The In-Betweens

As many of you know, I do a fair bit of freelance writing work, as well as putting together some audio/video content of my own in my spare time. Last week, I had the rare experience of having all of the various projects I’d been working on come to a conclusion at about roughly the same time (among them my first paid, feature article for a major site).

I should feel proud, and I suppose for a very brief glimmer of a moment, I did. But the feeling of accomplishment was quickly replaced by an all-too-familiar sense of dread: the feeling of “…what now?”

And I mean… it kinda sucks, right? The conventional wisdom is supposed to be that if you put everything of yourself into a project, push through and have it come to fruition, one of the benefits you’re supposed to be able to reap is the feeling that you brought something into the world that otherwise might not have been, that you expressed yourself in a way true to you, etc. I almost feel kind of pissed, like I’ve robbed myself of something I should be feeling but aren’t.

I suppose that’s kind of the point. Like… for a while now I’ve found there’s a lot of merit in the idea of being a process oriented person. Of practicing mindfulness. Of making conscious effort to “be where you are” rather than worrying about where you’re going next. And I guess to an extent I’ve made progress along those lines. I’ve lost a little weight (only like 5-6lbs, but it’s not water weight and it’s STAYING OFF DAMMIT), and the exercise that led to that wouldn’t have been possible without me being able to center myself when I began to overthink myself into paralysis regarding what I was going to do at the gym, if I had enough time or energy, if that workout would impede my ability to accomplish OTHER stuff that day… you name it.

So I guess, like most things, it’s a process. I’ve made some headway in the practical application of being present, but I’ve yet to integrate it to where I can enjoy that moment, but let it go without worrying about whether another one is in my future. Even if I’m trying to stop predicting my future, maybe the perspective of where I’ve been will help me remain rooted to where I am. I hope so.
|

Advertisements

Unclogging

Well, one good thing will come from me not being able to sleep at anything resembling a reasonable time: I’m writing again.

That’s not to say I HAVEN’T written, but incredibly inconsistently, and almost never when I’m not being paid. At least not for the past… 6-8 months or so? A big part of that are the changes that have been going on in my life otherwise. For instance, I’ve been struggling HARD with depression the past while. Less so the cognitive factors (though those are, as always, a bitch), but the constant fatigue. It feels like walking through a thick, black ichor… a deep, oily mire that pulls and drags on my body and mind to the point where no amount of sleep or recovery seems to make it lift for long.

Continue reading

2015 Update

So, new year, new… okay, not new me. But at least, new efforts to get healthier emotionally. As most of you may remember, last time I posted I was in the midst of possibly the worst depression I’ve ever had. It took a toll on my physical health and my academics, but luckily, thanks to some EXTREMELY understanding professors, I was able to recover my grade in at least most of my classes. Going into the new semester, I finally got a counsellor at Student Accessibility Services at my University, and have been working with her doing CBT (that’s cognitive behavioural therapy) in order to try and address and reprogram a lot of the self-negative anxiety and depression-producing thought patterns I get caught in.

I’ve also been trying to improve my sleep quality through better sleep hygiene (not doing anything in bed besides sleeping, no naps, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, etc). I’ve also been making use of a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) light in the early mornings, since I like to get up early and work before the sun comes up. Apparently I’m Kryptonian, because the ability to charge my batteries with the light 0f a yellow sun for 30-45 minutes in the morning makes a huge difference. I’ll be joining my first support group(s) ever this next week, which is a little weird, but I’m more nervous about having the time and energy to do those as well as keeping up with all of my classes and side projects.

Speaking of side projects, I’ve got quite a bit on the move now, and hopefully it will lead to some positive change on a number of fronts. I finally heard back from my local comic book shop (which happens to be the Eisner award-winning The Dragon in Guelph, ON) about producing a revival of their podcast through the website I run. We’re looking at a tentative starting date of the February 6-8th weekend, so that’s exciting and I look forward to seeing how that materializes. I’m also back in the editing business, working on the Let’s Plays I do with The Rogues’ Gallery. Started recording on my desktop, and now just getting the hang of Photoshop and Adobe Premiere. Seems like a long road to go, but it feels good to be learning something NEW again.

