On Being a “Writer” (part 12: The “P” Word)

I touched on the idea of Revision in my second post in this series. I have been grappling with this for as long as I’ve lived. Seriously, though, my whole existence. Most of us are built-in with the mechanism and desire to self edit. This is a gorgeous part of perception and the universe: we are moving and there is change. I absolutely accept my agency in the ability to learn and modulate my actions and behaviors to achieve certain outcomes. 

As applied to my creative process, I’ve always had a very hard time with the notion of Perfection. I almost never said it aloud. If I even thought it, I’d cringe, waiting for Karma to come and strike me down at the very thought. As far as I know, no deed I have done, nor work I’ve managed to produce is perfect. But some of it has been.

Let me chew some of that for you. I wrote earlier, “nothing is ever done.” I feel strongly that this is the case, especially when I think about my writing. For instance, I have been working on a screenplay for years. I get some ways through, and then life gets in the way. When I come back to my work days, months, years later, I don’t just pick up where I left off in the fashion and style I had the last time I sat with it. I rip it to shreds (not literally) and amend sometimes the seemingly most minute “mistakes.”

I’ve actually started leaving notes for the Future Claire who will revise and then continue to write the work (“consider another word…”; “you’re gonna hate this…”; “awkward!”). Why don’t I just pick another word right then and there if I anticipate considering it unsatisfactory in the future? Because that’s what I could come up with then, and that’s what allows me to keep going, for the time being. 

Physically, there must be a frame of reference to determine and observe movement. In terms of revision, you’ve got to put something down in order to make it better. Draft #18 was “Perfect” because it exists. It brought me somehow closer to completion. (I consider drafts like breadcrumbs through the winding woods of your creativity). However, if I sat down to Draft #18 today, I would not be able to assert that it is “Perfect” for many reasons, including the fact that it does not fulfill the basic requirements I’ve determined to deem it finished. Also, that there are some words that don’t work, as Past Claire rightly predicted.

To finish out I want to notice: (1) in writing terms, narratives are described as “arcs,” supposing that the work as a whole is a circle and (2) in drawing up a graph, for instance, you “plot” a point. Lastly, what keeps me going is the ability to find Perfection in the moment and be satisfied with that until I’m ready again to revise.

Career Chronicles (part 1: Best Worst Boss–Nolita, NYC)

I love Nolita. I outlined the very basic reasons why I ended up here previously, but there’s another story to tell. One of my first internships in NYC as an ingenue (yes, I was intentionally wearing Tory Burch) was right around the corner from where I currently live. I worked–very briefly–for a fledgling all-girls ad agency, headed by an interesting woman with roots in robotics and a strong female-forward platform. It was not as horrible as it sounds; there were tensions and tears. Although the experience was short-lived, it was a wonderfully instructive stage in my career development.

The best days were when my boss decided to take the afternoon off with us. The internship was not necessarily directly consequential in terms of my career trajectory (it didn’t even go on my CV), but these outings almost made it worth being unpaid. Much of this education-of-sorts crafted my creativity in terms of a career, drove my interest in technology, and developed my identity as a female entrepreneur.

I had, up until then, only been a student of creativity. I’d never taken it out for a round in the “real world.” I wasn’t responsible for much at the ad agency, but I got to flex some of my writing skills, learn about design standards, and develop my digital aesthetic. I also got to experience a startup for the first time. Although I had no real place at the agency, I broadened my idea of what kind of boss I hoped to be one day.

My boss was, and I suspect still is, spunky and stylish. I remember one excursion very well. A girl had just quit, and she came to collect her last check (and cry). It quickly became clear that we would not get much work done that day. Once the dust had settled, my boss took me out for a walk. We grabbed a cupcake at The Little Cupcake Bakeshop (featured image), and meandered about Mulberry Street. We stepped into Qlosette, which has recently just closed its doors, and then she showed me around Spring Street.

Unfortunately, at the time, I did not see the value in this experience. Neither did many of the others, apparently. I cruised the Glassdoor reviews from previous employees, and it’s kind of a shitsmear. I hate to see this. A personal philosophy of mine, especially professionally, is that what happens in your experience and how you choose to feel about something should be private. Take ownership of it, process how you must (that can include sharing with a select confident), and move on. Nobody is being noble by calling someone out like that, especially on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I felt much of the same frustrations as the reviewers…at the time.

