The Arc of 2015: In Good Time

The following was written a few weeks ago, while I was away for some R&R in the woods. That was the only way this year’s update was going to happen.

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Winter 2015: Just add snow. Also, I’m destined to become a mountain man.

The Setting: New England Winter

I’m sitting, propped up by pillows and legs outstretched, on an old firm couch in a guest house above a garage on a farm in rural Connecticut.

The temperature outside is at freezing point, but it’s warm inside. I woke up just in time to watch the sun finish rising out the three large windows that face the forest that surrounds the properties.

New England winters mean something to me. I grew up with them. Despite the bitter cold and the ice and the snow typical of the season in the region — I usually enjoyed them. Especially  I enjoyed them when sleeping somewhere surrounded by forest.

I’m here with my wife, who’s out running right now. I already made myself breakfast and ate it. I’m on my second cup of tea. This weekend is a necessary time-out, and not the only one I have taken this year.

This house is small but perfectly designed and artfully furnished. The couch I am on runs alongside a set of window perpendicular to those through which I watched the sun rise. Now the sun shines upon the large table where we ate dinner last night.

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I have to say, I aced the cook on this rib-eye.

A pair of blue jays have been fluttering around the giant, stately bushes outside. I can see the main house from here. It’s large and also stately but in an un-obsequious way. The owners seem kind. We’re here, probably, for a few more days.

A fly is buzzing around and I’m pretending not to care. That sort of thing is easier to do here.

I had planned, in view of this setting and circumstance, to continue with the new fiction piece I have been working on. It’s a story that I have been wanting to explore for a long time, but hadn’t up until recently been able to start. Now it’s started. Not only that, I am happy to be engaged with it. I can see, now, why I left it in its prior uninitiated state for years. The time wasn’t right.

No, that’s wrong. It would be more accurate to say that the time hadn’t arrived yet.

Musings on Time

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This book rattled my brain. I like it when that happens.

I have been thinking about time, recently. This is partially a result at having read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and also Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Overture. Both books, in their ways, jab at popular notions of time.

I worry about time a lot. I used to worry about it a lot more. I would like to worry about it even less.

A good portion of the lessening can probably be attributed to aging. What “they” say, as far as it concerns me personally, at least, appears true. I worry less now than I did in my twenties.

I can see and feel my body aging, now. This has been both a new cause of a concern and, at the same time, an clear indication of my powerlessness against time.

Contrastingly, in career terms, I have lately begun to accept that, at thirty-one, I am mostly still considered young. There are still days when I feel like I should be “further along” by now, or that I “should have” accomplished “x” or “y” — but I try to respond to such ideas with self-compassion and a plea for personal patience.

When I still felt young, which was still going on as recently as three or four years ago, I was, as I have said, much more obsessed with time.

I never felt able to keep up. I never believed I was going to get to where I wanted — had –- to go.

That’s changed. It’s changed for a few reasons.

Withdrawing from Time’s Pull

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This journal has been a great “next best thing” sub-in for morning pages.

First, while it’s still a battle I lose for hours and days and sometimes weeks at a time, I committed some time ago to working towards presence.

Nearly every day, I write this sentence out as an affirmation in my Five Minute Journal:

I am present, mindful, grateful and kind.

Also every day, I second-guess myself, wondering whether it’s “right” to affirm both presence and mindfulness. It could be argued that they’re the same thing. But I still do it, every time. And, today, I think I know why.

My affirmation of presence is a reminder. That, whether I believe it or not, remember it or not –- I am here. This is a fact I have had difficulty believing and facing in the past, despite its more than obvious truth. We are all, always, here, until we’re not.

But do we always feel that way? Do we acknowledge it? I don’t, not always, or often enough.

Sometimes, honestly, it hurts to be here. My own mind, the internet, social media, TV or films or books — even my work — they offer a welcome reprieve from the difficulty of acknowledging the pain that sometimes seizes my heart when I consider the sheer power and responsibility of being here.

And I don’t mean to suggest there’s not joy in that knowledge, too. But, for some (me), the process of courageously pursuing that joy can become a loaded one with its own potential to overwhelm.

Still, presence is truth. As such, it’s impervious to regret. That makes it work fighting for, to me.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the path by which I seek and access truth. It’s how I come back to the present, and to myself, when I’m obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.

Worrying about the past and the future is a normal, natural thing. Arguably, these anxieties even hold some utility, when indulged in a balanced way. Even when I’ve found myself worrying too much (and thus slipping from mindfulness) — I try not to judge myself. It’s part of our nature to “leave the planet” in spots.

It’s the coming back that really counts.

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The wife and I went for a hike. Found this. Felt good.

That’s why, I think, I started this post the way that I did. I was settling into life, in the moment.

