m intensely empathetic to your situation and I believe that you’re doing everyone a disservice by sticking around.

I’ve worked for a handful of companies over the course of the last 6 years. I started all of them with a fair amount of enthusiasm, but within 5 months of each I dipped into a depression. By 7 months the work was having a tangible effect on my mood and outlook, and by nine months, I’ve quit almost every job I’ve held. The longest was 12 months at [Redacted], and that was only because I wanted my options to vest. I handed them my resignation on my 366th day.

I always feel like a waste of space in these situations. Part of the depression stems from being so useless. Why do I hate this job so much? What is wrong with me that I’m so entitled? People the world over have jobs they don’t like, why am I unable to stick this out?

I could wax on this for a while (and I did, but then deleted all the paragraphs), but I think it comes down to the fact that, for some people, work is personal. Personal in the same way that singing or playing the piano or painting is personal.

Totally agreed on this point, and I beat myself up about this (and how I shouldn’t take it personally) each and every day. Every. single. day.

As a creative person, you’ve been given the ability to build things from nothing by way of hard work over long periods of time. Creation is a deeply personal and rewarding activity, which means that your Work should also be deeply personal and rewarding. If it’s not, then something is amiss.

Okay, small point of disagreement: things are not built from nothing.  It comes from something existing (usually many things), but re-ordered or re-expressed or re-done or re-concepted in a new, inventive, innovative, creative way.  Usually these “things” are solutions to problems; the more complex the problem, the more nuanced the solution(s).  Creative folks relish the fact that there isn’t just one way to do something – there are millions.  Don’t believe me?  How many poems, songs, paintings, books, expressions are out there with the singular goal of telling someone that you love them?  I rest my case.

Creation is entirely dependent on ownership.

Ownership not as a percentage of equity, but as a measure of your ability to change things for the better. To build and grow and fail and learn. This is no small thing. Creativity is the manifestation of lateral thinking, and without tangible results, it becomes stunted. We have to see the fruits of our labors, good or bad, or there’s no motivation to proceed, nothing to learn from to inform the next decision. States of approval and decisions-by-committee and constant compromises are third-party interruptions of an internal dialog that needs to come to its own conclusions.

I’d like to state for the record that I’m not anti-committee and approval.  In fact, I need others’ feedback regularly in order to keep the process going.  It’s a struggle to balance out the need for stimulation (creative partners and decision-makers) versus the need for isolation (to actually get something done) however, and I do agree that interruptions in the process are creativity killers, especially when surrounded by morons who either can’t wait for an idea to develop and see a drafted product OR who can’t make a decision or provide feedback.

Your muse can only be treated as the secretary of a subcommittee for so long before she decides to pack up and look for employment elsewhere. If you aren’t able to own the product and be creative, then you aren’t able to do your work, and if you’re not doing your work then you’re negating a very real part of your personality, which is no good for anyone. No good for you and certainly no good for your employer.

I’ve come to terms with my own inherent work issues simply by recognizing that my weaknesses in one context are strengths in another. When I am able to own a project or product, I work hard and I work well, and I like to believe it shows in the results. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone is willing to spend stupid amounts of hours on a project simply because they believe in it. This is worth recognizing.

My strengths: problem-solving.  Give me a challenge, something complex, and let me run with a white board and several marker colors.  Once we’ve got it figured out and approved by necessary parties, I’ll oversee the implementation, but if you don’t give me another problem to solve, I’m gonna get bored.

My weakness: when I believe in something, I pour myself fully and entirely into it.  I’m not a typical 9-to-5 employee; I don’t leave my brain in my desk at work, and when I’m faced with something where the solution we need isn’t clear, I’m probably not gonna be at my desk.  I’ll likely be outside, or running at the gym, or drinking coffee and watching people, or listening to music or driving or drawing – something that requires just enough attention to let my brain focus on what I’m doing physically and not  overanalyze a problem or possible solutions.  Amazingly, my ideas percolate best that way.  And if I have no ideas initially, research research research in the veins of good art is copied, great art is stolen.

