The Most Important Thing I Read All Year

The Most Important Thing I Read All Year

I usually don’t ask the people who follow the things I do online to do things for me. I feel that content is a gift, and if I’m creating it in the hope that it will ultimately benefit me — at the very least — I should be honest enough to say, “I’m only doing this for myself/I’m doing this mostly for myself.”

It’s been my goal since starting The Juggling Writer, the Men in Gorilla Suits podcast, and my personal blog that I simply share thoughts and things that have worked for me in the hope some of that becomes something meaningful to somebody who reads it.

The feeling right now for readers may be, “Oh, Christopher is going to ask us to buy his e-books or listen to a podcast, but nope — I’m going to ask you to take the time (five minutes) to read one thing very deeply…and it’s not even something I wrote!

Graham Joyce

Graham Joyce wrote books and other things. And, like another writer who died this past year (Jay Lake), he wrote about cancer. Not the happiest thing to perhaps think about on the turning of a new year, but I can think of no better day to read one of the last things Jay Graham wrote than on the day we say goodbye to the year that’s gone and look forward to what’s ahead.

Joyce’s final blog entry before dying was A Perfect Day and the Shocking Clarity of Cancer. Those last three very short paragraphs are beautiful. (Don’t rob yourself and just jump there, read them, and think, “Yeah, I guess that’s nice…” Read the entire piece slowly to see how it all comes together…because it’s at that point this piece matters most.)

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how they’re glad this year is done and what they look forward to in 2015.

I think the best thing anyone reading this can do is carry the sentiment in the final words of this piece — of this author — into a new year…

No Change in the Weather

No Change in the Weather

The day after the summer solstice, I posted this entry…about how I was waiting for the heat of Texas summer to broil me.

It has yet to happen.

Odds are, it will happen, but this summer rivals one of the better Texas summers I remember.

It was in the lower 70s today. An area 30 miles north of us almost got almostĀ a FOOT of rain this morning (we got two inches of rain).

With mild temperatures and flash flooding — I am not complaining.

In fact, the weather has made me think…

Change in the Weather

In that entry earlier this summer, I posted this:

I know the weather will change. Our drought will continue, and some lakes will dry up completely this year. The sun will be big and bright and offer no quarter as it sears all it touches.

Those days are coming, but for now, the weather is nice.

And…writing and other things I’m doing are also nice, lately.

Do Not [Try to] Predict the Future

It’s easy to say, “I’m usually busy in the summer at my day job; therefore, I will be busy and unable to write…”

It’s easy to say, “It’s hot in the summer; therefore, I will wait for cooler weather to get back to walking…”

It’s easy to look at any pattern and call a near future that may or may not happen…

This is another novel that will not work out as planned…

This is another exercise program that will not work out as planned…

This is another job that will not work out as planned…

I could say those things, but this week, things I didn’t expect to come together with the current novel came together. It’s been a good week for walking and moving my body. My day job isn’t a job I hate. (An improvement from the past.) Things are comfy and good.

The Funny Thing about Predictions

Anyone who knows me knows I think predicting the future is a silly thing, but every day, people tell others what will happen. Worse: many tell themselves what to expect. We often predict futures that never happen…or futures that never happen because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not worth the effort because things always seem to work out a certain way.

This morning, one of the major interstates in America was cut off because almost a foot of rain fell in a matter of hours. That’s a bit much, but I’ll say this about the summer rains: they are cleansing!

And, just like the summer rains this season, if you allow yourself to just go with the flow, all your preconceived notions about the immediate future may be washed away…revealing something rather wonderful!

Muscle Memory

Muscle Memory

I played tennis for the first time in a couple years this morning. Well, I should say, “My wife and I knocked tennis balls around at 6:30 this morning.” I didn’t actually play a full match…or even a set or a game.

I haven’t actually played tennis for quite some time — back when a friend and I played every Tuesday night. It didn’t matter if it was 100 degrees out or 25 degrees out…Tuesday nights, unless it rained, we played tennis.

Letting Things Slip

It’s easy to let routines slip: going to a weekly juggling club, tennis on Tuesday nights, and other routines that come and go in my life. There have even been a few times I didn’t write fiction as much.

