This post was originally written on the night of February 2, 2014, at a time when I should have been doing something else.
My western civilization teacher tells me there’s a paper due next week, and I remind her like the true gentleman I am that she can take my paper and shove it up a certain part of the human body where there’s not much sunshine, so I’ve been told. I’m just kidding, but how’s that for an opening sentence?
I speak for college students everywhere (since they can’t speak for themselves in this paper, what I say goes) when I say papers can be tough. They’re overwhelming, they’re challenging. We have more important things to do in life, like check Facebook, drink coffee and convince our friends we like vinyl. They take time and make us think, and in this part of the twenty-first century, society tells us we shouldn’t do either. Everything is instant, from fast food to smartphone apps and the like. So when we have to actually plan and organize thoughts (like some kind of monster), we panic. We hate failure. We strive to be politically correct but lose authenticity when we do that. “Offended” has been placed in our dictionaries, and we treat it like it’s our free pass in life. We get on Instagram and see how many “likes” are on our pictures. (I’m not encouraging negative things to be allowed on social media websites, but it would be hilarious.) In a culture where “no” doesn’t really exist, we hate the thought of doing homework that takes time and effort. We don’t sow, but we expect to reap a lot of benefits. We cope with this foreign idea of rejection by applying the cognitive dissonance theory (someone tell my mom I learned that in college). We plan on getting an A on a research paper, but as soon as rejection kicks in, in the form of a C on the research paper heading, we alter our perception and comfort ourselves. “I didn’t want an A anyways, I strive for modesty in life, and by lowering my grades, I’m helping other students feel better about themselves. I can’t believe I’m not being paid for my generous service!” But how far does this need to go?
”I didn’t want an A in that class anyways.”
”I didn’t wanna graduate from college in four years anyways.”
”To be honest, being married was a stupid decision anyways.”
”Hell, I’m glad I didn’t get the kids in the custody hearing, anyways.”
”I didn’t want to afford groceries this month anyways.”
”I didn’t wanna read anymore of these average jokes in this format anyways.”
Why do we kid ourselves? Who are we really hurting in this process? What are we afraid of? Criticisms should be good and sought out, assuming they’re accurate critiques. Out of love, a teacher gives you a C and tells you how to improve. If you get an A on every paper you write in your entire life, are you really making progress? Talent is good, but hard work will beat talent in the grand scheme of things.
And so writer’s block kicks in. We tell ourselves we don’t have anything to write about for that research paper. Not at the moment, sure, but what’s wrong with time and effort and patience and sugar and spice and everything nice? A wife loves to be married to a man that is handsome, but looks fade. Romance isn’t just about attractive people sharing too many details with their Facebook friends, romance is a journey; a husband taking the time and effort to place his wife’s needs before his own. Romance isn’t just looking shiny and pristine on the surface, it is much deeper, more valuable through time. If I don’t take the time that I’ve been given in life to invest in someone and something, I will regret knowing what I could have made. Humans are artists, making things in all industries throughout all stages of life. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as far as expressions go. Diamonds are just lumps of coal for a long time, to speak with more common knowledge. But aren’t diamonds cherished? Aren’t diamonds a girl’s best friend? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Wasn’t Rome a powerful empire?
Our instantaneous technological-driven culture tries to take the time out of things, but I would go as far to say that it’s the time put into something that gives part of that something value. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy Symphony may be less than an hour long in a typical performance, but how many hours do you think it took Beethoven to write it? (For my younger audience members: Beethoven did not have access to wifi, Starbucks, a Macbook pro or auto tune to make his job easier in the nineteenth century. How did he survive, right?) Beethoven wrote this symphony to symbolize love, looking out for one another, brotherhood, and triumph. Beethoven had been deaf for several years before writing this symphony, and add that to the mix of composing this opus. He didn’t even have to hear what he was writing to know what people would listen to. And here we are, nearly two hundred years after his death, and orchestras all over the world, along with film and television programs, are playing the fourth movement of his Ode to Joy Symphony. Aren’t we glad he did put the time into it?
And yet, in a day and age where we have more information and technology accessible to us than ever before, we get lazy. We’re not in the mood to do a research paper, or do laundry, or whatever.
We tell ourselves we have writer’s block. Don’t let me sound naïve (boy, I love that umlaut!); I struggle with words everyday, in person, at the desk, and everything in between, but I know if I don’t change my attitude, I’ll become a writer’s block with legs and stay there. Writer’s block can only settle in and sign a lease with your consent. With time and fewer excuses, there is ALWAYS something to say. Again, there is more access to information now than there ever has been, and you say there’s nothing to say? Puh-lease.
