Confessions of a Creative Info-Maniac

These days, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum:

Coin Side 1:  I feel like I want to use my voice to encourage the creative process and inspire people to become brilliant innovators that create cosmic shifts in the world around them.

Coin Side 2:  I don’t want to be just another blabbering person with strong opinions adding to the deafening white noise that’s already flooding cyberspace and inundating our minds with endless to-do lists and heavy duty how-to strategery.

This two-sided coin flipping around in my head isn’t just…in my head.  It’s a tortured reality I live with every day.  I would despise becoming the very thing that I am trying to resist being sucked into.

You see, I confess that I’ve become quite an info-maniac.  Nothing can trip me up more quickly and easily than a Twitter byte about some fresh-off-the-press-and-incredibly-earth-shatteringly-amazing new blog post from some uber-significant guru…or a Facebook link from some killer new website with a tribe of thousands who are flocking to gobble up the latest juicy advice on how to be better, bigger, more recognizable, more famous, more connected, more organized, more productive, more spiritual…and yes, even more creative.

I’m an addict in the truest sense.  I confess it out loud to you.  If left unmonitored, I could read that junk all day!  (This very public gesture is one of my first baby steps towards ultimate recovery.)  You see, I can never seem to get enough of how to be a better version of…me.  I don’t know if anyone will ever write the article that leaves me thinking, “you know, thanks…but I’ve already got that topic LOCKED!  I’m good. Thanks anyway.”  I’m always a sucker for the elusive tidbit that will somehow make me more savvy.

I just simply love learning about new things, new ways of doing things, new perspectives, new insight and new ideas.  I love new trends in fashion, new technology, new music and new movies.  I can’t seem to get enough of the innovative and unique, the never-before-seen, the ground-breaking and chart-topping.  I crave the fantastic and clever and ingenious and disarming. I find all of it just so fascinating.

I must also admit that I have no sustainable resistance against the allure of being one of “the chosen ones” who gets the inside dish.  So I sign up for blog feeds…like a junky would put a dealer on their speed dial. Innocently enough, most of them are about creativity, spirituality, or the business of doing art.  (Because I want to be more responsible.  I want to be a better artist.  I want my work and my life to have more meaning.  And I want to run a better business…don’t I?!)

But in the spirit of true confession, I need to admit the ridiculous thing:  I never read the feeds.  What kind of junky stockpiles the drugs and never shoots up?!  Oh, I’ve taken the time to subscribe to the feeds.  They pour into my inbox every single day.  I even created a special folder that they automatically get sorted into.  But I never take the time to read them.  At last count, I had almost 1,000 unread blog posts in the “special” folder in my inbox.  That’s just ridiculous.

But rather than beat myself up for being lazy or a small thinker or unmotivated or afraid, I’ve given myself the grace to get inside my own head and see what’s really going on…and I think I’ve stumbled on to something BIG…at least for me.

The barrage of information that I receive on any given day has morphed into some kind of supernatural wall of white noise for me…and to be honest, I can’t hear a stinkin’ thing.  I’ve taken in so much “helpful” information that I could feed on it for the rest of my life and never go hungry.  My “to-do” lists are so long, I could work on them diligently for the rest of my life and never get them all done.  I have so many “how-to” directives running around in my head that I could try a new strategy every single day for the rest of my life, and I’d never reach the levels of success or popularity or fame or fortune that they all pretend to deliver…because my thinking would be someone else’s thoughts and someone else’s plans, with someone else’s goals compared to someone else’s standards.  I would be fragmented, confused and distracted, at best.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to come across as unteachable or unduly defiant. But somewhere along the way, we’ve been force-fed so much “good” information by well-intended people that we forget how to think for ourselves.  We lose the payoff that comes from hacking through a problem on our own, because 42 million bloggers have already solved all of life’s problems for us.  We stop listening to the voice inside of us, because the myriad of voices around us drown it out…because they’re smart and famous and important and significant.  And we’re just…us.