My point is simply this. From what little I understand of you and your situation, I feel like I can empathize. I would guess that you’re juggling a handful of self-loathing with a justified sense of entitlement. This is something that I came to peace with after I left my last job, and I get the sense that you’re still struggling with it.

Bingo.

I suspect that eventually our culture will catch up with our evolving understanding of work ethic and the personal nature of work in creative fields. In the meantime there’s going to be a lot of wasted talent pushing too much effort in the wrong directions. It is clear to me and anyone who interacts with you that a misplacement of your energies is at everyone’s loss. I hope that you’re able to recognize this fact and move forward accordingly.

It’s encouraging that not only am I not alone in these feelings, but that this other blogger gets it, publishes it, and makes it less my fault.

~ HUGE thank you to Ben Pierrat!

So You Say You Want a Manifesto…

Fine then.

In the midst (and dark depths) of a plethora of projects, I’ve come to a belated and overdue realization: I’ve got it all wrong.

True story.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone.  You’ve got it all wrong also.  But at least we’re companions.  Comrades, if you will.

Since day one, we’ve been told that if we work hard, we will be successful.  Frankly, that’s not true – we’ve known that long enough now, but continue to go along with it, much like we appease our elders while quietly rolling our eyes, wondering whether the sedating medications are potent enough for such rambling.  Hate to break it to those who have sucked away their livelihoods simply working hard, hoping your children will have the knowledge to get out of your ruts and achieve the American dream of success.  Your children aren’t motivated.  Your children have unprecedented knowledge at their fingertips and have no idea what to do with it or how to use it.  Your children make contests out of ruining their brains and physiology through their college years, hoping to catch up on missed skills and abilities in the farce of professional graduate degrees.  Then your children are surprised to find themselves struggling, just like you did, but with the stain and stench of  professional pride rendering them incapable of anything less than a fantasized job, position, and requisite salary – despite a complete lack of experience.  We were told we could do anything if we worked hard – but we got the letters on the wall by just skating through.

Consider this my eyeroll if not a ruder gesture toward an entire generation who have made all the wrong choices under the pandering guise of right ones.  If X, then Y.  If Y, do Z.  Simplified flow charts to devise an entire existence marked by little else but blinded optimism in the hopes of avoiding rejection and failure.  Scared of not finding a job after college?  Follow the Walrus and Carpenter, little oyster, to graduate school.  Scared you’ll be rejected from graduate school?  They’re accepting people – and their eternal wallets – in record numbers.  It’s easier to go to school than to push paper around, right?  It’s easier to put your head in the inconsequential desert surrounding the ivory tower, than to take a chance or risk, easier to write one decent essay and prove you can pay (with assistance) than deviate from the lifelong plan set out for you.  It’s okay, we know, you always wanted to be a doctor/lawyer/business professional.  Really though, we nod and accept without question that you’d really rather be God/a nerdy bully/insulated by your buddies for the rest of your life – or not hear it from your parents and instead keep some outward peace in return for inner turmoil.

Those who elected George W. Bush and his lackadaisical ways for eight years of blatant mismanagement are precisely those who have created this generation governed by fear.  Those who elected Barack Obama and his hopeful, changing ways are precisely those who reject this fear of failure.

So now I have to ask: what the fuck have we done?  Suddenly this great experience is no longer a experiment as our false expertise drowns in existentialism.

It’s time for things to be different.

It’s time for things to change.

It’s time for the next generation to step to the helm, to take the reins, to get into the batter’s box to take a few pitches from history.  As the early Gen Y’ers turn 30, it’s time to quit bitching about our differences and embrace them, harnessing the strengths of each person or experience into something larger, a woven fabric to smother the fire raging out of control through our land and through our hearts.  No longer is it about “I” – but about “you and I.”

It’s time.