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Most of it is Junk (it’s not just you!)

(I most often write for and work with kids. This post is not limited to Kid-Appropriate Language.)

“I like to try to apply [the] spirit of crate-digging to everyday life. The only way to find the good stuff, the special stuff, the genuine moments and the true inspiration, is to first engage with the everyday, the mundane, the seemingly useless, the things nobody else seems to care about. [To dig through the junk].”

Robert Walker, talking about DJs digging through crates and crates of shitty records

I really like the context of MOST THINGS ARE JUNK– it’s very Ecclesiastes: we’re all gonna die and life is hard, so drink and be merry with your friends once in a while and don’t worry about it so much (you can’t do anything about it anyway).

Isn’t it interesting and strange that I feel so much better when the context is IT’S ALL A MESS? Because I no longer have to worry about fucking it all up– it is crap. Nothing I do can make it more crap.

And if I only have to do better than Total Shit… Well, I can do that (at least some of the time)! That’s doable, bite-sized. I mean, I won’t always achieve that, but failing won’t actually make anything worse than it already is. I CAN’T MAKE IT WORSER, AND I CAN’T MAKE IT “GOOD” aka PERFECT. I can only maybe make a moment more bearable.

But if the Law says I Must Not Mess Shit Up because otherwise society will fall to chaos because of my dumbass– there’s no room to even begin, to even answer an email– if I answer it promptly today, I know it’s only a matter of time before I fuck up, because failure is inevitable. As with that time Jay gave me lessons in snowboarding, each success only only moves me higher up the hill and lends me more momentum when I inevitably come crashing down (thus, all successes are really evidence that it’s gonna hurt even more when I fail). (But it’s possible Jay was right in telling me to move up the Bunny Hill: that more momentum makes it easier to succeed, to get the hang of it. Maybe we should be learning how to fall better).

If EVERYONE is shit at email, at dishes, at folding their laundry, at going to bed at a reasonable time and eating enough leafy greens, if EVERYONE is wiping out all the time… then… maybe I’m not so terrible?

This is such a backwards-sounding wish, but I want to see how everyone is fucking everything up and actually no one (well, not including Michelle Obama) no one is actually better at adulting than I am… because then I could actually HELP people. I could DO stuff. Perform a little triage, staunch the bleeding, sit in hospice with someone. (And not delude myself with hopes of defeating the inevitable death that comes for them and for me).

EVERYONE IS AFRAID OF FUCKING UP ALL THE TIME. EVERYONE IS AFRAID THEY ALREADY MADE THE WRONG CHOICES.

I’m not “qualified to help them” because I’m Amazing and Advanced– I’m qualified because I care. Because I want to try. Because I’m Here. Because I’m a mirror for Beauty. And even in a junk pile, people are beautiful– IT’S LIKE A HOMEMADE PIE: NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF AN OOZING MESS IT IS, IT IS BEAUTIFUL– truly beautiful, because it is alive, it has soul, it has ATTENTION, and

“attention is love.”

Karen Maezen Miller

Wow. Living well is the same as making a pie from scratch. No matter how it turns out it’s beautiful. Something magical happens when you make a crust and fill it with fruit and bake it for an hour– things merge and it’s they transform. (I hadn’t fully articulated before how making pie is a spiritual act– it’s so redemptive BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FUCK IT UP. IT’S LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO FAIL. A bad pie has to be really, really, really impossibly bad to be Bad– I don’t think it’s even a pie anymore at that state– and even then you can still eat the filling).

So, it’s extremely important for my freedom and full expression and health and creativity to really know I am not actually able to fuck things up any worse than they are: The house is burning/falling down– why worry the paint you chose might be too “loud?”

YOUR BODY IS FALLING DOWN. IT IS MAKING ITS WAY BACK INTO THE EARTH. AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT TRULY CRUEL TO ANYONE, YOU CANNOT FAIL MORE THAN DEATH*. You can only die once (and it’s not a punishment).

So, write a shitty book. Draw lazy illustrations. Don’t bother with an ISBN. It doesn’t matter! Doing it right isnt a real thing! Sing the wrong note– sing almost all the right notes but sing sharp. It doesn’t matter! The world is a mess. Everyone is a mess. Everyone will die. There’s no redemption because there’s no sin. There’s no fault for the chaos of being a person– this “oh, shit” feeling is not a punishment– it’s just the weird truth, like gravity.

