Cold Coffee, Moving Forward…

I am sitting at my desk too fatigued to type, too tired to try. Neither my spirit nor my flesh are even willing, much less able. I know that if I do not write now, I will not write today. This is my only window to create.


In an essay called “On Living Behind Bars” Nancy Mairs writes:


My brain is frayed with the need to produce, but I am paralyzed…I feel pent up, desperate. My ability rides me. My lack of it tortures me. I am torn apart.


I can only second these sentiments.I desperately desire to make something. I look over the to-do list of projects and ideas I could work on but I cannot muster the motion. I cannot manage the movement.


The microwave beeps continuously, reminding me that the coffee gone cold and already reheated twice is ready once again, hoping that this third time will be the charm. I sit unmoved by its provocations. I cannot muster the motion. I cannot manage the movement. 


I wonder if I am the coffee cooled to room temperature through melancholy’s wanton disinterest.


I take a sip.


It is not as warm as I’d like but it will do.


I find a few words. They too are not as warm as I’d like but they will do.


Some days are like this. 


The coffee gets cold. We drink it anyway because we’ll take what we can get, and we let that be enough.


The “heat” wanes more than it waxes. The “spark” is only strong enough to flicker, and it fades before it ever becomes a flame.


It’s strenuous to scribble words into sentences. We write them anyway because we’ll take what we can get, and we let that be enough.


We worry so much about “moving forward”, about “making progress”, about “moving the needle”. Maybe any move, moves us forward. Maybe every movement makes progress.


Perhaps, if we are moving at all, then we are moving forward…

The Weight of Secrets, Fighting to Succeed…

I think the job of the artist is to make the experience of mystery palpably vivid in a way that does not resolve the mystery but, instead reveals the mystery as more profoundly mysterious than we realized.


I think of the way that James Victore alters and modifies his brushes and paint pens to make them less predictable, less precise, less controllable.


Or, the way that George Condo draws; seemingly random, almost erratic, and often more concerned “with the diagonal motion of the drawing, caring more about “where it goes on the paper, without much concern about “what it is”. 


Or maybe even the way that Aaron Draplin‘s favorite pass time is “junking”, scouring thrift stores and estate sales looking for bits of old design, logos, and type, searching within them for the forgotten stories and hidden tales that will spark his imagination and catalyze his creative process.


The purposeful imprecision, the uncontrollable brush strokes, the unpredictable discoveries, in each case, the artists delve deeply into a “mysterious” pursuit, searching for secrets.


Maybe I’m grasping at straws but, there seems to be parallel between the pursuit of mystery and what Austin Kleon calls “dumpster diving”.


Kleon writes that 


Dumpster Diving is one of the jobs of the artist – finding treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reason.


These are the things that draw me into all of my creative endeavors, whether in writing, collage, digital art, or even in my recent forays into more analog mediums and projects. In “sifting through the debris” of old magazines and newspapers, finding inspiration in “tossed aside” books, moving paint and pen with a seemingly unsteady hand, I am searching to revel in something unknown. I am forced to give up control, to exercise awareness, welcoming the imperfect and the imprecise. Searching for treasure without a name, guided by a map that can’t be written, I can’t foresee what I’ll find, what images will spark something, what words or phrases will whisper secrets, and what mysteries will come to light as the pieces are put together, shifted, and rearranged. I am simply doing the work of finding “the work”.


We are full of secrets. We contain a multitude of mysteries. We are breathing inkblots, walking Rorschach tests. Perhaps, its in experiencing the weight of our own untold secrets that we are driven to create and compelled to keep creating.


Maybe art, itself, is an external attempt to touch our deepest secrets, the secrets buried so deeply that we don’t even know that they’re there. And maybe, these are the secrets fighting the hardest to be unearthed.


The stray hairs of lacerated bristles, the hidden treasures of another person’s trash, the gems found amidst the junk, the stories pieced together with paper and glue, all bear the weight of our secrets, fighting to succeed to the surface of awareness…

Confessions of the “Quality” Obsessed…

It’s been a while since I’ve put out or even recorded a video or a podcast. There’s a lot of different reasons for that . Some of which are more complicated than others. 