These things always come back, though — and when they do, it’s important to not be discouraged.

This is where a lot of people let things slip for good. When things come back, the memory of doing something with regularity often shouts:

REMEMBER WHEN WE USED TO DO THIS?! REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE GOOD AT THIS THING?!

And because we were once at least better at something we’ve let slip — maybe even good or great — it’s easy to think, “Man, I stink at this and was kidding myself that I could get back to it.”

Muscle Memory

I used to juggle at least 4 hours a day. When I take a long break from juggling and get back to it, I get frustrated. Juggling numbers is harder; moves that were almost automatic seem like they are now fighting against rusted joints. But something wonderful always happens: in time, things come back. Muscles remember how to juggle 5 things well enough that I get some good runs with 6 (and believe, “I can do 7 again!”). More than that, though, my mind cuts loose — and I start doing things I’ve never even thought of before.

In a short time, I’m not only back to where I was when I stopped, but…I’m better — even after a break. My mind is no longer locked into whatever pattern it was in when I stopped.

Muscles remember; my mind, acting like a muscle itself, tells my muscles to do things I never dreamed I could do when I juggled at least 4 hours a day.

Back to the Tennis Court

I won’t say with any degree of confidence that I’m ready for the old Tuesday night tennis matches. But there were moments this morning when I thought, “Don’t chase that shot down,” only to have my legs keep moving and then: my mind and body working as one to send a shot I thought was impossible to reach back into play.

It’s more than a just reminder that tennis is a thing I do. This morning was a reminder that anything I’ve let fall to the side, for whatever reasons, should never leave me thinking, “Who am I kidding…those days are done…”

All that needs to be done is pick things back up and do something long enough for muscles to remember what to do. (And not let your brain get in the way!)

The Payoff for Doing What You Love

The Payoff for Doing What You Love

My friend Weldon recently got his perfect job: cataloging and grading comic books and comic art for a large auction house. In recent weeks, he’s held the original artwork for the first appearance of Wolverine and the original art from a page of The Killing Joke (the page where Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon…yes, he got to hold an original Brian Bolland page). He also held the first Batman comic book and Action Comics #1.

Millions of dollars worth of art and comic books have passed through his hands in recent weeks. Some say he’s lucky; others have asked how they can get a job like that.

The answer is simple: by doing what you love, without expectation of anything more than the love of the thing — and creating opportunities for yourself that might one day pay off.

That’s how Weldon got his recent job.

“Lucky” Friends

I’m fortunate to be friends with a lot of “lucky” people. By lucky, I mean the perception that some people have regarding how friends came to illustrate comic books and book covers; how they came to write novels and record the voices for well-known cartoons; how they became people who spend their days doing exactly what they love.

I’ve heard people say those who do what they want for a living are lucky. While luck (or some kind of break) often factors in after years of hard work, if it’s luck — it’s luck they made for themselves.

What many people never saw in these friends are the years of hard work behind the scenes. People staying home on Friday nights in their 20s because they were at an art desk. Using vacation time to work on their thing, instead of going to a beach and relaxing. Taking the lowest job in a creative company and working their way up. The effort of it all can be exhausting. Years of working alongside “nobodies” while others clamored for the attention of those who could help — the hope of a shortcut to fame. Eventually, those “nobodies” bubbled up and connections were made…and a hand of help was extended.

Hey, I’ve been doing art for this publisher — let me put you in touch with them…

Luck has little to do with it.

How Do You Get to Do What You Love All the Time?

I still have a day job, so take this next bit for what it’s worth. It is, however, based on what I’ve seen happen in the lives of more than a few people I know.

How do you get that dream job? By doing what you love with no expectation other than doing the thing you enjoy doing. Do it first and foremost because you love it — not because you want a huge following.

Mel Brooks once said:

I don’t really do anything for the audience ever. I do it for me, and most of the time the audience joins me.

Live by that. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want to be a brand. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want a big audience. Do what you love because you love it — not because you want fame.

If you do what you love because you love doing it, maybe one day what you love will become the bulk of what you do.

