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October 23, 2009 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Ignore Everybody: Reflections on living a creative life, via No Depression blogs.
posted by Miko (44 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
I half-love and half-hate this list. A lot of it feels like a "fuck the establishment" rant, but there are really good points about how hard work and being creative aren't mutually exclusive. That's a point I tend to want to pound home with a number of the "creative" people in my life.
posted by xingcat at 8:49 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


this is good, but it doesn't say ANYTHING about spiraling into a heroin-induced nighmare and then getting off heroin in a blurry montage!

For reals, though, this is a great post.
posted by kathrineg at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2009


I love things like this. They are always effective at prodding me into doing something worthwhile, at least until the effect wears off (good timing too, since we're one week away from the start of NaNoWriMo).
posted by Dr-Baa at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2009


"Nobody cares. Do it for yourself."

This is sort of thing I have to re-learn every time I start a new project. No matter how supportive my friends and colleagues may be (or may want to be), ultimately they have their own projects and ideas to nurture. If my zeal for working on something hinges on receiving interest and support from others, then I'm bound to work at the problem from the wrong end, currying pre-emptive support for things I haven't even accomplished yet.

When I was in high school, my friends and I would joke and gossip and mess around in all our classes together. At the end of the semester I would always be embarrassed to realize that I was the only one of us who got a D in the class -- even though we all goofed off together, everyone else went home and studied and did their homework, and wound up with an A. This is the illusion that very smart or creative people perpetuate throughout their lives. You often only see their poise, their humor, their effortlessness. The incredible amount of work that they do takes place behind the scenes, so it's tempting to imagine that they have it pretty easy.

It has taken me most of my adult life to learn how to do this. I'm still learning. And no matter what kind of successes have resulted from it, I find that the end result is the same: Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.
posted by hermitosis at 8:55 AM on October 23, 2009 [34 favorites]


16. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do from what you are not.

Reminds me of about fifteen years ago. An A-league commercial producer liked some of my rock-vids and we had a meeting to explore whether we could work together. One his first lines to me: "Before we go anywhere, you're going to ask and answer for yourself how much shit are you willing to eat, because you won't get anywhere in this biz without eating shit."

I thought about it overnight and phoned in my answer. "None. Shit is poisonous. But I will eat food. I need food. I've definitely done some weird things for food in the past."

I don't really remember his response, just recall that his marriage was a mess and he sort of descended in a fog of lawyers, stopped returning calls etc ... and no, we never worked together.
posted by philip-random at 9:00 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was cool to have a big list that I only had to read the first item of. Done and done.
posted by nanojath at 9:01 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I liked the essay. Thanks for posting it here, Miko.

even though I saw it first from your post at Metachat
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:06 AM on October 23, 2009


Thanks for posting this. It wasn't anything new, but it was great to be reminded. I've kind of been letting fantasy let me get away from #8 lately.
posted by ignignokt at 9:12 AM on October 23, 2009


Also, this was amusingly reminiscent of an interview with Fenriz from Darkthrone once.

26. What do you do with your time?
"I make music."

27. Can you make a living from that?
"That would be false. You know if someone comes up to me and says they’re doing a doing a band full time then I just crap on him, because it’s what you do in your spare time outside of a job that really matters because that is what you do in your own free will and that is what you believe in. Like Venom, they probably did the band full time and I don’t believe in that. Venom really suck, they don’t have any jobs when they were doing Venom full time and that is why you can’t believe in them. They had to prostitute themselves just to make a living from the band."

28. So you have to do a day job then?
"I don’t have to do it, but I will do it because then what I do in my spare time - that is what is the most encouraging, and that is what true means, what you do in your spare time, and what you do for money doesn’t, because that is prostitution and we don’t do Darkthrone for money. If we were to quit our jobs and try to make a living from Darkthrone then we would have to go gigging, we’d have to do interviews all the time, just to make promotion to sell more records, and that’s false. So I’d rather be stuck with a job and doing Darkthrone spare time because that is true."

posted by ignignokt at 9:13 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


The list, btw, is written by Hugh MacLeod, and appeared some time ago on his Gaping Void blog. He's since turned it into a book, along with some of his unique biz-card art.

Anyway I didn't feel the ND post made it clear enough that the material was copied from Hugh's site.
posted by kira at 9:18 AM on October 23, 2009


Figuring out and coming to terms with #8 was pretty life-changing for me. Afterwards, I stopped feeling so intensely sorry for myself all the time for not making a living from art. Which led to feeling better, and as a nice fringe benefit, my creative output not being dominated by how intensely sorry I was for myself for not making a living from art.
posted by COBRA! at 9:23 AM on October 23, 2009


Thanks Miko. I'll send this to a creative young person who hasn't already crashed into these things.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:32 AM on October 23, 2009


10. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb. You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.

