Don't become an enemy to your art

The story had been sitting on my desk, glaring at me for the past five weeks. I didn't want to pick it up. The more I thought about it, the more I hated it, because through the lines it showed me how bad of a writer I am, and how much more growing I have to do.

So the story sat. On my desk in my office. And every time I'd be doing something in that room, it taunted me, made fun of me, validating all of my insecure feelings.

Last week I got fed up with it, grabbed the story off my desk and read it through completely. Then I wrote a series of notecards based on each section, and tried to understand the story a little more on a macro-level, mapping it out like an ominous drone. And then: I went in for the attack.

I rewrote the entire story. In four days, all 35,000+ words were rewritten, paragraphs deleted, words changed, characters both created and killed.

I wrote to feel the words run through my fingers. I fought to make that story speak to me again. And although we aren't the best of friends right now, we are at least on speaking terms. We're making progress.

Out of this experience I've learned that if a certain piece isn't working, or it's making you feel bad - step away from it for awhile, work on something else. But don't let it just stay there. Approach it again and be bold. Butcher it. Make love to it. Do whatever you can so you can live with it, and be happy with yourself again.

Turning your art into an enemy does nothing for you. But trying to make it your friend can do everything. It can clear your mind, make you more focused, and able to move onto other things.

So go on, be bold, and make your art speak to you again.

Ball practice for the beginning maker

Most people fall into conditions without making a conscientious decision about the life they want to live. But what happens when the "default" decisions you have made affect your artistic career? What if you have made a significant effort to build an audience, only to realize that oh, I actually don't want this kind of platform at all?

Many artists, like writers, are focusing on niche markets they want to serve - and that's good. But don't select a niche until you have found where your passions truly lie. You should only try to find an audience if you know what kind of platform you want to stand on, and this is partly found by asking what kind of work keeps you up at night. What makes you stop in the middle of writing a sentence and cry. In addition to doing the work, a beginning artist should be blogging, tweeting, instagramming, or 'whatever-ing' like crazy, trying her hardest to find her voice. She can’t find her voice if she isn't present, and present in an authentic way.

People respond to the authentic truth of other people’s lives. So here I am writing, and training my voice, finding my way. My voice isn't perfect, but it exists. And if I may ask, where's yours?

Standing in my creative truth

In the summer of 2012 I wrote five short stories as part of finishing my Comparative History of Ideas degree. The plan was to continue writing until I reached ten short stories, and then focus on writing my first novel.

Well, nobody told me that moving internationally and finding my first post-undergrad job would get in the way of my writing. But it did. 

I kept writing, but one of the short stories became a novel, and I found myself climbing up a mountain of words and ideas, and in order to hold on to the material I had to let go of everything else. Which means, I focused on my novel and stopped writing short stories.

But life happened, and work happened, and I became distracted from my writing. I became more focused on my job and career (which I love), but I couldn't ignore the voice inside my head telling me that I must write.

And when I took an inventory over what I have written - a novel, five short stories, and a few other unfinished stories - I began feeling depressed. Is that all you've done, Matthew!?  All these ideas for stories, all of this passion, all this talk about perseverance - and this is all you've done? The passion inside me didn't reflect my output.

So, I think it's important to stand in your creative truth, taking in full inventory on what you have done, so you can understand where you need to go. As Steve Jobs says, having an idea is easy, the hard work is actually making what you envision a reality.

A part of my having this blog is to "stand in my truth", and to share with others to learn how I can become a better writer. Because I know I'm not alone, and the more we share, the more we can become better, together.

An update of sorts

I finished the first draft of my first book last January while I was living in London waiting for my Swiss resident visa to come through. It sounds so pretentious and "artsy", but London is really a wonderful place to write. I spent a lot of time in these three spots: Look Mum No Hands!, Department of Coffee & Social Affairs, and Camera Cafe on Museum Street. The time I spent in London (between December and March of this year) was very difficult for me. I was waiting to re-enter the Schengen region as a legal resident while having no money and hoping I would find the right job. It was a tremendously uncertain time living in a very expensive place, but looking back I realize how unbelievably happy I was. London is a wonderful city in many ways. The museums are free, it's very easy to get around, and the city just pulsates with diversity and the vitality of life. On the other hand, London is also a very difficult place to live, with wages quite low and the coldness of the people that big cities often have.

Now I'm living in Zürich, have been working my first full-time job for the past four months, and just found an awesome 2-bedroom apartment. I'm still working on my first book (these things take forever) and trying to build a life. It's so hard, everything seems to be so hard - all the time. Getting the house set up, sorting out the dog, planning vacations, having the basic things (like a toaster, iron, coffee machine, among other electronics that aren't compliant with Swiss outlets). So, yes life is interesting and challenging. But if it weren't, then why live?

As much as I would like to pretend

As much as I would like to pretend that life is more wonderful and more interesting after moving to Europe - it's not. It's just different. Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly lucky to live here. My favorite time of day is in the morning, when I take my dog on a walk and see the old gallery owners, artists, and shopkeepers starting their days with groggy eyes and a coffee cup in their hands in the old town, when there's no one else around. It's marvelous to be around this architecture and history, all within a few blocks from my house. Zürich is especially beautiful when it's snowing at night, with the swans wading in the river. BUT. I hurt my back a few days ago. I don't know what I was doing, exactly, but perhaps it was the hundreds of books I've been moving into place that could have done it. Anyway, it's difficult to stand, sit, lie - so I've been in pretty constant pain. (am I really getting old?) I've been lying in bed, writing a short story and reading a lot.

Switzerland is both magical and infuriating. More to come soon.

Adapting (or trying, at least)

I really don't know what I expected to happen when I moved to Switzerland. I was so busy with graduating, moving, and getting ready for an international trip that it never entered my mind exactly how it would be once I landed, and tried to make my life here. It's been a mixed bag.

Some aspects are incredible. Like the weekend trips to beautiful areas in Switzerland and France, the awesome European night life, the architecture, and being able to speak German again. Other aspects are incredibly lame, like being in temporary housing, how expensive everything is, being unemployed for the first month and a half, how rude almost everyone is, the ridiculous amount of paperwork and red tape involved with just about everything. In short: moving here has been trying. There's been a few times when I think I don't want to be here, that I want to live in Berlin, Amsterdam, or New York. Somewhere bigger, more full of life, more me. But who is me? And do I really know Zürich, yet?

But I'm trying to not give up so easily. I just started a job with the WHO, which I've enjoyed immensely. Once I get an apartment, make a few friends, get a gym membership - I think it'll be easier. As I've said before, the trick is to just keep trying.

to eastern Europe/dancing on a farm

5 hours in, 11 hours or something to go. From Seattle to Krakow.

Flying over the southern tip of Greenland, watching the movie Footloose on mute and listening to Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. This 80’s movie is suddenly more dreamy to me, like a far distant reality that used to exist on some other planet. And in many ways, it is dreamy, and did exist on another planet. The clothes, cars, hairstyles. The dream-like quality reaches its highest point when the two starring male characters (I don’t know their names) begin dancing together - in the gymnasium, on the stadium bleachers, and farm. All the while they are silently muted on the 4x6 seat video screen and Amy Winehouse crooooonnnsssss.

I have to tell you, Amy Winehouse’s croon sounds so much better while watching Footloose. And the movie is probably much better listening to Amy Winehouse, too.