Chronicles in Ordinary Time 95: restarting my creative engine

MJ Arts announces the opening of its retail store!

  jazzI started writing this a month ago; much has happened in the last month. Our political climate really bothers me. According to polls, the American people currently have two choices for President, and 3/5 of the country don’t like either of them. The one who hoped for change seems to have been outgunned by Wall Street and those corporate entities who seem to functionally run the country. Life in an oligarchy.

The last few days have been challenging for my body. I’ve been sleeping 3-4 times per day. Fortunately, I get paid for breathing, so it hasn’t been problematic for my business….
everything keeps revolving around my business… I identify myself by my business, and have never been able to shake the disorder…

I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ “Jazz;” something I do when I need to restart my creative engines… Jazz was born of the blues; born of discontent; the discontent of a people who were constantly under the foot of the white population. So many stories of tragedy, geniuses who never made it into their 50’s’; geniuses that didn’t make it much further than their early thirties. Some of my favorite quotations come from Artie Shaw, one of the ‘rock stars’ of the Swing era:

“I’m not conditioned to be an entertainer. An entertainer pleases others while an artist only has to please himself. The problem with that is artists are misunderstood by all. I’m not interested in the clarinet but in music. we speak our emotions into music. An artist should write for himself and not for an audience. If the audience likes it, great. If not, they can keep away. My situation is the same. Let them concentrate on my music and not on me. I like the music. I love it and live it, in fact. But for me, the business part of music just plain stinks.”

“Whatever you do in life, aim at perfection. It will not be understood or even appreciated by most people. However, in the long run, the closer you come to achieving your own inner standards of perfection, and they’ll be rising all the time, the better you’ll be. In your lifetime you will come reasonably close (two or three times) to perfection. I’ve come about twice where I can say that is as close to perfection as I can get. I consider myself an 80-percent loser, of which I am proud. So, have fun. Get into your life and do what you enjoy and be the best at what you can be. Maybe you won’t be successful and rich by the world’s standards, but you will have the best life capable of having. If you don’t do that, you’re cheating yourself.”

“I did all you can do with a clarinet. Any more would have been less.”

“I wanted to resign from the planet, not just music. It stopped being fun with success. Money got in the way. Everybody got greedy, including me. Fear set in. I got miserable when I became a commodity.”

Back in another lifetime, I was a General Contractor, building and remodeling houses. I aspired to be a craftsman in wood. I made custom moulding, and wanted to build furniture. More often than not, I would come down to the tail end of a job, when I was doing the finish work, and would discover that I had used up all of the time that was allocated to the job—at least in terms of dollars. I was doing the work that I enjoyed most, and for all intents and purposes, I was ‘working for free’. Every hour spent on finish work would reduce my hourly wage for the project. All of the time had gone into the invisible, but necessary work that enabled the visible work to be seen. It was the finish work that would ‘sell’ the job, in terms of customer satisfaction. The money got in the way of the work. Like Artie Shaw, I become miserable when I become a commodity.

Several years ago I illustrated a Korean-language version of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories: A Scandal in Bohemia. The story used a very simplified version of the original text; the illustrations were hurried; and the company eventually went out of business. I would like to think that my book wasn’t the cause—I didn’t get paid all that much. Again, illustrations as a commodity.

I decided to publish the book myself, using the original, now-in-Public-Domain manuscript and the now-available world of digital publishing. My goal has always been to illustrate great classics. Since the publishing world isn’t willing to cooperate with my goals, I’ll take the desire on myself.

This was the original page 1 illustration:
sherlock p1 old









I decided on a new page 1 illustration:
sherlock p1 new





And now the whole book needs to change…


…but it’s my choice. The primary difference between the two books is time. Am I willing to invest the time to make a better book? It’s not what I’d planned. I get paid for breathing now; so it’s not about money; it’s letting go of the concept of commodity. If the story is a commodity, then it needs to be placed on the market in the near future; rather than the far future. If the story isn’t a commodity, it needs to go on the market when it’s done.

Every day we have choices between the good and the better. I know, sometimes it seems like we only have choices between the crappy and the not as crappy. At the end of the day, I cannot control the political process; I probably can’t even make a dent in it. But at the end of the day I can look at what I did and either be pleased with my choice, or regret my choice.

I think this is one of the keys to a good life.




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One Response to “Chronicles in Ordinary Time 95: restarting my creative engine”

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