Writing my obituary in journalism class, tears were welling in my eyes. The assignment was meant to teach us the form. I took it to existential depths.
The death of Thomas Duncan, the first American to be diagnosed with Ebola, has sparked a contagious conversation about the disease. Yes, Ebola is deadly. Yes, it is in America. Yes, it is contagious. But, no, you will not get it.
This is no time for ridiculous fear over a mysterious disease. Or is it?
I started writing at just about the time I wanted to smash my keyboard. Inside my cubicle inside an office inside a warehouse, I had six hours a day to burn at a family-owned camera business. There was windows, no escape. No one could hear me scream.
It wasn't that writing was keeping me sane, it was just that everything else was driving me nuts. I was so frustrated I daydreamed cursing out my best friends because they couldn't make simple dinner plans. Something was wrong.
Before that I was just devouring YouTube videos to no end. I found stand-up comedians and slam poets, psychedelic lectures and storytellers good enough to pass the hours before and after lunch. Every one of them had an amazing vision of the world.
And suddenly it made sense for me what I should write about - ideas.
Former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins was a regular in the rotation. He has a poetic passion for pushing his limits. He enjoys books most people can't even lift and he performs with the fury of a dragon. And it all bled over into his bite-size YouTube stories. And most recently I found this quote to be most apt to where I am now:
"Half of life is fucking up. The other half is dealing with it."
Although writing can be a meditation or practice, there is always room for growth. It took me a long time to get where I could publish regularly. It was way after I quit the job where I started putting my time into my words.
And so looking back over a hundred weeks of blogging, I wanted to see how I've dealt with fucking up as I went along building an audience. What were people absorbing when they sat down to my blog?
Of all of them, the following are the Top 11 most viewed and commented on:
Walking Through Existence with Some Fly Kicks - #8
Beyond the Bored Zombies and Dreaming Too Little - #19
Collecting So Easy a Caveman Could Do It - #25
Connect the Dots, See the Picture - #27
We're Not Superheroes, We're Hitters Up to Bat - #28
How to Die Working - #78
Why Not Rethink Technology? - #84
Puzzles of Interest in Brooklyn - #90
How to Experience the Dreams of the Waking World - #92
Embracing Unpredictable Change - Explode #95
Moving On, Untitled - #97
Nothing really jumped out at me linking the titles, themes, or reasons for commenting on any of them, much less all of them. I was glad to see some of my favorites resounded with some readers, but when it got down to data, there wasn't much to go on.
What it came down to was what the actual audience took from it. When I couldn't stare at the titles anymore, I turned and asked my friend Alejandro. He didn't miss a beat. He said something like I often wrote about a problem that initially frustrated me beyond words until I found myself relaxed enough to come to terms with it. It seemed to me like some kind of public therapy. Or cautionary tale. Or self-help book in the most actual sense.
And it's true.
Walking Through Existence with Some Fly Kicks was about my frustration hauling junk when a customer questioned if I was strong enough to lift a metal desk. Writing it out gave me the ego check that it wasn't about my abilities, it was about putting myself in her shoes, understanding she was more worried about her home being damaged.
Collecting So Easy a Caveman Could Do It was a retrospective on the amount of crap I collected from my days junk-hauling and the realization I needed to make that I was hoarding too tightly things I didn't have any passion to fight to keep.
How to Experience the Dream of the Waking World was one of my best. I enjoyed writing it. It was about coming to terms with my emotions, whether I was feeling down or ecstatic, and understanding it was all ok in this dream of a life.
Writing is just as it is when I found Henry Rollins on YouTube. It is always a struggle, it is always a challenge. It is putting my world down into words. When it comes to content, though, I have to like what I do. I couldn't write it if I didn't. I would start smashing keyboards again.
It couldn't have been good to just sit and devour clip after clip either. Experimenting with life and not just words has to inform my writing. It is the reason the posts where I observe and experience my cross-country roadtrip, coping with the deaths of loved ones, or moving to Brooklyn have been the most appetizing for me and my audience. It makes me more of a real person having something going on than to simply be a brain on a stick. Anyone with some patience to put words down can do that. It has to be a search for me.
In the words of Rollins, I'm only fucking up because I'm human. Writing helps me sort it out and move on. And in that way there is always material and always an audience.
Some of my best ideas have come from storms of conversations in dark bars or while yelling playfully with friends over campfires.Nothing makes me feel more alive than having a discussion where I end up understanding the world better than I did before. It teases me that there is a meaning to nail down. You have the meaning of life by the tail just a bit more when you can bounce your ideas off of someone else. It's orgasmic in a different way. It’s idea sex.
Ideas may sometimes come as jolts. That's true. But visual artist Ann Hamilton makes a point when she jokes that no one sits down to be creative. There is no punch clock, there is no finish line.
Don’t be fooled, there is actual work to creativity. It just feels like some big secret. We pretend artists and writers are a special group of people destined to be weird and moody. But as E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, wrote, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." It's not a one-and-done process, it is a meditation, a lifestyle. What Hamilton was poking at is that creativity is not a noun, it’s a verb. It is making the time to open your mind and ask questions. It is the practice you need to produce your best work. We don’t know when it will come and we don’t know if it will come, but you need to sit down and do the work.
The Good Stuff
The process in and of itself can be maddening. There is an intense pressure of a billion tiny thoughts firing in your brain when you’re trying to create something to move you and the world around you. It’s no surprise some of the most amazing artists of our time have been seriously fucked up.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, beautifully challenged the tormented artist image in her TED talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. Gilbert found comfort in the ancient Greek and Roman ideas of a creative genius not being within you but being an external divine presence grateful enough to loan their powers to us mere mortals for some time. It took the burden off the “artist” to acknowledge that his “genius” or divine partner did or did not deliver. No artistic ego or suffering needed.
I’d like to take that idea one step further from Gilbert and the Greek genius. I believe we are all divine partners of one another. You’ve heard the theories. We’re all One. You’re the sum of your five closest friends. And now with the magic of the Internet, we’re all connected, sharing ideas and colliding off one another.
Every tweet is an invitation to idea sex.
The work of creativity multiplies with idea sex. And we can have it all the time. We can have multiple partners. We can do weird stuff. It is some freaky, tantric sex connection where your ideas and others collide to make something new. It is the pleasure of sex and the joy of birth all in a moment. Sharing anything less is masturbation.
When I write, I need to reference other people. Each of the thinkers that have influenced me have put ideas out into the world for others to take and do what they will. There is no pretending for me that my thoughts are only my own. It is just the unique, swirling combination of my experiences and my days.
The trouble is none of this is possible if we don’t share our thoughts and our work.
You have to make yourself available and vulnerable in a completely human way. It’s terrifying and exciting all at once. And it requires you to sort out your thoughts and make something.
Blackout poet and author Austin Kleon takes the creative process to heart. While inspiration or genius, or whatever you may call it, may not come every time we sit down, Kleon believes in the process of delivering and publishing work constantly to draw that genius closer. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn’t.
We're meant to do this. Idea sex is the new evolution. As psychedelic explorer Terence McKenna put it, biological evolution ended with language. We have transformed the landscape of the world with our idea sex. And the more we come together, the more complex we get. Matt Ridley points out in his brilliant TED talk that no single person in this world knows how to make a pencil, much less a computer mouse. Comedian Joe Rogan considers the sophisticated level of which our world operates by asking, "If I left you alone in the woods with a hatchet, how long before you can send me an email?" We are nothing without one another because there is no artist without audience. There is no artist without art.
Nothing is original. Nothing is instant. So go have idea sex and you’re sure to change the world in the process.