The Joy Menu #2: The Middle
In this issue, your intrepid author discovers the magic of...doing nothing. And, recognizing the unsustainability of a "do nothing" life, recommends some ideas for how to Make In the Middle of it All.
Welcome to The Joy Menu. This is issue #2.
What is this? It’s a newsletter—neither news nor letter. An invitation to take a step away from the deluge of Life and to, instead, think about creativity for a few minutes on your lovely, relaxing Sunday.
Hi friends. Today I’m thinking about rest. Namely because this past week I took one. I drove away from the hustle, left behind The Laptop, and forsake of The Zoom. It was surprisingly effective at:
freaking me out (a la “IS MY REGULAR LIFE A WASTE?”)
giving me a verifiable feeling of disequilibrium (a la “IS THIS WHAT ‘LIVING’ IS SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE?”
making me feel really fucking good (a la “I NEED TO DO THIS A LOT MORE!”)
I recommend it; but beware: if you are a modern employed person over a certain age, you’re likely unprepared for what rest feels like, and thus should not do so without preparation, precaution, and dogs—or cats, in a pinch.
My hope this week is that I can take all the delicious energy, insight, and post-vacation sparkle and translate ‘em into making stuff. But I’d hate to always need a week off to do the same.
So that’s what I explore below: how to be creative without having to take a week off.
Try it yourself and let me know how it feels.
Onward to creative joy,
Make in the Middle
Sometimes creative lightning strikes: an idea, a feeling, an itch sneaks in and I leap to create: I need to, like I need to sneeze, or scratch a bug bite, or eat. I do it anywhere. I do it right away.
Sometimes. But not often.
Usually, I mechanize my writing: I give it a time of day, I set myself a goal, I pick up an already-started project and I plug away.
Often, doing so requires overcoming at least some resistance. Or, a lot of resistance.
This means if I’ve told myself to write 2 pages, and writing two pages takes me an hour, it could take me two hours, or three, because I need the first hour (or two) to roll around in my resistance until I finally lean onto the edge of my seat, take a deep breath, say “fuck this,” and push myself onto the page.
When I studied with the writer Steve Almond years (and years) ago, he once told me that in his twenties it could take him 12 hours to write for an hour.
I get that. (I did that).
But with a job and a family, a house to clean, dinner to cook, and a host of other personal and professional goals asking for attention on any given day, it’s not a sustainable approach. Neither is that extra hour (or two)...especially if it’s coupled with the two hours of resistance before exercise and another hour of resistance before cleaning the kitchen floor. Or whatever it may be on a given day.
That’s why it’s important to learn to make in the middle of things.
Don’t wait for a special angel to grant you 100 free hours. Don’t wait for vacation. Don’t even wait for your “writing time” with a martini (or Diet Coke) and an Oreo after work.
Rather, learn to make while life is uncompromising. Learn to make while life is busy. Learn to make while living.
To help, I’ve listed 5 practices you can integrate into your everyday, so that your creative life runs parallel to your life-life, and being creative doesn’t feel like a fetish or a dream, but like an integral, ongoing part of your joyful existence.
Five Ways to Make (In the Middle of it All):
Accept that You’re in the Middle
The middle is life: it's busy, it's messy, it's aggravating. It gets in the way of creating because it's always LOUDER than our soft creative selves. By the time we become aware, we're stuck in the middle-mess and it seems that in order to make shit we have to fight our way out of the middle tooth and nail. Wrong. We can bitch about it, pull at our hair, beat our chests. But here we are. The middle is life; accept it, and make yourself at home.
Relish Being in the Middle
Life happens in the middle. So enjoy it, any way you can. If the storm is calmest in the eye, be the eye. Yes, there’s more to do, there are things to get done; there always are and always will be. You’ll get to them. But give yourself a chance to look around with pride and optimism at the storm around you: that’s your storm. That’s your life. It spins around you because you are the middle.
Write About the Middle
Creativity doesn't have to be separate from the middle. Art can be the middle. Write about it. Bitch. Moan. Complain. Run your mouth. (That’s creativity, too.) Then get on with it. If it’s distracting to dwell on the middle (if it gives you the itch to stop making and get some of that to-do list done), then focus on how you feel: how would it feel to escape the middle? Write about that. Then forget about that dream and go make something.
Use your Damn Phone
We all have as much computing power in our pockets as our grandparents had in their entire lives. So make use of it. When you have an idea, get out your phone and write it down, or record it, or snap a photo. When you feel the urge to numb your busy mind with social media or email, open a note and add a line to your poem-story-brainstorm-collage. Make it a habit. Before you “get to work” you might find you’ve been working the whole damn day.
Carry a Notebook
Too afraid you’ll check your phone and get carried off on the currents of updates, text messages, and info-graphics? Carry a notebook and do the same with pen and paper. Just because we have as much computational power as the Apollo 13 rocket doesn’t mean we have to risk distraction in order to create. Write yourself a note. Write yourself a letter. Write yourself a promise. Write yourself right of the middle of it all and enter the creative space you long to be in.
There! Done! Almost time to go back to Instagram!
This week, if you get a chance to make something lovely (or weird or crappy or silly), pass it my way. I’ll do the same with you.
Oh, and don’t forget to share this newsletter with a friend (or 8)!
I appreciate you.
Until next week,
Questions? Comments? Commissions? Puppies? Respond directly to this email.