Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Ouroboros of Inspiration and Hard Work

People often talk about how they do their best writing or art when they're in the dumps. I think that might actually be bullshit. To be an articulate individual or artist you sort of have to be in the right space to get those articulate words out.

I went to a poetry slam Sunday night and someone did a piece about how what motivates them are all these stormy things, none of which I can actually remember, but possibly they might have been emotional devastation. And maybe rain. Or maybe I'm just saying rain and that wasn't actually the example. But definitely, the main source was some type of emotional tribulation that was devastating and whatever other adjectives that sort of go with that. Well, I don't buy it. My hunch is that a lot of creative people do their bet work when they're working stuff out, maybe journaling the bullshit out when they're upset, fine, but the best quality work is when they're able to think coherently. That whole thing about the moody artist is fine, of course, I mean art/writing/creative arts/fine art, a lot of people who do those things have artistic temperaments of course, but if you actually talk to them, the ones who do higher quality work, they will tell you that they don't do very good work when they're manic and crazy and out of their minds and out of control and emotionally devastated -- they do the best work when they're going back down of the extremes and getting down to business. That whole bit about the artist inspired by Bronte-ian rain and gloom and all that -- I don't buy it. I know this from experience. I feel like I have a [retty artistic temperament but my work is shitty when I'm not myself. And the catch 22 is that you might feel like if you're creating whatever it is that you need to be creating to feel fulfilled, if you get out of practice, you're unhappy. But then if you're not stretching the work/creative Work muscle than actually, you become out of shape, and it's hard to get back into it again. Just like exercising. I heard Janeane Garofalo  say on a Citizen Radio podcast that just like you exercise the rest of your body, your brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised. And the suggestion that she suggested was yes, do keep that copy of Mother Jones in your car so that when you're waiting in line in your car for a car wash you do have that something to read, so that if you don't have time to exercise your brain with stuff than at least you have that. Actually, I'm not 100% sure she actually gave the exact example with Mother Jones and the car wash, but she gave some example that was kind of like that. (Once again, my ridiculous undocumented source of "I heard somewhere" is at work again, which a prof friend of mine said that was kind of funny and interesting, like that seemed very indicative of our  Google-era version of source documentation.) Anyway, I do actually have a copy of Mother Jones  in the trunk of the car and I did once read it while waiting in line in the car for either an EPA inspection or a car wash, so maybe that was why I ace the example I gave, but whatever. The point is that Janeane Garofalo is right; we do need to keep the brain muscle fit. And it's the same thing with writing I think: your best work is probably done when you're really working your brain at it's top level peak of performance, not when you're down in the dumps and feeling uninspired. I mean sure, that's what journaling is for, and some of the best pieces of literature can be inspired by trauma of course, but I think the best writing is done when someone is really working that shit out, trying hard, thinking it through, then if they do it often enough, it gains some momentum, then you get inspired more, then you do better work, steamrolling. But I suppose the opposite of steamrolling is "Ulch, hard to get moving, I feel uninspired, I don't want to work on this, this sucks boring I want to go out and play" etc. etc. etc., just substituting your brain for body or vice versa, both are true.

Look, I'm not saying that you should wait to work on stuff when you're feeling good. Writing stuff or working on whatever your art is, that stuff can help make you feel good. But the stuff you start with is going to suck, especially when you're trying to dig yourself out of a hole of misery. My first draft of anything sucks even if I'm not digging myself out of a hole of misery, often because I'm just trying to barf it all down at once since my brain moves faster than my body and frontal lobe can, so I am at a constant loss to get it all out and articulate it before I lose it; in fact, I lose about 95% of the ideas I have for points I want to make, but I can't move that fast. My moments of inspiration are when I'm nowhere near where I can get it down and I have so many of those moments. My blog entries are starting points for stuff I write for zines and journals and websites for people -- they're not the greatest gems but they do help me get some ideas down to germinate, marinate etc. I do it all for you, all 8 people reading this! I have heard comedians say that they use blogs for that purpose -- they try out material there. (I think I might have hear both Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins say that. I think.)

