It’s not news to me that I think too much. Do you? If so, do you not already know that? Yeah. All of us who think too much know it, and we think about it. Too much.
I’d like to think that my thinking over time is not so much running me in circles to the same questions, doubts, ideas, epiphanies, and lost grasps on what I thought I thought so clearly in those aha! moments, as it is something of circular progress.
I have optimistically encouraged myself that if nothing else, these circles actually are motions that trend upward to create an ascending spiral, that I’m in fact rising to something somewhere, getting a higher perspective as I go.
I haven’t given up hope on that. But this week, in the wake of a creative breakthrough with my unplanned five-hour marathon of creating “Phallacies 76,” I had an energetic letdown that a couple days later led to my remembering I’ve had similar breakthroughs before.
Approaches to art that I thought of after Phallacies 76? Had ’em before. The rush of confidence that felt so new, and bigger, bolder and full of fire? Been there, too, it seems.
Part of what I’ve been trying to find within myself for years is some sort of essential answer to a question that I (foolishly) presume so many artists naturally have resolved: to identify my one special gift, my one extraordinarily meaningful subject area or way of creating the work.
I’ve been thinking I need to identify the one thing that someone would see and recognize as mine. “Oh, yeah. That’s definitely Adam’s work. I love what he does. So cool. So clever.” … Like what I think of the work of Christoph Neimann, the illustrator, or Platon, the photographer. But I don’t have just one interest. I don’t even create in just one focused medium, through which I could refine my skills over decades and become amazing at that, that one crisply defined thing.
When people ask me the generic, predictable question, “So, what do you do?” I stumble, routinely, or least feel like I do even when I’ve successfully navigated what, to my introverted, overactive mind, feels like a minefield no matter the predictability and commonness of the question.
Part of that minefield is having too many options to mentally flip through in that instant, which I often do to try to fit the audience of the moment. What do I do? Well, let me scroll through the multiple choice variables and see what feels right today?
On any given day of creating, I get into longhand writing (journaling and idea exploration on scratch paper); type writing (essays, poetry, blog posts, podcast and web content); photography (still lifes, human portraits and nature); and making abstract art and designs using the Procreate app on my iPad. And I do all the podcasting things, too. Many days consist of a mix of all of that. Audio, visual, textual.
And there typically is overlap and complementary work between it all. I pair poetry and essays to still life photography, podcasts and portrait photography, visual art and writing, blog posts and photography or other visual works. And so on.
I say all that to circle back and say this: I think too much, and have too much that seems like it needs my thinking.
When I try to force myself into the box of some rule I have absorbed from wherever, as if I am required to create in one form or another to succeed (whatever that means) or to be taken seriously–
Oh yeah. Next to “I think too much” is “I take all this too damn seriously.” And my thoughts run in competing monologues with tangents and digressions that quite often make my wife regret having asked me a yes-or-no question about, say, dinner, or my day or anything, really.
Speaking of … Are you familiar with the concept of multipotentiality? I wrote about that on this blog four years ago, when I came across Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk. It’s amazing for someone who has felt the anxiety of being boxed into choosing one lane in life and career. If that’s you, watch “Emilie Wapnick: Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling.”
Back on track now … As visual evidence of where my thought patterns and creative efforts have meandered this year (or two), which has had me circling and doubting and epiphany-ing, and rising and falling and rising again with the upward spiral … Below is a diverse selection of work I’ve made in the past couple years.
Along the way, I told myself so many things were awesome, and that I’d found my lane. And two weeks later when I stepped into another creative lane, I told myself the previous work didn’t count, for one reason or another … “Ahh, but this one is promising!” And then I’ve thought that such scattered efforts render me unserious as an artist, even as a being. Unworthy of … I don’t know. Something. Worthiness.
(If at this point, the word “intense” also is coming to mind. Listen to my Humanitou podcast conversation with psychotherapist Imi Lo. She focuses her therapy work and books on the highly intense, highly emotional and highly sensitive among us. … Uh, yeah, there are personal reasons I asked her to join me on the podcast.)
The truth is, if I saw the diverse collection of work below as a reflection of the creative year that you, or anyone else, has had, I’d praise you for it. I’d admire you for it. I’d encourage you to keep going, and silently, on some level, I’d envy your amazingness and wonder how I could do that, too. I’d be inspired.
Actually, I suspect many of you are doing this, and that all this hand-wringing on my part, which admittedly happens in a mental silo because I’m not having conversations with anyone about this to know that my experience is the experience of being a creative, thinking, expressing being, is nothing but self-torturous, well, overthinking. Yes, I’ve arrived again: I think too much.
The Upward-Spiraling Silver Lining
All those positives that I happily attribute to fellow creative beings without the judgment I apply to myself, that’s what I want to carry into 2023. I want to continue this inner work of letting go of the overthinking, the over-seriousness, the doubts about what counts and what’s worthy, and all that ish.
This is a new fire, or a renewed one. I don’t know anymore, and it doesn’t matter. I’m so worn out with the rules and what I’ve thought I thought, and what I’ve thought I knew I knew. … From this prison of my mind, I’m breaking free! (If this turns out to be one of my circularish patterns, and three years from now I think and write the same thing, take away my admin privileges to this site. I’m cooked.)
So, this little epiphany came to me the other night and it feels pretty cool: I’m 46 years old, and I’m still young in my creative life. I might have another 40 to 50 years of creating ahead of me. If so, then these angsty moments of trying to understand the “rules” of the art-making life will seem laughably, maybe even embarrassingly, juvenile.
I look forward to that. I’m working on it, but more loosely now, and with a more gentle allowance for simply being in the joyful process. This is part of the ascending spiral, rather than the flat-plane circling again and again to the exact same X on the map.
So here’s to that. And here’s to a selection of work in the varied styles that have filled my past year or so of creating, and to the year(s) ahead (click on images to enlarge and swipe/navigate through the full gallery):