Mastery by Robert Greene

Mastery by Robert Greene is one of the first books I read this year and it will shape how I will approach the rest of my life. Honest, thorough, and engaging, Robert Greene instructs you how to truly devote your life to your inner calling.

mastery

Real World Examples

“Darwin could have played it safe, collecting what was necessary, and spending more time on board studying instead of actively exploring. In that case, he would not have become an illustrious scientist, but just another collector. He constantly looked for challenges, pushing himself past his comfort zone. He used danger and difficulties as a way to measure his progress. You must adopt such a spirit and see your apprenticeship as a kind of journey in which you will transform yourself, rather than as a drab indoctrination into the work world.”

– Robert Greene

I discovered Robert Greene (like most people) through his book The 48 Laws of Power. I quickly fell in love with his writing style and sought out more of his work.

Greene tends to collect his ideas into a “law” or principle that he has observed during his own personal experience or through his research. Then he codified it with a historical example of that law being played out either in that person’s favor or to their detriment.

The real world examples add an extra dimension to the idea being presented, helping it to be digested, as well as helping the principle stick with you. The laws come alive in his writing with the historical characters acting them out.

In Mastery, Robert Greene pulled from historical examples as well as contemporary sources that he interviewed himself. The figures featured in this book that have stuck with me the most are Hakuin Zenji, Wolfgang Von Goethe, The Carolina Islanders, and Cesar Rodriguez Jr.

Practical Advice

It is not a matter of studying for twenty years and then emerging as a Master. The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus.”

– Robert Greene

The advice in this book is immensely practical regardless of your interests. Greene stresses that you achieve mastery through hard work and constant improvement. To gain mastery in a field, first you must master yourself.

Conclusion

I would recommend Mastery to anyone who is interested in self-discipline and wants to achieve something great.

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Stop Trying to Make Art

“Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be that. But more importantly, if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them hope.”

– Charlie Kaufman, BAFTA Screenwriters’ Lecture 2011

I’ve been working on this screenplay to try to get in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. It was dark, sad, and a lot different from the stuff I usually do. It felt like I was imitating filmmakers that were popular at Sundance, although I didn’t want to admit it.

Eventually, I had to scrap the script because it just wasn’t me. I started to dig deep to see why I would try to abandon writing the things that I am normally interested in.

I realized that I was “trying to make art” instead of being vulnerable and actually doing the work. As silly as it sounds, writing a gritty familiy drama is less traumatic to me than showing someone a video of me running around in a chicken suit. 

The family drama will ring hollow because I don’t really care about it, but I put my heart and soul into every one of my dumb, no budget shorts. They are personal without trying to be, they are my art without any of the pretension of award ceremonies.

Art doesn’t become art because an external force bestows the title on it. A work is rises to that level when you love it enough to keep making it, even though no one else cares.  Art isn’t made for an audience, you make it because you are burning to tell that story.

 

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

 

Stillness and Vulnerability

The first fourth of my day is dedicated to mustering up the courage to write, the second fourth is about procrastinating, the third is thinking about what I will write, and the last one is actually writing.

I don’t think the act of writing is very difficult, but looking my own consciousness in the eye is quite the task. I’ve started and stopped Zazen meditation numerous times for that reason. Something about stillness is frightening to me.

I have been a lot more focused lately and I have been trying to become more disciplined. Some of my goals have been to read and write something everyday and to get my sleeping habits under control.

My sleeping habits and my writing habits are very similar.  I usually try to sleep listening to music, movie reviews, or anything really even though it just makes it harder. I consciously put them off as if I am afraid of something, but what am I afraid of?

Perhaps, it has to do with vulnerability? You have to feel safe to both write and sleep. I’m not attacked by predators or criminals, but I do often have a dream where my teeth fall out and I am exposed as something.

That feels right.

There is vulnerability in stillness. Whether it be writing, sleep, or meditation.  I become open to harm whether it be internal (doubt, dreams) or external (predators, weather). I have felt many times when I have written something that I have held back for some reason.

I understand now.

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Character, Action, and Dialogue

Creating an interesting character is my favorite part of writing. Writers like to obsess over dialogue, while important to fleshing out a character, is like judging a person solely on their shoes.

Action informs the character more so than the things he says, in my estimation. Words can deceive or have double meanings, but a choice is honest. You can say that you love your wife, but when the ship sinks and dive after your mother, leaving her to drown, we know where you allegiances really lie.

In the film, American Psycho, Patrick Bateman says all the right things, but he brutally murders people (or at least fantasies about doing it). Which reveals more about him, his words or actions?

JEAN 
Thanks, Patrick. I'd love some.

Bateman walks in with a bottle of wine and a corkscrew in 
his hand and hands her the sorbet.

Jean is eating the sorbet.

JEAN 
Want a bite?

BATEMAN 
I'm on a diet. But thank you.

JEAN 
You don't need to lose any weight. You're kidding, right? 
You look great. Very fit.

BATEMAN 
(Weighing the corkscrew examining the point for sharpness) 
You can always he thinner. Look...better.

