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Wednesday
Oct012014

GUEST POST: My Creative Process: Disorganized Organization (Part One)

Jon C. Lundell's sketchbook. September 29, 2014.

Leslie's Note: Back when I started this blog, I promised you readers guest posts. I haven’t delivered until now. At least I can claim that when I did finally make it happen, I went big. The post below comes from Jon C. Lundell, an amazing artist (one of his works hangs prominently in my living room and never fails to elicit comments) and a man who honors me with his friendship. Learn more about Jon and his work on his Web site and read his other writing on his personal blog, which I highly recommend you follow.

I admire Leslie a great deal. I like her energy, her positive attitude, the way she maps things out and gets them done.

I long to be able to do things just like she does. Over the course of several decades, I have attempted to impose order on my creative process.

But it just doesn’t work.

Who Needs “Creative Process” in Childhood?

When I was young, I could spend what seemed like all eternity copying pictures of Spider-Man I found appealing on pieces of oak tag cut to particular sizes, coloring them in with flair markers, and doing the whole business just so.

I developed an early taste for doing things just so with very hard pencils (Venus 6H) and smooth pads of paper. I liked the lack of tooth on the paper because it did not influence my mark making in any way—something I still consider an unwanted intrusion.

I prefer soft pencils now (anything 2B) but still like my paper smooth, because I still don’t like anything influencing my marks but me.

Art Gets Easier, Right?

The trajectory of my creativity seemed pretty consistent over time, so I assumed that by a certain age, the momentum would carry me and I would crank out the masterpieces at breakneck speed, barely able to control the massive and joyful production.

Boy, was I wrong.

Art, for some reason, still resembles work: Hard at times, time consuming. But unlike some work I’ve encountered, I seem interested in doing it.

It Doesn’t Get Easier

Art at its best seems to take on a life of its own, and you are one day in service of the WORK, a living, breathing, honest thing with direction and purpose. Sometimes relentless, greedy, incessant and inconvenient, but full of resonance, voice, light, and the promise of something roughly resembling immortality.

I hear this in music, in books, and see it in museums—maybe not always when I should, but I know it’s there.

Vermeer is an example of this for me. Although we know factually little about my man Jan, I know something about his life, his time, his family and love from his work. And it seems to me I know the best part of it. I couldn’t quantify it in any appreciable way other than what is there on the panel or canvas. And because he did such a bang up job of it, I really don’t need to.

I came to a decision not long ago that I was only going to make work I wanted to make, recording the things I found beautiful. Life is too short, and I waste enough time.

Why I Create

Like many, I venture, I found myself compelled to engage in the creative act to express myself in ways I was unable to otherwise. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I just started doing it and was knee deep before I even noticed.

I think here of other artists I’ve met along the way that express similar feelings. One actress sticks in my mind. She said she was more herself on the stage than anywhere else. I find that to be true of the creative act. I also thought it would be a handy way to meet girls. Sadly, not so much.

Not every piece of art is a meaningful work of lurid introspection. Sometimes I draw just to keep busy, or as meditation, a way to keep my mind off things, and to keep in practice for those times when lurid introspection is appropriate.

I have not found the answers to life’s greater questions in my work, which I maybe expected. I’m disappointed by this. I envy the certainty of people with beliefs. I have never been able to manage it. I do find satisfying sometimes the premise that in life’s rich pageant, we may each contribute our verse (picture, page, blah blah biddy blah whatever).

It’s a lofty conceit, but one to which each of us is welcome.

And How I Live to Make Creating Possible

I’m acutely aware that I no longer have all eternity to get things done. I can find most intrusions on my free time, even those I enjoy and invite in, an annoyance. I feel I must keep as much of my free time as possible open for making things, and that this does not necessarily guarantee things get made, although I entertain unrealistic expectations of myself.

I work a paying job full-time-plus and live alone, so another time suck is every little thing that needs to be done, including, but not limited to, unexpected house repairs, dinner, dessert, cleaning, and laundry.

Could somebody else do some work around here?

And sleep. I have to do that sometime.

I give these things priority more often than not, and find myself resentful of it. This could be dumb of me.

I make the choice to work full time since I discovered, after an initial period of working under duress as a youth, I need to be relatively comfortable, calm, and secure in order to create.

For me that means a steady paycheck, roughly regular meals, and a home full of neat stuff, including big soft bed, books, guitars, gadgets, and heat. I have a tiny helicopter I can make fly around the studio in times of great need.

Ideas: Grasping at the Ethereal

For a long time I couldn’t keep track of good ideas, many of which seemed worthy and excellent.

