Every day I’ll be posting some small thought about art, creative processes, and community.
Longer posts, often written in collaboration with other artists, can be found here.
- Slow, Slow Start
A lot of what I write here takes the form of permission slips: “Forgive yourself for…” “Allow yourself to be…”
(I think it’s pretty clear that I’m often writing these “slips” for myself. Is that self-absorbed? Maybe. But I also believe that what’s true for me can be true for others. For me, making art is all about investigating the inner workings of the self and reflecting our discoveries back to the world.)
We all encounter self-imposed roadblocks that prevent us from tapping into our full creative potential. One of my personal roadblocks is a perceived pressure to keep up an appropriate pace: If I don’t get this play written in the next few months then it’s not worth working on at all. If I don’t write these darn posts every day then what am I doing with my life??
So today I’m reminding myself that it’s OK to go slow, especially now. Often a slower pace leads to longevity: The impact of what we create, and the joy we experience while making it, can last longer when we take our time.
- Authenticity in Blog Posts…?
As a theatre artist I’m passionate about immersing myself in artifice. I’m a firm believer in finding truth in fiction; often an experience can be made to feel even more authentic and relatable by playing pretend.
So writing these posts can seem pointless and even phony to me. What am I trying to say, exactly, in these attempts to raise questions about the creative process? What truth am I getting at?
But I suppose that’s the point. Reflecting on the process can strengthen our approach to truth-telling. The more we’re conscious of how our work affects us and others, the more effective our stories become.
Maybe the “phoniness” I’m feeling is really a higher level of authenticity that still getting used to.
- Own Lil World
I’ve been drawn to Dolly Parton interviews lately. I’m fascinated by what she has to say about her life and her long held interest in being an entertainer. She claims she’s always known she was going to be “something more.”
We can be met with a lot of resistance when we’re honest about our own sense of self worth: when we behave in ways that clearly demonstrate a deep-rooted belief in ourselves. And yet… how else are we supposed to inch closer to our dreams?
There’s a big difference between confidence and entitlement. If others happen to confuse the two in how you present yourself then that’s their problem, not yours. Stick to your own lil world and, like Dolly, move toward your calling in strides.
- Sit With It
Sometimes good things take time. Or so I keep telling myself as I put off writing.
In yet another attempt at not being too hard on myself, perhaps the statement is true. Complicated ideas will unfold slowly. Sitting with a project for a bit and not forcing something from it can be a good way to let it percolate and come out even stronger than you imagined.
- Trust Your Eye
We all have taste. And though many people think they can teach “good taste”, I’m not so sure that’s true. I’m a bit confused about what “good taste” means, to be honest.
Trust that you have a good eye for many things. Hone it and develop some skills, for sure… But sometimes our instincts needs to be followed.
- Be a Goldfish
Has anyone been watching Ted Lasso? It’s a fantastic show.
The protagonist has many quotable lines, but my favourite is “Be a goldfish.” There comes a point where you have to let go of that harmful event from your past. Goldfish are known to have limited memory spans and forget things quickly… So, be a goldfish.
OK so experts have actually found that goldfish can remember things after around 5 months. But you get the idea.
- Steadfast and Patient
My personal approach to this time is to write and create as much as possible. I have a few different ideas on the go in addition to my usual workload, and I’m often adding notes on my phone for each project in an attempt to flesh them out and see which one takes off. It’s a nice time for that sort of thing: I’m not in a rehearsal room or in the theatre, so I’m focusing that energy on churning out new material.
But I’m finding I have to keep reminding myself to be patient with myself.
An interesting idea rarely bears fruit right away. It takes some time. And with a focus that’s steady but split, it’s important to forgive myself for diverging and taking time away from projects to think about and round out others.
One of your many great ideas will hold. Just allow some time for it to show its potential.
- Imagine You’re Healed
If you’re going through a pain that is impeding on your creativity and productivity… Imagine, for a moment, you’re healed. What does that look like? How do you feel? Is there any small amount of that feeling that you can carry into your reality?
- Necessary Confrontation
Confrontation can be necessary in defining our own boundaries.
