MacLeod highlights the value of authenticity and hard work, and reveals the challenges and rewards of being creative.
Read the sections from Mr. MacLeod’s manifesto on how to be creative. Then meditate on what you read and post your own, well crafted reply:
Provide a 10-word summary of the key topic covered in the post today?
13. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.
The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa. Even if your path never makes any money or furthers your career, thatʼs still worth a TON.
When I was 16 or 17 in Edinburgh I vaguely knew this guy who owned a shop called “Cinders,” on St. Stephenʼs Street. It specialized in restoring antique fireplaces.
Cindersʼ modus operandi was very simple. Buy original Georgian and Victorian chimneypieces from old, dilapidated houses for 10 cents on the dollar, give them a loving but expedient makeover in the workshop, sell them at vast profit to yuppies.
Back then I was insatiably curious about how people made a living (I still am). So one day, while sitting on his stoop I chatted with the fireplace guy about it.
He told me about the finer points of his trade—the hunting through old houses, the craftsmanship, the customer relations, and of course the profit.
The fellow seemed quite proud of his job. From how he described it he seemed to like his trade and be making a decent living. Scotland was going through a bit of a recession at the time; unemployment was high, money was tight; I guess for an aging hippie things couldʼve been a lot worse.
Very few kids ever said, “Gosh, when I grow up Iʼm going to be a fireplace guy!” Itʼs not the most obvious trade in the world. I asked him about how he fell into it.
…doing something seriously creative is one of the most amazing experiences one can have, in this or any other lifetime.
“I used to be an antiques dealer,” he said. “People who spend a lot of money on antiques also seem to spend a lot of money restoring their houses. So I sort of got the whiff of opportunity just by talking to people in my antiques shop. Also, there are too many antique dealers in Edinburgh crowding the market, so I was looking for an easier way to make a living.”
Like the best jobs in the world, it just kinda sorta happened.
“Well, some of the fireplaces are real beauties,” I said. “It must be hard parting with them.”
“No it isnʼt,” he said (and this is the part I remember most). “I mean, I like them, but because they take up so much room—theyʼre so big and bulky—Iʼm relieved to be rid of them once theyʼre sold. I just want them out of the shop ASAP and the cash in my pocket. Selling them is easy for me. Unlike antiques. I always loved antiques, so I was always falling in love with the inventory, I always wanted to hang on to my best stuff. Iʼd always subconsciously price them too high in order to keep them from leaving the shop.”
Being young and idealistic, I told him I thought that was quite sad. Why choose to sell a “mere product” (i.e., chimneypieces) when instead you could make your living selling something you really care about (i.e., antiques)? Surely the latter would be a preferable way to work.
“The first rule of business,” he said, chuckling at my naiveté, “is never sell something you love. Otherwise, you may as well be selling your children.”
Fifteen years later, Iʼm at a bar in New York. Some friend-of-a-friend is looking at my cartoons. He asks me if I publish. I tell him I donʼt. Tell him itʼs just a hobby. Tell him about my advertising job.
“Man, why are you in advertising?” he says, pointing to my portfolio. “You should be doing this. Galleries and stuff.”
“Advertisingʼs just chimney pieces,” I say, speaking into my glass. “What?” “Never mind.”
14. Dying young is overrated.
Iʼve seen so many young people take the “Gotta do the drugs & booze thing to make me a better artist” route over the years. A choice that wasnʼt smart, original, effective, or healthy, nor ended happily.
Itʼs a familiar story: a kid reads about Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix or Charles Bukowski and somehow decides that their poetic but flawed example somehow gives him permission and/or absolution to spend the next decade or two drowning in his own metaphorical vomit.
The bars of West Hollywood and New York are awash with people throwing their lives away in the desperate hope of finding a shortcut, any shortcut.
Of course, the older you get, the more casualties of this foolishness you meet. The more time has had to ravage their lives. The more pathetic they seem. And the less remarkable work they seem to have to show for it, for all their “amazing experiences” and “special insights.”
The smarter and more talented the artist is, the less likely he will choose this route. Sure, he might screw around a wee bit while heʼs young and stupid, but he will move on quicker than most.
But the kid thinks itʼs all about talent: he thinks itʼs all about “potential.” He underestimates how much time, discipline and stamina also play their part. Sure, like Bukowski et al., there are exceptions. But that is why we like their stories when weʼre young. Because they are exceptional stories. And every kid with a guitar or a pen or a paintbrush or an idea for a new business wants to be exceptional. Every kid underestimates his competition, and overestimates his chances. Every kid is a sucker for the idea that thereʼs a way to make it without having to do the actual hard work.
So the bars of West Hollywood and New York are awash with people throwing their lives away in the desperate hope of finding a shortcut, any shortcut. And a lot of them arenʼt even young anymore; their B-plans having been washed away by vodka & tonics years ago.
Meanwhile their competition is at home, working their butts off.