Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

The past, present, and future of Steven Townshend, version 2014

Month: March, 2014

March 26th, 2014 (Sprinter)

The Pier in Winter
The Winter Pier

YESTERDAY

On Sunday I opened the shades and let the light stream in. I moved the stool aside and sat at the counter in a low chair and continued my painting project while listening to the music of the 00’s. Pete and the Pirates. The New Pornographers. Au Revoir Simone. The Black Keys. With the music on, the sunlight flooding the room, and the painting going better than expected, I sat there contentedly all day long and enjoyed every minute of it. 

TODAY

This morning I learned that my friend Richard Matthew had passed away last week.

Richard was one of the few people I only know online. I met him several years ago through poet Dorianne Laux, and we became friends because I loved the music that he and his band, the Earthlings, used to record. Richard gave me MP3’s of their music, which I enjoy to this day. It’s instrumental music. Peaceful, contemplative–the way I perceived Richard himself.

The man knew music. He always had great recommendations, and he introduced me to Steeleye Span, a band I love. He was a cat-lover, a kind and gentle soul, and extremely supportive of me, though we had never actually met. I already miss him.

TOMORROW

Next week the gears of the freelance project start moving. That’s going to keep me busy for months, but I’m getting excited about it. This will likely be my last week of free time, and I’m sad that my painting project won’t have reached completion. I’ll have to fit the remaining parts of that project in schedule gaps here and there when I can.

Watching

Elizabeth and I have been working our way through Monarchy, a documentary series about the kings and queens of England from the middle ages to the present. In combination with the excellent World War I book I’m reading, A World Undone, I’m getting an in-depth perspective on European history.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

I learned last week that a piece of writing of which I was very proud–but received little notice when published–will be incorporated into something much more noticeable. I put a lot of work into that piece, but never expected anything better ever to come of it. I’m surprised and happy to learn that it was noticed by someone and is destined for greater things.

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March 19th, 2014 (Defrosting)

Coldest of the Cold
Coldest of the Cold

YESTERDAY

The snow melted at last. We watched it melt day by day as the branches of the little tree in front of our place began to emerge one knobby twig at a time. I painted in the kitchen as a full moon shone through the window. I declared the two-month search for the teaspoon an unrecoverable loss, and purchased a new set of magnetic teaspoons that are freaking amazing (and hopefully will stick together, preventing further loss). The project’s begun to wear me down, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve started over a few times. Time to switch gears.

TODAY

It was a long winter. The coldest on record, and nearly the snowiest. For me it was a winter where I stayed indoors most of the time and just tried to bear it out. I lost weight, and my fingers became thin enough that my ring began to slip if I wasn’t careful. I’ve felt asleep for most of the winter and fall, in hibernation as big life changes roll over like thunderclouds. The past few days I’ve felt awake again. More engaged. As if I can see farther down the road ahead when just yesterday it was covered in fog and snow.

TOMORROW

The next few months I’ll fill my time with freelance projects again. There’s not much to say about them now, except that they’ll keep me busy. As with the beginning of every new project I’m both excited and anxious.

Reading

I began A World Undone, by G.J. Meyer. It’s an account of World War I from every angle. It examines the human reasons and motivations behind the decisions that were made, and what became of those decisions and how they impacted events. So far it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read (actually, listened to–I’m listening to it on audiobook, read by the late great Robin Sachs).

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Do you ever notice that when you set out toward a purpose or goal, you progress in virtually every other direction but toward that goal? At the end of the day, you can bemoan not having fulfilled your goal, while simultaneously surrounded by all the numerous things that you did achieve.

March 12th, 2014 (Lessons Learned)

Eclipse Ships Macro
Across the Universe

YESTERDAY

Universal Lessons About Art Learned from Painting Miniature Spaceships:

1. The hardest part is figuring out what it’s going to be. What it’s supposed to look like. Lots of tentative brushstrokes in various colors, painting over the last, each one an experiment. Sometimes the model reveals tiny details or opportunities for intricate design work, which turns out to be too complicated for one’s personal level of skill. Try. Fail. Paint over the attempt. Move on.

2. There is no creative project that can’t be botched by overcomplicating the smallest thing, struggling for perfection, obsessing over a single minute detail and, as a result, making a gigantic mess of the whole thing.

3. Sometimes “good enough” is what you want. You may be going crazy trying to fix things that don’t matter, that nobody will notice, and that you won’t notice once you step away. You can spend forever obsessing.