If you listened to my podcast interview with Daniel Midson-Short, you may have heard me mention that I picked up a second job. As you can imagine that comes with its fair share of time constraints and scheduling complications. I have less available time to meticulously craft podcast episodes and videos in the way that I once did.


However, that’s only part of the story. It’s not the “whole” truth. Yes, my free time has been dramatically reduced but, another big reason that I haven’t been recording or filming lately is an issue of “mind-set”. I’ve been a bit lost, both creatively and personally. I’m in a weird head-space.


In the past year that I’ve devoted my time, effort, and energy to making videos and recording podcasts I’ve started getting obsessed with things I never cared about. Things that I never gave a shit about became vitally important.


Look, I get that over time it’s not uncommon for our priorities to change, in fact we can expect that they will. There’s nothing wrong with varying the levels of importance that we attach to things. There’s nothing wrong with shifting the hierarchy of what we value. But, sometimes we lose something in the shift. Sometimes in shifting how much we value certain things we inadvertently shift our “values”. We move pillars that should never be out of place, and we compromise the structural integrity of who we are.


I didn’t start making videos because I wanted to be a film maker. I never wanted to be a videographer or a cinematographer. As much as I love the art form, as creatively invigorating as it is to film and edit, it’s not my primary aspiration. It’s not my passion. And yet, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly obsessed with camera angles, camera settings, lenses, aperture, frame rates, lighting, audio, mic placement, B-roll, cinematic sequences, setting, background, etc, etc, etc.  In other words, I’ve become overwhelmingly obsessed with the production, the “quality”.


There’s nothing wrong with all the videographic techniques and cinemagraphic speficities outlined above. I’m glad I took the time to learn to do them. But, the simple fact remains I didn’t start doing this for any of that.
I’ve also been unhealthily obsessed with “the numbers”; the subscriber count, the views, the listens, the plays, the likes, the shares, the comments, and the things. We all know the numbers shouldn’t matter. We’ve all either said ourselves or heard other creatives say “don’t create for the numbers”, “the numbers don’t matter” but, saying it and believing it are two different things. Implicitly, in the back of nearly every creators mind, the numbers matter. A lot of us, especially me, will attach our value as a creator, the value of what we create to those numbers. We will interpret those numbers as a numeric representation of how much our work matters, and we start judging the quality of our work based on those numbers. At least, that’s what’s happened for me.


One of my guilty pleasures is Gary Vaynerchuck. Love him or hate him, his energy is intoxicating and his enthusiasm is infectious. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I’ve garnered some valuable and beneficial information from his work.


One of the things I’ve disagreed with about most adamantly is the idea that quantity is more important than quality, because he says that quality is subjective. I think there’s some truth to that. After all art is subjective, we each decide in our own way what we define as art. As much merit as I see in that point I haven’t been able to make the leap to this quantity over quality position.


Interestingly enough, a few months ago Gary Vaynerchuck was interviewed by Matt D’Avella. I think it’s fair to say that D’Avella has a stance on the quality vs. quantity question that it is seemingly antithetical to Vaynerchuck’s. He believes it’s better to put one really high quality video every week than to put out 7 “ok”  or mediocre videos. He favors quality over quantity. For the past year that’s the way I’ve been leaning as well.
When it comes to quantity vs. quality it’s not as simple as an “either/or” question. If art is subjective, if quality is itself subjective, then I think it’s also safe to say that the way in which one chooses to answer or approach this question is also subjective. I think it comes down to self-awareness and consistency.


If the precision and production level of the craft, is your driving factor, and you can be consistent in putting out that work then, I think that’s working just fine for you. In other words, if you’re more motivated to put out one high quality piece of work every week and you can continuously come through on creating and delivering that piece of work week in and week out then, you’ve already won.


But…that’s not what I’ve been doing. I’ve been operating under the auspices of pursuing this “quality” model but, I’ve been anything but consistent. In most cases, I don’t even attempt to film or record when my conditions or circumstances don’t allow for attaining the level of “quality” I feel is “necessary”. In other words, if I don’t feel I have the time or space to get close to perfection then I don’t even try to do anything at all. 


My obsession with “quality” has become counterproductive. “Quality” has become my excuse not to create. “Perfectionism” has become procrastination. Adam Savage says that “procrastination, perfectionism, and analysis paralysis…are the bane of a Maker’s existence”. I can personally and avidly attest to the truth of that statement.


