Once Upon a Time

Around three years ago, I was challenged.  My complaint was that I couldn’t find any creative time in my hectic life.  I was challenged to do something that was not too demanding on my time and that I thought I could do, without having to angst about it.  I had already written a book, so writing seemed to be the way to go.

My artistic struggle was with painting, but more so with my first love – music.  I had become estranged from my music.  Weirdly, music turned out to be the thing that lit my life, yet I had neglected it terribly and was, as a human being, suffering because of it.  I had been convinced that music wasn’t real, worthwhile work, so had sleep walked into concentrating on earning a living.  It was deceptively easy to lose sight of my music.  I started as an engineer, concentrating on creating music making equipment.  That morphed into music recording equipment, then into film and video making equipment.  All the while, I was drifting further and further away from actually making my music.  I didn’t think it important.

Insidiously, I am a pretty good engineer and I love doing it.  It is a valid creative pursuit, to me, which does pay the bills, but it isn’t music and I love music best.  It feels as though I have spent a long time learning to be good at something that I love, is creative and pays the bills, but isn’t my first love.  Seems churlish, I know, but that’s how it is.  Engineering, unfortunately, isn’t as much fun as it used to be either.  I thrive in R&D and there isn’t a lot of that about.  Doing R&D independently is a very expensive proposition, so hard to get going, but I still might.  You never know.  I had my own R&D lab, at one time, but our clients went bust before we could make them rich with our new designs.  Learned a lot from that.

Music was the thing that always made me smile and where I felt most contentment.  I struggled, though, to say what I wanted to say, through my music.  I still do.  Music is such a big thing for me, that saying something in a less than ideal way, as imagined in my own head, is enough to dissuade me from trying, much of the time.  It’s the struggle I still wrestle with most.  I’m getting less precious about it, though.

Anyway, the point of the blog was to see if I could write, regularly, and get into a discipline of just showing up and doing it, without worrying too much.  I figured that I could write a post every week and that I could find maybe five or six ideas worth writing up.  In typical fashion, I hit upon the title for the blog as a sort wry piece of humour.  I wanted to find a way to exist, as an artist, without starving to death.  I still haven’t found my answer to that problem, but I am now aware of plenty of artists that have.

The thing I knew I could do is come up with ideas, so it seemed to me that I ought to be able to find enough creative ideas for starving artists to unearth an answer of my own.  Still working on that.

I’m an ideas person.  I thrive on new ideas.  I innovate.  I think things through.  I look for ways to do things differently to how everybody else did, while learning from and respecting the techniques and methods of the past.  I have this strange way of connecting things that are seemingly unconnected.  Ideas are not something I am short of.

So how did the plan pan out?  Well, I paint regularly.  I have a style of my own that emerged, just by showing up and letting it happen.  I am now working on expanding my technical skills, so that I can absorb those and twist them into the service of what has become recognisably my own way of painting.  That’s a nice outcome.  Learning to turn up for the blog posting taught me to show up for the painting.  Painting is following a reasonably satisfactory path for me, now.  I’m not where I want to be, but the journey is fantastic.

As a writer, I have several books in the planning.  I just have to carve out the same sort of time that I do for blog posting to get some traction on that.  That ought to be possible, but so far, the interest necessary to focus on this hasn’t been there.  Or rather, it is more like I have a more pressing project.

My music is my big project.  I have been silent, in terms of putting music together and out there.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that I have the start of over one hundred songs.  Some are complete and some are partly complete.  I have collected all of the tools and sounds that I want to use.  I have imagined and begun to plan a sound I want to hear, but haven’t heard anywhere, which is the best reason to make a sound.  I’ve worked on my playing and singing.  Jamming once a week has freed up my musical creativity and given my hands a good work out.  I’ve made genuine progress, even though nothing is finished.  My project means a lot to me and it has a message, so I want to get it right.  I’ve set myself a very high quality bar, too, but one that I think I can reach, if I stretch.  So the next phase of this large project is to use the lessons of the blog and begin to show up and just do it, whenever I can, without angsting about it.  I think the blog posting has proven the efficacy of the approach.

This is my four hundredth post, on this blog.  If you count the words written, I guess it’s approaching the number of words in a decent sized novel.  Writers, think about that for a second.  Just by showing up once a week and putting down five hundred, or a thousand or a couple of thousand words at a time, I have accumulated enough words to fill a book.  You can do that too.

I worried, once, that I would run out of things to say, but weirdly, I never have.  There is, in fact, a backlog of things to write about that I tend to never get to write, because I usually have a fresh, compelling idea in my head that I just have to get down.  New thoughts elbow the backlog thoughts out of the way and I tend to write the latest idea, rather than go back to the older ideas I wanted to discuss.  The lesson I learned, from that, is to never let an idea get too old.