I'm just saying, don't believe the shit about the tortured artist doing their best work at their lows. I read some diary or something by Hemingway or Arthur Miller or someone like that (white American contemporary male writer? I don't know who exactly or where I read it.) Anyway, they admitted that this was true. Is it only true for white American male writers? Probably not. Anton LaVey or maybe Aleister Crowley said something about magic: "The first step to opening the door to psychic magic is actually opening the door." The thing is, I don't really remember the whole quote or which of those guys it is, so in my mind it's like "The first step to opening the door magically with your mind is to open the door. Like get up and actually open the door. With your actual hands. Hello? Is anybody actually in there? I really have to pee. Hello? Are you OK? God daminit I have to pee so fucking bad, what the fuck are you doing in there? Also! I am not 100% sure if I should spell magic with a c or a K or both!"

Also, I would like to add that it's not like emotional devastation doesn't make for good art or writing or whatever. Of course it does. Full on novels and movies and wars are inspired by tragedy and love and devastation and gloom and doom. (Love creates war, that is, if the Liz taylor version of Cleopatra is correct, anyway. I saw this recently.) I remember reading that one of the producers of This American Life (not Ira Glass, someone else) said in some interview somewhere something to the effect that they look for stories to do on air stuff that has some sort of narrative where the protagonist learns something, and that essentially what every story ever really is, is a coming-of-age story. The more I thought about this the more I agreed with this; whenever you learn something about yourself or the world, you grow a little. And then I thought about comic book super hero origin stories. They are pretty much always coming of age stories: Spider-Man, and the white web jizz and the learning about power and responsibility, Rogue with the touching stuff, bla bla bla -- although I see these ideas about puberty-onset super powers are NOT original thoughts on my part I see.

 I like this idea that pretty much any narrative is a coming-of-age story, because we never stop coming of age. We become people  as life goes on. Growing never really stops, unless something SUPER fucked happens like you get hit by a bus and become comatose and come out of it brian damaged, but even in that attempt to get better you keep growing, just in a different way. Well, or I suppose there's the damage done by fuckedupness and evil, or maybe you fell in a toxic vat of whatever. (Sidenote: I just looked up The Top 10 Super Villains Of All Time and here was the ad at the bottom of the screen, which, if you're into comics I think you will appreciate:

Besides the obvious X-Men wheelchair reference I also enjoyed that the other related searches were "World Domination" and "World Destruction." Also "World Eater."

OK but so anyway, I did once hear Ira Glass say that we are hardwired to expect narratives, and I think this is true. Not that the sort of creative endeavors I do are necessarily narrative-oriented, but I do agree that possibly, narratives are what compels us to make art from our devastation. But the point is not that you should wait to get inspired by some grand force of compulsion struck down from the gods or wait to get inspired at all. Good art, writing etc. -- that stuff comes from hard work, multiple drafts, editing, etc. -- and it's hard to do that stuff when you're in grief and panic mode. That stuff can get you started but it won't carry you through redrafting of the work and all that stuff you need to do to make it compelling for anybody else except yourself. I'm not saying you should make art for people that you yourself don't like -- you should be your own audience and for people that are of your mold, but I am saying that if you're doing art that you want anybody else to like, it has to be more compellingly universal than masturbatory, and you don't create high quality writing or art when you're in the worst possible space to be in.

(Sidenote: While looking through a tattoo artist's portfolio a few days ago, I saw that the artist had done a tattoo on somebody that was Ira Glass' face, glasses and everything, in front of an American flag. That's hilarious. I wonder if it he got it himself? Ha ha ha ha.)

OK,s o here's what I'm asking people to take away from this:
1. Don't Bullshit What Your Real Inspiration Is
2. Don't Wait to Get Inspired.
3. Get to Work to Get Yourself Inspired.

Should I tweet that? Should I get bumper stickers made? Is there a reason why random things are in capital letters?

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