Why Are We Gathering Rocks?

rocks

Image by Straaf (Creative Commons)

To one-day build a castle of our own, right?

At one point in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Choke, the protagonist’s best friend, Dennis, starts gathering rocks compulsively. He’s doing it to distract his mind from his sex addiction. When the protagonist asks Dennis why he’s doing it, Dennis just spews some babble about how he doesn’t know, and that he’ll know once he accumulates enough rocks.

Towards the end of the story, Dennis lugs home and accumulates so many chunks of stone that he decides to start building a structure of some kind. Though he doesn’t know what kind of building it’ll be. He just starts spreading mortar and sticking rocks together, one by one, until he builds a wall, and then another wall.

I thought this was a great metaphor for the creative process of any artist. We spend so much time accumulating things—experiences, knowledge, wisdom, inspiration, and the work of other artists. If we’re an up and coming director or actor, we watch movies and T.V. shows obsessively. If we’re trying to bust into the writing scene, we’ll devour as many books and articles as we can. We’re in the apprentice stage, gathering and consuming and digesting.

Thing is, we’ve gotta know when to end our apprenticeship and start the creative phase of our lives. We’ve gotta know when to stop lugging home those rocks (watching other films, reading other novels, etc.) and start building something of our own.

Although the apprentice phase is helpful, even essential, to our own creative evolution, we can overindulge. To the point where we shift from the dream of becoming active creators to the frustrating reality of becoming slothful, passive consumers.

Question to you is: Do you need to gather more rocks, or should you start slapping ‘em together?

Answering the Bell

Image by by Yellow.Cat (Creative Commons)

Image by by Yellow.Cat (Creative Commons)

In reading dozens of biographies of artists, writers, musicians, and more, and experiencing this myself, it’s obvious that all creative people face a defining moment in their lives.

A sounding bell marks that moment. And we can either answer it, or ignore it.

If we answer the call, we can begin our lives as real artists, by using our creativity and embracing our own weirdness.

If we ignore the call, we have no choice but to conform, be complacent and agreeable, silence our inner voices, quell our wild energy with the help of drugs or therapy, and live a normal, compliant life.

This moment, this turning point, marks a bittersweet feeling in the hearts of those who experience it. It’s bittersweet, because we can either finally understand who we are, or we can reject the face we see in the mirror. We can either detach ourselves from the opinions and expectations of others and live with empowerment and self-governance, or we can grip ever more tightly to the chains of conformity, hoping that one day the world will like us, accept us, and see us as “normal.”

Tough decision. I know.

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In Our Elements

Image by sweetron1982 (Creative Commons)

What do I mean by element?

Sir Ken Robinson wrote a book on it. Being in our elements is doing the thing we’re meant to do, the thing that deeply satisfies us, the thing we’re naturally good at, the thing that stirs our souls and that we simply can’t live without.

For Adrian Peterson—see last week’s post—his element is running. For Eminem, it’s laying poetic rhymes over a beat. For Dave Chappelle, comedy. A dog prancing through a muddy field is in their element. Well, at least that applies to my dog, Cooper.

On our walk through the park today, the conditions were just right for Coop. Heavy winds gusted across the field. Little kids were scattered everywhere, walking home from school. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. The snow glistened. And there were brief stretches of hilly, hardened grass for him to gallop on.

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Living Out Your Soul’s Image

ap galloping

Adrian Peterson—NFL running back of the Minnesota Vikings—is one of the greatest backs in the history of pro football. He’s also living, breathing evidence of “destiny” and “calling.” When you watch this man run, you can’t help but say to yourself, “this dude was born to run.”

When Adrian Peterson gallops around defenders and dashes to the end zone, you know he’s in his “element.” I’ve heard recently that he even has aspirations to run in the 2016 Olympics—the 200 and 400-meter dash.

It doesn’t surprise me.

If you could catch Peterson’s destiny with the flash of a camera, with an image, it would be of him running in his signature galloping grace. It doesn’t matter whether he’s running in the NFL or the Olympics, on grass or track—either way he’s fulfilling his destiny as a pure runner.

