Suggestions and advice on creative practice. Plus the original Herb Sundays playlist.
The playlist is at the bottom of the email this week. For our Sunday Scripture, a reading from the book of Henry Rollins, care of Details Magazine, January 1994:
“Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no… Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing.”
Herb Sundays is 100 playlists deep next week. “100” is arbitrary but it signals some degree of commitment. A lot of people with regular practices do more, never miss a week, and produce multiple times a week, this is great for them. For me, I just wanted to see that I could do something apart from email with some consistency.
It started about 10 years ago when I was with friends and the conversation turned to goals and resolutions for the new year. I have always been hopeless with this stuff. It doesn’t match my motivation style and usually leads to self-loathing. My friend told me he wanted to run a marathon (he’s done a few now I think), and I said I wanted to write more. A pause hung over the room. “What would you write about?” they asked. I had sort of a half-formed answer.: “My experiences so far, or like advice for up-and-comers.” That sort of worked to shift the mood. I shut back up.
I see success in doing something consistently because presumes there is no arrival, that everything is just a form of practice and discovery with occasional moments of brilliance or acceptance. When I found the weird Rollins quote above, it helped because it reminded me that in a stats-driven landscape, to maintain any degree of commitment, I shouldn’t worry about followers and likes for a long while, if ever.
What I’ve learned
“At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing.”
While this project was launched and done in semi-public, first on IG and now Substack, I’ve done my best to not look at outcomes much and work to satisfy myself in the process. So in the spirit of reflection (or ignoring it?), I’m sharing Herb Sundays playlist number 001 (see below) and also wanted to share some unsolicited wisdom from the first 100. This is not to say that Herb Sundays is successful (that’s for you to decide) but like a playlist, I hope a nugget here proves useful to you in your creative endeavors.
Herb has to serve a few purposes for me to care about it/keep doing it, which are easy in hindsight:
“Give flowers” - share an appreciation for things or people I know and/or admire. Explain why to the best of my ability. Offer the chance to enhance or just discover something of value to myself and others.
A prayer for fandom, which remains more difficult to maintain with age and a busy life. An excuse to dig into art and artists who intrigue me and who spend thousands of hours making work and then are judged within seconds on it.
Some degree of self-evolution or development. A lever to evoke some writing, scratch some itches, connect with others, and liberate things from my brain.
You (or I) are writing (or making) for yourself and an imagined few. You're not writing for everyone cause you’ll never reach everyone. This isn't a Presidential address, in this case, Herb is an email that will be ignored or deleted (both usually without malice) by about half of this email list, but a small % of people will read it and get it and that's who I’m writing for.
As far as deciding what to write about, the unique components of your interests work better as a set. We live in a golden age of context collapse, so any paradigm feels slightly outmoded, so you're free to go wherever you want.
I don’t look at who unsubscribes (here’s your chance friends, smash that unsub below) because it doesn’t help my process. I don’t pay much mind to how many subscribers other newsletters have. I have friends with way more followers than me, but if I'm honest, they are working harder and/or smarter than me, and they have trade-offs that are different than mine (see below).
I was talking with a friend who is finishing a book the other day. They were concerned they had too many constraints on their time to make it great. They may be right, but the opposite may be true too. The oft-told story of a lot of great projects is that the work in question was either tossed off in a day or came via extreme limitations. As the adage goes, constraints are key. If an endeavor doesn't have constraints (budget, time, word count, etc) it won't get done, for me at least.
Figure out which constraints are real and you can live with, and these are different for everyone. For this project, I have a family and a vocation that take priority (both are constraints) but I also have a high tolerance for mistakes so besides what spellcheck catches, Herb goes out without a second set of eyes: No editor, and no net. I can live with a clunky sentence or an errant comma, but some people can't. They are likely better writers as a result, and they are likely closer to heaven than me, but that's a constraint they will have to work around in their work.
A constraint for me though, is that I don’t want to personally make the artwork or use purely generated art for Herb Sundays. This is a constraint I accept but it also forces me to take the time to work with someone I admire, and luckily I know some designers, andis a great collaborator. I'm not a runner but I get why people have running teams/partners now to keep them honest and share the thrill and pain of a challenge.
Some people can utilize this lever to max effect, and they should run with it. I find competition sort of defeatist, in that I’m applying myself to your standards of success, and like a fad diet, it will fail for me. This works when the game is the same, i.e. in sports, where we are going to have to battle over points with a common set of rules and the same referee. In creative endeavors, there are some common goals but they are rarely achieved in the same way. The way people do things is where the innovation is usually. When I find myself vaguely jealous of anyone/anything I try to investigate why. Usually, jealousy is a proxy for some degree of respect (“I like what you did and how you did it”) and I seek to reach out to congratulate them with sincerity, as it is a signal that I want to learn more and share my admiration, as they likely have their insecurities. Don’t run from that weird feeling.
We all tell ourselves stories, some we wrote, some we assume others think or have said. So when doing something the questions arise. “Am I a writer (or podcaster, or artist, or photographer, etc?)” I suppose it doesn’t matter. I don’t know if I’m a writer as no one pays me to write. It may make it less legitimate but again my purposes above fill those needs, and I want to get better at it. Failing in public is a preamble for growth.
Ship and repeat
Nothing is truly new, we’re just skipping stones. Herb allows me to push send on a Sunday, a day that I have the most time, and feel accomplished. It is a respite from the scaries of the day. “Shipping" is freedom. The thing has to go out on Sunday because that’s the constraint that I set, not because anyone needs this newsletter.
And like Mr. Rollins’ beloved “iron” or the weights he’s lifting, the words have to be written every Sunday and sent. Just because. “Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”
You’re trying to establish a practice, for the long haul, and you won't know your practice for a long while but you can figure it out by doing it. People rarely judge you for your early work as long as you evolve and in many ways, it shows how much better you got. Your job is to tunnel inwards with each new thing, not outwards to get scale.
The good news is most of what you want to say already exists inside of you.
Herb Sundays 001: SV4. Feb 2021. Art by
(Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon)
Herb 001 is sort of a petri dish of music I found comforting at the time, some obvious, and some less so. It never made it to Substack, as it was just an IG thing for the moment. I was tempted to augment/edit it but thought better of it, so it remains unchanged. Some songs hit hard still, and some have faded from view. It’s funny how music works. 001 a thought bubble of songs, some obvious and some less so, each with at least a morsel of truth.
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