If you’ve followed any of my work for even a short period of time you probably know all too well how much I love to read.
Whenever I’m not working or spending time with my family, you can bet I’m probably reading.
I also love sharing the things that I’ve read almost as much as reading, itself. A good portion of what I post and share on my social media accounts are quotes from whatever books I’m enthralled with at the time. Sometimes its type, sometimes copy and paste, sometimes it’s screen shots taken from reading in Kindle.
Lately I’ve been on an unanticipated hiatus from recording and filming. The constraints of my current schedule aren’t particularly conducive to shooting YouTube videos or recording podcasts, at least not in the way that I have been doing it. I realize that’s a rather pathetic excuse but, its the truth, or part of the truth. I also have to admit I’ve not been in a great head-space.
At the moment I’m enamored with Adam Savage‘s book Every Tool’s a Hammer. I almost feel like I should apologize for how much I’ve been sharing from this book. It’s like my tweeter feed is on a mission to overtake the internet with Adam Savage quotes.
One of the things I’ve been asking myself is “how can I can make sharing what I’m reading a creative act?” Here’ what I’ve come up with so far:
I’ve made a series of collages either on my phone or in Photoshop, or using a combination of the two.
And, recently, as a fast and dirty creative experiment, I’ve started adding some sketchy doodles to Kindle screen shots.
It’s not breath-taking or astounding work, but its fun, messy, and experimental. I like that, and more importantly, I need that.
As Adam Savage says:
Making is messy. It’s full of fits and starts, wrong turns, and good ideas gone bad. New Methods, new skills, new creations, they are all a product of experimentation; and what is an experiment but a process that may or may not yield expected results? WHO KNOWS?
Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this is the second time I’m writing about this discussion. Having previously explored the topic, I didn’t intend to bring it up again. But, like the unexpected arrival of our discussion on “Integrity”, itself, this writing, too, is something of a surprise.
A couple days ago I wrote an essay called “Prototyping the Process“. As artists, creatives, writers, and makers, we have to be constantly tweaking and prototyping the work that we produce, but we also have to be constantly beta-testing and iterating the processes by which we produce the work.
Before writing that essay I began working on the art piece at the top of this post. It’s initial iterations took place in an app on my phone, while sitting in a retail store break-room. Eventually it found its way into Photoshop for further tweaks and iterations. For my birthday my wife got me a Huion Inspiroy Q11k Graphic Drawing Tablet. That’s what helped bring this piece to its final form.
It was a process of small changes, incremental adjustments, an interplay of various tools, an endeavor of consistent development. In other words, the process of creating this image embodies the quote it depicts. The art “is” what is it “about”. The medium is the message, one might say. The iterative creation of this collage unexpectedly illustrates the on-going consistency that demonstrates “Integrity”.
Creativity and integrity go hand in hand. Both are a commitment to truth; a commitment to the pursuit of truth, a commitment to truth-telling. Both necessitate the strength of reliability. Art and each entail consistency. Both are built over time.
The slow dependable process of carefully stacking brick upon brick, Art and Integrity are built upon “trust”; trust in the work, trust in the process, the trust you give to others, and the trust you receive in return.
This morning was a momentous occasion, well that’s probably an exaggeration.
I’ve been trying to get into the habit of writing every morning after I meditate and before I bring my daughter to school. Yesterday, I filled the last remaining pages of a notebook, which means that today was time to open a new notebook.
I took out a fresh journal. I always keep a few around, who doesn’t? Right? I pulled the cover back, cracked the spine, eager to enter the freshness of the notebook’s beckoning blank pages, I noticed two crisply folded $2 bills. What else could I think but “that’s weird”? I don’t remember when or why I put them there but, I’m glad I did.
I’ve often quipped that I’m religious but not spiritual. I don’t have an affinity for the “other-worldly”, the supernatural, or what some might call the transcendent. I think “this-world” has more than enough amazement and wonder to offer. I think the “natural” is plenty “super” on its own, and often my most profound experiences of “transcendence” comes from deep experiences of the immanent.
