An audience of one: working alone in quarantine

My new coworkers

What happens when your usual audience isn’t there? The pandemic has created an interesting problem for people in creative jobs. The team that would usually give you feedback or be there to support you is either unavailable or only available in a limited way. Even if it’s just a series of delays and video meetings, the way your team works has changed.

For me, I have had to step up being my own audience. I have to laugh at my own jokes, which is as uncomfortable as it sounds. No longer can I try out three or four marketing ideas quickly and get feedback on what works.

So far, that means those ideas are more conservative. I am still working on trusting myself to go to the edges of acceptable without trusting someone else to let me know if I’ve crossed a line. Also, it means not discarding ideas immediately, but saving them to try when I can run them by someone else.

Also, as you can see in the picture above, I have set up a series of cyclopean coworkers to look at me while I work. Just being able to use them as a mirror, they’ve got a pretty weird point of view, lets me be a bit freer in my flights of fancy. Their judgmental gaze also helps keep me on task.

How about you? Have you had any problems with your creative life in quarantine? Do you have any solutions that have helped you work more effectively? If you already work alone, do you have any advice?

Show and NEVER Tell


When a friend of mine posted this quote from from a Bafta Television Lecture of David Lynch being asked to explain the spiritual roots of Eraserhead it struck a chord with me. The interviewer innocently asks about the spirituality of Eraserhead and David Lynch shuts him down quickly. We've all been in the situation where a person in authority (a parent, teacher or boss) asks us to tell them where the idea for something came from or what it's supposed to mean. Usually with implication that our creative act is somehow describing ourselves and us explaining it will reveal something about our internal world. 

Why should we explain the beginnings of our ideas and tell people what it means to us? Isn't it true that once we've created something it exists on its own. If you could only enjoy or understand a work of art after the artist explains it, you're really not enjoying the art; you're enjoying the explanation. You've saved yourself the effort of bringing any part of yourself to it and filed it away neatly in your head as if it were a riddle and you now know the answer. Also, it puts the blame for your lack of understanding on the creator. If only the work of art were better, you'd understand it.

What I admire most about the Lynch quote is his confidence that he doesn't need to explain. In fact, he doesn't even need to explain his lack of explanation. He spent five years of his life making Eraserhead and knows that it stands on its own. His intentions and intended meanings are incidental to it. Why take something beautiful, creepy and strange and try to diminish it by explaining it away just to make the person experiencing it feel smarter and more comfortable? 

The next time someone asks me to explain myself I'm going to smile, shrug and politely decline to answer. Other people not understanding you, when it comes to art, is a wonderful thing. Own your weirdness.


You Create What You Consume

While “you are what you eat” has become an almost meaningless cliche, its truth is undeniable. The substance of your body is made up of the food you eat. Let me add another aphorism to your arsenal.

You create what you consume.

What you create is a direct reflection of what you choose to listen to, read and watch. This is not to say that you create exactly what you take in, although that certainly happens occasionally, just that everything you put in your brain is reflected through the prism of your own unique point of view and experiences.

It’s a given that athletes change their diets while training for a big event, why don’t creative people do the same thing? Martin Scorsese shows his actors many movies before he starts filming as a way to make sure they are all on the same creative page. As Winona Ryder said in Harper’s Bazaar:

He would show us films in the screening room in his brownstone, and I don’t know if he realized it, but he was basically narrating the entire film. We’d be like, “I wonder why he’s showing us this film?” but it would be for one shot or one scene—and it was like a four-hour epic!

Stephen King said in his excellent book On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Before you embark on a new project, give some thought to changing your cultural diet: read the books, have conversations with relevant people, see the movies, go to plays and museums. Immerse yourself in the world you want to create. Go into training to complete the creative marathon you want to undertake!

Jumping and Creativity


I have been noticing lately how often the word "jump" is used in conjunction with creativity. In improvisational acting it is held as a truism that if you jump, a net will appear. Jumping implies taking a risk and propelling yourself over normal limitations.

Here are a few quotes to consider:

“If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall”

– Ray Bradbury

“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”

– Benjamin Franklin

“Look, I really don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you're quiet, you're not living. You've got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.”

-Mel Brooks

"You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls that are always going to be placed in front of you. If you don't have that kind of feeling for what it is you are doing, you'll stop at the first giant hurdle.”

– George Lucas

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”

– Bruce Lee

"It took me years to figure out that you don't fall into a tub of butter, you jump for it."

-Claudette Colbert

And who, other than the lactose intolerant, wouldn't want to jump in a tub of butter?

Picture from Dancers Among Us by Jordan Matter

Packaging as Content

The title to this post is the tag line to an interesting blog called box vox. Box vox is dedicated to the meaning and art of the packages that contain the things we consume. The perfect package makes what’s inside it more desirable. Lets face it, some things we buy just because the package is so amazing we can’t help it.

What if, for your next creative project, you created the packaging for it before you created the content? Imagine how easy it would be if you already knew the size and shape of what you were going to create. You’d know the name and maybe even the list of ingredients.

If you don’t want to create your own, use another package and fill it. What’s inside will be uniquely yours! If you want to write a book or story, find a book cover that’s evocative to you and write what would go inside. The same goes for old movie posters, advertisements and album covers.

For me personally, the best thing is to find an awesome package with a bad product. That way, you can create something that finally lives up to the promise of its packaging.

Less disappointment in the world is a good thing!

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