Podcast 12: the seven deadly creative sins

A few years ago I was thinking about my tendency toward jealousy and my occasional bursts of wrath. These are among my less appealing qualities but I insist on hanging onto them nonetheless.

As I thought about these shortcomings, I realized that they constituted two of the deadly sins described in Dante, and that in fact, if I was completely honest with myself, I was guilty of all seven: Envy, wrath, pride, greed, lust, gluttony and sloth. Not in my life in general, but specifically when it comes to creative matters.

I decided to write a series of blog posts in the subject which I enjoyed and met with muted response upon publication here. Nonetheless, that series remained very interesting to me and so I decided to revisit them in my new life as an internationally acclaimed podcast host.

This week’s podcast is a fresh version of the seven deadly sins as they apply to creative endeavors, retooled and updated for a new generation, and scored lightly with well-mixed Gregorian chants.

I’m not sure if the listening audience will be any more interested in them than the reading one was, but I enjoy hurling things at the wall and waiting to see what sticks.

If you don’t think the deadly sins apply to you, spend a half hour with me and your headphones and let me know if I convince you otherwise.

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Episode transcript (but please listen to the podcast!) Continue reading “Podcast 12: the seven deadly creative sins”

New episode of SYM podcast

It’s been two years in the making — but here it finally is!  The Final Shutdown.

In it, I will tell you the one thing that is guaranteed to not only shut your monkey once and for all but also to transform your life and leave a lasting mark on the world. What is your mission? And how can you make it your destiny? Let’s discuss it.

Available on iTunes and on the monkeypodcast.com

Someone’s been monkeying with my sketchbooks.

Yesterday I had to pick out a few representative watercolors from my sketchbooks to share with a magazine editor who asked to include my work in an upcoming issue. I didn’t have a scan that was high enough resolution, so I decided to go through my sketchbook archive and shoot some new ones.

But something odd happened.

After going through the first few books, I started to wonder why they all looked so dull. The colors were washed out. I turned on more lights in my darkened living room but they still looked lifeless. But there was more to it than just the vibrancy.  The brush work seemed primitive and half-finished.  And the lines were dreadful and crude. Page after page, the drawings I knew so well looked just, well, bad.

How could I send any of these things to a magazine devoted to watercolor art? It was laughable. How had I ever had them published in books? How had I dared share them on the Internet? Had I ever done a single drawing that was any good at all?

I flipped through more books. Nope. They were all dreadful. Every last one.

Maybe they had faded over time? Nope. They were all stored, closed, in a light-proof cabinet, closed. Maybe the iPad was affecting my ability to look at analog colors? I looked through my Instagram page. Nope, they were all dreadful too. I clearly do not know how to draw and have been pulling off some massive con on the universe and myself. This magazine editor was clearly deluded in thinking she should include me in her publication and would soon lose her job.  Hmmm.

Today, Something has happened to them again.

I went back, looked through the images I’d picked, then flipped through a few of the books on the shelf, then looked at my Instagram. Not so bad. In fact, I liked quite a lot of them. Wonky, sure, but with style and a POV. I’m glad I made them. Whew.

A cautionary tale. Maybe it’s because it’s so stupidly cold. Or because I haven’t been sleeping terribly well. Or because, well, I’m me. But I can’t always rely on my judgement of the given moment. I need to trust myself, and others over the long run, and meanwhile just keep my head down and keep making stuff. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. Especially if I’m going to think it sucks so much I stop making anything altogether.

Does this ever happen to you?

Let’s gang up on the inner critic.

I’ve written blog posts about it. I’ve made a podcast about it. I’ve even written a book about it. But the inner critic, the monkey in my head, remains a part of my life.  Keeping that voice under control is, frankly a lifetime project.

Here’s a powerful new weapon for your arsenal. Powerful and free.

Recently, I was talking to my pal, Jim Posner, who is a former Wall Street executive, turned Mindfulness meditation instructor. He can relate to everyone who’s ever been a victim of that inner critic. Many years ago he went through his own crisis —a job loss, while his wife was pregnant with their first child. He became terrified of the future, overcome by anxiety, and could barely function. He kept telling himself he wasn’t good enough. His inner critic beat him up so badly that he suffered debilitating panic attacks. Eventually he did crush that inner critic.

Jim asked me if I’d join him in making a free series of interviews specifically designed to help you conquer your inner critic, crush self-doubt, unleash your full potential and stifle the monkey. Kinda like the Shut Your Monkey podcast but with a whole new super-group of experts chatting on video.

Jim put together an amazing group of 21 experts  — best selling authors, accomplished doctors and scientists, well-known artists, CEO’s, top executive coaches and respected professionals in fitness and well-being. Oh, and me. I had an amazing discussion with Jim and it’s part of the lineup.

He’s interviewed each of us about mindfulness, self-doubt and -criticism, and he’s put it all together into a free online summit. Free, no sales, no shtick, no strings. Just smart people giving useful advice. Experts who really want to help ease peoples’ suffering and increase their potential.