And yet, I have a relishing fondness for ritual. I think most creatives do. We are often meticulous and almost superstitious in the observance of our creative routines. We take great care to create at the same time and place everyday. We drink out of the same mug. Some of us are compulsively particular about the notebooks and pens we use, as well as the ceremonial ways in which we use and prepare them. It’s interesting that the near monastic ordering of our creative ritualizations becomes the opportunity for the expression of our weirdness.
In a lot ways I think that’s exactly what creative practices are, the routinized rites we methodically perform in honored observance of our weirdness; the ceremonious celebration of our peculiar strangeness.
On a daily basis we are bombarded by a legion of outside influences and forces all vying for a chance to smooth out the unevenness of our peculiarities, so that we can better fit into the current cookie cutter shape of normalcy.
We need to find, formulate, and routinely carry out rituals that remind us of our strangeness.
Today one found me…
I think from now on, whenever I open a new notebook, before I ever dot an “i” or cross a “t”, these $2 bills will be ritualistically paper clipped onto the pages of the journal to instruct me that no matter what happens here, no matter what you do…Keep it weird…
I’ve been reading Adam Savage’s book, Every Tool’s a Hammer. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve been enjoying it. It’s not uncommon for me to be juggling 3 books at any given time within my daily reading rotation; reading from one in the morning, reading a chapter or two from another book on my lunch break, and ending the day reading from an entirely different book before I go to bed.
What is uncommon for me, though, is becoming so enamored, so engrossed with “one” book that I give it my exclusive reading attention. This is exactly what’s been happening with Savage’s book. Every time I open my Kindle, I immediately tap on it without a second thought.
I’ve tweeted so many evocative nuggets of wisdom from it, I joked that I might end up tweeting most of the book (see below, lol):
But, seriously… I might…
I read the following passage last night:
“Creation is iteration. Your job as a creator is to take as many wrong turns as necessary, without giving up hope, until you find the path that leads you to your destination.”
“Creation is iteration”. That line has been reverberating in my head since I read it.
What I love about the word “iteration” is that it is expressive of an analytical ambiguity.
“Iteration” is repetitious. However, it is not the repetitive monotony of an assembly-line task performed identically ad infinitum. “Iteration” is a procedural searching. It is the fine-tuning of a computational curiosity, a continuous re-considering.
“Iteration” is problem-solving…
At first glance, this isn’t necessarily a revelatory concept. We are used to and well-aware of prototypes and prototyping. We have grown accustomed to “beta-testing”, especially in terms of “what” we make. But, “the process” by which we create is also a prototype. Our methods and mediums, themselves, are perpetually in “beta”.
In other words, it’s not only the “products” of our creativity that require iterative problem-solving. Sometimes, it’s our actual creative process that is “the problem” that needs solving.
For the past year I have devoted nearly all of my creative free time to videography and podcasting. Learning these mediums has been a fruitful endeavor. It’s unlocked parts of my creativity that had become dormant, and its revealed forms of creativity I didn’t know I had access to. However, the process of filming and recording is time consuming. Setting up takes time. Adjusting the set-up to get it “just right” takes time. Recording and filming – trying to find just “the right take”, takes time. And, editing take A LOT of time.
The amount of time I have available to create has diminished substantially. At the moment, I only have small isolated windows in which to “make”, which makes it almost impossible to create videos and podcasts in the the way that I have been for the past year. If I want to continue, I will have to prototype a new process. I will have to find a new iteration of my creative process.
Truth be told, I haven’t quite solved that problem yet. But, I have started prototyping new paths for my creative expression. I’ve begun dabbling in different artistic mediums that are more accommodating to my patchwork schedule of free time.
As Gary Vaynerchuck says, “Creative people can be creative anywhere, and the most creative people do it where no one else has tried before.”
I’ve started doing some collage art (you can check out my Instagram to see some examples or you find some here, here, and here). I’ve also started writing and blogging more. And, I’ve begun experimenting with what I guess you could call a kind of graphic designing. I’m finding ways to be creative regardless of my circumstances. I’m finding ways to make it work. Maybe you could say that I’m finding ways to make “making” work.
Evernote has been instrumental in allowing me to work on essays and blogs from any where and at anytime; while I’m at work, whenever I have a random thought, or when I manage to find a free moment. I’ve also begun integrating apps like Photoshop Express, Photoshop Mix, Photoshop Sketch, and Adobe Capture into my creative tool belt. They give me the flexibility to create, and iterate, when the only thing I have access to is my phone.