Here’s the point I’m really getting at:  Watching re-runs of Oprah will not make you a better person.  Reading Seth Godin’s blog will not make you better at marketing. Subscribing to Indigenous Worship will not make you a better worshiper.  Getting The Wall Street Journal will not make you into a Fortune 500 company.  All of these sources have important information that will influence the you of tomorrow, but not a single one of them can MAKE you into the thing you so desperately want to become.

Quite simply, we’ve lost the courage to be uniquely and wonderfully us.  We’ve lost the patience and tenacity to see things through to the finish.  We’d rather read about the us that could be, rather than embracing and living whole-heartedly the us that already is.  It takes too much work…and it takes waaaay too much time.

The very best thing you could ever do for your heart and your art and your family and your friendships and your marriage and your community and your creativity is to just shut off all of the white noise.  Shut it off.  If it means not Twittering for a while…or God forbid, signing off of Facebook for some time…DO IT!  Have the guts to do what it takes to disconnect from the white noise so that you can listen…to YOU.

Listen to your own voice.  Listen to your dreams.  Listen to your brain crunching through a maze-like problem…and hear the sweet refrain of the solution that comes from what seems like out of nowhere.  Quiet your heart and your mind, and listen to the melody of deferred hopes and the sad songs of disappointment.  Dive deeper and listen to the complex symphonies of creativity and innovation.  Feel the reverberations of the groaning strings of desire and want and need.  Listen to the lyrics that lie dormant in the depths of who you are.  Listen to the whispers of the One who created you to “be all that you can be”.

You see last week, in a fit of defiance, I “fired” all of my “executive counsel”.  All except for a few that I would literally take to a desert island with me, like my pastors, some “fathers of the faith”, and dear friends.  I fired the dozens and dozens of blog feeds that I had subscribed to for my quick, brainless fixes for the day.  The ones that told me I didn’t have it all together…that I wasn’t doing enough…or that I wasn’t enough to start with.  I handed them and their endless supply of posts a proverbially pink Pink Slip.

And I realized very quickly, as the silence settled in…that if I am scared about anything, it’s about my own thoughts.  Owning the responsibility for them.  Having to work a bit to have a good one.  Or running the risk of having bad ones, and possibly making a fool of myself.

Today, for the first time in a long, long time, I had the panicky feeling of an addict in rehab:  I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

But there’s hope.  Because today, I am totally alright with that.

Good Art, Good Grief

“Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our own behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in the ordinary sense.”

—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Like an old friend, Gilead has welcomed me with open arms since I started rereading it just over a month ago.  Indeed, until a few days ago, the above quote struck me as mildly fascinating, but pale in comparison with all the passages that focused on the inextricable bonds between heaven and earth. When one is obsessed with the mysteries of immortality, I suppose, inquiries into the nature of earthly existence hardly ignite the intellect.

Besides, theatrical matters of a more literal sort had already consumed more than enough mental energy. Before hearing the news of my friend’s death, I’d agreed to help helm my church’s Easter play. After returning home to grieve, though, I kept wondering if there was some way to bow out and focus my attention on more important things—you know, like moping.

Eventually, I realized moping was the least productive of my options, and threw myself into writing and directing when I returned. Thanks to a shortage of available actors, I found myself cast in my own play, in the role of an apostate disciple who, at the foot of Christ’s crucifixion, confronts a loyal disciple who has been healed of blindness. Personal crises aside, I couldn’t get into the role; in fact, the character seemed to me a major flaw, a cipher that skirted dangerously close to the “murderous Jew” that so tragically populates the history of Passion plays. Even on Easter Sunday, as we donned our makeup and costumes, I’d come to grudgingly accept the character as a blemish we writers had overlooked, a problem beyond the reach of my limited acting skills.