I believe that we too have our own destiny. And our density, like Adrian’s, can also be captured in an “image.”

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How to Develop Your Mind, Toughen Your Spirit, And Eventually Change Your DNA

Struggle is what turns the hairy caterpillar into a graceful butterfly

When a creative person first embarks on his or her journey, they enter a very telling phase. They make sacrifices, immerse themselves in their craft, absorb the rules, learn the classics, and struggle to churn out their own (awkward) work. They refine their skills as they toil along.

Maybe it’s an apprenticeship period—lasting five to ten years—or maybe it’s a particular project—lasting, say, a year or two.

When we complete this phase—this apprenticeship or project—we come out the other end a changed person. To friends and family, we may even look different. But our appearance hasn’t really changed. No—we’ve changed in other ways.

Our brains have stretched; newer and stronger neural connections have been made; we’ve trained ourselves to study longer, to think deeper, to focus more intensely, and to learn new skills.

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3 Reasons It’s Wise to Know Your Limits

Image by кофе (Creative Commons)

We’re often told by elders and motivational speakers to “shoot for the stars,” and that “our potential is limitless.” I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s something wrong about these statements. I think that accepting your limits in life is always more beneficial than being ignorant of them. Here’s why:

1)    Knowing your limits is motivating.

Being told that my potential is limitless paralyzes me: What if I don’t reach that potential? Am I flawed if I don’t? Should I be working harder to achieve this grand potential? Is what I’m doing now not good enough?

When these destructive questions and thoughts flood my mind, they deflate my creative confidence. They de-energize my spirit. When I hear that I should “shoot for the stars,” I lift my focus too far ahead, instead of channelling it to where I am now—the grindstone, the task at hand. When I hear that my “potential is limitless,” I look at completed work and berate myself for it not being good enough.

Who would want to live a life like that, one that’s never quite good enough? (This is how artists take to drink and unproductive bouts of self-loathing.)

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Be Who You Are

“If we are always striving to be something more and something different, we dillute the power of what it is we actually are.” Julia cameron

Is it really so hard to just be who we are without constantly striving to be more, better, stronger, smarter?  What’s wrong with how we are now, at this very moment? There’s something to be said about “being comfortable in your own skin”—beyond the reason of making a fool out of yourself in a social setting. Being comfortable in your own skin is divine, potent, powerful. For creative people, their kernel of uniqueness is their greatest advantage.

We don’t read writers or listen to artists who are trying to be like another writer or artist. We enjoy art because it takes us to a place we’ve never been before—behind another person’s distinct perspective. It allows us to enjoy that particular artist’s unique set of skills.

Why, then, do we fuss about trying to be better than, or different from, who we are, when “who we are” is what makes us so powerful, desirable? As artists, why are we trying to build upon ourselves, when our “selves” is what makes us artists? As a writer, why am I always trying to force myself to write this way or that, to be more like this person or that, when who I already am—and what I’m already good at—is good enough?

Just as the protagonist does in Paulo Cohelo’s novel the Alchemist, it’s like we’re leaving home to search for our treasure, when our treasure/ power/ salvation is already within, at home base.

Forget the idea of always trying to learn a skill or adopt a style that doesn’t feel natural to us. Let’s figure out what comes easy to us, and do that. That’s where the gold lies.

Forget self-improvement books. I’ve been there—there’s no salvation in them. Salvation will come when we develop the courage to trash the books/ blogs/ articles/ audiotapes and learn to value, accept, and be comfortable with who we already are. Now, that doesn’t mean we aren’t striving and self-actualizing, it just means we’re striving towards “authentic goals,” instead of goals that merely inflate our bank accounts and boost our self-image.

Here’s my point: When we indulge in excessive “self-improvement,” we stretch further and further away from our centre, from what we’re intuitively good at. We’re telling ourselves that we’re not good enough as is. We are. We’re indicating to our unconscious that we don’t believe we have the internal resources to get what we want in life. We do.

