Existential Friday Newsletter

v38: What is your common theme? You know, the you in what you do . . .

Generative Art p5.js

Last week we talked about not knowing what to do. I get it. We don’t always know in advance and creative work is frequently an iterative process. You take a step in some direction and the next step is partially a function of the first step you took.

The challenge with embracing an iterative process is that it’s a scary way to live. When you’re young, people ask what you want to be when you grow up. As you get older they ask what you do. The questions imply finality or some destination. At the same time, very few people do one thing or follow a singular path. A more telling question might be, what is your path about?

When you start thinking about your path as being about something, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s obvious. The professional world is artificially concrete and it’s usually focused on the “what” of actions. The Doctor practices medicine and the outside world calls that the path, but the path is really about why she practices medicine.

The why behind medicine or art or finance is very different than the what. The what of actions is easily commoditized and duplicated. The underlying motivation is unique and it underlies all creative work. On some level, all work is creative work.

I heard a story about a factory in China that paints replicas of famous paintings. The painters copy famous works using oil paint to make the copies seem real. The copies have some immediate market value, but they have no long term value because they weren’t made by the original painter. The real value in the original work wasn’t the act of painting, it was the expression from the painter. When we see expressions of mastery, the object or output is just a vehicle for the message.

The you in what you do has nothing to do with the activity itself. When you start thinking about expressing your underlying theme instead of the specific activity, it opens the door to possibility. Suddenly what the outside world sees you doing is fluid. It’s one thing today and it might change again in the future. As long as we’re open to that change, we’ll move forward and closer to ourselves.

What’s your common theme or the you in what you do?


Yesterday poet Mary Oliver passed away. You can read more about her here.

Her poem The Journey is what I’m thinking about today:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.


Sure, we’ve all seen graffiti, but what about hobo graffiti?


Apparently China has sprouted the first seeds on the far side of the moon.


Reading about the far side of the moon immediately made me think of Pink Floyd and their Dark Side of the Moon album and, specifically, Time:

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