This. I've packed my rhetorical gear and I'm at the base of the metaphorical mountain and the people who love me are telling me that it's too dangerous, that they want me to stay with them, asking me what happens if I fail, and is it worth giving up what I have?

And these questions have been haunting my soul for weeks. But number 10 is absolute truth and exactly what I needed to hear right now.

Thank you, Miko.
posted by philotes at 9:33 AM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


There are so very many of these lists. This is one of the best of that lot I've ever read. Thanks for posting.

And this?

A lot of it feels like a "fuck the establishment" rant

No. No. A thousand times: NO. This is not his point at all. Do not be dissuaded from reading or deterred from finishing because you've let this notion shade your impressions. It's not him, it's you.

If there's an overarching theme in this list, it's that generic, externally imposed dichotomies of creative v. commercial and authentic v. artificial are wholly irrelevant to living a creative life and creating something meaningful. What matters - in the end the only thing that matters - is where you draw these lines for yourself. You know, if you're at all rigourous about the creative act, when you are being true to yourself. You know your own motives. You must learn - if you haven't already - that whatever creative genius you possess will only ever emerge from your own actions in pursuit of your own vision, with no particular interest in who else gets it and how much bounty (monetary, critical or otherwise) it will fetch.

It may turn out you find that place for yourself while you're working a day job at a suburban bank branch (see Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance) or while you're under contract to churn out some middlebrow award whore for a big Hollywood studio (see Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation) or while you're sort of hiding out on a bender from some other project you can't figure out how to execute (see Hunter S. Thompson's Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) or while you're pretending to be someone you're not in order to ingratiate yourself to the hipsters downtown (see the collected works of the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman). The circumstances of creation don't particularly matter if your own vision and motive is pure.

That, I think, is the point of this list, and it's well-phrased therein. Thanks again, Miko.
posted by gompa at 9:34 AM on October 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


Would that #9 were true. I don't think we've hit that tipping point yet.
posted by blucevalo at 9:34 AM on October 23, 2009


I didn't feel the ND post made it clear enough that the material was copied from Hugh's site.

I was unclear on the authorship issue and found the book listing, too. I'm still not clear on how much of the writing is whose.
posted by Miko at 9:41 AM on October 23, 2009


26. You have to find your own shtick. Jackson Pollock discovering splatter paint. Or Robert Ryman discovering all-white canvases. Andy Warhol discovering silk-screen. Hunter S. Thompson discovering gonzo journalism. Duchamp discovering the found object. Jasper Johns discovering the American flag. Hemingway discovering brevity. James Joyce discovering stream-of-consciousness prose.

Sure, the world might someday take notice of these minor accomplishments. But what I choose to remember them for is their unwavering devotion to their day jobs.
posted by malocchio at 9:56 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


'Ignore Everybody.' Really? I think that's pretty much the worst idea ever. How about 'Pay Attention To Everybody and Learn What the World Is Like and Then Express That Knowledge With Heart, Balls, and Passion'? or maybe that requires effort.
posted by Football Bat at 10:35 AM on October 23, 2009


or maybe that requires effort

Indeed. So does R'ing TFA, which maybe would provide you with enough context for the title to make it abundantly clear that your alternate title is actually kind of his point.

Just maybe. Guess we'll never know.
posted by gompa at 10:38 AM on October 23, 2009


Wow, thanks for this!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:55 AM on October 23, 2009


This is nothing but inspiring. I'm buying the book today.
posted by davebush at 11:07 AM on October 23, 2009


"That would be false. You know if someone comes up to me and says they’re doing a doing a band full time then I just crap on him, because it’s what you do in your spare time outside of a job that really matters because that is what you do in your own free will and that is what you believe in. Like Venom, they probably did the band full time and I don’t believe in that. Venom really suck, they don’t have any jobs when they were doing Venom full time and that is why you can’t believe in them. They had to prostitute themselves just to make a living from the band."

I read this entire response section in Skwisgaar's voice, and it made me laugh and laugh.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:16 PM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


'Ignore Everybody.' Really? I think that's pretty much the worst idea ever. How about 'Pay Attention To Everybody and Learn What the World Is Like and Then Express That Knowledge With Heart, Balls, and Passion'? or maybe that requires effort.

