April 16th, 2014 (Rest and Reset)
by Steven Townshend
Last night I finished the painting project I began in late February as recourse to the despair I felt over my broken January goals. I keep circling the ground of those goals again and again because to me they represent a larger problem. Why is it that the things we most strive for sometimes seem the most impossible, whereas other things that we need to do fall naturally into place, or they don’t, and we hardly concern ourselves with their completion or attainment? You may fail two or three times in your attempt to light a candle—a very simple thing. Maybe the match doesn’t strike on your first attempt, or it blows out before you ignite the wick, or you singe your fingers, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t think about it overly much. Because you don’t define your personal success or your place in life by the candles you’ve successfully lit. However, when it comes to the things we most desire, we do define ourselves by them and we drive ourselves into anxiety and despair with the self-judgment that comes from failing at relatively small things.
All this is to say that because I don’t define myself as a person who paints, or paints model ships, and because this ability means little to me, I’ve painted 206 miniature ships in less than 2 months. There were complications and frustrations aplenty, but because there are few personal stakes associated with painting those ships, I was able to confront those problems and overcome them without the misery and woe that come with trying to do “something important.” This is another lesson from painting that I hope to take with me from this (record-breaking cold—it snowed again yesterday, April 15) winter.
Everything’s in place for my freelance project, and I set up my workflow, the importance of which I cannot emphasize enough. Especially now, after painting all those ships. In the past, organizing the execution of a project has been important—breaking down how much I need to do, and tackling small pieces of it—has been critical to success. One of those ship-painting lessons was: The hardest part is finding out what it’s going to be. I think that relates to setting up the workflow. Finding out how you’re going to go about the task and generally what do you want it to look like? It takes time, but as I’ve learned, “Fools rush in.” I’m not against blind experimentation—in fact, I practice it daily in “exercise” writing—but it’s not so great when something needs to be DONE. The other important thing about creating a workflow for a project is planning the times when it’s possible to rest and let your subconscious mull over what you’ve done, where you’re going next.
It’s tough to see the end of winter right now, it still more or less being winter. My tomorrows are aligned toward accomplishing pieces of my new freelance project, and figuring out when I can stop wearing winter clothes.
I started (and finished) Flash for Freedom, by George MacDonald Fraser, over the past week. Flashman is one of the most deplorable anti-heroes in literature, but George MacDonald Fraser is such an exceptional writer that you can’t help but follow Flashy around. You can’t help but root for him, despite his horribleness. I’m excited to read the next one.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
I saw Babes with Blade Theatre Company’s mad, post-apocalyptic production of L’Imbecile last weekend. One of the coolest shows I’ve seen in a long time, and utterly unlike anything else playing.
It was like David Bowie tripping at a ren faire that happened to be the only surviving fragment of human civilization.
I kept thinking of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, in which our era has been so long forgotten that the people and customs that make up the distant future are alien to the way we think and behave–but the basic human drives and troubles remain the same.
The show is a good example of something you can only experience by seeing it on a stage, as it would be difficult (perhaps impossible) to translate well to film or TV. Chances are, you’ll be carrying the weird dream of it around in your head for days. I certainly am.