Try 101

Practice — Process — Projects

Category: Notes to Self

Instinct or Intuition?

by tjbeitelman

Is it instinct or intuition?

My instincts are sometimes right. Sometimes they’re wrong, though. Instinct is fight-or-flight. For me. For me, fear is usually in the room. Fear is wrong a lot. For me. Maybe most of the time.

Intuition is something else. A slower burn. Something else is in the room. Something larger and nameless. Something that can last. Something that isn’t me. Something that’s never been wrong.

Good News

by laura didyk

From poet Jeffrey Skinner:

I learned that writing poetry after the age of thirty or forty, depends more on character than talent or luck.

Not to say that I lack talent, but building character seems to be part of my life’s work, so the fact that that activity dovetails in a positive way with writing poetry…well, that’s at least some luck.


Be Kind

by tjbeitelman


So I have these two letterpress posters in my office at work. Two of several from this guy, Amos Kennedy, who is awesome. You should go find him.

The one you can probably read: The essence of art is generosity.

The other is harder to make out. It says: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a GREAT BATTLE.

I concur with both sentiments. Obviously. They’re nailed to the cinder block walls of my office. (No small feat.)

Today I am thinking about how these sentiments apply to the creative process. I’m not sure about you, but I know that there’s one person in particular who needs my generosity and kindness when he endeavors to “fight the great battle” of being a creative person.

Which is to say, when I seek to make things, I need to be generous and kind to myself.

Why is that so hard, I wonder. Maybe it’s because I come from a creative background that privileges awards, accolades, approval. Achievement. Which is to say: I am a (so-called) Master of Fine Arts. Maybe it’s because of my parents or something. Or some cheap trick of neurochemistry. Or all of the above.

It doesn’t matter.

It’s not nice to tell people they suck. It’s not nice to tell people what they want to do is stupid and impossible. It’s not nice to “Yes, but…” away everything that matters to them.

So don’t do that. To anybody. Even — especially — yourself.

Just be nice.


by ajanefountas

It’s almost the end of a month. It’s already the beginning of a new school year for some. We’re just about two-thirds through the calendar year. The autumnal equinox is a little over three weeks away. The moon is waning, but it will wax again.

It’s time to try, again.

Off the Grid

by mark neely

According to a study done at Ball State U., where I teach, the average American is looking at some sort of screen—iPhone, computer monitor, television, etc.—for an average of 8 ½ hours per day, and often using two or more screens at a time (e.g. tweeting epithets at Chris Bosh while watching the NBA finals).

Much of that time, of course, is spent right here on the Internet. I’m no Luddite (I’m writing this on a blog for Pete’s sake), and I exalt the wonderful anarchy and global sweep of the Web, but I also wish I spent less time there. Some days I feel my brain getting duller with each passing hour.

There’s some science behind this feeling. In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr pools together a boatload of research on Web use, and concludes that the Net promotes “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” It also gives us “the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli—repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive—that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions.”

Hurried thinking, cursory reading, and superficial learning being antithetical to the kind of reading and writing I aspire to, I decided to go offline for the month of July. I didn’t quite keep my promise—once I had to download some important forms and once I took care of some pressing business at work, but all told I spent only two hours online in July—no email, no social media, no websites of any kind.

Unfortunately, I didn’t become a genius overnight, but it was a different life. I wrote and read more last month than in any 30 day period I can remember. I felt the heft of an actual dictionary. I opened a few cookbooks, which had sat idle and dusty on my shelves for many years. I rode bikes and played basketball with my kids. I flushed a family of turkeys from their roost on a morning run. I even napped a couple times. The days seemed to stretch out endlessly. I didn’t worry about who liked what on Facebook, or my Amazon ranking (always dismal), or Paula Deen.

I also missed out. A few writing opportunities came and went (the world of the Web moves fast). The lives (and vacation photos) of friends and relatives went on without me. As did social media—all its flaws, yes, but also its interesting banter and wit and controversy. I got woefully behind on various work tasks that came over the transom while I was away. I missed the news of a great friend’s next book!

I need to be connected most of the time to do my job—but my experiment proved to me that I’d be happier, more productive, and probably smarter if I spent less time online. Now I just have to figure out how to make that happen. The Net is a hard beast to master. Almost everyone I know has pledged to curb their internet usage at one time or another. Even fervent defenders seem to sense we’re all hitting this pipe a bit too often.

I know the Web is simply a new technology for disseminating information, just as the codex was a new technology a thousand years ago, but I’ve never heard anyone say they wished they read fewer books. I wonder why.

The Twenty Most Important People in the World

by tjbeitelman

“There’s a great line in a Destroyer song: ‘Formative years wasted / In love with our peers, we tasted / life with the stars.’ I couldn’t have found language that was more clear about that whole idea of what we were doing. The twenty people who understand what you’re talking about are the twenty most important people in the world. Maybe that’s the difference between professional culture and outsider culture. Our antennae were tuned very specifically for like minds, as opposed to sending out a signal to convert people. There are some kinds of art that are trying to find their peers, and there are other kinds that are trying to make peers.”