But you know what? I quit early and didn’t cry–two facts that I’m quite proud of. It didn’t take long for me to identify what was going wrong by knowing confidently what I actually wanted. Yes, it was tough to tolerate at times, but I took the obstacle as an opportunity, didn’t look back once, and moved to London and Paris soon after. C’est la vie. But if you complain, lash out, and consistently search for external validation, your version of that “vie” will suck and you will be more miserable for it. Trust me (or don’t), but it’s not worth it. Wallowing is not the way. Smile for the woman you are in that very moment, and for the one you will be when you walk out that door knowing yourself that much more.

On Being a “Writer” (part 11: Breaking The Rules with Orwell)

In 1946, George Orwell wrote an essay entitled, “Politics and the English Language,” outlining how politics have corrupted language. I believe strongly that politics–in the broader sense than strictly governance–have served to dilute language, shrouding meaning in insipid semantics (aka those damned excuses I discussed previously).

For instance, I sometimes have arguments with my parents. We can spend hours circumnavigating the actual issue by getting caught up in how things are expressed instead of actually getting down to what needs to be discussed. We fool ourselves into thinking we are protecting the other by being indirect, where we are really only trying to protect ourselves from being brave, standing straight, and speaking clearly.

Orwell developed 6 rules:

1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

4) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

The Johnson blog run by The Economist published a piece on this back in 2013. My favorite part posed revolves around the dogmatic nature absolutes. Almost poignantly put, the piece points out that breaking the rules taps into a human frailty shared by writers or, simply put, people. This is pithy. I like that. That’s what I meant when I referenced certain arguments I have with my parents. We are often afraid of ourselves and self-sabotage in semantics.

Where The Economist seeks to “liberate” these rules by reframing them sans absolutes, I rather like them how they originally are. I think there is a humor here that renders the rules free already. That last rule is everything. You can–and should–break the rules, but do so avec intention.

On Being a “Writer” (part 10: Working With Emotion, Happiness)

A few weeks ago, I tore through a post with hate on my heels. Now, I am experiencing a seemingly opposite emotion, but there is a similar lesson. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ok, cliché, but it rings true. What’s funny is that, from the last post on Emotion (the Anger Chapter), I knew how to fail forward. I broke through my clouds of frustration and tasted the blissful sunlight of success. This was not an easy thing for me to do, but I have thoroughly planned ahead for these moments–the times when I’m feeling a typically negative emotion and how to work through that to remain effective.

What I don’t have as much experience with is planning for similar issues, but opposite emotions. When things are good, we usually don’t feel like we need to reach into the personal work tool belt. I picked the Ferris Bueller quote for a few reasons: (1) It’s true: life can change in an instant. Mere days ago, I was very angry, and today I am “completely, and perfectly, and incandescently happy” (please pardon the schmaltz); and (2) I actually took the day off yesterday to “stop and look around,” which wasn’t a seriously bad thing that caused dire consequence (it might have actually been good for me because I’m a workaholic and need to slow it down every once in a while), but the point is that I didn’t work and I consider that a failure of sorts.

I consider the fact that I didn’t work a failure because I didn’t try to regulate my emotion to remain effective. I got a case of the “fuck its,” and spent a lovely afternoon catching up with a close friend and girlavanting downtown. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this. I did not have a looming deadline nor did I lose any money, respect, or real time. I had weighed the tangible costs of forgoing a workday and determined them minimal.

As I’ve discussed, it’s not necessarily about the individual decision, but also about the practice and discipline. I could have tried to push through, but it was tough for me to even name the action as “perseverance” because I don’t usually associate something as being difficult if it feels so darn good. So, today, I’m trying to use this as an opportunity to pump the brain iron and build this mental muscle. Instead of running around tending to the garden that is my Instagram account, I’m going to work as if I were angry, and smile because I most certainly am not.