Anyways, that’s about the long and short of it. I just thought I’d check in to make sure you all knew I wasn’t dead, at least as of this post. Cheers and new years to all of you, and hopefully I’ll see you there.

Vince Smith is a writer, podcast host, and dyed-in-the-wool geek of all trades. You can check out other articles and videos by him over at The Rogues’ Gallery, or drop by his Facebook Page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman for other musings from the catacombs of the Internet.

What to Write About (When There’s Nothing to Write About)

I want to make writing in here a regular practice, but I have this problem of not knowing what to write about when I’m neither in the middle of a full-blown meltdown and need to do the creative equivalent of venting nuclear gas (bonus points to those of you who, like me, got a mental flash of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes morbidly obese), nor inspired by a particular idea.

Though many people use their blogs as a digital journal, which is totally fine, I kind of want this to be something more than that. Given, a big part of the content is me talking about the emotional comings-and-goings in my head, but I feel like that’s such a huge part of what goes into my creative work that it’s something beyond a simple “Dear yawning abyss of the internet, today I X’ed…”

“What to write about when there’s nothing to write about.” Hm. I mean, that in and of itself is an interesting topic, given how many creators (myself included) have a crippling fear of a blank page. It’d be easy to ascribe that to a human fear of the unknown and be done with it, but I feel like the comfort of unused potential is a particularly artistic flavor of psychosis. It’s like… so long as the page is blank, I lose nothing. But the moment I start putting something down, trying to realize something in my head, or even just noodle around in my sketchbook, I make myself vulnerable by simple fact of engaging in the artistic process.

I feel like that’s a big part of why it’s so difficult to be creative or artistic when you’re intentionally TRYING to be. It’s like TRYING to be happy, in the sense that it’s something that happens out of the corner of your eye when you’re not expecting it, and then suddenly “I accidentally a whole editorial.” I forget the person who said the quote (it occurs to me I could take two seconds and Google it, but I’m on a roll here), but the idea that “the moment you ask yourself if you’re happy, you cease to be.”

I think a similar sentiment could be applied to art. I mean, in some sense you have to make a conscious decision to start drawing, or writing, or filming, or whatever, sure. But when you’re in the middle of the process, the moment you start second-guessing yourself, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt while you erase that eyebrow 50 times because IT DOESN’T LOOK QUIZZICAL ENOUGH, DAMMIT.

A lot has been made of the idea of Flow, the state where you’re utterly lost in the moment of whatever task you’re participating in. I find it a useful concept, and it gels well with the readings on Zen and Taoist philosophy that have informed my current worldview. However, I do find myself having trouble reconciling it with the necessity of conscious practice to develop skill. When we (or… I, I suppose I should just speak from my own experience) feel stuck and unable to create, there’s a good chance that it’s because I’m thinking too much about it, and just need to breathe, go with the flow, and see what happens. The thing about practice, though, is that you NEED that conscious self-reflection to process the new techniques you’re acquiring. To refine them, straighten out any kinks, and to truly connect the dots and gain a deeper understanding.

So how do you Flow enough to get out of your own way, but be present enough to get everything you can out of it?

Anyone?

Seriously, I was asking you, because I’m still swamped by the question as much as anyone.

Well, if I can just spitball here, maybe that letting go is crucial to the INITIALIZING of the creative process. Like, if you’re scared that no matter what you put on the paper, it won’t look as good as in your head, that you don’t have your ideal materials, or workplace, or you don’t have enough time… something will ALWAYS find a way to get in the way. So that’s the point where it might be useful to take a breath, set out your tools, and see what happens. When you’re in the midst of making something and you hit a roadblock, or something isn’t coming out the way you want, maybe then it’s time to put away the artist brain for a moment and ask yourself why. Is it a perspective problem? Plot? Characters? Inking? Deconstruct it into as simple components as you can, try different things, access some resources online or otherwise, whatever. Try looking at it as a puzzle instead of proof that Uncle Gary was right all along and you’ll never amount to nuthin’ tryin’ to draw them funny pictures.

