KEEPING YOUR COOL

"Cry havoc!"

Or, at least, sound the alarm.

One of the great challenges in creative pursuits is the seemingly simple act of getting to the next day intact. Doodles on cocktail napkins, to cite cliché, all look full of promise and potential. But when they're reduced to real work--to physical labor, to spreadsheets and invoices and deadlines--those darling doodles rapidly fade from memory. Big ideas fully enjoined can suck up every last moment of the day and every ounce of strength on a team.

But as anyone knows who makes his or her life about bringing new ideas into being, creative pursuits rarely take place when convenient. They tend to pile up, forcing Solomon-esque decisions about limited resources, dwindling energies, and shifting priorities.

Havoc indeed.

In Upton Sinclair's great novel "The Jungle", the protagonist Jurgis Rudkus repeatedly declares, "I will work harder" when confronted with unrelenting challenges. By the middle of the book he's worn down, beaten up, dismissed and dispirited. It's sad, but it's honest. In the story Jurgis suffers the depredations of a corrupt political and corporate ecosystem. It's not exactly the same as trying to keep the wheels on the car in a successful artistic enterprise. (That's us.) But the parallels obtain. Sometimes the reckless momentum of the world, the relentless spin and swirl in an effort to get to some undefined next level can simply knock you out. Some days it's hard to keep going.

It would be reductionist bromide to declare that one ought to just work harder to push through challenging demands. It just so happens, however, that it's the truth. The trick is to find sympathetic vibrations in competing demands on time and energy. Do subtle observations made while pursuing one project shed light on some intractable problem dogging another? Does a conversation with one client spark a moment of invention to solve a dilemma elsewhere? Can you shoot B-roll on one location for two unrelated stories?

Not always. But when the volume gets turned up to 11––and it doesn't matter what you do because it always gets turned up to 11 once in a while––it's essential that the din of battle does not overwhelm your nerves. You need to see the forest and the trees simultaneously. If you survive the journey, the calm of morning may afford a strength and clarity that makes it all worthwhile. Managing chaos is not out of the ordinary; it's to be expected if your heart is set on living a life that matters.

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