In the critically acclaimed film, Boyhoodyou get the impression that dialogue is supposed to serve the purpose of action.

INT. BOWLING ALLEY CAFE - EVENING

The family sits around a table enjoying their snacks, while
Dad smokes a cigarette.

                      DAD (O.S.)
          Alright, let me tell you what's
          happening in Iraq, alright? Exactly
          what every thinking person in the
          world knew was gonna happen before
          they got started. Bush and his little
          numb-nut fanatics he's got around
          him, they don't give a rat's ass.

                      SAMANTHA
          That's a quarter.

                      DAD
          What's a quarter?

                      SAMANTHA
          You said a-s-s.

                       DAD
          Oh, sorry.   My bad.

                      SAMANTHA
          And my teacher says it's a good war,
          because it's better to be safe than
          sorry.

                      DAD
          That's what they're teaching you in
          school? Alright, listen to me.
          Listen to your father, okay? That
          is the lie. That's the big lie.
          Iraq had nothing to do with what
          happened at the World Trade Center.
          You know that, right?

                       SAMANTHA
          I guess.
                                        23.

            DAD
Alright. Who are you gonna vote for
next fall, MJ?

            MASON
I don't know.

            SAMANTHA
He can't vote. He's not eighteen.

            DAD
Yeah, oh -- alright, who would you
vote for?

            MASON
Kerry?

            DAD
Anybody but Bush!   Okay?

            SAMANTHA
Are you gonna move back?

            DAD
Uh... I'm plannin' on it.   You know,
I gotta find a job.

            MASON
Are you and mom gonna get back
together?

            DAD
I don't know. That's not, uh...
entirely up to me, you know?

            SAMANTHA
I remember when I was six, you and
mom were fighting like mad. You
were yelling so loud and she was
crying.

            DAD
That's what you remember, huh?

            SAMANTHA
Yep.

            DAD
You don't remember the trips to
Galveston, camping in Big Bend, all
the fun we had?

            SAMANTHA
Nope.
                                                    24.

                      DAD
          You ever get mad at your mother?

                        SAMANTHA
          Yeah.

                      DAD (O.S.)
          You ever get mad at your brother?

                        SAMANTHA
          Yeah.

                        DAD
          Yeah.    You ever yell at him?

                        SAMANTHA
          Oh yeah.

                      DAD
          Yeah. Doesn't mean you don't love
          him, right?

                        SAMANTHA
          Mmm...

                      DAD
          Look, the same thing happens when
          you're grown up, alright? You...
          You know, you get mad at people.
          You know, it's not a big deal.

                      MASON
          What'd you do in Alaska?

                      DAD
          I worked on a boat for a while.     Um,
          I tried to write some music.

                      MASON
          Did you see any polar bears?

                      DAD (O.S.)
          No, but I saw a Kodiak bear.     It was
          fuckin' huge.

                     SAMAMTHA (O.S.)
          Dad! That's fifty cents for the F-
          word!

Dad reaches into his wallet.

                     DAD
          I'm sorry. Here, take a dollar,
          alright? Keep the change.
                     (MORE)
                                                          25.

                       DAD (CONT'D)
           You guys are gonna be seein' a lot
           more of me. Okay? I missed you two
           real bad, while I was gone. Okay, I
           want you to know that. I just needed
           to take some time. You know, to...
           Just... Your mom and me, okay...
           Well, your mother, okay, is a piece
           of work. Alright, I think, I think
           you know that by now. Alright? And
           I'm just, I'm so happy to be with the
           two of you. Okay. And I'm sorry
           about that bumper business. Alright.
           I'm gonna get better at stuff like
           that, okay?

As a token of reconciliation, Dad high fives them both,
smiling.

In a fragment from American Psycho, you learn more than an entire scene from Boyhood. Why?

Boyhood is full of noise, but it doesn’t really tell us anything. You should be able to flip to random page and understand the point of the piece. Is this movie about Dad? Samantha? Our protagonist (Mason) is so passive that it could be easy to forget about him all together.

Consider action more than empty dialogue next time you write something. Sometimes silence (or even just less words) really is golden.

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Sustaining Creativity

I have learned not to wait for inspiration to come to me, but to get up and chase after it! Here are some tips on sustaining your spark of creativity.

Explore Other Mediums of Art

Exploring different mediums of art  help me stay fresh with ideas. I believe that it helps with the creative process to look at something that is unrelated from the work I am doing, but is still artsy. I often get hyper focused on whatever project I am working and it is nice to take a break in an inspiring way.

Rest from Work by Vincent van Gogh

I often look at paintings for inspiration when I am stuck on Film problems. Paintings have some of the most exquisite compositions and use of color in any medium of art.

The best way to keep other mediums in my world has been through social media. If we are constantly going to be checking our phones, we might as well make it useful.

The History of Painting‘s Twitter account is my personal favorite for inspirational art, but there are many others like it for poetry, music, and film.

Express Excess Emotions and Thoughts

I have started journaling before writing anything that is seen by the public. I have found that clears my mind of excess chatter and helps me focus on writing concisely and on topic.