On Being a “Writer” (part 9: Commitment)

I’ve heard all the excuses before. I know them because I used to be great at making excuses seem like explanations. What have I learned (besides that I needed a huge kick the in rear)? Discipline conquers most of the BS we tell ourselves and others in order to mitigate the fear factor I spoke of in my last post. We all get up in the morning and arm ourselves against Resistance. The more successful people I know, instead of wielding excuses in the arena, buffer themselves with discipline.

A major component of this discipline is Commitment. Bel Pesce, a brilliant Brazilian entrepreneur and writer gave a Ted Talk entitled, “5 Ways to Kill Your Dream” (also featured below). Here they are:

1) Believe in overnight success.

2) Believe someone else has the answers for you.

3) Decide to settle when growth is guaranteed.

4) Believe the fault is someone else’s.

5) Believe that the only things that matter are the dreams themselves.

Great. This was a cute talk and it’s undeniable that Pesce is bright, certainly charming, and poses good points, fundamentally. However, I’d like to challenge her on two things: (1) What is the core of all of this advice and (2) rhetorically speaking, how effective is it to hear what you’re not supposed to do?

I believe strongly that the element that ties all of Pesce’s points together is commitment. Commitment to the Self comes first. Who are you? What is it that you truly desire? I can’t stress this more: be brutally honest with yourself. Only then can you answer the question: How are you going to see your dreams/projects through? I think about it this way: if you were sat down in an room of mirrors for the rest of infinity, what would you see? Could you live with that? If not, I suggest you figure out what you need to change and then put a lot of your energy into doing so, immediately. Honestly, no book will be written, nor venture launched, effectively and successfully if you don’t tack this down.

Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ at David Zwirner Gallery

Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ at David Zwirner Gallery (click through image for NYTimes review)

Now, if you have that settled with yourself, I won’t lie and say the rest is easy, but at least you have built a solid foundation so that, if something doesn’t go as planned, you’ve got a suitable safety net. Additionally, I most certainly don’t claim that anybody in this world feels this confident every day (if you meet someone who does, please introduce me). But, again, the more successful people I know, in any industry, value commitment first over confidence. Commitment, actually, is what produces true confidence.

This commitment also drives that hard work factor, the nose to the grindstone attitude that most successful people possess. Hard work in it of itself isn’t enough, though. There are people who put in 15 hours a day, 365 days a year, and don’t see results. Another soapbox on which I stand is that of maximizing your time. I could preach this all day. This is where commitment is a compass. When you really know yourself–when commitment is reflex and your soul schedule is relatively set–you do better by yourself by not wasting your time or anyone else’s.

This brings me to my second point. I’m a student of Positive Communication. Don’t get me wrong, I am not always “nice.” I certainly don’t coddle anyone; to the contrary, I can sometimes be ruthless and unrelenting. However, I believe strongly in the power of communicating positivity, whether you are having an argument with a friend or acting as the CEO of a company.

I don’t mean, by the way, that Pesce was any less than lovely in delivering her talk. What I mean by negative communication is the presence of “don’t” rather than “do.” Instinctively, people brace when they hear “don’t.” Psychological studies have shown that in the presence of negative communication, we are more likely to feel immediately and reflexively defensive. When we are defensive, we are not as effective. We cannot receive or put out information or work as successfully.

All in all, the talk is still worth the 6-minutes, and Pesce’s body of work is quite interesting. I salute her for pioneering the young generation of #womenintech.

Art Review: Heather Nichol’s “Soft Spin,” Brookfield Place, NYC

I have a passion for public art. The city, especially, creates a powerful canvas for imagination and art. Living in NYC for the past few years, I have both intentionally and unintentionally participated in a lot of public art (I would argue that most of life lived here is participation in public art–what with the sheer amount of architecture and human interaction–but that’s another thought that I will save for another day). Suffice it to say, I constantly find myself in the presence of beauty and inspiration, and that is one of the major reasons that brought me here and that aids my endurance of this frenetic city lifestyle.

Heather Nichol, a Toronto-based artist and curator, is showing a site-specific sound and sculptural installation, Soft Spin, in The Winter Garden at the Brookfield Place New York in Lower Manhattan. Nichol’s installation challenges the everyday idea of the “sculpture.” These soft, rotating skirts-resembling-flowers paired with sound are sensual and sharp all at the same time. I was not a huge fan of the vocals. I would have liked to meditate under these flowers, and my thoughts were distracted and directed elsewhere. Since the expansive space amplifies the ambient noise of the bustling Brookfield Place already, I would have been challenged to meet my mindfulness, anyhow. Nonetheless, I rationalized the vocals as, at the very least, intentional (a quality I quite admire in an art piece and person).

