on Distraction

This morning, talking with my friend, the artist E.G. Crichton, about what we can both identify as “art depression,” or more correctly, “I am not making any art” depression, she pointed out how frequently we forget the connection between making work and feeling like life is meaningful, and not making work and falling into a funk. We wander around feeling terrible, wondering why is life so bleak, thinking we are useless, or a bad artist, and then someone points out that we are not doing our art practice, or have no particular project on which to focus, and then we remember: “Ah, it’s art depression; I am not the most horrible person on earth; I am simply someone who has fallen out of her practice.”

How easy it is to fall out of practice. Today (I might change my mind tomorrow), I don’t think there’s much difference between someone who likes or loves to make art and those of us who feel we have to make art or life stops. There is a huge difference however, between those who think about making work, and those who do the work. A wise Zen master once said, “Enlightenment is momentary; all the rest is practice.”

What keeps up from practice?

A g’zillion things, to be sure. Procrastination is the standard method. But now we have distraction: Have you noticed that it is getting easier and easier to be distracted? As social media and fabulous electronics (I am a Mac fan––love those sexy I-just-want-to-touch-them products) become pervasive and in some cases essential, I spend more and more time in a state of what Linda Stone named as “continuous partial attention.” This is not a good thing. The research is in: we are neither effective nor efficient multitasking. I sure as hell can’t make good work when I am checking my email, waiting for a text message, dusting, and cooking all at the same time.

Distraction has helped me not only procrastinate, which I have already developed to a masterly level, but to delude myself into thinking that I am “too busy” to do my art practice and that all these other ways I busy myself are somehow meaningful. To be fair, sometimes they are meaningful and even necessary. One does have to mop the floor from time to time and answer a few emails. However, when I use all of this distraction to aid in avoidance and my practice stops, I become quite wretched, to say the least. So you will be happy to read that instead of going out to purchase that new pair of sneakers that I have deemed essential to my well-being and return the new computer mouse that is not working out, I instead have kept my commitment to my art practice: in this case it meant coming downstairs, turning off the ringer to my phone, leaving the mop in the closet, the cats sleeping happily, the garden temporarily unwatered, to write this.

My practice.

Do the work, then step back. –– Lao Tzu.