When Making Art, Whatever You Do, Don’t Follow This Terrible Advice

You’ve heard it a million times; I know you have. This phrase is everywhere in our culture (I hear it a lot in regard to diet), and it’s terribly damaging. Ready for it?

Everything in moderation.

Sometimes also coming to you in disguise as: “Balance is key.”

It’s my father’s mantra; he loves to say it to me when I’m not doing what he wants me to do. I’m paleo, so I hear it a lot about the way I eat. (Don’t get me started on “moderation” in regard to wheat—more on that later.) I run barefoot, and well, that’s just so EXTREME. I also feed my cat a raw meat diet; also extreme.

But … the problem is, there’s nothing wrong with something being extreme in and of itself.

What about being extremely successful? Extremely good-looking? Extremely healthy? Extremely creative? Extremely productive? I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy to be any one of those things (or better yet, all of them), and, more than that, I’m actually working on making myself “extremely” more of all those things.

In contrast, should I have moderation in how much arsenic I consume? Should I have moderation in how many murders I commit? Should I have moderation in how many times I get in a car with a drunk driver?

You get the idea.

“Moderation in all things” is bullshit. It’s a bromide, a cliche that people spit out without thinking about, because it sort of sounds good, and it makes it sound like they know something about something even though they haven’t taken the trouble to actually think about it.

It’s a substitute for a real philosophy.

The truth is, some things are good for your life and some things are bad for it. People get tripped up on things that are optional, like how much alcohol they drink and what they eat, and then they apply it as a blanket statement.

Sometimes, small amounts of something that is in large part bad for you, may offer values that mean more to you than the harm they cause. Despite the way I eat, I still drink wine. I know it causes inflammation. I love sweet white wines, but it’s rare that I can have more than one glass without a major sneeze attack. It also makes me sleepy and foggy-headed, especially if I drink it every night. But I love the taste of it and I love the way it feels to sit down and drink a glass of wine with my dinner, especially if I’m out at a restaurant with a cherished friend and would like to feel my muscles relax and my inhibitions melt away. I drink a lot less now than I used to, but for the moment those things still mean more to me than the side effects.

Things affect people differently, too. I used to smoke cloves occasionally. I only did so when I was out drinking and dancing, and I never smoked more than three in a night (and that was a heavy, unusual night). This was an unusual way to smoke — most people are either complete non-smokers or addicts. But smoking for me was about the taste and the social aspects, and I never had the urge to smoke more.

Wheat is another story, especially when mixed with sugar. With cupcakes or cookies, I cannot stop at one. I must have three, or five, or the whole bag. And three today means three tomorrow. There is no such thing as moderation, for me, with wheat. It sets off a chain reaction in me that leaves me craving it like a drug addict, as well as producing health and, weirdest of all, mental problems. I’m healthier and happier when I don’t eat it at all.

In some ways, creating, by its nature, requires us to be extreme. We must be able to shut out the rest of the world for some space of time and simply be with ourselves, with whatever idea or work is trying to take shape in our heads. We must be able to let it form there and then we must figure out how to translate it. First we may translate it badly. Then we must figure out how to translate even that into something other humans will be able to understand. These are extreme things; they are difficult, and they are unusual, and they ask a lot of us.

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Creating requires us to take a leap into the unknown, into making something that may never be appreciated by others, that may never make us money, that may never do anything at all except exist. We must forget all that and trust ourselves and trust what’s taking shape in our heads.

That’s a huge thing that people who don’t make art never get to do at all. It’s extreme. It’s not the slightest bit “moderate.” If you try to be “moderate” about it, you’ll destroy all the best parts. You’ll destroy all the you, and you’ll destroy all the original thought. Don’t do that. Don’t be moderate. Let’s be extreme, and make extremely good art.

So, instead of “moderation in all things” or “balance is key,” I’d say to you:

Find the things that make your heart split wide open — the things you can’t imagine living without, the things you have to do, the things you love so hard it hurts. And fill your life with them. Stop at nothing to figure out how. Think extremely different thoughts about how you might get to make those things a bigger part of what you’re doing.

(Don’t be afraid to talk to people who don’t know you. Don’t be afraid to start developing an audience, sooner rather than later. Start now.)

Chase them down if you have to. Chase them with an unmatched passionate intensity.

Fuck moderation. Fuck balance. I’m living extremely — in the right direction. Come join me.

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