Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Praise of Home Delivery

A long, long time ago when I was a kid, we had a milkman.  Johnny the Milkman. We’d spot him making a delivery and run down the street to meet his truck.  Johnny the Milkman had a great boxy vehicle without passenger seats, and with both sliding doors left open to catch the summer breeze.  Ironically, a huge block of ice melting in the middle of the truck’s floor was meant to keep the glass bottles of milk and cream cold.   

Johnny the Milkman, in the days before OSHA and seatbelts and common sense, would let us jump on board and dangle our arms and legs out the passenger door for a few stops, dragging our Keds on the road as we drove from house to house.  Then, to complete the nightmare for our mothers, he’d give us an ice pick and we’d chip off a handful of cold, crunchy microbes to chew on.

There's nothing like a seven-year-old with an ice pick, dangling his legs out of a moving truck, sucking on dirty ice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Value of Consistent Hard Work

The other day I listened to a New Yorker podcast, one featuring the magazine's cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff.  He spoke with Zachary Kanin, one of a very small stable of regular cartoonists.  

Kanin was discussing his typical work-week and mentioned that he draws ten to fifteen cartoons a week.  I might have guessed three, and perhaps five in a good week.  But Kanin churns out 10 to 15 new ones every week.  

He said it’s important to work at that pace because it’s the only way he really stopped doing other people’s cartoons, the only way he really found his own voice. 

It's yet another seemingly fun, carefree career—draw a little, lay in the sun, draw a little, have some wine before dinner-- that turns out to be really hard work.   Get up early and sweat it out, every day.  Consistent hard work.  The only way to get good and be good and stay good.  The only way to find your voice.

Later, in another podcast interview, I heard Dan Brown (of Da Vinci Code fame) say he writes every day, 365 days a year, including Christmas Day.

One of the best examples of disciplined, consistent, hard work I have seen was Jeff Kennedy’s terrific effort, Drawing Flies.  Every single day in 2008 Jeff created and posted a fly, explaining:
"Part of the challenge is the discipline to accomplish this every day and the other is to expand my creativity and to help find my artistic voice. The sky is the limit on how the flies will be created. You may have wondered, 'why is he drawing flies?' My other hobby is fly fishing and fly tying. I also welcome the challenge of drawing the natural materials that are used in the flies. So hang on and enjoy the ride for the next 365 days!"
Jeff took this project seriously and worked hard at perfecting his technique.  It became a very pleasant ritual to get up every morning and check out his latest creation.  

Last Sunday our oldest daughter wrote about 1,200 words, the start of her efforts in this year’s National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November.  This is her third year and she is one-for-two, having completed all 50,000 words last year and falling just shy in her first try.  For her, this means writing every day, often late at night after extracurricular activities and homework is done.

This also means consistent hard work.  When I asked her why she was doing it she said, “Dad, I’m happy every day that I write.” 

This idea of really loving something but working at it hard enough every day that it’s a little bit painful is part of a ritual that talented, driven people all seem to understand and embrace.

That includes Haruki Murakami, who wrote about his efforts in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Murakami is brilliant at taking adversity and turning it to his advantage.  In this case, he was reflecting on how difficult it is for him to write novels.
Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can freely write novels no matter what they do—or don’t do.  Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work.  Occasionally you’ll find someone like that, but, unfortunately, that category wouldn’t include me.  I haven’t spotted any springs nearby.  I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity.  To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort.  Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new, deep hole.
Like Kanin, Brown, and Kennedy, Murakami embraces the process, the consistent hard work, saying that when “naturals’ suddenly find their spring has run dry, they are in trouble.  But when he notices one water source is drying up, he can simply move on and chisel out the next hole from rock.

Certainly it helps to have talent.  And it's wonderful to find your passion.  But even then, if you want to be really good at something, it's all about consistent hard work.

Just get your hammer and chisel out and start pounding.

(First posted in November 2009 and updated modestly in April 2016.)