But if it doesn’t, you’ve still won.

Back to Weldon

Weldon once made six figures selling software, but Weldon has always been happiest when he’s worked around comic books. From his early days of working in comic books stores to eventually editing and marketing comic books, it’s a field that often didn’t bring in tons of money for him, but it’s always made him happier than selling something solely for a paycheck.

There are decades of struggling for what Weldon loves, in much the same way artists struggle until their love pays off.

So the answer to “How do I get that cool job?” is to do what you love.

Independent travel writers aren’t born overnight. People making a living with their YouTube channels didn’t just build it and watch the audience roll in like the tide. Most successful novelists wrote 1-5 books before ever being published (and then wrote another 1-5 novels before they saw decent money (and even more never even see that)).

What looks like an overnight success rarely is.

There Are No Shortcuts to Great Work

One doesn’t sit down to write fiction for the first time and create a masterpiece. No one has sat with a cello and done something like this from the start. Canvases and brushes don’t guide an artist’s hand; decades of hard work do.

The friends I have who make a living doing what they love didn’t go all in and hope for the best — it was never a gamble because they just did what they loved for no other reason than they loved it and always pushed themselves to get better. There have been times in Weldon’s life that it might have seemed to those who look only at numbers that he was painting himself into a corner.

Clearly, he wasn’t:

Original Alex Ross and Steve Rude art.

Oh, just some original Alex Ross and Steve Rude art on Weldon’s desk…

Original art for the first appearance of Wolverine. (And the first Frank Miller Wolverine sketch.)

Holding the original art for the first appearance of Wolverine. And to make the image cooler? Why not bring in the first Frank Miller Wolvie sketch…from Weldon’s personal collection.

Batman: Killing Joke. Original page - the shooting of Barbara Gordon.

I think it was Weldon who introduced me to Camelot 3000 back in the 80s. So I’m not TOO jealous that he got to hold an original Brian Bolland page…from a great one-shot comic book. (Batman: Killing Joke.)

 

Weldon Adams holding Batman #1 and Action Comics #1.

Just another day at the office: Weldon holding Batman #1 and Action Comics #1.

 

Not Everything Needs to Be Monetized

Not Everything Needs to Be Monetized

My wife makes costumes like this:

cfgriffith.com - Chemise a la Reine

And this:

cfgriffith.com - Wood Elf

And even this:

cfgriffith.com - Badass Elf

More at cfgriffith.com

She does art like this:

cfgriffith.com - King Thror and Carc

And this:

cfgriffith.com - Gloin Locket

More at cfgriffith.deviantart.com

When people see what she does, the first words that often leave their mouths?

“You should do this for money!”

Monetize It!

The Internet is a wonderful thing. My wife and I think it’s so cool that there are people making livings by creating and selling things online. Some make supplemental income; some make more from home than people starting up large companies with their MBAs.

It’s all great, but…the obsession with monetizing everything can get very old, very fast. There often comes with the attitude that everything should be monetized a sense that someone shouldn’t do something solely for the love of creating.

Why not make money doing that thing you love, right? [Putting aside that people are allowed to do what they want to do for their own reasons] because…some people believe there is no better reason to make something than simply because one enjoys creating. For many, there’s more pleasure in the act of just making things than making things and then spending all that extra time turning it into a business.

Not everything that can make money has to make money.

The Downside of Monetizing Things

I blog, podcast, and do other things online. I sometimes attend tech groups and speak at tech groups about making things. The meetups that seem to draw the most attendees are those promising to show others how to monetize what they are doing. I’ll go as far as saying there is a strange obsession with monetizing things online. I’ve seen well-known bloggers come out and say:

“I’m about to embark on the project that means more to me than anything I’ve ever done…this is from my heart!”

Two months later, when it’s not making money, they bail on this thing they claim meant more to them than anything ever before. Maybe I’m wired differently, but if you have a project that means more to you than anything else in your heart — ever — you work on that project whether it makes money or not!

If you don’t, all I can assume is that your whole, “It means more than anything to me!” was a marketing ploy, and you’ve destroyed all trust I had in you and the things you make.

