Tom Sachs, a New York-based sculptor, gave a interesting TED talk on creativity and standards. In it, he said:
“Authenticity also demands endurance. Do it for a long time – whatever it is. Two years, it’s just an interest. Do something for five years, and it’s a hobby. Do something for 20 years, and you begin to build a sense of mastery and the holes in your position on the thing become too small to be of any consequence.”
The problem is that I’m constantly distracted. Distracted from my book while I’m reading. Distracted by that idea I need to jot down, or text that I’ll forget to send. Distracted from hobby to hobby, focus to focus. From season to season to season.
How do I attain mastery over any single thing when my lens of attention is constantly shifting?
Leonardo Da Vinci, famous for his mastery over so many varied things supposedly uttered these final words before his death:
“I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”
Of course, that is ridiculous. Leonardo was one of mankind’s greatest artists and thinkers – yet he too felt this sense of impending failure. Honestly, I don’t know how to reconcile that contrast. That a man we revere for what he created and gave to the world, himself felt unfulfilled.
For now, as I ponder the quandary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s happiness, I suppose the only thing to do is continue in curiosity. To look every more intently for the beauty the world has to offer, so that I may add to it in whatever small bits I can. And, of course, to take David Sedaris’ advice from his book, Calypso:
Every Sunday for the past several months, my sister Theresa has driven an hour and a half to the café she used to work at in Madison, WI, and works the day – in what would normally be the job for three separate baristas. It’s a sweet little coffee shop, connected to a bicycle company and storefront. It’s very similar to the café she worked at and managed for years in Chicago, called Heritage. I think she’s hoping to work at every coffee + bike partnership in the Midwest before she dies.
This past Sunday morning, I woke up early enough to feel more accomplished than usual, and found myself wanting to leave the apartment. In the middle of winter, during a pandemic, working from home, ventures out the front door are a rare and exciting occurrence. It had been a high of 10 degrees for the last week, often hitting negative 10 or 15 in the nights – but this morning the sun was shining merrily and the icicles dripping feverously outside the kitchen windows confirmed that it now gotten to the mid twenties.
I decided a drive would be nice, and, having run out of beans a few days before, I decided coffee was the perfect excuse. I donned my favorite leather boots, black gloves and a scarf and locked the front door behind me on my housemate still fast asleep. The birds seemed to be chirping louder than usual, just as excited by the sun as I was. When I got to my car, I found the accumulation of five days snow and ice that took many minutes to scrape away.
Once the engine had been started, the ice had been scraped and the car rocked from snow ruts it had been stuck in, I got on my way. I had intended to drive just a few minutes to my favorite local shop, Interval Coffee, just a half mile or so from my apartment. But with music playing and the cold morning still a little exhilarating, I decided I was up for a little more of a trek. Go over to Canary Coffee? Maybe even something down south of the city a little bit? Or out towards the suburbs?
As I kept driving, option after option slipped by – not unnoticed, just uninteresting. I kept driving, quickly finding myself driving onto the ramp leading to 94 west. Driving and driving and driving. Until snow covered buildings turned to snow covered houses, which then turned into vast snow covered plains of grass and farmland.
After an hour and a half, I pulled up in front of Café Domestique, the small shop my sister Theresa works at every Sunday. As I walked in, the bell above the door was drowned out as Theresa gave a scream in delightful fashion, and burst out from behind the counter. We chatted and laughed as she made me a latte.
“Well,” I said, “I’d just wanted a drive this morning my gal.”
“That is wonderful news!” She said back, beaming underneath her mask.
Just then, the bell above the door tinkled again, and another one of my sisters, Kim, walked in.
“You’re joking.” I practically yelled, starting to cackle with laughter.
“Oh my god!” Kim yelled back, “I guess we just had the same idea this morning! I just felt like driving this morning.”
“I’M SO GLAD WE ARE ALL HERE!” Theresa absolutely screamed behind the counter, throwing her hands in the air.
Kim and Theresa live together. I live half a mile away, a three minute car drive – yet there we were, meeting accidentally an hour and a half away. I half expected to look out the window to see Lauren and Ryan, the two siblings missing from our faux family get together, strolling up the street and into the café.
The three of us looked at each other chummily for a few moments once me and Kim had gotten our drinks. The sun was shining and the coffee was warm. Then Theresa said, “So… we actually don’t allow anyone to stay in the store right now. It’s carryout only.”
The image is not mine, and was found here. Also, this story isn’t real.
I hadn’t read any of Sedaris’ work until starting the first volume of his published diaries, Theft by Finding, last week.
One of the things he talks about in the first section of his class is the abolishment of small talk in his own life, specifically in the questions he asks. Instead of asking “how are you?” Or “how is your day?” He’ll ask questions like… “when was the last time you pet a monkey?” This is an actual questioned he asked a stranger – and it led to them both going to a center where they train monkeys to assist people who are paralyzed.
I thought I’d come up with some questions as well…
1. When was the last time you went to the aquarium? 2. Have you ever hit an animal on the road? 3. When was the last time you helped someone move? 4. Where do you like to shop most? 5. Do you know any blacksmiths? 6. What’s the movie you go back to again and again? 7. Have you ever gone scuba diving? 8. Did you ever finish a book in one sitting? 9. What’s something you wish you had more time for? 10. When was the last time you pet a monkey?