Archives for the month of: October, 2014

If you consider yourself an artist of some kind — writer, actor, director, illustrator, painter, musician, &etc. — there are two major roadblocks that you’ll have to overcome every day.

Those roadblocks are the “Manyana Contingency” and the “Army of Nope.” Both of these blocks are facilitated in sometimes-unexpected ways by the Internet, and if the Web is part of your daily life, you’ll have to combat these issues every single day. The first step is to learn to recognize them.

– Read more about The Manyana Contingency (click here)

– Read more about The Army of Nope (click here)

Why not let everyone lie to themselves about why they never actually do anything creative? No harm in a little self-deception, right? Let the sheep be sheep!

Well, here’s the problem: many non-creative people are crabs in sheeps’ clothing; if they’re not haters or trolls, they’re well-meaning “worker bee” types who give deadly bad advice. Our own minds can pull us back down “into the crabs’ barrel” unless we remind ourselves to stay aware and renew our focus every single day.

Rather than make this journal entry longer with examples, I’ll leave it to you to think about who the crabs are in your life. Recognize that if you want to become successful as a creative person (or anywhere else in life, really), you’ll have to elude the crabs at every turn — even your Inner Crab who will make excuses like, “my favorite artists were just gifted geniuses. I could never do that.” That’s a lie, plain and simple.

If you have the basic aptitude to do something well, then do it. Even a tone-deaf person can learn to sing; people with thick fingers can learn the piano. You may have to create your own way of doing it, but that’s precisely what the world needs. This isn’t “positive thinking” nonsense, either — problem-solving is half of the creative puzzle. If you overcome hurdles at the start, you’ll have an edge over those who didn’t have those hurdles, because you started out doing things differently. And being different is what makes creativity matter. That difference is the only thing that distinguishes between a worker bee and a Queen (ugh, did I just write that?). Remove the egotism from the “Queen” idea and you’ll see what I mean.

It will be crucial to learn to spot the Manyana Contingency and elude the Army of Nope if you want to succeed as a creative person. Once you know how to see those creativity-killers — the excuse-makers, bad advice-givers, haters and trolls — you can design strategies to effectively deal with them. This will help prevent them from stealing time away from the things that you love to do.

Time is life and focus is key. Hopefully I’ll be able to make time to write down a few of my own strategies soon. Until then, spend a few minutes every day to create and refine your own “Creativity Defense System”. Second only to honing and demonstrating your artistic craft, the skill of defending yourself against distraction (sometimes by embracing and redirecting it rather than fighting head-on) may be the most important ability that you’ll ever learn. Get that right, and the rest will be as easy as finding four-leafed clovers in a field on a sunny summer day. Actually, it won’t. Art is hard work. And isn’t it better to love what you do?

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There’s a great video online of a bearded dragon marauding a field full of innocent crickets. The video has subtitles that give voice to the thoughts of both the dragon and the crickets. The dragon is thinking, “Food!”, while the crickets are thinking, “Ruun! Run for your lives!”

At one point, the bearded dragon ignores a cricket, who runs away. The cricket appears to escape by running under the dragon’s tail in a daring maneuver in which it “bypasses doom”. As the dragon turns around and sees the cricket, the text onscreen shows “NOPE” as the cricket is speedily devoured.

That reminds me of the way that creative people are treated in the larger world of passive observers.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that only “The Man” — meaning the stereotypical powers of oppression like the government, your teachers or your boss — will try to keep you down. The fact is that society itself is defined by, and operates fundamentally by, keeping people in particular places. If you’re not born in a privileged environment full of useful influences and mentors, society will put you in the “worker bee” slot and tell you the standard mantra of “work hard, get ahead, live happily ever after.”

We all know that mantra is a lie.

Most people work hard for every dollar. This means that for every dollar, they sacrifice their time. Dollars are literally expendable; you can never make more time. So exchanging dollars for time will always leave you behind unless you’re doing what you love.

Capitalism is designed around paying as little as possible while getting as much as you can (i.e. everybody wants the best possible deal). People consistently fall for the idea of “free” (although nothing in life is free) so they put up with advertising online that steals their privacy and profits from selling their identities. And unless you work for yourself, your boss is almost certainly underpaying you. It’s just how capitalism is designed. Other socioeconomic systems are usually even worse because they ignore this fact, and so greed rears its head anyway under the name “corruption” or “graft”.

