Houses of discovery…

houses of discovery

From the start of this piece it didn’t feel very “inspired”, and I’m not sure I really found the “spark” at any point in the process of making it. But, I finished it, and I’d like to think that counts for something.

I believe in showing up and doing the work regardless of how I feel, irregardless of “it” feels, regardless of whether or not inspiration ever shows up, and irregardless of whether or not anything “inspired” comes out of it.  For me, its about being more “religious” than “spiritual”. It’s about placing one’s dependence upon the discipline, the routine, the practice, the ritual, welcoming the magical moments of spiritual transcendence and inspiration when they serendipitiously arrive, but faithfully working with observant persistence in the gap of inspiration’s inevitable absence. The Psalmist says to “be of good courage, take heart and wait…” I think we take heart in the courage of continuing to work in the waiting.

Christopher Niemann says that “Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane”. 

I sit down at this desk everyday, partly because I want to be productive and make good work, but mostly to avoid going insane, or to at least slow the progression of the ever-encroaching madness. The routinized ritual of creating near daily helps me deal with life and helps me make it through the day. It provides me with at least a semblance of saneness and stability. For a few moments I can find my way to some normalcy. I can temporarily fain the feeling of being “ok”, and feeling “ok”, even for a short time, when your whole life has become a deep fried cluster fuck tossed in a shit storm glaze is a damn near supernatural event.

Art and life run parallel together on the same continuum. In many ways, they are one and the same. What is true for one, is then, more often than not, true for the other. As Austin Kleon reminds me, “There will be good days and bad days. Days when you feel inspired and days when you want to walk off a bridge. (And some days when you can’t tell the difference.)” He points out that “Not everyday is going to turn out the way we want it to” but, “The important thing is to make it to the end of the day, no matter what”. He says that “No matter how bad it gets, see it through to the end so you can get to tomorrow”.

Often there is no rhyme or reason to the volatility that separates the good days from the bad, the inspired from the uninspired, the marvelous from the mediocre. Charles Bukowski said that the greatest literary teaching he was ever taught was “the meaning of pain. Pain without reason.”

Some times the absurdity of it all is a profound discovery. Sometimes the meaninglessness of it all is deeply meaningful. 

And so I keep showing up. I try my best to see it through, even, and especially, when it sucks, and I share it, because no matter how closed off I keep myself, no matter how lonely and isolated I seem to be, in some tucked away corner of my mind I know this is a shared journey.

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…

Outcomes & Results: Face the Fear, Abandon Hope…

Adam Savage writes:

Nothing we make ever turns out exactly as we imagined; that this is a feature not a bug; and that this is why we do any of it. The trip down any path of creation is not A to B. That would be so boring. Or even A to Z. That’s too predictable. It’s A to way beyond zebra. That’s where the interesting stuff happens. The stuff that confounds our expectations. The stuff that changes us.

The fact that our work defies all our imagined expectations, and often becomes something dramatically different than what we previously anticipated is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. In fact, that previous sentence gives me a slight cringe. Not only because it contains the sting of a harsh reality, but also because it seems to imply that I’ve “learned” the lesson. I haven’t. Confronting the unexpected outcomes of my work is a lesson I’m still in the process of “learn-ing”. It’s ongoing, and I’m far from done.

“Art” is about provocation and transformation. As creatives we are provoked to create and in the process of creating we are transformed by the work. When we’ve done our job honestly and authentically, our work will provoke a reaction that elicits a transformation within the recipients of our work. But, for this to happen we cannot allow ourselves to be bound by our expectations. We must release ourselves from the “result”. We must unshackle ourselves from the “outcome”. If the work has any chance of “changing” others, we must be changed by it. And, if we are to be “changed” by the work, we must allow the work to change.

As John Dewey illustrates, “A painter must consciously undergo the effect of his every brush stroke or he will not be aware of what he is doing and where his work is going.”

However, such a provocative transformation requires us to let go of both hope and fear.

Margaret Wheatley explains that “Hope and fear are inescapable partners”. She says that “Anytime we hope for a certain outcome, and work hard to make it happen, then we also introduce fear – fear of failing, fear of loss”.

Similarly, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche writes that “We suffer because of hope and fear” because “Wherever there is hope and fear, suffering follows automatically”. If this is the case, then, to be caught in the cycle of “Suffering” is “to be controlled by hope and fear, over and over, again and again”.

Perhaps we must begin to ask ourselves: What if there is no “outcome”? What if the “outcome” is never-ending? What if the “outcome” is simply the on-going persistence of the process?

When I interviewed Jerome Shaw for an episode of my podcast he shared a quote with me that is still reverberating in my ears, especially now:
“The reward for your last challenge is your next challenge”

The process is a kind of actively unfolding cartography. It’s making a map to a place we’ve never been while in the thick of it’s unknown terrain. Everyday is a creative expedition of which we have limited control. All we can do is explore, observe, and keep meticulous field notes of our findings. And, that’s what makes it thrilling and terrifying. As my friend Charlie MacLean told me recently, its starting “with a process you don’t know, down a path you are unsure of”.

To be sure, our work is always catalytic. It always produces a consequential outcome. But the outcome is always uncertain.


We create the iterative conditions that cause an outcome, though it may not always be the outcome we seek. Thus, to work based on outcome alone is to live in the cavernous suffering that resides between hope and fear. So work for the love of the work…disregarding the results, unencumbered by outcome.

Thomas Merton reminds us that we cannot “depend on the hope of results” because:

You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.

Let “value” be our only metric and measurement. Let the truthfulness of our work be our only guide.

As Steven Pressfield explains,

Our job is not to control our idea; our job is to figure out what our idea is (and wants to be)—and then bring it into being.

The sign that hangs above the inferno of the process reads “abandon all hope ye who enter here”. Those who dare to create enter boldly, undetered by the fear of failure…

Come with us…