This can be a delicate process, when writing, or creating. Creators face a difficult balancing act during each engaged act of genesis.

Creativity, unsurprisingly, is much like sex in this way. It’s about both being fully in and outside the moment, extending outside the body through the body.

Acknowledging Time’s Power

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The view from the exact spot wherein this was written. Cozy, right?

Now, obviously, we cannot be creating constantly, just as we cannot be constantly having sex. Reprieve from the realities of friction and fluid depletion, social order and sustained healthy living — these necessities preclude such behavior.

While time conceptually may be much less harsh and villainous than we often consider it to be, in cosmic terms it’s still one of only a few primal ruling elements of our lives.

However, also in cosmic terms (we’re keeping topics small today), time can be viewed simply. It proceeds and we ride its current, unable to do more than pretend at stopping or going (in relative terms) at spots along the way.

This is why, when caught up by concerns of time — I turn to gratitude.

Gratitude as a Perspective on Time

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Cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this little hairy genius.

Gratitude is about perspective — about taking a particular view of one slice of time, at one such stopping point or another, and appreciating it.

I am fortunate to be in this house, at this time, writing this –- to you. I know this. I appreciate it as a captured, treasured moment of grace, an example of the exact relationship I seek in this world that speaks to my needs and wants as a person.

Often, though, in the busyness of trying to do and be more, all the time and in the midst of so many others doing and being their own things…I forget it all. I forget the moments of grace, I forget what I know to be true about time and life and the importance of remaining in the moment with my feet on the ground. I forget it all.

Being an artist, for many of us, is not a choice. Finding an audience, however, is a privilege. One that needs to be cultivated, earned, and sustained.

So, as 2015 gives way to 2016 — I say it again. I am not only grateful for the life I have been given and have built, but also for you. I am grateful for your time, support, and for the occasional commiserating moments we have shared and which I hope we’ll continue to share in the future.

Kindness as The Ultimate Expression of Time Best-Used

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We were able to shoot The Confession due to the kindness of our audience.

Kindness, to wrap up, represents the ideal state I wish to arrive in, on those rare, joyful occasions whereupon I am able to remove myself from time.

It’s the core appreciation of life, and of living, that feeds my beliefs. Probably, it fuels all the work that I do, that I have always viewed not as my own, but as something rooted in more primal, fundamental life-stuff than can be claimed as having originated in a single, struggling human.

Struggle As The Space Between Accomplishments

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I found a kitten this year. Here he is struggling to get away from Rebecca.

Struggle is the final key word, here.

Prior to writing this, I had been struggling to determine the appropriate lens through which to review the prior year.

Two years ago, on the first anniversary of this site, I remarked upon an arc of what I viewed as progress — observable inroads made against the injustices of the day. Last year, on its second anniversary, I celebrated a productive year of movement. Those posts have as much to do with my own natural evolutions through time, and through self-discovery, as they do with the conditions, histories, and developments of which my experiences are but a part.

Now, it’s three years later. The Videoblogs will be coming out (relatively) soon. It’s possible I’ll be compiling my first book of fiction as that happens. The podcast continues to grow. Time moves on and I try to ride its currents and appreciate its mystery, rather than pretend there’s a damn thing I can do to control where it takes me, when or how.

If you had said to me, three or four years ago, that this is where I would be, in this exact place in the woods, settled firmly in this moment, taking some time off with the woman I love in the midst of a years-long pattern of being in constant touch with all of you, who have supported my endeavors for years (via both your attention and your direct patronage), perhaps I would have been pleasantly surprised — but I also would have believed it.

This is because, as I am learning, time is much less measurable than it seems, or than at least I had thought.

It helps to set goals and mark progress, but change more often occurs, I am finding, via a day to day commitment to more courageously pursue those truths which compel us. The pursuit is the important thing. Everything else is at best a nice detour or a short break, but more often an unnecessary distraction.

Time is not containable. That is its beauty and our privilege.

Thank you for your continued readership, listenership and support. You are loved and appreciated. I wish you the best for each of the days that make up the new year.

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Wandering and Deliberation: The Importance of Nothingness

Photo of Birds in Park
I took this a few weeks ago, while wandering in Brooklyn.

My “ideal” state is that of The Wanderer. I don’t know that it makes me much different from most other artists — or writers in particular. But, on many occasions, if I had my way, I would say that I’d like to do little else than wander about New York City with no particular agenda.

Of course, constraints of time and money and responsibility and attachment — make true wandering difficult. Also, wandering too much is almost certainly unhealthy in the long term. This is why being The Wanderer, in the long run, or permanently, is not actually an ideal. Over time, anomie invariably creeps in; the romance of the idea evaporates over time, trails off into the changing, moving air.