The process isn’t perfect but, no process ever is.
I haven’t solved all the problems or worked out all the kinks, but we never really do.
Often, the best solution is simply working towards “successively closer approximations”…
Nietzsche says that “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” I can relate. While I can’t say for sure if I’m actually able to “give birth to dancing star”, I can say that everything I create begins in chaos, an inner chaos that manifests itself into outward expression. That physical expression of an internal anarchy is what I call my creative process.
Everything that I make begins its life as a fever of a thought typed into Evernote, a jagged idea roughly hewn and scraped into a notebook or across a Post-It, like the photo above.
I’ve made a few videos for my YouTube channel recently that are different from what I normally make. Maybe we could say they’re a bit more experimental, at least for me anyway. Whatever adjective is best suited to describe my burgeoning video work, its certainly been a departure and its certainly taken me out of my comfort zone.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve been taking myself and what I create too seriously, and I haven’t been giving myself room to experiment or space to play. So, I’ve been making it a point try to have a little more fun in the process.
In some ways, this realization, this shift, started when I watched a video on Daniel Pascual’s YouTube Channel. He made a vlog about nothing, purposefully and deliberately about nothing. He said he did it to take the pressure off and to kind of dumb things down a bit. That may not seem like much but, it really hit home for me. It was oddly refreshing and it felt like exhaling. I came face to face with how much stress and strain I’ve been putting on myself and my creative process. It made me recognize how little breathing room I’ve been giving myself.
I commented on the video saying that I should really try to do a video like that. Daniel encouraged me to do it, or maybe its better to say he challenged me to do it, lol. I accepted. Even though he and I are on opposite ends of the country he still scares the fuck out of me.
I really struggled to get my head around how to do a vlog about nothing. Believe me I know how ridiculous that sounds. I made more than one attempt. I hit record and tried to just go, unfortunately nothing went, lol.
After the false starts and failed attempts at Daniel’s “nothing” challenge, I took the family on a weekend camping trip. I brought my cameras with me. I was thinking that maybe I could vlog, or maybe take some cool shots. In other words, I went to accomplish something, to produce something, to do something. I felt like I needed to. Internally, there was a pressure to use this trip as a means of creating content. It felt like if I didn’t create something then I wasn’t really a creative and I wasn’t really a creator.
I took some OK shots, got some OK footage but, I just wasn’t feeling it. It felt forced and uninspired. It just wasn’t working. I started to get really frustrated about it, and started judging myself kind of harshly about it as well. I felt as though I should have been able to create something brilliant and beautiful on command.
Slowly, I realized that I needed to just put the gear away and just be present. I needed to give myself permission to do “nothing”. I needed to enjoy just being there. This moment wasn’t about creating, producing, or doing. It was simply about being; being with my wife, being with my kids, being with our friends, being exactly where I was.
If I’m being honest, doing “nothing” is disconcerting. It makes me uncomfortable. I place an extremely high premium on productivity, on producing, on doing “something”. So much so that I almost never allow myself to really do nothing.
I’m addicted to “doing”.
The addiction to doing came up when I Interviewed Stuart Carter from the Simply Mindfulness YouTube channel on an episode of my podcast. Stuart reminded me that “we are not human doings, we are human beings“. He pointed out that “We so often get caught in ‘I must do this to have value, I must do this to have worth’, when actually just being is all we need.”
Intellectually, I know that my value isn’t predicated on what I produce or what I accomplish. But, I still fall into the trap of equating who I am with what I do. I attach my self-worth and my identity to what I create. Daniel’s exercise showed me how much of that desirous craving for production has invaded my creative endeavors.
I returned from our camping trip with a clearer head, a clearer view of my obsession with “doing something”. But, I had no clearer idea of what my “nothing vlog” would be.
