Devoted to Something Difficult..

Earlier last week I started rereading Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going. I first read it towards the end of last year when I was in a deep creative slump. Creatively speaking, I was really struggling to find and maintain the energy and motivation to “keep going” and the book was helpful. This year, I feel like I’ve gained some ground artistically. I still wrestle amidst the endeavor to make art and to keep my creative practice alive, but that fight never really ends. 


In fact, Kleon is sure to point out that “No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really ‘arrive'”.


I’m still trying to find my way but, even more so, now I find myself struggling to simply “keep going”. I am emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausted. It seemed as good a time as any to revisit Kleon’s book.

In the opening pages of the book he writes that after “writing and making art” for years “it didn’t seem to be getting any easier” and he asks himself “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?” I’ve been asking myself that same question, not only in terms of art but, also in terms of coping with the dramatic changes my life has undergone this year.

Everyday I find myself wondering when the words will simply flow, when the art will become second nature, and when I’ll start to feel…better.

I’ve been working on one creative endeavor or another for almost as long as I can remember and it’s never gotten easier. It’s almost been six months now since my ex-wife and I separated and started working towards divorce, and that too, has certainly not gotten any easier. In fact, it feels like its gotten and continues to get, harder. I am suffuse with questions, and more and more I am asking “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?”


John O’Donohue says that “Suffering always brings a myriad of questions we cannot answer: Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Why was what was so precious in my life so abruptly taken from me? Will I be able to survive this at all? How will I live from now on? When you are standing in the place of pain, none of these questions can be answered.”  I am searching for the comfort of coherence and understanding, the consolation of an explanation, but, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, it is a “grasping for the wind”.

Buddhist thought suggests that part of the reason for why we suffer is because of three defilements: greed, hatred, and delusion. We desperately clutch at what we crave, we kick against what we desire to avoid, and we delude ourselves into thinking both are possible. Maybe the Buddhists are right, I want to make art without obstruction or constraint. I want to be mended without difficulty or pain. And, the fact that I am “suffering” seems to be proof that I am too delusional to accept that it just doesn’t work that way. Perhaps, the struggle lies not in the making of art, nor in the pursuit of healing, but in the struggle to accept that both are hard.

Kleon explains that, for him, “Everything got better…when [he] made peace with the fact that it might not ever get easier”. Even as I type out his words I can feel myself struggling to accept their veracity. I am so not as peace with the thought of perpetual difficulty, and maybe that’s the problem.

O’Donohue writes that “When lonely suffering is courageously embraced and integrated, it brings new light and shelter to our world and to the human family.” But,”embracing and integrating” that lonely suffering is a real motherfucker. I’m not sure I know how to do it yet.

I’m honest enough to admit that I don’t yet have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I don’t know if I have the courage to change the things I can, and I’m not sure I have the wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps, for now at least, the best I can do is to be a conversation devoted to something difficult….

The confines…

I suppose, in a way, I’ve been thinking a lot about space and time lately. Not from a scientific perspective. I’m not necessarily talking about astronomical space or universal time, but rather the “spaces” that one finds in their life and in their time, and the latent possibility and potentiality that lurks there.

Since my ex-wife and I separated in early January, I’ve found myself with an abundance of space and a seeming surplus of time. At first the oncoming flood of space and time was overwhelming and even disconcerting because I didn’t quite know what to do with it, didn’t know how to utilize it. I was being met with a jarring emptiness,of space, a vexing vacuity of time.

At some point it began to feel a bit more like a blessing. I now had all this time and space in which to create and be creative. Space in which to experiment with possibility. Time in which to explore potentiality.

But, there still remains this creeping feeling in even this creative space and time, an unexplained eeriness that waxes and wanes amongst the open terrain potential and possibility. I am coming to grips with a sense of constriction and confinement.

Even in meeting with a kind of freedom and liberty I feel a tightening, a recoiling. The blankness upon the upon the horizon is terrifying. The openness is alien.

Sartre said that “man is condemned to be free”. That says a lot about us as species when we can somehow manage to turn freedom into confinement. I think its because we implicitly and inherently crave any semblance of security we can be afforded. And more often than not, we find that security in being confined. As John O’Donohue suggests, it is “the security of confinement and limitation that we know” that grants us a sense of safety.

Perhaps, there is a latent terror always-already hidden underneath freedom. I feel that sense of condemnation that Sartre speaks of, and I don’t yet have answer for it, or a way to be fully at peace with it…

I’m trying to recognize that every day we are gifted with space, an infinity of creative space. A lush expanse of space in which to breathe in the blankness. We are graced with the presence of open possibility. We are greeted by the invisible potency of potentiality. And yet we often respond with resistance, choosing the paralyzing restraint of self-confinement.

And I’m also trying to recognize that, as O’Donohue says “To go beyond confinement is to rediscover yourself.”

