reality is weirder than you think

Tag: do the work (page 2 of 2)

The gap between head and hand

It’s relatively easy to recognize good art (or writing or music or whatever).

Some people have terrible taste, but most of us do alright.

It’s also relatively easy to conceptualize the act of drawing in our heads.

Or even watch it on a YouTube video — Draw with me! — when someone else’s rendering looks so easy.

So you go to take the leap and try it for yourself. You grab a sketchpad, and a pencil, and say “Self, today we’re going to draw X.”

(Congratulations for taking that leap, btw.)

Despite what your brain knows to be true, despite all the time you’ve spent looking at reality and at artful depictions of it, what comes out on the other end of your pencil is trash.

Your eyeball neurons don’t know how to connect with your finger neurons. Your fingers don’t know how to hold the pencil. You try to see what is in front of you, but you cannot recreate it.

There is a gap.

When you are a child, it’s easier to see past it. Maybe you don’t even know that it exists, because you haven’t yet had the chance to take in great works of art. So you practice, and you improve, but you never cringe at yourself.

As an adult, you know full well what you’re producing is garbage.

Maybe you want to stop, in shame, thinking that you should be better — even though there’s no way you could be better, having never drawn X before.

There’s now a conceptual gap, not just a behavioral one: you versus what you think you should be. Nevermind that your conception of yourself is unrealistic.

The hardest part is knowing that it is impossible to jump or bridge or maneuver around the gap. The only way across is through — through all the garbage and the shame and the unknown.

I started drawing again this past week, after a very long time of not drawing. I did a practice sketch this evening.

Guess what? It was garbage.

Nobody wants to look at garbage, especially myself.

But it’s the first step into the gap. Someday, with effort and persistence, I’ll get to the other side.

Maybe then my drawings will be worth looking at.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch THE GAP on repeat.

Same advice, different source

Fran Meneses is an illustrator who vlogs about…what it’s like to be an illustrator. Or really, a freelancer of any sort. Or even more really, a “choose yourself-er.”

People who have chosen to take their destiny into their own hands instead of a mostly-guaranteed steady paycheck. The people I admire but have convinced myself that I could never join the ranks of, because I’m too scattered and/or lazy and/or lacking for time.

But I watch their videos and read their blogs anyway. I bet you do too.

Here’s a vlog of Fran’s that hit home with me.

Spoiler: her advice is BE PROACTIVE. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how or what to do, but instead figure it out for yourself.

“You only need yourself, and internet, the library and books. You also need motivation…and coffee.”

The funny thing is, as we started rounding out the video, I realized that I have heard most of this advice before. Where? From Mike Cernovich and James Altucher and Tim Ferriss. From other people who have actually done it. (Although they wrap their advice in very different aesthetics than Fran does.)

But what really caught my attention, is that I remember reading these things in the granddaddy of self-help books, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

In fact, I pulled out my nearly-full pink sparkly learning notebook circa 2015/2016, where I took notes from my first read-through. Mr Hill is a lot more prolific and early 20th century feeling than Fran, but they share some very common overlapping points.

Fran’s Advice on How to Be Good at Something

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. Get organized–find where these things live
  3. Make a schedule–so that you will carry through with learning these things instead of procrastinating
  4. Surround yourself with people that motivate you, that make you want to do things
  5. Meet with a study group to learn and discuss
  6. Be consistent

Mr Hill’s Advice on How to Be Good at Something

  1. Desire backed by faith
  2. Clear and definite plan
  3. Decision is the opposite of procrastination
  4. Specialized knowledge (from the library!)
  5. Form a “master mind” group
  6. Persistent, continuous action

Funny how they’re almost exactly the same. Now, I have many more notes on Mr Hill’s advice (which is mostly general), and Fran has many more videos (which are very much more specialized onto freelancing, running an online shop, and illustration) so the comparisons won’t stand up to a huge amount of scrutiny.

I enjoy the synchronicity between them, and the echo of truth that rings when the same advice holds true, and actually works, in 2017 as it did in 1937.

Now, as always with the truth, the hardest part is doing it!

On Fillers

Dearest Reader!

This week I have been thinking about the concept of “filler.”

You know, the stuff that we stick between the gaps of real things. Like snacks. Or grout. It exists, and has to exist, to tide you over between meals, or to prevent getting your pinky toe stuck in the gap between the tiles on your bathroom floor, but nobody has ever gone into a beautifully-tiled bathroom and said, “My God that is some fantastic grout!”

(Now, interior designers are doing some cool things with grout these days so it is possible that someone has actually said this. Interesting grout, coupled with tile set in an interesting way, could in fact exist. Inside of a larger context, grout is useful and even perhaps beautiful. But on its own, grout is nothing.)

Or take meat products, since I am writing to you as perhaps the only carnivore that you know. Delicious sausages and hamburgers require no extra ingredients: meat, fat, perhaps a little salt or other flavorings, that’s it. Cook those babies up and you have quite a satisfying meal. Or if you want to get REALLY fancy, smoke ’em. I am now tempted to drift away into fantasias of smoked sausages….

No fillers are needed to make a good meat product. Some fillers might be added to say, a sausage, to create extra delicious flavors. Chicken-apple sausage is a popular variety, in which the (cheap) apples stretch the (expensive) chicken farther, but also provide a refreshing counterpoint in both taste and texture.

