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Arts Creativity Productivity & Work

A panoply of tools

What’s the primary device that unlocks your creativity — the camera, a pen, or the paintbrush?

These tools are our passport to freedom. So photographers speak through photos, writers communicate in text, cartoonists draw, etc.

“We become what we behold,” Marshall McLuhan said, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

Tools for Titans
Photo: Bill Robertson

Our vocation shapes our perspective and predetermines our output.  

But we gather scraps of ideas everywhere; through unintended eavesdropping, mishearing things, and misread headlines. Artists are scavengers.  

We combine divergent widgets in our toolshed to strengthen the entire arsenal. The writer makes draws; the architect paints with light; the musician scribes poems. 

Using a variety of widgets helps work out different artistic muscles. As we draw analogies across subjects, we improve our core craft. 

Said the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” 

All the hedgehog knows how to do is protect itself with its spines. But the fox is more elastic — it can adapt to different conditions that enhance its chances to survive.

We permit our perspectives to shapeshift by opening the mind up to ubiquitous inspiration. Our imagination expands in so far as we stretch our palette. 

First, we collect and understand. Then we deduce. Only then can we return to mastering our core competency. 

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work Writing

The streak goes on

Writing can be a painful activity. The idea of thinking and starting from scratch every day frightens the resistance.

But just as in exercise, the trick is in getting started.

Knowing that we can remain uncharged by the underground voltage of curiosity and enthusiasm, we have to depend on a non-thinking routine.

Showing up to practice is the number one priority. Then one writes poorly and gradually with more force, putting the bones in our words.

Discipline is a secret hidden in plain sight, only visible in the long look beyond the glance.

Swimming in impulses and doubt — remembering the possibility of revision helps tame the symphony of perfection.

Relaxed in the process, mincing and mixing words into a jigsaw puzzle of sentences holds material and belief more firmly.

We finish another day until the brain strains for another run tomorrow.

Addicted to vocation, flush with anxiety, we numb all feelings with the most adamant flow.

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Creativity Productivity & Work

The burn of discontent

Everything starts and ends from the burn of discontent.

We all have an inkling for something, a dormant enthusiasm, waiting to erupt so we can pour our hearts into it.

But the wait is killer. Toiling in anonymity while practicing in mediocrity needs a special kind of patience.

The resistance can only win at our own capitulation. The work is all that matters. 

As they say, “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

If self-promotion along the way helps one build up the confidence to ship, by all means, do it. We must seek the respect we deserve.

We are the audience and actor in the play of life, trying to step back and compose with the highest quality. 

No one is going to announce our emergence. All we can ask for is to be consistent with our time. 

Show up. The only talisman is the heart and head work.

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Creativity Productivity & Work

Creativity: Faith in process, faith in rest

Rest is integral to unlocking creativity.

Your best ideas come when you’re not trying to grind it out, but when you’re not trying at all. Ideas hit you when your mind is at ease. 

Says composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda:

A good idea doesn’t come when you’re doing a million things. The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son. It’s when your mind is on the other side of things.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Creativity is always awake

The brain never shuts off. It’s always processing knowledge, thoughts, and experience, even in a perceived dormant state. 

Creativity is always awake, but it needs time to bloom. The head takes in new information and gets feedback along the way. 

The ‘eureka moment’ is, therefore, a canard. The sedentary body helps the neurons and synapses synchronize thoughts. 

If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.

Banksy

Neurochemistry thrives off disconnecting, in which connections mount unforced.

A good idea is an accumulation of bad ones, clever hybrids cleaned up and simplified through trial and error.

The creative thinker enters a relationship through a swift reflection process.

Discovery is not a matter of giving up but giving in to the process of waiting and wondering, all the while keeping the faith.

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Funny Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work Writing

Streaks

The artist never stops, continuing a streak of a thousand days.

Each day, rain or shine, they either pop with energy or force it. Discipline is freedom; fulfillment is worth every penny. 

Consistency is not neutral. Bowing down to habit ensures the only possible outcome. 

The brevity of life requires a sense of urgency and provocation. And a daily routine gives us space to be creative and thoughtful.

How one navigates the tension between doing and knowing is less important than showing up and doing the work. 

