If You Could Not Fail

I’m sure a lot of people have said this very smart thing, so I don’t know who to credit it with, but I will admit that I heard it quoted in the movie New Year’s Eve:

What would you do if you could not fail? Go do it.

I’m pretty sure there’s nothing else to add to this one, so I’m not going to gum it up with my own ramblings.

Try Something New

This post is inspired by two events. The first was a conversation with my dear friend Francine who asked me two questions:

When is the last time your were amazed or truly excited by something? When is the last time you tried something totally new?

By trying something new, she wasn’t referring to those big, bucket-list type activities like traveling the world or jumping out of a plane, but little routine-shaking activities like taking a different route while walking to the grocery store. The idea being that by shaking up your patterns just a little bit you become more aware of just what your patterns are and simultaneously become more open to new experiences.

The second event that inspired this post happened today: the shift key on the left-hand side of my keyboard got stuck, forcing me to use the shift key on the right-hand side instead. Suddenly this seemingly insignificant part of my life has become incredibly significant and I am hyper-aware of this one tiny part of my life. Who would have thought that the finger so used to reaching over to hit the return key would be so bad at reaching one key lower to hit the shift key? Those other little surrounding fingers, too, they have grown accustom to reaching and bending in certain ways, and when the pinky gets pulled out of line, they all seem to follow suite! I also had no idea how many times the shift key is actually necessary to write (for example) a blog post?

We humans, it turns out, are incredible creatures of habit. Studies tracking peoples movements with GPS devices have shown that most people follow incredibly predictable patterns every week, taking the same paths between work and home and going to the same places whenever they go out. They’ve even found that our grocery shopping habits are totally identifiable: we tend to buy the exact same groceries in the same predictable pattern.

All this is fine, patterns, routines, and habits can be great! They give our lives security and let us know what to expect. Cognitively we do much better when we already know what to expect from a situation.

So what’s the point in shaking up the routine, then? It’s about self-awareness. Patterns are wonderful, but don’t you want to know what yours is, and what might happen if you break it?

So try something different today! Drink a different kind of tea in the morning, take a new route to work, use the shift key on the other side of your keyboard, or even just sit cross-legged with the “wrong” leg on top (try it, you’ll know what I’m talking about). See what happens. Maybe nothing, but you never know!

Before and After

This is a wonderful series of photos charting a group of participants in a meditation retreat before and after their experience. The photographer had them sit in front of the same background both times, asking them before the retreat to reflect on what they hoped to get out of it, and asking them afterwards to reflect on the experience. I have certainly made my own observations about the difference between the before and after images, but I won’t colour your interpretation with my own. Posted below are a couple of images, but I definitely recommend clicking this link to get the rest.

Happy New Year!

It’s the new year, la la laaaa…

What are your resolutions?

For the longest time I resisted having resolutions for the new year – it just seemed to cliche for me, and besides, I’m already re-evaluating my life and planning my future on a more-or-less seasonal basis anyways. It seemed to me that this was just the time of year that everyone else did it, and heaven forbid I do something at the same time as the rest of society. Well, I’ve stopped trying to be an anti-conformist just for the sake of being different, so here is my resolution for the new year: to chill out.

The last few months of my life have been so hyper-focused on being productive and achieving things that I haven’t spent that much time just enjoying life. Since I’m pretty much booked with contracts and projects until September 2012, I think I’ve got the productivity thing in the bag for next year, so my objective is to spend more time relaxing and enjoying life with my friends and family.

Productivity and Art

I came across this blog post on Twitter, and it seemed pretty apt to me, considering my recent post on living with a full schedule. The author makes an excellent point that forcing yourself to be constantly productive keeps your brain in a kind of vice.

First of all, you won’t experience much of the Good Stuff of Life if you’re always worried about optimizing the productivity of each moment. Some of my favourite memories involve time spent just hanging out in the kitchen with my roommates and friends, spontaneous photo walks, or book club meetings. Less memorable are the days when I ran from one commitment to another, packing it all in.