Dr. Cedric Dent, one of the biggest musical influences in my life, was asked in an interview how he would write his advanced jazz compositions. He said the best musicians do as much as they can using as little as possible before expanding. Couldn’t be more true. German Romanticist composer Franz Schubert wrote over six hundred pieces of music before his death at the age of thirty-one. (“Wow, Blake, he wrote all of that music BEFORE he died? I figured he’d write some of it AFTER he died!” I know that’s not the best line of writing ever made, but I’m only human and make mistakes, just so you know.) I constantly ask myself how Schubert, along with Dr. Dent and countless other musicians, use twelve musical pitches and write thousands of pieces of music, with no two pieces being the same.
The hardest part of anything is starting. It can only get easier from there. How do you get through a writer’s block? Write. But what if my writing sucks? Write now, edit it later. But I wanna be a better writer, how do I do it? Simple! Write. I have to discuss influences on the protestant reformation and I know so little about it; how do I write about that, Blake? Easy! Read, then write. If you make yourself do as much with one element before adding a second one, you’ll never run out of anything to create. The song you wrote or the painting you made may be similar to another song or painting that’s been made before, but creativity will separate them. No one will care if something is repeated or imitated if it’s good. Honesty and time (there’s “time” again, how many times am I gonna say it?) are part of the beauty that makes something good.
”Why should I put time in this paper, it’s not even good.” This could be true. Even if your creation isn’t deemed “good” by people, remember your identity is not found in other remarks. Other people cannot give you meaning in life. You were born meaningful, and nothing can add or subtract from that. Critiques are good, but even goods can be critiqued. If you made something you truly believe in, even if it’s not praised, will that change the way you feel about it? If so, you probably didn’t create something for the right reason. If you’re not enough without a good work of art, you certainly won’t be enough with one. You should create because you enjoy it.
To a greater extent, another musical influence in my life, Dave Grohl, once said you need to have fun being a bad musician before you can have fun being a good one. This, I can attest to. At the tender age of twelve, I played in a band with three of my best friends in the neighborhood. We called ourselves Crash 47. “Crash” because it’s one of the cymbals with my father’s drum set, and “47" because that was the number of our ages combined. I had a crappy 61-key keyboard, my friend had his marching band trombone, another friend had a decent bass guitar, and his brother played what was salvaged of a drum set from the early nineteen eighties. We played “Go Big Blue” that night at our sleepover, consisting of Dr. Pepper, nintendo and fear of girls. Were we good? Nope. Was it a professional home video performance (if that is even such a thing)? Nah. Did it matter? No. Was it fun? Absolutely. We didn’t care, because we were making music for the right reasons. We didn’t do it to please others. We did it because it pleased ourselves, and creating allowed us to learn why we were created. I would even go on a limb to say that the sleepover was one of my biggest inspirations in my current musical endeavors. I haven’t always had fun practicing or writing and the like, but I always remember that night at the age of twelve, and how much fun I realized music can be.
So how did I get to be a better musician? I practiced. Was it always good? Of course not. Am I writing too many questions in this paper? Unfortunately. Ernest Hemingway had to start somewhere, as well as Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Stephanie Meyer (The last part’s a joke-get it? Because Stephanie Meyer wrote the Twilight series and they suck? Because there have been better love stories in the first five minutes of Disney Pixar’s “Up” and “Clifford the Big Red Dog” books and even Stephen King’s “IT”? Which reminds me that Stephen King said she sucked, and anything King says that pertains to writing goes. I haven’t read the Twilight series, but I’ve heard bad things, but I can’t knock it ‘til I try it. Everyone can have their own opinion. I’ll stop now.). Mozart had to learn to read music before he could write symphonies and piano sonatas. Justin Timberlake was on the Mickey Mouse Club before he became a successful solo artist (I can keep up with pop culture.).
There’s nothing wrong with being horrible at something as long as you enjoy it. That’s what matters. I want to be a better writer/man/person/everything, and the only way to achieve those goals is by trying. I am content with who I am, and so, there is no risk in trying something and failing. My attitude cannot be taken away from me.
My western civilization teacher assigns a research paper I need to finish in ten days. I won’t write a brilliant thesis or a doctorate-level paper at first, but I certainly won’t make progress if I don’t swallow my pride and realize I have to make mistakes before I can make progress. I shouldn’t tell my teacher to shove this assignment up her ass, but instead, I should just start the paper. It’s a bloody awful paper now, but with time invested (didn’t I mention time earlier?) and the right attitude, it won’t stay a bloody awful paper. I do have writer’s block on that paper now, but reaching the end of this paragraph has helped me realize how I’ll get over writer’s block: I’ll write.