I continue to think about and reflect upon balance.
It’s a tricky dance, keeping forward progress, while also respecting the creative process — all in the midst of managing daily life. We’re all called upon to do it, though, aren’t we?
Grow and thrive. Be better. Pursue happiness.
But it’s not that simple, most of the time, is it?
If I have learned anything, it has been to do less. To listen more. Still, I know it’s a hard thing to do. I have a lot of respect for everyone trying to understand or pursue something outside the everyday tasks of what we “must” do, everyone intent on personal growth and exploration. It takes courage. It takes extra work and focus.
And I admire those able to simplify. Especially in a city like New York, where stimulus is a fact of life for most hours of the day — if not immediately and temptingly accessible at any hour via subway — it’s a tall order.
Along the way of seeking balance, it has occurred to me (again) that I have been very hard on myself at points. That I have pushed myself too hard, too desperately, for too long. This observation, as regular readers might note, is nothing new.
The self-compassion I have been feeling lately, however, is new.
Caught up in the rush and the madness of life, not to mention the snares of the past, it can become easy to forget that we all deserve the opportunity to grow, thrive and be happy. It is not our fault when the circumstance of life or our social structures fail to live up to or follow up on the promises of these things.
But it does become our responsibility, to ourselves, to shift perspective as best we can, and do what little we can, day by day, to give ourselves and others the chance to…be better. To feel better.
Not for accolades. Not for attention. But for the chance to approach balance and feel serene, the opportunity to throw off regret and to be satisfied with the gift of living. So I grieve for a self less able to see that he deserved gentler modes of conduct, and I try today to provide and seek out new support.
We’re worth the effort — all of us. It’s a big thing to do, to show up and say: “I deserve better”. It’s a less obvious response to realize that we already are enough, and that it’s our perspective, and what we do from that point, that might need to change. That’s the real hard work.
Have a great weekend. If I may — do one small nice thing for yourself this weekend. There will be a quiz.
This is part twenty-three of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!
I have come to enjoy and depend upon routine. This is not a bad thing — but I have learned to be careful with it. All dependencies can benefit from periodic inquiry, if not disruption, I think.
Right now, at this moment, I’m starting in on this post later in the morning that I otherwise usually have over the last three weeks. I overslept a bit. This annoyed me. I carried that annoyance through to this moment.
But I have to let it go.
Because I just “wasted” a few more minutes in paralysis — because conditions weren’t perfect. Or safely comfortable. I couldn’t get moving. There were false starts. Some dumb nervous blinking occurred.
It helps to turn the problem against itself. Here I am, admitting that routine can be dangerous — not only to productivity but to creativity.
The unhelpful reaction was when I started thinking. Now is not the time for thinking. I just made that point yesterday.
It’s a dance, isn’t it?
On the one hand, the routine of waking up early every day, and writing here, has made me happier, has benefitted readers (people have written in to me, I’m not making that up!) and has increased traffic to this site.
These are all clear benefits. But they aren’t the purpose of it all, are they?
The purpose is expression.
While the fact of publishing here and then sharing with you is nearly as crucial, there’s no way for it to be causally as important so long as each post depends on the creative impulse for its existence in the first place.
That is why I keep up on writing here. Why I produce the podcast. This is about championing creative expression — and conversation. Sometimes, I worry about getting too meta-textual. That seems a fair thing to worry about and protect against.
But I’m still creating, directly, during the day. It’s my hope that these posts, and each episode of Coffee With Creatives, helps you to more often do the same. An additional hope is that, together, we can share in the joys and the pains that come along the way.
And I’m not just talking to artists. Everyone is creative. Life is creative. I believe we could use a bit more creativity, a bit more spiritual verve, in our daily lives.
So, here we are. Routinely imperfect but showing up anyway.
This is part twenty-two of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!
I suffered through a small depressive episode last night.
I think I felt over-exposed, after sharing some of my internal creative dialogue here, after this guest post (on depression and suicidal ideation) was published on The Mighty, and after The Videoblogs received a few bumps in attention.
On the surface, these are all good things. They also represent sincere efforts at helping others. Still, it is the curse of those so afflicted that even good things can kick up old fears and insecurities.
Except now I have a base of acceptance, understanding, and compassion that I can fall back on, when I’m having a tough night, or day, or week.
I’m still not feeling the best. It was tough to get out of bed this morning. I similarly didn’t feel like writing this.
But I have a lamp and my dog to help me. Let me explain.
I’m also, more importantly, married to someone who both understands mental illness and knows how to react compassionately when someone is struggling.
It started with some physical symptoms, that appeared on my way home. My body started to ache. I felt tired. I lost the energy to do much of anything. I eventually found myself standing, staring blankly, in the middle of the apartment.
My wife asked if I was okay. I talked to her. This is the first right thing I did — by telling the truth to someone I can trust.
I decided to lay down in bed. Sometimes, you just have to do that. It’s no different than if you have a cold.
Some time later, my wife came in and asked how I was feeling. Not much had changed. She gently suggested that lying alone in the dark might not be helping. I heard her, but didn’t want to move. She left to heat up dinner, and we talked about me joining her to eat and watch some TV.
After a few more minutes, the dog showed up.
It is well-documented how helpful a dog can be when you’re feeling down. I let her up into the bed. She seemed to want to play. It wasn’t long before we were playing a bit, and her joy lightened my mood.
I kept it up. During a lull, I thought about what my wife had said, and turned my bedside lamp on — at its dimmest setting. For the next several minutes, I continued to focus solely on the dog.
Eventually, it was time to eat, and I was able to get up and watch TV. I felt significantly better. Before bed, I journaled for a few minutes, as a means of (non-judgmentally) externalizing my feelings. I slept without too much trouble and had odd, but not entirely dark, dreams.
