Fall and rise, fall and rise

LBG diveinfloat

Oh hi there. (She says casually, as if she’s been here all along, and you were the one who just turned up after several seasons’ absence.)

So, I’m back. Let’s not make a fuss about it. (Except she loves a good fuss.) Let’s just carry on like it was before I left. 

(Silence.)

I guess an explanation might be in order.

Earlier this year I made a choice to take a break from blogging. It was coming up on five years since I started Aesthetics of Joy, and the anticipation of that milestone made me start reflecting on why I began blogging in the first place. This blog was born, in part, to help me through the process of writing a book of the same name, about how neuroscience and psychology could help us design objects and spaces that foster positive emotion and wellbeing. The cadence of blogging pushed me to articulate ideas before they were fully baked; your comments and stories helped me better understand the dimensions of the subjects I was exploring. 

But five years in, the book hadn’t progressed much. I struggled to find the large stretches of time I needed to be able to string a work of that scale together. I found myself battling time constraints, struggling to drum up motivation, paralyzed by fear of failure, and spinning around an uncertainty about how to tell a story that had accrued five years of nuance. When you’ve had so much time to dream about something, inevitably nothing you write measures up to your dream of it. Every clumsy rough draft felt like a small puncture in the wonderful book of my imagination. I drafted and redrafted the same sections; I had mini-epiphanies interspersed with a lot of confusion; I wrote three pages in a day and deleted them a day later. The whole experience was like dog-paddling in the deep end: a lot of flailing and froth, and a persistent awareness of just how much water there was below me.

At some point in I read this post by Derek Sivers. He talks about the tension between having a public presence (like a blog) where you have people you regularly engage with (he uses the slightly aggrandizing word audience) and the need to go deep to do the sometimes boring work that you may need to do to achieve a goal. It made me start to wonder: was the blog less a support to my book work, and more a distraction? When there was a choice between working on book or blog, the blog always won. It was less demanding and more satisfying, with an immediate reward and feedback. By comparison, the book felt like moving a glacier.

Around the same time, I read Steven Pressfield’s War of ArtIn it, he describes the concept of resistance—the force that keeps you from doing your most important creative work. He talks about how resistance can be sneaky, hiding in the least obvious places. Had the blog become agent of resistance? Was it just a way for me to avoid doing work by doing “work”?

Pressfield’s answer to resistance is to be a professional. A professional sits down every day, inspired or not. A professional does the work, whether it comes out good or bad. So I decided to take a break from the blog, and impose some discipline. I made a gant chart, gave myself aggressive timelines, and asked some loyal friends to unabashedly shame me if I missed my marks. I set early-morning alarms, and sat down with glazed eyes in the quiet pre-dawn dark to write what Anne Lamott calls “shitty rough drafts.” 

The months passed, and I made progress. Then an obstacle would creep up—I would get the flu or have a deadline at work—and the draft would go off to the side. I realize I am often too firm or too gentle with myself. Do you have this problem? Sometimes I feel like one of those religious penitents from the middle ages, beating myself up because I got a few days behind schedule. Other times I just want to shirk off to watch Pitch Perfect for the third time and pin pictures of flowers onto Pinterest. 

So here we are in November. I have a mostly-done book proposal, though still with a few holes. But I learned something over these last few months that brings me back here even with an incomplete in my personal grading column: I need to blog. See, somehow in the five year journey that has been Aesthetics of Joy so far, I managed to convince myself that I blogged for you. But taking a break from blogging has reminded me that this kind of writing is ultimately a selfish act. That may sound strange since I make no money off this blog and it does take quite a bit of time. I’ll try to explain it.

The most striking thing that happened to me in the time away from the blog was that I felt myself grow uninspired. I wondered how this could be true, because without the blog, I had more time to read and reflect. What I realized, though, is that inspiration isn’t just about seeing and hearing, but about absorbing and integrating. Inspiration is only good if you plan to create something; otherwise, what’s the point? Why shop if you don’t plan to cook? Why chew if you’re not going to eat?

Without the blog, I had no impetus to engage with the material I was encountering. I became like teflon for inspiration. Nothing stuck, and I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Yet the moment I decided to start blogging again, it was as if an engine revved somewhere inside me, and my eyes came to life again. It reminds me of the Anaïs Nin quote, “We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” With the blog, I see everything through the lens of the potential for joy. Without it, is much quieter. My mind, which normally runs 10 channels of activity simultaneously, had a few channels go silent.  

Now I’m like a dog let outside after a long day and suddenly reminded of all of the scents in the world, running this way and that trying to chase them all. There is no quiet now, only the clamorous urgency of all the words in the world, climbing and tumbling and hurtling over themselves to bridge the countless gaps between us. 

I don’t know if I’ll be a more consistent steward of this blog than in the past. I have a rich and varied life, a job I love and a wedding to plan (more on that soon!) and a book still in-progress. And I would rather fall and rise, fall and rise, on waves of real passion than churn out some daily pabulum that springs from an “editorial calendar” rather than the heart. 

Still, know that I’m back with more love than I’ve ever had for all of you who stop by once in awhile to share a glimpse of delight in this world. And I can promise color and abundance, lushness and light, and exuberant geekery for the mysteries of how joy works in our minds. I plan to experiment with formats and layouts, style and content. You may even see some look and feel changes next year. More than ever, I hope this will be a fun place to play. 

Image: Dive in Float by Samantha French, a wonderful Brooklyn-based artist whose paintings just at the surface of the water exactly capture my feelings about coming home to this blog. 