Real creativity doesn't work this way.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:19 PM on October 23, 2009


8. Keep your day job. The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills.

35. Beware of turning hobbies into jobs.


Yes indeed. I would have avoided a lot of angst, struggle, and stress if I had just accepted this advice earlier in life instead of being obstinate and having to learn it the hard way.

Writing has always been one of my passions, and I spent a good deal of my youth quite enamored of the "do what you love" school of career planning. I resisted the idea of spending the bulk of my life working at a pay-the-bills job, and dreamed of the day when I could make my living solely as a writer.

But turning it into a career was not the right approach for me. When I actually tried to make money from writing, I found that the joy of the creative process was overshadowed, and eventually completely eclipsed, by the need to push hard for income. Separating income-earning from my creative work was just what I needed to free me up to fully enjoy my creative work again. And as a nice bonus, I learned to enjoy my pay-the-bills work, too.

Thanks for posting this, Miko!
posted by velvet winter at 12:28 PM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Individual statements in this I can agree with, but the overall inspirational-speaker tone is offputting. Like most "inspirational" essays, the focus is wholly on the individual doing or not doing X or Y, and that's doing the reader a disservice.

The fact of the matter is, talent and hard work are both hard to quantify and often overwhelmed by random forces against which the individual artist has little control. Starting with where he/she is born and in what skin, and under what economic circumstances, and with what opportunities. Contrary to what the writer says, those who are doing better than you are *not* necessarily working harder or better at it. Power and privilege do, in fact, stymie careers and deny opportunity for those without them, however hard-working or talented.

The ability to create art and do so while still being able to eat and have shelter/family/sanity, much less any kind of recognition, is a very recent and still relatively rare phenomena, and that is a political issue. The group of people he's addressing, who can actually take his advice, is small and privileged.

The reasons for this are tangled, and involve several millennia of various kinds of oppression, very little belief in the value of art except as propaganda/selling tool among most Americans, and the impersonal accidental brutalities of capitalism that smother many artistic careers in the cradle.

It would be more valuable, if you want to remove the scales from a young aspiring artist's eyes, to be upfront about what they're up against. It may not be that the competition is more talented, so much as the competition may have grown up with parents in the movie industry and have gone to daycare with Scorsese's nephew. It's may not be that the competition worked harder than you; it may be that the competition is a white dude and you're not, and whoever was making the call cares about that more.
posted by emjaybee at 2:30 PM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


How about 'Pay Attention To Everybody and Learn What the World Is Like and Then Express That Knowledge With Heart, Balls, and Passion'?

I dunno, I think the world is too full of voices now for that to work. And of course no one is going to ignore EVERYBODY. It's just a message about building an independent mindset.
posted by hermitosis at 2:51 PM on October 23, 2009


Love it. Ignoring everybody in the thread because I suspect its a lot of snark and snide stuff, but this is what I needed to read at the end of my day.
posted by never used baby shoes at 4:25 PM on October 23, 2009


Love it. Ignoring everybody in the thread because I suspect its a lot of snark and snide stuff

Actually, it's not that bad at all, although emjaybee scores a pretty strong point above with this:

talent and hard work are both hard to quantify and often overwhelmed by random forces against which the individual artist has little control. Starting with where he/she is born and in what skin, and under what economic circumstances, and with what opportunities.

This certainly speaks the truth to any number of hard, hard working artist types I've known in the film biz who were lucky enough to born middle-class (or whatever) but not into an extended family (or community) who had any kind of connection with THE BIZ. It's not just the overt nepotism that's an issue either. There's also just the basic wisdom, the trade secrets that dads, moms, aunts, uncles pass along as naturally as any habit (good or bad).

That said, I do like #10: Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.

Sounds a bit pompous put this way, yet I've always likened a big career goal (dream) to mountain climbing. You can see the peak. It's a long way away. There's any number of ways up. Some are dangerous but relatively quick. Some are easier but will take much longer. Some are just the wrong path ... and always, somewhere along the way, you will lose sight of the peak, sometimes when it's very, very close.
posted by philip-random at 6:35 PM on October 23, 2009


Man, I feel like this thread is sorely lacking in the snark and snide. Any blog that starts with "ignore everyone" and then launches into a thousand words of advice from your father is bound to be nothing but banal.

Maybe I'm just cranky today, but it feels like I've read this a thousand times before.
posted by malocchio at 6:37 PM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


emjaybee scores a pretty strong point above with this:

Right. And let's assume all of that is true, because most of the time it is true. In what way would/should that change any of the recommendations made in the essay?