By the time I got home from work, shopping, chores, and so forth, I was left with only the nagging recollection that I’d had a clever idea: What was it?

I read an annoying book about da Vinci about twelve years ago, which spent long pages saying this: It’s a smart idea to keep a sketch book.

This simple notion hadn’t occurred to me. Simple, easy and helpful notions rarely do. I now favor a 7” x 7” inch wire bound book. I have filled almost three, and have two in the wings.

The problem now: I have more ideas than I can ever hope to get to in this lifetime.

I am also willing to abandon ideas. Some ideas that appeared to be totally excellent when initially entertained are really dumb.

Learn to accept this.

Perseverance

For a long time I was easily bored and would frequently abandon works. This has changed over time and I have found themes that persist and engage me. One big help for me was reaching out and finding willing and cooperative models I was interested in drawing. This process, I will stress, includes reaching out and finding unwilling and reluctant models, which took the greater getting used to.

I am also willing to keep works hanging around until I can figure out how to resolve technical problems or design issues. Most figure themselves out over time. Patience I’m not so good at, but I’ve learned to tolerate it.

Art can’t always be rushed.

Leslie's Note: Stay tuned for part two of Jon’s post about his creative process, slated to go live here next week.

Monday
Sep292014

Analysis Paralysis: How to Avoid Overthinking Business Decisions

In almost any life facet, including business, I can reason out of every possible decision. Call it a self psych out. Who needs enemies when your own brain can lead you astray?

At least I have company.

Although I often feel like I can address business decisions with greater expediency than I can personal-life decisions (which may say something tragic about how I spend my time and energy, but I digress), I’ve seen many a business associate suffer from what I call “analysis paralysis,” a state in which he so intensely analyzes every possible decision that he makes no decision—causing stalls and failures that action would have prevented.

True for hiring decisions, capital-expenditure purchases, key messages, business acquisitions, talent management—and the list goes on.

Not that taking quick action always makes for the best decisions, either. Rashness rarely does.

How do you find the balance between making a well-reasoned decision and analysis paralysis?

A few tips from my personal experience:

  • Read Decisive by the Heath brothers, which I mentioned in my post on bad advice. I particularly liked their recommendations to “ooch” by taking a small step toward the bigger decision and seeing how it goes before making a final, much more disruptive determination; to consider how you’d advise a friend in the same situation; and to think forward a few years and ponder what decision looks best from a future perspective—in other words, what would you regret not doing today when looking back on it a few years from now?
  • Talk or write it out. I analyze and often uncover my perspectives through writing. (Surprise surprise, faithful blog readers.) Some people need to talk it through with someone else, even if that person mainly listens. Reasoning through a complex situation in a “presentation” style, whether written or spoken, forces you to think through the decision from multiple angles and answer questions you might not consider otherwise. In the process, you’ll often find the right decision obvious. Some people hire executive coaches simply to have confidential sounding boards. Some just have great, trusted friends.
  • Walk or ride a bike. Gentle, meditative exercise—especially when done outside in nature—helps you think through challenges. Anaerobic workouts, while fantastic and energizing and healthful and necessary, focus you so intensely on pushing yourself and surviving the experience that you can’t truly think through any decision calmly and rationally—not even what you’d like to have for lunch.

I’m sure others have additional suggestions for taking a step, any step. Let’s hear ‘em.

What do you do to avoid analysis paralysis and make challenging decisions?

Saturday
Sep272014

I Have No Clue about Beach Gear and You Probably Don’t, Either

Surfside Beach, Texas. September 27, 2014.

I had a near-miss visit to a large volume of salt water recently (horrors for me, as you readers know), at which I realized that I don’t actually have a clue what people wear or bring to the beach.

Neither do most people, it turns out. (Or perhaps I only know city folk?)

When I turned to Twitter with the query, I received the following recommendations:

  • An umbrella. Jenna Sauber later clarified she meant a beach umbrella. How would I know such a thing? And do people actually cart massive equipment to the beach?
  • Alcohol—particularly beer and vodka. Upon reflection, beer made sense. I’ve seen plenty a commercial with sand, ocean, and cerveza. Vodka, though, @Erwin_Doug_1971?
  • An truckload worth of supplies. @slojuk and @JohnBladon trudge to the beach with “a Frisbee, crossword puzzles, books, sunscreen, hats, towels, Nerf balls, fruit, and ice water.” They claim all this stuff fits in one cooler. Right.
  • High heels and a sequined dress. I don’t know what @C_LosRun does at the beach, exactly. Let’s assume he meant the suggestion in jest. (If not, hey, no judgment here.)