Hey, Guess What?

The Aesthetics of Joy is now a book! Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness is now available.

Learn more

14 Comments

  1. Welcome back Ingrid!

    I think in the last 10 years or so, most people feel a greater supercharged head rush at the start of a new project than before. They now know there are so many ways to create and instantly gain feedback. You could make a book, or take some photos, make a film or write a blog. Almost anything, right now! Because we have so many beginnings at our fingertips, temptation to create something small and immediate is never far away, as it satisfies 2 sides of a creative desire.

    One side of this is the part of creativity that encourages sharing, publishing or showing. Some people do this for financial gain, and some do it simply to express what they need to say. Some enjoy the adulation they might get, some endure it. The other side (the arguably selfish part) is also interesting. If you really think about it; it’s easy to convince yourself that whatever it is that you are doing is pointless.

    On a side note, for most people fun projects happen away from their workplace. The pursuit of a passion is something that necessitates some form of happiness in doing it, to avoid it becoming like the daily commute or the weekly shop. Since I finished my album, I have done very little new music. This is partly because the idea of doing that all again by myself is daunting, and partly because perhaps I need something more manageable, or just something else. I am conscious that I am tempted by the immediacy of certain aspects of other media, the other part of me knows that less immediate work is generally more rewarding to make.

    It’ good that you are persisting with your goal, and it’s good that you are approaching blogging with a fresh upbeat feeling. The thing about the internet, is that it’s fluid. It will likely never go away, so the idea of dipping in and out on a qualitative basis seems like a good idea to me. I think this kind of thing has transferred (in part) to social networks recently, where more people seem to be posting links to silly stuff they found than sharing details of their lives. This to me suggests some people are worried their own thoughts aren’t interesting enough to warrant them posting them…

    Either way, the key is to keep progressing and doing things, even if they are not visible for everyone to see.

    • Thanks, Steve. Lots of great thoughts in here. I like your reminder that the Internet is fluid, that you can dip in and dip out. It’s a great reminder of what Emerson wrote in Self Reliance: “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” I’d love my engagement with the the world, digital or analog, to reflect the fact that I’m always growing, experimenting, evolving. Even if that means being quiet at times to go inward and explore more deeply. Good luck with your creative work, whether music or other media!

  2. Waking up to your post made me so sooo happy. !Hello old friend! I have cherished your blog and looked forward to each post for years, so seeing your return makes me smile. Thank you for the honesty, authenticity, and for always creating fascinating content. It’s great to have you back!

  3. Nice to see a new entry! I have always enjoyed your blog – just about the only one that I have followed.
    It’s not clear from this whether you have decided to jettison the book or not. Perhaps you are actively not deciding? Maybe the blog IS the book?
    Beautiful paining accompanying this return, it reminds me of work by Sarah Hatton (http://sarahhattonartist.com/), she has done an aquatic series called Fathom, as well as interesting work with bees.

    • Nick, nice to see your name in the comments on this first post back! I’m sorry if I was unclear about the book, but I am still pursuing it. Just not to the exclusion of the blog anymore. Thanks for the pointer to Sarah Hatton. Beautiful stuff!

  4. Sherry Crowson

    Glad to have you back . . . your posts always seem to lift my spirits and show me something I had not seen before, or show something I love in an entirely new context. A blog about joy . . . it’s work, but the kind that comes from the heart, the kind you don’t often get paid for, the kind that must bring its own reward. Books are often like that too!

    • Thank you, Sherry! It was a great awakening to see what you point out: that doing this brings its own reward. It always lifts my spirits to see a comment from you, so thank you for visiting and reading!

  5. Mary Lou Landry

    Aaahhhhh….new joys from Ingrid! I missed the first post of your return and was so pleased to see these when I clicked on your link. I always find your ideas interesting a pleasure to read. I am glad you are sharing them with us again.

    • Hi Mary Lou, so nice to see your name in the comments again! Thank you for the kind words, and for reading and visiting :)

  6. Truly Magyar

    Hi Ingrid!

    This is the first time I’ve posted a comment, although I’ve been visiting your page for about a year-ish. I stumbled upon your blog while doing an internet search on “joy.” I have always had a deep love for aesthetics and how design can awaken a whimsical buoyancy within us. I absolutely love what you do- so much that your site has a permanent button on my menu toolbar called “JOY.” I love to drop in occasionally and see what lovely treats you have discovered that you are generously sharing. Thank you so much for what you are doing! I appreciate the time you take to recognize these gems in our world and pass them along to those of us love and seek out joy.

    You’re just plain awesome!

    Truly yours,
    Truly Magyar

    • Wow, thank you, Truly! You’re the sweetest. Thanks for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. I love your phrase “whimsical buoyancy” – that’s exactly the feeling I’m looking for when I seek out what to post here.

      Happy joy-seeking,
      Ingrid

  7. Oh joy! How wonderful to have you back Ingrid :)
    I was inspired to check out your blog after a friend asked me to remind her of the name. I hadn’t been to your site in a few months and was outright giddy to see so many new posts when finally I came across this one. I have been glued to the screen for the past 45minutes (even though I really should have gone to bed ages ago) catching up on the joys of skipping, yellow, and all the other joyous wonders you have shared since November. Good for you for taking a break and allowing yourself to experience the inevitable fall and rise, fall and rise of some many aspects of life

    Looking forward to all the visual lushness and exuberant geekery to come!

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