“When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again.

All the rest is humbug.”              — Edouard Manet.

 

The “trick” is to show up. The “trick” is to do the work.

Anything — and I mean ANYthing — that interferes with me responsibly setting aside time and actually going in and doing the work is in reality just self-obstruction, no matter how artfully disguised. Anything that stops me from doing the work is humbug.

Humbug is just another mask I put up to frighten myself away. It can be boring, tedious nonsense, or it can be the most frightening thing I can imagine, but it’s as empty as the endless chatter I use to pull myself into reveries about the past or fantasies about the future — it’s how I seduce myself out of the present moment, the moment I’m actually living in. It may look like an impenetrable mountain wall, but the fact that I never want to admit to myself is that I can walk through it as if it were mist. I just have to actually walk through it.

The masks can — and often do — arise on that short walk between the living room where I’m relaxing, wandering the net or whatever, and my studio or workspace. And the masks can take a thousand forms. “This series you’re slaving over sucks out loud!” is a good one. “There’s not a single idea in your head — why bother! Why pretend!” is another. “So and so will always be ten times more [whatever] than you!” is of course a classic.

I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and these masks, I’ve come to feel now, are just a part of the gig. The thing the years have taught me about these masks, whether it’s a tiny, niggling doubt or a persistent, gnawing fear, is that they almost always look to the mind’s eye like an impenetrable mountain wall, and that — always — they are actually and in fact just little bits of mental mist, and I can, in plain unglamorous fact, walk right through them.

The mind shrieks, but the body can be sent into the studio. Do the little tasks.  Eventually the mind comes back to the moment. What am I doing right now?

NOT What is the MEANING of ART?!? Where does MY work fit in to it all?!?! WILL this be a GOOD piece?!?!

Rather, what am I doing right now? Where are my hands? What is the next small step I need to take to continue with this piece? This is the moment I’m actually in. The mind shrieks, but it can be led. And it will calm down. And this small task that I’m actually doing…well, guess what, it can actually be done. And this present moment that I’m actually living in?

It can be alright.

 

Enough days like this, where I lead myself through the masks and into the straightforward tasks of doing the work — I start to remember that I love this.

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