Do I know if it’ll work? Not even slightly, but it sounds at least plausible. At the very least, it’s better than sitting in a steamy stew of existential dread, staring at a blank page.

The quote was John Stuart Mill, by the way.

Vince Smith is an aspiring writer, podcast host, psychology/philosophy student, and dyed-in-the-wool geek of all trades. You can check out articles and Let’s Plays by him over at The Rogues’ Gallery, or drop by his Facebook Page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman for other musings from the catacombs of the Internet.

Creativity and Mental Illness

I think a lot about the number of people I’ve heard, whether on podcasts or in real life how they’re afraid to get medication to help with their anxiety, depression, etc, because they’re afraid without it, they’ll lose the “true” emotional core of who they are that allows them to express themselves creatively. But what if it’s the other way around? What if it’s the capacity, the mind set for creativity that predisposes people to be vulnerable to certain emotional struggles?

A number of different studies have drawn links between the two, but I always wondered that the nature of the relationship was. In particular, when I took a couple of Theatre courses in the past year, I had an interesting talk with one of my professors that led me to think it’s something like this:

If I had to define creativity, I would think of it in basic terms as an ability to take two previously disparate topics, two things you wouldn’t normally connect with one another (be they material things or abstract concepts), and associating/combining them in a way that most people wouldn’t consider. Now, apply that notion to a chronically anxious individual, say someone who’s nervous for their next job interview. They feel like if they can’t get this job, then it’s their last hope, then no one will hire them, then they’ll lose their apartment, end up on the street and live a lonely, forgotten existence. Sounds excessive, but that’s the kind of catastrophizing myself and many people I know do in their heads.

When you then talk to someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety, there’s a good chance they’ll respond with something like, “Isn’t that a bit of a leap? Just because X happens doesn’t mean that it’s going to lead RIGHT to catastrophic conclusion Y!”

Exactly. That’s exactly it. That capacity, that propensity to link two or more only tangentially related things into a cohesive whole is analogous to the kind of thinking that leads us to think that “shitty but manageable thing A will inevitably lead to B, C, D… all the way to life-ruining outcome Z.”

One way of thinking of it is the old “it’s a blessing and a curse” addage, but I think maybe a better way of considering it is like a really awesome, but really specialized piece of software. You have this awesome program for making breathtaking art, revolutionary inventions, and solving dastardly problems, and it does a fantastic job at that. But you feed this machine a question about the true nature of, say, Existential Ethics, and it might just fizz out and explode, setting things ablaze and taking out the printer two rooms over.

That doesn’t necessarily make it defective (though you should probably call someone to see if you can fix the whole exploding thing). It just means that you need to be aware when you’re using a certain tool to try and solve a problem that it simply doesn’t have the capacity to solve. I’m not a big fan of the whole right-brained/left-brained thing (largely because it’s been shown to be vastly oversimplified), but there IS value in thinking of your mental skills as modules in some way.

So next time you find yourself enveloping mentally into “my life is DOOMED” or something like it, maybe consider the possibility that you’ve got the wrong disc in. Take a moment, take a breath, and do your best to engage the linear, procedural reasoning part of your brain, or at least be aware of the possibility that some of the catastrophic thoughts you’re thinking are NOT, in fact, products of the situation, but of your own fears. That way, you can attempt to switch the focus from your perceived “DOOOOOOOOOOM!! (yes, I’m going to keep capitalizing it) and onto the reasoning that fuels that fear. There’s a good chance that digging at that root of the problem will get you a lot further than thinking up new and complex ways of torturing yourself emotionally.

And as always, don’t worry, I know. I should follow my own advice.

Vince Smith is a writer, podcast host, and dyed-in-the-wool geek of all trades. You can check out other articles and videos by him over at The Rogues’ Gallery, or drop by his Facebook Page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman for other musings from the catacombs of the Internet.