Doubt, My Old Friend

I don’t do as much as I would like to. Infact I don’t even do as much as I intend to do. There’s this great inexplicable and hard-to-describe resistance that gnaws at me. I try to ignore it. It gets louder. I usually then procrastinate, play computer games, over-eat, over-sleep… But it doesn’t stand up to close scrunity. The voice inside me that says “You’ll never be able to do this” doesn’t make a lot of sense in the face of the understanding that I’ve usually done some version of the task before. Often numerous times. But, as Steven Pressfield notes in The War Of Art, it doesn’t have to make sense. It is an emotional impulse not a logical one.

It is currently summer in Australia and I’ve been going for late afternoon/early evening walks through the bush escarpment around this area. I started doing this in part because I wanted to get some exercise, but I was also inspired by Julia Cameron’s comments in Walking In This World. The thing that I came to notice was that when walking became about noticing the environment around me and spending time with myself (and much less about physical exertion and ‘exercise’) it became deeply satisfying. I don’t have to motivate myself to take these walks. If anything I am eager to go. Some days I can’t wait to get out of the house and my departure time gets earlier and earlier.

These little expeditures have completely changed my outlook on art, certainly, but life more generally too. I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of nature. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or dry or raining, it is always beautiful. Watching the sunset is always beautiful. And you’re never really alone – not even in the bush. There are tiny Finches bouncing in and around bushes, vocal White Cockatoos soaring above the trees. Even the occassional Cicada. Somehow there is such a sense of possibility in the great outdoors. The walls of my workspace feel at times like mental constraints as much as physical ones.

I take my iPod shuffle with me on these excursions. It is full of podcasts and music – currently Michael Jackson, Kate Bush, The Beastie Boys. It also contains my own podcasts and music demos. I listen to them on these walks. I am relieved in these moments to discover they’re not as awful as I imagine. I can see merit in the things I attempt. I can listen to three different demos of the same song and notice the development of not only the song, but myself as the songwriter and creative talent. It is just a new way of bonding with these artforms and doing so in a physical way – and for a person who spends so much time in his mind, this is a welcome reprieve.

At the present time I am procrastinating over a podcast interview. I’m not confident about the direction I think the interview should take. This uncertainty bothers me. I wonder if I can make the interview work. I ignore the fact that I’ve recorded many such interviews before, including another where I had similar concerns about the conversation’s arc. Two things help me overcome my anxiety. The first of these is preparation. The more prepared I am, the more confident I feel. It isn’t about scripting every thought because you need to be fluid and react to the interviewee in a meaningful way. But it is about exploring their work and having an understanding of them and the issues that relate to them.

The second is perhaps a little more abstract. At some point you have to stop researching and just meditate on all the information you have and make sense of it yourself. I used to think when I couldn’t find a direction for an interview that I needed ‘more information.’ The opposite actually proved true. I need to limit the inflow of information so I can focus on processing that information. (And frankly at times the fear you don’t have enough information can become a form of procrastination.) I needed to be alone with my thoughts. Again a natural uncluttered setting seems to help with this. Sometimes I’ll go to a local park and sit on a bench with my notepad and watch ducks while making notes. Other times I’ll just sit in my backyard.

I find myself caught between simple goals and grandiose plans. Julia Cameron warns of the dangers of attempting big things too soon. I totally understand this, infact I’ve experienced the creative retreats that overcommitting too soon can inspire. But I always want aspirations that are ‘big’ enough to inspire me and excite me and make me feel as though what I do is important and matters. It is a balancing act, I suppose.

I still compare myself and my work to that of other people. People who have had different opportunities and different histories and different levels of personal and artistic development. This isn’t helpful. I know this isn’t helpful.

2 comments… add one
  • mel ralph

    Authenticity comes from being truely honest with oneself > this can be found within the paragraphs that Lacey has written here.

  • bibi v

    It is funny John, not funny haha, but funny synchronicity, that I found your blog and this entry this morning. My morning pages have shown me a potential reason for my doubt and procrastination that I didn’t realise, that horrible need for ‘it’ to be perfect and a product. I am so too attached to the outcome (whiny child artist voice inserted here) duh. Spirit comes through to me disguised as Yodha and sometimes the Dalai Lama, and laugh themselves stupid over my need for that grandiose inspiration. When they both send me out to walk and call me child, I obey.

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