Here’s how it works:

Click here to watch a video from Jim here that explains the idea and to sign up. Then, starting on April 24, every day for 21 days, you’ll get emailed a video interview with an expert. Pretty simple. Unless you’re a monkey.

I think it will be full of lots of useful ideas and insights that I, for one, can’t wait to put into practice. Let me know what you (and your monkey) think of the series.

Bulletproof

I saw some cops having lunch at the diner the other day. There were three of them, big guys crammed into a booth, working through sandwiches and fries.  They each wore a heavy leather utility belt with a flashlight, handcuffs, mace, a Taser, a notebook, a radio, a nightstick, a big handgun and God knows what else.  These cops sat very erect — under their uniforms, their torsos were girded in a thick bulletproof vest.

When their meal was done, one officer reached for the bill — but it slipped out of his grip and fluttered to the floor. He leaned over, grunting, to pick it up. Straining and cursing, he couldn’t bend in the middle to reach it. The gun, the vest, all the clobber had him strapped down and inflexible. Eventually, the waitress saw his predicament and darted down to lightly pick up the bill and replace it in front of him.

Life can force us to armor up. As we endure traumas, abuse, poor judgment, we layer on defenses to protect us from what has happened. As they say in the Pentagon, we are always preparing to fight the last war. But many of our shields are redundant, obsolete, and confining. As we bolster ourselves against more and more possible eventualities, we become like medieval knights struggling to get back on the horse under a load of steel plate.

Do you need it all? Look at your ramparts. Monitor your reactions. Check your gear and see if, maybe, you can lighten your load.

How to kick monkey butt.

I’ve written a lot about the nature of the inner critic that confounds our creativity. And so far, I’ve urged you to fight it by just getting to work. That may not be as easy as all that, so let me be more specific with some ways you can push past that hectoring little voice in your head.

Just start. Do one small drawing on one small piece of paper. A Post-It. Or draw a loose grid on your sketchbook page and fill in one single square with a line drawing of your foot. Whistle while you do it. If the monkey starts to grumble, hum louder. Push off that inner criticism for 120 seconds until you can get something down on the page.

Creating something, anything, can break the logjam. And it can give you something to look back at hours later, to get excited about. Initially, the monkey may sneer about your tiny attempt but go back at it and look at it again. Find something to love in it. It’s in there.

Don’t talk about it. If you are having block, don’t endlessly discuss it and seek solace from others. The more you do, naming it and broadcasting it, The more you solidify the block, the more of  a living entity it becomes. Give it a name and you give it power. Stress over it and you become twisted and jailed.

My words here are a double-edged sword. I want you to be able to see that your problem is a common one, that you don’t suck any more than the rest of us. But the more we dwell on this discussion, the more attention the monkey gets, and the less time we are spending making something.

Give him a banana.  Try holding out some sort of reward to yourself. A bribe to get it done. Say, “if I do three drawings today, I can buy a new fountain pen. ” “Or I can watch TV for an hour if I draw during three of the commercial breaks”. Or “I can eat that donut, if I draw it first .”

Use this tool judiciously. You don’t want to end up obese, broke, or in jail.

donut

Get your lazy ass up. If the monkey tells you are a hopeless slug, agree with him. Tell him you want to improve and so you are going to set the alarm a little earlier and start the day right. Sit down and draw before your first cup of coffee. Fifteen minutes of drawing the reflections in the toaster as the coffee perks. Monkeys are lazy bastards too and they can’t get it together so early. I find I do my best work before I start reading email and talking to people and dealing with the day. Then for the rest of the day, I glow with that knowledge that I have already made art today and the rest is gravy. By knocking out a few drawings with the dawn, you will lubricate the wheels of habit while the monkey turns over and keep on snoring.

Do something you definitely suck at. Buy a medium that’s absolutely new to you. Draw on your iPad for the first time. Paint with ketchup on the kitchen counter. Play the digeridoo. By doing something you have never done before, you have the perfect excuse for sucking. If the monkey pops up, you can say, yes, yes, I know but this is my first time. Have fun. You’re making something. Sure, it’s no good. But keep going. Keep making. Keep exploring.

The great ape debates. If you can’t screen out your monkey, tune him in. Really put his critiques to the test. Ask the monkey to take the stand. Grill him.  But this time bring your inner lawyer to dissect his arguments.

Give the primate the benefit of the doubt. Take his arguments at face value and see if they hold any water. Maybe you do have room for improvement — none of us is perfect. You can learn and grow from self-examination. The thing we must avoid is self-destruction and abuse.

So, write down his complaints about you and come up with strong rational responses.  Write these down too. Next time the monkey levels these same criticisms at you, just tell him, “I’ve heard you and responded to the charges. What else you got?”

Stock your own arsenal. Sit down, like I’m doing, and come up with a bunch of ideas to trick yourself into sitting down and coming up with a bunch of ideas. If you want, start by critiquing my suggestions and then making up better ones that will work for you. Hate the idea of getting up at dawn? Fine, then draw at lunch, draw in the train, draw on the toilet. Come on, plus my ideas. What works for you?