An [Often] Fast Path to Mediocre

I’ve seen great content become soured in a race for more ad revenue or a larger audience. As a podcaster, I often see people talk about how some shows they do get more listens than many of the shows they love doing. Because the thought of money is the driving force behind what’s being done, good shows about topics most dear to the hearts of the creators become like so many other shows that do little more than aggregate content.

Suddenly, we have another run-of-the-mill tech or entertainment podcast with little to no original content. Blogs are written whether there’s something good to write about or not because it’s a numbers game in hope of ad clicks. Over time, what started out as good content often becomes mediocre (at best) because content is created out of a panic to keep money coming in.

Worse than all that, sometimes the people behind the sites can’t get through the line at a grocery store or stand beside you at a urinal in a bathroom without giving you their pitch.

Desperation, frequency, and volume are not endearing traits.

Back to my Wife (and Why She Does Art Only for Herself These Days)

My wife understands that in its own way, “You should do this for money!” is a compliment — people see what she does and they feel it’s worthy of being paid for. It’s strange, though, because the compliments often come with a tone that my wife has never considered making money with her art.

She has…

I won’t go into great detail, but I know many artists whose art jobs become this:

  1. They end up on a contract for something they don’t really want to draw or paint.
  2. They work through the contract, getting approval for all stages of work.
  3. Near the end, someone higher up says, “I want something totally different!”
  4. The artist says, “Pay out on this contract, and I’ll write up a new contract for what your big boss wanted all along, but never mentioned to you.”
  5. Big boss gets wind of this and shouts: “I’m not paying for something I don’t want to use!”
  6. The original contract is either paid out and the work never used or now the artist is spending more time and money trying to collect what’s owed to them than they are creating art.

I know this is not the case for every artist. I have friends who are artists who do their own thing and make very strong livings doing what they love. But for every artist like that, there are more artists I know trying to collect on past due accounts or illustrating licensed content and other things they don’t enjoy creating, solely for the paycheck.

It’s Sew Easy

It’s not unheard of that my wife gets email from strangers asking her to sew them something. My wife passes by on offers to sew things for others, and some people find that perplexing. But why would someone who loves sewing their own things, on their own schedule, drop that to sew 40 of the same bonnets on an in-house assembly line when that is not what they find any pleasure in doing? (Or may not have room to do without turning several rooms into workspaces and be constantly reminded that they are not sewing what they want?)

Just like we have artist friends who live a life of nightmares collecting on accounts, seamstress friends of my wife have been ridiculed when they quote a price for something that’s deemed too high in the mind of the requester who doesn’t understand that the cost of material alone is twice what they are willing to pay — never mind the 60+ hours of labor! If fabric runs $250 for a gown and you’re putting over a week into the project, the last thing you want is to deal with an angry person online, screaming that you wouldn’t do it for $75!

It can be great making a living doing what you love, but it’s not always easy. Worse, it can make the pleasure of something you once loved a thing of the past.

You’re Crazy!

There are things I will only do for myself, solely for the joy it brings me. I once juggled for money, but…never again. I’ve written magazine and newspaper articles that made more in one piece than almost all fiction I’ve written combined. I won’t rule out certain articles in the future, because I’ve enjoyed the pieces I’ve written, but when it comes down to limited time and making guaranteed money with another article or writing another chapter of a novel that may never see publication, I choose the novel. And not just any novel: I write what I want to write, regardless of what happens when it’s done.

A handful of years ago, a friend in a position to pass along my second novel to the kinds of people who can make publication a reality offered to pass along anything I wanted that suited the genre. The book, the first in a series, is something I had fun writing, but there are other things I want to write even more. When some people heard I passed on that offer, the replies were a resounding:

You’re crazy!

I disagree; to have accepted this generous offer would have meant not writing the book I wanted to write more than anything I’d written at that point in my life. (The novel-in-progress now holds that title.) Part of the reason I write is to push myself to write things I wasn’t 100% sure I could pull off. These are the kinds of books that take a longer time to write. The novel I didn’t have passed on to publishers was written over a period of months, mostly during lunch breaks at my day job at the time.