Jenny Toomey, musician, arts activist, and co-founder of Simple Machines records,
Quoted in Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records (The Indie Label that Got Big and Stayed Small) by John Cook with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance

Forget About Being Embarrassed

by tjbeitelman

“The main thing I learned is that the more I can forget about being embarrassed when I make something, the more it is going to mean something to somebody else. I can’t anticipate what it’s going to be or how it’s going to be perceived, so the quicker I let go of something  I make, the better.”

–Jeff Tweedy, from Wilco: Learning How to Die by Greg Kot

“Do You Write Everyday?”

by tjbeitelman

I went to the dentist today. The dentist’s office is almost always rife with small talk, and there’s a good chance somebody is gonna ask you what you do for a living. (There’s a good chance said person will have her hands in your mouth when she asks, but that’s another post altogether.)

I teach writing for a living. When I tell people that (as I told the new hygienist today at the dentist’s office), they often ask if I write too. (A little bit of a weird question, but it’s true that not all writing teachers write, so it’s not a completely unfair weird question.) When I say yes, they sometimes ask if I’ve been published. When I answer that question, it usually stops there — a far cry from the response that comes from other writers, who, of course, want to know where I’ve been published and if I’ve published a book (oh, and PS, who published that).

The real world doesn’t care about all that: getting published is getting published, and anyway, small talk is supposed to stay small. So the questions usually stop there.

But sometimes somebody asks one more question (as the new hygienist did today):

  • Do you write everyday?

I used to think there was a right answer to that question (three guesses as to what it is; hint: it starts with a Y). I don’t think so anymore. Now I’m more interested in whether I’m invested in a particular creative project. That investment can — and often does — take the form of tapping at the keys of my trusty laptop, but very few of my projects are fully sustained by that activity. They always require reading, watching, thinking, listening. Sometimes traveling. Other forms of seeking and experience.

A word count is just words on a page. For those words to mean something to me — much less anyone else — they have to be filtered (and usually refiltered) through those other forms of creative investment.

Therefore: sometimes, to write well, I actually have to stop writing.

In other words: sometimes to live well, I have to stop writing. (This is especially true when I’m feeling particularly inspired, particularly invested in the writing part of a writing project, when the words are coming fast and furious and, right or [too often] wrong, I feel like every one of them is a keeper.)

All of that represents a balancing act that I do perform each day. (Some days I’m better at it than others.)

If that’s what folks are asking when they ask me if I write everyday, then the answer is a proud and emphatic, “Absolutely!” At this point, for better or worse, I don’t know how else to live my life.

If they’re asking whether I’ve got something to show for it everyday, the answer is this: “Oh, good lord, no. I don’t.”

These days, I’m just as proud and emphatic about that answer, too.

Notes-to-Self: Do-Be-Do-Be-Do

by tjbeitelman


If we can have conflicts in our life and we are courageous enough not to resolve them immediately — because fighting can lead to new possibilities and as soon as new possibilities come in our unconscious, guess who comes to process them? The ego loves the old. Who can process the new? Only God can process the new. So anytime we are creating new possibilities in our consciousness, we are inviting God — and God comes. And God processes. In a creative quantum leap of insight. In this creative way, we become renewed. We become better than before. But now we have the conviction of the “aha” insight. We can use that conviction to make real changes in our life, real changes in the way we relate to others, and those real changes eventually will stick. There is another little trick in this, which is that we have to do our doing — being in the ego mode — and be in our being — being in the God mode — alternatively. It’s neither “do-do-do” nor “be-be-be” but “do-be-do-be-do.” Yes?

Amit Goswami, Theoretical Quantum Physicist

The Source Is Somewhere Else

by tjbeitelman


Where does the imagination come from? I don’t know. I bet you don’t either (and if you say you do, I won’t disabuse you of that notion, but I will kindly choose not to believe you).

I bet, too, that you’ve had the same kind of dream I had last night. Mine was very vivid: it was a classroom, of sorts, but one whole wall was open to the world, and the world was an Ansel-Adams-y landscape. Breathtaking. There was a bracing chill to it. Sculpted, hulking clouds navigated their way across the gray-ish sky. And all of us — I didn’t know who all of us were exactly — were looking out at it. The teacher was a woman, salt-and-pepper hair, kind eyes; contemplative, reverent. She, too, stared out.

Then she said something and I didn’t hear her. Or I almost heard her and what I almost heard — it’s lost now to the ether of dreams — was profound. I needed her to repeat it, so I asked her to, and she did. But I still couldn’t make it out. This seer-woman was saying something important in my dream and I couldn’t access it.

Something beyond my mind — some other kind of intelligence that is and is definitely not me — knows something important. And it says it sotto voce. In my general vicinity. Just loud enough for me to know I don’t know what she’s saying.

It’s for her to know and me to find out.