Do something every day that scares you

The more I’m trying to work on my travel writing, the more I feel like I’m scaring myself silly. Which is a good thing. I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me. Hell, right now it feels impossible to even get someone to respond to an email, much less setting out on some long press trip. In many ways it feels like something someone else would get to do and I would listen, just drooling about the whole experience. And they would probably just complain about how dirty a city was or that it’s hard to get a drink with ice in it in Europe.

I begin with daydreaming.

If you can begin with a dream, then you have a goal, and you can work towards a goal. That’s how I work anyway. That’s how I was able to go to London nearly two years ago. Tonight I was looking at Google Maps and just seeing the green of the UK and the hedgerows and the way cities were laid out made me miss my experience. Jeez, I could FEEL what it felt like to see those places! I want to go back. I want to go so many other places too.

I discovered that you can buy a rail pass and see Europe for pretty much which it cost me to drive to Oregon last month. (Around $400) You can take a month to go from place to place too, with several cities and stops along the way not really adding anything to the price of tickets. I didn’t realize how close countries are really. In many ways, it’s a lot like our states here. Yes, I know that is a newbie thought. But when you visualize it like that, it seems less daunting. It seems like a shorter hill rather than an unsurmountable peak.

Hopefully lockdowns will relax and in the meantime, I can figure out little things like how to fund trips like this. Time is also critical. Gathering information. And though a month trip like that is likely a far off experience, it’s a good place to start.

I can’t believe it has been nearly two years.

I have the wanderlust bad these days. My trip out to Oregon was only enough to take the edge off just a little bit.

This is the motivation. What doesn’t come so easy is the discipline to do it. To just keep hammering away at it until something clicks and it goes from being a dream into reality. Work, read, write, pitch, query, travel, repeat. It’s a simple formula, but one that sometimes I feel is about twenty years too late. But back then there wasn’t the access to information the way there is now. In some ways it is easier. And then my life is a little more complicated than it was back then.

I suppose it’s all a trade off.

I mean, what happens if you set a goal and there is nothing standing in your way except how much you want to work to get there, and the result is getting everything you want and more? How terrifying is that? I mean, what if you actually get it?

Wow.

The mark of other

Have you ever wondered what propels certain people to create things artistically?  Whether it is visual arts, writing, music, or any other form of madness which some feel compelled to create out of nothing, something has driven these people to work and rework something until it takes on a life of its own.  Any art is a form of expression, usually gathering details from the world around them, and trying to make sense of it.  

As far as you can go back, people have done this.  In early times when some where struggling to not starve to death, or not be trampled by a giant animal they were hunting with a spear, one of their clan looked up at the starry sky and figured there was some sort of meaning in all of that.  People try to look for the patterns in things, and artists are the ones who really go to town when it comes to interpreting these patterns.  This is how we get things like religion, art, music, comedy, storytelling, and science (as much as science now tries to divorce itself from the rest).  It’s an inheirant flaw in the one creating these things who just isn’t satisfied with taking things for granted.  They have to fret and fiddle and tinker and tweak until it does.  Or comes close. And then they start all over again.

In ancient times, this sort of mental defect gave people holy status.  Shamans, oracles, soothsayers; this difference was noted and elevated to some other status.  The Other.  The Weird.  Seeing the world with a different set of eyes.  Nowadays, this sort of talk is consider pretentious.  Art is considered with deference to putting a coat of paint on a wall, music is something that guy in the town square does because he won’t get a real job, and don’t get me started on writing.  I’m sure I have half a dozen posts around here talking about how the work writers put into the craft of stringing words together is something lots of people feel like they can do (and they probably can) but probably not all that well.

So where does this defect come from?  I tend to think of it as a pearl inside an oyster.  Most oysters are happy being blobs of salty snot attached to rocks and piers by their hard external coverings.  But sometimes a piece of sand gets inside and to protect itself from this irritation, the ball of snot forms a calcium coating around it until it becomes something valuable to people right before they’ve slurped the ball of snot down right out of its shell with a little bit of hot sauce or lemon juice.