This is the life of the worker bee. I’ve also written more about this elsewhere, so we can leave it at that for now.

Is your boss oppressing you? Maybe. Think, though, about what you can see online every day. The presence of “haters” and “trolls” has come to define the Web, largely by exploiting the ideals of privacy (i.e. anonymity) and effortless communication (i.e. places like 4Chan and Reddit). You see haters constantly antagonizing celebrities for no real reason (see: Zelda Williams being driven off Twitter after her famous father committed suicide).

Think also about offline forms of trolling, like hecklers at a stand-up comedian’s show, or those who try to distract actors and musicians who are performing onstage.

These are all signs that point to one fact: people at the bottom are just likely to oppress creativity as those at the top. An old metaphor for this is the “crabs in a barrel” idea where crabs at the bottom will grab and pull down any individual crab who tries to claw out of the container, rather than help each other reach the top.

Why do people do this? One reason is related to the narcissism that propels social networking. Everyone wants to be (and is told that they are) “special”. We love the idea; it’s why we worship anyone who is successful — as long as that person “humanizes” him- or herself by pretending that “it all just happened” rather than being a combination of hard work and luck. If it “just happened”, it could happen to you, too.

Obviously that’s not how the real world works, and we’re constantly reminded of it. If you have ever studied any creative domain (take the cello or violin as an example), you know that it takes years to start to get good. Most people, though, desperately want it to be as easy as a video game where you can learn and be a virtuoso in a matter of hours.

When the non-creative person realizes that “hey, this ‘art’ stuff is hard!”, they fall into another trap: they elevate artists to the level of “the gifted ones” who have some innate “talent” that is inborn and therefore unlearnable. Notice the terminology: An actor, writer or musician isn’t considered to be “skilled”, he or she is “talented”. It’s really just an easy way for most people to rationalize their lack of desire to put in the time and effort required to learn; even a genius has to put in years of study before being able to operate at an elite level. The rest of us can’t rely on prodigious raw ability, so we have to find a different way. Whining about how everyone else is “gifted” is a sure sign of someone who isn’t doing their part. And that’s fine — just be sure that person isn’t you.

This one is simple. The clinical name is “procrastination”. We all know it. Calling it the “Manyana Contingency” is catchy because the word “Manyana” means “tomorrow” in Spanish (and is actually spelled “MaƱana” with the little squiggle — called a ’tilde’ — above the first ‘n’).

On the Internet, there are literally millions of distractions that can enrapture us 24/7/365. Social networking and porn are probably the two most primally attractive to the average person. Why? Because social networking is essentially narcissism (“here’s a status post about me and my awesome/boring life!”) with a justifiable techy twist (“these sites help me keep in touch with my friends and loved ones who I’d lose touch with otherwise”).

Consider losing touch with some people whom you couldn’t be bothered to call, email or actually see in real life. The farther you are from physically touching someone, the farther you probably are from being important to them in the real world. There are exceptions, but think about your endless list of “friends” who “like” you online and are constantly pinging you to chat or sending links to cutesy, distracting, time-wasting websites. You can always get new Internet friends [or distant real-life acquaintances on your favorite social network], but time never comes back once it’s gone.

Consider spending more time with those who matter and no time at all with those who don’t. It’s less deceptive than “keeping up appearances” with a huge social network, and it can feel better to know that the people around you actually do care about your well-being rather than merely using you for “likes” the same way that you’re using them. There is strength in weak ties; carefully consider how those weak ties may be silently binding you and choose them wisely.

And porn is porn. Sex is on all of our minds all the time because if it wasn’t, we’d forget or get distracted [probably distracted by the drive to socialize] and then our species would end because there would be no more babies. There’s a lot more to say on how chasing your favorite gender (online or offline) can derail your creativity, but suffice to say here that if it’s a decision between picking up your instrument (whether it’s a pen, a cello or a paintbrush) and picking up sexy boys and girls whom you fancy, always choose the instrument first. Once you get good at what you do, sexy people will find you. Until then, chasing tail is mostly a (pleasant) waste of time, also for various reasons that I expand on elsewhere.