Some Better Than None

As many of you are aware, I’m a fan of The One You Feed podcast.

I can’t overstate how important the low-key approach to the guests and the topics—be they focused on spirituality, creativity, mental health, productivity—results in practical, down-to-earth applicability. Please do yourself the favor of subscribing.

One of the refrains from the show—and I’m quoting host Eric Zimmer and one of the tenets of his coaching program directly—is that ‘doing something is better than doing nothing.'

I’ve been reflecting on this lesson in regards to my creative work (yeah yeah writing and playing drums you already know because I yammer about it constantly on this blog). Being so busy with work and family life, I have to often shove a novel’s worth of composing time into 10 or 15 minute daily increments. Even when I have those 10 or 15 minutes free, I talk myself out of utilizing them because I’m not sitting at the shoreline with my typewriter knocking out my 2000 words a day like another bad imitation of Ernest Hemingway.

Reality is not meshing with my vision and that results not in my doing at least a little daily writing; it results in me doing none.

So, for me, for you, for all of us: some is better than none. Throw out the vision and the unrealistic standards and do the work with the time that you have available.

Situation Abnormal

Not an excuse, but I can't deny that the current American political shit-scape has affected my writing. 

Creative acts haven't seemed as important as remaining vigilant and active to the many ways that the current presidential administration is trying to screw over the American people.

(I know this is wrong...not about the crass and openly opportunistic actions of the Trump administration and its salivating and obedient GOP lapdogs, but about creative acts. We must continue our artistic endeavors especially in times such as these.) 

This is not a political blog; however, I acknowledge that the personal is political, and when the political becomes personal, writing has often lost out on my priority list. 

So, like the rest of us, I'm doing my best. I wish I had more faith in American politics to correct itself, but the GOP is hopelessly lost, and the Democrats can't seem to organize or codify an effective strategy.

Partisan politics won't save us.

We have to push from the bottom up. We have to get out from behind our screens and engage each other. That takes time, and it takes energy, and it's the only way to fix this mess.

Thus I turn again to writing and the minutiae of my own life. Maybe I can finally complete a project.

Not Too Soon

We often delay beginning our creative or spiritual work with the false belief that we must be ‘ready.’

It’s a protective measure, meant to preserve our egos and ward off detectable inadequacies.

I’ve of course been guilty of this same delaying strategy in my own professional life, in my creative life, in what amounts to my spiritual practice. I’ve dallied and delayed, and I’ve put off action by waiting for whatever skills I’m trying to flex to be primed, as if I’d just gone through a Rocky-like training montage out of sight of everyone in order to unveil to a surprised and unsuspecting world just how awesome I am.

Life is made in the doing, in the trying, in the failing and re-trying. We cannot be ready for this. There is certainly prepared, educated, practiced, but ready is something else. Ready is only accomplished in the doing of the thing in real time and with real consequences. Ready is open to the moment, to the nexus of performing work and to being yourself, to struggling and being vulnerable. Ready is being open to failing.

Waiting to be ready, as tantalizing an option at that is, only delays progress. Ready sounds like it’s about the future, but it’s really about the now. And as we all know, now is all we’ve got.

This One You Feed podcast addresses, among several other ideas, the fallacy of being ready in an interview with Srini Rao. Check it out here.

Poem, Poetry, Poet

Although I’m passionate about poetry, and I have written a number of poems (which the world should be grateful I rarely share), I can’t claim to be a poet.

In college I recall being fascinated by the discourse surrounding Poem vs Poetry vs Poet. I hadn’t given the terminology much thought up to that point, but in these (now many) post-college years where I endeavor to write novels, short stories, blog posts, I still reflect on these terms.

In my mind the definitions go something like this:

Poem – The artifact, the work itself

Poetry – The act and art of writing poems

Poet – The person performing poetry in order to create poems

Current or former Literature scholars will have to correct this, but I seem to remember that it was the Romantic poet Coleridge, who while writing Kubla Kahn, identified within himself a preference for writing poetry over creating poems.

At the time, I probably bashed the poor opium addict for his failure to finish a poem and get it out into the world, but now, when work and life threaten to consume most if not all of my time, I’m much more sympathetic to Coleridge’s plight.

We are, as writers, often addicted to the act of writing, the process of it. We’re collectively much worse at finishing our projects, calling them done, pushing them into the light for others to read and experience, and yes, judge.

In that space where poem, poetry and poet flow as confluence within us, we favor the rough incompleteness, the perpetual state of being unfinished. I understand why we do this—why I do this—and I wonder if it’s basal human nature, fear or something else.

Art and Spirit - A Vamp on Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, writing of his conversion to Catholicism in The Seven Storey Mountain, underscores his realization that the creating of art is a contemplative act as one of the primary reasons he converted to Catholicism.

He thanks his study of William Blake’s poetry for this realization; specifically how ‘Blake rejected literalism and naturalism in lieu of the mystical and the supernatural.’ Merton expanded this reflection to the people in his life, especially his own father:

“I had learned from my own father that it was almost blasphemy to regard the function of art as merely to reproduce some kind of a sensible pleasure or, at best, to stir the emotions to a transitory thrill. I had always understood that art was contemplation, and that it involved the action of the highest faculties of man.”

The artistic process, as Merton sees it, is integrally entwined with the artist’s spiritual practice. The artistic process IS the artist’s spiritual practice.

This sentiment, the conjoining of the artistic and the spiritual, has always made ready sense to me, and although I do a poor job of synthesizing the two regularly, the devotion that creating art requires draws on the same soul-source that my spiritual practice (a practice that is admittedly loose and haphazard) also employs.

I can’t at this point separate the two practices.

To vamp on Merton’s ideas, though, I would add a couple of clarifications/realizations.

One: thanks to good old American commodification, we often expect a product from art, a ware that can be sold to the world as some end-result of our artistic efforts. Although I respond to this like any American would (maybe MY novel will be discovered, and I’ll make a gazillion dollars) this notion is demeaning to the act of creating art as a spiritual practice where the art is as much in the doing as it is in the artifact being made.

Two: Merton’s own vision of having once wanted to be known and validated as a novelist—a desperate validation I am familiar with—portrays art as a singular, myopic act. As a younger man, I often held in great esteem those writers who sacrificed family, health, sanity for the pursuance of their art. Merton, who eventually lived a monastic life away from the temptations and the messiness of day to day America, is making art sound like a singular process when it is multi-faceted, raggedy, personal and public – much like the pursuance of spiritual matters.

These ideas—that artistic and spiritual work must produce something, that there is only one God, one religion, one way at the exclusion of all else—reduces and diminishes the many routes, the many small acts, that we all have available to us to go beyond the literal world before us and enter into the mystical, the supernatural.