New Podcast – “Poetic Pyromania & Artistic Archaeology”

This episode is kind of a hodge podge of ideas and reflections. I talk about some recent art work I’ve done and some feedback I’ve got from that’s given me some food for thought. And so I thought I’d offer you some of these random thoughts on art, poetry, and everything in between. I hope you like it.

I reference a lot of books in this episode and quite a few artists. Here’s some relevant links if you want to delve deeper:

Art as Experience by John Dewey

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark

Artist Liu Wei

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’ Engle

The Lotus and the Rose by Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo

Artist John T. Unger

The Roman Empire and the New Testament by Warren Carter

If You’re interested in pre-ordering “The Unusual Collections” mentioned in the show which contains a t-shirt, a Mala, a signed copy of Jim Martin’s book, The Practical Meditation Journal, and one of my Art Prints – click here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/special-offer-37125633

Thanks to my Patrons and Supporters:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/thepplspriest

Julianna Minotty

Bob Clubbs

If you’d like to support the work I’m doing, becoming a Patron is a great way to do that: https://www.patreon.com/duanetoops

And thanks to the incredible people who have recently purchased prints of my Art Work – Molly Graham, and Bill and Sallee Bonham.

If you’re interested in purchasing prints, feel free to message me on Social Media:

FaceBook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/duanetoops

New Podcast Episode!

After an almost six month hiatus from releasing a podcast episode, I’m back. In this episode I talk a little bit about where I’ve been, what’s been going on, and why there hasn’t been any podcast episodes for the past SIX MONTHS. I share about some personal difficulties I’ve been having and some hardships I’m still reeling from and going through. I also get into why I decided to finally make another episode.

And, because I’m a book junkie I bring up a wonderful book I’ve been reading by John O’Donohue called Eternal Echoes .  A few passages reminded me of the last podcast episode I released called “The Insight of the Other” which was based on a blog post I wrote called “ I am Grateful for the Insight of the Other“.

Special thanks to my friends, patrons, and supporters:

Jim Martin: https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Charlie Maclean: https://taenofvessels.home.blog/

Rev. Jerry Maynard: https://www.facebook.com/jerry.m.maynard

Ben Bridges: https://www.myfpvstore.com/

If you’d like to become a patron and get access to behind-the-scenes patron only content: https://www.patreon.com/duanetoops

Thanks so much for being here!

Keep showing up, Keep doing the Work, and Let’s make something Meaningful.

2019 Reading List

Every year I set a reading goal for myself. Some years the goal is more prodigious than others. This year I wanted to keep it fairly simple. I wanted to read two books a month. I didn’t reach my goal but, I came close.

These are the books I read this year in chronological order. Some struck a deep chord. Some were only mildly interesting. But, each and everyone taught me something. Each one imparted something, and for that I’m grateful.

The Art of Experimentation: Embracing Risk and Failure…

At the time of this writing my kids are ages 14 and 11. Throughout their time in elementary school I’ve lost count of how many science projects we’ve had to do. It has to be 10 or more between the two of them, but that could also be the exaggerations of a frustrated parental brain talking. Regardless, it’s been a lot. 


I think about how every project begins with a question, a question we may only moderately understand, and a theorized or hypothesized answer to that question. From there, the experimentation begins. We design a series of trials with changing or alternating variables and conditions, and we run the tests over, and over, and over, and over, and over, again, and again, and again, and again…because that’s the only way the data gets clear.


It is laborious and monotonous, and sometimes painfully tedious.


Yet, the interesting part is that, even though we are testing a hypothesis, our goal is not necessarily to prove whether we are right or wrong. The goal is to observe and gather data. The goal is to see what happens and to see what we can learn from it.


In order to truly learn something we have to be open and able to receive data that runs counter to our preconceived ideas. We have to be willing to go through what feels like countless trials, knowing that most of our experiments will “fail” most of the time. The more experiments we subject ourselves to, the more tests we can take, the more trials we can stand, the more data we can collect – the more we learn.


Tina Seelig reminds us that “All of our paths are riddled with small and enormous failures. The key is being able to see these experiences as experiments that yield valuable data and to learn what to do differently next time.” 


Everything is an iterative process.


The process of experimentation is indifferent to success or failure. “Failure” doesn’t matter. “Success” is inconsequential. The only objective is to learn something profound about ourselves and about the way the world works.


There are no clearly defined answers to our questions. No ready-made conclusions. No concrete determinations. Everything is just a theory until it has been tested, and that includes the results of another person’s experiments. We cannot accept the deductions of their data without question. We are variables unto ourselves. The results can and will vary. We have to get our own hands dirty.


We are making this all up as we go along. Everything is an experiment, and every result is a forward motion.


I think this is exactly why John Dewey says that “one of the essential traits of the artist is that he is born an experimenter”.

Dewey explains that 


The artist is compelled to be an experimenter because he has to express an intensely individualized experience through means and materials that belong to the common and public world. This problem cannot be solved once for all. It is met in every new work undertaken.”


