Creative Health Part 3 – Going Slow In A High Performance Machine
In the third and final post in a series on creative health we take some time to consider what it takes to be a high performance creative and why going slow might be the best way to go far
There are a few cats roaming my neighbourhood. I live in an area of small and narrow streets with far more pedestrians than cars, so the cats seem to enjoy more freedom here than a block further away, where there’s a steady stream of traffic making the backstreet run from other, busier roads. Most of the cats are pretty healthy, though one or two look like they’ve had a harder life, maybe being abandoned or not that well looked after.
A few months ago I took to putting out a little bit of food for them in the courtyard: a small bowl of water and a some dry cat biscuits. I did it every day at the same time, 5pm, coinciding with the “afternoon bell,” the chimes that ring out every day over Tokyo’s municipal alarm system. In the event of of natural disaster (or perhaps man-made catastrophe, given the current threats from North Korea), they herald safety announcements. In reality they mark the time when parents ask their kids to come home from school, and workers start to wonder when their day’s labour will come to an end.
At the beginning, no cats came by. Within a few weeks, the food was gone every morning. Now, every afternoon, at least a couple of cats are lurking when I go out to fill the bowl.
Finding Health In Routine And Repair
As I hinted at in the second instalment in this series, animals are like that; they find comfort in routine. We ignore the reality that there’s an animal inside us that craves the same thing. So we choose to wage war with this natural biological programming, to our detriment.
This series marks the passage of a year since I had the wave of panic attacks which changed my life. In many ways it’s a change I’ve welcomed.
The story I’m telling about myself is different now. You might notice this website feels different as well. The new design has user experience improvements, but it also reflects a personal search for clarity, simplicity, and focus.
Talking about this with a friend, one of the hardest-working people I know, he mentioned that my posts in this series were making him wonder if he needed to change his routine a little and take better care of himself. I explained that it was like taking care of a car – you need to book it in for regular maintenance. If anything, the more expensive and high-performance the car, the more maintenance it will need; not just repairs when things break or fail, but preventative maintenance, like changing tyres and brakes, even having the car periodically pulled apart and rebuilt.
But we don’t look at people that way. We assume the goal is to somehow be maintenance-free, always ready to go, minimal downtime. I don’t know why we so often get this the wrong way round and upside down. It’s bizarre and so wrong-headed.
If we looked at building a high-performing creative career the way we might approach building and taking care of a high-performance motor car, then we would do many things differently in our day to day lives.
As I started trying to become healthy again I found solace and comfort in everyday rituals, in learning to go slow, and with purpose. They helped me make sense of my days, when it became so hard to think I had to walk around with a note in my hand reminding me what I was supposed to be doing at that moment, lest I got totally distracted just walking from one room to the next.
Eventually the rituals changed from being sources of comfort to building foundations of joy.
I now love knowing that something will take as long as it will take. Making coffee, emptying the dishwasher, sorting loose change. Going slow is actually a way of feeling fully engaged, fully human. The funny thing is, most of these daily chores take far less time than I would’ve imagined. I used to fret about hanging clothes and would try to rush the chore, but it doesn’t take any extra time to do it well than to do it poorly, and doing it well takes seconds, not minutes.
Of course, in my work, I knew this. The craftsman’s perspective teaches us to measure time well, but I built a silly wall between the mindset in the studio and the mindset, infected by the cult of busyness, that filtered into the rest of my life.
Unravelling The Cult Of Convenience
For more than 70 years we’ve been sold a message, in advertising and media, that we should prioritise convenience, that it’s always better to do things faster. This started during a period of dramatic economic growth, with many people experiencing massive gains in their quality of life and work.
But circumstances have changed.
Nothing better highlights the philosophy of convenience than the app economy, a world of services and information in the device you carry with you every day. But the evidence is now in that these devices increasingly have a negative effect on us, our society, and our children, and may even be detrimentally changing the way we pursue science and research.
As we’ve bought into convenience, we’ve let go of the value of work. Matthew B. Crawford’s ShopClass As Soulcraft is an excellent reminder of this (I discussed the book here and wrote in depth about Crawford’s follow-up book here). Too often we forget how work can embed us in a community and in help us try to live well.
“…My work situates me in a particular community. The narrow mechnical things I concern myself with are inscribed within a lager circle of meaning; they are in the service of an activity that we recognise as part of a life lived well.”
At the heart of this is one of the biggest things my health issues have taught me: that in all kinds of work, from the artistic things I hope to be known for, through to the mundane chores that no-one else ever sees, there is an adventure to be found, a sense of connection made possible by the way this labour connects me with reality and with the people who matter.
Being An Everyday Adventurer
For a few years I suffered from a kind of low-key depression, a rumbling sense of jealousy, as I wished I could travel more, but felt tied to my commitments to family. Of course, this situation was entirely of my choosing, but I struggled to reconcile it.
What we have in our day to day life is the adventure before us, at least until we cook up something new. And there’s plenty of adventure, plenty of opportunity to be curious, to learn, to explore, and in the satisfaction of the new in the repair and maintenance of what is around us.
As Gregg Krech puts it in The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology,
“Be the Lewis and Clark of broken coffeemakers, or the Jonas Salk of setting up a new website. Exploration brings excitement as well as anxiety. They are really two sides of the same coin. Don’t let the expedition leave without you. Venture into the unknown.”
Finding Our Rythmn And Moving Forward
A big part of all this is finding our own rhythm for work and life: the tempo at which our personal machine was intended to function. It seems bizarre to think we should operate at the tempo designed by and for the interests of Silicon Valley. Who made them the high priests of the new humanity?
In the first post in this series we thought about how to take care of our basic needs in order to make it possible to express our higher creative intentions. Then we considered how following a creative and artistic path opens us up to anxiety and a sense of being an outsider. The final answers I’ve tried to give are, of course, personal and derived from my own experience. But still I hope they may be of use to you.
This is the third in a three part series. The first is Taking Care Of Your Animal and the second is Your Mind And Your Path. There also other blogposts on the theme of creative health which you can check out here.