When I don’t express the extraneous thoughts and emotions from my day they show up in all sorts of weird ways in my project and take up editing time.

This principle can be applicable for all manner artists without the use of a journal, such as banging on a drum, doodling, or screaming at your cat.

Make Something Silly

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. When you spend your time looking through a camera, sometimes you end up with head in your rear end.

chicken man
Unrelated photo of man-child.

When I make something silly, I am able to cast off the shackles of perfectionism and pretension to actually make something. I often feel trapped by my own perception of my work and when I make something unapologetic-ally ridiculous, I feel as though I truly regain objectivity.

Take Care of Yourself

The most important  lesson I have learned is that to be creative you have to be functional as well. My personal vice is staying up late and sleeping in. I’m not as sharp when I haven’t slept and especially when I haven’t slept the correct hours.

Don’t stay up all night being angry at your clock.

To focus on your creative task, it is best to be free from distractions such as hunger, indigestion, or exhaustion. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but avoid it when you can.

Those are the tips I have for sustaining creativity, please let me know what you think!

 

Painting with a Lens

“You could not step twice into the same river.”

-Heraclitus

I’ve always been drawn to abstract and surreal visual art.

clocks
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

The distorted images seem more real than the actual objects they represent. I’ve always wanted to created something like that, but working with a camera I wasn’t sure how to pull it off.

Pier
Looking at Brunswick from Jekyll Island, GA.

Last year I was on Jekyll Island playing around with my Nikon at the pier and my father showed me a trick using long exposure. He shifted the camera slightly to make a ripple effect. Not being much of a photographer, this was news to me and I started experimenting with it.

Moon
The moon.

This has been become the way I shoot photos now. I paint with the lens.

Light Tornado
Tornado of light made from Christmas lights in my living room.

I really enjoy using this technique because every photo is unique. It is like a Jackson Pollack painting, but using the environment around you. Every place you go suddenly becomes new again.

Wall of Light
Wall of light in my living room.

Yesterday I was took this photo:

Sunset Through the Trees
Sunset through the woods.

With a few camera shakes it became this:

img_2790

The best thing about art is once something becomes stale you can change it. It is never boring because it is never the same.

Trees
Trees.

The Snow Dream

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

-Carl Jung

I would like to preface this story by stating that I do not necessarily believe that dreams are anything mystical. In my experience, dreams are manifestations of the subconscious.

This is a clip of one of the lectures that introduced me to this kind of thinking:

 

I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon yesterday waiting to go to the store. My car is in disrepair at the moment so I have been stuck at the house and I have been restless.

My relationship with sleep has been rocky since I was very young. I am often awake late into the night, as I am tonight. The thought of going of to sleep fills me with dread because I know I have to wake up at a designated time each morning, while I can sleep indefinitely during the day. I know this is silly, but on with the story.

I put a song on loop, shut my eyes, and slowly drifted to sleep.

I only remember one “scene’ from my dream because it filled me with an overwhelming sense of peace that caught me off guard. My dreams are often frantic and alarming because of my anxious temperament.

I was standing on the back porch of my house, looking into the woods. The ground was covered in the patchy snow that we occasionally get in Georgia. There were white rabbits with broken, black patches hopping after leucistic (partially albino) doves that were flying. I turned my head to the railing of the porch and perched on a branch were all manner of leucistic birds (Indigo Buntings, Zebra Finches, House Finches). It was stunningly beautiful.

The next fragment was what I can only describe as a pterodactyls with a semi-mammalian heads, swooped down and starting devouring the birds.  I was awake the second after that fragment ended.

I kept thinking about the dream for the last few hours and I began researching it.

Snow, as an archetypal dream, can mean healing.

Dinosaurs or reptilian creatures, can mean a conflict with your logic and instinct.

Rabbits can represent a need to act intuitively, and not over-analyze a situation.

Birds can symbolize tranquility and balance.

The forest can represent the unknown.

Using these archetypes or for whatever reason, I deduced that I need to take action to enter the unknown. So, I applied for a job in a new place, then the thoughts subsided and I relaxed.

This is the second time I explored a dream to solve a problem and they both have ended positively. It is strange to the least. I thought I would share this story because it applies to more areas than just sleep.

As an artist AND a neurotic person, there are probably thousands of unfinished ideas and probably more that were dismissed before they were even completely thought through. When I am exploring my dreams and acting on them, I am placing faith in my intuition, which terrifies me. However, in order to write, make films, or do anything creative, I have to use my intuition as well as my analytical abilities. It is a leap of faith that rest solely on myself, the person I trust the least.

Perhaps the pterodactyls represent that aspect of my psyche.

 

 

Ethan’s Motivational Mix

I awoke this morning feeling anxious and generally restless. This happens somewhat regularly, so I decided to put together a care package of sorts for when these moods rear their ugly head. Rather than hoarding it to myself, I have decided to share the playlist with you.

My anxiety is usually centered my work so the playlist is compiled of 5 videos, mostly centered around art. It is best to watch them in order.

I hope this reinvigorates you as much as it has reinvigorated me!