The writer's motto

digital rendering of the author's motto This post is #15 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

Joy is all well and good in its way, but there are plenty of days when life is just a piece of shit.

The client rejects your proposal. The hard drive crashes. The post you worked on for days languishes unnoticed.

The check bounces, the sentences won't come together, the dog rips out the neighbor's flower bed. The letter comes back unopened. The mammogram comes back with a shadow. The migraine comes back, period.

Or, you know, the bottom drops out of the economy. Again.

Here's the deal, as I see it: we are here to live our damned lives until we are not, with no idea of when "not" is coming. The bus that is 20 minutes late to get you to a job interview could be fifty years early for the cyclist who swerves to avoid hitting a pedestrian and ends up suddenly ending. So it is incumbent upon us to really and truly LIVE those damned days, every last one of them, even the shit ones.

This can be a tough slog. Some days, resignation is all I can muster. But most days, I choose also to laugh at something, even if I'm the only thing handy. I choose to let things be messy and imperfect. (HIGHLY reluctantly, but whatever.) I choose to surround myself with things that comfort and soothe and amuse and bolster.

You have to have a calendar; why not have one by an amazing artist, or three, for that matter, so that whenever you look up to find a date, you're reminded of the beauty in the world?

You have to have walls; why not have art hanging there that inspires you?

You have to have a motto, well, actually, you don't. But if you were casting about for a good one, and you had a slightly black and perverse sense of humor, you could do worse than "Push the cocksucking boulder up the motherfucking hill." It's catchy. It works in march-like, 2/4 time. It has swears.

Which is why, when I approached the legendary Bee Franck to ask whether she would kindly contribute a desktop wallpaper to the 50-for-50 Project to benefit WriteGirl, I suggested she illustrate this sturdy and useful motto. And I guess it must have resonated with her, because immediately, she offered not only to do that, but:

  1. to create a cross-stitch pattern for the crafters (see illustration at the top of this post)
  2. to stitch one up herself with her own two hands
  3. to donate it, framed and shipped, to the cause!
Bee finished it this weekend and now one lucky bidder can be the owner of this magnificent work of inspirational art:

framed original cross-stitch by bee franck

So. Let's recap. Need some personal bolstering in a world falling to pieces? You can...

(And of course, you can sing along with the song anytime you want for FREE!)

Remember, as bad as the world you're dealing with is right now, the one we're handing off to the next generation is probably going to be worse. Just sayin'! WriteGirl is helping turn amazing high school girls into the strong, confident, awesome women leaders we're all going to need tomorrow. Give what you can to help them and we'll all be better off for it.


xxx c

Moving toward vs. getting rid of

a LOT of ice cream flavors posted on the wallDuring last night's first meeting of the Big Artist Workshop, gentle genius Chris Wells (hey! he won an Obie!) shared the most useful hack I've ever heard of for dealing with one's art as a focus-challenged person:

Don't worry about letting go of things; think instead of what you would most like to move toward.

Like most shifts in thinking, it will probably end up being profound because it is so simple. I have trouble letting go of stuff, because the decisions are too painful. So I don't: I now turn my attention toward the one thing I am moving toward right now. Those other things? Those other ideas for projects and stories and songs and books and demands on my limited attention? We'll talk about what they're for later, when we understand it. For now, it's enough to know that I can safely move toward this one thing.

The class was full of so much goodness, it fairly blew my mind.


Image by olliethebastard via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

What I do when I'm not inspired to do anything


Those of you with a touch of mania understand the glorious thrill of getting gobs of stuff done.

And I'm not talking about stuff you can cross off of a list (although that's nice, too): I'm talking about the wildly productive times in your week, month, year when it feels like you're surfing wave after wave of ideas, gently (but gloriously, and thrillingly) supported by the powerful, shifting, magical waters of inspiration beneath you. Good times, a.k.a. cowabunga.

I get that because I've got a touch of the mania, myself. And a healthy (or not) streak of Calvinism, and a predisposition towards "-aholism", so far, the "work-" kind, but I know enough to stay on the alert for the others, as well. My most comfortable setting is "full-bore"; unfortunately, up until recently, the only other setting I could find was "off," and "off" is a bitch for maniacs. I realize now, after years and years (and, um, years) of therapy that because I love operating in "full-bore" mode so much, I got used to operating in it under all conditions, with and without inspiration, or sleep, or oil, or what have you, until I'd lost the sense of what it felt to really surf the waves.

Fellow surfers and maniacs, this may surprise you as much as it did me, but not every day is a wave day. (Or week, or month, or year, even, but more on that in another post.) There are days (and weeks and months and yes, goddammit, years) when it seems like everyone else around you is up on their boards, inspired as a mofo, surfing the hell out of those ideas, while you are left to softly weep and/or curse what feels like incessant paddling for piddling surf-action, or a complete disinterest in the whole thing entirely. Entirely! As in, "Why am I even at this stupid beach in a stupid spring suit when I really want to be watching Cops at the Surf Shack over a tallboy?"

The answer, sometimes, is as simple as "because you're supposed to be at the Surf Shack drinking a tallboy over Cops, dumbass." Other times, it's something not as simple, like a physiological something-or-other that needs sorting, more sleep or less sugar or fewer tallboys, even. It is beyond the scope of a silly, silly blog (or even this most excellent one) to address the exact underlying cause of your misery.

However, because I am me, I will lob a few things over the net for you to think about. This is a list of stuff that's worked for me in the short term (when I can remember to do one of them, anyway), so your mileage will almost assuredly vary, but it may spark something.

1. Switch that shit up. If you're in front of the computer, walk away. Far away, to the closest bit of nature and/or living manifestation of the animal kingdom that you can find. Lately, I've taken to enjoying two (short) meals per day on the backyard patio with a book and Arno J., who I'm pretty sure is only there in the hopes that I will either drop some of the food (fat chance, dog) or cave and let him lick the plate when I'm done.