Would you recommend that people evaluate the number of layers in the deck that is stacked against them, determine their challenge unwinnable, and give up?

What kinds of thinking would result in actually usefully combating, on a personal level, the very real structural challenges to success - if not the kinds enumerated here?

Because while I see that one could consider this list facile, I also know many people born with many disadvantages who have produced great outcomes because they, at least, considered themselves along these lines, rather than giving up.

I'm among those who constantly note that bigotry and classism are bad because they suppress naturally occurring talent left and right. But naturally occuring talent, when it arises and identifies itself, should in every instance labor to oppose, not be complicit in, those judgments.
posted by Miko at 8:51 PM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Miko, what I probably wasn't clear about was no, I don't encourage anyone to give up. I just get a bit cranky at the idea that it's all about individual effort. The truth is, you should keep trying, because it could work, and if it does, that is awesome. And if it doesn't, well yeah, you didn't sit on your ass whining your whole life.

Of course, that last one can feel like pretty small comfort when your band plays its 200th low-paying gig, or your book gets completely ignored. Because you don't know if it's you or if it's the odds. Maybe you suck, maybe you just didn't get a chance. And that can make you fucking crazy.
posted by emjaybee at 9:13 PM on October 23, 2009


I just get a bit cranky at the idea that it's all about individual effort.

It's definitely not all about individual effort, but success for people who don't start out with advantages will simply never come without effort. That's why messages about effort are important: because for the crowd that needs to depend upon merit, they won't get anywhere without effort.

you don't know if it's you or if it's the odds. Maybe you suck, maybe you just didn't get a chance. And that can make you fucking crazy.


I see that as a different issue, whether that can make you crazy. You really have to prevent it from making you crazy. Which is what the list is about: recognizing that you might actually really suck. Or you might be absolutely brilliant, and live your entire life brilliant and die brilliant, and yet still never even receive the tiniest recognition of your brilliance from any quarter. Plenty of great artists experienced that. Ultimately, you have to get beyond letting others' evaluation or even your own evaluation of your work have the power to make you crazy. Because it hasn't got that power. The satisfaction in life lies in being engrossed in your work, in doing your own real work - not in whether anyone, including you, thinks you suck or not.

Or as one of my closest musician friends responded when I asked if he thought my music was "good,": "What the fuck is 'good'? What does that even mean?"

It breaks right down. It breaks down to "Did you lose yourself in the doing? Did you work at it and find yourself interested? Were you engaged? Did you offer any engagement to other people?"

Letting go of the evaluative side is the important message. You might suck, truly objectively suck, and yet it really doesn't matter, does it.
posted by Miko at 9:20 PM on October 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I needed this list right now.. I've had my creativity evaporating on the back burner for too long. Thanks!
posted by dabcad at 9:56 PM on October 23, 2009


Words of wisdom, Miko, words of wisdom.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:10 PM on October 23, 2009


"that last one can feel like pretty small comfort when your band plays its 200th low-paying gig, or your book gets completely ignored."

I'd kill to have a band that's played 200 paying gigs, low or not. Or to have a book printed by a non-vanity publisher. So I guess it's all relative.

I feel like I'm still looking for my Everest. If it's such a giant fucking mountain, why can't I see it?
posted by Eideteker at 11:00 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Still too far away, perhaps.

Or, just too many clouds blocking your view?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:50 PM on October 23, 2009


Yo, Miko, everybody seems to be enjoying your FPP and imma let you finish, but Hugh McCloud wrote this in 2004 and it is much more detailed and has links to entire essays for every item on the list, and it was already linked on Mefi (albeit with very little response in the comments).

And it's been published in a book and Hugh is writing a sequel.
posted by mmoncur at 2:34 AM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think everyone has an Everest, actually. Some people's thing is doing life decently, and trying to spread a little happiness along the way. I don't have a huge overarching goal. I like money, things that make me money without being too awful are good. I like friends, I like to have fun, I like to be helpful. We don't all have to be struggling for some distant mountain. I think it's an American ideal that is sometimes very harmful. Almost everyone is lucky to get through the day, get along with their family and friends, and be materially comfortable.
posted by kathrineg at 6:30 AM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yo, Miko, everybody seems to be enjoying your FPP and imma let you finish, but Hugh McCloud wrote this in 2004 and it is much more detailed and has links to entire essays for every item on the list, and it was already linked on Mefi (albeit with very little response in the comments).

And it's been published in a book and Hugh is writing a sequel.