The idea is an irritant, and the artform protects the fragile mind of the artist from destroying itself from the absurdity or pain of such a thing.  The conflict.  The places only dreamed of, that would otherwise just exist and slowly drive this person mad.  Unfortunately, the artist is already sorta there.  After all, they are wired somehow to pick up these signals, while most of the rest of the species is fine with watching Real Housewives or focus on not starving to death in a hovel.

Is it a bad childhood?  A defining moment that rattled the artist’s perception?  Lack of kids their age to play with on their street? Some sort of defense mechanism that makes them look at details in some way that is different from others?  Something that makes someone bad at parties because they can walk into a room full of people, sit down with their drink and just listen to those around them, pet the cat or dog for an hour, and go home again.  Something that said to them it was hard to be around people for very long because it just reminded them of their own Otherness.  The drink or drugs are relied upon as a social lubricant, to numb those thoughts that would intrude in what most people would consider “fun” but to the Other are felt as much of a waste of time as a “normal” person would consider brush strokes, rhyming patterns, themes, or minor key.

Sometimes I feel like schools have been working against promoting this kind of creativity for a long time.  But thinking differently is why we have pretty much anything that isn’t rolling around in the mud for roots or fighting off competing predators for a rotting wildebeest carcass.  Even then, the first proto-human to figure out that a stick or rock to the snout of one of those slavering monsters bought you some time to get more food was an artist in their own way.  It’s just strange knowing that to see how little art and creativity is valued.

We take it for granted.  You turn on the radio and hear music you probably couldn’t play, that talent takes your mind off your monotonous commute between commercials for things you don’t need.  You eat a dinner at a nice restaurant you probably don’t know how to make.  You read part of a novel that someone spent two years of their life writing and chuck into the donation pile when you are sick of it.  You call that painting in your hotel room tacky, but could you have painted it?

All this taking things for granted devalues it.  Something not long ago that our ancestors considered holy is now just…not important.  Disposable.  Of no consequence.

Such weight

Last night was a big night for writing. I got 3500 words (maybe more) down in the book. I also finished reading a resource for the travel blog and by the time I passed out at around 2am, I was ready to start the whole thing over again today, bright and early.

The crazy thing about writing, for me at least, is how when you are in it, you don’t want to stop. It’s like a runner’s high almost. The words just flow. But as I sit here this morning, with a kernel of an idea in my mind, there is that resistance that I have to overcome. That piece that says what I’m going to write is going to be garbage and I’m just making more work for myself, or worse yet, wasting my time.

Steven Pressfield goes on about this at length in his books. He calls Resistance the one true evil force in this world, and you know, I think he is right. But it’s more than Resistance, it’s a weight you feel. For me, I have the weight of writing the book and also the weight of getting out there and marketing myself for freelance gigs, travel writing, and pitching places to visit. I also have a few more books I need to read. That alone is tough, since for most of my life, reading has always been a sign that you don’t have anything better to do.

Even in college it was hard to escape that feeling. What? You want me to read 1000 pages by the end of the week? Yes, I know I’m an English major, but I’ve got stuff to do. Work. Other classes. Parties. I just don’t have time. Even though the entire point of some of my classes were to read the books they gave us, more often than not I found myself falling asleep as I read them, or just faking it in discussion the next day and getting decent grades anyway. So when I tell myself that part of my job as a writer is to also READ, it’s often very hard. It just doesn’t feel like work. It feels like screwing around.

Also, my kid and my dog take strong positions against my just sitting there quietly reading when I should be entertaining them.

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day and if I do what I want at that moment, such as today, which is to work on the book, I feel like it’s Wednesday and then I get this moment of panic that says the week is burning off and I need to send out some more queries or pitches. Those take more brain power than writing the book, if you can believe that. As does writing copy for companies.

Resistance is one thing, but sometimes it feels like I’m trying to push too many cows through the chute at once. Then it’s hard to get any one thing accomplished. Working for yourself is much different than sitting on your ass at a desk all day, waiting for someone to drop an assignment on your lap and throwing an arbitrary deadline at you while they bugger off to Thailand or something.

I don’t miss that one bit, but sometimes it’s a little unnerving to think that I have to work twice as hard if I want to be my own boss.

So, today I’m going to do what I can. I’ll start off with what I’m inspired to do and then work in the stuff I have to do later when the creative process is still warmed up.