A Search to “See” the Words…

Liu Wei says that “a piece of art is never an answer to something”. The purpose of a piece of art is, rather “to pose a question” but, “the question is only the beginning”. To me, that says that art is the iterative attempt to ask better questions. It’s continuously attuning the questions expressed through the work directed at the audience, but it’s also the constant refinement of the way in which the artist poses questions to themselves.

I think that means asking ourselves questions not only about “what we have to say” or “what we want to say” in the work, but also asking ourselves questions about “how we say it”. In other words, I think it means examining and analyzing the creative processes we use that enable us to express our questions; questioning our methods of artistically asking the questions.


This kind of critical and creative soul-searching has been teaching me about myself and my own creative process. It’s becoming more and more obvious that, artistically speaking, I’m a writer before anything else. Such a realization is more an act of acknowledgement and acceptance than it is a statement of shock or surprise. The fact that I have a long held love of language is not a revelation. What is slightly more revelatory is how I’ve often neglected or ignored my predilection for literary expression purely out of vanity. In a culture that preferences the consumption of audio/visual arts, it simply isn’t as sexy to be a writer, a blogger, a poet, etc. And, rather than allow my writing to take the wheel, I have relegated it to the backseat. Sometimes even barbarously stuffing it in the trunk, bound and gagged.


But, no matter how much I try to place video, or design, or drawing, at the forefront of what I do, writing has been the tell-tale heart pounding beneath the floor boards, refusing to relent or subside.


Truth be told, when I’m being creative my thoughts turn to the language of the written word before anything else. That’s where everything begins for me.


Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws”. Something about that feels right even for me. Maybe you could say I’m a writer attempting to make art, or maybe, a writer who makes podcasts, videos, and art. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though, does it? I’ll have to work on it.


The point is that writing is the catalyst for all of my creative endeavors. Almost every podcast or video I’ve made has begun with a piece of writing. Even many of my art projects arise from something I’ve written. It’s like I can’t envision “imagery” or the “images” until I see the words. But, somewhere in the process of searching for the words, in sculpting the language, and guiding them from my head to the page, the pictures arrive.


For example, the picture at the top of this post came to me after I had written an essay called “Gratitude is Mutinous“. Interestingly enough, even the image I created for “Gratitude is Mutinous” came from another piece of writing as well.
That’s how it happens for me. Sometimes the simple turn of a phrase is the key that turns the lock to the door of a secret I’ve never seen.


In a way that’s gratifying. When it comes to writing I’ve always wanted my words to paint a picture, and it seems like it does, if for no one else than for me.


Suffice to say, whenever pen gets put to paper, I’m home…

Lessons in Analog: The Start of Something Interesting…

Almost all of my work is done in the digital domain. The only exception might be the random notes I scribble down during podcast interviews or when capturing a thought requires the utmost speed and immediacy. The videos and podcasts I make are recorded and edited digitally. It’s the same for my forays into photography – all digital. My “writing” is done primarily in a digital format. Even now, as I write this very essay, my thumbs are tapping furiously upon a digital keyboard displayed on a smart phone screen, watching the words arise letter by letter into an Evernote document.


Recently, I’ve even started dabbling with collage. That too, has been an exclusively digital endeavor.


Working within this digital environment has been creatively freeing but, for one reason or another I’ve found myself wanting the experience of physically cutting out images, the sensation of spreading glue across paper, the motion of moving the pieces into place by hand, the tangible unpredictability of brushing on paint.


The flexibility of digital, allows me to overcome some of the anxiety of creating. but, as I’ve been dabbling in Analog mediums again I’m beginning to learn unanticipated lessons.
Digital work provides the ability to infinitely undo and redo. The ceaseless option to reset to original means that No mistake is ever permanent, and I think sometimes that can be problematic.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly helpful to those of us who judge ourselves harshly because of the mishaps that inevitably occur during the creative process but, I think the reliance upon this kind of digital forgiveness has the potential to hinder as much as it helps. It insulates us from the weight of our artistic transgressions. By becoming dependent upon this ability to fix everything that falters we are each in danger of creating in a “bubble”; seduced by the sterility of safety and security. If Art imitates life then, here we implicitly create an unrealistic view of life and reality; a view of the world anesthetized of error, a reality sanitized of slip-ups – an artifice, an un-reality…


That may sound tempting but, it also sounds boring and uninteresting.


