Today I want to talk about another thing that can get in the way of the creative projects we work on: this neat little Cartesian dualism between ‘process’ and ‘product’. It’s something we all struggle with. As creatives we are mired in process – that’s the long part, the journey that takes hours, days, weeks, months, years – that sometimes – and I mean sometimes results in a completed product. For me, as a writer, more often than not the process – the writing, musings, scribbles – do not end up in some polished product but hide out in the recesses of my computer in oddly named documents, or are chicken scratched on post-it notes, napkins, or whatever material that is nearby, ink permeable and (inevitably) able to float down the crevices of filing cabinets, get lost in the wind or more likely turn up as found art in the bottom of the washing machine (no more clear for their cleanliness). I would say that writing or art making is ‘stops and starts’ but more often it’s starts and starts and starts.
And yet, when we go out into the world – maybe to seek our inspiration – it is not other artists or writers process we see – it’s their products. The book store is not filled with drafts or unpublished manuscripts filled with revision notes (or stapled to rejection letters). No, it is filled with pretty words in nice font on appropriate sized paper all bound together into a neat little portable product wrapped with a cover that is shiny and beautiful and perfect. It makes the writing I do, in contrast, look nearly unrecognizable. And the same is true with other art as well. We rarely hear fragments of songs, see half painted paintings or sculptures that still remain partial blocks of clay. In other words, we don’t see the process. But that’s where the meat is. That’s where the heartbreak is and, when we’re lucky, where the all-too fleeting moments of joy reside as well.
I have not published a book. But I did write a ridiculously long dissertation which some company offered to print and bind for me (at a cost) – and so I paid the ridiculous price (apparently print-on-demand is not cheap) and 6-to-8 weeks later (it is apparently also not fast) I received this tiny, blue, hardcover “book” in the mail that had the title and my name printed down the spine. It was almost laughable. This was not the dissertation I wrote. I mean it was, but in this form, it was unrecognizable to me. I was used to seeing and feeling the process – in a desk cluttered with drafts and revisions, highlighter color-coding that soon lost it’s meaning, in files and folders and post-it-notes from the field. In all that I saw my project, my process, my heartache, my joy. In contrast the product – this book I held in my hands – was sterile.
Was it worth writing it? Yes. But in no way did the product reflect my process. Now, other mediums may be better for that, granted, but still I think that the heart – and heartbreak – of art is in the making of it. And during that making you will question your project, your ability…your self. That’s good. Because maybe if you’re not questioning, your missing something. Maybe without the questioning, the endless navel gazing and self flaggelation, the process just isn’t the same (okay, maybe we could do with a little less self-flagellation) – but really what we need to do is unhinge ourselves from the dream of the perfect product and just get knee deep in the mud and muck of the process.
A million trite sayings come to mind; “it’s the journey, not the destination”, “if your going through hell – keep on going”, “don’t believe everything you think”. Yeah, they’re pithy, but they’re familiar, right? They’re familiar because they resonate with some of us on some level. But hey, they’re also familiar because someone, somewhere, thought a saying up and decided that it was important enough to share.
Look around you – people are doing it everywhere. They write something you think is shit – hey maybe even they think it’s shit – but they did it anyway. They painted something you think your five year old could paint – and maybe she could – but that didn’t stop them. They wrote an annoying, shallow song that somehow you find yourself humming. You can laugh at them all you want, but it’s those of us who get through the process and produce a product that are able to achieve some level of success. Maybe it is really all about the journey – but there’s also something to be said for parking the damn car, getting out, stretching, and checking out this new place. Because after all, our next journey starts from our last destination. Otherwise we’re just doing wheelies in the parking lot.