Recently my wife started doing some wood-working projects and she decided to refinish our Corn-hole boards. As I sat frustrated and bewildered, I noticed her begin to set-up for this refinishing project. The thought occurred to me that it might be fun to film her working on it. I needed the break and she welcomed my company. I had no plans for the footage, no goal, no purpose, it was just about play. It was more fun than I even imagined it would be. Once I edited the footage I knew I had to share it. I had inadvertently stumbled upon my nothing vlog. You can watch it below:
This exercise taught me about myself and my creative process. It taught me to accept the opportunities that show up; whether it seems productive or not, and whether it seems purposeful or not.
There is a way of being creative that is more about probing than about producing. There is a way of creating that exposes the limits of what we can create. There is a way of ‘being’ that gives witness to the exceeding abundance of what we can experience.
Working with the medium of video is teaching me to document the dynamic discovery of every daily detail. It does not tell me to do something different or to be something different. Instead, it tells me to see differently, to “Be” differently. We are presented with the opportunity to begin seeing in a whole new way, an opportunity of “Being” in a whole new way.
Sometimes storytelling isn’t about creating a story but, about simply finding where we are in the midst of a much bigger story.
Maybe this wasn’t the vlog about nothing that Daniel would have wanted me to make but, it’s the one that represents where I am now.
This Wednesday I’ll be posting the video of that interview on my YouTube channel.
As I was listening back through the conversation in making my final edits to the video , I realized just how much we talked about searching, experimenting, exploring, learning, growing, and all the ambiguous uncertainties that come along with being in “the process”.⠀
That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that literally everything I do is wrapped up in the endeavor of “learning” out loud, documenting “the process”, and “practicing” the path.
The “process” is defined as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”. What I think is so interesting about this definition is not so much what it says but, rather what it doesn’t say. What the definition leaves out, what it goes unsaid, speaks volumes.
More often than not, when we set out upon the undertaking of a process we have “a particular end” in mind. We have a particular goal, a desired outcome. There is a specific destination we are striding and striving towards. This end goal guides our steps and actions. It is the catalyst to the initiation of our “process”. It is the propellant that pushes us further into the process. Yet, that “particular end” is not guaranteed. Where we end up may very well be different to where we set out to go.
In other words, what the definition doesn’t define is whether or not we ever reach that desired end.
Whether its the creative process, whether its the spiritual process, whether its the intermingling of the two, or whether its just any process, I think one of the things that gets missed is that the process is the process because it is laced with ambiguity and uncertainty. If we knew where the process would lead then it wouldn’t be transformative.
The point is that a lot of this is trial and error, creatively and spiritually. A lot of it is experimental.
We have to be willing to go through that process of trial and error, knowing that there is a risk that we might fall, a risk that we might fail. There is an element of failing with purpose. Its the understanding that failure isn’t what we imagine it to be. Failure isn’t final. Failure isn’t conclusive. It’s simply part of the process.
Here, there is also the recognition that “experimentation” negates failure. It makes failure meaningless. In the light of experimentation “failure” becomes null and devoid of meaning. There is only the testing of a hypothesis and the collection of data. We re-run the numbers. We re-calibrate and we try again.⠀
The process is thrilling and terrifying because we don’t fully know where we’re going, and we don’t fully understand where the process is taking us. Sometimes we don’t even know where we are in the process.
To be in the thick of the process is to be in the midst of something unknown.⠀⠀
I’m obsessively fascinated by and with creativity. There’s just
something so mysterious about it. I’ve devoted so much time to pondering
it and thinking about it and reading about it and practicing it…but I
still don’t think I’m any closer to understanding it. And actually…I
think that’s what I love the most about it.
I think that being involved in some kind of artistic endeavor, or
participating in some form of creative practice means coming to the
realization that you are more of a conduit than a ‘creator’.
Creating is never creation ex nihilo, it’s never creation from nothing, it’s never out of nothing.
I think there’s always something teeming just below the surface, just
out of sight. Even ‘nothingness’ isn’t ‘nothing’. Nothingness isn’t a
vacuous void of utter absence. It is empty of essence but it is
permeating with presence. Nothingness is an emptiness pregnant with
‘everything’. It is the raw possibility and potentiality percolating
within every present moment.
In this regard, I think that ‘creating’ is more about facilitation
than it is about fabrication. It’s more about opening a door and
stepping out of the way.
In the newest episode of my podcast we try to talk about creativity and the creative process.