Time to get busy failing or get busy dying.

You know how some mornings you wake up feeling simply [Editor: substitute a more original word for ‘amazing’ here]? Well this fine summer Sunday was one of those mornings for me. Instead of being jarringly wrest from the bosom of sleep by my ruthless alarm, I floated smoothly and gently back into the wonderful reality of diffused morning rays caressing the contours of my bedroom. Post- rolling around and contorting my body in the weird stretches it feels normal to do right after you wake up after a long sleep, I badly sang some Fall Out Boy lyrics, then remembered the dreams I’d had last night: 1) Buying a new motorcycle, and 2) Assassinating the late Saddam Hussein.

Not bad for a night’s work.

…way to go, Subconscious.

Wanting to maximize this optimally-rested state I find myself in, I resolved – in lieu of the typical whatever-it’s-called-when-23-year-olds-‘putter-around’ activities I engage in on a weekend morning when I have nothing going on – to instead crank some output on one of the many creative projects I have in the hopper. Soooo fingernails that are two millimeters too long: you can wait.

What more appropriate subject for my firing-on-all-cylinders creative output this morning than a bit of meta musing on why creative output is so damn hard, so let’s let’s talk about the inspiration I took from watching the most recent Creative Mornings talk a few days ago. Given by the one-and-only Moby, it’s entitled “Creativity and the Freedom to Fail.”

Moby’s music will forever have a special place in my eardrums, and like many people with good taste, I don’t think I will ever get tired of listening to “Play” – there’s something inexplicably magical and timeless about that album. So while I’d never heard Moby speak, I figured the talk was at least worth checking out.

As the title implies, Moby explores the familiar ‘creative block’ that’s the bane of so many people with aspirations to make great things, as well as his own personal creative frustrations and how he’s progressed through them. The talk was part of Creative Mornings LA, and one of the first points Moby made when bringing up the topic of failure and creativity is how LA gets failure, as it relates to the creative process. Conversely, people in NY (his longtime home) don’t fail – it’s just something you simply don’t let happen.

“My criteria for…the severity of failure is: did it involve facial tattoos? Did it involve viruses? Did it involve unwanted children? Or loss of limbs? And unless it involved any of those four things you’re probably OK.”

– Moby

Now I’ve never been to LA, and I’m not really from NY (‘from like…backwoods NY), but this point resonated lucidly with me: fear of failure and sensing that pressure to perform from my environment has been an inhibiting influence on my creativity since I was a teen. Living briefly in Melbourne (which, given what I know about other parts of Cali has a similarly healthy attitude toward failure) and engaging with the creative community there was game-changing in terms of what I saw as possible. By contrast, life in Upstate NY up until Australia was so…timid. I was all about preserving the semblance of a normal, successful life and not about pushing the envelope. I think it’s definitely possible to build an appreciation for the power of failure independent of geography (ergo my still living in the Northeast and working on this now), but I also think underestimating the influence of setting on who you’ve grown into is a mistake.


Matt Stevens, one of my favorite illustrators of all time and also one of the most humble human beings I’ve ever met, said this about that discontent / failure that I spent a lot of my life trying to avoid:

“But, satisfied creatively? No. That’s probably part of being an artist - you’re not ever satisfied. I can look back over the 100 final pieces in the book and there are things I would do differently. You’re never done, you just run out of time. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied. I look back on things I did 2 years ago and I don’t like it anymore. As a creative person, you’re constantly trying to reinvent, so I chalk it up to that. I’m not satisfied because if I ever did get satisfied, I would start to die as an artist.” 

So get a little uncomfortable. It’s good for you :) I’m gonna go get outside in this beauteous sunshine…