4. Focus on the thing at hand. Do that. Forget everything else. It’s no use worrying about anything but what you have the power to affect in the moment. Do that task. Finish it to the point that it looks okay. Then move on. It’s not ever going to be perfect. You do what you can. Most important: you DO what you can.

5. You very rarely need to start over from the beginning. Sometimes you’ve muddled so badly there’s no other course but to begin again. Usually that comes from adding on layer after layer after layer in an attempt to fix something you shouldn’t have tried to fix in the first place.

TODAY

Ship-painting continues. Halfway through the project I feel far more confident than I did when I began. The more I do, the more satisfied and well adjusted I feel. In some ways I feel like I’m doing nothing. It’s strange to think that over the past couple weeks I’ve painted over 100 miniatures spaceships. Certainly a personal painting record for me. Strange to feel creatively blocked while at the same time pouring out work in a different medium.

TOMORROW

I’m having dinner with an old friend I haven’t seen for maybe 14 or 15 years. It is strange. We became friends when we were teenagers, at a time I was at my most intense, most over dramatic, my most self-righteous and opinionated. When I perceived myself as “good” because I followed rules. Any rules. All rules. Family, church, state. We were both idealistic small town kids back then. We were good friends in that time between the end of high school, through college, and right up until married life. I’m looking forward to spending an hour catching up as grown ups.

Watching

I finished watching Breaking Bad this week. It ended very differently than I has imagined. In large part because of this I was satisfied with its conclusion.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

On Monday, after finishing up one of the most difficult paint jobs I’ve done yet, I found I was missing one of the tiny spaceships. I searched the office, then went home and searched the house. I looked underneath everything, through the garbage–every rotten vegetable and avocado skin–through the recycling, through the vacuum cleaner bag, through the vent registers, but it was nowhere to be found. Hopeless, I gave up and after a time decided to prepare dinner. As I was about to run the water in the sink, I lifted the plug on the garbage disposal and heard a slight click. I peered down the drain, and there at the bottom of it was the missing spaceship, fully intact. The cat was acquitted of the crime.

March 5th, 2014 (From Below)

And Beyond
And Beyond

YESTERDAY

Looking back, most of the good things I’ve ever made (things I’ve enjoyed) have come from a curious tinkering, experimentation without stakes.

Ideally we all want to be able to create good art all the time. To be disciplined and productive. But should you force yourself to create soulless things that you’re not feeling because that’s what a disciplined artist does? Or should you turn your focus toward creating something you enjoy rather than what you feel obligated to create? Who’s keeping score? These are questions I’ve been asking myself.

TODAY

I used my brush to thin the other line of paint I’d drawn. Even at the breadth of a millimeter it was too wide, too awkward on the miniature spaceship. I dipped my brush in the pool of paint slowly congealing in the miniature plastic easel, dipped the brush again in the plastic cup of cloudy water and, hunched over the miniature, I thinned the line, holding my hands steady, elbows braced against the countertop so that the brush wouldn’t slide as it had so many times, requiring me to dip into another color and fix a new problem.

I painted through the night on Friday and Saturday, in the company of the cats, Pentangle and Pink Floyd playing softly through the overhead speakers. As I painted, the hours drifted by and I didn’t notice that they’d passed until I glanced up at the clock on the stove and it was 5 a.m.

I made mistakes as I painted, some of them worse than others. Whenever I began to paint, the ship I was painting didn’t look like much. The washes dipped into the grooves of the primed figure but the thing had no detail. It looked raw and clumsy, nowhere near how I’d imagined it. As I began to fill in details the ship began to take gradual shape until at last it became a thing utterly unlike what it had been, and it was strange to see it so transformed. There has only been one ship group that I’ve messed up so bad I need to start over. All the other mistakes I’ve been able to salvage or transform into something better.

TOMORROW

The essential difference between painting one of these ships or making a photograph vs. writing a story is that I don’t have to be a good ship painter; I don’t have to be a good photographer either. The painted figures and the photographs only need to be good enough to make me happy. In my mind, a story needs to please everyone that will ever read it. This isn’t true, of course, but it’s hard to stay outside that kind of thinking sometimes when you’re serious about it. I want to get back to the place where I can enjoy playing with words. Where they become less an obligation and more a constantly changing experiment.

Listening

My favorite album might be Sweet Child, by Pentangle. It’s an album I can listen to repeatedly and it never grows old. Today I treated myself to another of their albums–Reflection, from 1971. It was far better than I thought it would be.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

As it happens, this is the coldest Chicago winter on record. As a surprise to absolutely nobody that lives here.