Austin Kleon’s quickly become one of my artistic heroes. He does a newsletter where he talks about 10 things worth sharing in the week. I’ve been feeling like doing something similar, so this post is 10 things I’m loving this week.

  1. Love, Death, and Robots: an awesome, dark, animated Netflix series.
  2. Debbie Millman’s conversations with Lynda Barry about the artistic life and Lisa Taddeo about women’s sexual desire.
  3. Rainer Marie Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet.
  4. Maria Popova’s 13 lessons learned in her 13 years writing Brain Pickings.
  5. Owl City’s heartfelt recent album Cinematic.
  6. John Oliver’s biting and cheeky celebration of free speech.
  7. Oprah’s lesson that when you know better, you do better.
  8. Brene Brown’s amazing speech about the anatomy of trust.
  9. Building spontaneity into my life by dressing up in costume to go to Medieval Times. (No one goes in costume.)
  10. Experiencing Chicago’s awesome Riverwalk for the first time.

We are all artists with the power to create amazing and unique work if only we’ll dig deep inside ourselves to discover what our inner life finds inspiring. Unfortunately, though, most of us don’t know it, are too afraid and need permission, or falsely believe that creative success means external validation.

Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, warns against this idea of validation. Writing to a gentleman who’s sent him a series of poems, he says the path to the most fulfilling expression of our lives is to forget the editors, the magazines, and the experts and just do one thing: “Go into yourself.” He continues:

Find the reason that commands you to write; see whether it spreads its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?

Poetry, according to Rilke, will express itself naturally when writing is compelled and when the creator has sought earnestly to understand and appreciate their life.  Once made manifest, it will not matter whether the result is good or not, for the result will be sincere and true.

This advice is reiterated throughout creative literature in myriad expressions.

Life, thus, at it’s fullest expression may be summarized as follows:

You should live for yourself, not in a sense of living selfishly but in that you should choose not to live the life others have deemed appropriate for you to live.

Stories are happening all around us all the time.

They manifest most obviously in how we think about other peoples’ lives. We create meaning from how they dress, their secrets, their status, their manners.

We make up their stories by comparing our observations to the stories we tell ourselves about our life.

These stories, our stories, are the most important part of our life.

They are scenes from a much longer narrative – that is, who we are.

I think for most of us, fundamentally, we are the hero.

We are the valiant protagonist, vanquishing the mundane (or massive) forces of negativity. We struggle against our boss we just don’t get, the jerk at the subway station, the customer who’s rude to us for no reason, the colleague who seems to have an ego issue, the polluters, the entitled, the selfish, and the cynical.

Also, usually, we’re seeking to finally get the love we deserve, our happy moment, the ease of contentment, and the community we crave. Though, sometimes we’re comfortable with solitude. The beauty is in the mélange.

It’s complex. It’s simple. It’s terrifying. It’s amazing. It’s electrifying. It’s “oh my god, I want to die” boring.

There are tons of subplots and plot twists and long chapters that seem to go on forever.

All of it can be so confusing, but there is comfort in one, nearly unnoticeable detail: we are nearly always in absolute control.

Owl City’s “Vanilla Twilight” was a defining anthem during my freshman year of high school. The dreamy beats and love-longing lyrics perfectly captured the tender awe and novel rush of adolescent awakening.  Adam Young sings,

I’ll watch the night turn light blue
But it’s not the same without you
Because it takes two to whisper quietly
The silence isn’t so bad
‘Til I look at my hands and feel sad
‘Cause the spaces between my fingers
Are right where yours fit perfectly

It was magic. Now, as an adult, I return to this song as a reminder to never lose sight of life’s daily marvels, as fuel for the wonder I’m continually seeking to enliven.

Young is doing the same. His most recent work is called Cinematic. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’m eager to get to it. Speaking of the album on his website he says, “It’s a personal narrative, as if a film was made from key scenes throughout my life. My hope is there’s a way to teach yourself to recognize and appreciate what I like to call, ‘movie magic moments’, so you don’t miss out on them. That’s what the title alludes to. You have an audience cheering you on. Everybody is in your corner. Do your best for them.”

This notion led me to the following realization: Every day may seem everyday, and certainly, the grind is real, but doing some tough internal maintenance can change the mind’s mechanics so that your perspective goes from picking up on the ordinary and familiar to experiencing the extraordinary and wondrous.

We are in control of our lives. We have the power to choose to see the greatness of life, if only we can muster the strength to seek encouraging influences and leave when necessary.

It’s never too late to move on and improve your life.

Whether you’re 14 or 40, whether you’ve been abused or the abuser, tomorrow could mark a new chapter for your life.

The past doesn’t define who you’ll become.

You have agency. Simply make the decision to take ownership.

And forgive yourself. You’ve learned, and now, through that learning, you can just do better next time.

It’ll probably be a bit more messy than you’d like, but all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.

 

“Here’s the only thing you need to remember from this talk: ‘Study something you love to death’—I mean ‘depth’! [laughter] ‘Study something you love in depth.’ I just gave you an hour, so tonight give me 45 minutes. Spend 45 minutes tonight studying something you love. Watch the first five minutes of your favorite movie 7 times. You will notice new things.” – Paul Karasik from a lecture entitled “How to Read a Comic”

I’m continuing my battle against cynicism and becoming jaded.

A part of winning this fight is dropping everything that’s uninspiring and focusing intently on what makes my inner artist boom with glee. So last weekend I spent over an hour searching for this post I came across a few months ago that encouraged budding artists to forget trying to learn everything and to just study a couple of inspirations in depth.

I couldn’t find it.

But I did find this post by Austin Kleon that had the above similar quote. This is some of the best advice I’ve received.

Only recently have I accepted the importance of not wasting my time by doing things I don’t like. A lot of people skip and move on from songs they don’t like, but they can feel obligated to finish movies, podcasts, and books.

Just don’t. Life’s too short to not be amazed and gripped with anticipation.

For this reason, in addition to cutting out listening to the news, I’ve narrowed down the number of podcasts I listen to from around 30 to 9, I’m rewatching Bo Burnham’s SPECTACULAR movie Eighth Gradeand rereading The War of Art.

Yes, it’s mad inspiring.

Don’t let others’ portrayals fool you, living a good life is tough for pretty much everyone.

 

 

The hurt doesn’t go away for a lot of folks.

It lies beneath, waiting for a hard moment when it will be invigorated and begin launching dull, persistent attacks on their fortress of emotional stability and hope. 

They believe that it can be ignored, that they can get by for a long time lying to themselves.

They turn their secret dormant longings for closure and acceptance to distractions and substances.

They replace their self-love with external validation and materialism, never learning to communicate effectively and live the fullest expression of their lives.