March 03, 2017

“Inspiration is for amateurs."

Modern Adventuress

3 MARCH 2017

Hello letter friends,

It's been a busy week, so let's get to it. I have for you our standard roster of links, recommendations, past essay and new essay. Please enjoy.


The awkward politics of the Oscars.

"Keeping great male ‘artists' around while they endanger their female coworkers isn't only unjust, it actively lowers the number of great female artists by creating a workplace in which women are primarily valued for their ability to accommodate and ingratiate themselves to sexist men, and not for their actual talents.” What we lose when we give awards to men like Casey Affleck.

Teen Vogue interviews the sister of Kalief Browder.

What four indigenous women have to say about Standing Rock’s ongoing fight.

When Chicago was black Hollywood.

How folk music became white music, and how Rhiannon Giddens is taking it back. Note: I was not acquainted with Rhiannon Giddens prior to this article, but her music is on Spotify and I've been greatly enjoying it this week.

The creators of Daria, on the show twenty years later.

"A person who refuses to try something better is a person who will never make things good.” Actually, how Donald Trump eats his steak matters.

"How much responsibility does Warhol bear for our culture's shift from substance to flash, human interest to spectacle? How much responsibility does a mirror bear for whatever beauty or ugliness it beholds?” Thirty years after his death, Andy Warhol’s spirit is still very much alive.

Revisiting three David Lynch landmarks.

What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable.” Roger Ebert’s zero-star movies.

When I Play, a new documentary about women athletes.

What do you call the last of a species?

Why the internet didn’t kill zines.

"I know that when I am anxious, I often think I can produce my way out of it. I have an uneasy relationship with productivity, thinking my anxiety will be placated if I just do enough big things.” Anxiety for highly productive people. I have been pondering deeply lately the different between productivity and creativity. For your own consideration.


The New Midwest: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Rust Belt
By Mark Athitakis

How to Speak Midwestern
By Edward McClelland

The Midwest and its often misunderstood or misinterpreted identity is a particularly favorite topic of mine, so obviously I grabbed this pair of books from Belt Publishing, which covers Rust Belt journalism. If your interests are similarly aligned, you’ll probably dig them.


"Grounding yourself is entirely a matter of the mind, but physical ritual primes the pump. It’s the same reason I make it a point to write by hand on a regular basis. It creates focus. It places you in a moment. It adds a new aspect to creation, a mindfulness.”

This week’s essay look back is on making things.

Notes in the Margins

On habits of creativity.

At the start of every new week, I sit down to log my past and make my plans. Not only do I make lists of weekly responsibilities and singular tasks, I keep track of what I have done recently. I record all of of the books, films and audio I have consumed*, and I mark my progress on activities that I’m trying to strengthen into habits. Some weeks these activities boast seven full marks of completion. Sometimes their designated spaces have only a straight line run through, my symbol of absence. I consistently fill in the spaces meant for my daily journal pages. My spaces for my daily non-journal writing, however—those spaces are filled in more sporadically. But I continue to turn a fresh page, and make a new set of spaces, and another goal to write every day. Because I’m determined to make this creative work a natural habit.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled on those who aspire to creative work is to convince them that it’s not truly work. The myth that creativity is dictated by capricious muses and lightning bolts of inspiration is one of the more damaging assumptions our culture as a whole has bought into. Such thinking establishes a barrier against people who would be creative on a casual, exploratory basis; it demands that people who want to live for their art pay outrageous prices; and it chases away people who don’t have the luxury or luck or both at the right times to be able to get and pursue their creative impulses. The way we’re taught to think about artists is the strongest blockade in the path of making more of them.

For most of my life, I thought as creativity as something mysteriously, divinely ordained, a fundamental force I had no control over. I was to be only a supplicant, waiting for whatever scraps of ideas would be tossed my way by unseen hands. In addition to this, I believed I had only a finite creative capacity to work with, so that whatever innate talents I had been blessed with—or, more to the point, denied—from the beginning would determine what I was able to create throughout my life. This mythology of the artist might well serve for those who are extraordinarily talented or those who are afforded endless amounts of time to wait around for inspiration. But it ill serves anyone else. The reality of human nature and human lives doesn’t work this way, and if it did, it still most likely wouldn’t be a healthy way for humans to live. Which is what convinced me that the myth is just that: a story that does not tell the whole truth.

Here is the truth about being creative: you do not need to do it expertly. You do not have to only succeed in bold, public strokes. You do not have to succeed at it at all. You do not have to meet anyone else’s standards to do it. You do not need anyone's permission to do it. You do not have to have the best of natural gifts for it. You do not need to have gone to certain schools. You do not need certain materials or certain environments or certain opportunities. You do not have to do any of it perfectly. You just have to do it.

I established this newsletter as a mechanism to encourage more writing. Putting it out into the world every week has made me accountable for producing something, to fulfill my promise, and getting past my own insecurities and doubts and excuses for not producing. But there’s more I want to do. I haven’t got the time or luxury to sit around and wait for a lightning bolt of artistic perfection. I have small bits of time, consistently over the course of one day after another. So that is where I am learning to fit my creativity, to tame the force and control it myself, and bend it towards my own ends. I force myself to sit down and make something, and I take note of my progress, or my lack of it. As long as there is movement forward, as long as there is more there that wasn’t there before, there’s success. And, maybe, that example, in its messy, imperfect, determined striving, is something worth creating in itself. 

*I have kept track of the books I read each year for the past three years, and films for the last year, but this year I also keep track of significant television and audio (music and podcasts), a la Steven Soderbergh’s yearly log. At the end of the year, I will similarly make it available on my website.

That’s all for today. Thank you for reading.

Get your message out there, whatever it is.



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Today’s subject line quote from Chuck Close.