On top of this, in terms of the present discussion, I only set up half my point in admitting my wanderlust. Because, when I do take time to walk out into the city with no agenda, I invariably find just as much pleasure in settling down, somewhere, to eat a meal, or drink a cup of coffee, or to people-watch. At this point, the wandering ceases and I’m (usually) able to melt into the fogscape of an least temporarily directionless mind. This sort of break from Time and Place can be peaceful — because it is an embracing of the fact of life’s inevitable march, not an avoidance of it. This sort of break engenders a sort of rare, quiet deliberation. It offers rest to the overworked, active mind.

I grow increasingly distrustful of my active mind, lately. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here, but I recently realized that, a year or so ago, I had stopped remembering my dreams. That hasn’t been the case for a few months now. My subconscious has apparently decided it’s safe, for the time being, to rejoin the interplay of day-to-day life. This mostly pleases me, even if it sometimes leaves my active mind with a lot of work to do, in terms of unraveling the results of whatever it is that’s been going on in my head while I sleep.

I’ve come to cherish the insights my dreams provide. I’ve had to lean on them. It isn’t easy for me to be with myself, currently, when I’m awake. I’ll admit it. It’s an ironic twist, considering where I’ve gone lately in progressing as a person.

As has probably been made obvious over the past year, one result of the work I’ve been doing both professionally and personally has been the discovery of “new,” tenderer layers of myself that just aren’t resilient to the winds of the outside world quite yet. Just as I’m getting comfortable with not being alone, as a result of making Multiverse, and by keeping up with this site, I find it necessary to force myself to incrementally reengage with solitude anyway.

I know the only way for these new layers to become resilient is through exposure. If I have learned anything in recent months, it’s that lesson. Another lesson, though, that I’m taking some time to truly absorb, is that this process must happen on its own. It cannot be controlled. Only guided — compassionately.

In the past, wandering performed two functions for me. As I have alluded, it was a slower, safer form of running away from life. It allowed me to pretend I was unattached to Time and Place, which was never true — especially in my case. I rarely wandered anywhere for longer than a day, or very far. Usually, I would disappear only for a morning or an afternoon. At the same time, I think I wandered symptomatically. In this way, my walks were arguably healthy — an emotional reset at a time of high anxiety or incredible sadness.

Now, I feel compelled to incrementally resume the incremental wandering for a different reason — for the exposure. I feel that, when I wander now (as it also happened in the past, to an extent), I invariably end up replicating something like the subconscious patterning that happens when I dream — but while in a conscious state. Because my active mind isn’t tasked, it can go where it pleases, or needs to go. Because it isn’t completely at rest, I can more easily trace and recall the resultant paths it takes. This fosters learning.

It can be so easy to lose ourselves with all the somethings we need to do or obtain. It can be maddening, to always have to be somewhere, in pursuit of someone for some reason. Tasks and tactile goals and wants and needs — they all have value. But nothingness, I would argue, has an important role in life as well. Nothingness is not only the terrifying symbol of the mystery of death. It is not only The Void. Nothingness can strip away distraction and falsehood, can expose hollowness. In this way, it is capable of infusing the experience of living with virtue, virtue that comes directly from the self.

Value and virtue are subtly different things, and I wonder often about the space between them that defines their difference. I lately feel compelled to explore that space more fully.

How To Get Naked: Conditions for Artistic Liberation

CC image courtesy of rachel a. k. on Flickr

Not too long after I wrote my post about Creative Productivity, I saw this Tim Ferriss blog post titled: “Productivity” Tips for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me).
The post itself is interesting and pointed, and I recommend it. But it’s the quote that Ferriss leads off with, from the incomparable Neil Gaiman, that has my noodle noodling today.

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
– Neil Gaiman
University of the Arts Commencement Speech

Reading that again — I’m pretty sure I read or heard it already, but it was wonderful to re-encounter the words — struck me as appropriate, in terms of where I’m currently at in my development as an artist. In short, I’ve spent most of this past year “struggling” with and against a feeling of nakedness.

That being said, I’m the one who took all my clothes off.

I’ve written plenty about how things began to change for me, when I decided to make Multiverse and especially after it was in the can. I’ve been even more up front recently, here and in person during various conversations with friends old and new, about the struggles I was going through before deciding to make the film. I’ve also discussed some of the process of continuing the work of watching my own back as I go about seeking to sustain several significant changes I’ve made in my life over the past year or more.

But I haven’t talked much about how I’ve been feeling about this turn towards sharing more of myself, and/or the prospects of eventually introducing Multiverse to all of you and the world at large (which I’m eventually going to do).

In a word, it’s been scary.