Secondly, according to the author, you’re going to exhaust your brain! He argues that every hour spent being insanely productive detracts from the next hour’s ability to do the same. I’m not sure if I agree with that as a rule, but it does make some sense. Mental work is at least as exhausting as physical work, if not more so. I’m reminded of my Dad, who often comes home from a long, busy, productive day at work and says “Okay, I just need to zone out in front of the TV for a while.” I’m reminded of him because I now often do the exact same thing. Our brains need rest! They need idle time that is spent wandering, imagining, or engaged in easy chit chat with a close friend.

I’m going to add to this argument that our creative juices need this down time as well. I don’t know how widespread this idea is, although I’m sure I’m not the first person to voice it, but I believe strongly that real art takes time. An artist whose in a rush isn’t allowing themselves to be an artist anymore. They are simply producing art-like work. Art needs to simmer beneath the surface – that’s how disparate ideas find their connections and how the true core of the piece bubbles to the forefront. Sure, I can slap something together in a week that will be a decent piece of art, but if I’m really trying to say something. If I’m really trying to reach people, the only thing I can say for sure is that it is probably going to take some time.

As an example of this, I’m going to present Lady Gaga. Now, I know a lot of people have different ideas about Lady Gaga and where she stands on the “artist” continuum. Personally, once I discovered the depth and breadth of her work and witnessed some of her liver performances, I was convinced: Lady Gaga was a true artist. She had a strong vision and used it to challenge our societal conceptions of gender, religion, and beauty. Sure, she’s not the first person to do that, but I don’t think anybody in the world is going to be the first person to do something, so that doesn’t matter. She was original in the only way one can be – by being unabashedly true and honest about the way they see the world.

Have you noticed how I keep referring to her artistry in the past tense? That’s because, in my opinion, her newest album and the subsequent work is not really art. Or at least not art on the same level she produced before. The main reason I see for this? She rushed it. She released two albums that were a brilliant whole, spent two years touring and producing relentlessly, and then immediately released yet another album. There was no time. What resulted is a pretty okay dance pop album with a couple of amazing tracks, but overall it has no soul. It had none of the overarching vision and artistry that her previous work had. Her newer videos feel obvious and frustrating in their concept and execution, and has anyone else noticed how “Judas” sounds a lot like “Bad Romance”?

It makes me sad to see something that could have been brilliant, had it been allowed time to breath and grow on its own, turned mediocre simply because the creator was worried about being constantly productive. I understand the panic, as a creative type. We want to keep creating. We want concrete evidence of the work we do and the thoughts in our heads. We want to prove to the world that we are still here, and we are still making things. But sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to set the creation aside. That’s when it will grow on its own.

Living with a full schedule

Wowee, life is full sometimes, isn’t it?  There’s lots of theatre on the docket in the coming months. Here’s a sneak peek to my upcoming projects:

Top that all off with a yin yoga teacher training at Semperviva Studios and teaching 5 classes a week and… well, things are going to be busy.

So how does a person manage all of this? Let me share!

  1. Write everything down – your schedule, your to do lists, everything.  Don’t waste valuable brain real-estate on remembering things that can be put on paper.
  2. That includes keeping a painstakingly up-to-date calendar that you can always access (electronic or “analogue”, that’s your call)- you want to know exactly when you need to do things at a moment’s glance.
  3. Review your calendar frequently – look ahead over the next couple weeks in spare moments to make sure that you’re not missing anything, and jot down any “to dos” that come from these browsing sessions
  4. Practice being in the moment.  You’ve written everything down, you’re keeping track of your duties as efficiently as humanly possible.  That means that when you are in the middle of doing something, you don’t need to worry about other things on your calendar.  A full schedule is only stressful if you let your mind move to all the other things on your list.  Be where you are.

If you haven’t guessed it, I think number 4 is the most important item on the list, but it’s not possible if you don’t do numbers 1-3 as well.

Oh, and make sure you schedule time for yourself.  A morning  yoga practice, time with friends, time with your favourite book – whatever feeds  you.