Everything we’ll ever need is already within us. That is, of course, if we’re marching towards “authentic goals.” If we’re chasing money, prestige or fame, of course we’ll need a manual to tell us how to do it—because we’re not naturally designed or equipped to take on that kind of life. On the other hand, when we step into the ring to do what we were born to do, our natural instincts and inherent powers will activate and carry us to where we need to go. 10-step self-help manuals need not apply.

Can you imagine if 10, 000 years ago cave men sat around fretting about how their self-esteem wasn’t quite where it needed to be to hunt their dinner for the evening? No, they didn’t have the time or the luxury to worry about these superficial kinds of things. They were already hard-wired to get what they wanted, what they needed.

Where the hell has that rugged, self-reliant spirit gone? Seriously: we need a manual to tell us how to live now?

Screw that. We should be focusing on things we’re inherently good at, like making art, making short-films, writing dramas or comedies or tragedies.

As the great comedian George Carlin once said, “Why do so many people need help? Life is not that complicated—you get up, you go to work, you eat three meals, you take one shit and you go back to bed. What’s the fucking mystery?”

I miss George Carlin.

Best,

Aaron

The Importance of Clearing out Psychic Space/ Creative Anxiety

2

What my head looks like when I do too much reading and not enough writing

Last night I felt agitated and drained, as if I put in a solid day’s work—yet I didn’t feel satisfied, probably because I didn’t accomplish a thing. I spent my entire Saturday reading. I also did some thinking about a novel that’s growing in a shady, back quarter of my head. The result? I felt overstuffed, overfilled with information, facts, ideas, musings.

And I didn’t clear out any of that psychic goo. I had piled a bunch of brown boxes into my mental storage space, but didn’t do any cleaning. I didn’t release any creative tension—I just kept refilling and refilling and refilling, and by 9 pm I felt dizzy and confused and very, very frustrated.

Lesson learned? I’m supposed to be creating, writing—not jamming my brain with facts and information to the point where I feel psychologically bloated and exhausted. Damn it, I want to use my creativity and exercise my imagination, not keep my powers dwindling on the sidelines.

Note to self: I need to do more writing and less refilling. A balance of input and output is needed. If I don’t actively workout my creative muscles, passively feeding them with more juice will only make me feel mentally bloated, listless and clueless. It’s important that as I restock the well, I also simultaneously lighten the existing load.

Cognitive overflow makes me feel crazy. Relieving creative tension, on the other hand, keeps me sane.

Best,
Aaron.

Image by ryochiji (Creative Commons)

Lessons from the NFL: Don’t Be Afraid to Get in the Game

Andrew Luck: An undaunted rookie

Often I look at the success of my favourite writers, the legends who have come before me, and I get discouraged. Their massive, loyal cult-like followings intimidate me. I marvel at how perfectly these writers craft their sentences, their chapters, their stories, their ideas. It hurts to compare their superior voices to my own.

Since I started taking my writing seriously, this inferiority feeling of mine had started to grow. And to this day, the self-doubt, the self-defeating thoughts still haunt me—Who am I to call myself a writer? Who am I to start a blog? Have I anything to say? Why would people read my words when they can get lost in Hemingway’s pithy style or Malcolm Gladwell’s intellectual adventures?

The World Welcomes New Comers

And then last Sunday, I had a realization. It came as I watched some season-opening football. Did you catch any of the games? There were a slew of starting rookie quarterbacks.

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A Quick Update on Where I’ve Been

Hey readers,

You may have been wondering where I’ve been and why I haven’t posted to my blog in the last few weeks. So if you don’t mind, let me fill you in.

But first, I want to introduce you to my new puppy. His name is Cooper and he’s a borador; a half lab half collie. He’s very, very smart as I’ve been taking him to puppy training :). Here are some pics.

Okay, now here’s why I haven’t been active on my blog recently. This summer I’d been taking a couple courses to finish up my degree and I wrapped it up a couple weeks ago. I’m now an official U of T graduate :D. There I studied professional writing and philosophy.

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