It was called having a fire lit under your ass.
My wife had just asked me, “Why do you make things so hard on yourself?”, the morning it would have been nice if I could have articulated the significance of this.
We were two and half weeks behind the Spring Equinox and just under three weeks in front of my first live performance since releasing my first fiction book, Regret in Triptych. It was during a Saturday morning hike I thought it might be a good idea to run my newest plan by her because I was trying to figure out how to promote the book at my performance without reading from it. I always go into a set with a vision for the performance and reading from a book didn’t fit in with what I was planning.
My next option was to go with some sort of flyer. So, like many others seeking to promote their art through ‘takeaways’, I figured I’d make postcards. Unlike most others, I wasn’t going to put the book’s cover, synopsis and reviews on it.
No. Regret in Triptych begins after the main character Andros had disappeared for seven months, so I was going to write a prequel story that takes place during that seven month absence to promote Regret that wouldn’t be available anywhere else, and it would feel like a complete thought or scene within the space of the several inches that makes up a postcard. Then, on the other side I would put a fine art photo I had taken that was pitched artistically to resonate with the story and I would have it written, edited, printed and shipped to me in time for the performance 17 days away.
Well, two things didn’t happen.
I didn’t have any postcards for the gig is the obvious one.
The other thing that never surfaced was an answer to my wife’s question regarding why I make things so hard on myself. The pithy answer for both begins with the second sentence of this email or at least what it represents–my ferocious fear of doing the work of a hack. That is the whip that drives the horses of my creative carriage with so much intensity. I don’t say this to generate sympathy emails trying to cheer my attitude about my work, I say this because the disdain I sometimes cast upon others peruses my own art with even less sympathy. My best chance of not trashing what I create is to know at the time I make it public, there is no conceivable way I could have done a single thing better.
If I had conceded and made the standard postcards common sense dictated, I would’ve abandoned my other idea. I would have moved on. I would have given a potentially original idea a mere 15 minutes of flame to paraphrase the old Warhol quote. I would have been in my opinion, “one who produces banal and mediocre work in the hope of gaining commercial success in the arts”, a definition you can find at dictionary.com if you look up the word hack.
This isn’t to say that everyone else is a hack who uses postcards in the standard way I was rejecting. The difference for me was I had another choice that I was aware of and I wasn’t going to take the easy route even if I couldn’t explain why. So I took the advice of Hugh Macloed regarding ‘big ideas’ and ignored everybody. I’d explain myself when I could hand people my version of postcard marketing for Regret In Triptych.
It turned out I couldn’t fit what I wanted to say on a single postcard, so I decided to make five or six different over-sized postcards, that together, would comprise a single “episode” of Andros’ seven month journey that was alluded to in Regret in Triptych, but never really explored in detail, while simultaneously telling a love story. Basically, I kept upping the ante on myself until it took me sifting through a couple hundred photos on my hard drives to select six that would serve as muse for each postcard or segment.
Ultimately, it required furious late night rewrites over almost eight months and a last ditch effort over a Thanksgiving vacation to turn each image into a micro-chapter that completes a thought while fitting into a larger story. I would call the postcards “Storycards” and together they would comprise “Hotel Arrianda”, the first installment of “The Pilgrimage Vignettes”.
After all that friggin’ work, all I can say is…the entire process was worth it!
In my last email to you, I provided a link to the second of the six card series. In this email, I’m including the photo and text for the fourth of the six card series. Before we get to that though, here are two quotes from Hugh Macloed from his manifesto “How To Be Creative”. They helped me. Perhaps they might help you when you need more than 15 minutes of flame lit under your own ass and no one can figure out why you’re even bothering.
1. Nobody can tell you if what you’re doing is good, meaningful or worthwhile. The more compelling the path, the lonelier it is.
2. Thereʼs no glorious swelling of existential triumph. Thatʼs not what happens. All you get is this rather kvetchy voice inside you that seems to say, “This is totally stupid. This is utterly moronic. This is a complete waste of time. Iʼm going to do it anyway.”
Here’s to keeping the flame alive!