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU FUCK UP. EVERYTHING IS “FUCKED UP.”

Congratulations: if you’re fucking things up left and right you are 1000% normal, you’re right on track.

See lots of JUNK everywhere? Congratulations again. Nothing is wrong with you— you’re just paying attention. (And attention is love: keep looking– it’s the only way to find something wonderful).

We are all 8th graders / 3rd graders / overly-tires toddlers who happen to be allowed to drive cars and use the stove and there’s no one to tell us when not to spend money or when to go to bed.

I think we’re doing pretty well. We could certainly do much worse.


*(I do believe there are some “cardinal sins,” like not recycling– that hurts my heart! This rant is about how it’s not my fault life is so fucking uncomfortable– there’s no linear correlation– so I can stop being afraid of someone blaming me for everything and kicking me out of the treehouse.)

Resolutions, Traps, & Letting the Horse Out of the Barn

When things get difficult, is your instinct to invest the effort to make it better, or to set a trap so it all gets worse?

Because if things get worse, well, then you won’t have to deal with them much longer.

-Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a favorite of mine. (The Icarus Deception is a particular favorite– it flushes out all the “stay small” propaganda of growing up in a small town).

Self-sabotage seems a very timely topic at the start of a new year, filled with potential, a clean slate, brimming with resolutions. It’s uncomfortable to NOT set a trap– to sit with uncertainty or with fear of failure. But it also feels like a good stretch– like muscles that hurt just a little but feel stronger each time.

In early 2019 I told a friend, “Shame is the horse to break.” (Her response was great– “Why is it a horse? Why not a cat?” She also pointed out that when you get a new, unfamiliar horse you ought to give it sugar cubes first.).

In 2020 I want to root, ground, expand– live sustainably by having daily practices (such as sharing writing here), rather than focusing on a project. I want projects to grow naturally out of practices. To stick with the horse metaphor, this means feeding the horse and taking it out of the barn at regular times. (My dog, Blue, is flexible until 10am, and then we MUST go walking or she’ll lose her mind and likely chew something up).

It’s obvious that you have a better relationship with the animal you ride (or walk) everyday, at approximately the same time. There’s trust, there’s anticipation, an easiness between you. I’d like that experience with writing books, scheduling gigs, practicing songs, making a podcast.

If I meet the horse, the muse, each day, it’s less likely to buck me off. Right? (Or, at least I’ll be less likely to be afraid of a fall, and be more graceful when I do).

The New Year Looks to Us

Oh, what does
the New Year
see in me?
I certainly see myself.
But from where
does it reckon
who I am?
I’ve always viewed resolutions not as decrees I will impose on the coming year (and my future self), but as the things that are already rising to the surface, the things I’m meant to serve, to follow, to join. This is similar to how I view naming someone, whether human or animal: it’s not a whim I get to indulge, it’s a perception I must hone, clues I must decipher, a puzzle to assemble so the whole is revealed.
But I’ve never thought of the New Year– or my future self– looking at me. Maybe it, too, is observing, deciphering, puzzling as we dance together.
Wishing you mystery, treasure, delight, reunion, and the ongoing joyful return to your home in yourself in 2020.

Don’t Try to Make Your Life Story a Literary Masterpiece

Timothy Kreider and Doug Lipman had some overlapping things to say about life and storytelling:

The narrative form real life most closely resembles is the soap opera — a long, meandering, pointless story without resolution, in which nothing much happens for long stretches, punctuated by the occasional incredible coincidence or improbable tragedy.

…Not that we’re obliged to make our lives interesting for the amusement of some imaginary reader-God. There’s a difference between what we want to want … and what we actually want…

…The best fiction acknowledges that character is too complex to define, destiny unguessable: only bad stock characters are consistent and predictable; great literary characters, like people in real life, remain a little elusive, their motives opaque even to themselves.

…For an instant we can almost make out the pattern, and in it is not meaning but beauty.

Timothy Kreider on Medium (brought to my attention by Austin Kleon’s wonderful weekly newsletter).

 

When storyteller and coach Doug Lipman‘s grandson tasted lemon fizzy water for the first time, he said, “Spicy. Sour. Pfttttt!” Doug wrote:

No English teacher would accept “Spicy. Sour. Pfttttt!” as a sentence; it lacks both a subject and a verb, and the third sound isn’t even a word at all!