As a library of longings, there is propulsion of curiosity in feeling undone. No one will ever finish all the books in the world, yet we read on anyway.

Ignorant of what the future holds, the only schedule worth keeping is one that begs us to do it all over again tomorrow. 

Real artists build their own adventure and persevere. They’re numb to discomfort. When done, they work on shipping the next. 

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Pear is ripe

“When the pear is ripe, it will fall from the tree,” they say. 

What they don’t tell you is to catch and eat the pear right then and there. 

Success is a consequence of timing. Yet, maximizing the perfect moment seems to be a game of luck. All you can hope for is being in the right place at the right time. 

While the odds of stumbling upon the perfect pair are slim, you can boost your chances if you visit the pear tree daily.

Consistency is the only guarantor of what’s to come. All one has to do is show up.

PS: There is no such thing as a eureka moment, for effort meets the mind of preparation.

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Productivity & Work Writing

Writing through sheets of ice

You bought the new notebook, snagged a new pen, and listened to a motivational podcast. You’re ready to do the work!

But two things happen as you start:

1 – You freeze. The thoughts in your head never make it to the tip of the pen. Your brain trips up on its wiring of ideas. Warning!

2 – You get going but know that what’s splurging on paper is crap. You’re producing sheets of melting ice. The writing is ugly, an explosion of everything at once. Such cacophony melts your heart, deadens your spirit.

The urge to quit and give in to the resistance is what smothers dreams. Goal-setting often backlashes when you set the bar too high.  

What if instead of focusing on the goal, you concentrated on the system?

Systems are more powerful than fears because discipline always overrides motivation. 

The real work happens when you sit your ass down at the desk for half an hour and write hundreds of words regardless of the outcome. After all, the more you make, the more you have to play with. 

Writes James Clear in “The case for having no goals in your life:”

“Goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

James Clear

It takes a long time to strike the chord you seek. The rest of the time you’re practicing with the intent to nail it down. All writing is in the edit.

Even poor sentences give you fresh ideas and force you into new territories. Writing, as in all creation, requires both patience and persistence to push the wastewater through the shoddy pipes. Here’s how to tap into the creativity faucet.

The muse only works in your favor if you’re willing to be consistent and put in the work. “Remember our rule of thumb,” writes Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

The rest — the Moleskine notebook, the perfect pen, the dreamy goal — are excuses that trip you up.

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

What comes next

We are always becoming, making inferences about our future.

Often times, such guesses lead to mistakes. But error is the only way we can untangle the morass of uncertainty.

Effort frees the mind from the nagging question of “what if?”

“Imagine living your life without being afraid to take a risk and to explore life. You are not afraid to lose anything.”

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

In doing a voluntary act, we take responsibility for all that comes next, plus all the tension that comes with pushing forward.

The floodgates to life open when we pay attention on purpose. And then we self-assess as an antidote to so-called problems.

Without all the scars that come with risk, we’d crumble rapidly.

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Arts Productivity & Work Writing

The chorus of arrival

“The pen is the tongue of the mind,” wrote Horace.

It scribes from experience and the imagination, ricocheting from one neuron to the next.

Sometimes it takes years to write a lyric. The frustration of waiting on its arrival is the art of gathering string.

We are always chewing over something and turning out blanks of progress. The sentence is already there, dormant, waiting to bloom. The lyrics are phenomenally written, waiting to be sung!

It’s quality of the connections that make eureka-moments feel so elusive. Fragments take time to make whole.

Simple and beautiful — thoughts are not born from the recipes of artificial intelligence.

Discovery dawns on us like a spark of randomness, but only if we challenge ourselves to get to work.

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Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Positive thinking can make one feel worse

It’s amazing how positive, negative statements can be.

Double negatives intensify the negation so much that they cultivate positive emotions.

  • Never quit quitting
  • Never say never

Conversely, it’s amazing how negative, positive words can be. In fact, they can end up making one feel worse.

Double positives intensify positivity so much that they overstretch limitations and have deleterious effects.

Take these two motivational sayings for instance:

  • Keep pushing
  • Keep on keeping on

There is a positive correlation between how we think and what we do.

Thoughts predetermine action and willpower. The neurocognitive boost the body and mind need next is just good practice.