Walking Long Enough

Today I turn to Cheap Writing Trick #78: Quoting a Classic. The following is a fairly oft-used passage from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

‘Cheshire Puss, . . . would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

The most common interpretation of this is that you need to know where you’re going if you’re going to get anywhere. It’s frequently used as a conversation starter for planning, goal setting, and efficiency discussions. But what most people never include are the next two lines in the passage:

‘–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Now we have something a little different. It’s not always easy to know what the destination is, especially when exploring, brainstorming, or doodling. If we always focus on the goal, the destination, we miss opportunities to discover, learn, or have “happy accidents.” But it’s not enough to wander. You have to wander long enough to find something.

My past creative efforts (at writing especially, but in many other areas as well) have nearly always fallen by the wayside because I stopped walking, as it were. When a destination wasn’t immediately obvious to me, I decided that the journey was probably pointless. Unless you work for a certain spacing guild, what’s the point of traveling without moving, after all?

Saint Salieri

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the progress I’ve made in various areas of my life, and it’s been somewhat… well… depressing or disappointing aren’t the right words, but they’re in the neighborhood. I haven’t written or recorded any music in a few years. Most of my design and video projects have become work instead of fun.

For many years now, I’ve held my own work in relatively low regard. I’ve long held myself to have “Salieri Syndrome.” Bear with me for a moment as I explain that for those of you who haven’t seen Amadeus. In the story, Salieri is a locally celebrated composer and a peer of Mozart’s. After hearing the perfection in Mozart’s music, he hears only mediocrity in his own, ultimately proclaiming, “I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. Mediocrities everywhere, I absolve you!”

When Trent Reznor released Pretty Hate Machine in 1989, I was simultaneously thrilled and crushed. He had released the album I had been working on, in both style and topic, for nearly a year. Worse, he had done it far better than I ever could have. It was one of the ultimate “I wish I’d said that” moments in my life. It was one more confirmation of my own internal assessment of mediocrity, despite praise from those around me. I’ve struggled with this internal critique for a long time now.

Working Through The Suck

Two days ago, however, in a fit of synchronicity, I came across a link to a YouTube video by Ira Glass titled “Working Through The Suck.” I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post and highly recommend that you watch it, especially if the previous paragraph struck a chord with you. The essential message of the video is that all creatives go through a period where they don’t like the quality of their own work, and that it takes tenacity to stick with it until you get really good. He further asserts that this period can take years to get through.

This was an “Ah HAH!” moment for me, because I thought I was the only one. And it’s not just music. I’ve discounted all of my creative abilities. I’m constantly waiting for someone to expose me as a hack, a fraud, because I see things from other people that strike me as genius. How can I possibly compare? How can these other people not see it?

So I have resolved to begin walking again. My entries here are part of a multi-pronged offensive against my throng of internal critics. I’m beginning to find new things that are interesting to write about and that, hopefully, will be interesting to read about as well.

Enjoy the video…