The Saddest Tale of all Creatives

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Creative thinking is distributed normally across the population. However, much of this creative thought does not deviate far from the spectrum of other people’s creative thought. This can be evidenced by an individual thinking of a “great idea” only to turn on the TV, open a book, look in a store, or any other place where creativity ends up, and find their great idea already in production. This seems like quite the phenomenon to the unaware, and it’s also not unheard of for the suspicious to engage in legal action in these scenarios, swearing that this other person must have stolen the idea from them. “How else could it be?” they think, forgetting that they’re not ever truly segmented as individuals but a part of a greater whole that’s constantly shifting and adding on to what came before.

One of the first things a halfway-decent writing program will teach is the value of an idea. It’s not exactly what you want or may expect to hear: Ideas are worthless, that is, until you find a way to implement them. Until then, you’re not a writer or the next great inventor of a social networking site, you’re just a person with ideas – and given how distributed the ability to make creative ideas is and what those ideas usually are, that just makes you a person.

So you start plotting. You gather your tools.

While creative thinking is distributed normally, creative output is not. In fact, seventy percent of the population scores a “zero” in the Pareto Distribution for creative output. That means if you are putting in the effort to transform your ideas into something concrete, you’re automatically in a thirty percent minority – and that’s without any other defining traits.

But creative output, of course, is an infinitely broad domain. So what the creative person ends up doing might very well single him or her out in a known group. You become the artist in the family. Maybe you’re the only one you know who is serious about writing creatively. People take a pause when they learn you’re in a band yet you claim to be a grown adult. But while you’re being placed in smaller and smaller groups, what doesn’t single you out is the collective of creative output, of which the numbers suddenly become very large and competitive in the marketplace – because like how creative output can be plotted along a Pareto Distribution, the output itself is plotted again along the same distribution in the marketplace. So simultaneously the world can seem estranged for the creative while also seeming like it’s all before an insurmountable wall of creative others toward any kind of success.

“What do those people have that I don’t have?” the creative may think. It’s not exactly a creative thought, but a thought of human nature.

While other creatives may have more skill or intelligence, that’s not necessarily true. Your creative output may be infinitely better than what is already out there – the world doesn’t know, and the truth is that what you create doesn’t even have to be better. But the difference that separates your creative output from success, however you may define it, may come down to a persistence to give your gift to the world.

Think about it all like this, as though you can view the timeline of all creatives objectively: Would there ever be a sadder tale than that of the creative who bows defeated before the wall a moment before that one instance, just that one instance, takes place which would propel him or her into a positive feedback loop toward success? Think about how many creative people in any domain there are out there who are acting on their idea at any given time, and the odds are that there are not just a few who bowed down at the last moment and lived that sad tale unknowingly, but thousands. Those thousands who deprived the world of their gift! Those thousands who stopped persisting even though what they were doing gave their lives meaning – maybe because the misery in which they didn’t try was easier than the misery in which they did! What became of them? I have a pretty good idea, and I bet you do, too. You can feel what became of those poor souls even if you aren’t a creative, just imagine if you lost what was most important to you.

There’s nothing out there that promises that if you persist for even a thousand years that you’ll ever get to where you want to be, but just to be clear, the wall is deemed insurmountable only from the individual’s perspective. The wall in this metaphor is a community gathering of value. It’s important to remember that, and untold numbers of creatives, perhaps generations now, have been sold a lie about a bottomless treasure chest of the “self” and never make this distinction. Many gifted have died here, stuck in their own darkness, where not even logic or intelligence could save them from the trap. It’s no coincidence that the creative’s positive feedback loop toward success often coincides with the recognition of the value of others – It may be learning how to extend a hand even before someone extends a hand for you. It’s at this point the journey can begin away from seclusion. It’s at this point the creative may make a genuine offering to the world.

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How to Build a House

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Imagine two men. They both want a house to live in, but the blocks to build houses are a day’s walk away, and a person can only bring back one block at a time due to the weight of each block.

The first man leaves in the morning, a morning like any other, and he comes home at night worked to his core, but carrying his block. The second man calls him a fool. The second man sees the single block lying alone in the dirt and he laughs. He says sarcastically to the first man, “Oh, what a mighty mansion you have! Wait until the others hear about this.”

The next morning, the first man goes to where the blocks are once again. He comes home a little sorer, but he places the second block right next to the one he got the day before. “Oh, all that effort, the whole weekend, and you have a footstool!” the second man says and he laughs.

This goes on for a long time – a long, long time, so long in fact that the second man stops paying attention to the first man and his actions. The second man is too occupied telling others about how grand his dreams are. But one day the second man comes upon a house, a nice house, a modest house, but house-enough that he grows envious. “Some men have it all,” he thinks to himself. He knocks on the door and to his surprise he finds the first man, now looking ever-so wise, opening the door. “You?” says the second man. “How did you get this house? Are we not the same?” The first man says, “This isn’t a house, a house is an abstract thing. This is the daily toil of 5,000 blocks stacked up to form a coherent measurement of effort. One does not walk a day to build a house; one walks one day to pick up one block.”