It can be hard. It can be incredibly uncomfortable and awkward. But leaning in to difficult (and curiosity-based) conversations opens the door to learning so much about ourselves. How can we possibly know our limitations and those of others without… talking?
- The Work Behind It
I personally don’t believe there’s such thing as “passive consumption,” where you sit and read a book or watch a TV show and not engage with it critically. I think the art we come in contact with lingers and affects our minds in behaviours in at least small, subtle ways. But it does have an even larger impact when we consider the work and decisions that go into it.
Our role as consumers is to contemplate what we take in and give it the opportunity to move us. That YouTube video you watched the other day, for example: have you considered the creator’s efforts and all the resources needed to make that happen? Have you thought about the decisions they needed to make in order to present the video in that specific way?
While I believe that anything we consume affects us in some small ways, we can open ourselves to new and exciting understandings when we factor in the efforts of the creator.
At this moment when we’re spending a lot more time than usual with the work of artists, let’s think about the labour behind the scenes.
- The High Price
“You are only free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every pace — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”Maya Angelou
I’m sure I’ve written about this Maya Angelou quote before but it bears repeating.
Creativity can so easily get stifled by anxiety around what other people think. A worry about how people perceive me has been a constant in my life, as I’m sure it is for many people. The real challenge is to recognize that our innate power comes from within. It isn’t given or taken away by others.
When we realize that we “belong no place,” that we bring our own belonging around with us, the confidence that forms as a result might scare others away. We’re bound to rub up against negative reactions when expressing ourselves authentically. I believe that to be the “high price.”
But the reward is indeed great. We can get a heck of a lot more done as creatives when we are drawing from our own pool of inspiration and curiosity, not other people’s. We can connect much more closely with our work when it’s genuinely our own. And that authenticity will always shine through, enhancing the beauty of the work for those witnessing it.
- Serendipitous Solutions
I started going for a hike last night. When I reached the bottom of the hill I realized by the time I would get to the top the sun would be setting and I’d have to come back down in the dark. I also really had to pee.
I thought, “Why bother?” Then I thought, “The photo op though.”
“The photo op though” indeed!
I also had some good thoughts at the top of that hill. Some solutions to problems that have been plaguing me. I forget what a lot of them were, but I do recall being happy I went up there.
Our creativity can find some serious juice in decisions we initially resist making. The difficult can lead to the sublime.
And I didn’t have to hold my bladder for too long. Thank you for asking.
We’re all trying to make sense of the world around us. We’re all bound to make mistakes. The journey for everyone is awkward. Embrace it! Give yourself permission to flail around, if that’s what it takes for you to move forward.
- The Privilege of Creating
Many people are feeling restless. With so much time spent away from loved ones, work, public centres, etc., being alone with our thoughts gets discouraging. And as I was thinking about what to write today I drew a lot of blanks. My creativity seems tired after so much time without its usual stimulants.
Yesterday’s post… whew. A lot of big thoughts and not enough time spent parsing them out. When I reflected on what I wrote I realized that I could very well spend more time clarifying those points and making something useful out of them.
Our days now come with at least a little bit more time. And what a privilege it is to use those few extra minutes to sharpen our creative focus. Of course having “more time” is certainly not the case for everyone (parents now juggling jobs and being with their children 24/7, for example), but despite my restlessness I’m finding I’m more grateful for additional opportunities to reflect and create: opportunities that I never had before.
Or, if I did have them, I never bothered taking advantage of what they offered. During these days of introspection and fewer distractions, maybe we can find a few extra moments to rediscover the joys of creative thinking.
- What the Election Taught Me
It may be naïve but I believe any stressful event can ultimately prove itself useful. The news surrounding the US presidential election, specifically the social division caused by problematic media coverage, has made it possible for me to define some personal boundaries.
Propaganda can be pervasive, particularly now, when the “news” we share on social media blurs the line between truth and fiction. In the search for more views and clicks, corporations subtly manipulate our thoughts, even those of us with the best of intentions. Seeing just how divisive social media can be, even among the smartest and kindest, makes me weary of their effects. Sure these sites come with perks, like seeing what you friends are doing in their bathrooms (?), but we don’t know enough about how the intricacies of this new social media world are affecting our minds.