This piece brings to mind the artist Janet Echelman‘s 2011 Ted Talk, entitled “Taking Imagination Seriously” (video below). Echelman centers her talk on explaining how she came to her current success with unorthodox city sculptures by way of a “failure” in her pursuit of painting. What I find fascinating about both Nichol and Echelman is that they had the ability to take something ordinary and transcend the original meaning of the given objects and spaces.

Both artists bring to cities what we all hope to do in our everyday lives. These undulating art pieces move and shape-shift with the wind. There are wonderful meanings that can be made from a more interactive, fluid art form. They become part of the environment. They change with our moods and with our attitudes. The space is illuminated by imagination, and I’m grateful for having participated in this study.

The New York Times recently reviewed the Brookfield Place and the surrounding neighborhood of Battery Park city, calling it “revitalized,” elevated to a “dynamic destination.” Paola Singer attributed this to the influx of high dining, but I’d like to add that it’s also the art. As I scoured the web for images of Soft Spin, I noticed a trend. Many young mothers (instagram: thebabybumpdiaries and monicastorch), indigenous inhabitants of this neighborhood, have been early evangelists of this art. This is what I’m talkin’ about! What is so lovely about public art is that it is for everyone–not just the hoity-toity traders who need a cultural outlet for their funds.

I also love that kids are interacting with art. Artists deeply seek to leave a legacy, and I think that one of the most fascinating and important audiences is the child. I grew up watching Sesame Street’s “Don’t Eat the Pictures” (which you can watch on YouTube). As an anecdote: when we were children, my parents took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art often. On a particular trip, my younger brother (at age 5) strode up to a still life and, after regarding it for a moment, correctly identified it as a Cézanne. Parents, you won this one.

All in all, I feel strongly that the space is worthy of the sculpture. Bravo, Brookfield Place and Heather Nichol. I hope to see more inspiration in The Winter Garden as this space and neighborhood take new shape.

On Being a “Writer” (part 8: Fear and Loathing in NYC…Well, Anywhere I Am, Actually)

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ever scared. I meet discouragement almost every day. Sometimes those moments are small: I choose to snooze, I don’t get to the coffee shop and sit in bed on my personal Twitter for an hour longer than I scheduled for myself, I don’t make it to an art exhibition that I wanted to review, etc. However, there are important things that I do to stop it at discouragement before ranging on despair and derailment.

I mentioned Steven Pressfield‘s “The War of Art” in an earlier post in this series. One of his central concepts is that of Resistance. He writes, “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.” This Resistance at its most evil, is the anvil over your head manifesting as writer’s block. Yet, it can also act as an indication of your interests in and passions for your project. “[T]he more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.”

There is an important lesson here. I have learned the dual nature of fear, which I can easily turn into self-loathing and self-doubt, if I’m not careful. A practice I’ve attempted to master is mapping my degrees of fear and how they each show themselves to me. For instance, I’ve already indicated a certain degree of difference between discouragement and despair. Truly know your degrees of difference. Track what actions and emotions are triggered by these feelings. Once you can really own these parts of yourself and how you are, you can work to reel yourself in and get back to a more effective and productive state of mind.

The fear can also be the voice of self-doubt and the root of the negative self-talk that tells us we won’t succeed. Nobody will like what you write. Nobody will even read what you write. This is all going to shit. Why bother? As an example, I’ve often referenced myself as “obstinate and oppositional.” Well, maybe those are the emotions/states I tend toward. However, the first step to making change is knowing where you can improve. Forget the how, for now at least. Don’t think too far ahead or the whole thing will seem too daunting to touch. Start small, go slowly, and feel for your fear like you’re fumbling in the dark drying to get dressed.

Pressfield also writes, “Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some idea we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” My advice is to study yourself and be brutally honest (because who else really will for you?). Own that fear, bridle it, and then ride it like a white horse to your destination: Success.