When I assumed my position behind the curtain, though, something was changing within me, without my consent or control. As I meditated on my character in the backstage darkness, the enormity of the events we were depicting became inseparable, in my mind, from the enormity of what my friend had faced on that frozen lake. With every line I spoke over the course of the evening, all the emotional progress I’d made over the past few weeks seemed to slip away. When the time came for me to deliver my climactic monologue, it was as if the near-stereotype I’d bemoaned had come to violent life, possessed by the Lucas who, a month and a half ago, spent an entire day cursing God on his knees. I opened my mouth to speak and spat out the following ad-lib, not sure and not caring whether I was speaking as my character or as myself:

“Look, you have eyes, don’t you? You talk about them so much…well, look at him. Look at the blood and sweat dripping down his face, look at the flesh hanging from his ribcage, look at the life being sucked out of his body with every breath he expels…does this look like the Messiah?”

My cowriter, who was also onstage that night, told me later that he was nearly startled out of character, so raw and enraged was my delivery. Also, I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t exactly endear myself to the small children who were sitting in the front row. I don’t claim to be a De Niro, or even a poor man’s De Niro, but that night I definitely attained a new level of insight into acting.

Literary types often define a metaphor as consisting of two parts: the ‘tenor,’ the idea illustrated by the metaphor, and the ‘vehicle,’ the image that embodies the tenor. In that moment, the tenor and vehicle of Calvin’s metaphor seemed to merge into one. Indeed, becoming an artist of my character’s behavior was the ultimate culmination of my decision to be, as it were, an artist of my own behavior: to bring the full brunt of my grief right to God’s doorstep instead of denying it expression, and then to persevere in my commitments to the Church.

And I realize now that the intuition with which I ad-libbed those lines – the intuition with which I finally embodied my character – was not analogous to, but of a piece with, the faith with which I have learned to pray, “Thy will be done.”

In the last email she ever wrote to me, my friend concluded with these words: “My friend said something to me before about how difficult it is to try and live life with your whole heart. But what a beautiful way to strive to live.” It’s not a bad goal for an actor, either. And so I pray, in life as in art, to give a bravura performance.

By Lucas Kwong, Image Journal


Doing What You Love & Loving What You Do

Why do you do what you do? Is it for the perks, the attention or the paycheck? Probably at least somewhat. But what about the process itself? If you knew that you were going to spend the rest of your life doing your work and there would be no recognition, no public accolades, and no promise of a significant financial windfall, would you do it?

I’ve long had a theory that there are three primary motivators for doing great work: payprestige and process.

Pay represents the economic rewards of doing the work. This can mean money or anything money can buy. There are a lot of people who are primarily motivated by the almighty dollar.

Prestige means all of the accolades and recognition that comes with the work. People who are motivated by prestige are people who need to ensure that people are watching and that no good deed goes unnoticed.

Process means the work itself. People who are motivated by process are in love with what they do to the point that they would do it even without financial incentives or recognition. Their motivation is simply to empty themselves of what’s inside and to create new value.

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who is solely motivated by process. To some extent, we all feel the stick as well as the carrot. We need to feed our families, and it’s nice to know that others are noticing what we’re doing. I didn’t write a book for the sake of making money. (Given the economics of publishing, that would be silly.) I wrote it because I thought it could help people do brilliant work. Of course I’m hoping it will get attention and make some money for all involved, but that hope isn’t sufficient to keep me getting up at 5:30a for a year to crank out thousands of words. Only a love ofprocess can do that.

The people I’ve met who are truly brilliant at what they do tend to be process-driven people. They do what they do out of a love for it, and the payand prestige are a nice side benefit of getting to engage in work they would do anyway.

It’s a worthwhile exercise to sit for a while and think about what truly motivates you. Be honest; no one’s looking at your answers. Learning to identify and capitalize on the things you love to do is a great way to take baby steps toward being more process-driven, which ultimately means doing better and more valuable work.

~ by Todd Henry of The Accidental Creative