I think I lost my connection to an even more important question, “why did I start?” “What did I start doing this for?” It’s so easy to get lost in the minutia of techniques and all the things that touch the thing you’re doing but, what’s the core of what you’re doing? What’s the heart beat of why you do what you do? If you lose touch with the thing that made you want to start doing what you’re doing then you’ve lost the whole drive, you’ve lost the whole aspiration, the whole motivation, the whole operative significance of the thing.


And that’s where I find myself. I’ve let all the things that touch my work influence my process more than than the central thesis of the work.
So, if I didn’t start any of this to be a film maker, an audio guru, a YouTuber extraordinaire, if I had no interest in becoming a cinematographer or a videographer, why did I start doing all this for? I started doing this because there where things that I wanted to talk about that I wasn’t getting to talk about. There were conversations that I wanted to have that I wasn’t getting to have, and I needed to have, and I still needed to have them. I’ve lost sight of that in the process of just trying to make the shit.


I started doing this because I’m in love with ideas. I’m in love with the kind of ideas that James Victore might call “Dangerous Ideas”. Oscar Wilde said that ” An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all”. That is my core. It’s gotten buried in the process but, its still there, and I’m trying to find my way back to it.


How do I get back? I don’t know. I don’t have it all figured out yet. But, this is an attempt to get back to the dangerous ideas, and maybe that’s a dangerous idea in itself. I hope that it is. I don’t know what comes next, but i never have. All I can tell you is that I’m still in the process. If you’re still here then, we’re in the process together. 


Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.


Shout out to my Patrons and Supporters:
Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/
Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/
Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/?epa=SEARCH_BOX
Jerome Shaw – https://anchor.fm/jshaw
Rajan Shankara – https://rajanshankara.com/


If you want shout outs in podcasts and videos, if you want access to all my behind-the-scenes, patron only content, if you want early access to all my videos, and if you want to be a part of a community of creativity and curiosity, the check out my Patreon page – https://www.patreon.com/duanetoops

“Grace” through the Cracks…

The funny thing about making it a point to practice gratitude is that when you go looking for things to be grateful for, you find them – go figure.

What’s even more interesting is that we find things to be grateful for in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms.


I was walking my son to the bus stop, as I do every morning. We traversed the same crumbling asphalt road as we had every school day for almost two years. Nothing had changed. Everything was the same, and yet I saw something different. Maybe only because I was different. Maybe because “I saw” differently.


Stabbing upwards through the fractures and fissures of the road were these subversive blades of grass. In piercing their way through the pavement they had lacerated their way into a portion of my own experience. They were unapologetic in penetrating their way through the gravel and pitch of my mind. 


On my walk back home, I stopped and took this picture:

I’ve spent what some might say is far too much time staring at this photo, staring at these blades of grass. There is something so bold, so defiant, so rebellious, about the way the foliage finds a way through the ordered obstruction of the asphalt. And yet, there is also something so graceful about its poise, balanced perfectly upon the edge of strength and vulnerability. 


Maybe that’s what gratitude does. Maybe gratitude cuts through the breach of our concrete defenses. Maybe when our callousness begins to crumble just enough, the recalcitrance of grace and gratitude finds a way to reach through.


Leonard Cohen says “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


Maybe gratitude is obstinate. Maybe grace is insubordinate. Maybe gratitude is a kind of mutiny. Maybe, as Jay Baker says, “Grace is Anarchy“.
Gratitude refuses to be submissive or obedient. Grace resists “staying in line” and objects to “staying in its place”.


The grace of gratitude says “fuck you” to the authority of the “No Trespassing” sign and finds a way to slip through the fence anyway. Sometimes we are cut deeply by the barbed-wire that stands between us and where we are told we are not allowed to go. With radical noncompliance we wear our scars with pride, knowing that the scars of grace are our gift to the world.


Francis Su explains that “our shared struggles” are opportunities for “extending and sharing grace”.


Sometimes its the seemingly crushing conditions that create the perfume of our existence, fragrance of our aliveness, a sweet savor unto our collective human condition.


I am grateful for the grace that grows through the cracks and crevices of our fractured Being.


I am thankful for gratitude found in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms…