Losing and Letting Go of Precious Things
There's nothing like losing a sketchbook, except maybe losing a diary.
When you misplace or unfind something that you love, it's a peculiar kind of loss. It gnaws at you. At least for me it gnaws slowly, like the loss is teething. When I discovered that my most recent sketchbook was missing, I tried to hold out hope. But it has stayed lost through two moves and across almost eight states, so I think it probably has a mind to stay that way.
There Can Always Be a Better Thing
At first I was pretty wrecked.
It's an unfortunate and unconscious habit of mine to make things precious. I use these things as touchstones, guideposts. My sketchbook was one of those guideposts.
Then I read Marina Keegan's raw and precocious (and posthumously published) collection of short stories, "The Opposite of Loneliness." (It's a fortuitous story how that book even came into my hands, but it's a story for another day.) In it, she shares her overarching approaches to her writing and editing. She warns herself, among other things, not to get too attached to a particular word or phrase. She writes: "There can always be a better thing!"
That idea is right and true, and just exactly the tone it should be.
In our creating, we cannot let ourselves get too attached to what we make or have made and allow ourselves to become either complacent or beholden. We also shouldn't overvalue and make too precious the little things we are creating. It lacks an intellectual generosity and a creative optimism. When I was little, my momma would always say "there's more where that come from," not because there actually was, but because it was an important perspective to inculcate.
Finding the Joy in Letting Go
My point is that losing the sketchbook was a great, if small, thing. I internalized the lesson that I don't need access to old material in order to make new material. Those old ideas are still rattling around in my brain, waiting to be re-engaged. I've got a sketchbook sitting on the shelf now, and it's the biggest one I've ever had. I'm ready to dive in.
Of course, I wish I still had my sketchbook. There is value in it, wherever it is. But the perspective gained by losing it is pretty critical to creative growth. Call this new phase a conscious uncoupling.
When I'm learning what feels like a bigger lesson, it seems like disparate things align cosmically to make that idea ring clear and true. I think that's called confirmation bias. Is it happens, I've been seeing this reminder about appropriate value and the value of loss all over.
One of my favorite reiterations is a snippet of an idea that I heard in passing. I vaguely remember it being called Zen but I can't find it anywhere. If you know, please clue me in. Here's the gist of it:
Do not worry overmuch about losing something. Be like the Zen monk drinking tea from the fine porcelain cup who is not concerned about breaking it, because in his heart he knows it is already broken.
Oof. I love that.
Productivity and Playfulness
With this new awareness, I have been chewing over how to be productive creatively in a sustainable way. I'm always thinking of things I could make, but I don't often give myself the chance to really do it. A lot of that is due to inertia, but some of it is due to low-grade anxiety about being bad at doing what I love to do. Since I haven't been working regularly, I probably am. But I'm not overly fussed about that anymore.
Creating something is better than creating nothing. By focusing on the smallest action, rather than fantasizing about the largest one, I am better able to approach my work. Freed from the burden of my old body of work, I feel comfortable trying new things and being more playful in my practice.
I even tried painting again, just to try. Truly I'm terrible at painting, but it's not about that. It's about making something from nothing.
Addressing the Page
I started thinking about this concept of addressing the page at least daily. This may be in art or writing for me, but it could be any creative endeavor for you. The point is just that you address the white space of the page and make something from nothing, no matter how small. We all know by now that detail doesn't directly correlate to quality. Modigliani's work is so expressive and so simple.
I've made it a goal to address the page every day this week, and so far it's been great. I've started three new short stories and the aforementioned painting, and it's only Wednesday. That's a pretty good record. Especially considering that last week I made nothing at all.
I hope you'll join me! If you want to share your experiences, leave me a little note in the comment section or on Twitter @misskinseylane. I'll look for folks to feature, so include a picture or two of your work with your note.
Thank you for reading, and please get in touch if you'd like to share your thoughts.