After five months of being with family in India, we are heading back to Toronto this weekend. Nothing strikes fear in a grown person’s heart like a looming twenty six hours flight journey.
I have been thinking a lot about creative immersion and breaking creative blocks. Brian Eno, Sister Corita Kent and John Cage will be our sherpas in navigating this tricky world of pain, self-doubt and beauty.
See you all from the other side of the world!
Oceans of time #
Brian Eno, the music pioneer who came up with Ambient music, was tasked with making the windows 95 theme. Microsoft wanted a theme that does it all — inspiring, universal, optimistic, futuristic, etc. All in 3.25 seconds. Three Point Two Five Seconds. That was what struck Eno.
He laboured over each tiny piece of that soundtrack. Tiny jewels he called them.
In the end, he made 84 different pieces. Deeply familiar with every microsecond of it. When he went back to working on pieces that were 30 seconds long. He said, "It seemed like oceans of time"
Katrin Koenning, visual artist and an incredible teacher, once told me working with images requires slow looking. It took me many years to understand what that meant. What that entailed.
Tara Branch; psychologist, author and meditation expert, has this session she calls deep listening. In deep listening, you are listening to the world around you. In doing so, you start hearing yourself with a lot of clarity.
In any artistic practice, one wants to cultivate the patience to make those tiny jewels. We can start taming that scavenger by arming ourselves with slow-looking and deep-listening, we can start cultivating that freedom. To submerge ourselves in oceans of time.
Rules for students and teachers #
Sister Corita was a nun, visual artist, and a teacher at the Immaculate Heart. A strong proponent of slow-looking, she used to take her students on walks across the city with a paper frame. Allowing them to focus on typographic and design elements in the everyday. 
John Cage was a music composer. His deep interest in Zen buddism led him to make what he considers his most important piece, 4′33″. Four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence. 
When you walk into a battle with fear, one needs to arm themselves with the wisdom.
- RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
- RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
- RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
- RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
- RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
- RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
- RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
- RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
- RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
- RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)
- HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.
Sister Corita is a fascinating person, who left behind the church in her 50s and continued making more art. A documentary Become Microscope about her life. The brilliant art assignment youtube channel talking about these rules. ↩︎
His collected diaries, Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), was an eye-opening look at how curiosity can drive a person's spiritual and intellectual growth. John Cage has truly been a pivotal influence on how I want to approach the world. ↩︎