In a recent conversation I had with my friend Daniel Midson-Short he said that “You don’t have a story until something goes wrong”. In every story, every book, movie, and tv-show something dramatic, something traumatic, or something catastrophic, maybe even cataclysmic, occurs and that’s when things get interesting. A tale without a twist is a tale in which nothing takes place. A story that doesn’t go sideways isn’t a story at all. The misadventure is the adventure. It’s the adversity that gets our attention. It’s the crisis that peaks our curiosity. 

Midson-Short says that “we’re interested in the character development of the person after something goes wrong not because they succeed”. There can’t be a protagonist without an antagonism, and calamity reveals the character of a person. When the shit hits the fan we demonstrates the truth of who we are, and it’s who you are when things don’t go well that matters most, that’s what makes you interesting, “that’s the parts that people remember”.

Sometimes we fuck up. Sometimes we fuck up bad. There is no undo. There is no reset to original. That’s life. But, those moments of profound “fucked-up-ness” are the most telling, the most insightful, and the most revelatory. We don’t know what what we’re made of or what we’re capable of until we encounter adversity and things get fubar.


We have to sit with the mistake, we have to take it in long enough to really understand it, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. Sometimes working with the stray marks of an unsteady hand or the brush strokes that go awry actually open us up to new creative possibilities. Sometimes it reveals something we’ve never seen before.

But, sometimes we just can’t make it work, sometimes there’s no “fixing” it. There are times when we just have to live with our errors, accept them for what they are, and start again…


As Thich Nhat Hanh explains “without any suffering, we can’t fully develop as human beings.”


Collage pictured in this post didn’t turn out right. It didn’t come together as well I had hoped and because of that, it’s the start of something interesting…

The Itch of Acceptance…

About a month ago I wrote an article about acceptance, and I still can’t get it out of my head.

Usually when I make a piece of content about a particular subject it’s because its been buzzing around inside my brain for a while. In that regard, creating content around that idea is like scratching an itch in my mind. Most of the time that creative scratching provides relief from the intellectual agitation. But, sometimes…the mental tingling surrounding a certain subject doesn’t subside. Sometimes it lingers, and sometimes it spreads. Even after I’ve explored an idea in a video, a podcast, or blog, sometimes it still sticks with me. “Acceptance” is that kind of enduring itch…

I just came across a tweet from a blogger named Ben Simons that returned “acceptance” to the center of my focus. He wrote the following:

Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. We can accept things as they are, without being resigned to them staying that way. In fact, that acceptance helps us to see the most skillful way to respond to our circumstances.

Needless to say, I find myself thinking more and more about “acceptance”, what it looks like on a day to day basis, what it means, and more specifically what it means to me.⠀But, I’m not sure why…

There’s a lot about myself I have trouble ‘accepting’. There are parts of myself that I just wish weren’t there. I’m moody, and socially awkward. I get easily disheartened and disillusioned. I’m prone to periodic bouts of depression and melancholy. I see the glass as perpetually half-empty. And, as you can probably tell, I’m pretty critical of myself as well.

I’m coming to understand that practicing acceptance doesn’t mean we have to like those things, and it doesn’t mean that we have to resign ourselves to the idea that we can’t change or that this is how we’re always going to be. Acceptance shouldn’t be confused with apathy or indifference, acceptance is something much more radical and subversive.

Acceptance is the realization that who we are cannot be concretized by our characteristics. We are more fluid than that. The wide openness of acceptance sees our story take place across a sweeping landscape, a broad horizon , instead of through the narrow tyranny of a judgmental gaze.

Acceptance is a kind of clear-sightedness. In the book From Mindfulness to Insight , authors Nairn, Choden , and Regan-Addis explain that “Our perception is obscured as soon as there is resistance and the impulse to struggle with what we don’t like”. They go on to say that “what we refuse to accept hangs around longer because our mind gets locked into resistance and, ironically, we hold on to the things we don’t like”. Acceptance is the recognition that before we can begin to see things differently we must first clearly see and understand the way things are.

Acceptance means that we refuse to be broken by our flaws. Instead we see simply see our shortcomings as bends along the path that we continually press forward upon. It’s easier said then done, believe me I know. Maybe that’s why it still itches…

A Blog About Nothing


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.