10 March 2016

[creativity] The Drawback Of Mortality As Motivation, And A Wise Alternative


If there's anything the last couple of years has taught me that hangs in front of my face like one of those little pine tree air fresheners in your car's window, it's a two fold thing:
  1. Motivation is important
  2. It's too easy to confuse inspiration with motivation. They are not the same thing.
Going into this phase of my life, I had thought that all you had to do was surround yourself with inspiration and the gifts would perfect themselves.  Mind, that's not what it looked like at the time. I thought that stunning examples of what could be would bring out of me what could happen. And, the truth is, when it comes to inspiration, I'm neck deep in it and threatening to drown. I live in the state in which I was born, which is one of the most beautiful, semi-unspoilt places left on earth. I live in one of the most beautiful and desirable cities in America, a place so painfully pretty it almost satirizes itself. I have, over the years, collected a library of wonderful books about how to draw, how to paint, and how to write. I've managed to get an education in graphic design. My aesthetic sense is sharper than its ever been before, for what it's worth. And for friendship, online and in other places? I am privileged to have met people who are insanely, happily, unabashedly creative. Artists and authors I once dreamed of just saying 'thanks for the great work' to.

So, where's the creativity for me? Well, it turns out that I've gotten it wrong all this time, or at least halfway so.

Motivation is not only the not the same thing as inspiration, if you have all the inspiration and not motivation, you have a very pretty studio but you aren't doing anything with it. Inspiration is the fuel, and unless you have the spark of motivation, it remains inactive, inert, pretty … and kind of dead, a backdrop no matter how well and thoughtfully curated.

Add that spark to the fuel, and bang … you'll get motion. Production. Whether for an aspiration to an eventual career or just a fulfilling and meaningful use of spare time, without the motivation, you have faith. And faith without works is dead.

So, what does motivation look like?  Does it carry a scythe?

Well, there's the rub, innit? Just because you've figured out what it is, doesn't meant you know what to look for. You just know you have to look for … something. And so we search.
Amongst the things assayed is the idea of mortality … the end of it all, Old Morty Reaper, whatever you want to call it. A lifespan is a finite thing, we just don't know our pull date. The idea, as I understand it, to death being a great spur to motion, is simply this: work as though you might be dead tomorrow. #YOLO. Do it today, because you might here to do it tomorrow. It falls on the just and the unjust alike.

And it'll work to a point. But the Grim Reaper is an equally humorless taskmaster, and inviting him to watch is kind of redundant, as he'll come when the time is ripe anyway. There's no stopping him. And until you do meet him, it's nothing more than a Sisyphean, grim-faced, serious struggle, working dourly against a deadline, as though the more work you put in, the farther out that deadline might get pushed just a little. The best art has always been fun, and there is no fun there … just desperate, strenuous grasping for something, you don't really even know what it looks like.

And it ends up tiring in despair. The knowledge of ultimate demise operates as an intense negative to me, and I have work over the negative before I get to the positive. By the time I'm in reach of your power … I'm too glum and tired to use it, even if I could grasp it, after all that murky work.

A few days back, one evening, I seriously considered using the promise of oblivion as a spur, and was fleshing out some thoughts about it. A little later that evening, on my way in to my evening job, I was almost presented with my mortality; moving though an intersection I take every evening, I nearly became a casualty. I had the green and was going through and was more than halfway through the intersection when a car, running the red on the cross street, flashed across my field of vision. The red light camera standing sentinel gave two brilliant flashes, casting a cold metal relief on the whole thing, and making it other-worldly and surreal. It's still rattling me. A few seconds one way or the other, or the lack of a certain reflex, and I would have been hurtin' for certain, never mind my beloved 1972 VW Beetle … and we won't think any farther down that branch for now, thank you.

A short while before that I thought about doing something in case I died and couldn't do it any more. And then something happened that could have caused that, before I had so much as a chance to put that plan into operation. The sum total suggested that just taking my pleasures as I wanted to might be the best option, since who knows?

And that doesn't seem effective. I'm having a little trouble finding the words, obviously. Suffice it to say that it seemed even more of a pointless dead-end than all my scotched plans and scrubbed missions to this point in time.

All you need is now. And to be in the now?


Confiding this to The Wife™ a few days after that was a real revelation for me. She had the whole thing from a different angle. And I felt something warm open up because of it.

Let's see if I can relate it as I understand it from what she said. The way she seems to look at it, you spend every moment you can doing what you aspire to, because when you're in that moment, you're doing what it is you're supposed to be doing and so you aren't striving to go to a place, you're in the place you were supposed to be in all along. All the gifts should be there with you. So, instead of journeying to the promised land, learn to see the promised land as were you are right now. And you just start doing what it is you're supposed to be doing, because it's the most natural thing ever.

She said it much more succinctly, and better. And this is what I've been rolling back and forth in my mind. I noticed one thing begin to happen after that. A certain stress seems to have changed its pull. I got the sense then, that a flower had opened up in front of me, and at least one thing I needed was there, and I just had to develop the courage to reach and pick it up.

The current step is to build that courage. 

So, let's step back from the joss-stick-and-whalesong for a moment, and distill. Changing my assumption from trying to travel to a place I want to be to assuming I'm in the best possible place right now means whatever I have now, I can use, and whatever I have now are the tools necessary. If they're a little rusty or worn, I need to repair or sharpen them up. If the room's a little drab, I can decorate it within whatever ability and tools I have now. I don't have to wait. I don't have to be ready; actually, the idea of being ready becomes irrelevant.

It all is what it is. Just acknowledge what I have now, and use whatever that is I have now.  

And it's no longer a desperate struggle. It's still a struggle, yes … but it's a little happier one maybe.

It's taken a very long time to come to this simple, if prolix insight. I wish I had been ready for it a little earlier, but again, it is what it is. And it may or may not be the key. But I've arrived in this point, and I am here. 

In the now, where I might have what I need after all.

And, so it goes. 

1 comment:

Brenda said...

It kind of boils down to this: Don't lose sight of today while looking to tomorrow. I'll never be a world-renowned chef, but I can make the dinner I'm working on so close to perfect it feeds those who partake emotionally as well as physically. I'm not Danica Patrick, but these groceries are getting home safe and timely with me behind the wheel. If I'm aspiring to something greater than the now, the now is a step toward that goal, and when I do die I won't be thinking back to having lived my life either half-assed or so focused on the goal that I forgot to enjoy the journey.

- The Wife™