There are news outlets who do their best to tell the truth and present information through non-partisan, objective perspectives. But in the world of social media and Fox News, information is tainted. And I don’t want my mind to be manipulated without me being aware of it. I’d rather remove myself from the magnetism of sensationalized media’s instant gratification. Its power can lead to a reduction of free thought.
All that to say… the stress on American democracy is making me more aware of what I can control in my own life. How nice to discover something like that and maintain some level of power over my own critical thinking.
- Small but Consistent
My mind goes in a million different directions every time I sit down to write one of these posts. decentre is ultimately about theatre and performance, but those of course intersect with many other artistic disciplines. I enjoy writing about everything from productivity to empathy… and oftentimes the connection to theatre isn’t immediately apparent. But it’s there! For the most part.
The thing about wanting to cover so much ground means I often get overwhelmed. Do you find that? You set time aside to make something but because you’re grappling with the million different things that something could be, you start another episode of Gilmore Girls instead?
Once these little posts get written, I find they help focus me. Choosing one tiny part of what’s on my mind and dedicating a certain amount of time to it distracts me from the ever-expanding glob of artistic potential. That’s probably not the best way to describe it. But you get what I’m saying.
I try to approach other projects in the same way: focus on one bit of dialogue, for example, and see what comes of it, trying not to get consumed by thoughts on how that dialogue should sound. Then I shift my attention to another, seemingly unrelated fragment, and avoid comparing it to what I worked on previously.
Small pieces of a larger idea that are consistent in their growth, until suddenly all the small parts fit together.
- Taking a Break From Social Media
For those complaining they can’t wear masks during a global pandemic because they’d rather breathe fresh air, try taking a step away from social media.
I’ve now officially deleted my personal Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. I must say it feels nice. With the spread of misinformation being more substantial than ever before, and people more desperate to stand up for their “beliefs” even when said beliefs put people in danger, it’s perhaps in everyone’s best interest to take a step back.
Even the most well-intentioned can get caught in these currents of distrust. Today, and for the days to come, social media will be treacherous. Consider taking a break. Get to know the real, factual information about our world. Become familiar with your own personal perspectives. Rest. Regroup. Then formulate a response.
- JUST WRITE
I’ve been using the app Bear. It’s helpful. Typically when I sit down to start writing something my mind goes on a ridiculous amount of tangents, and its hashtag system is effective at keeping me somewhat organized. It’s always good to find some sort of system that works for your particular approach to the creative process.
But ultimately, we just have to create. The biggest obstacle to the act of creation, I think, is our own relationship to procrastination. “I don’t need to do this right now” often leads to never getting it done. Just write! Just work! Find or create some sort of distraction-free environment. Download Bear if you have access to it and enjoy it. Carve out a bit of time for yourself to focus on whatever it is you’re making. And then make that garbage.
First goes are always crappy. This post? Crappy. Most things I write on here are meandering and confusing. But some posts, I hope, contain little tiny bits of goodness. I take that goodness and run with it, creating more and more garbage as I go.
At least I’m writing today. Days go by when I don’t, which is too bad. But hopefully down the road I minimize the gaps of silence until I’m writing more and more frequently. Just write, Luke!
- You Have an Effect!
I keep a running list of post ideas: brief descriptions of possible things to write about every day.
One of the more recent ones is “Remind yourself of all the people and places impacted by your presence.” I shall now try to decipher what that means.
I’m pretty sure I was thinking about how hard I am on myself, and how even the smallest criticism from someone else can make me spiral. There will always be criticism. People will make it a priority to keep your ego in check, whether it’s because of their own insecurities or simply shock that you can afford to be so badass.
Again, if they’re not in the arena and fighting the battle alongside you, their opinions don’t matter. One thing you can focus on instead is those who adore you. Seems pretty simple, really. But when you’re facedown and overwhelmed by all the vitriol, it can be hard to remember that there are others who have been positively affected by your presence.
You have an effect on people! But don’t waste your time thinking about those who are overly critical. Think instead of those who love to be around you — in spite or because of your flaws.
- Only Enthusiasm
There are people who are very intrigued by the work you’re putting out there. Sure, there may be some who have voiced disapproval, but if they can’t engage in honest conversation about how your work confuses or somehow hurts them then they don’t deserve your focus.
