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.
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…
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…
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…
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.
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
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…
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.
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…
My favorite part about having guests on my podcast is that there is little to no “structure” to the conversation. I have a propensity for over thinking, over analyzing, and over planning but, not when it comes to the dialogue that takes place in the context of a podcast interview. I have no notes, no talking points, no topics, no previously determined questions. The conversation is a blank canvas that the guest and I begin to fill together, as we go. I try to let the structure of the conversation, the structure of the interview reveal itself to me because I think that begins to reveal the authentic structure of who each of us are.
I never know what’s going to come up in the course of the conversation. We simply dig until we find something extraordinary.
When I interviewed my friend Daniel Midson-Short, who is a writer, speaker, and digital marketer, the conversation could have went anywhere. It could have revealed any number of things but, one of the most interesting things that came up was “integrity”. (You can listen to the episode here and you can find the full video here).
I’ve talked a lot about transparency and authenticity with past guests but, this is the first time “integrity” has come up. Already, this reveals something incisive about Daniel.
He mentions the word “integrity” several times through different topics as we talk. When I asked him zero in on the subject of integrity specifically he said that “Integrity is the structure of who you are” .
It’s interesting that “integrity” is also something that is ultimately revealed rather than created. Our integrity, or lack there of, is something that becomes apparent through the deliberateness of our intentions, the consistency of our behavior, and the congruence of our actions.
Maybe you could say that the structural integrity of who you are is built upon your underlying agenda, you ability to be consistent and congruent.
If what we build is in-congruent with our intentions, if our intentions are in-congruent with what we are building, if we are inconsistent, what we build will not stand, it will not be structurally sound.
If that’s the case then the integrity of the structure we build is determined long before we ever begin building anything.
And what we build will begin to reveal our underlying intentions, without us ever saying a word…
If you’d like to check out the portion of the conservation in which we talk about “Integrity” you can find it below:
Recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing Rajan Shankara for an episode of the podcast. you can listen to the full episode below.
Today I released the video of our conversation:\
Rajan is a former Hindu monk who lived the monastic life for 12 years. Almost a year ago he left the monastery and returned to the world. He’s now a personal trainer, a meditation teacher, and a life consultant.
We wanted to collaborate together in some way but, we just weren’t sure how. Since our initial contact I started my podcast and the time was finally right for us have a recorded conversation.
Rajan was an absolute pleasure to speak with. We talk about what pushed him into the process of taking up a spiritual path. We discuss his time spent as a monk, and what inspired him to leave monastic life. We compare notes between Zen and Hinduism, and we even touch on some big topics like ‘Enlightenment’. We had a great time and I really hope you enjoy it!
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It’s Thursday. The week is coming to a close and yet, I feel like my week is just getting started.
Let me explain.
I live in Central Florida and if you’ve been following the news at all you may have seen that we’ve been living with the threat of Hurricane Dorian for the majority of the week.
I’ve lived here in Central Florida since I was eighteen. This was not my first hurricane experience but, the unpredictability of it is something you never quite get used to. When you’re waiting to see what happens or what’s going to happen, it’s like your whole life gets paused and everything is thrown into a perpetual and all-consuming “waiting”. You make preparations, you check the updates, you double check your preparations, you check for new updates, you make sure there are no gaps in your preparations, but ultimately you’re just waiting…
After a few days of “waiting” it’s difficult to distinguish what day it is, they all start to blur together.
Today is our return to normalcy.
We got lucky. Hurricane Dorian didn’t make land fall in Florida. Unfortunately, the Bahamas were not as lucky. My heart goes out to them. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around what they’re going through and what they’re experiencing. My words fail. I know it doesn’t help but I’m sending them as much compassion and concern as I can.
Before the tumult of hurricane preparation took over our daily routine, I had the good fortune of interviewing Rajan Shankara. Rajan is a former Hindu monk who lived the monastic life for 12 years. Almost a year ago he left the monastery and returned to the world. He’s now a personal trainer, a meditation teacher, and a life consultant.
He and I began chatting near the end of year after we had both been guests on the Project Mindfulness podcast. (You can find Rajan’s episode here and mine here) We wanted to collaborate together in some way but, we just weren’t sure how. Since our initial contact I started my podcast and the time was finally right for us have a recorded conversation.
Rajan was an absolute pleasure to speak with. I had a great time talking with him. The impending storm pushed me behind schedule in editing the interview but, I’ll be starting that process today, and I’m hoping to have ready to release sometime before the end of next week.
I’m sorry to keep you “waiting” lol. If you want to listen to the latest episode of the podcast you can find it here and if you want to watch the video of the latest episode you can find it here.
Wish me luck.
Keep showing up, keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.