On the other hand, if you're not at a computer, if you're painting or tinkering or what-have-you in a real-world fashion and it's not coming together, switch that shit up, anyway. Or, if you're tired, rest. Rest is switching, too, maniacs.

2. Take a walk. When you're stuck, and every day, even when you're not. Some people swear by swimming or running; I've always loathed both, so I'm not qualified to speak to their efficacy. A walk, sans iPod, will almost always do it, though. And (BONUS EXTRA) a walk done regularly seems to stave off some of the fallow time.

3. Clean something small. Your sink. A not-too-challenging shelf or drawer. A tabletop. A computer file folder, if you haven't been spending too much time in front of the computer already. Something that will either prime the pump (your small thing is a test to see if that's what's needed) or act as a mental palate cleanser. (BONUS EXTRA: sense of accomplishment, which is great for maniacs.)

If you look at these three sample things, you can see that they all have to do with reflection, rejuvenation or high-level procrastination. They're all components of staying motivated and inspired, and you can plug any one of them into Google and it will likely return all sorts of other ideas, if you haven't thought of them already. But that last, high-level procrastination, I have found to be most useful for me as a true maniac. I'm not good at sitting still and I'm really bad at napping, but boy, do I like to putter. And for me, the puttering is often a way out of the doldrums.

As I hinted at, above, these are sometime-solutions for short-term lack of inspiration and motivation. Long-term wandering in the desert is another story for another day (and one I've got a fair amount of experience with, as well, so perhaps there will be another post on another day).

Also, a little kindness and a little perspective go a long, long way. Self-flagellation might have been good for martyrs, but it rarely works for producing great works*.

And finally (for now, anyway), please do yourself this small favor and remind yourself that it was not ever thus. You will be inspired again, and motivated, and manic, and surf-y. Until you're not.

There's just a way these things work. And don't...



Image by Mike Baird via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

*See my friend, the great Jeffrey Zeldman, for more on this. That man has surfed more waves and, I'm sure, been beached on more shores already than I will in my hopefully-long lifetime.

Quotation of the Day: "Me, Too" Edition

I'm inspired by new people every day, certainly, but most of all by artists who are living out their dreams and constantly creating and thinking and offer as much by their example of how they live their lives as their work itself." , "lustylady", in the comments section of a Lifehacker post on who inspires you

On the other side of fear, there's a small ink drawing

ink sketch of phoneA year, no, probably closer to two years ago, I was at The Art Store (no, seriously, it's called "The Art Store") buying sumpin' or other, when I saw the sign on the locked glass case: "Koh-i-noor, 50% off." Now, if art stores (like computer stores and office supply stores) are to me as hardware stores are to most guys and jewelry stores are to most girls, the Rapidograph case is like where they keep the specialty-use Mikita saws or the anything if you're at Tiffany & Co. I could buy one of everything at the art store (or The Art Store) whether I needed one or not, but Rapidographs...well, shit, son, you need y'self at least five of those. For your different liiiine widths and whatnot...

To my credit, I did not slap down the Visa then and there; I actually left the store and thought about it for a week. (After making sure the sale would still be on, of course.) Then I came back, paid the man, and trotted off with my shiny new box of SEVEN, count 'em, SEVEN Rapidographs like the panting dog that I am. Upon reaching home, I immediately propped them up on a shelf to admire them in their pretty new case...and never touched them again.

Until yesterday, that is. I did under duress what I would not let myself do out of mere desire. Because while discussing a particular design job I'm working on right now, I threw out an idea that required drawing. By me. Now. (Idiot...idiot...)

For someone who grew up with a pen in her hand, I'm not a very good draw-er. I guess the problem was that I was using it to write at least as much as to draw. Because for every time I'd long to be Hilary Knight, I'd want just as fervently, or more so, to be Kay Thompson. R. Crumb, Edward Gorey, Aubrey Beardsley; Dorothy Parker, Charles Bukowski, Joan Didion. So many twisted, miserable lifestyles; so little time.

Ultimately, I decided I was a better writer than I was an artist. And since I couldn't be a great artist, I would go with my strong suit and let the drawing go entirely.

It's a shame, this idea I've held so long: that we can only do One Thing. That creativity can't express itself through multiple, if imperfect, outlets. That I must be truly great at something to earn the right to spend time working, or even playing, at it. I've probably missed out on a lot over the years because of it. But lately I've been finding that I enjoy dabbling, a little cooking, a little sewing, a little guitar-pickin', a little blogging. I'm finally loosening my iron grip on perfectionism as a way of life, and wouldn't you know, life's getting to be more fun. Messier, scarier, and even dirtier (all this fun leaves little time for scrubbing grout with a toothbrush), but a lot more fun.

So I must pause, briefly, to thank those brave, multitalented souls who came before me for putting themselves out there, for exploring their truths via their eclectic, complex selves, so fearlessly and inspiringly. Evelyn Rodriguez, a.k.a. The Zen Mistress of Business, who is a constant reminder that binary thinking is not not nearly as activating (not too mention fun) as a crazy cocktail of influences. Hugh MacLeod, who's crackerjack marketing-smart AND a draw-er of some of the funniest, filthiest cartoons ever AND doesn't see a disconnect with being both. My new bud, Michael Nobbs, who introduced me to peops like Trevor Romain and Danny Gregory, all of whom made it possible for me to believe that great art and great writing weren't mutually exclusive, that they could reside happily within the same sentient being, that one might actually inform and enrich the other.

You guys make it a little less scary to post this picture. And the idea of picking up a sketchbook at The Art Store positively thrilling.

xxx c