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?

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In Our Elements

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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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3 Reasons It’s Wise to Know Your Limits

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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

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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The Consequences of Not Following Your “One True Path”

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I believe that we all have a north star; a shining light that guides us down the “one true path.” “The one true path” is our own unique road that leads to the fulfillment of our calling, our all-consuming passion, our sole mission in life.

When we’re not following our unique path that was designed solely for us by God, by the Universe, or by biology, bad things happen.

Bad symptoms manifest: we develop diseases—mental illness, depression, and anxiety. We develop neuroses—our self, or our spirit, becomes divided. We develop dirtied characters—we become angry and self-absorbed, we fight, we shoot bombs at countries with differing politics, we argue and injure others and, in the process, we injure ourselves.

To reiterate, I believe that the reason for many of these symptoms—both on an individual and societal level—is because many of us ignore our north star. We deny our authentic selves, and instead live through our conditioned selves (the self moulded and pressured by society, by parents, by friends).

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Determination—An Important Mindset Every Artist Must Have

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You and I have our creative dreams, our desires, our passions. Some of us were lucky to be born with an artistic talent. Some of us found our calling later in life. Either way, there’s something we are meant to do with ourselves, with our one shot at life.

Believe me, you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have that something inside you, bustling to break free—a talent, a perspective, a story.

The very fact that you’re reading these words means that you have creative energy—whatever shape or form or colour that creativity may come in.

Only you know what you’re meant to do in life. Only I know what I’m meant to do. We each have our little patch of grass to water and fertilize with care and tenderness, to defend with all our grit.

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If You’re Not Doing This, You’ll Fail As a Creative

A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.

—Henri Matiss

When I read that quote, it immediately resonated.

I can’t paint. But I believe that this quote’s meaning can apply to me. And if you do creative work of any kind, it can apply to you too.

Take the quote and try replacing the word ‘painter’ with ‘writer’ or ‘musician’ or ‘creative person.’

A young creative person who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.

To me, this quote is about the importance of embracing what today has to offer. It’s about rolling with the punches. It’s about learning from your domain’s past work, but also freeing yourself from that work.

It’s about appreciating the present time you live in, and adapting to it.

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Two Contradictory Elements That Are Crucial to Your Creative Success

Nobody can sustain slogging through a high-energy period for long. You burn out, lose focus, trip up.

Creative People seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion. Usually each of us tends to be one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of the crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show…Creative individuals, on the other hands, seem to express both traits at the same time.

—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (last name pronounced ‘cheek sent me high’)

Solitude and solidarity: To succeed, creative people need these two (opposing) assets.

Solitude

Solitude is probably most important. It involves staying away from the chaos of everyday life. It means finding enough privacy to hear your deepest thoughts and connect with your authentic self.

Not everybody likes being alone; some desperately avoid it. Solitude often causes loneliness, sadness; a forsaken life.

Most people like being with others—sharing a hearty laugh and creating memories. Getting outside yourself, joining groups, and building relationships with others—these are all things that bring happiness. (Psychologists say the happiest people are usually the most social.)

If you over-identify with others, though, whatever creative energy and uniqueness you have dwindles.

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50 Quotes that Will Replenish Your Creative Reserves

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Today I want to share with you a list of the most inspiring creative quotes that really resonate with me. When you read something that resonates, it cuts to the bone and can change your attitude and the way you look at life. All of these quotes have done that for me. I hope they will do the same for you.

“There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” —Martha Graham

“I don’t think there’s any artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.”—Francis Ford Coppola

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”—Jack London 

“The weeds keep multiplying in our garden, which is our mind ruled by fear. Rip them out and call them by name.”—Sylvia Browne

“Nothing is done. Everything in the world remains to be done or done over. The greatest picture is not yet painted, the greatest play isn’t written, the greatest poem is unsung. There isn’t in all the world a perfect railroad, nor a good government, nor a sound law. Physics, mathematics, and especially the most advanced and exact of the sciences are being fundamentally revised. . . Psychology, economics, and sociology are awaiting a Darwin, whose work in turn is awaiting an Einstein.” —Lincoln Steffens

“No I won’t back down. You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down. No I’ll stand my ground. Won’t be turned around. And I’ll keep this world from dragging me down. Gonna stand my ground…and I won’t back down.”—Tom Petty

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