That said, articles that I wrote years ago still get regular readers.  People find the blog through searching for answers.  They find my perspectives.  I hope that a lot more people try blending acrylic paint or are inspired to daydream, as a result of what they search for and find most frequently, on my blog.

So, if you are stuck in a rut, on your creative projects, feel you have no time, feel you have too many distractions and lack the confidence in yourself and your abilities to tackle your heart’s desire magnum opus, try writing a blog, or doing something else that you can do in small steps, taking a bite at a time, not too far outside your comfort zone, but far enough that it’s still an interesting challenge.  That’s what this blog has been for me, so far.  It has been a way of learning to carve out the time, to write when there are distractions, to discipline my mind to capture fleeting ideas and then go back and flesh them out, as soon as I can.  It has kept me disciplined in having to post at least once a week, which I pretty much have.

My readership is small, compared to other people’s blogs, but what a great audience!  I get comments that encourage me to keep going.  It’s really gratifying to write something and have it find an echo with people.  That was an unexpected delight.  I didn’t know that what I wrote would not only be read, but also make an impact on people in a good way.  I thought I was writing for myself, when I started this thing.

The next challenge, I think, is to begin to apply this weekly “showing up” discipline to my music.  In a sense, I have been doing that, but in pre-production, rather than production.  I intend to transition from pre-production to actual music production gradually.  There is a lot of pre-production left to do, but it’s time to start tracking.  I’m ready.  There is enough pre-production done to get going.  The interesting challenge is to keep the blog going, keep the painting going, keep the jam sessions going, but add a session for music production, while keeping the pre-production and song writing going too.  I have to keep writing lyrics, even though I have way too many songs now as it is, just to keep that skill from going dull and so that I can correct songs I am producing with a sharpened sense of how I could improve it, now that I have been doing it for so long, while I produce them.  It’s amazing how you can see possibilities for improvements in your earlier work, when you get better at something.  I’m also aware that leaving the early work alone is sometimes the best answer, as well.  There is a raw energy about a work done when you were still learning.  That’s worth preserving, at times.  If my writing is anything to go by, it’s likely that the songs I write next will displace the older ones anyway.

So here I am.  I’ve reeled off a couple of pages of writing, just now and haven’t even pressed “save” yet.  I had better finish up and post this.  Seventeen hundred words is a good sized post.  Three years of writing and four hundred posts feels good.  Doing it for that sense of accomplishment, alone, would make it worth your while to consider.

Here’s to the next four hundred posts!

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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4 Responses to Once Upon a Time

  1. iancackett says:

    The whole “showing up” idea is huge, and it’s also my focus, but on my side project. Every time I realise that “showing up” may initially feel painful, but that it’s the only way to make progress… then progress occurs, the project moves on, and I realise it’s a real “thing” with a future.
    I hope you manage to keep “showing up” with your music. I guess the next stage, like “shipping” for me, is to publish/share/show what you’ve created. That may drive your progress and make you realise that showing up is worth it 🙂

    • I hope I get some music finished soon too 🙂 Thanks for commenting. I know you have shown that you can make dramatic progress with projects you have undertaken, just by sticking to it. Let’s hope it works for the music too.

  2. To find ways of making time for what is really important, and/or actually doing what is important (as opposed to just thinking about it), I have found Leo Brabauta on http://www.zenhabits.net really helpful. He advises that you should “show up” every day if you want to make a new habit, or create a new normal. He offers these steps:
    1. Start small. What’s the smallest increment you can do? Do this for at least 3 days
    2. Get started. Starting the change each day is the most important thing. Want to run? Just get out the door. Want to meditate? Just get on the cushion.
    3. Enjoy the change. Don’t look at this as a sacrifice. It’s fun, it’s learning, it’s a challenge.
    4.Stick to the change. Notice your urge to quit. Don’t act on it. Keep going.
    5.Adjust again. When the change becomes normal, make another small adjustment.
    Somewhere else on his site he also talks about accountability, and I think that’s important too. When I decided to show up and paint every day, I start a daily painting blog. After a while, this blasted blog became like a dependent child or pet or something: I felt obliged to feed it!! So I have cut back to 3x a week now rather than everyday, but there is no doubt it has made a huge difference. Are there the equivalent of blogs for music? Perhaps you could post a few notes there every day! If not, perhaps you should invent such a thing.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Indeed there is an equivalent to blogging for music. It’s making musical sketches. That’s my aim. Short fragments of useful bits of songs. Just trying stuff out. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think habituating yourself to your creative endeavour turns out to be so critical to making it happen.

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