Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Accidents and Reality

We talk about "happy accidents" sometimes in art. Something unplanned that might at first seem like a mistake. But after absorbing the experience and acclimating to it, we might see a new way, discover a new view, something we could not have imagined on our own. These often occur when we've planned something in our mind but find it doesn't work in the real world. Another scenario is we knock something over, sew something upside down, drop and break something. And then we either fix it, undo it, or run with it. 

I overheard a conversation about what appeared to be writing and the creative process the other day. The person said that his creative process was like you want to sky dive but have to build the airplane, then learn how to fly it. Then there's the moment when you just don't have the skills or capacity to do the next step and no one else you know does either. But (he continued the analogy) he said he builds the airplane, flies it and then when it's time to jump he builds the parachute on the way down. This did not sound like he would find a happy accident. I'm not sure this is a good analogy.

At the prodding of a friend, I hunted for and found a reference to "building a parachute on the way down." Reid Hoffman: "An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down." And someone's blog post, in which the person says this "myth" about building "the parachute on the way down" is "a complete lie."

There is a difference between the creative process and being an entrepreneur. There is a difference between taking risks for yourself and taking risks that involve others. Luckily, art is not usually a life or death situation; the stakes are much lower. Art, in most cases, gives you freedom and choices. You can choose to stop. You can destroy what you started. Or you can push through it. Part of what will enable you to push through it is if you know you have the option to stop or destroy it. If you give yourself that permission, it eliminates quite a bit of stress.

At present, I'm not skydiving and don't have either to look for a soft haystack in which to land or to prepare a will. And no people will be harmed in what I'm making. But I'm working on a project that involves a lot of machine sewing and silk organza, and I'm feeling out of my depth; the project has veered off my original track. My Plan B is that I tell myself I can put it all in a box if I want. But I'm still interested in it. I want to keep going. I'm letting all the accidents be part of the project, morphing from mistake to happy. I'm learning, which is partly why I continue. It's good to have a hard problem to tackle periodically; it's a wakeup call: pay attention, get better.

I keep reminding myself what I tell my students: aim for perfection, accept reality.


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