However, some purveyors of meat use fillers to use less meat while charging the same price-per-pound. These fillers are usually starch-based, and add nothing but cost-savings to the burger. No added flavor or texture for the end consumer to enjoy other than extra starchy things to digest. These people are why you can’t trust any pre-made beef patties and have to read the ingredients every single time. Thanks, fillers!

The idea of fillers also exists in art and music, in the form of white space, or rests. Good use of white space in a graphic design, or negative space in a painting or sculpture, can add oodles of visual interest and breathing room to the piece. In fact, I would argue that negative space is essential to good visual presentation. (Bear in mind that you can’t have negative space without first having an object for that negative space to react around.)

In music, the space between the notes is often just as important as the notes themselves. There’s a vast difference between the short, clipped notes of a march, and the long drawn-out notes in something like a tone poem. A complex rhythm is the interplay between positive and negative, in they way that the filler interacts with the drumbeats. Any specialness in the silence is a byproduct of how that silence interacts with the musical notes.

If you try to treat the silence between the notes as Its Own Thing, you end up with such ridiculousness as John Cage’s 4’33”.

The point: fillers are not necessarily bad, and can be useful or even helpful as a part of a bigger picture. On their own, fillers are neutral. The problem comes when you try to substitute the filler for the real thing.

A day full of snacks is a day at the end of which you’ll (read: I will) be unsatisfied and cranky.

A bathroom full of grout is…well, unfinished.

A hamburger full of fillers is still a hamburger, I guess, but not one that I would want to eat.

A painting full of white space is…not a painting.

And let’s be real, a “musical composition” of silence is not a musical composition at all.

That leads me, dear reader, to the topic on which my mind lingers…mental filler.

I spend more time than I should on Twitter.

It’s is fun! It’s full of novel content that makes me (mildly) amused and makes me (shallowly) think. There’s always something new!

But social media is primarily a connector–grout, if you will. Some people are doing good work of providing premium content on social media (this tweetstorm by AJA Cortes is a good example), but for the most part, all the content on social channels is dependent upon the primary media that tweets link to. Or references, in the case of many of the parody or esoteric accounts.

Twitter is very good for connecting things, for discovering, for bridging from one content creator to another, but as a “meal” in itself? It’s ultimately unfulfilling.

It can be very easy to fall into the trap of wanting mental snack food all the time. It’s easy, it’s amusing, and it’s very readily available. (And often wrapped in brightly colored, single serving containers!)

But I have to remind myself that single-serving snacks, be they mental or food, won’t build a good body. Whether it’s a body of work or body of thought doesn’t matter.

One can’t build a solid, delicious hamburger out of starchy filler.

And if I (or you) don’t want to end up blown away like a pile of dried up starch on a tile counter made of actual tiles by people who Did The Work, can’t focus on the filler. We have to focus on the substantial things. Meals. Tiles. Meat. Good art and music. Solid thought: books.

We must relegate filler to its proper place–to fill in the gaps.

It can be a beautiful, delicious, or amusing way to fill in those gaps, but it must exist within the proper context of Real, Solid Work.

So do the work, dearest, and enjoy the fleeting space of filler in its own due time.

(If you thought I was giving you advice, my dear reader, you might be wrong. I am mostly giving myself a lecture here. This is a common failing on my part.)

With all my love,

The dark side of “systems not goals”

@fortelabs posted quite a good tweetstorm on twitter today.

He goes on:

It involves generating lots of “non-negotiable” requirements that you “must” do before you can do what you want to do. As in, “Before I do X everybody knows I have to do A, B,C,D, E, F, G, etc.” It’s clever because it sets up an unlosable game. If you fail, you can blame immediate steps for putting the goal out of reach. If you reach X but it took too long, you’re justified because you “followed the correct process.”

There’s more–and I highly recommend clicking through and reading the whole thing–but this sums up the basic premise.

I recognize myself in it. Like, way too much.

“Before I start writing Batfort I need to hone my writing skills and learn how to be disciplined to do something every day and get a real camera and sketch out a whole editorial and business plan and and and”

“Before I can get a car I need to get a new job that pays better and live in a place where parking doesn’t suck and and and”

“Before I can be healthy I need to stop eating carbs and sleep 8 hours a night and stop worrying so much and exercise more regularly and and and”

“Before I can date that attractive man, I need to get a car…”

You get the drill.

It is SO EASY to use the guise of “building a plan” and “doing your research” as an excuse to do nothing of consequence. Yes, plans and research are necessary, but they are not DOING THE WORK. It’s frittering away time and creative energy on small-potatoes things that feel just productive enough that we don’t realize that all of the sudden we ate an entire bag of chips for dinner.

Do that enough times in a row, and you’re going to feel sick.

With all respect to Scott Adams, I have a negative reaction to his “systems, not goals” approach to life. For the longest time I could never figure out why, exactly, but I think this is it.

If you bury yourself in systems, even good ones like going to the gym every day, without having a goal that you’re pushing yourself toward, it’s really easy to settle into the groove of the system. The system becomes your end product, instead of what you designed this system to move you toward.

You work your muscles, but don’t get stronger or build out some sweet pecs.

Sure, goals don’t always work out. There are things that are beyond our control. That’s life.

The resilient pick up, dust off, and keep going. The antifragile incorporate those lessons into their next attempt.

You set a new goal, and move on.

A system alone won’t work: you need something to work toward.

Goals alone won’t work either: you need daily practices to propel you toward them.

Get you a plan that can do both.

Newer posts

© 2018 Batfort

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