Again, thanks for clarifying authorship, as was done above as well. I could have forestalled this by linking to the book in the FPP - but again, I came across this as a blog post and was unclear about how much of this was the author's list. Shame on me for not checking it out more deeply, I guess.

Still, I wouldn't have seen it without the blog post having happened, so I'm glad it was posted this way anyhow, and hope people check out the book itself using the links you added.
posted by Miko at 6:56 AM on October 24, 2009


i happen to know a few musicians who don't need day jobs and aren't famous. Because they exist, alright? Starting with classical players and sort of functional musicians and a few local-level jazz guys and songwriters, who make their entire living from something music-related. Diversified streams of income, sure. But always to do with music.

My pet theory is that lots of local, paid musicians [artists] existed before the age of mass produced artwork. Of course things are what they are & I know the whole bunch of daytime job part-time art people. Just saying it's not mandatory dammit.
posted by yoHighness at 7:00 AM on October 24, 2009


True, I know some musicians and some writers who don't have day jobs. I know artists and designers who don't have day jobs, either.

Well, the writers do get paid to teach writing. Whether or not that counts as something different is up for argument.
posted by kathrineg at 7:02 AM on October 24, 2009


My pet theory is that lots of local, paid musicians [artists] existed before the age of mass produced artwork.

That's not even a theory, it's absolutely true, but throughout history there has been a continuum of employment for musicians and artists. Easy to prove glancing through entertainment history: In the 1930s and 40s every major club in every major city had a house band. But every community and usually every family also had its unpaid or partially paid musicians - front-porch players, community dance fiddlers, town and school bands, string bands, musical societies. In many ways it was a lot easier to fulltime as a musician before the advent of radio, but more importantly, before records, because basically whenever you head music it was necessarily performed by live human beings in the room with you. But even when there were more jobs for musicians, t's always been a bit of a pyramid structure - some people can and do fulltime, others have to balance that with income needs, family obligations, youth and age, etc. The important message for me is that whether or not you are fulltime, you still do the work. Not being a fulltime artist does not disqualify you from being an artist.

In addition, musicians who work at music fulltime very rarely work at composing their own original music to fulfill their own vision fulltime. Most of the full-timers I know also teach, or write scores on commission, or record other people, or play weddings, etc.
posted by Miko at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


In addition, musicians who work at music fulltime very rarely work at composing their own original music to fulfill their own vision fulltime. Most of the full-timers I know also teach, or write scores on commission, or record other people, or play weddings, etc.

Want to make a living being a musician? Join a covers band. Better yet a tribute band. Which is all very nice but it hardly speaks to the full potential of what the art form can be and where it can go. You can also write, perform and produce radio jingles and so on. It's the same with writing. Lots of technical and copy writing livings been made out there, but the numbers get fewer and fewer the more outright "creative" and/or "artistic" the gig becomes.

The good thing about the "keeping your day job" angle is that it keeps the artist in the real world, whether he/she wants to be there not, which is probably not just good for one's mental health but also for the empathy of the work itself. On the other hand, a movie like Chinatown would never have been written if Producer Robert Evans hadn't paid screenwriter Robert Towne out of his own pocket to hole himself away for a year and deeply the explore the themes, characters and situations that were compelling him.

Ideally, serious artists (is there any other kind?) would move in out of the so-called real world, sometimes dragging the line at work, sometimes set free to explore, research, play. Because we do need their STUFF, and not just what they can crank out on the odd free weekend.
posted by philip-random at 8:54 AM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


About disqualification as an artist. (not mine, in general) The current situation of having super artful recordings of virtuosos available everywhere impresses a stigma on "home-made" music some places, as if it is "best left to the professionals". Then stars qualify as the only professionals. Back in the day before records, radio and TV, home-made music was a mainstay of what people did for entertainment, as Miko described. Today having CDs gives lots of people the feeling they are themselves "unmusical" and stars are the only musicians there are (&should be). What "qualifies" or "disqualifes" artists is dictated by the recording industry. This is a tragedy where it occurs, just like when people don't know how to cook for themselves and ready meals is all they eat. It's a cultural loss just like global brands destryoing local variety.

The other thing is that I went to Bosnia recently (Everything said in the recent "food in Bosnia" sidebar comment was true btw.) and met some people who really valued music. Scarcity of live music, and a big need for meaning & for expression there made it such a valuable commodity. If music was a currency of meaning, it felt like coming from a place of hyperinflation to a place where there is a strong currency.
posted by yoHighness at 12:08 PM on October 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


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