The house is an abstract thing.

The block here, of course, is a metaphor. The house is your ultimate goal. But you must understand that your ultimate goal is an abstract thing that must be built piece by piece. So slowly sometimes that it may seem like nothing is happening – but it is happening. Several things are happening. You are gaining the knowledge and skill of each block, but you are also becoming better at block gathering. It is becoming habit. You are sacrificing yourself to take control of your future and to guard against the hell of one day finding yourself as the metaphorical (or literal) homeless and the hell that brings with it.

It stands, above all, as a supreme testament to the fact that the sole substance of genius is the daily act of showing up. ~ Quote from a Brain Pickings article on John Steinbeck

But what ingredients go into your block? That’s where a schedule comes in, and your schedule will be unique to you. Without a schedule, time is doomed to slip away like money without a budget. And you don’t need an elaborate schedule categorizing every moment of your day – as Jordan Peterson says, you aren’t a tyrant of your self. But you do need to distill your main value, to become a writer, artist, musician, programmer, better person, etc. down into a block of concrete action you can take on a regular basis. Most importantly, you want to design the day that makes you want to wake up in the morning. If, after you cut away the excess, you have only an hour to dedicate on the weekends, this applies the same. You’re playing the long con of your success – and you must fight and then fight some more against the rationalization of your own self-sabotage. You must also realize that there will be failures, because you’re not a machine, but failing to reach the completed schedule is still better than the inaction that often comes with no value-driven schedule at all. Print out this schedule and keep notes. Keep it close and in a binder to look back on your development.

You should know that happiness is an approach emotion. You get a serotonin bump whenever you get closer to your goal – but you need a goal! You may have previously avoided goals because it sets up conditions of failure. Well, you need conditions of failure! You need to figure out exactly what it is that you want, you need to figure out the daily, unsexy, ways of how to get there, and you need to be aware of the consequences of doing none of those things.

Go build a house.

My Heavy Suitcase: A Soundtrack

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This is my heavy suitcase, an always-changing compilation of songs that have become meaningful for me. Within each of our heavy suitcases are stories attached to song, we all have our own, and as the songs play we can live through memories as though one would while flipping through photography. “I remember where I was when that song was playing…” “I remember he wanted that played at his funeral…” “That song was with me on many long nights…”

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To My Brothers and Sisters

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(One)

Steel dragon-backs sickly-sweet with July
Smell tumorous breaths, lungs of rotten fruit,
Within our path of certainties.

We grip onto the prognosis parade,
We look out through the silence, a damned route,
Toward the window of elegies.

Across the water –

The young doctor says, “An awful spot,”
Pointing to a whiteboard diagram
Of which all is mirrored and made.

Our father sobs, his chair shakes,
We try erasing the blight but
Instead rescind and fade –

(Two)

All the steel dragons heave, they know us now,
And my brother at the wheel
Has taken the red evening sun and put it in his face.

When the bridges pass, father silent,
Brother takes the red sun out to share,
And we six children give wear for a melancholy pace.

At the end of the day, we break,
The dragons lift and soar through recent memory,
If not for any lengthy future, if for a little bit more:

Everything says –

Shine, you six: Son, Son, Son – Daughter, Daughter, Daughter.
Shine as bright as you can for as long as you can,
And pass it on. Shine – and pass it on.


(Three)

This dead September beyond the tunnel takes all but these words.
Generations are left quiet in room corners
Thinking of songs belonging to a time before the chair shook.

One last trip with the dragons and The Spirit of the Sky
Claimed all of father’s breath, and all of father’s thought,
And here, with so much taken, is where we didn’t want to look.

But here was here all the time and here will always be,
But there is still there, too, and henceforth called memory.
And memory, you may find, is the present for those left behind.

For the last and shortened bridge:
The dragons went to sleep early tonight.

(Four)

Now I can’t tell you where, and I can’t tell you when,
But one day the dragons of fate will be only bridges,
The sun of mourning – only the sun,

You will find yourself lost in a time still alive,
But I promise you that it’s more likely to be a particularly glorious day,
And you will look over that moment as a wondrous one.

“How does everyone in this memory not see me? I’m right here.”
They will all see you. We’re all connected like this,
As the awareness of individual mortality is the companion of age.

But you should see them now, too: Understand this present duality.
The light that you shine then shines long after that final breath –
Long after the turning of the generational page –

Such as the one we grasp for right now.

Desert

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I want you to know that I’ve been in the desert. I walked as far as I could to find a man with no teeth in the desert. The toothless man under the desert sun said, “But why have you come all this way? Have you deserted them?” I said I did not desert them; I walked so far to find a man who would not take a bite out of my spirit. He said, “But they will. They will as soon as you go home from the desert.” I know, I said, but at least I will have lived understanding a moment of freedom. “So why not stay here?” he said.

