Sampling to create transcendent work

In plants and craft

When Shakes and I go on walks in my neighborhood, he is more than happy to drift after a funky smell. If he’s interested enough, it turns into a lick, but if he just doesn’t have the time, he punches a passing bite out of a welcoming leaf along a creek.

I call this leaf punching his practice of plant sampling. Sometimes it turns a 10-minute walk into a 30-minute walk, but it’s something I’ve learned to allow rather than rush to help him grow his Pokedex of smells, tastes, and textures.

It’s become therapeutic for me to allow him space to play, knowing his instincts and curiosity help him build a greater understanding of the natural world.

I hope this helps him to see new stimuli as bringers of interesting things, and I selfishly seek further meaning as a dog mom in hopes that it contributes to a wealth of doggie knowledge. I want him to experience 100% of life, except for the cat poop, you’ve already gotten that 1% Shakes.

What I’m brooding on this week: Sample anything that’s interesting, and let it refine your work.

I’m holding this in tension with:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so I can break them like an artist” (Picasso).

I’ve come to grow extremely bored with the thought of producing mediocre work. I admit that I’ve been slowly steeping myself in this expectation so long that I accepted it as my reality until mid-2020.

Being known for solid, vanilla work somehow inactively became my goal in the last few years that I’ve often wondered if my ambition in life and career died in 2017.

Sometimes I look back and I feel like I’ve come out of a haze, one that starts at 9 and ends and 5, where I stopped writing and lost bandwidth for creativity, afraid to pursue things I wanted in both my career and my life out of fear that my admitting it would jinx it. I was fearful that my thoughts would define me and on top of that, who was I, anyway? I didn’t know anymore. One month I looked at a picture of myself and actually noticed that I was visibly older, tired, and mentally stuck.

It was my anger that began to snap me out of this last summer. I started to get an itch (or even, a fury) to transcend my own expectations for myself. If any fire inside me to create significance work was lying dormant, it was ignited and ablaze by the spotlight on racial injustice the past year and its following reckoning; exploring the rampant, complicit origins of our nation; addressing the childhood shame that I felt toward my Asian-American upbringing; grappling with the cultural and social significance of tipping, and witnessing how people respond to the risk of death and responsibility. In the process, I came to defend the culture that I felt shame about for so long and became unapologetic about who I am. In my 20s, I felt like I was floating and carried by a current, afraid to break boundaries in this larger structure, and into my 30s, I feel like I’m actually driving the boat, knowing now that our social structure was flawed to begin with and seeing firsthand that anyone can break structures and boundaries, but you might be more likely to or confident in your ability to based on privilege.

The more I sample new thoughts, others’ work, or new content, the better I can build out my own framework that helps me determine the bounds of how I’d like to write. The more I define my boundaries, the better I can get at breaking them.

With every new thing that I sample, I can hold it up to the light and test it against my creative values, my voice and tone, my process, my preferences, my “standard operating procedures”, or what I know about my world of writing. Hopefully, I find some delightful additions, and if not, what I find will help me refine and focus my vision.

If I start to lose interest in what I’m working on, I think about something unjust that needs to be righted, and I assess if it’s something I can do in my work, and that helps me pivot, refine, and keep going. I’m hoping it will lead to more meaningful work that transcends the right boundaries.