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Inspiration and Presence
Along with Taxi Driver and a practice in doing everything wrong.
I came across some frames from “Taxi Driver” on Pinterest and felt inspired to use stills from that movie as my “world” to draw from. When I was younger, studying filmmaking at UCSD, I was big into Martin Scrosese. I always loved the energy in his films and listening to him nerd out about the cinema. Though I haven’t made a short film in years, I still find a lot of inspiration in the movies.
Inspiration and Presence
When we encounter a piece of art that delights us, we creative types feel an urge to invoke that same power in ourselves. It’s not enough for us to merely appreciate what we’ve seen. We want to inhabit that same spirit to express ourselves with the same level of grace.
So, we try it. At first, we might feel that things are going well, but as we spend more time with our work, we might find ourselves encountering our own inadequacy. We look at what we’ve done and compare it to the source of our inspiration and we realize that it is nothing like what inspired us. It falls woefully short of the mark.
When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth
— Kurt Vonnegut
Many of us throw up our hands in despair. Maybe we move on to the next thing, the next inspiration. We repeat the cycle, again and again, bringing none of our projects to completion, rarely settling in deeply enough to master our craft. We begin to wonder if we’re just not cut out for this creativity stuff, and we start to resist and avoid our creative work. Some of us give up entirely.
The problem is that inspiration, while powerful, is short-lived. I like to think of it as kind of like a “Nitro boost”. Great for a quick shot of energy under the right circumstances, but it can’t carry you the whole way.
What we need when we’re trying to make any kind of meaningful art is a foundation to carry us along. We need the right tools, habits and sense of purpose to show up day after day so that when inspiration strikes, we can make the best use of it.
When we are present with our work, we can begin to construct this foundation. Presence allows us to see what we need, to seek help and to develop the tools for the job. Presence gives us the ability to slow down and take stock, to assess what is happening and to temper our expectations so that we can play the long game.
Instead of unhelpfully comparing our own works in progress to the beautiful work that inspires us, presence helps us stay engaged with what is right in front of us. We can see that no matter how inadequate we might feel, we are doing what we love to do at this moment. By putting our pencil to the page, there is already magic happening.
When we learn to focus our sights on the small moments of the present, we can take each step forward, and instead of seeing how far we need to go, we learn to enjoy the journey. And when the time comes to run with our boost of inspiration, we’re ready for it.
Page of Suck
A technique I like to employ when I’m feeling stuck, especially when I am feeling the unhelpful pressure of self expectation, is a concept I like to call “Page of Suck.”
It can be especially helpful if I’m just getting started, or if I’m frustrated with the way things are coming together.
The idea is simple. You identify what you are trying to do well, and you do the opposite. You try to make the worst drawing you can, or write the worst story possible. Ask yourself, what am I trying to do well, and what would it look like if I did a crap job?
There are a few benefits to this exercise:
First, it takes the pressure off. You’re not trying to reach a skill level that you may or may not have. You’re not trying to make things flow well or communicate clearly or make a powerful statement or look cool. Instead, you’re going against your better instincts and you’re allowing your gremlins to rush out into the open, wreak havoc on your art, and have their way.
Second, in trying to make it suck, it can help to identify the elements that make the thing work or not. The shift in focus to the opposite, to what makes something bad, can help us understand what might make it good.
A third benefit is that it can open up your view to other possibilities that you hadn’t previously considered. It can help you see from a new perspective and give you insight into an alternative solution to your problem.
Sometimes we hold our projects too preciously and we need to just let go. We need techniques and practices for getting out of our own heads, and the page of suck is one of my personal favorites. If nothing else, it can be a fun way to have a good laugh at yourself.