I looked around.

Because it is a desert, I said.

Photo by Caleb Steele on Unsplash

The Crunch, and The Crunch, and The Crunch

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Bukowski kept coming back to The Crunch. Months apart. Years apart. I don’t really know. Then The Crunch went on. We’re all observers and enablers. Everyone is the criminal. Everyone is the victim. These three versions span twenty-two years of publications – Second Coming. Vol. 5 No. 1 – 1977; Love is a Dog From Hell – 1977; what matters most is how well you walk through the fire – 1999. Each variation, secondary evidence to the keen authorial eye.

I wonder when Bukowski first realized some things would never change.

Excerpts from “The Crunch” Variations

Death at the Beach

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The sun set and the evening winds swept in. I sat on my blanket in the sand and stared out to the waves, and miles beyond that, to the horizon. Around me, the sand crabs woke up to scurry in the night, and I never did figure out what they did besides scurry – a lifetime of scurrying.

The waves crashed. It had been too long since I last saw the waves. The waves crashed. They beat the shore, then they retreated, and then they crashed to beat the shore again. (Ad Infinitum). I realized how much of an egotistical game we play – how big we make ourselves appear to be when we’re not. We can sit in our rooms, we can stare at our screens and pretend that we’re any number of things – such as intelligent, or insightful, but the truth at the end of the day is, the sun sets, the evening winds sweep in, and the tides always win.

So, some people go on vacation and feel inspired; they want to harness the energy they find. But I have come away with an unexpected view – I’m not sure I want to write anymore. I don’t know the extent of that – because here I am writing a paradoxical entry. As I sat on my blanket in the sand, something happened. I don’t know what, exactly, but my eyes became the oceans of the damned and I saw the death of myself. I saw myself walk out into the endlessness and become a sea creature of the nevermore. I saw all of the scurrying that I have done to get nowhere at all. My ten-thousand+ hours of art amounted to how to become invisible.

The beach became dark and flashlights turned on to appear like levitating indigenous species of the end-world. Groups of them glided in the distance and through the night. I stood and tied my blanket around my collar as a cape and moved up to the waterline. My cape wisped behind me and to the left. The waves crashed without an exact singular form, but they spoke a unified language. They spoke to me how they spoke to the first person who set foot on the sands. They said, we come, and we go – what do you not understand? And I thought, maybe I don’t want to write anymore.

But we turn home, and we scurry. We ask each other, “What delusion do you tie to your self-worth?” Then like the crabs that prepare for their night shifts, we go on – underneath it all, a hard-shelled function more than a choice. It’s an art of consistency even if it seems inconsistent to the individual observer.

“Where were you, Matthew?” they say.

I was looking for the experience of being alive but only ever ended up with a reflection.

Maybe that was the experience of being alive. Or maybe it is what life has become.

The Tides Always Win

And then I was no more.

The Fine Magazines

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One poet said he was writing a Ford.
He called it a testament to American ethic,
And it was well-received by fine magazines.

Another poet said she was writing a Honda.
She called it cultural awareness,
And it was well-received by fine magazines.

Another poet wrote about a car with its
Brand name shaved off, careening down the highway
At 110mph while being chased by a sea of sirens.
The car’s back window was shattered,
Bloody glass rattled over the bouncing trunk lid,
And the leg sticking out of the trunk twisted
With three false knees and dangled an untied shoe.

The fine magazines did not have room for the third piece.
Besides, there was this new poet out there – of a Tesla.
It was said to be the words of the electric youth.

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash

Dumpster Fire

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I was an atheist until I found God in a dumpster –
But it wasn’t love at first sight.
Love wasn’t until God said, around the eleven-thousandth day,
“Do you want to see a dumpster fire?”
And I said okay.

He struck a match and the dumpster went up in flames,
High and furious and he asked me if I saw the light.
I said, “You are the light.”
He said, “Indeed I am,
But you had to say okay.”

Others crowded around for warmth.
There were four of us poor souls –
One was a vagrant who extended his shaking hands
And prayed vigorously.
“This must be church, man,” the vagrant said. “Hallelujah.”

Photo by Raffik Lopes on Unsplash

Extrapolating Data

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I’m moving to a place between all other synapse
Where past and future become untouchable
And present is a dull kind of serenity.
I’ll have a little wooden bench there,
By the water, where flies ripple the surface.
I’ll stick my legs out and I’ll sit there,
And I’ll sit there, with my cane,
Until a voice says, “Mr. Moore,
It’s time for your evening meds.”
And I’ll look up at the kind-faced nurse
To say, “Has the day gotten old, already?
Oh my, where has life gone?”

Not tomorrow,
But not too much later, it seems.
The nurse will hold my arm to help me inside.