I got to re-balance my creative input / output ratio in December. And it felt goooooood.
“What is this compassion? Because I don’t really know what it is. So I want to know, really, what is it?”
– Aunt Dan and Lemon
“Thinking rationally is the way to be happy and the key to learning more.”
– L. Ron Hubbard, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant
“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (h/t Granata)
I don’t think New Year’s resolutions work for me. It’s like preemptively choosing the solution for a problem you haven’t come up against yet.
In past years I always thought, “This year I’ll do more blank and try to be less blank.” But the idea of approaching a theatrical season as a question (instead of say, a theme) or approaching software development from the reiterative question of “what is the way to build what our clients need” has yielded some exciting fruit this year.
And so I wonder: My life seems awfully recursive. A question seems like it might be useful.
The danger is in picking the wrong question. “How can I make my business more profitable?” for instance might lead me pretty far astray, though it is certainly something on my mind. At this point in this year, I’m thinking a lot about stability because it’s been a tumultuous year. My wife and several of our friends all left full time work / half-hearted careers to pursue part time work / full-hearted careers. Watching and helping them develop those full-hearted careers has, I think, been the unasked question for me in 2009. Can you survive that way, ‘living your dream’? And when you do, does it stay your dream? What of that romance can you hang on to, if any, and would you want to? And the answer was: It is possible to be more fulfilled by your work, and the difference between plenty and just getting by is in the strength of your connections to community and friends. Those are the tools that we use to overcome fear and poverty (and one of the reasons why I think it is important for me to stay in theater still).
So the question for this year deals with stability – “How can I be more stable and more sustainable?” The nice thing about a question is that it’s three-dimensional – the shape of the question shifts depending on the time of day or the context in which you consider it. My current, two-dimensional answer to that question is that “stability” for me does not mean for me a prototypical “financial security” – it means a sustainable level of activity that is full-hearted and doesn’t physically kill me or prevent me from enjoying my life or prevent my wife and friends and family from enjoying theirs. Balancing work, play, and family takes work and consideration – I wouldn’t want to ask that question frivolously.
Stability for me is linked to that question of compassion from Aunt Dan. As a designer (both web and sound), or really as a person who provides services to clients, I require compassion to do my job/life effectively, since I essentially act as an artistic and technical advisor to another storyteller. I hear what a storyteller (a director or an organization) is trying to communicate or accomplish with their story, and I create the tools or atmosphere in which that communication is possible. I require compassion and empathy to be able to translate the director’s complex vocabulary and emotional understanding of their story into my own emotional understanding of the story, and in the case of web design, incorporate the reactions and responses of many, many users into a final, finished and ideally universal understanding of a complex narrative. That question, quoted above, is the core of what I didn’t connect to with that script (which I should add was excellently produced and presented by my pals at BackStage Theatre – all artists I deeply respect.) Without compassion, I don’t operate, and my designs don’t resonate with other people, and I don’t get hired again – which of course, always may happen. Compassion for me is a sense of empathy, an often misguided but for me visceral and tangible sense that I understand the motives and worldview of another human being. I couldn’t operate if I didn’t feel some level of compassion for and from my collaborators, or an audience, or the users of my websites.
But compassion also quickly throws me out of balance and creates a vast amount of instability in my life. (I can hear the Objectivists in the room chuckling, and I’ll get to you later.) The art itself is always a solitary and personal reaction to that compassion, which comes from something internal to me, hopefully not an external, societal, or conventional response to a given design challenge (“It’s night! We need to hear crickets!”) Compassion muddies that personal relationship I have with my work, and left unchecked can muddy and complicate the quality of that work. Compassion with my clients compels me to take on too much work to fill my clients and my collaborators needs before my own. Finding the right valve that gets me to shut off the sense of compassion in favor of the sense of taking care of myself at just the right moment has always been a challenge for me. In many ways and on many days, my sense of compassion is least developed with this guy, Nick Keenan.
Changing and developing our lives and the people that we are and the Things that We Do With Our Time On This Planet is not a question of carving or molding ourselves out of clay. We’re given certain talents and certain flaws, and I believe very strongly that those talents and flaws are closely linked together – amazingly, fascinatingly so. Applying dogma to our lives that we developed before New Years past (about so-and-so pounds lost or whatee-hoo books read or blah-tee-blah engrams we need to audit before we achieve Clear) can unintentionally damage our honest experience of February, April, June, and September.
I wonder if the question will stick better than the resolution. The question is a iterative procedure that is scalable, a kind of Kaizen ritual that provides structure and allows for individual variation and diversity, person-to-person and day-to-day. Life is shaped like a question, not an answer.
Living that question is audacious humility, and I could use somma that.
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