I just got back from a week in Jamaica and it was a pivotal turning point in my life and career.
I shouldn’t be thinking of you.
I’m in Jamaica. To shoot a series of styled pieces.
But I promised my Medium tribe a postcard, and while I only have an hour of Internet a day, I am spending that time working on this post. Because I miss you and I also want to gloat a little.
White Boy Being Hustled and Loving Every Minute (part 2)
My business partner and I were introduced to a lovely young man. We will call him D so he doesn’t get in trouble for taking us off the premises.
D couldn’t help but laugh whenever I gesticulated about how resort life was killing me. I wanted to see the people, eat real Jamaican food and get past the security guards and twenty foot high walls. D agreed to take us. “No problem.”
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.
1. It is your duty to not have it all figured out.
Often, meeting someone new starts with a question. What do you do? Or, for those in University, what is your major?
The person asking the question is pushing an agenda, whether they mean to or not. They want their social standing validated. They spent years of effort and sacrifice in order to live lacklustre, if comfortable, lives. They collect titles like trophies and display them proudly.
For those of us who don’t have it all figured out, we sense the social pressure that comes with these simple questions. We are supposed to pin a label haphazardly to our chest, so that others in our community can judge the value we bring.
But what if we just quit our job and no longer have a valid title? Or what if we are thinking of changing majors, or even dropping out of school?
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.