I have different goals than some as a writer.

All This Said, I Understand Monetizing Things

To some, it may sound like I’m against monetizing things.

I’m not!

I have friends who make a living from the things they love online (and offline). These are people who did the thing they love and figured out a way to make that thing work. There was no polling the audience to see what worked best and leaning heavily on those things…they built loyal followings doing their thing and monetized their content.

I think that’s wonderful! I will never shake my head at someone monetizing the thing that’s wholly theirs…that they love making. If I could make a living writing the fiction I love writing, I would. I won’t change to something I don’t want to write as much, just to make a living writing fiction, but my goal has always been to make money with the writing I love doing. But just as there’s nothing wrong with monetizing something you love, there is nothing wrong with not monetizing something you love.

Many people don’t seem to get that…

Swimming in Chaos

Swimming in Chaos

I recently listened to a podcast with Terry Gilliam. I’ve written about Gilliam’s influence on me before and I’ve talked about it as well (17:40-18:11). Just know this: I’ve been a Gilliam fan since before I knew I was a Gilliam fan. (I liked the animated spots on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but at the the time, I didn’t know who was behind them.)

There’s a section in the podcast with Gilliam where they discuss a scene in the movie, The Fisher King. It takes place in Grand Central Station, in New York City. They had permission to shoot, but as is often the case with Gilliam things, it didn’t go as entirely as planned. To get things done, they just had to do it! They shot footage after their allotted time, using people who weren’t extras. In the end, by the way it was cut, they made something wonderful from the chaos of the moment.

Doing It

Gilliam is big on just doing it. In almost every documentary or interview about his process, there is a time when all the people around him believe there’s no way something can be done. Whether it’s a sick actor, flash floods, or other things, when producers and others say they need to wait, Gilliam says, “Let’s just do it!” and shoots anyway. In shooting, he’s doing something — and in other interviews he’s said some of his greatest moments came from cobbling it all together after the madness.

Writers can be known for not liking changes to what they’ve written. While Gilliam is a perfectionist, he’s also a realist and knows that sometimes he has to break from the scripts he’s written and shoot what he can and make it work in the end. He doesn’t stop…even when setbacks have everyone around him throwing up their hands in defeat.

At that point, Gilliam is at his best…swimming in the chaos.

Comfort in Chaos

Now, I know there are times one can’t “just do it.” My wife is an artist, and when things are placed on a final sheet of paper or canvas, she can no longer charge in — at that point, it’s sometimes wisest to wait a day or two until the moment is right. As long as there’s some progress and it doesn’t become habit, waiting is good. I’ve written about taking my time writing before; I do not need to be convinced that there’s a time for patience.

I just think patience and chaos can co-exist.

When people try avoiding chaos until just the right moment, I do think it’s best to find comfort in chaos and move forward. Sometimes in life, chaos lasts long enough that to let it win means setbacks in something important to you. Right now, I’m coming off a weekend of working. I put a lot of things off, but I still made time to write. I could easily be working right now, but I want to write this entry and go for a nice walk. It’s a chaotic time in my life with big deadlines, but right now I’m in my little bubble, comfortable with the situation.

Chaos might be common, but it doesn’t mean it has to pull you in and win. Or even steal your time for more than a bit of time…

Adapting

I’ve worked with enough people to understand the frustration of those who feel defeated when things don’t look good. “Let’s just do it!” can burn you at times; however, more times than not, it’s a great way to get things done because you’re deep enough in that you have no choice but to figure things out and finish. I know people who will not write for months because conditions aren’t perfect. In Gilliam’s world, it seems, perfection is only a target he strives for — there is no doubting his need for perfection in every little corner (and even in the shadows) of what he does. But he knows there are no ideal situations. More than that, he knows that to wait for ideal situations means never finishing things.

When one realizes that, no matter what it is they do, it’s a bit easier to move forward. Maybe we’re wise not to tilt at windmills with the reckless abandon Gilliam often seems to have, but at least charging in is some kind of movement forward. Maybe you get knocked back further than where you started, but you change the plan and just do it until it works out.

It’s that ability to adapt that can lead to such wonderful things…