Like so many (if not all) other artists, I believe I turned to storytelling, at a young age, as a means of introducing a safe arena of artificially-constructed order into a world that I found to be at least incrementally dangerous and chaotic. What evolved naturally over time into a “career” (quotes to be removed at time of financial solvency) began from these simple, delicate origins. To get to where I am today, where I can (somewhat) comfortably introduce my work en masse (to anyone who cares to see it) and sometimes even seek out attention for it (which I’ll likely be doing to an even greater extent in the future) several conditions had to be met.

These conditions, taken together, helped me get naked. Getting naked has helped liberate me, for the most part, from the constraints of doubt. It’s what’s allowed me to embrace productivity as a new norm in my creative life.

Time

Many of us have donned many layers, of clothing or armor made out of a mix of materials permeable and impermeable, over the course of our lives. This is normal and even necessary — to a point. Artist and creators, due to individualized compulsions similar to what I just discussed, are driven by the creative process to remove these layers. It can’t be done at once, and it can’t be done quickly. Getting naked is delicate work, as it should be. It takes time and patience. I say this in the hopes that it might help anyone who is not like me. I’ve been very impatient over the years. It didn’t help anything.

Work

This may seem like an obvious choice as a condition for artistic “success,” but it becomes less obvious when considered on its own, outside the realm of its symbiotic nature with the other items on this list. I’ve always worked hard. I’ve often worked too hard. I’ve sometimes worked hard to keep myself away from the real work of getting naked and being myself. Work must be a constant element of any journey towards long-term, authentic artistic expression.

Courage

I spent a good two or three years (arguably, many more) metaphorically thrashing my brain against a series of metaphorical walls, before I started breaking through with my work to the point where I could write and make Multiverse and begin developing subsequent projects that are similarly “more naked.” I worked a lot, and I put in time, but courage — real courage, to dive deep and go after what I really needed to go after, in order to reconcile my work with my realistic needs as a person — was hard to come by, for a long time. Somehow (perhaps due to the next item) I managed to build up enough of it, in fits and starts, to break through and accept what needed to be done. It was messy and the process got dark at many points, for long stretches. In so many words, meeting with real progress took throwing myself into the void. It took many painful, lonely nights. Me against the page, me against myself. It wasn’t pretty. Often, it was sad. I’m sharing these details because a lot of that behavior probably wasn’t necessary. The methods sprinkled throughout the aforementioned post on creative productivity are healthier ones — they take more courage to embrace and implement than those that are more in line with a standard “tortured artist” approach.

Support

Peer support engenders courage and helps strengthen work ethics and “pressures” us to put in the time. This has been proven, so I’m not going to go much further into it. Asking for and leaning on peer support is how we test the waters. We get naked in front of our friends — or like-minded strangers that share the interests and passions that drive us to create — and we see what happens. Maybe we react by rushing back into our clothes. Maybe, on certain occasions, this is necessary for the moment, until we return to try again. Alternatively, maybe we decide we’re okay to show more people our goodies.

Focus

I don’t think I ever would have reached an inner layer of creative expression without a consistent dedication towards focus. At times, I have perhaps been too focused. Sometimes, it’s important to lay back and let the eyes go hazy. For the most part, though, focus is an essential condition for gaining the perspective needed to find your voice over time. It can be a challenge, here and now, to maintain focus. There’s frequently a lot going on around us, and there’s more available to use in terms of distraction or procrastination than there has perhaps ever been before. That only makes dedicating ourselves to The Pursuit all the more crucial. Testing and developing systems is what’s working for me at the moment. I’m not always perfect about sticking to them but I’m starting to get good and always coming back to them as a penitent after I’ve strayed.

Conclusion: It’s Simpler Than We Think

I know this is a very simple list. That’s intentional. My own progress has historically suffered from a bit of ping-ponging between advancement and retreat over the past several years. More often than not, this happened because I was complicating the artistic process, and/or refusing to accept how simple all this really can be, if we have courage, put in the time, seek help and remain steadfast. As simple as it all is, it’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be.

Life often wars with art. In the rush to survive to keep on creating, we can become bogged down by necessity, smothered by doubt. But the beauty of true creativity is that it does not return life’s blows. Creation, in all of the above terms, is a regenerative process. That is the most important lesson I’ve learned in recent months.

Once all the clothing and the armor has been stripped away, once we are naked and vulnerable to whatever may come — it is then when we find our power. Because there’s little left to fear, no where else to hide.

At this point, we can’t help be anything but ourselves and no one can truly touch us who hasn’t brought himself or herself to a similar state.

If we become hurt in our exposure, there’s always the option of re-covering and re-armoring ourselves. But, in doing this after reaching a vulnerable state, we gain an immense advantage of knowing that can lead to remarkable accomplishment. We also always have the option of mobility — we can not only strip but we can also run naked through the streets if we are chased.

This, at the very least, should draw some attention.