…In a conversational story, we’d likely react positively to “Spicy. Sour. Pfttttt!” But in a written story, we wouldn’t.
Why is this important? Many of us have been taught to create stories by first writing them down and then practicing saying them aloud.

…It can be liberating to reduce your dependence on the “script method” of creating stories—and to relearn the “conversational method”

Your personal narrative doesn’t have to Mean Something– or be told according to a system.

The First Pancake

This Swedish Pancake recipe was on our fridge (on yellow legal paper) my entire childhood– so that if we had a babysitter Saturday night we could still have our usual supper.

I remember my mom’s note:

The first one is always poorly.

Too greasy (or, in today’s case, too dry) so we gave it to the dog.

I think this reminder applies to more than just pancakes. Don’t be discouraged, keep going. Lacy edges and winter-pale delights are minutes away.

Art is: Making Images; Faith & Belief; Narnia & Heaven & Europe

“…it was really that they could not make their own images.” 🤯💛

This is so wonderfully clear– I love teaching writing/theatre/storytelling with kids best because each experience gives them a landmark and an anchor point of knowing they CAN make their own images, and what that feels like.
This also reminds me of how confused I was that you’re supposed to stage a house in order to sell it… Because people can’t picture what it could look like! And I always preferred an empty house because other people’s stuff cluttered up my images and visioning of how I could make the room look.
I don’t believe not every person has this ability– why? Just because the thought is too sad? I guess it’s something I can’t imagine!
But really, what child doesn’t play? What kid, with nothing more than a stick or a pinecone to entertain them doesn’t imagine– make images– of something else??
And what pairs so well with this is Tom Guald’s Edison quote:
“My so-called inventions already existed in the environment. I’ve created nothing. Nobody does.”

Like atoms, like matter not being able to be destroyed, only reused, ideas and images and inventions all exist around us. So being an artist, a poet, that is to say, a healthy and reverent human, is SEEING THE INVISIBLE THAT IS ALWAYS AND ALREADY PRESENT.

If you’re an artist or inventor, then you try to make the invisible visible. But everyone can see it, and they only stop seeing it through training or trauma.

What I want to do is make sure no one loses it entirely. I want every kid (and thus, person) to know where at least one secret doorway to Narnia is within themselves and always be able to find it again, even if they don’t go through daily or often at all. It’s like how Europe was for me in my podunk, I-don’t-quite-fit-here childhood: knowing it existed was a balm, a magic token. A bully could only hurt me superficially because I held within myself this whole other marvelous world, even when there were long years between trips.

I’ve always thought that it’d be nice to have Faith– Christian belief that I really believed. It’s interesting that this faith in Europe isn’t so different as believing that there is a Heaven, that someday we’ll all belong and live in beauty and peace.

Isn’t faith holding in one’s mind and heart the image (the living image) of something invisible yet tangible? And in both religion and art aren’t we charged with making “Heaven on Earth?”

You have to see it and keep believing in it.

Maybe Easiest is Best

Occam’s Razor says simplest is best.

Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor) is a principle from philosophy. Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the one that requires the smallest number of assumptions is usually correct. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation.

-Wikipedia

Are Simplest and Easiest the same thing? (And do rules for science translate to art?)

As I step into being an illustrator (because it’s fun, and because, as Dessa says, I’m the cheapest person I can hire), I’m trying out styles.

I’ve had the freeing realization that I’m a cartoonist, not a fine artist. But there’s still a wide range within that definition.

After a great (free!) workshop at the library with Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan, I spent time drawing profile and 3/4 views of some of the 12 Little Trolls. Then I wondered how simple, how cartoony they could be.

Whether or not I stick with this look, it’s helpful to feel fluent in the most essential shapes and lines. (After all, I’d like to do 12 books– that’s a lot of trolls).

Good Book: “Carry On”

The Harry Potter/Magicians premise got me to click yesterday during housekeeping at the B+B. The marvelous story got me asking why I have not read any Rainbow Rowell before??

(The answer: Because she’s so popular & prolific, and her name– Rainbow— is so conspicuous, so I-don’t-mind-standing-out. So not the small-minded small town propaganda I still have to shake off on a regular basis. Looks like a pretty great mentor to add to my list).