In in addition to recommending that I add beach-umbrella cartage to my workout routine, Jenna had a few actually practical suggestions: Sunscreen, a book, a blanket, and a change of clothes. The ever thoughtful @ChrisCarville put in another vote for sunblock as well.

These sunblock reminders have garnered Jenna, @slojuk, and @ChrisCarville gold stars on their medical charts from the American Academy of Dermatology, which actually exists (even if a gold-star program from the organization does not).

What do you bring to the beach?

Thursday
Sep252014

Why I Advocate for the Irish Goodbye

 A patch of clovers in Houston's Magnolia Grove Neighborhood. September 26, 2014.Though I’ve outed my introversion—and my tendency to fall pretty far onto the “extreme” side of the spectrum—I do like parties. Really. And gatherings in general.

But I don’t like staying very long.

My social-fuel tank hits “empty” after about forty-five minutes to an hour. Typically, by that time, I’ve talked a bit with the folks I know, met a few new people, and mingled a little. Moseying sounds good.

And as I make it a habit to find, greet, and thank my hosts shortly after arrival, I’ve interrupted them once already. I feel more than a little rude disrupting them again such a short time later.

So count me a fan of the Irish goodbye.

Though the term comes from the derisory notion that Irish people leave parties without saying goodbye for fear that their drunkenness will prompt hosts to confiscate their keys, the Irish goodbye more generally means leaving a gathering without formally saying farewell.

Sounds good to me.

In fact, I’d advocate the Irish goodbye in almost all cases, including for extraverts who’ve lingered at the party for hours. Unless the hosts count on you for something later in the event—such as a toast, which you should not dodge unless you aim for the height of jerkitude—or the gathering has only a handful of guests, making your sudden, unexplained departure noticeable and strange to all—rather a disruption in its own right—skipping out unnoticed may stand as the least rude exit option.

After all, your hosts have the hard job of ensuring that they’ve adequately fed and watered and loved their guests. They juggle food, drinks, multiple conversations, introductions, and scan the room regularly to ensure no one feels excluded. They corral their animals and kids elsewhere—or ensure they happily engage with attendees and cause the least possible amount of disruption.

Continuing to interrupt the party-givers—especially if, as in my case, I just said hello an hour before—can’t possibly help the flow of their evening. Besides: They know I attended and we even chatted a bit. And, as one should, I send thank-you notes immediately thereafter.

Given these factors, the Irish goodbye seems rather more gracious than the alternatives. Yet I might stand nearly alone in this position.

What do you think of the Irish goodbye?

Tuesday
Sep232014

Bad Advice

If you haven’t read the Heath brothers’ books, including Made to Stick and Switch, you really should. They write entertainingly while providing useful and practical advice on how we can change perspectives and behaviors.

In their book Decisive, they write that thinking through what you’d tell a friend in the same position can provide one way to stop mulling a difficult choice.

I thought of the Heath brothers’ advice when reading an article in Johns Hopkins Magazine about a hilarious blog called Ask the Past by historian Elizabeth Archibald. In her humanities research, Archibald has turned up highly curious—and comical—guidance from the past, including ensuring a cat’s undying loyalty through rubbing its nose and legs with butter for three days straight and lengthening and blackening your hair through slathering it in oil boiled with a decapitated green lizard.

Clearly, we should take advice even from friends and “experts” with grains—spoons, buckets, truckloads—of salt.

Amused, I went to the Twitterverse to ask people about the worst advice they’ve ever gotten.

In response, Will Pora chalked “buy the extended warranty” in the bad advice category. My pal @_melissa pointed out that the commonly heard “just keep doing what you’re doing”—no matter the situation—provides no help whatsoever.

Personally, I found most dating advice completely unhelpful. Most times, I ignored it. When I did take it—including making the man do all the work to further the early-stage relationship, from initial contact to the first move—my attempt at suavity backfired. (In my experience, the guy just assumed a lack of interest due to minimal encouragement and moved along to other options.)

Some of the business advice I’ve gotten has led me down bad paths as well. I’d heard so often that personal lives should stay out of the office that I went through a stint without sharing even the most mundane outside-the-workplace details.

Although I do believe it inappropriate to spill messy, overly detailed personal stories in an office setting, giving insight into why you might seem a little distracted or tired can provide understanding and perspective that help everyone work together more smoothly. (Tip: Nothing is ever purely business. Life happens outside the office that affects what happens in the office. And besides: Work comprises far too much of people’s existence for it to have no personal resonance.)

What bad advice have you gotten? And did you take it?