Those you allow directly behind or beside you while you create should be the people who are curious and want to see you succeed. They should be actively supportive teammates who, even if they don’t quite get what you’re all about, are wholeheartedly on board. They put the effort into trying to understand where you’re coming from.
Only invite enthusiasm into your process. Don’t bother with anything else.
- Eye of the Beholder
A cliché that’s worth repeating. Beauty is, in fact, in the eye of the beholder. We each have our own interpretation of beauty and it’s never an objective truth. For me that’s liberating: I can focus on creating something that speaks to me and not worry about how others will perceive it. If I see the beauty in it then it’s beautiful.
There’s also that whole thing about universality being found in specificity. If something resonates with me, it’s likely going to resonate with someone else… As long as it’s honest. The more truthful we can be with what we’re creating the more we can connect with others.
This has been a small reminder to not give an eff about how others perceive you and your work. Focus on making what you love.
- Judging Flawed Thought Babies
I’ve been given a few scalding pieces of criticism that were clearly not fleshed out or well founded: off-the-cuff remarks meant to show evidence of my negative behaviour but on closer inspection couldn’t possibly hold water. That’s not to say I’m absolutely perfect (though I am), but people tend to shape the entire context and series of events in their heads before knowing any details of the reality I personally faced. They judge based on their own gaps of knowledge that they temporarily fill in with their biases.
I find I do the same thing to myself when starting a new creative project. I’ve been working on a plot outline for a new play and every point I write down seems ridiculous. I’m fighting the urge to judge each idea as they come out of my head. It’s tempting to visualize an ideal version of the finished product and then hold each feeble thought up to that imagined light in comparison. But that’s not fair to the process.
There can be a concept in mind for how the project might end up, sure. It’s nice to work toward something. But that visualized final concept needs to be completely flexible: able to contort itself around every new idea. We get nowhere if we are constantly gauging the effectiveness of new thoughts via a nonexistent end goal. It’s an impossible comparison: something brand new and unstable compared to something we have been sitting on for a long time… or that we’ve grown fond of and don’t want to crumble.
But it’s gotta be the other way around. Take the fledgling idea and see how your original intentions for the project might shape around it. Noticing the creases and the overlapping pieces will help you identify gaps in your goals, and that information can help spawn even more new ideas.
I think for me what’s most important at the beginning is to churn out as many little ideas as possible. If I’m comparing these tiny, flawed thought babies to some idealized future that doesn’t yet exist then I’m bound to disappoint myself. But the less judgment I pass on new ideas the more likely something’s going to come along that will surprise me, and possibly even reshape everything in deeply unsettling and exciting ways.
- What… Am I Doing?
A question I ask myself frequently. The point of this project is what again?
As much as I’m drawn to writing these posts (almost) every day, it’s easy to lose track of its purpose. decentre will hopefully grow into something a bit bigger than me postulating on a bunch of seemingly random topics. While I enjoy reading my own thoughts written on a screen, and I appreciate that some of them resonate with you fine folks, there’s surprisingly a larger goal in my head somewhere. decentre will be a community of dissenters, creating art that questions the status quo. But in the meantime I feel I need to get some content out there. Some basic ideas that could underpin the larger mechanism down the road.
Plus it’s just good to practice writing every day. Nothing wrong with that.
But it can be incredibly disheartening when we lose sight of what we’re working toward. I’m a big proponent of honesty and speaking your heart, so honestly, I lack motivation some days. Because there’s no one telling me what this thing could become I have to keep convincing myself of its potential power. I have a suspicion that, whatever decentre becomes, these writings will benefit some other creative projects of mine… plays yet to be written, a novel… who knows.
Despite its hazy future I continue the ritual of (almost) daily writing. Though I can’t quite put my finger on where this will land (if at all), I enjoy writing about theatre/creativity/empathy every day. So thank you for reading and wading this muck with me.
- Something to Say?
One of the many things I ask myself with this daily writing project is whether or not I have something to say. That’s a repeated adage in the art making world, I find: “Figure out what you have to say before you share your story.”
Blah blah blah.
