#81 — Nature as a creative spark + Separating yourself from online criticism
I sat in stunned silence watching a bird yesterday. Instead of sitting on a branch, it crawled up and down along a tree’s big trunk, defying gravity like a tiny bird-Spiderman. It was unbelievable.
I did some googling and learned that the bird I saw was a Nuthatch:
I immediately went down a rabbit-hole of Nuthatch videos, and found a lovely compilation that showcases the full extent of their climbing prowess. I’ve yanked a short sequence of magic from the video so we can all enjoy its dizzying dance on repeat until the end of time:
I can’t stop watching.
Look at that lateral shift! Watch how it turns and stops so quickly, all while facing directly down toward the ground. The video almost looks fake, as if it were tilted or sped up. (It’s not. I saw it do this with my own eyes!)
It strikes me how mundane moments of nature can seem so surreal. When I look closely, the natural becomes supernatural.
These phenomena are happening everywhere, all the time, waiting to mesmerize me. I’m lucky to be able to spend time in a backyard filled with birdsong. I feel blessed by the abundance of these opportunities, and compelled to fill my life with them.
Lately, I’ve been spending my mornings reading old books of fables. When I read in the realm of nature, reality feels dreamy, and my dreams of stories feel real.
Then, I write, still drunk on nature’s spell. New, fantastical stories appear. Wild characters embark on wayward journeys. The wonder of nature is an essential spark to my creativity. It quiets my mind and opens my heart.
Wonder’s fuel is limitless. It pours and pours until your cup overflows. In return, it humbly asks: Find the cups around you, and start pouring.
A prompt to ponder:
Nature is an abundant and accessible source of wonder. But it is not the only source—wonder can be found in many places. What fills you with wonder, and how might you find more of it?
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The Public You Is Not You
Creating online comes with many benefits, including the ability to reach almost anyone in the world. But it also comes with the cost of dealing with criticism. As creators, we’re told to simply “ignore the haters,” but that is easier said than done. Often, the feedback is not inherently negative. It’s misdirected. It was sent to us, yet it seems like it’s about someone else. That’s because it usually isn’t about us. It’s about a character of us, created in someone else’s mind.
I recently re-read the excellent book Hell Yeah or No by Derek Sivers, and it offers an invaluable reframe on how to view both the criticism and compliments we get. In the chapter titled, “The public you is not you,” Sivers describes a harrowing experience when he was attacked online. He had published a blog post describing learnings switching from one web framework to another, and it somehow went viral overnight. His intent with the post was simply to describe his experience for the record, yet commenters attacked him for being a “complete idiot and a terrible programmer.” This is how he handled it:
At first I was upset and insulted, like anyone would be. Then, luckily, something switched in my head and I realized the most important point:
They weren’t talking about me. They were talking about a cardboard cutout that looked like me. A little online avatar that has the same name as me, but is not me.
I couldn’t be offended when they said I was an idiot, because they didn’t know me. They had read a few paragraphs of an article and spewed some insults. Their reactions had nothing to do with the real me.
Suddenly it was like watching a little videogame character get attacked. It was funny to watch, part of the game, and not personal at all.
Then I realized it was the same with compliments.
Sharing our thoughts, ideas and creativity with the world does not have to come at the cost of our emotional safety. We must remind ourselves that comments on our online work are usually based on a perceived character (or a cardboard cutout, as Sivers puts it), not on us as a person. We can learn to swim in public waters while maintaining our boundaries.
Let us learn to be loose with our grip on both the criticism and compliments that come our way. Let us look at them as passing clouds—acknowledging them, then letting them float away, away, away…
I’ve been having a blast working with Nate Kadlac while building Writers Draw (a course on drawing designed for writers, by writers.) It’s still early days in development, but we’ve got a few videos under our belt and are making great progress!
If you’re keen to get a sneak peek, you can watch a preview of the first video in the course, which introduces the topics we’ll cover. We’ve also launched a new landing page where you can sign up to stay updated:
P.S. If you already signed up / attended our free Procreate 101 session (recording here), you’re already on the list to get updates.