Running Dreaming Mind as a commission-work bindery for 13 years established some well worn patterns of activity. And it gave me time and feedback loops that established many automatic, internal measures of productivity.
I learned over the years that The Process sustains and engages me in ways The Product does not. It is the experience of making an idea concrete that really gets my juices flowing. That final concrete object is a necessary proof, but once I have it in hand I'm ready for the experience again.
Old, Familiar, Functional
Commission binding and box making was a great way for me to feed this engine of satisfaction. My customers kept rolling in with requests for concrete objects. Often, they were somewhat vague about the exact details though they were clear enough about the final function they required. Plenty of room for me to problem solve, design, get the dream machine rumbling along in my mind.
In this way my life kept dropping markers in the future for me to work toward. When my customer received the object that satisfied the functional and aesthetic requirements, I succeeded (read 'was productive'). Money and object were exchanged, and the process started again.
The rhythm of my days was comfortable and familiar. Propelled by the steady beat of obligations, the steps to the dance were well know and easily accommodated interesting variation, never breaking the deeper pattern.
It's A Choice
My decision this year to change my activities so I could have more free time when my wife retires has disrupted this happy scenario. I have no desire to stop binding, I just want to cut down on my commission obligations. Instead I will start focusing on my own artwork. It's time to stop paying lip service to my own projects.
The Day I Met George and The Global Warming Survival Kit were the first fruits of the decision. Both were done as part of a mini-book exchange with some colleagues. The small format and nature of the content made for a path to completion that was not too different from my familiar commission work.
True, George took quite a number of edits to get the short story sorted out, and The Survival Kit required some research to flesh out the seed ideas I started with. Despite these slightly expanded parameters, these two projects still felt similar to my commission work in that I perceived a clear path to completion.
Welcome To Somewhere
Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road has been an different kettle of gumbo. My goals to illustrate the piece, to use a printmaking technique to edition it, to use my own writing to define the narrative, to incorporate lessons from popular music to create mood, dynamics, and emotional impact... Let's just say this book is a little more challenging. The path to completion falls completely outside the normal patterns I've been comfortable with.
The parameters for 'done' are vague, subjective, fluid. The work must proceed on several fronts, all of them frontier territory and risky. And where is the beat of obligation that drove my life forward for the past decade plus?
There's new music; unfamiliar music. What is the rhythm of creation? The steps to this dance feel strange and clumsy. I have the advantage of knowing what excites me; the work, not the art (the art is a proof). So there is a chance—if I pay attention—that the new dance will be as fulfilling as the old.
I'll trust that a patient search at the frontiers of life will bring me to a place where I can hear a new pulse of progress. I'll trust that I can engage in the act of self re-creation and dance, renewed, toward the future.
For now, I stumble around, uncertain, on the blind side of a decision. It now seem most appropriate that Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road presents its protagonist at a transformational moment of choice.