When, on the rare occasion, I turn on my music equipment and press Record, I’ve been saving my little songs with oblique filenames like “noodle<date>”, because that’s what these are…anonymous noodles. It’s me noodling around like a guitarist does with his tape deck: recording little ideas, roaming around to see where the phrases lead. Noodling. I find myself getting frustrated with the concept and the process, because since my noodles are incomplete, rough, not ready for display and difficult to straighten out, I tend to leave them in the folder and not touch them later, even if there are some neat ideas inside.
Really, I should be seeing these not as noodles, but as sketches, not unlike a sketch in an artist’s sketchpad. Rough vignettes, little bits where the artist is trying something out, looking at a new technique. Even if it’s a throwaway piece of paper, the artist is experimenting, getting better at the process, perfecting their craft — that’s why art students churn through project after project, page after page, canvas after canvas. The repetition is necessary.
My little vignettes are only sketches. I shouldn’t be proud of them or fall in love with them or prematurely share them with the world in the hope for a handful of Likes attached to my half-assed effort. But I should respect the sketches for what they are: little throwaway projects in view of getting better. When something sticks, I’ll have the chops to re-record them and rebuild them from scratch without the need to dig into the bowl of noodles and spend hours fixing the rough bits enough to hammer them into a project.
As long as I keep drawing / playing / writing, I’ll get better. Busywork is necessary for creative people, and that sense of boredom I feel when doing it (like ignoring homework because I felt it was repetitive) needs to be suppressed right at the outset by looking at the work not with the mindset of “I already got this, thanks” but through the lens of this new “this is self-improvement” nomenclature.
A Friday night evaluation shows me completely disengaged and unmotivated. The boiler firebox is full of cold ash. There are a handful of things I could be doing, projects I could work on, things on a to-do list to knock off, but the fire is out.
A train engine doesn’t serve to drive itself across the landscape; it serves to pull a load, to do work, to carry people, to shuttle rolling stock around the railyard. Without the interaction of the passengers, the customers, the engineers, the brakemen, the switchers, the yard bosses, the engine itself has no reason to move. No reason to shovel the coal, to stoke the fire, to fill the water tanks, to build a head of steam, to open the valves, to roll out.
Without people in my life, without an attachment to a shared goal, without being bound to a duty, there’s no reason to work on my projects; they’re all in service of myself. I need to be in the service of others to have a reason to leave the roundhouse and chug along to the end of the line.
I feel like I should write something. My head is too fried.
Work today was full of suck and confusion. Information overload. Being put into a role that demands a lot of attention to a high amount of detail about a lot of systems concurrently. The guy doing it has been doing it for over a year, and he has his methods for tracking and keeping everything somewhat organized, but his contract’s ending in a few months with no extension and no replacement staff…so I guess I’m it. Bossman says it’s only temporary so I can see how it’s done on-the-ground so I can go back to my bench and write software to help automate a lot of it. I call bullshit. There’s no coming up for air to do software development when you have to be in the thick of it to make deadlines.
So, head fried.
I’m in the twilight phase between not caring and dreading too much. Those 6 months of unemployment helped me to develop a sense for the base minimum I can do to survive, and I didn’t even scratch the surface of how low I can go. But when I get to a stage of totally not caring about losing the job, I think I can consider myself a free man. I can come in, do my 8 hours, go home, and be free from the guilt of not giving my all to the company cause. I mean, shit, the pay is nice, but I’m not ready to decide for myself if it’s nice enough to sell off my trust and buy into the idea that the company wants to scratch my back in like-for-like exchange. That’s a lot to ask from a guy who got laid off once before.
Right now, though, I’ve settled back into my rhythm of getting up, going to work, leaving work, and then doing a combination of cafe, computer chair, and internet distractions until bedtime. My projects have ground to a halt again. I get home and I see the list of abandoned intentions and decide “I don’t wanna” before turning on a string of meandering Youtube videos. I’ll get myself back eventually, right?
What of all-consuming passion?
Where has gone the beat?
Drive and storm and fury.
Fire more light than heat.
Now, more heat than light.
Dimmed in the early night.
Life’s shredders rend,
Distract until night’s end.
In my backpack, I’ve been carrying some manner of a spiral-bound paper journal with me everywhere since 1991. It contains my darker, more personal journal writings, stuff that doesn’t need to see the light of day (or the long tail of the Internet). I’m nearing the last blank college-ruled page of my current spiral notebook, and I’ve been considering a change in tactic.
Most of my writing goes here (most of the safe, public stuff, anyway), so I’ve been writing in my paper journal a lot less than I have in the past. In some respects, I’m fine with that. It’s easier to type than it is to write (much to the dismay of my hand muscles that cramp when I pen a full page), and a website has no weight beyond the electronic device I use to publish, which currently is a subcompact laptop that I also carry in my backpack everywhere I go.
But I’ve also been toying with the idea of drawing more. I carry fine-point pens and a marker; have for years, but I don’t always carry a blank, no-rule notebook. To do so adds to the weight of my pack, and increases the number of items I have to keep together when moving stuff from the backpack to a messenger bag.
So I’ve been wondering if I should mix the two and start journaling in a blank sketchpad, interleaving the writing with the artwork. The sum total of my creative handiwork in one place. A journal notebook in the classic sense. It’s a multi-modal form of self-expression, and since it’s my dark journal, I can make dark drawings, foul stuff, and it’s OK. It has absolutely no requirement to be work-safe or shame-free.
But that’s just the thing…if I draw alongside my writings, what if I make a drawing I’m so fucking proud of, I want to show the world? Well, right next to it (or easily seen through the back side of it) could be some of the most embarrassing bits of writing. I guess that’s a risk I’ll have to consider. I’ll police the sketchbook just as tightly as I police the journal.
Just a thought.