I’m not about to spend hours staring out my window trying to think of the important, life-altering message I wish to convey to my audience. I’m going to start working and see what comes out.
I suppose we all have ~something to say~. But I’m tired of the pressure to make sure whatever we want to create won’t be a waste of space. We won’t get anything done if we’re constantly bogged down by the idea that whatever we make has to be deeply profound right from the start. It doesn’t.
Create whatever is gnawing at you, whatever’s on your mind, and the more you work at it the more likely a little kernel of universal truth will come out.
- Now More Than Ever
Theatre has survived much worse. And if it were more aligned with the amazing technologies developed in the last 20-30 years, it could be even more popular right now.
Theatre can be digital. Its liveness can be replicated through livestreams, its artist/audience relationship brought to a new level of intimacy.
This moment, I believe, is presenting interesting opportunities for community healing through theatre. Let’s take advantage of those and work to shape our theatre to our current time.
- Why Theatre Rocks and Facebook Sucks
I’m always skeptical of any piece of art that posits some sort of fundamental truth.
Theatre is effective in its complexity. It presents contradictory characters with various perspectives and experiences. It’s a playground of multiple ideologies, demonstrating possible conflicts and inviting audiences to empathize with different points of view. That in itself is a truthful process because it reflects the challenges of reality.
We know that social media and the giant corporations behind them suck at this. We are manipulated into thinking the world is black and white: there are our opinions and the opinions of others. But these companies, like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., are presenting each of us with different ideas and convincing us they are the only answers. Advertisers, the money source for these large companies, want us to interact with the internet in particular ways so they can rack up more clicks for their products. Each individual is put in front of a separate set of “truths” without seeing the flip side of the coin.
It’s important to question any simple statement or situation that claims to be the “only way”. Life is always more complex than what’s presented on the internet, and the real truth is buried somewhere in that complicated muck. Make art that takes us through some mess to get to some clarity.
- Choosing Distractions Wisely
We are surrounded by many tempting distractions. And I personally think it’s impossible to get rid of all of them. But we can choose wisely.
Try not to apply more pressure to eliminate important methods of escape. We all need to disconnect from our work sometimes in order to experience the full breadth of life. There are habits and shiny objects that don’t need to go away completely. Just try to define your healthiest limit to their exposure.
- Stubborn Routines
Stick to your routine even (especially?) when it pisses people off.
I’m drawn to what Glennon Doyle writes in Untamed: “Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.”
People will get mad no matter what you do. If you have a few minutes carved out of every day to sit, contemplate, and write (or not write, depending on the success of the contemplation), that means that allotted time is your own and belongs to no one else. But a friend or a loved one might think you’re being selfish or lazy, wasting precious bonding time on something trivial. Screw ‘em.
As artists, we have routines that may not make sense to those who don’t prioritize creativity in their day-to-day. If our brains are firing between the hours of 2 and 3 AM, then we are sitting at our desks working. Then we’re sleeping through our brunch plans (if brunch ever exists again) and the people we’re leaving in the lurch can suck it up.
- Li’l Impacts
Today I’m reminding myself that small decisions can make substantial impacts.
When I think about my career and what I want to be doing with my life, it often comes down to helping people and affecting change. I’d like to leave this world with some sort of legacy that was made possible by my creativity and hard work.
But that legacy can take shape in small steps. Creative decisions permeate our day to day. We rub up against obstacles that require some innovative thinking, and that problem-solving helps both us and the people around us. The more we focus on making large impacts through groundbreaking creativity, the more overwhelmed we become and the more unaware we are of the little things that mean a lot.
Small steps are OK too. Looking back on the past 24 hours, can you think of the seemingly minute decisions that made your life or the lives of others more meaningful?
- It’s All Connected, Maaan
When deep in the process of making, everything carries weight.
It can be easy to get caught up in the net of our own overthinking and not see the forest for the trees. But when our hearts and minds remain open, we can be inspired by everything around us. Everything our senses can detect is up for consideration. The work may benefit from how that chair across the room casts a shadow. A song blasting from a passing car may be exactly what you need to hear.
We have to practice opening up. It does no one any good to keep your head down all the time. Attentive listening to the world around us can inspire us to take a leap and fill our work with more authentic beauty.