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The Creative Act
I have some news to share, and it's big.
I think I’ve arrived at the source of what bothers me so much about Instagram today.
When it first began, like many of you I took to it with naïveté. The word “content” was not in my vernacular. I simply used it as a means of peering at the world with a more curious lens. It made me linger on the nuances of what I found interesting: a beautifully complex print, the meaty belly of an oyster, a perfectly derelict bicycle.
None of these were photos I was taking for an audience. They were photos I was taking for myself. I didn’t attempt to analyze them. My documentation wasn’t obsessive, and there was no concern for likes. There was no intervention with the subject on my part. It was just an innocent collection of observations, my way of testifying in the humble moments I found compelling.
I’m on my second read-through of Rick Rubin’s book The Creative Act. I’ve found myself stuck again on page 20, the chapter titled “Awareness”. He writes
“Awareness moves differently. The program is happening around us. The world is the decor and we are the witness. We have little or no control over the content. The gift of awareness allows us to notice what’s going on and inside ourselves in the present moment. And to do so without attachment or involvement.”
Instagram used to be a tool that enhanced and expanded my awareness, and I loved using it for that. I never turned the lens on myself. It was a passive viewfinder for the world. Zoom in, zoom out. A black and white filter. A beautiful sunset. A happy dog. I allowed the world to be, and in return, it let me notice.
“As soon as you label an aspect of Source, you’re no longer noticing, you’re studying.” Writes Rubin. “This holds true of any thought that takes you out of presence with the object of your awareness, whether by analysis or simply becoming aware that you’re aware. Analysis is a secondary function. The awareness happens first is a pure connection with the object of your attention.”
In a time before Substack, when I more actively contributed to many print magazines, I would often be invited on press trips or given gifts that asked for coverage in trade. I always declined unless they were amenable to my avoidance of writing transactionally, because who knows what kind of story you’ll tell until you have actually experienced the thing? For the same reason, even when making innocuous shopping recommendations for this newsletter, it’s 90% things I genuinely own and wear. Again, how can I tell you to buy a coat having never walked down the street knowing its warmth?
Rubin puts it more succinctly.
“If something strikes me as interesting or beautiful, first I live that experience. Only afterward might I attempt to understand it.”
Frankly, I’m impressed with myself for even picking up a book right now. My brain is so packed full of details that it feels like they might come tumbling from my ears. Mentally, there is no more room at the Inn.
We are moving this summer, relocating from Atlanta, where I have spent the last ten years of my life, to Manhattan, a place I feel can contain the abundant ideas I’m bursting with lately.
We got a new puppy. My guy graduated law school and we had family in town for two weeks straight. Now he’s onto studying for the New York Bar. I’ve hired new employees and promoted others. Taken on new clients. Committed to events. planned a vacation (yay). And I’m still committed to maintaining my Pilates practice even though my instructor probably feels like she’s trying to pin down a butterfly with my schedule lately.
We’re apartment hunting, packing, negotiating with brokers, and saying prayers to the Real Estate Gods. Plus the ordinary stuff: laundry, payroll, washing my face, putting my clothes back on the hangers, keeping the lights on, not letting my bedside table turn into a cup graveyard, getting the puppy neutered. It’s a lot.
I find that I’m showing up as my half-self a lot lately instead of my full self. But I’ve got to just let that go, and congratulate myself for showing up at all.
My Godmother and Mom came to town for Mother’s Day last weekend, and we went to Buford Highway Farmer’s Market outside Atlanta, which if you’ve been you know is like visiting twenty-five countries simultaneously. It’s chaotic, but a total treat if you’re the kind of people we are, who squeal with delight when we spot three wondrous varieties of eggplant we never knew existed.
Anyway, we got in the checkout line, which was very long. Almost 30 minutes later, right as we got to the front, we realized with dread that it was a 15-items or less lane. Panicked, we divvied up the items in our overflowing basket between the three of us, praying we didn’t exceed the limit by making three separate transactions.
See? Not showing up as my full self. Let alone my aware one!
The woman behind the cash register was scowling and already tired of our shit. As I started zipping items across the belt, she began audibly counting them aloud. As she passed fifteen, she stopped. “YOU SAID YOU HAD FIFTEEN ITEMS!” I shrugged, humiliated. “Um.. 20?”
It felt like that scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan is in the cash-only line at Zabar’s with only a Visa card.
We barely got out of there with our lives, laughing like a bunch of kids who’d just been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. But the French butter and heaps of Ramen noodles I got were worth it.
My full self would have read the express lane sign. Sorry ma’am, but Jess is not present — just her hull, reporting for duty!
A book could feel like homework on top of the pile-up, but for me, it’s an escape hatch. Especially if I read it while soaking in the tub, while my two pups snooze on the tiles.
Oh, and I’ve managed to completely lock myself out of Instagram. I find myself in no hurry to reclaim it.
So all of this is my way of letting you know why I’ve been quiet on the newsletter lately. When life gets busy, this is the plate that tends to drop. But now that I’m fully staffed, we’re putting in some fail-safes to ensure that doesn’t happen anymore.
My trainer Jay often has to remind me to breathe because I hold my breath so much. It’s the same with asking for help. Sometimes I forget that it’s something I can do.
To quote Rubin again, “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”
I have not had the privilege of being in said state lately, because I’m dismantling my old life and assembling a new one. But there is so much to look forward to, and even though I feel stress and pressure, it’s all moving towards something meaningful — to build an even stronger space, both mentally and physically, that will make art inevitable again. I just have to get there.
That first night in New York is going to taste sweet.
I’ll talk to you again soon. In the meantime, some things on my radar:
Kendall Jenner in this look from The Row left me deep in thought
Of course, I loved Sofia Richie’s wedding too.
This at-home treatment series has been incredible for my skin.
This makeup bag from Amazon is a delightful feat of engineering.
These tennis shoes, which were part of a gifting suite at a goop event I went to in LA, and I have to say — aside from the shoes, I’m buying what GP’s selling. She’s the IRL real deal, and she can assemble a killer group of women like nobody else.
This ring from Dorsey, a replica of Meg’s grandmother‘s wedding band.
This candle via The Maker that I’ve been burning nonstop.
Deeda Blair’s new book! A New York icon, memorialized.