The Blank Canvas

Ripple that millpond

I don’t have many qualifications, but one thing I do have a formal training in is art. I originally trained as an illustrator, believe it or not.

Although, thinking back to my college days, I don’t remember being taught very much about how to draw or paint.

Recently I’ve taken up painting again. Still at the experimentation/regaining muscle memory phase, but it’s very enjoyable.

However, that sinking feeling of sitting in front of a blank canvas was all too familiar.

It’s the same when you sit in front of an empty blog post, or a white sheet of paper. The possibilities are endless, and endless is terrifying.

Kierkegaard said “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”. He could well have been talking about the freedom to create anything we like, from nothing.

The blank canvas is like a millpond. Perfect, unmarked. We must have the confidence to throw the stone into it, shatter it with ripples and stand next to our work.

“I did this”.


The cure for procrastination

We’ve all got long to-do lists, and no end of ways to avoid to-doing anything on them.

There’s always something, either we need the time to be just right, or perhaps there’s that evening off next week. Maybe you’ll put it in your calendar so you definitely do it.

But you don’t.

So, here’s the cure for the endless putting-off: JFDI. If you need to write something, open your laptop right now and start typing. If you need to do some admin, crack open that ledger before you finish thi

Oh, you’re still here. If you’re not sure what you should be doing, pick the thing you want to do the least, and do that now. Right now.

And once it’s done, you’ll wonder why you put it off at all.

So – Just Fucking Do It.

I was going to say “thank me later”, but you should thank me now as well.

Ice Sculptures

The beauty of impermanence

Don’t forget to back your data up! Back up your backups, backup to the cloud, or all your work will be lost forever. Now we don’t have things like printed photographs or actual paper documents because we love the planet and the dolphins, everything is digital.

Which is great – obviously. Zeroes and ones in particular combinations express your thoughts and feelings to the world.

Your fiction (more zeroes and ones) creates characters that live and breathe and love and kill – until your laptop dies and the magic smoke comes out.

(You can’t put the magic smoke back in).

Every year I walk around York’s Christmas market and look at the ice sculptures. Works of great beauty, that took hours and hours to make using years and years of practice. And they’re made in the definite knowledge that they will turn into a puddle.

Imagine if you could create with that same mindset. Imagine if this post, and this website, disappeared from the internet forever.

Who cares?

How freeing would it be not to grasp, white-knuckled, to your zeroes and ones, knowing that the act of creation was enough.

Or you could print it. Fuck the dolphins.

The New Currency

Everyone wants it, and you’ve got it

In this bustling, oh-so-exciting new realm we call ‘the digital age’, companies have given up fighting for your money because they realise you know how BitTorrent works, and you’ll use an adblocker or find another link to avoid a paywall.

But everyone needs to get paid.

So, the new currency is your attention. Advertisers will pay for your fleeting gaze at their increasingly desperate and focussed online banners, trying to sell you something you looked for last week and have probably already bought – most likely on Amazon.

Your attention is so valuable – so precious – that Facebook, Google and Amazon will stop at pretty much nothing to get it, keep it, and resell it.

Remember – if a service is free, that means you’re the product.

Be aware of where your new currency is spent, because you can only spend it once. And believe it or not, you have a limited supply of 80 or so years.

Thanks for the five minutes.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Ambivalence towards corporeal location

Your consciousness resides in a collection of bones, blood and tissue, and the senses by which you absorb the world are restricted to poking out of them.

I’ve lived in a few places, visited a few different countries and what have you. It’s very interesting, and in the case of the mouldy one bedroom flat I occupied in my twenties, occasionally pretty awful. Nonetheless, as long as the basic amenities were present (somewhere to sleep, somewhere to bathe, somewhere to store books) they were all pretty much as good as each other.

I’ve known people whose lives would apparently be so much better if they could move to Paris, or London, or Los Angeles or Doncaster. But I’ve always struggled a bit with this logic. Whatever problems you currently experience are likely to exist, or become apparent, in your new location as well.

Travel and relocation is fine, but you never do it alone, because you always have a constant companion – yourself. This might seem like a dichotomy, but really, there’s the you that wants you to succeed and the you that wants you to fail. And they come as a package.

So, in the immortal words of Buckaroo Banzai: “wherever you go – there you are”.

Say What You Feel

In which our hero speaks his mind

If you read social media, as people are wont to do, you’d be forgiven for thinking we live in a world of extremes.

Now, I consider myself a liberal by any definition of the term, but my twitter feed comprises people screaming about the use of the word ‘manhole cover’, and people wanting to burn immigrants in the street. In between, there are people outraged at the leftist snowflakes, and people outraged at the alt-right Nazis.

I hate all of them with equal passion.

But remember – the reality of life, which consists of shades of grey, and multiple truths simultaneously, is at once too complex and too boring to warrant a retweet, or a click, or the purchase of a newspaper.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the only true reality is the one you experience yourself, first-hand, with your actual senses. Anything else is run through a filter or a bias or an ulterior motive.

I once joked with a friend that if I let people know my exact thoughts on everything, I wouldn’t have any friends. So I don’t. Neither do you.

Let’s keep it that way.

When The Wind Blows

My childhood in the shadow of Armageddon

I was born in 1975. This meant my formative childhood years hit exactly in the mid-80s, the peak of Cold War paranoia.

It seemed to my 9-year-old self that every day nuclear Armageddon become more of an inevitability as Russian (baddies) and American (goodies) fingers hovered over the big red button.

For some stupid reason I watched the film Threads, and Raymond Briggs’ phenomenally depressing When The Wind Blows. I remember watching Protect and Survive (the sight/sound of which still sends me into paroxysms of anxiety), perhaps at school, perhaps not. Memory is a funny thing.

Melting milkbottles. Stacking up doors. Diving under desks. A visual of a mushroom cloud on the horizon, usually over Woodthorpe Primary School. That lady pissing herself out of sheer terror.

Then there was Chernobyl. More nuclear horror, fallout, radiation, grinding Geiger counters. Why should you never buy Russian underpants?

As time went on and the Cold War melted, and Gorbachev appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial, things seemed calmer, but the damage was done. Like the shadow of a nuclear blast, my psyche was forever imprinted.

Now, America and the bad Korea are going at it on Twitter. The fingers are out again, and so are the buttons. The only difference is – now, I don’t care.