In fact, Dewey goes on to say that “Only because the artist operates experimentally does he open new fields of experience and disclose new aspects and qualities in familiar scenes and objects.”


To be an artist is to be in the constant throes of an experimental process. It is to be amidst a ceaseless series of trails and tests. It is to risk failure again and again and again.


Tom and David Kelley make clear that

“creative people simply do more experiments. Their ultimate ‘strokes of genius’ don’t come about because they succeed more often than other people—they just do more, period. They take more shots at the goal. That is the surprising, compelling mathematics of innovation: if you want more success, you have to be prepared to shrug off more failure.” 


This is certainly easier said than done. I have grown weary and despondent. I have found my resiliency waning. The constant bitter flavor of failure, without the palate cleansing sweetness of success, has caused me to begin to lose my creative appetite. So this reminder is as much for me as it may be for you.


We must, as Jocelyn Glei suggests, “Mine [our] ‘failures’ for valuable data about what works and what doesn’t”, realizing that  “As long as you learn from the process, it’s not a mistake.”


The risk of experimentation isn’t prompted by aspiring for successes but by the desires for discovery.


Our opportunities for growth are proportionate to our willingness to fail…

New Podcast/Video – “The Insight of the Other”

Earlier this morning I put out the audio and the video of a New Podcast Episode.

Last month I wrote a blog called “I Am Grateful for the Insight of the Other“. In many ways that essay opened some creative flood gates. It’s been the catalyst to much of my recent creative work, so I thought it might be interesting to talk about it on the podcast.

Realizing that November is the “National Month of Gratitude” prompted me to take a hard look at myself and my propensity to be “ungrateful”. I began to think, what would it look like for me to be more intentionally grateful? What would happen if if I made it a point to purposefully practice gratitude? What would I find? What would I see?

One of the first things that I found myself incredibly grateful for are the countless conversations I’ve had with so many inspiring people; people who have brought me to insights I would have never arrived at on my own, people who taught me so much about myself and the world.

I remain presciently grateful for the insight of the Other…

Sketching in Books, because “Making is Messy”…

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.

Regardless, I’ve been looking for ways to be creative in new and different ways.

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.

Prototyping the Process…

*I created this using Photoshop Express, Photoshop Mix, and Photoshop Sketch

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”…

I Am Grateful for the Insight of the Other…

Today marks the beginning of National Gratitude Month. I am a person guilty of harboring a multitude of character flaws but, if there is one thing I am especially guilty of it is being an ungrateful @$$hole. There’s a lot that hasn’t been going “well” for me lately, and I am a naturally “Glass half-empty” kind of guy but, I still have so much to be thankful for. While I can’t hope to radically alter my deeply ingrained habit of ingratitude in 30 days, I can make it a point to create spaces and opportunities to be more purposefully and intentionally grateful.


In his book Against Happiness, Eric G. Wilson writes that

“When a person views the world only through his own experience, he divorces himself from the polarized flow of existence, that persistent dialogue between self and other, familiar and unfamiliar.”


I am grateful for Eric Wilson’s writing. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from it. Grateful that he was actually willing to be a guest on my podcast. And, I am so grateful for what I learned from the insights garnered from our conversation together.


When we fail to engage with the perspective of another, when we neglect the opportunity to see the world from an alternate view, we fail to see the fullness of the human experience, the fullness of the world, the fullness of “Being” itself.


Every one of us are on our own specific journey. Everyone knows something individually that we collectively don’t. Everyone has experienced something that I haven’t. Anytime we get to bridge the gap between ourselves and another person, it can only be fruitful, it can only be enlightening, it can only be insightful.


We live in an amazing time. The opportunities for connection and communication have never been more abundant, more alive, more vibrant, and more readily available. Kwame Anthony Appiah writes that “the worldwide web of information…means not only that we can affect lives everywhere but that we can learn about life anywhere”.  Tim Harford explains that “the modern world gives us more opportunities than ever to forge relationships with people who do not look, act, or think the same way that we do.”


Every encounter with another person is an opportunity to get an insight that we didn’t have before, to get access to knowledge we wouldn’t have come across any other way.


 Jean-Paul Sartre says “The Other holds a secret – the secret of what I am”.

The insight of the Other is insight into ourselves. Revealed in the portrait of the Other is a picture of who we are. To gaze into the eyes of the Other is to glimpse into the reality of Being. To begin to understand the Other is to begin to understand everything.


I am grateful for all the “Others” I’ve been lucky enough to meet and deeply encounter, people who have given me their time to have discussions that continue to teach me so much about myself. I am grateful for the insight of the Other…


P.S. I am also specifically grateful for the conversation I had with Brady Hester on his podcast, The Braddog Media Show, which inspired parts of this post.


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


If you’d like to support my work, get shout-outs in podcasts and videos, and get access to Patron only content, check out my Patreon Page.