By its very nature, work sucks.
If work was easy, my life would be a medieval painting of smiling and sensual artisans, living the life of leisure as we create masterpieces with the deft bending of nothing but our glorious will. When we weren’t frolicking in the fields and rolling in the hay, that is.
Sadly, or thankfully, I don’t live in a utopia.
Let’s call a spade the dirty, blister-creating, piece-of-shit implement that it is.
My life is a mess of procrastination, avoidance, stress, and panic. I blunder from disaster to failure searching for those forgotten moments where something happens and my numbing efforts “pay off.”
Over ninety percent of what I do is preparation: endless days wandering with my camera producing crap, sketching, writing, vomiting my soul messily onto paper and cleaning up the mess.
So why is there such a stigma to spending our time in this manner?
I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Michelle Stafford got me thinking about this when she responded to my last article about avoidance.
“I’ve already thrown lots of work [at my current art project] and yet I’m gonna have to throw lots more at it. Which I should have done yesterday. What did I do instead? Rearrange my art area.”
I don’t mean to pick on Michelle. I adore her work and her writing. She simply identifies what all of us creators feel on a daily basis.
She shines a light on the evil serpent whispering in our mind. He is a slippery bastard with powerful allies.
We are taught to worship the outcomes of our labor and not the dirty, blood-soaked, and muddy efforts from which they are truly born.
Only to become glorified cleaners – twenty hours of scrubbing, sanitizing and scraping for every hour of brewing beer.
If they treated the cleaning as unrelated to the brewing, I doubt they would have the motivation to keep going. And the world would be a sadder place for it as they are creating some of the finest beers I have ever tasted.
I don’t think the cleaning is fun, but it is integral to their craft.
My friend Douglas just spent two months organizing his workshop. He emailed me because he was struggling with this investment of his time.
“I wondered about the tension I feel between creating and organizing. I wondered whether organizing was in fact a form of creating, and then thought you might know something about this, or could write about it in case you’re looking for ideas.”
I think he may have stumbled on the crux of the issue: that organizing, cleaning and preparation are not separate from creation. They are the craft.
I need to repeat that. They are the work, not the cost of the work.
It’s time to embrace the dirty work of preparation – to be mindful and present as we clean, scrape, prepare and struggle.
For that is where creation lies.
So welcome to the dirty. Grab a shovel and then join me for a beer at the end of the day, with nothing to show but our grit covered hands and a slightly less disorganized workspace.
I’ve come to forgive myself for most of them, anyway.
Being a financial moron
I was in confounding debt and had just quit my full-time job. My plan was ridiculously naive: turn what little talent and gear I had into a full-time living as a professional photographer. To my credit, I managed to survive and land enough gigs to almost pay my bills. Only, I was so desperate for paying gigs that I ended up doing work that made me want to cry.
Most of my revenue was coming from corporate events. Worse, I was charging dear friends ridiculous rates for headshots in order to deal with a growing panic and inability to make ends meet.
I began to dread photography gigs. I had turned away from a successful career at age 40 to follow my heart. To begin to hate photography was to rip out a part of my soul and pour lemon juice into the wound.
Craft and Craftsmanship may be the most maligned and misunderstood concepts of the 21st century.
Which is strange, as we love to idolize craftsmanship. Wood chips fly and the camera pans slowly across the cluttered workshop as the artist bends over a worktable, lost in their work. We admire these individuals. They have a calm gravitas about them and seem to understand something about their place in the world that we can’t quite attain or grasp.
But it is not for us. Craftsmanship is for those strange souls who have endless hours to devote to these ancient, superficial arts. After all, how many lathed pepper shakers do we need?
We have our jobs.
Only many of us harbour a deep secret; our job is no longer enough. We yearn for deep and meaningful work.
“Whether you approach the activity of going deep from the perspective of neuroscience, psychology or lofty philosophy, these paths all seem to lead back to a connection between depth and meaning. It’s as if our species has evolved into one that flourishes in depth and wallows in shallowness.” — Cal Newport, Deep Work. Grand Central Publishing, 2016.
I am excited to be participating in a blog carnival this week! A blog carnival is where a bunch of bloggers all do a story on a particular subject. In this case, the subject is, "How to stay creatively inspired" and you will be able to see all the awesome stories here.
I think there are two parts to this topic. The stated objective of staying inspired and the implied task of staying active in our creative pursuits. The former being impossible and the latter feeling like an impossible or at least Herculean task.
Cue one of my favourite quotes on this topic.
“Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
― Chuck Close
I don't mean to imply that inspiration doesn't exist or that it isn't important. I don't believe this was Chuck's intention either. What I am saying is that inspiration is not the force that sees us through. It does not motivate us to continue when the path becomes obscured or treacherous. It does not fuel us on those dreary days where we would rather just stay in bed for a few more hours. And it does nothing to help bring us back to that half finished piece discarded in a corner of our studio.
Inspiration is wonderful when it strikes and I am learning to capture its whims and fancies in a notebook for later reference or review.
But what keeps me moving forward is a dogged pursuit of something. It is the commitment to getting up two hours early each day to begin my daily creative ritual. It is found in the dedication of time every day to a creative pursuit or craft.
It is the showing up and the getting down to work, no matter how cold, dreary or un-motivating the day feels, that keeps us moving forward.
The tools that I have found helpful in this pursuit are as follows. There are three.
- A written purpose or calling that I can devote my heart and soul to.
- A daily ritual. Creating that time and place every day where I show up to do the work.
- A splash of Naiveté. A touch of ignorance and youthful determination goes a long way.
Artists are not formed of whimsy and fanciful notions. They are born out of a duty to something higher. They are born from the dedication to march forward, no matter how unqualified or insignificant they feel. They have been called and their choice is simple – answer the calling or turn away and hide.
If you want to explore this more, here are two short videos that might be of interest to you.