How to keep it together when you’re not

On most days, most of us like to move into our day with confidence, with purpose and a very clear idea that we have what we need to function. That is how I like to think I show up in the world. Until I don’t.

What makes me wonder why we aren’t all crashing into each other like unravelling whorls of disaster is how very little it takes knock us off our game and leave us gasping. Me, anyway.

The other day was A Very Bad Day and left me without a wallet, unexpected demands and problems at work and mad at life.

It took a while to readjust my outlook on things and find my way back to center. Actually, it was in doing so that I realized how arrogant it was of me to think I ever was at the center. We are all finding our way to that elusive place where nobody holds a long term lease, all the time, all of our lives.

When life makes it hard, it’s good to remember we are still on the path, just a little dented, maybe, but moving.

Who is really in control?

Over 500 hundred artists applied for Queens Council on the Arts grants this year. Why? Because we were given more dollars from the city for our grants fund. We were able to tell everyone there was more money and more chances of getting a grant this year.

Next year, who knows? We may get the same amount or less, depending on the gods of the city budget.

More grants means more artists doing creative work in the borough for people to enjoy, something that makes communities vibrant and alive. Who doesn’t want that?

Less money means just as many artists will apply, fewer will get funded and there will be less presence of the arts in our neighborhoods. Who decides that is OK?

As artists, the only thing in your control is your commitment to show up every day and do your creative work. That is also a great gift to people whether or not it gets acknowledged with a grant. There are other ways to get your work out there, things you can do to bring people in to your world even if it is one person at a time.

It is a mistake to allow the money people decide what you can or cannot do as an artist. Their reasons have more to do with arcane inside politicking and favor swapping than with you. Create the work and invite a few people over. Start there and see what happens.

A Better Use of Your Talent

This morning I sat at my desk for 4 hours.

I would like to say that I wrote 1,000 words of perfect prose and took care of my corner of the universe with Godlike efficiency. This image comes closer to what actually happened.

It also gives you a better idea of what kinds of skills I value and that having a quirky sense of humor helps, or doesn’t, depending on what you are doing. I like to think that we have a wonderful ability to transfer and transform skills to help us get through life. For example, learning how to play all 32 Beethoven Sonatas at an early age has given me the superhuman ability to sit on hard surfaces for hours. Throw in focus and a dismal social life and voila! a budding pianist is born. This is now the secret to my ability to knock out all kinds of paperwork and projects quickly on a different kind of keyboard.

The jury is still out on how this particular skill translate into my life.

Squeezing time

For those of you with busy days and big lists of things to do, squeezing time is nothing new.

It is all because we want to have accomplished something by the end of the day that we resort to things like this. Finding 5 minute pockets of time to scribble some notes, dragging ourselves out of bed before sunrise to get an hour of creative work in before heading out to work, sitting at our desk during lunch to draw something.

This is making the most of our precious time everyday and with it comes an urgency that is often absent when you do find yourself in front of your blank canvas with time on your hands.

Do I have writers block when I know I have 25 minutes on a train? No, I have a list.

Do I have trouble coming up with the right image? No, I keep sketching until something clicks.

At the end of the day, I have created a little more than I had the day before. Over time, this will become something born of squeezed, stolen, seized and savored time.

For those of us with pursuits larger than our scheduled time slots, this is the best and only way to make a creative life.

Kits

There are a lot of people who have created an industry around preparing for disaster. They are the ones who always have extra batteries for their high beam flashlights and emergency kits in their cars. They have all of their papers filed neatly in a waterproof safebox, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. They watch the tides and track hurricane patterns. In the event of a natural catastrophe, they’re pretty OK.

There are less people concerned about preparing for success. As if success, once it happens, is something we don’t need to be concerned about. Every prodigy violinist that burns out, every literary darling who crashes and burns, every CEO who tumbles from the top is proof there should be some kind of preparation for success.

Here’s a few things you’ll need in your kit:

A sense of gratitude

A good friend or two who knew you when you were nobody

A commitment to get 8 hours of sleep every night no matter what

A willingness to look stupid

Batteries optional.