As I’ve mentioned, today has been less difficult, so far, though I’m still feeling somewhat…flat.
It helped that my wife gently nudged me this morning, when I was snoozing a bit, because she knew I wanted to get up and write. It furthered helped to turn on the living room lamp, to offset the predawn darkness, before I sit down to work. I do that every morning.
Finally, there’s the dog. Without fail, she settles in beside me while I write. She’s here right now.
These are touchstones of light and connection. It helps to turn to them when thoughts go dark and lonely. As for the rest of the day, I plan to take it easy. To stay in touch with people. To take care of myself.
Already, these things are working. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.
This is part twenty of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!
I’ve written about this before, but lately I’ve been thinking again about balance.
Beyond this, I’ve been thinking about the complexities of negotiating balance, such that we might hopefully arrive at and sustain a general level of contentedness and passion — by which we might thrive in life.
This becomes a tricky subject, when you’re artistically inclined, or similarly believe in or are attracted to some calling. That’s so loud to you that can’t ignore it, despite all evidence that, to many others, it’s either a non-sound, a far-off whisper, or manifests instead as a quiet alarm.
How exactly do we thrive, do we find and maintain balance, when there’s so much else to modern life that runs counter to such a comparatively liberated lifestyle?
By now, I’ve figure out some of the answers, even though I often forget to trust in them (more on this later).
Many have been oft-discussed by artists and people more experienced than me. Still, here are some ideas, in case they help.
If you’re goal is to write — prove it. Write. Early and often. Everything else can be slotted in below. If it’s something else that you want to do. The answer is the same. Put in the time. It doesn’t have to be all day, but it does have to be the most important and focused part of the day, as often as possible.
2. Live Life
There is no ideation, no creation, without the raw materials of experience and observation. And our relationship with both or either can range from small to large.
A spec of dust drifting on the air at dawn. Heartbreak — which only happens when we risk our heart. Both are of the stuff of life. We must tend to such things.
And then, beyond living, there is the stickier point of making a living.
3. Accept The Necessity of Sacrifice
Barring inherited wealth or quick luck, any major artistic or business pursuit that begins with one or a handful of people is going to require sacrifice.
This can be a tricky concept. Sacrifice is a loaded word in our culture.
It’s neither noble, nor appropriate, or even ultimately helpful to us, to sacrifice relationships, or balance (see examples above) in the nominal pursuit of the time or space we “need” to create and thrive.
To mistake such avoidance as sacrifice is to hollow out any eventual victory. It frames the very basic and understandable needs we all have as humans in the world — to be understood, to feel important — in baser terms. To be understood by an eventual, adoring audience or customer base, who will not (cannot) sustain us during the hardest and loneliest part of the process (the making of a thing), to be called essential by them after it’s done and we’re depleted — these things do not replace the basic human need to be loved by the self and one’s family and friends.
So, this is not what I mean when I say that, to negotiate the time and space to pursue passion in the midst of a busy life, we must be willing to make sacrifices.
It is my experience, instead, that there are plenty of opportunities, every day, to let go of as much as possible that is not made of life-stuff, or sustained by passion.
That means genuine fun stays. Distractions go. Procrastination — goes. What this basically means is that you can stop viewing 85% of what’s on TV and/or your other screens.
This is all very difficult, in execution. It can’t be figured out in a day.
In a week, momentum can be built. In a month, progress can be made. And much more can be done in six months than we might think. And across the years? Sometimes it shocks me how different I am, how much I have accomplished, over a year or two.
In the midst of it, we might feel exhausted, afraid, angry and hopeless. But if we stay true, and maintain balance and health, time elides.
Sometimes, now, I forget what day of the week it is, or what point I’m at during the year, in terms of holidays and seasonal social patterns and such. I don’t worry or feel guilt about this. I let my calendar remind me of what’s essential. Otherwise I keep working towards the goal, even if and as it shifts.
5. See to Your Health(s)
This is the most crucial aspect of negotiating balance. Everyone will have their different needs and thresholds here. My struggles in these terms have been well-documented on this site.
You will get tired, if or when you decide to fit something big into the general madness of everyday life. It is crucial to rest.
Similarly, I find it crucial to respect the quiet nastiness of the everyday fight.
We are bombarded daily by the smiles of pushers.
Buy this. Eat this. Drink this. Give us your money. Your time.
What’s left of us if we constantly listen to this steady stream of broadcast manipulation? None of us are immune. I’m not. We must pick our battles, and set our boundaries. Ultimately, the pushers are as beholden to us as we are ensnared by them.
What’s worked for me, foremost — denying the typical American diet. On most days, I stay away from sugar, carbs that break down into sugar, dairy, and alcohol. I’m not formally exercising right now, mostly because I’m still recovering from the damage I’ve done to my body while producing The Videoblogs (and the related spiritual exhaustion), but I go out of my way to walk as much as possible.
I make plans, more often, with friends, so as to blow off steam. One day a week, I open the gates to sugar and dairy and alcohol (pizza and beer and ice cream).
And I pay attention to my mental and spiritual health. I journal. I meditate. I try to take long breaks from my phone and computers.
6. Forgive “Failure”
Also, I fail. I forget. I succumb to fear, or anger, and other emotions Yoda warned us about.
And that’s okay.
It is a very difficult thing, to negotiate balance, in life and art. It’s especially difficult when we’re not wealthy or yet being paid steadily to make the things we love.
But if we love them, and if we love ourselves — even if we have to fake our way in these respects for awhile — we overall find more days of solace and pride, than of hopelessness and depression.
The dark days do come. They’re part of life, and perhaps even essential for the contrast they provide. We are imperfect. We will falter. Part of balance, of negotiation, is make adjustments back towards the center.
This is part seventeen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!