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How I Refresh to Feel New Again
My Sustainable Path on Life's Long and Winding Journey
I look back on my life and wonder how I managed to get so far. My years as an adult now far outnumber my years as a child. Among the countless days and hours I have lived, I have gone through lots of reading, research, and contemplation over how to sustain some degree of joy and enthusiasm across lengthy stretches of time. This is all easier said than done, but I have figured out some small bits I wanted to share.
Be Aware of Burnout
I have experienced times in my life in which I have felt unenthusiastic and uninspired by the work I have been doing. One recent example is filmmaking. During the pandemic, I made an average of one new film per week for my YouTube channel. At the time, it was all incredibly meaningful, fun, and exciting. I was developing all the skills I learned in film school and capturing so much wonderful imagery.
At some point, however, it started to feel like drudgery. Film work, especially if it is done without a team of like-minded people who can share the workload, is labor-intensive and exhausting. This is why so many Hollywood films require a huge crew (upwards of a hundred or more people) to make everything happen. My lack of excitement about my film prospects was a clear sign that I needed to back off and take a break. The last short film I made for my YouTube channel was released in December of 2022.
To preserve that part of my creative life, I have stepped back significantly to recharge and figure out a more sustainable way to continue this practice. After all these months, I now have a plan moving forward, and I am super stoked about what is to come.
I love filmmaking too much to give it up completely, and for the foreseeable future, I will pursue it in ways that will complement everything else that I do. For example, last month, I filmed a music video for a new song I will be releasing soon. The imagery that we captured enhances the story in the song very well. It feels more like a cinematic piece of art than a promotional tool, and I am thrilled to have made it.
Burnout be gone!
Do Something New
There is a reason why traveling to a new place can be so fun and addictive. You are experiencing sights, sounds, aromas, and flavors outside of your daily life. It is a sensory overload that feels invigorating and joyous.
The same can be said for the work that we do. I have taken on some new creative challenges over the past year such as a multimedia show and my Hidden Flora project, and these additions have added much fuel to my fire. For example, you may have noticed the embroidery photos that are showcased in this post. I have been curious about the craft of needlepoint over the years, and apart from a couple of small stabs at it, I never permitted myself to fully try. Fast forward to last summer when I came across a sale on beginner embroidery kits that were super cheap at JOANN Fabric. I took a chance and picked one that I liked out of the pile. I have been slowly working on it ever since, and I recently just finished. The set did not actually have enough embroidery floss for the whole project, and I wound up changing the design and color palette to make up the difference.
This little adventure has given me renewed enthusiasm for color and design. I have been creating more digital illustrations lately, and I find myself studying every piece of visual art I come across more intensely.
You can travel to the far reaches of the Earth to be thrilled, or like myself, you can learn a new skill that infuses you with the excitement of learning how to do something foreign and fun. You discover a part of yourself that you did not know even existed, and the practice adds more richness and flavor to the tapestry of your life.
Rest Often and Rest Well
I take naps, lots and lots of naps. Usually, I take one or two a day, but on some days when I am feeling particularly strained, I take one really long one and tack on a shorter one later. The short naps last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.
My point is that my body needs rest. My brain needs to have enough energy to operate at full capacity. If I am on a stretch of editing, I embed nap breaks into that work. The same goes for the days when I am playing music a lot. As silly as this might sound, my most creative, focused work incorporates napping. Whenever I start to feel physically tired, I take a short nap.
The best part about napping is waking up. Not only do I feel less tired, but the ideas I may have been grappling with often return with more clarity. I do not fully understand the biology and psychology of how all this works, but it has felt beneficial to me. Nap breaks help create a sustainable way to do heavy mental lifting over long stretches.
I love my naps.
Focus on What You Can Control
Over time, I have come to terms with the parts of my life that I have no control over. If I am at a checkout line in a grocery store, I have no control over the fact that the cashier may be having a bad day and is in a foul mood. I certainly have no control over the weather, and I have no control over so much of the cruelty and suffering that is going on in the world. The best I can do is smile and be polite to the crabby cashier. I take a luxurious nap and read a book on a cold, rainy day. When I can, I protest and advocate for the changes I want to see.
One truth I have grappled with is that I have no control over how people respond to my creative work. I have seen other musicians at open mics get heaps of praise piled on them while I heard nothing but crickets after my set. Other artists get critical acclaim and a ton of attention, and I have gotten far less for the same amount of sweat and effort. The reality is that I cannot force people to like what I do, and it is soul-crushing to focus on the lack of adulation that often comes with being an artist. Aligning one’s self-worth with attention and praise from others can be a dangerous and slippery slope. One’s self-confidence plummets when the desired response from other people does not happen.
I have learned that it is better and more sustainable to focus on the quality of my work. If people happen to like what I do, that is wonderful, but their approval is never the primary objective. I aim to give the best performance of a song that I can. I work diligently to piece together films and artwork I will be proud of.
As an artist, I only have control over what I can make, and I focus on that. Everything else is out of my control, and I free myself of that stress and burden as much as possible.
All of these practices, of course, come from my own personal experience. I must acknowledge that everyone is different, and we all have our own ways of coping with stress and burnout.
Perhaps what matters most is to take the time to figure out what works for you. Napping and adventurous embroidery might be effective practices for me, but they are not for everyone.
I hope to live a long and fruitful life, and this life is mine for the taking. I may as well learn how to live it the best way I can.
P.S. For those of you who live in the greater Nashville area, here are my next two shows:
10/28/2023 at Boro Pride (the Murfreesboro LGBTQ Pride Festival) at the Miller Coliseum. My performance times are 3:05 PM, 4:05 PM, and 5:05 PM.
12/03/2023 at the French House in Nashville, TN
Please mark your calendars and come out to a show!
Earlier this week, I was gifted with a free ticket to see the musician Nick Cave perform at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. Unlike most of his tours with his band, the Bad Seeds, he sings and plays solo on a grand piano this time around with nothing but an electric bass player to accompany him.
He was majestic.
He gave a master class in the art of music performance and showmanship. It was a testament to his skills that he could enthrall an entire audience for over two hours with such a stripped-down setup. Cave gave the audience emotion, power, rich storytelling, and quite a few laughs along the way. I was so happy to witness all of it.
To listen to my music, watch my films, or see my visual art, please visit:
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