Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Flossing and Art

I'm going to make this fast because I want to get back to work, but Glendon Mellow and Peter Bond have both left comments on my recent post regarding creative productivity. Their plaintive bleats have touched my heart, and I think this is worth putting up in a more accessible place than the comments section of an old post.

Look, this is something I've only been doing for a week. So I'm not all that much of an authority, but here goes.

When my brother died, I stopped flossing for a couple of years. One day I was complaining about it to a friend at lunch.

"I want to. I'll floss for a day or two, and then I'll start blowing it off again. It really makes me feel like I have no real discipline, you know?"

My buddy nodded. "I went through that too. Then one day I realized that wanting to floss is bullshit. It doesn't mean anything.

You either floss, or you don't, and how you feel about it doesn't mean anything."

You floss. Or you don't.

Sounds harsh, huh? But I started flossing that night, and haven't had a break from it since.

Because I really did want to floss -- and I was letting my desire turn the situation into a drama instead of a decision.

Next verse, same as the first.

I let my desire turn the situation into a drama instead of a decision.

And when I stopped? I made the decision.

When I wanted, wanted, wanted to be flossing, that meant that every time I had to make the decision it carried a lot of emotional weight for me. It wasn't just flossing -- it was my sense of responsibility to myself, my fears of the future, and so on, and so forth.

Now? When I'm brushing my teeth, and it comes time to floss? I just do it. And when I'm done, my mouth tastes nicer. Immediate gratification, long-term investment. And if I get lazy and skip a day?

I forgive myself. And I floss the next time. Because it's not a big deal. No one instance is significant if the overall pattern works.

Do not try and make yourself do something because you ought to, and if you fail to do something, don't sweat it. Know that you'll do it when the time comes.

Here's the thing about being a creator. Some people say they hate the act, love the product. Me? I create because it makes me feel good, for any number of reasons. But I do it because I want to. I feel good while I'm doing it, and I feel pride in having done it. And doing what I want to do makes me feel as though I have some measure of control over my life.

If you want to create, do it because you want to. Strip "should" from your internal dialog. Stick with, "I want to."

So I get up in the morning, I've had an awful night's sleep. I'm burnt out and uninspired. I wish I could be asleep.

My habit has been to say, "I'm fucked. I ought to work, but I don't feel like it." And then I'll look for something to kill the time -- a movie, a book, comics, the fucking internet. Because that 'ought to' carries a whole emotional load with it that I want to fucking avoid -- but then it stays with me as I intentionally kill time, and feel guilty about wasting my talent and opportunities.

But I know that once I start working on something, my energy levels will rise. I'll start feeling a sense of accomplishment.

I know this from experience.

If I ask myself, "What to I want to do now?" rather than, "What do I wish I would do?" I get much better results.

Get in touch with your actual desires. Ditch obligation, duty, and responsibility. What we do is fun -- and if we enjoy doing it, it shows in the finished product.

We live in a culture of distraction. The degree t0 which we're bombarded by entertainment is fucking grotesque. And as a result, it's easy to make immersion in media our default behavior; what we do if we're not doing anything else.

I've decided that that position in my life will be occupied by my art.

Creativity is my default behavior. If there isn't something else that I want to do for specific and compelling reasons, I will create.

If there is, I will engage in that activity without guilt or self-recrimination. It's the pattern that's important, not every individual moment.

I will not start work looking forward to the moment when I can quit and go on to something else. The work is what I want to do.

It's simple, it's easy. It's just a matter of, well...

You floss. Or you don't.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go make lunch, finish re-reading my script, and then write a treatment, maybe get some editing in...

Good times, people. Good times.


Andrew said...

Very good post, Sean. I agree very strongly. Giving in to the drama just fuels a very negative cycle that exhausts you before you even start. Saying "fuck it" and just getting on with what you need to do is success in itself, even if you don't always get very far. I'm going to share your post with some friends. Then, I'm going to get a "You floss. Or you don't" tatoo. Take care, bro.

Sean Craven said...

Thanks, dude. Truth be told, I should have written this in reverse, and titled it What I Did With My Winter Vacation...

Oh, well. Some of us are slow learners.

Glendon Mellow said...

Your bring up an excellent distinction, Sean. I hadn't considered some of my current professional dilemma that way.

One of the paths that lays in front of me, is to leave full time work over the next few months, and begin full time freelance. Perhaps I ought to not get wrapped up in the judgment call of the decision, but either do it, or don't.



Robyn said...

So I read this, and then I wrote 600 words, and then I flossed. Thanks, Sean!

Sean Craven said...

Yay! This seems to be striking a chord with a number of people, and it's really gratifying.

If this keeps working, I think I'll start a cult.

Glendon Mellow said...

I'll join your cult of flossing evopunks if I can shave my head. I look badass with my head shaved.

Sean Craven said...

Glendon, you are so right. I've wanted to shave my head since I started going bald -- why fuck around? -- but those close to me say that I'd look too scary.

How the fuck can a person look too scary? That's like a woman complaining that her breasts are too big, or someone saying their car has too much horsepower. Give me a fucking break.