Work Gets Done

work gets done; author with Christmas lights
Strange man with Christmas lights.

The current situation is this: my reading and writing life is bracketed into the spaces where my kids are either asleep or at school, and sometimes it happens even when they’re home and awake, that is, if a short trip to Barnes & Noble or the Fainting Goat is doable without making things too stressful. The life of my mind, or at least the productive and creative parts of it, limits itself to the fringes: the morning commute*; the evening commute; Mondays (which are part of my weekends, given that I work Saturdays–reference laboratory hours); and after everyone else is asleep; or on those rare mornings when I wake before the kids, feeling alert enough to actually get out of bed, even though I technically don’t have to yet. These are difficult conditions under which to write a novel, much less maintain a regular blog. My blogs haven’t had regular schedules since their inceptions. But the writing is happening. Somehow, some way, the work gets done. Is it a miracle–a disruption of time and space? Or simply a testament to human determination?

When I was an undergraduate art student, the chairman of Union University’s art department at the time, a man of modern artistic vision and a facility with acrylic paint, advised that I pursue my art before taking on the responsibilities of a family. He had my interest in mind, and the wisdom in this is obvious, but I never could seem to make such a reasonable plan work. Now in my forties, I’m certain that the young put too much stock in so-called “callings,” when there’s so little we can actually know about how life will turn out. I’ve always been one to lay out the pieces first, inadvertently tossing a few about without caution, and then seek to assemble them into meaningful compositions later. This is how I’ve done life so far.

Do people really exist who make a plan and then execute it? Malcolm Gladwell says Picasso was like that, and he contrasts Picasso’s approach with that of Paul Cezanne, who was more of an experimenter. Picasso had brilliant flashes and then produced them; Cezanne dabbled and re-tried things, and eventually he’d stumble onto something great. If I’m to produce anything great, it won’t be in a flash like Picasso.

Even now, my body is calling for sleep, but I’m resisting with thoughts of content generation and search engine optimization–blogger concerns. I hear the heater kick on with a roar–a roar that fades into a hum; it’s a cold November night. The heater noise comes from upstairs, right in front of the doorway through which my two boys are sleeping. But this does not wake them. No, they’re waiting for 2:41 a.m., so they can invade our bed with maximum disruption. We haven’t had an uninterrupted night of sleep in months. This is the glorious life I’ve chosen.

*Here are some earlier thoughts on how the commute to and from work proves productive: http://alandrue.com/commuter-blues-two-sides/.

the author
Alan D. Tucker
Content Blogger,
Essayist, & Novelist

Demystify Your Art Making

As an art student, I fell in love with Cezanne’s brushstrokes.

Demystify your art making, at least for the sake of getting it done. Whether your art be painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, singing, acting, dress making, crochet, needlepoint, woodwork, bread baking, stenciling, scrapbooking, cello playing, guitar strumming, furniture restoration, hair cutting, stand-up comedy, or collage.

I will create something like a parable, except my protagonist is a true historical figure, and the moral may be murky, if existent at all. But the thing is, the accepted cultural narrative, i.e., art history as we know it, depends on an outcome other than what this “parable” offers. Nonetheless, here’s a brief, alternative, anti-art history:

Suppose the painter Paul Cezanne (pronounced say-‘zon, or says-‘awnh, if you’re being snooty), having returned to the French countryside after a stint in Paris, decided to pursue other things besides painting. In Paris, he’d hung out with important painters and gained valuable artistic insights, but feeling himself more a rustic, he followed his heart back to the provincial environs of his youth. He told himself he’d paint mountains and forests, rock quarries and the Mediterranean Sea.  His intentions were good. But when he got there, a procrastination set in–one from which he’d never fully recover.

It started as anxiety: a lurking fear that he’d fail to achieve what those great Parisian painters had achieved. What’s left for me to discover, he often wondered. He knew he should weather this anxiety and get to work anyway, but being of a passive temperament, he often let it get the best of him. And in those days, there were no anti-anxiety meds to ease the mind. A prescription for Lexapro might’ve made all the difference. Instead, he sipped coffee all day, willfully blinding himself to the exacerbatory effects of caffeine on his anxiety. By late afternoon, he’d be a jittery wreck, unable to paint, unable to do anything thing but laze about Pontoise, growing bitterer by the hour, mean-mugging the villagers who hadn’t grasped the great destiny that was meant to be his. How could they? But he afforded them no grace. He’d escape to the woods, taking long walks on old wagon roads, cursing life for not delivering on its promise of artistic renown, carrying his sketchbook but drawing nothing. I’ll figure things out eventually, he’d think.

Soon, however, he afforded himself no grace, either. He became quite the wallower in self-pity. What had gone wrong? He was supposed to be the father of some great art movement, but he was merely the son of a banker, living off a great inheritance, producing no art. His palette grew dusty, his brushes stained and stiff with inactivity. In the village, he wasn’t even known to be an artist anymore. All he was was the son of Monsieur Cezanne, the deceased banker. At one point, local officials wanted him to run for office, thinking he was somehow qualified because his father had been a prominent citizen back in Aix. But Paul knew he wasn’t the public service type, so he graciously denied their request, though they plied him with brandy and rare tobacco. To be honest, he did consider it; it would be a level of prominence, after all. They were standing around him in the courthouse basement, the brandy working its intoxication, the conversation flowing, and he thought maybe, just maybe. But the next morning, in the grip of a pulsing headache, he remembered he was supposed to be an artist, and he was just foolish enough to believe it might still happen. He stood by his original decision not to run for office.

This parable is starting to run thin. Here’s the point: if the real Paul Cezanne had had any kind of sense of the greatness that was to come, he might’ve gotten nothing done. If he’d thought he might one day be referred to as the Father of Modern Art, then there may have never been a series of paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, or of his influential bather scenes. Card players, Madame Cezanne, still-lifes–so many monumental works we wouldn’t have. He would’ve sabotaged his own greatness. That mantle–Father of Modern Art (who could live under that expectation?!)–would’ve gone to someone else.

The point behind the point: demystify your art making. Demystify your writing. Demystify your singing. Demystify your acting. Demystify your whatever. Do it all for the joy of doing it, or for your obsession with it. Any reason is better than doing it because you think it will one day lead to greatness. If you do it because you think it will one day lead to greatness, then not only will you probably fall short, but you’ll be letting down our species by wielding such a shallow motive.

Maybe greatness is the wrong word, because art deserves the pursuit of greatness. Striving to make great art is worthwhile, but striving to have art be proof of your own greatness–that’s the shallow part, the seedy part. I’m confident in saying that the real Cezanne pursued greatness in art, but not greatness through art. I suspect he didn’t care about personal fame at all.

Alan D. Tucker
Content Writer,
Essayist, & Novelist