synthetic authentic

Month: December, 2012

Learning

Never stop learning.  While playing a PGA Wii game at my brother-in-law’s party this Christmas, I was reminded of a story I heard about Tiger Woods in his early days.  On the penultimate day of a tournament his problematic swing had caused him to slip down the leaderboard.  His coach suggested an exercise to fix the problem.

That evening, instead of going out with his friends, he spent several hours in front of the mirror in his hotel room working on the exercise.  He was up early the next morning to spend another couple of hours honing his technique before starting the day.  He won the championship.

If champions seek out instruction and take every opportunity to learn, we probably should too.

Fresh Snow

Christmas Eve 2012 Lynn Valley

Constraints

“In 1966, soon after the Beatles had finished work on “Rubber Soul”, Paul McCartney looked into the possibility of going to America to record their next album.  The equipment in American studios was more advanced than anything in Britain, which had led the Beatles’ great rivals, the Rolling Stones, to make their latest album, “Aftermath”, in Los Angeles.  McCartney found that EMI’s contractual clauses made it prohibitively expensive to follow suit, and the Beatles had to make do with the primitive technology of Abbey Road.

Lucky for us.  Over the next two years they made their most ground-breaking work, turning the recording studio into a magical instrument of its own.  Precisely because they were working with old-fashioned machines, George Martin and his team of engineers were forced to apply every ounce of their ingenuity to solve the problems posed to them by Lennon and McCartney.  Songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “A Day in the Life” featured revolutionary aural effects that dazzled and mystified Martin’s American counterparts.”

Ian Leslie.  “The uses of difficulty”.  Intelligent Life Magazine.

I am sure we can all think of situations like the one described above where people have done their best work when pushed into a corner and faced with apparently insurmountable odds.  While I cannot think of a situation when this has been true for me, I know from recent experience while tackling a creative endeavour that imposing sensible limits in my project remit and choice of tools has helped me to achieve better results.  It does not matter whether the constraints are due to circumstances or self-imposed.  And contrary to what our instincts suggest, constraints may be our best friend.

Guides

“Long ago, I made myself completely impervious to criticism. I did this simply by becoming my own audience. If I created something I was pleased with, then I knew it was “good” because it satisfied the parameters I defined for myself.  On the surface, it seems like arrogance, but it’s very different.  Arrogant people believe everything they do is “golden” and that anyone who doesn’t recognize that is “stupid.”  In my case, I believe very little of what I do is “golden,” but when I’ve done something I think comes close, I certainly don’t think people who disagree are “stupid” — they just weren’t the intended audience.”  

EGOR

A piece of wisdom from my friend EGOR which came in response to an ongoing discussion about criticism on the Web.  Specifically, we were discussing a very pointed and personal dis by a celebrity photographer of EGOR’s work.*

I think EGOR is on to something.  We can’t possibly create work that has integrity if we are thin-skinned and bend to the whims of the Web majority.  However, following his advice demands that we have a clear idea of what our parameters are, and why we are pursuing them.  In my experience, this takes a level of insight and confidence which novices lack, and so they need a guide.  While there are many well meaning people who are willing to offer advice, finding the person that can help us chart our own course, and find our “voice” is difficult, if not impossible.  I am grateful to EGOR for being that person for me as I sought to invigorate my photography three years ago.  May you be as fortunate in finding a generous and able guide.

* As it happened, aforesaid celebrity had not read the article and so he completely missed the point.  And thus he forfeited the right to criticize.  Fuel for a future post…

Please visit EGOR’s website at:  www.ultrasomething.com/photography/

Increments (2)

I recently read a story about an aid project in a small African village which gave unemployed men money for bus tickets to travel to a neighbouring town for work.  At first the participants doubted whether the effort would be worthwhile.  But after a few months, the project coordinators reported that the participants were happier, their families enjoyed better nutrition, and their kids were back at school.  Within a year, funding for the bus tickets was stopped, but the men continued to commute to work, paying their own way.  The project had a huge impact on the community.  The villagers agreed that their lives were improved because of the hope they now had for a better future.

Stories like this remind me that small and apparently insignificant initiatives can have a big impact and that we should not eschew the little things in life.

Ambition

“Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve avoided having a clear ambition is because the second you stand up and point toward a horizon, you realize how much there is to lose.  It’s always been this way.”

Donald Miller.  “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.”

Every now and again I read an infuriating book; by that I mean one that is filled with so much insight that I am forced to stop at the end of almost every page to reflect on a new gem.  It’s exhausting.

This particular quote grabs me because it explains my predicament exactly.  I had almost convinced myself that ambition is distasteful.  After all, who likes those single minded people who run roughshod over you on their way to fulfilling their goals.  Truth is, as Don Miller points out, it’s fear that keeps me from having clearly articulated ambitions.  As soon as I commit to one, I am confronted with the possibility of failure, or worse, the ridicule of people whose affirmation I crave.  Or horrors (!), the pain imposed by the rigour which my ambition demands.  Wimp!